“If there is anything calculated to interest the mind of the Saints, to awaken in them the finest sensibilities, and arouse them to enterprise and exertion, surely it is the great and precious promises made by our heavenly Father to the children of Abraham; and those engaged in seeking the outcasts of Israel, and the dispersed of Judah, cannot fail to enjoy the Spirit of the Lord and have the choicest blessings of Heaven rest upon them in copious effusions.” (Joseph Smith Jr., Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 195.)
Some years ago in my gospel study it seemed that everywhere I turned in the scriptures I kept noticing Abraham, often with his wife Sarah. Intrigued, I started to connect the dots scattered throughout our scriptural record regarding this beloved patriarch. The more I learned, the more I became amazed at how consistently the Lord has employed this one man and his family as moral models and gospel exemplars throughout succeeding generations. It seems that on nearly every major point along the great plan of happiness we can find Abraham learning, teaching, or being used to illustrate it. Consider just three examples:
- We learn so much about premortal life from Abraham while he gazed at the heavens through the Urim and Thummim (Abraham 3).
- We have an Abrahamic name for paradise in the post-mortal spirit world –
- Ultimately, we find Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom – some of the only individuals we have by name in the scriptures who have already “entered into their exaltation, according to the promises, and sit upon thrones, and are not angels but are gods” (D&C 132:37; emphasis added).
The suggestion has been made that Moses actually structured the first book of the Bible so that it would spotlight Abraham and his immediate family when so many others might have been given focus.
“Moses-the Lord’s lawgiver, the author of the Pentateuch-constructed his scriptural narrative in such a way as to lead the reader quickly through the Creation, the Fall, the Flood, and the scattering of the nations through the confounding of tongues. By the time we have covered 10 chapters in Genesis-15 pages in the LDS edition of the King James Version-we discover that more than 2,000 years have elapsed since the Fall. It is as though Moses were eager to move the reader, without delay, to a certain point in history. That point in time is the life of the patriarchs-Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph” (Robert L. Millet, Ensign, Mar. 1998, 36.)
In concert with this possibility, immediately after being divinely delivered from the sacrificial knife of Pharaoh’s priest, the Lord tells Abraham, “I will lead thee by my hand, and I will take thee, to put upon thee my name, even the Priesthood of thy father, and my power shall be over thee. As it was with Noah so shall it be with thee; but through thy ministry my name shall be known in the earth forever, for I am thy God” (Abr. 1: 18-19; emphasis added). Apparently Abraham is to be a savior to his people by wielding divine power through the priesthood like Noah did before him. However, God discloses that even beyond Noah’s prodigious influence, it will actually be Abraham through whom His holy name will be known to all future earthly generations.
As we ponder why Abraham was chosen for this grand role of revealing the Lord’s name throughout history, I find it more than coincidental that our scriptures detail his marriage and children and grand-children and great-grand-children more than any other person. We learn more about their challenges and triumphs in the family context than anyone else in sacred writ.
“I do not know how many people in the Church have caught the vision of what is involved in Genesis; almost the whole message of the book of Genesis in the Old Testament is family. It is family, family, family; and not only family, it is celestial marriage and the continuation of the family unit in eternity. You have to understand the gospel to catch that vision.” (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, Studies in Scriptures: Genesis to 2 Samuel, 55.)
In this way Elder McConkie’s language in another place takes on added significance when he taught that,
“For all his seed, plus all who by obedience are adopted into his house, Abraham is the prototype of salvation. [Because] Abraham received the promise of eternal life and eternal increase. This promise is yours also,’ the Lord says to all who obey the full gospel law, because ye are of Abraham, and the promise was made unto Abraham; and by this law is the continuation of the works of my Father, wherein he glorifieth himself. Go ye, therefore, and do the works of Abraham; enter ye into my law and ye shall be saved.” [D. & C. 132:31-32.]’ (Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:163; emphasis added.)
