“Perhaps our friends will say that the Gospel and its ordinances were not known till the days of John, the son of Zacharias, in the days of Herod, the king of Judea. But we will here look at this point: For our own part we cannot believe that the ancients in all ages were so ignorant of the system of heaven as many suppose, since all that were ever saved, were saved through the power of this great plan of redemption, as much before the coming of Christ as since; if not, God has had different plans in operation (if we may so express it), to bring men back to dwell with Himself; and this we cannot believe, since there has been no change in the constitution of man since he fell; and the ordinance or institution of offering blood in sacrifice, was only designed to be performed till Christ was offered up and shed His blood—as said before—that man might look forward in faith to that time. It will be noticed that, according to Paul [see Galatians 3:8], the Gospel was preached to Abraham.” (Smith, Teachings, pp. 59–60.)
Instructions to Students
1. Use Notes and Commentary below to help you as you read and study Genesis 4–11.
2. Moses 5–8 contains valuable insights and additions not found in Genesis. Although this parallel account in Moses is studied in detail in the Pearl of Great Price course (Rel. 327), these chapters should be read and studied in connection with the Genesis account.
3. Complete Points to Ponder as directed by your teacher. (Individual study students should complete all of this section.)
Between Genesis 3:24 and Genesis 4:1, fifteen additional verses are added which contain the following important points of information.
1. After they were driven from the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve labored together to make a living for themselves and their children by tilling the soil and raising flocks (see Moses 5:1).
2. Adam and Eve began to have sons and daughters in fulfillment of the command to multiply and replenish the earth. Their children began to marry each other and start their own families (see Moses 5:2–3). This addition in Moses clears up a problem raised by the Genesis account. In Genesis 4:1–2, it appears that Cain and Abel are the first of Adam’s children, yet, a few verses later, Genesis 4:17 talks about Cain’s wife. The Moses account makes it clear that many children were born before Cain and, therefore, his finding himself a wife would not have been a problem.
3. Adam and Eve called upon the name of the Lord, and though they no longer saw Him as they did in the Garden, He spoke with them and gave them commandments (see Moses 5:4–5).
4. Adam and Eve were obedient to those commandments, which involved sacrificing the firstlings of the flocks as an offering to the Lord (see Moses 5:5).
5. After “many days” of such obedience, an angel appeared and asked Adam why he offered sacrifice (Moses 5:6). When Adam responded that he did not know but was being obedient anyway (a great insight into the faith of Adam), the angel then taught him that these sacrifices were in similitude of the future atoning sacrifice of the Savior and that they were to repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore (see Moses 5:6–8).
6. After being taught the plan of salvation and being baptized, Adam and Eve had the Holy Ghost come upon them and they began to prophesy. Both understood the purpose for the Fall and rejoiced in the Lord’s plan (Moses 5:9–11).
7. Adam and Eve taught these things to their children, but Satan also began to influence their children and sought to persuade them to reject the gospel. From that time forth, the gospel was preached, and those who accepted it were saved whereas those who did not were damned (see Moses 5:12–15).
The Prophet Joseph Smith gave the following insight about Abel:
“We read in Genesis 4:4, that Abel brought the firstlings of the flock and the fat thereof, and the Lord had respect to Abel and to his offering. And again, ‘By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and by it he being dead, yet speaketh.’ (Hebrews 11:4.) How doth he yet speak? Why he magnified the Priesthood which was conferred upon him, and died a righteous man, and therefore has become an angel of God by receiving his body from the dead, holding still the keys of his dispensation; and was sent down from heaven unto Paul to minister consoling words, and to commit unto him a knowledge of the mysteries of godliness.
“And if this was not the case, I would ask, how did Paul know so much about Abel, and why should he talk about his speaking after he was dead? Hence, that he spoke after he was dead must be by being sent down out of heaven to administer.” (Teachings, pp. 168–69.)
Joseph F. Smith’s vision of the redemption of the dead (D&C 138) indicates that Abel was among the righteous Saints who were in the spirit world awaiting the coming of the Savior, who visited there while His body was in the tomb (see v. 40).
The Prophet Joseph Smith explained why Cain’s offering was not acceptable:
“By faith in this atonement or plan of redemption, Abel offered to God a sacrifice that was accepted, which was the firstlings of the flock. Cain offered of the fruit of the ground, and was not accepted, because he could not do it in faith, he could have no faith, or could not exercise faith contrary to the plan of heaven. It must be shedding the blood of the Only Begotten to atone for man; for this was the plan of redemption; and without the shedding of blood was no remission; and as the sacrifice was instituted for a type, by which man was to discern the great Sacrifice which God had prepared; to offer a sacrifice contrary to that, no faith could be exercised, because redemption was not purchased in that way, nor the power of atonement instituted after that order; consequently Cain could have no faith; and whatsoever is not of faith, is sin. But Abel offered an acceptable sacrifice, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God Himself testifying of his gifts. Certainly, the shedding of the blood of a beast could be beneficial to no man, except it was done in imitation, or as a type, or explanation of what was to be offered through the gift of God Himself; and this performance done with an eye looking forward in faith on the power of that great Sacrifice for a remission of sins.” (Teachings, p. 58.)
Even after the unacceptable offering, the Lord did not reject Cain, but gave him specific warning about the dangerous path he was walking. It was after that counsel was rejected that Cain’s rebellion became total. Moses records that “Cain was wroth, and listened not any more to the voice of the Lord” (Moses 5:26).
Genesis 4:7 is not clear, but the Moses account explains that the Lord warned Cain that if he did not repent, he would rule over Satan. Also, the fuller account in Moses records that Cain did not immediately go into the field and kill Abel. After rejecting the Lord, Cain began to communicate directly with Satan, who suggested the means whereby he could kill Abel (see Moses 5:28–31). Step by step Satan engineered Cain’s downfall until he reached the point where “he gloried in his wickedness” (Moses 5:31). It was at this point that he killed his brother.
Sometimes this scripture is cited as evidence that each individual has a responsibility to love and care for his fellow men. Without question that responsibility is taught in the scriptures, but is that what Cain’s question really implies? The Hebrew word which is translated as “keeper” is shomer and means “a guard or custodian.” Thus, with typical Satanic deceitfulness, Cain’s question twisted a true principle. No man has the right to be a keeper of his brethren in the sense of becoming their guard or custodian (except as assigned by civil law to guard criminals or in the case of parents and young children). And yet, for Cain to imply that he should have no concern for his fellowman, especially his literal brother, is to deny all gospel principles of love and concern for others.
“Four generations and some five hundred years later, according to Adam’s book of remembrance, Enoch, of Seth’s line, was called to become a great prophet-missionary-reformer. His ministry was needed, for the followers of the line and cult of Cain had become numerous, and violence was rampant already in the fifth generation after Cain (Moses 5:28–31, 47–57). Unto those who had become sensual and devilish Enoch preached repentance. The sons of God, distinguished from the ‘sons of men,’ were obliged to segregate themselves in a new home called ‘Cainan’ after their forefather, the son of Enos. (Do not confuse this Cainan with the wicked people of Canaan of Moses 7:6–10).
“Against the evils of the time, which he was called to combat (Moses 6:27–29), Enoch was successful; he was able to build up a righteous culture called ‘Zion,’ meaning, ‘the pure in heart.’ (Moses 7:18 ff.) The teachings of Enoch cover some seven major categories and embrace some information found nowhere else in scripture. He dealt with (1) the fall of man and its results; (2) the nature of salvation and the means of achieving it; (3) sin, as seen in the evils of his times, in contrast to the righteousness of the godly who were his followers; (4) the cause, purpose, and effects of the anticipated flood of Noah; (5) the scope of Satan’s triumph and the resultant sorrows of God; (6) the first advent of the Messiah; (7) the second advent of the Messiah and his peaceful, millennial reign. The details of his Gospel concepts are worth careful study and attention. Mention of this great man is also found in the New Testament (Jude 14, 15; Hebrews 11:5) and in the Doctrine and Covenants. (See D&C index. . . .)” (Rasmussen, Introduction to the Old Testament, 1:24–25.)
A careful examination of the record of the patriarchs in this section of Genesis shows that Methuselah died in the year of the Flood. Some have wondered why he was not taken on the ark with Noah and have concluded that he may have been wicked. The book of Moses, however, shows that the lineage given in this part of the record traces the righteous patriarchal line (see Moses 6:23), and Methuselah was in that line. Moses 8:3 records that Methuselah was not taken with the city of Enoch so that the line could be continued. Also, Methuselah prophesied that through his own seed would spring all nations of the earth (through the righteous Noah). Clearly, he too was righteous. Then is added this sentence: “And he took glory unto himself” (Moses 8:3). Once his work was done he may have been translated too, for during the nearly seven hundred years from the time the city of Enoch was translated until the time of the Flood the righteous Saints were translated and joined Enoch’s people (see Moses 7:27; see also McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 804).
Although most scholars believe Methuselah’s name means “man of the javelin” or “man of the spear,” one scholar wrote the following interpretation that, if correct, would make Methuselah’s name a prophetic one:
“Methuselah lived till the very year in which the flood came, of which his name is supposed to have been prophetical . . . methu, ‘he dieth,’ and shalach, ‘he sendeth out’; as if God had designed to teach men that as soon as Methuselah died the flood should be sent forth to drown an ungodly world. If this were then so understood, even the name of this patriarch contained in it a gracious warning.” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 1:68.)
Moses 8:13–16 further clarifies what is meant here and why this intermarriage is condemned. Commenting on the same verses, Elder Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:
“Because the daughters of Noah married the sons of men contrary to the teachings of the Lord, his anger was kindled, and this offense was one cause that brought to pass the universal flood. You will see that the condition appears reversed in the Book of Moses. It was the daughters of the sons of God who were marrying the sons of men, which was displeasing unto the Lord. The fact was, as we see it revealed, that the daughters who had been born, evidently under the covenant, and were the daughters of the sons of God, that is to say of those who held the priesthood, were transgressing the commandment of the Lord and were marrying out of the Church. Thus they were cutting themselves off from the blessings of the priesthood contrary to the teachings of Noah and the will of God.” (Answers to Gospel Questions, 1:136–37.)
President Spencer W. Kimball warned Latter-day Saints today of the dangers of marrying outside of the covenant:
“Paul told the Corinthians, ‘Be ye not unequally yoked together. . . .’ Perhaps Paul wanted them to see that religious differences are fundamental differences. Religious differences imply wider areas of conflict. Church loyalties and family loyalties clash. Children’s lives are often frustrated. The nonmember may be equally brilliant, well trained and attractive, and he or she may have the most pleasing personality, but without a common faith, trouble lies ahead for the marriage. There are some exceptions but the rule is a harsh and unhappy one.
“There is no bias nor prejudice in this doctrine. It is a matter of following a certain program to reach a definite goal.” (Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 240.)
Many scholars, who have only Genesis to study, believe that this statement prophesied the shortened life expectancy that would take place after the Flood. In the book of Moses, however, it is clear that the 120 years referred to the time when Noah would preach repentance and try to save the world before the Flood was sent (see Moses 8:17). This period would be the time referred to by Peter as the time when “the longsuffering of God waited” (1 Peter 3:20). Because the people rejected the principles and ordinances of the gospel, preached to them by Noah, they were destroyed in the Flood. The Lord gave them more than adequate time to repent.
See Moses 8:25–26. The Prophet Joseph Smith stated: “I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers. Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors. As it read [Genesis 6:6], ‘It repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth’; also [Numbers 23:19], ‘God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the Son of man, that he should repent’; which I do not believe. But it ought to read, ‘It repented Noah that God made man.’” (Teachings, p. 327.)
“The Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith many things in relation to the ancient prophets and the keys which they held. In a discourse on the Priesthood July 2, 1839, the Prophet made known what the Lord had revealed to him in relation to the missions of the ancient prophets and seers. In the course of his remarks he said this:
“‘. . . Noah, who is Gabriel; he stands next in authority to Adam in the Priesthood; he was called of God to this office, and was the father of all living in his day, and to him was given the dominion. These men held keys first on earth, and then in heaven. . . .’ [Smith, Teachings, pp. 157–58.]
“Luke reveals the coming of the angel Gabriel to Zacharias to inform him that his wife would bear a son. He also appeared to Mary and announced the birth of our Lord and Savior.
“Gabriel then is Noah according to this revelation.” (Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 3:138–41.)
“Noah, who built the ark, was one of God’s greatest servants, chosen before he was born as were others of the prophets. He was no eccentric, as many have supposed. Neither was he a mythical figure created only in legend. Noah was real. . . .
“Let no one downgrade the life and mission of this great prophet. Noah was so near perfect in his day that he literally walked and talked with God. . . .
“Few men in any age were as great as Noah. In many respects he was like Adam, the first man. Both had served as ministering angels in the presence of God even after their mortal experience. Adam was Michael, the archangel, but Noah was Gabriel, one of those nearest to God. Of all the hosts of heaven, he was chosen to open the Christian era by announcing to Mary that she would become the mother of the Savior, Jesus Christ. He even designated the name by which the Redeemer should be known here on earth, saying He would be the Son of God. . . .
“. . . The Lord decreed that [the earth would be cleansed] by water, a worldwide deluge. Therefore, from among his premortal spirit children, God chose another great individual—His third in line, Gabriel—to resume the propagation of mankind following the flood.” (Mark E. Petersen, Noah and the Flood , 1–4.)
The typical way of referring to Noah’s sons is in the order given in Genesis, that is, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. The book of Moses, however, records that Japheth was the first one of the three sons born, Shem the second, and Ham the last (see Moses 8:12).
“The ark: the Hebrew word means ‘box’ or ‘chest.’ It is used elsewhere only for the watertight ‘basket’ in which the baby Moses floated on the Nile—an interesting parallel.
“The ark is vast, designed to float, not sail—and there were no launching problems! An 18-inch cubit gives the measurements as 450 x 76 x 45 feet or 137 x 23 x 14 metres.” (Alexander and Alexander, eds., Eerdmans’ Handbook to the Bible, p. 132.)
|[click for scalable version]|
“During the first 2200 or so years of the earth’s history—that is, from the fall of Adam to the ministry of Melchizedek—it was a not uncommon occurrence for faithful members of the Church to be translated and taken into the heavenly realms without tasting death. Since that time there have been occasional special instances of translation, instances in which a special work of the ministry required it.
“. . . Methuselah, the son of Enoch, was not translated [with Enoch’s city], ‘that the covenants of the Lord might be fulfilled, which he made to Enoch; for he truly covenanted with Enoch that Noah should be of the fruit of his loins.’ (Moses 8:2.) But during the nearly 700 years from the translation of Enoch to the flood of Noah, it would appear that nearly all of the faithful members of the Church were translated, for ‘the Holy Ghost fell on many, and they were caught up by the powers of heaven into Zion.’ (Moses 7:27.)” (McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 804.)
“I would like to know by what known law the immersion of the globe could be accomplished. It is explained here in a few words: ‘The windows of heaven were opened’ that is, the waters that exist throughout the space surrounding the earth from whence come these clouds from which the rain descends. That was one cause. Another cause was ‘the fountains of the great deep were broken up’—that is something beyond the oceans, something outside of the seas, some reservoirs of which we have no knowledge, were made to contribute to this event, and the waters were let loose by the hand and by the power of God; for God said He would bring a flood upon the earth and He brought it, but He had to let loose the fountains of the great deep, and pour out the waters from there, and when the flood commenced to subside, we are told ‘that the fountains also of the deep and the windows of heaven were stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained, and the waters returned from off the earth.’ Where did they go to? From whence they came. Now, I will show you something else on the back of that. Some people talk very philosophically about tidal waves coming along. But the question is—How could you get a tidal wave out of the Pacific ocean, say, to cover the Sierra Nevadas? But the Bible does not tell us it was a tidal wave. It simply tells that ‘all the high hills that were under the whole heaven were covered. Fifteen cubits upwards did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.’ That is, the earth was immersed. It was a period of baptism.” (John Taylor, in Journal of Discourses, 26:74–75.)
Orson Pratt declared:
“The first ordinance instituted for the cleansing of the earth, was that of immersion in water; it was buried in the liquid element, and all things sinful upon the face of the earth were washed away. As it came forth from the ocean floor, like the new-born child, it was innocent; it rose to newness of life. It was its second birth from the womb of mighty waters—a new world issuing from the ruins of the old, clothed with all the innocence of this first creation.” (In Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 4:20.)
