Editor’s Note: A much more in depth discussion of this topic is available in Kerry’s book God Will Prevail: Ancient Covenants, Modern Blessings, and the Gathering of Israel. Buy your copy HERE or at your local Seagull or Deseret Book stores.
In our last General Conference (October 2020), President Russell M. Nelson asked the Saints to pursue a particular course of scripture study for the next six months. He said “As you study your scriptures during the next six months, I encourage you to make a list of all that the Lord has promised He will do for covenant Israel. I think you will be astounded! Ponder these promises. Talk about them with your family and friends. Then live and watch for these promises to be fulfilled in your own life.”[i]
The promises for Israel stem from the Abrahamic Covenant, as it was expanded and tailored to them at Mount Sinai. Of course, those promises have been expanded and expounded upon continuously since that time by prophet after prophet, from the days of Moses through President Nelson. Having taught students about these promises for almost twenty-seven years now, I have learned that most struggle to notice many of the blessings promised within the covenant because they don’t always recognize when prophets are speaking of those blessings. A few simple ideas can help those who want to follow the Prophet’s advice find much greater success in their studying, pondering, and sharing ideas about the promised blessings.
The better one understands the Abrahamic Covenant, in all its iterations, the better one will recognize when the scriptures are talking about them. We will only be able to address this very briefly here. A much more in depth treatment of the topic is available in my book God Will Prevail: Ancient Covenants, Modern Blessings, and the Gathering of Israel.
First, we must understand that the New and Everlasting Covenant, the Abrahamic Covenant, the covenant with Israel, and the covenants members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints make are all different ways of referring to the same thing.[ii] The particulars of how the covenant is delivered and the details of what is in it are always tailored to a specific people in a specific dispensation, but it is always the same essential covenant.
Second, we must then understand what that covenant consists of. While there is so much to say and learn about the covenant, perhaps a succinct summary will be helpful here. The following chart from my book should be helpful.
Third, once we know that these elements are the essence of the covenant, then we can start to recognize when the scriptures refer to the covenant by referring to its elements.[iv] Most often the prophets do not say “I am talking about blessings promised to Israel through the covenant here,” but rather they just refer to an element of the covenant, which part stands as a reference to the covenant as a whole.
For example, the most common way the covenantal element of having a heightened relationship with God is referenced is by the phrase that Israel will have God as their God, and he will have them as his people. The scriptures are replete with examples of God speaking of being the God of a group or a person. It is even more full of instances of his calling someone his people. When we recognize this as a covenantal phrase, we will realize that we are reading about the covenant, and thus will more easily see the blessings being promised to Israel in those passages.
This is true of all the other elements of the covenant. When we see prophets talking about great prosperity or abundance being poured out upon someone, it is a reference to receiving the blessings of the covenant. When we read about a group becoming so numerous there is not room for all their posterity, it is talking about covenantal blessings. This is true of the notions of protection, land, rulership, mercy, ordinances and exaltation. Perhaps a few examples will help us better understand this.
As I wrote in my book on this subject:
When we remember that having a promised land is part of the covenant, we will recognize a covenantal reference in a familiar scripture: “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee” (Exodus 20:12). In this case, the promise of maintaining the inheritance of the Promised Land, an Abrahamic covenant promise, stands as a representation of all the covenant promises. Therefore, the commandment tells us that if we honor our parents, we can receive the great blessings of the covenant. Long life, which is how we usually interpret this verse, is a nice blessing, but it is so much more meaningful to think of all the blessings of the covenant being bestowed upon us, which is undoubtedly and clearly the real intent of this verse.[v]
When Malachi promises that Elijah will “turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6), we should ask ourselves how his immediate audience would have understood that. In ancient Israel, a reference to the fathers would mean a reference to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Therefore, this is really a reference to turning the hearts of Israel to the covenants made with their fathers. This idea is strengthened when we read the version of this verse that Moroni quoted to Joseph Smith when he first visited the teenage prophet: “He shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers” (Joseph Smith—History 1:39).
When we read this promise in this larger context, realizing the covenant reference embedded within it, then we see a larger picture. We come to realize that the verse is not just about temple and family history work, though that is certainly an important, large, and magnificent work. We realize that it is about an even bigger story, the story of God redeeming all mankind. The covenant is God’s promise to bring about that redemption, and it is only when our hearts turn to the covenant again that the gospel can roll forth in the way it needs to. Temple and family history work is a crucially important element to the covenant, but that work is all the more magnificent when we realize that it is a way of tying all of us, in this life or the next, to each other and to God.[vi]
When we start to better recognize references to the blessings promised to true covenant keepers, we will find the kind of astounding power President Nelson spoke of flowing into our lives more abundantly. There is more power in the covenant than we may realize, and some of it hinges on our recognizing what the scriptures teach us about the covenant.
I fervently believe that the better we understand the covenant, the better we can keep it. I feel just as strongly that the better we understand the covenant the more we can access power from the scriptures and the covenant itself. As I have said elsewhere:
As you become familiar with the Abrahamic covenant and start to recognize its prevalence in scripture, you will start to see how the stories in scripture aren’t just about some vague and generic group of other people. These stories are about your ancestors. They are also about you. For God will work with covenant people in our day in the same way He worked with them in ancient days. When you identify as a son or daughter of Abraham and Sarah, you can sense how deeply you are part of the House of Israel. When you recognize how many promises are extended to covenant people and how many stories are about the House of Israel, you will feel the scriptures speaking to you in new ways and see how they apply to you with greater power. You will see yourself as part of the bigger picture, the sweeping story of God and His people that is continuing today, with you and your fellow covenant holders as active players in the story.
This larger vision will enable you to think differently and more consciously about your relationship with God, and also about your relationship with other covenant holders, past and present. There is a grand power associated with coming to see the communal nature of the covenant, but this only happens when we recognize the role of the covenant throughout scripture and how it is playing out today. In short, your scriptural and covenantal vision will change as you come to recognize the covenant and your place in its history.[vii]
[i] Russell M. Nelson, “Let God Prevail,” General Conference, October 2020.
[ii] Kerry Muhlestein, God Will Prevail: Ancient Covenants, Modern Blessings, and the Gathering of Israel (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2021), 4-7; 19-24. See also Kerry Muhlestein, Joshua M. Sears, and Avram
R. Shannon, “New and Everlasting: The Relationship between Gospel Covenants in History,” Religious Educator 21/2 (2020): 21–40.
[iii] Muhlestein, God Will Prevail, 74.
[iv] See also Kerry Muhlestein “Recognizing the Everlasting Covenant in the Scriptures,” Religious
Educator 21/2 (2020): 41–71.
[v] Muhlestein, God Will Prevail, 15.
[vii] Ibid., 16.