President Joseph Fielding Smith gave the following interesting details that provide perspective on the timing and importance of Abraham as the great patriarch.
“Abraham was of the [tenth] generation from Noah. Several hundred years had passed since the flood, and people had multiplied and spread over the face of the earth. The civilizations of Egypt, Chaldea, Assyria and the petty nations of Canaan, had been established. In the midst of this scattering the true worship of the Father was nearly lost. Sacrifice instituted in the days of Adam and continued in the practice and teaching of Noah, in the similitude of the great sacrifice of the Son of Man, had become perverted.
Instead of offering clean animals, such as the lamb and bullock, the apostate nations had dwindled in unbelief to the extent that human sacrifice was offered to their idol gods.” (Pres. Joseph Fielding Smith, The Way to Perfection, 85).
The following quotes are meant to be helpful in understanding the two emphases given in our Gospel Doctrine curriculum.
1. God covenants with Abraham.
“As we follow Abraham’s example, we will grow from grace to grace, we will find greater happiness and peace and rest, we will find favor with God and with man. As we follow his example, we will confirm upon ourselves and our families joy and fulfillment in this life and for all eternity.” (Pres. Spencer W. Kimball, Ensign, June 1975, 7.)
“The true disciple has an inborn questioning to know, personally, all that God is willing to teach us. Nephi could have accepted gladly the vision of his father, Lehi. But Nephi ‘desired to know the things that [his] father had seen.’ (1 Nephi 11:1.) Abraham sought, even though he had a father who had turned from the faith, ‘for greater happiness and peace’ and ‘for mine appointment unto the Priesthood.’ (Abraham 1:2, 4.) Abraham described himself as desiring ‘great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness’ (Abraham 1:2), questing for the word of Christ. Divine discontent in the form of promptings can move us to feast because we know that by feasting we can increase our knowledge, effectiveness, and joy.” (Elder Neal A. Maxwell,Wherefore, Ye Must Press Forward, 119).
Abraham 2:1-11 / Genesis 12:1-8
It bears remembering that the Abrahamic promises only come after he marries Sarah; thus qualifying them both to legally and lawfully obtain them.
“The covenant that the Lord first made with Abraham and reaffirmed with Isaac and Jacob is of transcendent significance. It contained several promises:
- Abraham’s posterity would be numerous,
- and to bear the priesthood;
- He would become a father of many nations;
- Christ and kings would come through Abraham’s lineage;
- Certain lands would be inherited;
- All nations of the earth would be blessed by his seed;
“That covenant would be everlasting-even through “a thousand generations.” (Elder Russell M. Nelson, Ensign, May 1995, 33.)
Genesis 15 (see also Hebrews 6:12-20)
“Particularly instructive is… Gen. 15:7-18. The Lord promised to give Canaan to Abraham for an inheritance. Abraham asked, “Whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?” Then the Lord commanded him to bring certain animals for sacrifice. These were slain and cut up and the pieces laid in two rows. Then the Lord repeated his promise to Abraham and a flame passed between the pieces of the slain animals in token of the covenant.
“The reason the Lord did all this was that, in olden times, it was the custom among men to confirm covenants by walking between the bleeding pieces of slain animals. (Compare Jeremiah 34:18.) It was their way of expressing the thought that if they broke the covenant thus confirmed, they were worthy of the fate of the sacrifice between which they were walking.
“The fundamental meaning of the Sacrament in our day is the same; only now, our Lord Jesus Christ himself is the sacrifice, the “Lamb of God.” It is in his presence that our covenants to serve him are made, and we say, by partaking of the broken bread and the cup, that we are worthy of the fate he suffered in redeeming us, if we break that covenant. That is why we should remember his death” (“The Bondage of Sin,” Editor’s Table, Improvement Era, February 1923).