“The earth, in its present condition and situation, is not a fit habitation for the sanctified; but it abides the law of its creation, has been baptized with water, will be baptized by fire and the Holy Ghost, and by-and-by will be prepared for the faithful to dwell upon” (Brigham Young, in Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 4:20).
“Now I will go back to show you how the Lord operates. He destroyed a whole world at one time save a few, whom he preserved for his own special purpose. And why? He had more than one reason for doing so. This antediluvian people were not only very wicked themselves, but having the power to propagate their species, they transmitted their unrighteous natures and desires to their children, and brought them up to indulge in their own wicked practices. And the spirits that dwelt in the eternal worlds knew this, and they knew very well that to be born of such parentage would entail upon themselves an infinite amount of trouble, misery and sin. And supposing ourselves to be of the number of unborn spirits, would it not be fair to presume that we would appeal to the Lord, crying, ‘Father, do you not behold the condition of this people, how corrupt and wicked they are?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Is it then just that we who are now pure should take of such bodies and thus subject ourselves to most bitter experiences before we can be redeemed, according to the plan of salvation?’ ‘No,’ the Father would say, ‘it is not in keeping with my justice.’ ‘Well, what will you do in the matter; man has his free agency and cannot be coerced, and while he lives he has the power of perpetuating his species?’ ‘I will first send them my word, offering them deliverance from sin, and warning them of my justice, which shall certainly overtake them if they reject it, and I will destroy them from off the face of the earth, thus preventing their increase, and I will raise up another seed.’ Well, they did reject the preaching of Noah, the servant of God, who was sent to them, and consequently the Lord caused the rains of heaven to descend incessantly for forty days and nights, which flooded the land, and there being no means of escape, save for the eight souls who were obedient to the message, all the others were drowned. But, says the caviller, is it right that a just God should sweep off so many people? Is that in accordance with mercy? Yes, it was just to those spirits that had not received their bodies, and it was just and merciful too to those people guilty of the iniquity. Why? Because by taking away their earthly existence he prevented them from entailing their sins upon their posterity and degenerating them, and also prevented them from committing further acts of wickedness.” (John Taylor, in Journal of Discourses, 19:158–59.)
It should be remembered that the Garden of Eden was in the land now known as North America (see Reading 2-17). Although it is not known how far men had moved from that general location in the sixteen hundred years between the fall of Adam and the Flood, it is likely that Noah and his family lived somewhere in the general area. The Bible says that they landed on Mount Ararat when the ark finally came to rest. No location for Mount Ararat is given in the scriptures. The traditional site is a mountain found in northeastern Turkey near the border of Russia. Commenting on the distance traveled, Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said:
“We read that it was in the seventeenth day of the second month when the great deep was broken up, and the rain was forty days. The Ark landed at Ararat on the seventeenth day of the seventh month, therefore there were five full months of travel when the Lord drove the Ark to its final destiny. Without any question a considerable distance separated the point where the Ark commenced the journey and where it landed. There can be no question to contradict the fact that during the flood great changes were made on the face of the earth. The land surface was in the process of division into continents. The rivers mentioned in Genesis were rivers that existed in the garden of Eden long before the land was divided into continents and islands. [Genesis 2:11.]” (Answers to Gospel Questions, 2:94.)
In the Joseph Smith Translation of this passage is a significant addition that clarifies the Lord’s commandment to Noah:
“But, the blood of all flesh which I have given you for meat, shall be shed upon the ground, which taketh life thereof, and the blood ye shall not eat.
“And surely, blood shall not be shed, only for meat, to save your lives; and the blood of every beast will I require at your hands.
“And whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed; for man shall not shed the blood of man.
“For a commandment I give, that every man’s brother shall preserve the life of man, for in mine own image have I made man.” (JST, Genesis 9:10–13.)
This expansion concerning the shedding of the blood of animals is supported by Doctrine and Covenants 49:18–21, which says that the animals are to be used for food, but concludes with this warning:
“And wo be unto man that sheddeth blood or that wasteth flesh and hath no need.”
President Spencer W. Kimball spoke at some length in a general priesthood meeting on the practice of killing animals simply for sport (see “Fundamental Principles to Live and Ponder,” Ensign, Nov. 1978, pp. 44–45.)
The following sources shed additional light on the rainbow and the covenant it is meant to signify.
“And I will establish my covenant with you, which I made unto Enoch, concerning the remnants of your posterity.
“And God made a covenant with Noah, and said, This shall be the token of the covenant I make between me and you, and for every living creature with you, for perpetual generations;
“I will set my bow in the cloud; and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.
“And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud; and I will remember my covenant, which I have made between me and you, for every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh.
“And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant, which I made unto thy father Enoch; that when men should keep all my commandments, Zion should again come on the earth, the city of Enoch which I have caught up unto myself.
“And this is mine everlasting covenant, that when thy posterity shall embrace the truth, and look upward, then shall Zion look downward, and all the heavens shall shake with gladness, and the earth shall tremble with joy;
“And the general assembly of the church of the first-born shall come down out of heaven, and possess the earth, and shall have place until the end come. And this is mine everlasting covenant, which I made with thy father Enoch.
“And the bow shall be in the cloud, and I will establish my covenant unto thee, which I have made between me and thee, for every living creature of all flesh that shall be upon the earth.
“And God said unto Noah, This is the token of the covenant which I have established between me and thee; for all flesh that shall be upon the earth.” (JST, Genesis 9:17–25.)
“The Lord hath set the bow in the cloud for a sign that while it shall be seen, seed time and harvest, summer and winter shall not fail; but when it shall disappear, woe to that generation, for behold the end cometh quickly” (Smith, Teachings, p. 305).
“I have asked of the Lord concerning His coming; and while asking the Lord, He gave a sign and said, ‘In the days of Noah I set a bow in the heavens as a sign and token that in any year that the bow should be seen the Lord would not come; but there should be seed time and harvest during that year: but whenever you see the bow withdrawn, it shall be a token that there shall be famine, pestilence, and great distress among the nations, and that the coming of the Messiah is not far distant’” (Smith, Teachings, pp. 340–41).
The account of Noah’s “nakedness” and the role his sons played in the event is a puzzling one, especially the part in which Noah awakens and pronounces a curse upon Canaan, the son of Ham (see Genesis 10:6), who does not even seem to be present at the time.
Most members of the Church are aware that a priesthood garment, symbolic of the covenants made in the temple, is worn by those who have participated in the endowment ceremony in the temple. This garment is a representation of the coat of skins made by the Lord for Adam and Eve after the Fall (see Genesis 3:21; Moses 4:27). The idea of a garment made of skins that signified that one had power in the priesthood is found in several ancient writings. Hugh Nibley discussed some of these ancient writings and their implications for the passage in Genesis:
“Nimrod claimed his kingship on the ground of victory over his enemies [see Genesis 10:8–10; Reading 4-21]; his priesthood, however, he claimed by virtue of possessing ‘the garment of Adam.’ The Talmud assures us that it was by virtue of owning this garment that Nimrod was able to claim power to rule over the whole earth, and that he sat in his tower while men came and worshiped him. The Apocryphal writers, Jewish and Christian, have a good deal to say about this garment. To quote one of them: ‘the garments of skin which God made for Adam and his wife when they went out of the garden and were given after the death of Adam . . . to Enoch’; hence they passed to Methuselah, and then to Noah, from whom Ham stole them as the people were leaving the ark. Ham’s grandson Nimrod obtained them from his father Cush. As for the legitimate inheritance of this clothing, a very old fragment recently discovered says that Michael ‘disrobed Enoch of his earthly garments, and put on him his angelic clothing,’ taking him into the presence of God. . . .
“Incidentally the story of the stolen garment as told by the rabbis, including the great Eleazer, calls for an entirely different rendering of the strange story in Genesis  from the version in our King James Bible. They seemed to think that the ’erwath of Genesis [9:22] did not mean ‘nakedness’ at all, but should be given its primary root meaning of ‘skin covering.’ Read thus, we are to understand that Ham took the garment of his father while he was sleeping and showed it to his brethren, Shem and Japheth, who took a pattern or copy of it (salmah) or else a woven garment like it (simlah) which they put upon their own shoulders, returning the skin garment to their father. Upon awaking, Noah recognized the priesthood of two sons but cursed the son who tried to rob him of his garment.” (Lehi in the Desert and the World of Jaredites, pp. 160–62.)
Therefore, although Ham himself had the right to the priesthood, Canaan, his son, did not. Ham had married Egyptus, a descendant of Cain (Abraham 1:21–24), and so his sons were denied the priesthood.
The Joseph Smith Translation indicates, not that Nimrod was “a mighty hunter before the Lord” (Genesis 10:9), but that he was “a mighty hunter in the land” (JST, Genesis 10:5).
One scholar said the following of Nimrod:
“Though the words are not definite, it is very likely he was a very bad man. His name Nimrod comes from . . . marad, he rebelled; and the Targum [ancient Jewish translations or paraphrases of the scriptures], on 1 Chron. i. 10, says: Nimrod began to be a mighty man in sin, a murderer of innocent men, and a rebel before the Lord. The Jerusalem Targum says: ‘He was mighty in hunting (or in prey) and in sin before God, for he was a hunter of the children of men in their languages; and he said unto them, Depart from the religion of Shem, and cleave to the institutes of Nimrod.’ The Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel says: ‘From the foundation of the world none was ever found like Nimrod, powerful in hunting, and in rebellions against the Lord.’ The Syriac calls him a warlike giant. The word . . . tsayid, which we render hunter, signifies prey; and is applied in the Scriptures to the hunting of men by persecution, oppression, and tyranny. Hence it is likely that Nimrod, having acquired power, used it in tyranny and oppression; and by rapine and violence founded that domination which was the first distinguished by the name of a kingdom on the face of the earth.” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 1:86.)
Thus, in the same patriarchal age, Melchizedek (see Reading 5-9) established a Zion after the pattern of Enoch, the prototype of the true city of God, the freest of all societies, and Nimrod established a Babylon that gave its name to the prototype of the kingdom of Satan, the antithesis of Zion (see Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, pp. 154–64).
“The dividing of the earth was not an act of division by the inhabitants of the earth by tribes and peoples, but a breaking asunder of the continents, thus dividing the land surface and creating the Eastern Hemisphere and Western Hemisphere. By looking at a wall map of the world, you will discover how the land surface along the northern and southern coast of the American Hemisphere and Europe and Africa has the appearance of having been together at one time. Of course, there have been many changes on the earth’s surface since the beginning. We are informed by revelation that the time will come when this condition will be changed and that the land surface of the earth will come back again as it was in the beginning and all be in one place. This is definitely stated in the Doctrine and Covenants. [D&C 133:18–20 is then cited.]” (Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 5:73–74.)
In addition to providing an explanation for the numerous languages now found on the earth, this account of the tower of Babel shows how quickly man forgot the lessons of the Flood and turned again from the Lord. The Book of Mormon shows that the actual confounding of the languages may not have been an instantaneous thing but may have happened over an unknown length of time. Jared asked his brother to call upon the Lord and request that their language not be confounded. This request was granted. Then Jared asked his brother to plead that the language of their friends stay the same as theirs. This request, too, was granted. (See Ether 1:33–38.) These events imply that the confounding of the languages did not happen in an instant. (For more information on the tower of Babel, see Bible Dictionary, s.v. “Babel.”)
This chronology of the patriarchs teaches several things. (Compare the scripture account with the chart given in Maps and Charts.) For example, Shem lived long enough that he was contemporary with the next ten generations. In other words, he was still alive when Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were born. This circumstance is one of the reasons why some have wondered if Shem was also Melchizedek. (See Reading 5-9 for a discussion of Shem and Melchizedek.)
Many scholars believe that Eber’s name was used to designate his descendants, called the Hebrews, just as Shem’s descendants were called Shemites (Semite peoples), and Canaan’s descendants were called the Canaanites.
Genesis 11:31 makes it appear that Terah directed his entire family to leave Ur and go to Canaan by way of Haran. Abraham 2:3–5, however, makes it clear that Abraham, under the Lord’s direction, was the leader of the group. (See the map on page 65 for additional help.)
(4-26) In these eleven chapters of Genesis, which cover the lives of the ancient patriarchs, almost one-third of the total history of mankind is summarized in a brief manner. Obviously, such a limited treatment must omit many details that would be of great benefit to us. When Moses wrote this history, however, he shared with us one of the most remarkable contrasts in the history of the world. From the time of the Fall the people of the world began moving in two opposite directions. One group followed the teachings of Adam and Eve and continually strived for increasing righteousness and perfection. The other group yielded to the deceitful enticings of Satan and his servants and moved deeper and deeper into depravity and wickedness. Both these divergent paths were followed to their ultimate ends. Under Enoch’s direction, a whole society became so perfect that God took it to Himself, and for the next seven hundred years those who qualified themselves were likewise translated into that remarkable city of Enoch (see Reading 4-14). The other group moved downward as surely as Enoch’s city moved upward. Finally they reached such depths of wickedness that it was a blessing for them to be destroyed (see Reading 4-16).
Why is this pattern of significance to you? Because we are in a period of history when the same dramatic contrast and division is taking place. On a separate sheet of paper answer the following questions after reading the scripture references indicated.
1. Jesus taught that the situation in the days of Noah was going to be repeated once more in history. When is that repetition to take place, and what are the implications of that repetition? How does Nephi’s vision relate to this teaching?
Read Joseph Smith—Matthew 1:41–42; 1 Nephi 14:10–14.
2. Zion provided the escape for those who were righteous before the Flood. How will the Saints of the latter days be saved from the coming judgments?
Read Moses 7:61; D&C 45:65–71; D&C 45:5–6.
3. What are the conditions for bringing the promise of delivery upon ourselves?
Read D&C 97:18–27.
(4-27) The world is again rushing headlong toward destruction, just as it was in the days before the Flood. Once again the avenue of deliverance for the righteous is being provided, and Zion itself will once more be established. After reading the following statements, list on a separate sheet of paper specific steps you can take today to prepare yourself and the kingdom for the establishment of Zion.
“I prophesy to you, in the name of the Lord, that when the Latter-day Saints have prepared themselves through righteousness to redeem Zion, they will accomplish that work, and God will go with them. No power will then be able to prevent them from accomplishing that work; for the Lord has said it shall be done, and it will be done in the due time of the Lord, when the people are prepared for it. But when shall I be prepared to go there? Not while I have in my heart the love of this world more than the love of God. Not while I am possessed of that selfishness and greed that would induce me to cling to the world or my possessions in it, at the sacrifice of principle or truth. But when I am ready to say, ‘Father, all that I have, myself included, is Thine; my time, my substance, everything that I possess is on the altar, to be used freely, agreeable to Thy holy will, and not my will, but Thine, be done,’ then perhaps I will be prepared to go and help to redeem Zion.” (Joseph F. Smith, in Millennial Star, 18 June 1894, pp. 385–86.)
“When we conclude to make a Zion we will make it, and this work commences in the heart of each person. When the father of a family wishes to make a Zion in his own house, he must take the lead in this good work, which it is impossible for him to do unless he himself possesses the spirit of Zion. Before he can produce the work of sanctification in his family, he must sanctify himself, and by this means God can help him to sanctify his family. . . .
“My spiritual enjoyment must be obtained by my own life, but it would add much to the comfort of the community, and to my happiness, as one with them, if every man and woman would live their religion, and enjoy the light and glory of the Gospel for themselves, be passive, humble and faithful; rejoice continually before the Lord, attend to the business they are called to do, and be sure never to do anything wrong.
“All would then be peace, joy, and tranquility, in our streets and in our houses. Litigation would cease, there would be no difficulties before the High Council and Bishops’ Courts, and courts, turmoil, and strife would not be known.
“Then we would have Zion, for all would be pure in heart.” (Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, pp. 118–19.)
“We’re living in the latter days. We’re living in the days the prophets have told about from the time of Enoch to the present day. We are living in the era just preceding the second advent of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are told to so prepare and live that we can be . . . independent of every other creature beneath the celestial kingdom. That is what we are to do. . . .
“. . . the final thing that we are to do is to be able and willing to consecrate all that we have to the building up of the kingdom of God, to care for our fellow men. When we do this we’ll be ready for the coming of the Messiah.” (Marion G. Romney, in Conference Report, Apr. 1975, pp. 165–66.)
