Cover image: The March of Abraham, painting by József Molnár via Brittanica.
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are not alone in seeing the Abrahamic Covenant as important. Our Jewish friends certainly find it a weighty matter. Our fellow Christian brothers and sisters also see recognize the role it plays in the scriptures, thought they do not identify with it in the same way we do. Much of our distinctive perspective on the covenant comes as a result of Joseph Smith teaching us so fervently that we are a continuation of both the primitive church established by Christ, and of the Gospel and its attendant covenants and ordinances as practiced from the days of Adam. The Prophet certainly made a connection between the Restored Church and the ancient world that is unique. We can only touch on the meaning and import of the Abrahamic covenant lightly here. For a much more in-depth discussion, see my book God Will Prevail: Ancient Covenants, Modern Blessings, and the Gathering of Israel.
Joseph Smith understood and taught this connection between ourselves and the era of the Old Testament long before he received the Book of Abraham. Still, that book of scripture served to strengthen the connection and further clarify exactly what that connection is. It is worth our time to explore exactly what is unique in regards to what the Book of Abraham teaches us about the Abrahamic covenant vis a vis the Bible.
The opening verses of the Book of Abraham convey a singular understanding of the covenant. Within the first four verses Abraham explains that the covenant he has sought for:
- Could only be administered by someone who was ordained (ie. held the priesthood)
- The covenant involved blessings and obligations such as
- Following righteousness
- Possessing great knowledge
- Be a father of nations (also taught in the Bible)
- Be a prince of peace
- Receive instructions and obey the commandments (also taught in the Bible)
- The covenant was passed down through a righteous line
- Adam was the first to hold that covenant
While a number of these things are unique to the covenant as it is presented in the Book of Abraham, the notion that it was not a new covenant, but rather was a covenant being reestablished, and that it was administered via the priesthood, are among the most remarkable.
The events of Abraham’s early life were inextricably tied to his reception of the covenant. More about that can be learned in my book Let’s Talk about the Book of Abraham. Here we will focus more on the covenant itself. Thus we will not discuss the storyline of the Book of Abraham, but will instead skip from those opening verses to Abraham Chapter Two, where we again learn a great deal about the covenant.
As Abraham leaves Haran, the Lord explains more fully the covenant Abraham is becoming part of. He is taught that
- He will be a minister for God
- He will receive a land for an everlasting possession (also in the Bible)
- He will become a great nation (also in the Bible)
- He will be blessed in great measure (also in the Bible)
- His name will be made great and he will be a blessing to his seed and the world (also in the Bible)
- His descendants would take the priesthood to all the world
- As part of this his descendants have a right to receive Gospel ordinances which administer the covenant
- His descendants have an obligation to take the Gospel to all the world
- His descendants have an obligation to take priesthood ordinances to the world, which would administer the covenant to others
- In other words, Abraham’s descendants must share the covenant with all mankind
- All those who make a covenant with God through these Gospel ordinances will become Abraham’s and Sarah’s seed
- God will bless those that bless Abraham and curse those who curse him – a form of protection (also in the Bible)
Upon receiving this covenant, Abraham uttered beautifully “thy servant has sought thee earnestly; now I have found thee” (Abraham 2:12). Thus Abraham teaches us the profound truth that it is through priesthood ordinance administered covenants that we find God. Another way we could say this is that it is through the ordinances of the priesthood that the power of Godliness is made manifest (D&C 84:20-21).
So, what do we know about the Abrahamic covenant that we would not if we did not have the Book of Abraham? We would not know that this was the same covenant Adam had and that this covenant has always been part of the Gospel. We would not know that the covenant has to be administered through priesthood ordinances. We would miss out on knowing about promises regarding knowledge, righteousness, and peace. Further, and so importantly, we would not know of our obligation to take the Gospel and its ordinance-administered covenant to all the world. As important as it is to teach all the world about Christ, it is not enough. We need to teach them about approaching Christ through covenant as it is administered by ordinances that are only efficacious if they are enacted by those who hold the authority to represent God as we covenant with God.
As beautiful as the covenant as it is taught in the Bible is, it is somewhat hollow – even without power and saving abilities – if it is not accompanied by priesthood power and the fuller understanding which we receive from the Book of Abraham. How fortunate we are that the Lord restored these truths about the covenant through the Book of Abraham!