“Salvation does not come all at once; we are commanded to be perfect even as our Father in heaven is perfect. It will take us ages to accomplish this end, for there will be greater progress beyond the grave, and it will be there that the faithful will overcome all things, and receive all things, even the fulness of the Father’s glory. I believe the Lord meant just what he said: that we should be perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect. That will not come all at once, but line upon line, and precept upon precept, example upon example, and even then not as long as we live in this mortal life, for we will have to go even beyond the grave before we reach that perfection and shall be like God.
But here we lay the foundation. Here is where we are taught these simple truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ, in this probationary state, to prepare us for that perfection. It is our duty to be better today than we were yesterday, and better tomorrow than we are today. Why? Because we are on that road, if we are keeping the commandments of the Lord, we are on that road to perfection, and that can only come through obedience and the desire in our hearts to overcome the world.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 2:18.)
“As we seek to determine whether we have become true Latter-day Saints-inwardly as well as outwardly-it soon becomes apparent that the critical element is progress, not longevity. The question is not how much time we have logged, but how far we have progressed toward perfection. As Elder Neal A. Maxwell has said, life is not lineal, but experiential, not chronological, but developmental’ (Ensign, Dec. 1986, 23). The issue is not what we have done but what we have become. And what we have become is the result of more than our actions. It is also the result of our attitudes, our motives, and our desires.” (Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Pure in Heart, 138-39)
2. We are heirs to the blessings and responsibilities of the Abrahamic covenant.
Entering an “Order of the Priesthood“
“Joseph Smith says that in the temple of God there is an order of the priesthood that is patriarchal. Go to the temple,’ he says, and find out about this order.’ So I went to the temple, and I took my wife with me, and we kneeled at the altar. There on that occasion we entered, the two of us, into an order of the priesthood.’ When we did it, we had sealed upon us, on a conditional basis, every blessing that God promised Father Abraham-the blessings of exaltation and eternal increase. The name of that order of the priesthood, which is patriarchal in nature, because Abraham was a natural patriarch to his posterity, is the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage.” (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, “Eternal Family Concept,” Address given at Priesthood Genealogical Research Seminar, BYU, 23 June 1967, 7; cited in Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig J. Ostler, Revelations of the Restoration, 1053).
“When he is married in the temple for time and for all eternity, each worthy member of the Church enters personally into the same covenant the Lord made with Abraham. This is the occasion when the promises of eternal increase are made, and it is then specified that those who keep the covenants made there shall be inheritors of all the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” (Elder McConkie, New Witness for the Article of Faith, 507-08.)
Children of the Covenant Today
“We are also children of the covenant. We have received, as did they of old, the holy priesthood and the everlasting gospel. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are our ancestors. We are of Israel. We have the right to receive the gospel, blessings of the priesthood, and eternal life. Nations of the earth will be blessed by our efforts and by the labors of our posterity. The literal seed of Abraham and those who are gathered into his family by adoption receive these promised blessings-predicated upon acceptance of the Lord and obedience to his commandments.” (Elder Russell M. Nelson, Ensign, May 1995, 33)
Not Reserved for Church Authorities Alone
“Do you think it was any easier for Abraham to be righteous than it is for you? Do you inwardly suspect that Abraham was given a little extra help by the Lord so that he could become a great and righteous man, or do you feel that we can all become as Abraham if we will learn to put God first in our lives? I testify to you that we can become as Abraham, who now, as a result of his valiance, hath entered into his exaltation and sitteth upon his throne’ (D&C 132:29). Is such exaltation a blessing reserved only for General Authorities, or Stake Presidents, or quorum presidents, or Bishops? It is not. It is a blessing reserved for all who will prepare themselves by forsaking their sins, by truly receiving the Holy Ghost into their lives, and by following the example Abraham has set. If members of the Church could only have such integrity, such obedience, such revelation, such faith, such service as Abraham had! If parents would seek the blessings Abraham sought, they could also receive such revelation, covenants, promises, and eternal rewards as Abraham received.” (Pres. Spencer W. Kimball, Ensign, June 1975, 6-7).