“In the meantime, while we await the redemption of Zion and the earth and the establishment of the United Order, we as bearers of the priesthood should live strictly by the principles of the United Order insofar as they are embodied in present church practices, such as the fast offering, tithing, and the welfare activities. Through these practices we could as individuals, if we were of a mind to do so, implement in our own lives all the basic principles of the United Order. . . .
“It is thus apparent that when the principles of tithing and the fast are properly observed and the Welfare Plan gets fully developed and wholly into operation, ‘we shall not be so very far from carrying out the great fundamentals of the United Order.’ (Conference Report, October 1942, pp. 57–58.)
“The only limitation on you and me is within ourselves.” (Marion G. Romney, in Conference Report, Apr. 1966, pp. 100–101.)
In your journal, you may wish to record your feelings about Zion and its significance for you.
God the Father enjoys a fulness of eternal glory. It is His plan to provide an opportunity for His spirit children to become like Him. “For behold,” He says, “this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). Joseph Smith taught, “God himself, finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself” (History of the Church, 6:312).
Eternal life is exaltation in the presence of God. It is essential to the upward progress of man that he be given certain basic tools by which he can climb. No one reaches the celestial level in a single leap. Therefore, man has been given the privilege of repentance. This gift, together with the right of free choice, means that each one controls his own destiny. Samuel the Lamanite explained, “Whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves” (Helaman 14:30).
In the plan of God this earth was created as a home for man. It is his proving ground, the place of his mortal probation, the place where he is tried and tested to see if he “will do all things whatsoever the Lord [his] God shall command” (Abraham 3:25).
The ultimate destiny of the earth, like the ultimate destiny of man, is to become celestial. Following its celestialization, the earth will serve as the eternal home of all those who abide a celestial law (see D&C 88:22). “Therefore, it [the earth] must needs be sanctified from all unrighteousness, that it may be prepared for the celestial glory; for after it hath filled the measure of its creation, it shall be crowned with glory, even with the presence of God the Father; that bodies who are of the celestial kingdom may possess it forever and ever; for, for this intent was it made and created, and for this intent are they sanctified” (D&C 88:18–20).
In order to help His children become like Him, Father in Heaven admonishes them to observe certain gospel principles by means of covenants and ordinances. The entire gospel itself is referred to in scripture as “a new and an everlasting covenant” (D&C 22:1; see also 133:57). That overall covenant includes a series of other covenants that, if observed, will make man like his divine parents. Covenants, covenant making, and covenant keeping thus become the keys to exaltation, or the kind of life God enjoys.
A covenant is a mutual agreement between two or more persons whereby each contracting party agrees to abide by certain stipulations. Heavenly Father agrees to give to His children all that He enjoys, providing they will keep all of His commandments (see D&C 76:50–60). “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise” (D&C 82:10). Broken covenants have no eternal or lasting value. As Joseph Smith said, “It requires two parties to make a covenant, and those two parties must be agreed, or no covenant can be made” (Teachings, p. 14).
The covenants of God with man are eternal. As eternal beings, His children existed with their Father in the premortal world. President John Taylor explained:
“We are not connected with a something that will exist only for a few years, some of the peculiar ideas and dogmas of men, some nice theory of their forming; the principles that we believe in reach back into eternity, they originated with the Gods in the eternal worlds, and they reach forward to the eternities that are to come. We feel that we are operating with God in connection with those who were, with those who are, and with those who are to come.” (In Journal of Discourses, 17:206.)
The gospel covenant is as old as eternity. So far as this earth is concerned, however, it was first introduced to Adam and passed from him to later generations. President Taylor said further:
“What is meant by the everlasting Gospel? I know that some people think there was no Gospel until Jesus came; but it is a great mistake. Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Moses had the Gospel; and when Jesus came he came to offer himself a sacrifice for the sins of the world, and to bring back the Gospel which the people had lost. ‘Well,’ says one, ‘do you mean to affirm that the men you have just named had the Gospel?’ I do, and hence it is called the everlasting Gospel.” (In Journal of Discourses, 13:17.)
To spread the gospel blessings abroad, the Lord has centered his work in a people specially chosen for the task. At first this people were the righteous Saints who followed Adam, Enoch, and the other faithful patriarchs. Around 2000 B.C. Abraham was selected to head this covenant race from that time forward. God, on His part, promised to make Abraham the “father of many nations” and to give the land of Canaan to Abraham and his seed “for an everlasting possession” (Genesis 17:4, 8). “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee” (Genesis 17:7).
But Abraham was also required to make certain promises to God. For one thing, he agreed to walk before the Lord and be perfect (see Genesis 17:1). Thus, he promised to live by every word of God and to perform with exactness every aspect of the everlasting covenant between himself and the Lord. As a token of this promise, Abraham further promised to circumcise himself and every male descendant. The Lord explained: “This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee: Every man child among you shall be circumcised. . . . and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.” (Genesis 17:10–11; see Reading 5-17 for a discussion of the covenant sign of circumcision.)
Latter-day revelation has clarified the practical purposes of God’s choice to do His missionary work through Abraham and his seed. Consider these important words of the Lord to Father Abraham.
Read Abraham 2:8–11.
God remembers all His covenants with men and keeps them faithfully. To ancient Israel Moses said, “Know therefore that the Lord thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations” (Deuteronomy 7:9). According to Jacob, Nephi’s brother, the faithfulness of God in keeping covenants is one reason the prophet Isaiah wrote—to show the house of Israel that “the Lord God will fulfill his covenants which he has made unto his children” (2 Nephi 6:12).
Unfortunately, men are not always faithful to the covenants they make with God. It is one thing to know that one is chosen of the Lord, another thing to understand what one is chosen to do, and still another to prove faithful to that mission. In the final sense, many are called into the covenant of the Lord—all, in fact, who will come—but few are chosen, because many do not do well enough to reap all the promised rewards (see Matthew 20:16). Why? Because too many do not keep their covenants with the Lord.
The history of the house of Israel is a fascinating study in covenant keeping and covenant breaking. It is saddening to find that the Old Testament includes accounts of a long series of broken covenants. But it also records great faithfulness and covenants that were kept. Watching for Israel’s response to her covenants with the Lord can be a most significant experience in studying the Old Testament. The Old Testament can provide a vicarious experience for modern Saints and help them evaluate their own covenant-keeping record. In noting Israel’s response to the covenant, one can discover the real meaning of Paul’s seemingly paradoxical statement to the Saints of Rome, “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel” (Romans 9:6).
The purpose of the Lord is to bless all His faithful children with the blessings of exaltation and eternal life. This was the central purpose of the Abrahamic covenant (see Abraham 2:11).
To be chosen of the Lord does not mean to be arbitrarily more loved. “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34). He does not offer His acceptance of His children on the basis of whim or arbitrary factors. They must merit His blessings by obedience or they do not obtain them. But being chosen does signify God’s confidence in one’s willingness to do as He commands. This knowledge He obtained by long experience with His children in the premortal past (see Talmage, Jesus the Christ, pp. 28–29, note 1). Father in Heaven does not decide who His elect will be without some valid basis. A person becomes the elect of God by responding to His proffered gifts. God defines His elect in scripture as those who “hear my voice and harden not their hearts” (D&C 29:7). This principle is precisely the one that Nephi tried to teach his rebellious brothers, Laman and Lemuel.
Read 1 Nephi 17:35, 40.
Moses taught this precept to the wandering children of Israel, but it seems that they never really comprehended what their great prophet-lawgiver was talking about.
Read Deuteronomy 4:5–8.
Latter-day Saints are Abraham’s seed of the latter days. Their exaltation or eternal life depends on their obedience to the covenants they have made and kept with God. The promises of Abraham are theirs too if they will do the works that Abraham did. Read the word of the Lord in this matter.
Read D&C 132:29–32; 110:12.
Once the foregoing truths are understood, one is prepared to understand that every law set down by God has as its ultimate reward the exaltation of all who will respond. One may receive or reject as one chooses, but the blessings of God cannot be obtained except in the way revealed by Him. The Lord explains it this way:
Read D&C 132:5–6, 8.
But if everything that brings God’s blessings is dependent upon obedience to law, it is likewise true that no one is coerced into receiving that which one does not want. Only if one consciously chooses to develop a celestial spirit can one ever hope to attain all that the Father has. As Alma wrote to his son who had violated sacred covenants, “Therefore, O my son, whosoever will come may come and partake of the waters of life freely: and whosoever will not come the same is not compelled to come; but in the last day it shall be restored unto him according to his deeds” (Alma 42:27).
The covenants of the Lord will bless the lives of those who enter into them in faith and live worthy of the blessings that are promised for obedience.
You are “the seed of Abraham” (D&C 84:34; see also D&C 132:30). What does that statement mean? You probably have a similar statement in your patriarchal blessing. What are the blessings of Abraham to which you are entitled, and what do blessings given so long ago have to do with you today? Are Abraham’s blessings essentially any different from the blessings given to Adam, Enoch, or Noah?
The focus of this chapter is on the covenant between Jehovah and Abraham. Emphasis will be given to the elements of the covenant and its blessings and responsibilities. As you study, look for the application of this covenant to you. Because you are a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the covenant is a part of your life; you accepted it at baptism. Your eternal salvation depends on how you keep those promises. It would be very wise to understand this covenant.
Instructions to Students
1. Use Notes and Commentary below to help you as you read and study Genesis 12–17.
2. Abraham 1–3 contains valuable insights and additions not found in Genesis. Although this parallel account in Abraham is studied in detail in the Pearl of Great Price course (Rel. 327), these chapters should be read and studied in connection with the Genesis account.
3. Complete Points to Ponder as directed by your teacher. (Individual study students should complete all of this section.)
Doctrine and Covenants 84:14 teaches that Abraham received the Melchizedek Priesthood from Melchizedek. It is not certain when he received it: he may have received it while still in Ur (see Abraham 1:2, 3:1) or at some later date.
As recorded in Genesis 12:1, Abraham, while living in Haran, received a call to leave his country and family and go southwest to a new land. He then departed from Haran and went to Canaan. Earlier, as recorded in Abraham 1:15–16, the Lord had called Abraham from Ur, which is near the mouth of the Euphrates, and led him northwesterly to Haran. Thus, Abraham was directed by the Lord to move twice in these early years. The Lord continued to lead him from place to place.
|Abraham’s journey from Ur to Canaan
[click for scalable version]
The first intimations of the covenant to be renewed through Abraham are given in verses 2–3, 7. (See Points to Ponder in this chapter for a full discussion of this covenant.)
Given here is evidence that Abraham was a preacher and a gatherer of souls (i.e., he did missionary work) wherever he went (see Abraham 2:15).
The idea that Abraham, the great man of righteousness, deceived Pharaoh in order to protect his own life has troubled many students of the Old Testament. That his life was in danger because of Sarah’s beauty seems quite clear. It seems peculiar, but whereas the Egyptian pharaohs had a strong aversion to committing adultery with another man’s wife, they had no qualms about murdering the man to free his spouse for remarriage.
|[click for scalable version]|
“To kill the husband in order to possess himself of his wife seems to have been a common royal custom in those days. A papyrus tells of a Pharaoh who, acting on the advice of one of his princes, sent armed men to fetch a beautiful woman and make away with her husband. Another Pharaoh is promised by his priest on his tombstone, that even after death he will kill Palestinian sheiks and include their wives in his harem.” (Kasher, Encyclopedia of Biblical Interpretation, 2:128.)
Abraham could validly state that Sarah was his sister. In the Bible the Hebrew words brother and sister are often used for other blood relatives. (See Genesis 14:14, in which Lot, Abraham’s nephew, is called “his brother.”) Because Abraham and Haran, Sarah’s father, were brothers, Sarah was Abraham’s niece and thus could be called sister. The accompanying pedigree chart shows this relationship.
Another ancient custom that might shed light on the relationship permitted a woman to be adopted as a man’s sister upon their marriage to give her greater legal and social status (see Encyclopaedia Judaica, s.v. “Sarah,” 14:866).
Even though Abraham was correct in calling her his sister, he did deceive the Egyptians. How can this action be justified? The answer is very simple. His action was justified because God told him to do it (see Abraham 2:22–25). The Prophet Joseph Smith taught the following:
“That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another.
“God said, ‘Thou shalt not kill;’ at another time He said, ‘Thou shalt utterly destroy.’ This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted—by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire.” (Teachings, p. 256.)
Since God is perfect and does not do anything that is not right (see Deuteronomy 32:4; 1 Samuel 15:29; Alma 7:20; D&C 3:2), Abraham’s act was not wrong.
The scriptures warn of the dangers of wealth so often that occasionally some people assume that wealth in and of itself is evil and that all wealthy people are automatically wicked. Without question, the temptation to set one’s heart upon the things of the world is one to which many people succumb. But Paul taught that the “love of money is the root of all evil,” not the money itself (1 Timothy 6:10; emphasis added).
Abraham provides an example of one who had great wealth (see Genesis 13:2) and yet was a man of great faith and righteousness. The incident between him and Lot provides an excellent insight into Abraham’s Christlike nature. By all rights Lot should have insisted that Abraham choose first. Lot had been nurtured and protected by Abraham, and Abraham was the patriarch of the clan. Abraham could have taken his rights and given Lot what was left. Instead, his concern was only that “there be no strife” between them, so he gave Lot first choice (v. 8; see also vv. 9–10). Lot seems to have chosen the best land—the well-watered plains of Jordan—and yet there is not a trace of resentment in Abraham. In fact, in the next few chapters is recorded Abraham’s intervention to save Lot’s life. Here was a man for whom principles came first and material things second. It is not surprising that the Lord should renew the ancient covenant with him and make him father of the faithful.
All those who “receive this Gospel shall be called after thy [Abraham’s] name, and shall be accounted thy seed” (Abraham 2:10). Also, “the meek . . . shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5) when the earth achieves its “sanctified and immortal state” (D&C 130:9) as the celestial kingdom. Thus, Abraham’s seed (the faithful) will have the earth throughout all eternity as well as during mortality.
In this listing of conquests by the alliance of five kings, it must be remembered that anciently the most typical political entity was a small city-state wherein the king presided over one major city and the surrounding area. This territory was sometimes expanded, but kings in those days did not rule over large countries or kingdoms. Sodom had a king, Gomorrah a king, and so on.
|Abraham and the Battle of the Kings
[click for scalable version]
“To the man Melchizedek goes the honor of having his name used to identify the Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God, thus enabling men ‘to avoid the too frequent repetition’ of the name of Deity. (D. & C. 107:2–4.) Of all God’s ancient high priests ‘none were greater.’ (Alma 13:19.) His position in the priestly hierarchy of God’s earthly kingdom was like unto that of Abraham (Heb. 7:4–10), his contemporary whom he blessed (Gen. 14:18–20; Heb. 7:1; [JST], Gen. 14:17–40 [click here and here for JST text]), and upon whom he conferred the priesthood. (D. & C. 84:14.)
“Indeed, so exalted and high was the position of Melchizedek in the eyes of the Lord and of his people that he stood as a prototype of the Son of God himself. . . .
“Alma tells us that ‘Melchizedek was a king over the land of Salem; and his people had waxed strong in iniquity and abomination; yea, they had all gone astray; they were full of all manner of wickedness; But Melchizedek having exercised mighty faith, and received the office of the high priesthood according to the holy order of God, did preach repentance unto his people. And behold, they did repent; and Melchizedek did establish peace in the land in his days; therefore he was called the prince of peace, for he was the king of Salem; and he did reign under his father.’ (Alma 13:17–18.)
“Paul, very obviously knowing much more about Melchizedek than he happened to record in his epistles, gave as an illustration of great faith some unnamed person who ‘wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire.’ (Heb. 11:33–34.) From the Prophet’s inspired additions to the Old Testament we learn that Paul’s reference was to Melchizedek. ‘Now Melchizedek was a man of faith, who wrought righteousness; and when a child he feared God, and stopped the mouths of lions, and quenched the violence of fire’ [JST, Genesis 14:26].” (McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, pp. 474–75.)
In ancient Jewish traditions Melchizedek is often thought to be Shem, the son of Noah. Melchizedek is a title meaning “king of righteousness,” even though it is also used as a proper name. A modern writer examined the question of whether Shem and Melchizedek could be the same person and concluded that, while we cannot say for sure, the possibility is clearly there. He said:
“Let us examine first what we know about Shem. Although the Bible names Shem as the eldest son of Noah (Gen. 5:32), modern-day revelation places Japheth as the eldest (Moses 8:12). Both reports, however, are harmonious in naming Shem as the progenitor of Israel and in the fact that the priesthood descended through Shem to all the great patriarchs after Noah. (1 Chron. 1:24–27.) In this patriarchal order of priesthood, Shem stands next to Noah. He held the keys to the priesthood and was the great high priest of his day.
“Living contemporary with Shem was a man known as Melchizedek, who was also known as the great high priest. The scriptures give us the details of Shem’s birth and ancestry but are silent as to his ministry and later life. Of Melchizedek, however, the opposite is true. Nothing is recorded about his birth or ancestry, even though the Book of Mormon states that he did have a father. (Al. 13:17–18.) Concerning his ministry and life we have several interesting and important facts. (Gen. 14:18–20; Heb. 7:1–4; Al. 13:17–18.)
“All of this provokes some questions and calls for answers. Were there two high priests presiding at the same time? Why is the record silent concerning Shem’s ministry? Why is nothing known concerning Melchizedek’s ancestry?
“Because of this state of knowledge on our part, many Saints and gospel scholars have wondered if these men were the same person. The truth is, we do not know the answer. But an examination of the scriptures is fascinating, because it seems to indicate that these men may have been one and the same. For example, here is the case for their oneness:
“1. The inheritance given to Shem included the land of Salem. Melchizedek appears in scripture as the king of Salem, who reigns over this area.
“2. Shem, according to later revelation, reigned in righteousness and the priesthood came through him. Melchizedek appears on the scene with a title that means ‘king of righteousness.’
“3. Shem was the great high priest of his day. Abraham honored the high priest Melchizedek by seeking a blessing at his hands and paying him tithes.
“4. Abraham stands next to Shem in the patriarchal order of the priesthood and would surely have received the priesthood from Shem; but D&C 84:5–17 says Abraham received the priesthood from Melchizedek.
“5. Jewish tradition identifies Shem as Melchizedek.
“6. President Joseph F. Smith’s remarkable vision names Shem among the great patriarchs, but no mention is made of Melchizedek.
“7. Times and Seasons [15 Dec. 1844, p. 746] speaks of ‘Shem, who was Melchizedek. . . .’
“On the other hand, there is a case for their being two distinct personalities. Many persons believe D&C 84:14 is proof that there are perhaps several generations between Melchizedek and Noah. The scripture says, ‘Which Abraham received the priesthood from Melchizedek, who received it through the lineage of his fathers, even till Noah.’
“If it does turn out that Shem and Melchizedek are the same person, this scripture should prove no stumbling block, because it could be interpreted to mean that priesthood authority commenced with Adam and came through the fathers, even till Noah, and then to Shem.” (Alma E. Gygi, “Is It Possible That Shem and Melchizedek Are the Same Person?” Ensign, Nov. 1973, pp. 15–16.)
In the Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis 14, several verses are added about Melchizedek that greatly increase the available knowledge of this great high priest (see JST, Genesis 14:25–40).
In the Joseph Smith Translation, four significant verses are added between verses 5 and 6 of the Genesis account:
“And Abram said, Lord God, how wilt thou give me this land for an everlasting inheritance?
“And the Lord said, Though thou wast dead, yet am I not able to give it thee?
“And if thou shalt die, yet thou shalt possess it, for the day cometh, that the Son of Man shall live; but how can he live if he be not dead? he must first be quickened.
“And it came to pass, that Abram looked forth and saw the days of the Son of Man, and was glad, and his soul found rest, and he believed in the Lord; and the Lord counted it unto him for righteousness.” (JST, Genesis 15:9–12.)
Once again it is clear that the early patriarchs knew far more about Christ and His mission than the present Old Testament record indicates (see Mosiah 13:33).
For an interesting parallel to the experience Abraham had at the beginning of his vision, read Joseph Smith—History 1:14–16.
In this prophecy about the future captivity of Israel, the Lord gives an important clue to why He later would command the Israelites to utterly destroy any Canaanites living in the land of promise (see Deuteronomy 7:1–2; 20:16–18). Evidently by that time their iniquity had become full and they were therefore ripe for destruction.
For a full discussion of the destruction of the Canaanites, see Reading 19-15.
According to the custom of the time, Sarah’s giving her handmaid, Hagar, to be a wife to Abraham was an expected and logical act (see Clarke, Bible Commentary, 1:109–11; D&C 132:1–2, 29–30, 34–35).
The angelic message to Hagar shows that the promises to Abraham go even beyond those which have come through Isaac.
The Hebrew word Ishmael literally means, “God hears” (v. 11a). In verse 12 he is called a “wild man,” or in Hebrew, a “wild ass,” which metaphor implies one who loves freedom. This metaphor could be a prophetic description of the nomadic life of the descendants of Ishmael (see v. 12a).
The commandment to Abraham was “thou shalt walk uprightly before me, and be perfect” (JST, Genesis 17:1). This commandment has been given to the Saints in all ages (see Deuteronomy 18:13; Matthew 5:48; 3 Nephi 12:48; 27:27; D&C 67:13).
“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.” (Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 2:18–19.)
The word circumcision comes from the Latin words meaning “to cut around.” It was instituted by revelation as a sign or token that one was of the covenant seed of Abraham. To better understand why the Lord chose this particular sign or token, read the account in the Joseph Smith Translation:
“And it came to pass, that Abram fell on his face, and called upon the name of the Lord.
“And God talked with him, saying, My people have gone astray from my precepts, and have not kept mine ordinances, which I gave unto their fathers;
“And they have not observed mine anointing, and the burial, or baptism wherewith I commanded them;
“But have turned from the commandment, and taken unto themselves the washing of children, and the blood of sprinkling;
“And have said that the blood of the righteous Abel was shed for sins; and have not known wherein they are accountable before me. . . .
“And I will establish a covenant of circumcision with thee, and it shall be my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee, in their generations; that thou mayest know for ever that children are not accountable before me until they are eight years old.” (JST, Genesis 17:3–7, 11.)
Much additional information is given in this account.
1. Before instituting the law of circumcision, the Lord explained why He was establishing this token of the covenant.
a. The people had left correct principles and forsaken the true ordinances.
b. Baptism was one ordinance being incorrectly observed.
c. The people were washing their children and sprinkling blood in remembrance of Abel’s blood, which they taught was shed for sins.
d. They misunderstood the relationship between accountability of children and the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
2. Because of this apostasy, circumcision was instituted.
a. It was a covenant token.
b. It was for the seed of Abraham.
c. It signified that children were not accountable until they were eight years old.
Other scriptures make it clear that it was not the act itself but rather what it stood for that gave circumcision its greatest significance.
In many places the Lord speaks of true circumcision as being the circumcision of the heart. The heart that is “circumcised” is one that loves God and is obedient to the Spirit. The “uncircumcised in heart” are wicked, proud, and rebellious (Ezekiel 44:7; see also Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4; Ezekiel 44:7; Acts 7:51; Romans 2:25–29; Colossians 2:11).
Though a person may have had the token of circumcision in the flesh, unless he was righteous the covenant was invalidated and the circumcision became profitless. Thus, circumcision was only a sign or token of what needed to happen to the inward man. If the inward change had not taken place, then circumcision was virtually meaningless. (See Jeremiah 9:25–26; Romans 2:25–29; 1 Corinthians 7:19; Galatians 5:1–6; 6:12–15; Philippians 3:3–4.)
With the fulfillment of the Mosaic law under Jesus, the token of circumcision was no longer required of God’s covenant people (see Acts 15:22–29; Galatians 5:1–6; 6:12–15).
The Abrahamic covenant makes frequent reference to one’s seed (see Genesis 17:6–12). The organ of the body that produces seed and brings about physical birth is the organ on which the token of the covenant was made. The organ of spiritual rebirth, however, is the heart (see 3 Nephi 9:20). Thus, when a person was circumcised it signified that while he had been born into the covenant, he need not be baptized until he became accountable before the Lord. But spiritual circumcision, or the circumcision of the heart, must take place once one becomes accountable or one is not considered as true Israel. As Paul said so aptly, “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:
“But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Romans 2:28–29).
Joseph Smith corrected this verse to say that Abraham rejoiced (see JST, Genesis 17:23). This change is also substantiated by the Hebrew text.
|The traditional burial place of Abraham and Sarah at Hebron|
The birthright was given to Isaac, the first son of the first wife, rather than to Ishmael, who was the first son of Abraham and Hagar and was about fourteen years older than Isaac. The Lord made it clear that in accordance with the original promise Abraham’s son by Sarah would bear the covenant responsibility. Yet, Ishmael, through his twelve sons, was also to be the father of a great nation.
(5-20) Though we know from modern scripture that the covenant-making process began with Adam and the other patriarchs (see Moses 6:65–68; 7:51; 8:2), it is from the Abrahamic covenant that we get a fuller idea of what is involved in covenant making. Since righteous members of the Church become the seed of Abraham and thus part of the covenant people (see D&C 84:34), we should understand what is involved in the covenant made with Abraham. Abraham’s part of the covenant, which is the same as for us, is that he “walk uprightly before me, and be perfect” (JST, Genesis 17:1). If he would do so, then the Lord’s part of the covenant, or His promises to Abraham, constitute what is known as the Abrahamic covenant. Elder McConkie explained Abraham’s covenant and its relationship to us:
“Abraham first received the gospel by baptism (which is the covenant of salvation); then he had conferred upon him the higher priesthood, and he entered into celestial marriage (which is the covenant of exaltation), gaining assurance thereby that he would have eternal increase; finally he received a promise that all of these blessings would be offered to all of his mortal posterity. (Abra. 2:6–11; D. & C. 132:29–50.) Included in the divine promises to Abraham was the assurance that Christ would come through his lineage, and the assurance that Abraham’s posterity would receive certain choice, promised lands as an eternal inheritance. (Abra. 2; Gen. 17; 22:15–18; Gal. 3.)
“All of these promises lumped together are called the Abrahamic covenant. This covenant was renewed with Isaac (Gen. 24:60; 26:1–4, 24) and again with Jacob. (Gen. 28; 35:9–13; 48:3–4.) Those portions of it which pertain to personal exaltation and eternal increase are renewed with each member of the House of Israel who enters the order of celestial marriage; through that order the participating parties become inheritors of all the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (D. & C. 132; Rom. 9:4; Gal. 3; 4.)” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 13.)
A close analysis of the promises shows both their temporal and eternal significance.
“The Lord gave the promise to Abraham that he should have Palestine, or the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession. Yet, as Stephen said at the time of his martyrdom, Abraham never received as much as a foot of it as a possession while he lived.
“Then what did the Lord mean in making a promise to Abraham of that kind, giving him that portion of the earth as an everlasting possession for himself and his posterity, the righteous part of it, forever? Simply this, that the time would eventually come, after the resurrection from the dead, when Abraham and his children who have been faithful in the keeping of the commandments of the Lord, should possess that land, and they shall also spread forth as far as it is necessary for them to receive an inheritance.” (Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 1:88.)
Abraham’s righteous descendants will inherit the earth.
“Following the millennium plus ‘a little season’ (D. & C. 29:22–25), the earth will die, be resurrected, and becoming like a ‘sea of glass’ (D. & C. 130:7), attain unto ‘its sanctified, immortal, and eternal state.’ (D. & C. 77:1–2.) Then the poor and the meek—that is, the godfearing and the righteous—shall inherit the earth; it will become an abiding place for the Father and the Son, and celestial beings will possess it forever and ever. (D. & C. 88:14–26, 111.)” (McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 211.)
Abraham was one hundred years old before his covenant son, Isaac, was born. Abraham had eight sons in all; however, from Isaac the covenant people developed; through Ishmael came many of the Arab nations (see D&C 132:34). Through Keturah’s sons came the Midianites and others.
“The vast population of the Arab, Moslem, and Israeli world which claim to be descendants of Abraham numbers approximately one hundred million. When one adds to that figure the deceased ancestors, and the estimates of future posterities of those groups, plus other descendants of Abraham such as the past, present, and future members of the Nephite-Lamanite cultures, the lost ten tribes, and the Latter-day Saints, he sees what the Lord meant concerning the innumerable and unmeasurable blessing of posterity.” (Nyman, in Sperry Lecture Series, 1975, p. 13.)
In a literal sense Abraham’s posterity will have no end because his righteous descendants will go on through eternity bringing forth posterity (see D&C 132:30).
As Noah was given the priesthood and commissioned to preach the gospel, so Abraham received the priesthood that he might preach and bless others with the gospel. The mission of the covenant people is to serve the Lord by blessing others with the gospel.
“We go to the promise made to Abraham, which was that in him and in his seed all the families of the earth should be blessed. Moses, as I have said was of his seed, and he was the deliverer of the whole of that nation. And who were the prophets that existed among ancient Israel? They were descendants of Abraham; and to them came the word of God and the light of revelation. Who was Jesus? After the flesh of the seed of Abraham. Who were his Twelve Apostles? Of the seed of Abraham. Who were the people that came to this continent—Lehi and his family, about 600 years B.C.? Of the seed of Abraham. Who were the Apostles they had among them that spread forth among the millions that then lived upon this continent? Of the seed of Abraham. Who was Joseph Smith? Of the seed of Abraham.” (John Taylor, in Journal of Discourses, 20:224.)
As descendants of Abraham, if we remain true and faithful to our charge to bless our own family and others with the blessings of the gospel, we will continue to do so throughout all eternity. Also, we will be heirs to all that the Father has through Christ. (See D&C 84:38–39.)
(5-21) As a second matter for you to consider, note that there are three great intelligent powers in the universe: God, man, and Satan. There is no question about which of those powers is the greatest. God has all power and therefore no one has greater power than He. But of these, who has greater power—man or Satan? Before answering, read the following scriptures, thinking in terms of power.
Man’s Power. Read D&C 10:5; Ephesians 6:10–13; Romans 8:35–39.
Satan’s Power. Read Moses 4:4; 2 Nephi 2:29; 28:22–23; Alma 34:35.
Whether man’s power is greater than Satan’s depends on man’s willingness to bind himself to God and draw on His power. If he does not, then he comes increasingly under Satan’s power and dominion. Man’s choice could be diagramed in this way.
|[click for scalable version]|
Joseph Smith stated this truth in these words: “The devil has no power over us only as we permit him. The moment we revolt at anything which comes from God, the devil takes power.” (Teachings, p. 181.)
What is the means of binding oneself to God?
Read D&C 130:20–21; 82:4–10; 54:3–6.
Elder Melvin J. Ballard wrote: “You remember the story of how Abraham’s son came after long years of waiting and was looked upon by his worthy sire, Abraham, as more precious than all his other possessions, yet, in the midst of his rejoicing, Abraham was told to take this only son and offer him as a sacrifice to the Lord. He responded. Can you feel what was in the heart of Abraham on that occasion? You love your son just as Abraham did, perhaps not quite so much, because of the peculiar circumstances, but what do you think was in his heart when he started away from Mother Sarah, and they bade her goodbye? What do you think was in his heart when he saw Isaac bidding farewell to his mother to take that three days’ journey to the appointed place where the sacrifice was to be made? I imagine it was about all Father Abraham could do to keep from showing his great grief and sorrow at that parting, but he and his son trudged along three days toward the appointed place, Isaac carrying the fagots that were to consume the sacrifice. The two travelers rested, finally, at the mountainside, and the men who had accompanied them were told to remain while Abraham and his son started up the hill.
“The boy then said to his father: ‘Why, Father, we have the fagots; we have the fire to burn the sacrifice; but where is the sacrifice?’
“It must have pierced the heart of Father Abraham to hear the trusting and confiding son say: ‘You have forgotten the sacrifice.’ Looking at the youth, his son of promise, the poor father could only say: ‘The Lord will provide.’
“They ascended the mountain, gathered the stones together, and placed the fagots upon them. Then Isaac was bound, hand and foot, kneeling upon the altar. I presume Abraham, like a true father, must have given his son his farewell kiss, his blessing, his love, and his soul must have been drawn out in that hour of agony toward his son who was to die by the hand of his own father. Every step proceeded until the cold steel was drawn, and the hand raised that was to strike the blow to let out the life’s blood.” (“The Sacramental Covenant,” New Era, Jan. 1976, pp. 9–10.)
Bear in mind that Abraham was saved from a similar fate instigated in wickedness by his own father. As with most people, Abraham must have abhorred human sacrifice. Why would the Lord require such a trial of his faith? What can be learned from the life of Abraham, who was faithful to the end?