Exactly the Same Promises for Everyone
“The Lord does not give blessings to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to the President of the Church, that are not available to every faithful elder and sister. It does not make one particle of difference what one’s position is. Everything comes on the basis of personal righteousness: everyone in the Church who has been married in the temple has received exactly the same promise that God gave to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Everyone who is married in the temple and who keeps the covenant has the assurance that he or she will have eternal increase, that his posterity will be like the dust of the earth and the stars of heaven in number.” (Elder McConkie, Studies in Scripture: Genesis to 2 Samuel, 60; emphasis added.
Majority are Literal Descendants – Baptism Grafts Gentiles into the Tree
“Every person who embraces the gospel becomes of the house of Israel. In other words, they become members of the chosen lineage, or Abraham’s children through Isaac and Jacob unto whom the promises were made. The great majority of those who become members of the Church are literal descendants of Abraham through Ephraim, son of Joseph. Those who are not literal descendants of Abraham and Israel must become such, and when they are baptized and confirmed they are grafted into the tree and are entitled to all the rights and privileges as heirs.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 3:246.)
Becoming Partners with the Almighty
“In our preexistent state, in the day of the great council, we made [an] . . . agreement with the Almighty. The Lord proposed a plan. . . . We accepted it. Since the plan is intended for all men, we became parties to the salvation of every person under that plan. We agreed, right then and there, to be not only saviors for ourselves but . . . saviors for the whole human family. . The working out of the plan became then not merely the Father’s work, and the Savior’s work, but also our work. The least of us, the humblest, is in partnership with the Almighty in achieving the purpose of the eternal plan of salvation.
“That places us in a very responsible attitude towards the human race. By that doctrine, with the Lord at the head, we become saviors on Mount Zion, all committed to the great plan of offering salvation to the untold numbers of spirits. To do this is the Lord’s self-imposed duty, this great labor his highest glory. Likewise, it is man’s duty, self-imposed, his pleasure and joy, his labor, and ultimately his glory.” (Elder John A. Widtsoe, “The Worth of Souls, “The Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, Oct. 1934, p. 189.)
Bearing this Ministry and Priesthood as Abraham’s Seed
“The heirs of all the promises and covenants made by God to Abraham are referred to as the seed of Abraham (see Bible Dictionary, Seed of Abraham,’ 771). These blessings are obtained only by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Brethren, the process of becoming a missionary is directly related to understanding who we are as the seed of Abraham….
“We learn in these verses [Abraham 2:10-11] that Abraham’s faithful heirs would have the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the authority of the priesthood. Thus, the phrase bear this ministry and Priesthood unto all nations’ refers to the responsibility to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and to invite all to receive by proper priesthood authority the ordinances of salvation. Truly, great responsibility rests upon the seed of Abraham in these latter days.
“How do these promises and blessings relate to us today? Either by literal lineage or adoption, every man and boy within the sound of my voice tonight is a rightful heir to the promises made by God to Abraham. We are the seed of Abraham. One of the primary reasons we receive a patriarchal blessing is to help us more fully understand who we are as the posterity of Abraham and to recognize the responsibility that rests upon us.
“My beloved brethren, you and I, today and always, are to bless all peoples in all the nations of the earth. You and I, today and always, are to bear witness of Jesus Christ and declare the message of the Restoration. You and I, today and always, are to invite all to receive the ordinances of salvation. Proclaiming the gospel is not a part-time priesthood obligation. It is not simply an activity in which we engage for a limited time or an assignment we must complete as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Rather, missionary work is a manifestation of our spiritual identity and heritage. We were foreordained in the premortal existence and born into mortality to fulfill the covenant and promise God made to Abraham. We are here upon the earth at this time to magnify the priesthood and to preach the gospel. That is who we are, and that is why we are here-today and always.” (Elder David A. Bednar, “Becoming a Missionary,” General Conference, Oct. 2005).