Instructions to Students
1. Use Notes and Commentary below to help you as you read and study Genesis 18–23.
2. Complete Points to Ponder as directed by your teacher. (Individual study students should complete all of this section.)
“We are not justified in teaching that our Heavenly Father, with other heavenly persons, came down, dusty and weary, and ate with Abraham. This is not taught in the 18th chapter of Genesis. The first verse of that chapter should read as follows: ‘And the Lord appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre.’ That is a complete thought. The second part of this paragraph has nothing to do with the Lord’s appearing to Abraham . . . : ‘And he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; and he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him.’ These three men were mortals. They had bodies and were able to eat, to bathe, and sit and rest from their weariness. Not one of these three was the Lord.” (Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 1:16.)
In the Joseph Smith Translation, Genesis 18:23 states definitely that “the angels . . . were holy men, and were sent forth after the order of God.”
Sarah’s astonished laughter at the news that she was to conceive and bear a son should not be interpreted as proving her lack of faith. Often in the scriptures the servants of the Lord are astonished beyond belief at the miraculous goodness of the Lord. Moses could not believe that he was capable of being God’s spokesman with the pharaoh and asked that he receive help (see Exodus 4:10–17). Gideon needed dramatic proof that the Lord wanted him to deliver Israel from the Midianites (see Judges 6:11–24). Hezekiah asked for confirmation that Isaiah’s promise of extended life was really of the Lord (see 2 Kings 20:1–11). Zachariah was struck dumb so that he would know that his wife Elizabeth would conceive (see Luke 1:19–20). And when the disciples saw the resurrected Lord for the first time, Luke tells us, “they yet believed not for joy” (Luke 24:41). It was the incredible nature of the news that caused Sarah’s response. And after approximately seventy years of childlessness, who could condemn her temporary inability to believe the joyous promise?
It is not uncommon to hear a person say, “Can one person really make a difference?” The answer is a definite yes. Alma told the people of Ammonihah that “if it were not for the prayers of the righteous, who are now in the land, that ye would even now be visited with utter destruction” (Alma 10:22). He then warned them, “If ye will cast out the righteous from among you then will not the Lord stay his hand” (Alma 10:23). Like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, the people of Ammonihah refused to repent or recognize that the few righteous among them were their only protection, so they killed them and cast them out (see Alma 14:9–11; 15:1). Therefore, a short time later the entire city was destroyed (see Alma 16:1–3, 9–10). The Lord also indicated that the United States would bring judgments upon itself for driving out the Saints (see D&C 136:34–36).
This verse records one of the keys to Abraham’s righteousness. Not only did he keep the commandments but he taught his household to do so too. Of this fact President Kimball said:
“Abraham’s desire to do God’s will in all things led him to preside over his family in righteousness. Despite all his other responsibilities, he knew that if he failed to teach and exemplify the gospel to his children he would have failed to fulfill the most important stewardship he had received.” (“The Example of Abraham,” Ensign, June 1975, p. 5.)
Many scholars have tried to justify Lot’s shocking offer of his daughters as substitutes for the men on the basis of the strict laws of hospitality and protection that prevailed in the ancient Middle East. The Joseph Smith Translation, however, records that when Lot refused to allow the men of Sodom to satisfy their evil and depraved desires, they became angry and said, “We will have the men, and thy daughters also.” Then the comment is added, “Now this was after the wickedness of Sodom” (JST, Genesis 19:11–12; see also vv. 13–15).
In the Genesis account it is clear that the people of these two cities had become extremely immoral, engaging in homosexuality and other abuses. But the prophet Ezekiel gave greater insight when he said, “Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good.” (Ezekiel 16:49–50.) James said that pure religion was to “visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep [oneself] unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). Sodom and Gomorrah not only had partaken of the filthiness of sexual immorality but had rejected their fellow men in need.
|Mount Sodom, at the south end of the Dead Sea|
The account of Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt has puzzled many commentators. Was this event a literal thing, or was it figurative? There are two indications in the scriptures that the phrase “looked back” was an idiomatic way of saying “she turned back” or “returned to Sodom.” When warning the disciples of the destruction which was going to come upon Jerusalem, the Savior warned them to flee without delay, not even going into the house to get their possessions. Jesus said, “And he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back. Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:31–32; emphasis added). He then admonished them that he who seeks to save his life will lose it, and he who loses his life will find it. Elder Bruce R. McConkie paraphrased those verses in these words:
“Look not back to Sodom and the wealth and luxury you are leaving. Stay not in the burning house, in the hope of salvaging your treasures, lest the flame destroy you; but flee, flee to the mountains.
“Seek temporal things and lose eternal life; sacrifice the things of this life and gain eternal life.” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:645.)
The implication is that Lot’s wife started back to Sodom, perhaps to save some possessions, and was caught in the destruction.
In the Doctrine and Covenants is a scripture that uses the same terminology as Genesis 19:26. After warning the Saints to flee spiritual Babylon, which is wickedness, the Lord says, “He that goeth, let him not look back lest sudden destruction shall come upon him” (D&C 133:15; emphasis added). Again, the implication is that of a return to wickedness.
Most scholars agree that the most probable site of Sodom is now covered by the southern part of the Dead Sea, a body of water with a high salt content. If Lot’s wife returned to Sodom, she would have been caught in the destruction. Her becoming a pillar of salt could be a figurative way of expressing this outcome.
But whatever it was that happened to Lot’s wife, it is clear that she perished.
The account of the incestuous seduction of Lot by his two daughters is a shocking one but one which, again, illustrates that the Old Testament records the evils of the people as well as their righteousness. There is no way to justify the wickedness of what the two daughters did, although it may be better understood when it is considered that the daughters may have thought that the whole world had been destroyed in the holocaust that befell Sodom and Gomorrah and that Lot was the only source of children left to them. Moses may have included this account in the record because it shows the beginnings of the Moabites and the Ammonites, two peoples that would play an important role in the history of the people of Israel.
For more information on why Abraham called Sarah his sister, see Reading 5-5.
In the Book of Mormon, Jacob clearly teaches that Abraham’s willingness to offer up Isaac is “a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son” (Jacob 4:5). A similitude is an object, act, or event in physical reality which corresponds to (is similar to or is a simulation of) some greater spiritual reality. (For a discussion of why the Lord uses similitudes, see Enrichment Section C, “Symbolism and Typology in the Old Testament.”)
Most readers of the Old Testament can immediately see the similarities between the test of Abraham and the sacrifice of the Father, but many miss the precise detail of this similitude that God used to teach about the future sacrifice of His only Son. The following are some of these significant details.
Abraham obviously was a type or similitude of the Father. Interestingly enough, his name, Abram, means “exalted father,” and Abraham means “father of a great multitude” (see Genesis 17:5). Both are names appropriate of Heavenly Father.
Isaac was a type of the Son of God. One of the meanings of his name is “he shall rejoice.” Like Jesus, he was the product of a miraculous birth. Isaac’s birth certainly was not as miraculous as the birth of Jesus through Mary, but at age ninety, Sarah too was a woman for whom birth was not possible by all usual standards. Yet, through the intervention of God, she conceived and bore a son. Paul called Isaac the “only begotten son” (Hebrews 11:17) when he referred to this event.
The Lord not only asked Abraham to perform the act of similitude of His own future actions but indicated that it had to be in a place specified by Him. This place was Moriah, “upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of” (Genesis 22:2). (Today Mount Moriah is a major hill of Jerusalem.) The site known traditionally as the place where Abraham offered Isaac is now the site of the Dome of the Rock, a beautiful Moslem mosque. A few hundred yards to the north on a higher point of that same hill system is another world-famous site known as Gordon’s Calvary. Its Hebrew name was Golgotha. Not only did Abraham perform the similitude, but he performed it in the same area in which the Father would make the sacrifice of His Son.
When they arrived at Moriah, the Genesis account says, “Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son” (Genesis 22:6). The Joseph Smith Translation, however, reads, “laid it upon his back” (JST, Genesis 22:7). Some have seen in this action a similarity to Christ’s carrying of the cross upon His shoulders on the way to His Crucifixion (see Clarke, Bible Commentary, 1:139; John 19:17).
|“Take now thy son” (Genesis 22:2).|
Isaac voluntarily submitted to Abraham. This important parallel is often overlooked. The Old Testament does not give enough detail to indicate exactly how old Isaac was at the time of this event, but it is possible that he was an adult. Immediately following the account of the sacrifice on Mount Moriah is recorded the statement that Sarah died at the age of 127 (see Genesis 23:1). Thus, Isaac would have been 37 at the time of her death. Even if the journey to Moriah had happened several years before Sarah’s death, Isaac could have been in his thirties, as was the Savior at the time of His Crucifixion. Nevertheless, Isaac’s exact age is not really important. What is significant is that Abraham was well over a hundred years old and Isaac was most likely a strong young man who could have put up a fierce resistance had he chosen to do so. In fact, Isaac submitted willingly to what his father intended, just as the Savior would do.
Once the event was over and all ended happily, Abraham named the place Jehovah-jireh, which the King James Version translates as “in the mount of the Lord it shall be seen” (Genesis 22:14). Adam Clarke, citing other scholars, said that the proper translation should be “on this mount the Lord shall be seen.” Clarke then concluded: “From this it appears that the sacrifice offered by Abraham was understood to be a representative one, and a tradition was kept up that Jehovah should be seen in a sacrificial way on this mount. And this renders . . . more than probable . . . that Abraham offered Isaac on that very mountain on which, in the fulness of time, Jesus suffered.” (Bible Commentary, 1:141.) Jesus was sentenced to death within the walls of the Antonia fortress, which was only about a hundred yards from the traditional site of Abraham’s sacrifice. He was put to death at Golgotha, part of the same ridge system as Moriah.
Scholars not only have noted the significance of the site for the sacrifice of Jesus Himself but also have pointed out that it related to the site of Solomon’s temple where the sacrifices under the Mosaic dispensation took place. “The place of sacrifice points with peculiar clearness [to] Mount Moriah, upon which under the legal economy all the typical sacrifices were offered to Jehovah; . . . that by this one true sacrifice the shadows of the typical sacrifices might be rendered both real and true” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 1:1:253; emphasis added).
|“And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son” (Genesis 22:6).|
The word translated as “tempt” in the King James Version comes from the Hebrew word nissah, which means “to test, try, or prove.” The test given to Abraham had two aspects. First, he was asked to give up something very precious to him. To kill one’s child would be horrible enough but to kill the child that had come after decades of fruitless waiting, the child promised by holy men sent from God, the child in whom the covenant was to be fulfilled, must have been a test beyond comprehension. The willingness of Abraham to give up something as dear as Isaac sharply contrasts with the reluctance of the rich young ruler who asked the Savior what he must do to be saved. When told he should sell all of his possessions and follow the Master, “he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions” (Matthew 19:22).
But an equally difficult, if not greater, test was what could be described as the question of the integrity of God. Abraham himself had nearly lost his life on an idolatrous altar and had been saved by the direct intervention of the Lord (see Abraham 1:12–20). Abraham knew that the law of God forbids human sacrifice or murder of any sort. Surely one would wonder at such a command, asking himself, “Can this be from God? Does God contradict himself?” And then to know that, additionally, it would mean the end of the very covenant line that God had Himself promised to establish would surely be almost overwhelming.
Elder Spencer W. Kimball commented on this aspect of the test: “Exceeding faith was shown by Abraham when the superhuman test was applied to him. His young ‘child of promise,’ destined to be the father of empires, must now be offered upon the sacrificial altar. It was God’s command, but it seemed so contradictory! How could his son, Isaac, be the father of an uncountable posterity if in his youth his mortal life was to be terminated? Why should he, Abraham, be called upon to do this revolting deed? It was irreconcilable, impossible! And yet he believed God. His undaunted faith carried him with breaking heart toward the land of Moriah with this young son who little suspected the agonies through which his father must have been passing.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1952, p. 48.)
Little wonder that throughout the scriptures Abraham is spoken of again and again as a great example of one with faith, of one who was obedient.
It is often noted that Abraham is the father of the faithful and a tremendous example of faith and righteousness. Yet Sarah stood by his side throughout his life, not often in the limelight, but always as a great example of womanhood, faith, and righteousness. The Doctrine and Covenants speaks of the righteous as being the seed of Abraham (see D&C 84:34), but Peter also suggested that righteous women can be called the daughters of Sarah (see 1 Peter 3:1–6, especially v. 6).
(6-14) While you ponder the life of Abraham and his marvelous response to the testing of the Lord, remember what the Lord said to the Saints of this dispensation. The Saints in Jackson County had been driven out of their homes into the bitter winter of Missouri. Their suffering was intense and lives were even lost. At that time the Lord spoke to the Saints through Joseph Smith and said: “Therefore, they must needs be chastened and tried, even as Abraham, who was commanded to offer up his only son. For all those who will not endure chastening, but deny me, cannot be sanctified.” (D&C 101:4–5.)
A few months earlier He had said: “For he will give unto the faithful line upon line, precept upon precept; and I will try you and prove you herewith. And whoso layeth down his life in my cause, for my name’s sake, shall find it again, even life eternal. Therefore, be not afraid of your enemies, for I have decreed in my heart, saith the Lord, that I will prove you in all things, whether you will abide in my covenant, even unto death, that you may be found worthy. For if ye will not abide in my covenant ye are not worthy of me.” (D&C 98:12–15.)
This seems like such a high standard. Why must one be tested and chastened before he can be sanctified? Why can a person not be worthy of God unless he is willing to abide in the covenant even to death? To understand these questions and to gain greater insight into why Abraham had to prove himself, think in the eternal perspective for a moment. Imagine the disastrous consequences of making a person a god who was not perfect in every respect. How would the universe survive if it were controlled by a god who could not withstand even intense pressure? Where would we be now if our God had not been disposed to endure the suffering of seeing His Only Begotten Son go to the cross? If Abraham had failed his test, he would have lost his position. If God the Father had failed the same test there would have been no Atonement and all mankind would have “become subject to that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal God, and became the devil. . . . And our spirits must have become like unto him, and we become devils . . . to be shut out from the presence of our God.” (2 Nephi 9:8–9.)
As you ponder from this eternal perspective, write a one-page paper entitled “Why Does the Lord Test Us?” As you write this paper, you may wish to consider Ether 12:27; D&C 101:35–38; 122:5–9.
You may also wish to include your thoughts in your journal.
|“And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns” (Genesis 22:13).|
(6-15) Another aspect of Abraham’s test has great significance for us. To understand it we must carefully follow the chain of reasoning given in Lectures on Faith, compiled under the direction of the Prophet Joseph Smith, which shows how a person develops faith sufficient to achieve salvation. The major concepts in this chain are as follows:
1. Three kinds of knowledge are necessary if a person is to have faith:
“Let us here observe, that three things are necessary in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation.
“First, the idea that he actually exists.
“Secondly, a correct idea of his character, perfections, and attributes.
“Thirdly, an actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing is according to his will. For without an acquaintance with these three important facts, the faith of every rational being must be imperfect and unproductive; but with this understanding it can become perfect and fruitful, abounding in righteousness, unto the praise and glory of God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (3:2–5.)
2. The knowledge that one’s life is pleasing to God is critical in the development of faith:
“An actual knowledge to any person, that the course of life which he pursues is according to the will of God, is essentially necessary to enable him to have that confidence in God without which no person can obtain eternal life. It was this that enabled the ancient saints to endure all their afflictions and persecutions, and to take joyfully the spoiling of their goods, knowing (not believing merely) that they had a more enduring substance. . . .
“For a man to lay down his all, his character and reputation, his honor, and applause, his good name among men, his houses, his lands, his brothers and sisters, his wife and children, and even his own life also—counting all things but filth and dross for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ—requires more than mere belief or supposition that he is doing the will of God; but actual knowledge, realizing that, when these sufferings are ended, he will enter into eternal rest, and be a partaker of the glory of God.” (6:25.)
3. The only way a person can know his life pleases God is to be willing to sacrifice whatever God asks of him:
“Let us here observe, that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for, from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things. It was through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life; and it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God. When a man has offered in sacrifice all that he has for the truth’s sake, not even withholding his life, and believing before God that he has been called to make this sacrifice because he seeks to do his will, he does know, most assuredly, that God does and will accept his sacrifice and offering, and that he has not, nor will not seek his face in vain. Under these circumstances, then, he can obtain the faith necessary for him to lay hold on eternal life.” (6:7.)
4. Any reluctance to sacrifice whatever God requires will, to that degree, lessen our ability to have faith in God.
“But those who have not made this sacrifice to God do not know that the course which they pursue is well pleasing in his sight; for whatever may be their belief or their opinion, it is a matter of doubt and uncertainty in their mind; and where doubt and uncertainty are there faith is not, nor can it be. For doubt and faith do not exist in the same person at the same time; so that persons whose minds are under doubts and fears cannot have unshaken confidence; and where unshaken confidence is not there faith is weak; and where faith is weak the persons will not be able to contend against all the opposition, tribulations, and afflictions which they will have to encounter in order to be heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ Jesus; and they will grow weary in their minds, and the adversary will have power over them and destroy them.” (6:12.)
Now apply that chain of reasoning to the case of Abraham and answer the following questions.
1. Before the Lord could bless Abraham with absolute faith, what did Abraham have to have?
2. How was Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac related to Abraham’s knowledge that his life was pleasing to God?
3. Would you say that Abraham’s test was a blessing? In what way?
Note what George Q. Cannon said about why the Lord tested Abraham.
“Why did the Lord ask such things of Abraham? Because, knowing what his future would be and that he would be the father of an innumerable posterity, he was determined to test him. God did not do this for His own sake for He knew by His foreknowledge what Abraham would do; but the purpose was to impress upon Abraham a lesson and to enable him to attain unto knowledge that he could not obtain in any other way. That is why God tries all of us. It is not for His own knowledge for He knows all things beforehand. He knows all your lives and everything you will do. But He tries us for our own good that we may know ourselves; for it is most important that a man should know himself.
“He required Abraham to submit to this trial because He intended to give him glory, exaltation and honor; He intended to make him a king and a priest, to share with Himself the glory, power and dominion which He exercised.” (George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truth, 1:113.)
What implications does the testing of Abraham have for you?
Note also the indication of God’s knowledge of Abraham’s good character (see Genesis 18:17–19) long before the test. What does His foreknowledge of Abraham have to do with His knowledge of you?
Why did the Lord choose Isaac and Jacob? How were they chosen to perpetuate the covenant the Lord had made with Abraham? The purpose of this chapter is to assist you in picking out the significant events as the God of Abraham became the God of Isaac and Jacob. You will learn that of the eight sons of Abraham recorded in scripture the Lord singled out Isaac to become the heir to the covenant. Later, God chose Jacob over Esau, even though Esau was the firstborn and seemed to be his father’s favorite.
Isaac and Jacob were foreordained to their responsibilities. Through their personal worthiness, however, they justified their callings in the covenant line. Since the time of these mighty patriarchs, all of the chosen people of the Lord have come through their lineage or have been adopted into their lineage. In the Old Testament, Jehovah is repeatedly called the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Thus, it is significant that you understand not only who Abraham is but also why the Lord chose Isaac and Jacob to be the first of the house of Israel.
As you begin to study the expansion of the covenant line, remember one thing. Sometimes we tend to oversimplify the concept of a covenant people and the heritage of certain groups of people. For example, we tend to think of the Arabs as descendants of Ishmael or Esau, the Jews as descendants of Judah, the American Indians and South Pacific Islanders as descendants of Laman, and so forth. In broad terms all of these statements are true, of course, but through centuries of intermarriage and conversion, the “pure blood lines” (an impossible term in reality) of the various ancestors have been vastly intermingled. Surely down through nearly four thousand years the descendants of Isaac have intermarried with the descendants of Ishmael and the other sons of Abraham. We know that after the ten tribes were taken into captivity the term Jew was used in a nationalistic sense (to mean a member of the kingdom of Judah) and not just in a tribal sense (to mean a descendant of Judah, son of Jacob). Thus, Lehi, who was of Manasseh (see Alma 10:3), and Ishmael, who was of Ephraim (see Erastus Snow, in Journal of Discourses, 23:184–85), were Jews, that is, were living in Judah.
In the Book of Mormon, Lamanite was used in a spiritual sense (to mean one who had apostatized from the truth), as well as in the sense of lineage from Laman (see 4 Nephi 1:38). A later example of how blood lines mix is found in the conversion of a whole nation to Judaism in the eighth century A.D. The majority of the people in the kingdom of the Khazars, in what is present-day Russia, became Jews by religion (see Encyclopaedia Judaica, s.v. “Khazars,” 10:944–47). Many modern Jews from Europe can trace their lineage to the Khazars who, before 740 A.D., were Gentiles.
The black Africans of Ethiopia claim to be descendants of King David through the marriage of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (see 1 Kings 10:1–13; Encyclopaedia Judaica, s.v. “Ethiopia,” 6:943). So it is possible that the blood of Israel spread through Africa as well.
Even though there are groups today that could be thought of as predominantly Israel or predominantly Gentile, almost certainly blood of both lines can be found in most peoples of the earth. The important thing is that being Israel, or a covenant person, involves faithfulness as well as blood lineage. Thus, as Nephi said, repentance and faith in the Holy One of Israel is what determines whether one is of the covenant (see 2 Nephi 30:2), a concept also taught by Paul (see Romans 2:28–29). In other words, while the blood lineage is significant, it can be overridden by one’s own faithfulness or lack of faithfulness. You will see this concept taught from the beginning as you read the early history of the covenant people.
Instructions to Students
1. Use Notes and Commentary below to help you as you read and study Genesis 24–36.
2. Complete Points to Ponder as directed by your teacher. (Individual study students should complete all of this section.)
From chronological information in Genesis and the book of Moses it is estimated that Isaac was born approximately 1900 B.C. Isaac was forty years of age when he married Rebekah. Esau and Jacob were born twenty years later, or about 1840 B.C. Jacob’s flight to Padan-aram, or Haran, likely occurred about 1800 B.C., which means the twelve sons would have been born between 1800 B.C. and 1780 B.C. In the line of Adam’s royal generations Abraham was the twentieth, Isaac the twenty-first, and Jacob the twenty-second.
According to the information that has come down to modern times, Isaac spent his whole life in an area that could be encompassed by a circle approximately one hundred miles in diameter. On the northern edge of this circle would be Jerusalem, where Abraham took his son. Most of the circle would be in that part of southern Israel known as the Negev. Jacob, on the other hand, traveled much farther, going to Haran in the northern regions of the Euphrates River, and later, down into Egypt where his son Joseph preserved him in his old age.
The Negev responds to agricultural pursuits that harmonize with its arid character. It appears that Isaac, a herdsman, and his large household found sufficient pasture and other means of subsistence there. They had to move about, however, because of famines that occurred. Centuries of conflict, neglect, and natural causes have since turned the Negev into a barren area that covers nearly half of modern Israel. In recent years the Israelis have been turning the Negev into a productive area once again.
Chiefly, Isaac lived in three areas of the Negev: Beer-lahai-roi, Gerar, and Beersheba. Like his father, Isaac dug many wells. His tribe and flocks often went where the water was to be found. Isaac was a peaceful man, according to the record, choosing to move on and dig new wells rather than fight for the ones he had already dug. The Lord prospered him exceedingly.
Gerar is southwest of Jerusalem; Beersheba is southeast of Gerar and thirty-five miles due west of the south end of the Dead Sea. Isaac’s clan established Beersheba, and the community since then has always been associated with his name. Beersheba is fifty miles south of Jerusalem and in Old Testament times marked the southern border of the Judean kingdom.
While fleeing to Padan-aram (Haran), Jacob had a remarkable vision at Bethel, where his grandfather, Abraham, had built an altar many years before.
Eleven miles north of Jerusalem, Bethel later became the religious center of the Northern Kingdom.
|Jacob’s journey to Haran in Padan-aram
[click for scalable version]
This chapter of the Old Testament contains one of the most remarkable stories of commitment and faith in the scriptures. The following items are of interest:
Verses 2, 8. The Joseph Smith Translation account records that the servant put his hand under the hand, rather than the thigh, of Abraham. The gesture seems to have been a token of the covenant being made between the two men, perhaps similar to our shaking hands.
Verses 12–14. These verses show that the servant, like Abraham, was a man of great faith. Abraham had told him that his errand was a commandment of the Lord (v. 7). So when faced with a tremendously challenging task, the servant turned to the Lord for help. Instead of just asking the Lord to solve his problem, he presented a plan for the Lord to confirm.
Verse 16. The King James Version suggests that Rebekah was very beautiful, but the Joseph Smith Translation says that she was the most beautiful woman the servant had ever seen. The Joseph Smith Translation reads, “And the damsel being a virgin, very fair to look upon, such as the servant of Abraham had not seen, neither had any man known the like unto her . . .” (JST, Genesis 24:16).
Verse 19. Considering the capacity of a thirsty camel, one can well imagine how much effort it took for Rebekah to draw water by hand for ten camels. Not only was she beautiful but she was a willing worker and was quick to serve.
Verse 58. This verse gives a great insight into the faith of Rebekah. For a young woman to leave her home, travel to a new country completely foreign to her, and marry a man she had never met would present a tremendous challenge. One would expect that she would have wanted to stay with her family as long as possible, but when given her choice, she said simply, “I will go.”
Verse 67. When one contemplates the faith and beauty of Rebekah and how the servant of Abraham was led to her by the hand of the Lord, the comment “and he loved her” is not surprising.
The early patriarchs had a clear knowledge of gospel principles taught to them from Adam down to Abraham. The phrase “gathered to his people” is one more evidence of their gospel knowledge. Two Bible scholars commented on the significance of that phrase: “This expression . . . denotes the reunion in Sheol with friends who have gone before, and therefore presupposes faith in the personal continuance of a man after death, as a presentiment which the promises of God had exalted in the case of the patriarchs into a firm assurance of faith [see Hebrews 11:13]” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 1:1:263). Sheol is the Hebrew word for the world of spirits where one goes when one dies, the equivalent of the spirit world. The Hebrews had not only a concept of life after death but also a correct concept of the intermediate place between death and the Resurrection.
The twelve tribes who eventually descended from Jacob are much discussed, but it should be remembered that another twelve tribes also came from Ishmael.
The brevity of the historical account in Genesis tends to compress the time it covers. The simple statement about Rebekah’s barrenness is more poignant when one remembers the great value people placed on childbearing in those times and that Isaac and Rebekah went childless for twenty years (see vv. 20, 26).
In contrast to Esau, who is described as a “cunning hunter,” Jacob is called a “plain man” (v. 27). The Hebrew word used there means “whole, complete, or perfect,” so it is a very positive adjective.
The loved of verse 28 is used in the sense of “favored” or “preferred.” Thus, Isaac favored Esau and Rebekah favored Jacob.
Edom means “red.” The Edomites (descendants of Esau) played a significant role in the Old Testament, usually as antagonists to the Israelites. They inhabited the territory in and about Mount Seir between the Dead Sea and the Red Sea (see Genesis 36). Esau’s descendants today are also found among the Arab nations.
This rationalization seems to reflect more scorn than hunger. Jacob would almost certainly have succored Esau freely if his life were in jeopardy. The point of this account seems to be primarily to show how little value Esau placed on the birthright. His immediate bodily needs were more important to him than the rights of the covenant. Additional evidence of this attitude is Esau’s marriages to Canaanite women, which broke the covenant line (see Genesis 26:34–35).
The birthright itself should have been a treasured thing. The highly desirable birthright blessing is the right to the presidency, or keys, of the priesthood. Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote:
“It appears that anciently under the Patriarchal Order certain special blessings, rights, powers, and privileges—collectively called the birthright—passed from the father to his firstborn son. (Gen. 43:33.) In later ages special blessings and prerogatives have been poured out upon all the worthy descendants of some who gained special blessings and birthrights anciently. (3 Ne. 20:25–27.) Justification for this system, in large part, lies in the pre-existent preparation and training of those born in the lines destined to inherit preferential endowments.” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 87.)
In the patriarchal order this birthright was passed from father to son, who was often, but not always, the eldest son. Righteousness was a more important factor than being the firstborn.
The story of how Jacob obtained the birthright blessing from Isaac with the help of his mother is a troubling one in many respects. Typically, commentators who do not have access to latter-day scriptures come to one of two conclusions: either they emphasize Esau’s unworthiness for the birthright and therefore justify the deception, or else they criticize Jacob’s shrewd and crafty nature.
A more complete knowledge of gospel principles, however, may pose some additional problems. Can a person deceive a patriarch and get a blessing that belongs to someone else? Was Jacob a deceitful and crafty man? Was Isaac blindly favorable to certain children? Can one be dishonest and still get a valid patriarchal blessing? The following points should be carefully considered:
1. As the record in Genesis now reads, there is little option but to conclude that Rebekah and Jacob deliberately deceived Isaac and that Jacob explicitly lied to his father (see v. 24). Rebekah and Jacob believed the deception was necessary because Isaac obviously favored Esau. Joseph Smith, however, taught that certain errors had crept into the Bible through “ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests” (Teachings, p. 327). For example, a comparison of the early chapters of Genesis with the fuller accounts revealed to the Prophet (now found in the books of Moses and Abraham) shows how much has been lost. It is possible that the story of Jacob’s obtaining the birthright has also lost much or been changed by unbelievers. These changes could then explain the contradictions.
2. Rebekah knew by personal revelation that Jacob was to be the son of the covenant (see Genesis 25:22–23). Jacob reluctantly gave in to his mother’s wishes after she told him that she would take the responsibility for what they were about to do.
3. Although the early patriarchs and their wives were great and righteous men and women who eventually were exalted and perfected (see D&C 132:37), this fact does not mean that they were perfect in every respect while in mortality. If the story is correct as found in Genesis, Isaac may have been temporarily shortsighted in favoring Esau. Or Rebekah may have had insufficient faith in the Lord to let Him work His will and therefore undertook a plan of her own to ensure that the promised blessings would come to pass. These shortcomings do not lessen their later greatness and their eventual perfection.
4. Whatever the explanation for the circumstances surrounding the reception of the blessing, one thing is perfectly clear. Priesthood holders are given the keys to bind and loose on earth and have that action validated in heaven (see Matthew 16:19). Once Isaac learned of the deception, he could have revoked the blessing and given it to Esau. Instead, he told Esau, “Yea, and he shall be blessed” (Genesis 27:33). Later, when Jacob was preparing to leave for Padan-aram to escape Esau’s wrath, Isaac clearly gave him the blessing of Abraham (see Genesis 28:3–4), an additional proof that Jacob received the blessing meant for him and that Isaac confirmed it upon him. Thus, if the Genesis record is correct as it now is, Jacob, like others, received a call and a promise of eventual blessings because of his potential and in spite of his weaknesses. Like anyone, he had then to live worthily in order to obtain the promised blessings.
“Esau was also blessed—with the bounties of the earth, and with the potential to cast off the yoke of oppression; but like most of us he valued what he had lost after it was gone and rued the day he had traded the birthright off to Jacob. He bitterly resolved to get revenge by fratricide when he saw the blessing of transmittal of the birthright actually confirmed upon the head of him to whom he had bartered the right to it. The alert and resourceful Rebekah averted a double tragedy (loss of both sons—one by murder and one by execution, as the law of Genesis 9:6 would require) by proposing to Isaac that they send Jacob away to find a proper wife in her home land. Thus she would remove him from harm proposed by Esau until feelings could cool. The proposition that he be sent for a proper wife apparently was approved immediately by Isaac, for doubtless he saw that it was true, as Rebekah said, that their life’s mission would be frustrated if Jacob married as Esau had.” (Rasmussen, Introduction to the Old Testament, 1:47.)
Two comments by latter-day prophets give a greater understanding of the significance and meaning of Jacob’s experience at Bethel. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, speaking of Paul’s comment about one who was caught up to the third kingdom (see 2 Corinthians 12:2), “Paul ascended into the third heavens, and he could understand the three principal rounds of Jacob’s ladder—the telestial, the terrestrial, and the celestial glories or kingdoms” (Teachings, pp. 304–5).
President Marion G. Romney explained why this vision of heaven was shown in the form of a ladder and why the name of the place where it happened was called Bethel:
“When Jacob traveled from Beersheba toward Haran, he had a dream in which he saw himself on the earth at the foot of a ladder that reached to heaven where the Lord stood above it. He beheld angels ascending and descending thereon, and Jacob realized that the covenants he made with the Lord there were the rungs on the ladder that he himself would have to climb in order to obtain the promised blessings—blessings that would entitle him to enter heaven and associate with the Lord.
“Because he had met the Lord and entered into covenants with him there, Jacob considered the site so sacred that he named the place Bethel, a contraction of Beth-Elohim, which means literally ‘the House of the Lord.’ He said of it: ‘. . . this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’ (Gen. 28:17.)
“Jacob not only passed through the gate of heaven, but by living up to every covenant he also went all the way in. Of him and his forebears Abraham and Isaac, the Lord has said: ‘. . . because they did none other things than that which they were commanded, they have entered into their exaltation, according to the promises, and sit upon thrones, and are not angels but are gods.’ (D&C 132:37.)
“Temples are to us all what Bethel was to Jacob. Even more, they are also the gates to heaven for all of our unendowed kindred dead. We should all do our duty in bringing our loved ones through them.” (“Temples—The Gates to Heaven,” Ensign, Mar. 1971, p. 16.)
The following genealogy lines show clearly that each of the three great patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—married relatives. (The broken lines show marriages, and the dotted lines show individuals who are the same.)
|[click for scalable version]|
Abraham married Sarah, who was his niece; Isaac married Rebekah, who was his first cousin once removed; and Jacob married Leah and Rachel, who were his first cousins.
The Hebrew word translated as “tender” means “soft, delicate, or lovely.” The fact that this trait is emphasized for Leah, while Rachel is described as “beautiful and well-favoured,” that is, beautiful in every respect, seems to suggest that Leah’s eyes were her most attractive feature.
Here is given the first glimpse of Laban’s crafty nature. After promising Rachel to Jacob for seven years of service, Laban sent Leah to Jacob’s tent to consummate the marriage. The modern reader may find it hard to believe that Jacob did not discover the switch until it was morning; however, the following possibilities could explain the success of Laban’s ruse. As sisters, Rachel and Leah may have been quite similar in height, weight, and general appearance. Second, the women of Haran sometimes veiled themselves (see Genesis 24:65). Third, Laban was a shepherd. If he was a typical shepherd of ancient times, he dwelt in tents instead of in permanent dwellings. The inside of a tent at night can be very dark. And finally, knowing what the reaction of Jacob would be if he discovered the substitution early, Laban may have told Leah to speak as little as possible so as not to give the deception away before it was too late to change it.
Though Laban demanded another seven years for Rachel’s hand, he allowed Jacob to marry her once the seven days of wedding feasts for Leah were finished and to fulfill his indebtedness after the marriage. The gift of the handmaidens to each daughter made the servants the direct property of each wife, not of Jacob. Thus, later, when the handmaids had children, the children were viewed legally as the children of Rachel and Leah.
The Hebrew word sahnay does not mean “hate” as the term is used today, but rather conveys the idea of “loving less.” A better translation would be, “when the Lord saw that Leah was loved less or was not as favored,” he opened her womb.
The scriptures in this chapter indicate that each child born to Jacob was given a name which reflected the feelings of his parents. There was a tremendous competitive spirit between the wives. Being able to bear a male child for their husband was a great honor. Rachel apparently was very sad that she did not have a child until later in her life. When she finally bore a son the name she gave him indicated her feeling for him and the hope she had in the future. The twelve sons of Jacob are listed below.
Reason for Name
See a son
Joy for having a son (see Genesis 29:32).
Because the Lord heard that she was hated (see Genesis 29:33).
“This time will my husband be joined unto me” (Genesis 29:34).
“Now I will praise the Lord” (Genesis 29:35).
“God hath judged me” (Genesis 30:6).
“With great wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister” (Genesis 30:8).
“Leah said, A troop cometh” (Genesis 30:11).
“Leah said, Happy am I” (Genesis 30:13).
God hath given me my reward (Genesis 30:18).
“Now will my husband dwell with me” (Genesis 30:20).
“The Lord shall add to me another son” (Genesis 30:24).
Son of my right hand
“You are the son of my right hand” (see Genesis 35:18).
Although Bible scholars are not sure exactly what plant is meant by the word mandrake, the significance of this plant to Rachel and Leah is clear. “The Hebrew name denotes love fruit. The fruit had a pleasant taste and odor, and was supposed to ensure conception.” (Bible Dictionary, s.v. “mandrakes.”) In other words, the mandrakes were thought to enhance a woman’s fertility and ability to have children. Knowledge of this belief helps explain the interchange between Rachel and Leah. Rachel desired the mandrakes so that she could at last bear children of her own. As has already been seen, there was a fierce competition between the sisters in this regard. Leah’s response was, therefore, equally natural. She indicated that Rachel had already taken her husband, which probably meant only that Rachel had the first place in his affections. (Some scholars, however, believe that this passage means that Jacob actually lived in Rachel’s tent rather than in Leah’s tent.) The one advantage Leah had was her ability to bear children, while Rachel could not. In essence she told Rachel that it would be foolish for her to give Rachel her mandrakes and help her have children, for this would only lessen Leah’s one advantage (v. 15). So Rachel made a counter offer. She promised that she would encourage Jacob to go to Leah that night if she, Rachel, could have the mandrakes (v. 15). Leah agreed and told Jacob. Out of the agreement Leah conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son (vv. 17–18). She later bore another son and Jacob’s daughter Dinah (vv. 19–21).
Although not stated specifically, the record implies that the mandrakes did nothing for Rachel. Finally, Rachel did conceive, but it was not because of mandrakes. Rather, “God hearkened to her, and opened her womb” (v. 22).
|Typical Middle Eastern sheep|
Jacob’s peeling of branches and placing them before the animals so that when they conceived they would bear multicolored offspring seems to be a reflection of a common superstition that the conception of offspring is influenced by what the mother experiences or sees at the time of conception. Nothing is known by modern science to explain any relationship between what Jacob did and what happened in the hereditary patterns of the animals. Perhaps something is missing from the text. Perhaps the Lord was just taking advantage of the virility of crossbred animals. Divine intervention certainly played a part. In any event, Jacob’s herds grew and the Lord blessed him. Also, Jacob’s separation of the flocks (v. 40) follows principles of good animal husbandry and would have increased the likelihood of having multi-colored animals.
It is significant to note that Jacob counseled with his wives on the important move he was contemplating. Often modern scholars claim that woman in the Old Testament were of low status and were treated as property by their husbands. But this example, and others like it, show that such was not the case.
Jacob’s comment that Laban changed his wages ten times cannot be documented in the record—that is, ten times cannot be counted. But the nature of Laban makes it not unlikely that once Jacob began to prosper, Laban kept changing the terms of their agreement. Nevertheless, the Lord continued to bless Jacob temporally.
It is interesting that both Rachel and Leah agreed that Jacob was justified in leaving Laban. They also pointed out that they had received nothing from their father, because of his covetous nature. One commentator explained their bitterness:
“The dowry was an important part of marriage. We meet it first in Jacob, who worked seven years for Laban to earn a dowry for Rachel (Gen. 29:18). The pay for this service belonged to the bride as her dowry, and Rachel and Leah could indignantly speak of themselves as having been ‘sold’ by their father, because he had withheld from them their dowry (Gen. 31:14, 15). It was the family capital; it represented the wife’s security, in case of divorce where the husband was at fault. If she were at fault, she forfeited it. She could not alienate it from her children. There are indications that the normal dowry was about three years’ wages. The dowry thus represented funds provided by the father of the groom, or by the groom through work, used to further the economic life of the new family. If the father of the bride added to this, it was his privilege, and customary, but the basic dowry was from the groom or his family. The dowry was thus the father’s blessing on his son’s marriage, or a test of the young man’s character in working for it.” (Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, pp. 176–77.)
There is much debate among scholars about what the images were that were stolen by Rachel and what they represented. The Hebrew word which is sometimes used for small images of false gods is teraphim. Some translators render the word as “household gods.” Was Laban an idolator? If so, why did Jacob go all the way back to Haran to find a wife if they were idolators like the Canaanites? Others believe they were astrological devices used for telling the future. But this suggestion raises the same question. One scholar theorized that these images were somehow tied in with the legal rights of inheritance (see Guthrie, New Bible Commentary, p. 104). If this theory is correct, the possessor of the teraphim had the right to inherit the father’s property. This circumstance would explain why Rachel stole the images, since her father had “stolen” her inheritance (see Genesis 31:14–16). It would also explain Laban’s extreme agitation over their loss and Jacob’s severe penalty offered against the guilty party (see Genesis 31:31).
Most scholars believe Jacob wrestled with an angel, but President Joseph Fielding Smith explained why this explanation could not be true:
“Who wrestled with Jacob on Mount Peniel? The scriptures say it was a man. The Bible interpreters say it was an angel. More than likely it was a messenger sent to Jacob to give him the blessing. To think he wrestled and held an angel who couldn’t get away, is out of the question. The term angel as used in the scriptures, at times, refers to messengers who are sent with some important instruction. Later in this chapter when Jacob said he had beheld the Lord, that did not have reference to his wrestling.” (Doctrines of Salvation, 1:17.)
Some have criticized Jacob’s arrangement of the camp because it appears that he is putting the handmaids and their children in the most dangerous position. It would be a natural thing, however, in the Middle East for a clan leader to show off his family and possessions in such a way that the best and most highly favored is saved until last (see Clarke, Bible Commentary, 1:205).
|Jacob’s return from Haran to Hebron
[click for scalable version]
The Hebrew word that is translated “took” in the phrase “he took her” can mean “to take away, sometimes with violence and force; to take possession, to capture, to seize upon” (Wilson, Old Testament Word Studies, s.v. “take,” p. 435). Commenting on the phrase that Shechem “spake kindly unto the damsel” (Genesis 34:3), one scholar said it means:
“Literally, he spake to the heart of the damsel—endeavoured to gain her affections, and to reconcile her to her disgrace. It appears sufficiently evident from this and the preceding verse that there had been no consent on the part of Dinah, that the whole was an act of violence, and that she was now detained by force in the house of Shechem. Here she was found when Simeon and Levi sacked the city, verse 26.” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 1:207.)
The outrage of Simeon and Levi was justified, but to deceitfully set up a whole town for slaughter on the pretext of bringing them into the covenant was an evil and wicked thing. Jacob’s blessings on these two sons just prior to his death (see Genesis 49:5–7) show that neither he nor the Lord condoned this act.
Before returning to Bethel, which was the equivalent of a modern temple (see Reading 7-12), Jacob had his family and servants, his household, prepare themselves for the experience much as modern Saints prepare themselves. The earrings probably were more than mere jewelry, possibly amulets with inscriptions to false gods (see Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 1:1:316).
The inclusion of the brief account of Reuben’s immorality in the historical account may seem unusual, but it explains why Reuben, the firstborn of Leah, forfeited the birthright. Since Rachel was the second wife, her firstborn would then by right inherit the forfeited blessing. Joseph thus was the next legal heir in line, even though he was the eleventh son born. (1 Chronicles 5:1–3 specifically ties Reuben’s loss of the birthright to his transgression and shows how it went to Joseph.) The firstborn sons of the handmaids, Bilhah and Zilpah, would not be considered since they were the property of their mistresses and their children were also technically considered Rachel’s and Leah’s property.
(7-29) You have now studied the beginnings of the house of Israel, the “chosen people.” Are you somewhat disillusioned by how some of our forefathers fell short of your expectations? As you ponder what you have read consider the following questions:
1. Is there any evidence in the scriptural record that imperfect behavior was in any way overlooked, condoned, or excused by the Lord?
2. Can we learn from the faults and failings of our ancestors as well as from their strengths and successes?
3. Do you see any evidences of growth, development, repentance, and commitment in the record of the earliest covenant people?
4. Do the human interest details, such as the rivalry between Rachel and Leah, make it easier or harder for you to believe that God is a loving and patient Father, and that you, too, in spite of your own failings, may become a covenant person?
(7-30) One thing that comes through abundantly clear in these chapters is the significance that marriage in the covenant had for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Write a short essay entitled “What I Can Learn about Marriage from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Before doing so, consider the following statements from our General Authorities.
Brigham Young: “Be careful, O ye mothers in Israel, and do not teach your daughters in future, as many of them have been taught, to marry out of Israel. Woe to you who do it; you will lose your crowns as sure as God lives.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 196.)
Joseph F. Smith: “Some people feel that it does not make very much difference whether a girl marries a man in the Church, full of the faith of the Gospel, or an unbeliever. Some of our young people have married outside of the Church; but very few of those who have done it have failed to come to grief. . . . There is nothing that I can think of, in a religious way, that would grieve me more intensely than to see one of my boys marry an unbelieving girl, or one of my girls marry an unbelieving man.” (Gospel Doctrine, p. 279.)
Spencer W. Kimball: “Many times, women have come to me in tears. How they would love to be able to train their children in the gospel of Jesus Christ! But they are unable to do so because of religious incompatibility with a nonmember husband. How they would like to accept for themselves positions of responsibility in the Church! How they would like to pay their tithing! . . . How they wish they could be sealed for eternity and have the promise of having their own flesh and blood, their children, sealed to them for eternity! Sometimes it is men in this predicament. But they have locked the doors, and the doors have often rusted on their hinges.” (Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 241.)
“The story of Joseph, the son of Jacob who was called Israel, is a vivid representation of the great truth that ‘all things work together for good to [those] who loved God.’ (See Rom. 8:28.) Joseph always seemed to do the right thing; but still, more importantly, he did it for the right reason. And how very, very significant that is! Joseph was sold by his own brothers as a slave and was purchased by Potiphar, a captain of the guard of Pharaoh. But even as an indentured servant, Joseph turned every experience and all circumstances, no matter how trying, into something good.
“This ability to turn everything into something good appears to be a godly characteristic. Our Heavenly Father always seems able to do this. Everything, no matter how dire, becomes a victory to the Lord. Joseph, although a slave and wholly undeserving of this fate, nevertheless remained faithful to the Lord and continued to live the commandments and made something very good of his degrading circumstances. People like this cannot be defeated, because they will not give up. They have the correct, positive attitude, and Dale Carnegie’s expression seems to apply: If you feel you have a lemon, you can either complain about how sour it is, or you can make a lemonade. It is all up to you.” (Hartman Rector, Jr., “Live above the Law to Be Free,” Ensign, Jan. 1973, p. 130.)
Instructions to Students
1. Use Notes and Commentary below to help you as you read and study Genesis 37–50.
2. Complete Points to Ponder as directed by your teacher. (Individual study students should complete all of this section.)
There is some question as to what Joseph’s coat actually was. The Hebrew word denotes “a long coat with sleeves . . . i.e. an upper coat reaching to the wrists and ankles, such as noblemen and kings’ daughters wore” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 1:1:335; note also 2 Samuel 13:18, which says that the daughters of King David wore similar coats). The coat may have been of different colors, but its significance seems to have been far more than its brightness and beauty. One noted scholar suggested that it was “a tunic reaching to the palms of the hands and soles of the feet; the long tunic with sleeves worn by young men and maidens of the better class; in the case of Joseph, supposed by Bush . . . to have been the badge of the birthright which has been forfeited by Reuben and transferred to Joseph” (Wilson, Old Testament Word Studies, s.v. “colour,” p. 82).
If indeed this coat signaled that Joseph held the birthright, which may have been in question among the brothers because there were four firstborn sons in Jacob’s family, this fact would explain the intense hostility and jealousy the coat provoked among the other sons of Jacob. The following brothers could easily have thought that they should have had the birthright.
Reuben. He was the firstborn of all the sons. Although he had lost the right (see Reading 7-28), he may not have accepted that fact.
Simeon. Since he was the second son of Leah and next in line following Reuben, he could have assumed the birthright would come to him after Reuben lost his right to it.
Judah. He could have argued that not only Reuben had lost the right, but so had Simeon and Levi, through the massacre of the Shechemites (see Genesis 34). The disqualification of these sons would make him the rightful legal heir.
Dan. Because his mother, Bilhah, was considered Rachel’s property, he could argue that he was Rachel’s firstborn, not Joseph, and therefore should have received the birthright when Reuben lost it.
Gad. He was the firstborn son of Zilpah and therefore could easily have thought he should have taken the birthright after Reuben forfeited it.
Joseph’s dreams (see Genesis 37:5–11), which clearly signified future leadership, only added to the resentment among the brothers.
The price received for Joseph, twenty pieces of silver, is the same price specified later in the Mosaic law for a slave between the ages of five and twenty (see Leviticus 27:5). Typically, the price for a slave was thirty pieces of silver (see Exodus 21:32).
Mormon recorded in the Book of Mormon that when Jacob saw that a remnant of the “coat of many colours” (v. 32) had been preserved, he prophesied that so also would a remnant of Joseph’s seed be preserved (see Alma 46:24).
|The family of Jacob went into Egypt.
[click for scalable version]
The Hebrew phrase which is translated as “captain of the guards” literally means “chief of the butchers or slaughterers.” From this meaning some scholars have thought that he was the chief cook or steward in the house of the pharaoh, but other scholars believe that butcher or slaughterer is used in the sense of executioner, and thus Potiphar was the “commanding officer of the royal body-guard, who executed the capital sentences ordered by the king” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 1:1:338). Either way, Potiphar was an important man, but the latter position especially would give him great power and status in Egypt.
With typical honesty, the Old Testament includes the sordid tale of Judah’s incestuous relationship with his daughter-in-law. There seem to be several reasons for its inclusion here. First, once again are illustrated the effects of the covenant people forgetting the importance of marrying in the covenant. Unlike his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather (Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham), Judah was not concerned about intermarriage with the Canaanites. The negative results of this marriage out of the covenant are clearly shown here. Second, the story shows the lineage of Judah from which the Messiah would eventually come (see Matthew 1:3; Luke 3:33). An additional lesson here shows that ancestry is not the determiner of one’s righteousness. Finally, the truth that failure to honor one’s commitments often leads to greater trouble is clearly shown. Had Judah faithfully kept his promise to Tamar, the seduction would never have taken place. Likewise, had Judah been faithful to the laws of morality, he never would have sinned with Tamar.
Ancient customs of the Middle East provided that a brother of a deceased man should marry his widow. Under Moses this custom became law (see Deuteronomy 25:5–10). The purpose of such a marriage was to produce a male heir for the dead man and thus perpetuate his name and memory. It was regarded as a great calamity to die without a son, for then the man’s lineage did not continue and also the man’s property reverted to someone else’s family (through daughters, if he had any, or through other relatives). It may be that Onan, who by virtue of the death of his older brother would have been next in line for the inheritance of Judah, refused to raise up seed through Tamar because the inheritance would have stayed with the elder son’s family. He went through the outward show of taking Tamar to wife but refused to let her have children. Thus when Judah failed to keep his promise to send the youngest son to her, Tamar resorted to deception in order to bear children.
It is important to note Judah’s twisted sense of values. He had no qualms about sending Tamar home with unfulfilled promises nor of picking up a harlot along the road. But when he heard that Tamar was pregnant he was so incensed that he ordered her put to death.
Joseph’s answer to the advances of Potiphar’s wife shows his great personal righteousness. King Benjamin taught the Nephites that “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17). If that principle were to be stated negatively, it would read, “When ye are exploiting or sinning against your fellow beings, you are only sinning against God.” Joseph understood this principle perfectly and answered Potiphar’s wife by pointing out that it would be a terrible thing to take advantage of his master in this way. He took the next logical step when he added, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9).
Because Potiphar had great power with the pharaoh and perhaps was even head of the royal executioners (see Reading 8-5), it is remarkable that Joseph was only put into prison and not executed. A slave accused of attempting to rape his master’s wife would seem to have deserved the most severe punishment, and yet Joseph was only imprisoned. Could it be that Potiphar, knowing of Joseph’s character and his wife’s character, suspected the truth and, although he felt compelled to take action, chose comparatively lenient punishment? Whatever the case, the hand of the Lord certainly preserved Joseph from what would otherwise have been almost certain death.
The spiritual greatness of Joseph is a remarkable thing. How many people have become bitter over some real or imagined slight, or blamed the Lord for some personal tragedy? In the very midst of being faithful and holding true to that which is right, Joseph was falsely accused and thrown into prison. How easy it would have been for him to give up, to say, “What’s the use of trying to serve God? All He does is punish me.” But there was not a trace of bitterness, no blaming the Lord. Joseph just continued being righteous and faithful. Unselfishly he offered to interpret the dreams of his two fellow prisoners, telling them that the knowledge came from God (see Genesis 40:8). He still trusted in the Lord, although he must have felt doomed to spend his life in prison. If any person had cause for discouragement and bitterness, it was Joseph, but he never faltered in his faith. Truly, Joseph is a model to be emulated.
Joseph was in prison for two years after he interpreted the dreams of the chief butler and baker (see Genesis 41:1). He was sold into slavery when he was about seventeen (see Genesis 37:2), and he was thirty years of age when he became vice-regent to the pharaoh (see Genesis 41:46). Altogether he served thirteen years with Potiphar and in prison. The record does not tell how long he served Potiphar before his imprisonment, but that he worked his way up to be the overseer of the prison implies some period of time before the butler and baker joined him. So it is likely that Joseph was in prison at least three years and possibly much longer.
|“And the Midianites sold him into Egypt” (Genesis 37:36).
© Quebecor World Inc.
Many assume that the dreams of pharaoh were beyond the scope of Egypt’s wise men and yet, in some ways, it is remarkable that these magicians could not have come up with some kind of logical explanation using their own well-known symbolism.
“Being troubled about this double dream, Pharaoh sent the next morning for all the scribes and wise men of Egypt, to have it interpreted. . . . [The magicians were] men of the priestly caste, who occupied themselves with the sacred arts and sciences of the Egyptians, the hieroglyphic writings, astrology, the interpretation of dreams, the foretelling of events, magic, and conjuring, and who were regarded as the possessors of secret arts . . . and the wise men of the nation. But not one of these could interpret it, although the clue to the interpretation was to be found in the religious symbols of Egypt. For the cow was the symbol of Isis, the goddess of the all-sustaining earth, and in the hieroglyphics it represented the earth, agriculture, and food; and the Nile, by its overflowing, was the source of the fertility of the land. But however simple the explanation of the fat and lean cows ascending out of the Nile appears to be, it is ‘the fate of the wisdom of this world, that where it suffices it is compelled to be silent. For it belongs to the government of God to close the lips of the eloquent, and take away the understanding of the aged (Job xii. 20).’” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 1:1:349.)
|Pharaoh Made Joseph Ruler of All Egypt
Painting by Joe Maniscalco; courtesy of Pacific Press Publishing Association
It had been twenty-two years since the sons of Jacob had last seen Joseph—thirteen years of slavery and prison for Joseph, seven years of plenty, and two years of famine (see Genesis 45:11)—before Jacob’s family was forced to go to Egypt for grain. Joseph was a teenager when his family had last seen him. Now he was a mature, middle-aged man. And, even if Joseph still looked very much as he did when he was younger, who would believe that a brother who was sold as a slave to a caravan of Arabians would have become the second most powerful man in Egypt?
Over twenty years had passed since his brothers had sold Joseph into slavery, and yet they still felt tremendously guilty about what they had done.
By demanding that Benjamin be brought back to Egypt (see Genesis 42:15), Joseph allowed his brothers to show whether or not they truly were sorry for what they had done to him so many years before. Would they now show the same lack of concern for Benjamin? It is significant that Judah, who suggested that Joseph be sold (see Genesis 37:26–27), became the one who was willing to become “the surety” for Benjamin. There does seem to be evidence of sincere repentance on the brothers’ part, and Joseph’s stratagem allowed them to demonstrate this repentance. When the pressure was on, Judah’s change of heart was shown to be complete (see Genesis 44:33).
The phraseology in this verse is the same as that used in Genesis 37:7, 9. It had taken over two decades, but the Lord’s revelations were now fulfilled.
Several Egyptian deities were represented by cattle, especially female cattle. Since the Hebrews were herdsmen who slaughtered and ate cattle, regardless of sex, this practice would have been viewed by the Egyptians as a terrible abomination. Whatever the reason, Joseph seemed to respect the custom of Egyptians and Hebrews eating separately. (See Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 1:1:362; Clarke, Bible Commentary, 1:245; cf. Genesis 43:34.)
This touching scene, in which Joseph finally revealed himself to his brothers, demonstrates the Christlike nature of his character. He forgave without bitterness, extended love when undeserved, and saw the Lord’s hand in all that happened. But his similarities to Christ go much deeper. As Nephi said, all things from the beginning of the world were given to typify, or symbolize, Christ (see 2 Nephi 11:4; Moses 6:63). It has already been shown how Abraham was a type of the Father and Isaac a type of Jesus when Abraham was commanded to offer Isaac in sacrifice. This act was “a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son” (Jacob 4:5).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught that all prophets are types of Christ: “A prophet is one who has the testimony of Jesus, who knows by the revelations of the Holy Ghost to his soul that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. In addition to this divine knowledge, many of them lived in special situations or did particular things that singled them out as types and patterns and shadows of that which was to be in the life of him who is our Lord.” (The Promised Messiah, p. 448.)
Likewise, the life and mission of Joseph typifies the life and mission of Jesus. Consider the following:
1. Joseph was the favored son of his father; so was Jesus (see Genesis 37:3; Matthew 3:17).
2. Joseph was rejected by his brothers, the Israelites, as was Jesus (see Genesis 37:4; John 1:11; Isaiah 53:3; 1 Nephi 19:13–14).
3. Joseph was sold by his brothers into the hands of the Gentiles, just as Jesus was (see Genesis 37:25–27; Matthew 20:19).
4. Judah, the head of the tribe of Judah, proposed the sale of Joseph. Certain leaders of the Jews in Jesus’ day turned Jesus over to the Romans. Judas (the Greek spelling of Judah) was the one who actually sold Jesus. (See Genesis 37:26; Matthew 27:3.)
5. Joseph was sold for twenty pieces of silver, the price of a slave his age. Christ was sold for thirty pieces of silver, the price of a slave His age. (See Genesis 37:28; Matthew 27:3; Exodus 21:32; Leviticus 27:5.)
6. In their very attempt to destroy Joseph, his brothers actually set up the conditions that would bring about their eventual temporal salvation—that is, Joseph, by virtue of being sold, would become their deliverer. Jesus, by His being given into the hands of the Gentiles, was crucified and completed the atoning sacrifice, becoming the Deliverer for all mankind.
7. Joseph began his mission of preparing salvation for Israel at age thirty, just as Jesus began His ministry of preparing salvation for the world at age thirty (see Genesis 41:46; Luke 3:23).
8. When Joseph was finally raised to his exalted position in Egypt, all bowed the knee to him. All will eventually bow the knee to Jesus. (See Genesis 41:43; D&C 88:104.)
9. Joseph provided bread for Israel and saved them from death, all without cost. Jesus, the Bread of Life, did the same for all men. (See Genesis 42:35; John 6:48–57; 2 Nephi 9:50.)
In comparison with Abraham, who lived 175 years, and Isaac, who lived to be 180, Jacob’s 130 years to this point could be described as smaller or “few.” The word which is translated as “evil” actually means “sorrowful” or “full of toil and trouble.” Remembering Jacob’s flight to Haran to escape Esau’s wrath, his years of labor for Laban, his wives and their contentions, his pilgrimage in the land of Canaan, the death of Rachel, and his years of sorrowing for the loss of Joseph contributes to a better understanding of why he would say his days were full of trouble and toil.
Joseph Smith made the following changes in this passage when he worked on the inspired translation of the Bible:
“And now, of thy two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, which were born unto thee in the land of Egypt, before I came unto thee into Egypt; behold, they are mine, and the God of my fathers shall bless them; even as Reuben and Simeon they shall be blessed, for they are mine; wherefore they shall be called after my name. (Therefore they were called Israel.)
“And thy issue which thou begettest after them, shall be thine, and shall be called after the name of their brethren in their inheritance, in the tribes; therefore they were called the tribes of Manasseh and of Ephraim.
“And Jacob said unto Joseph when the God of my fathers appeared unto me in Luz, in the land of Canaan; he sware unto me, that he would give unto me, and unto my seed, the land for an everlasting possession.
“Therefore, O my son, he hath blessed me in raising thee up to be a servant unto me, in saving my house from death;
“In delivering my people, thy brethren, from famine which was sore in the land; wherefore the God of thy fathers shall bless thee, and the fruit of thy loins, that they shall be blessed above thy brethren, and above thy father’s house;
“For thou hast prevailed, and thy father’s house hath bowed down unto thee, even as it was shown unto thee, before thou wast sold into Egypt by the hands of thy brethren; wherefore thy brethren shall bow down unto thee, from generation to generation, unto the fruit of thy loins for ever;
“For thou shalt be a light unto my people, to deliver them in the days of their captivity, from bondage; and to bring salvation unto them, when they are altogether bowed down under sin.” (JST, Genesis 48:5–11.)
“Joseph, son of Jacob, because of his faithfulness and integrity to the purposes of the Lord, was rewarded with the birthright in Israel. It was the custom in early times to bestow upon the firstborn son special privileges and blessings, and these were looked upon as belonging to him by right of birth. Reuben, the first of Jacob’s sons, lost the birthright through transgression, and it was bestowed upon Joseph, who was the most worthy of all the sons of Jacob [1 Chronicles 5:1–2].
“When Jacob blessed Joseph, he gave him a double portion, or an inheritance among his brethren in Palestine and also the blessing of the land of Zion—‘the utmost bound of the everlasting hills.’ He also blessed him with the blessings of heaven above, of the deep which lieth under, and of posterity [Genesis 49:22–26]. Jacob also blessed the two sons of Joseph with the blessings of their father, which they inherited, and he placed Ephraim, the younger, before Manasseh, the elder, and by inspiration of the Lord conferred upon Ephraim the birthright in Israel.” (Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 3:250–51.)
“Through a careful study and consideration of the blessings of the Lord pronounced through Jacob, upon his twelve sons, it is evident that they were not to share equally in the promises of the Lord.
“It is evident that the blessings given to Judah and Joseph were choice above the blessings pronounced upon their brothers.” (Richards, Israel! Do You Know? pp. 9–10.)
One’s activities in his premortal life had an influence on his being born into a particular situation on this earth. President Harold B. Lee made this observation:
“‘When the most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel.’ (Deut. 32:8.)
“Now, mind you, this was said to the children of Israel before they had arrived in the ‘Promised Land,’ which was to be the land of their inheritance.
“Then note this next verse: ‘For the Lord’s portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.’ (Deut. 32:9.)
“It would seem very clear, then, that those born to the lineage of Jacob, who was later to be called Israel, and his posterity, who were known as the children of Israel, were born into the most illustrious lineage of any of those who came upon the earth as mortal beings.
“All these rewards were seemingly promised, or foreordained, before the world was. Surely these matters must have been determined by the kind of lives we had lived in that premortal spirit world. Some may question these assumptions, but at the same time they will accept without any question the belief that each one of us will be judged when we leave this earth according to his or her deeds during our lives here in mortality. Isn’t it just as reasonable to believe that what we have received here in this earth life was given to each of us according to the merits of our conduct before we came here?” (“Understanding Who We Are Brings Self-Respect,” Ensign, Jan. 1974, p. 5.)
In Deuteronomy 33:6–29, Moses recounted again the blessings given to each tribe. This passage should be studied and compared to Jacob’s original blessings recorded in Genesis 49.
The blessing given to Judah indicates that kings would come from his lineage (see 1 Chronicles 5:1–2; Hebrews 7:14). Old Testament history teaches that this promise was fulfilled. King David, King Solomon, and King Rehoboam are just three of the kings who came through Judah’s lineage. The King of Kings, Jesus Christ, referred to here as Shiloh, also came through this line. Elder Ezra Taft Benson said of this promise:
“The great blessing to Judah is that it contemplated the coming of Shiloh who would gather his people to him. This prophecy concerning Shiloh has been subject to several rabbinic and Christian interpretations and the object of considerable controversy. The interpretation given this passage by the Mormon Church is one based on revelation to modern prophets, not on scholarly commentary. It was revealed to Joseph Smith that Shiloh is the Messiah. (See [JST, Genesis 50:24].)” (“A Message to Judah from Joseph,” Ensign, Dec. 1976, p. 71.)
“There are several things to be understood in the prophecy. First, he should become a multitude of nations. We understand what this means. In the second place, his branches should run over the wall. Now what does this mean? The Lord in ancient times had a meaning for everything. It means that his tribe should become so numerous that they would take up more room than one small inheritance in Canaan, that they would spread out and go to some land at a great distance. . . .
“Joseph’s peculiar blessing, which I have just read to you, was that he should enjoy possessions above Jacob’s progenitors to the utmost bounds of the everlasting hills. This would seem to indicate a very distant land from Palestine.” (Orson Pratt, in Journal of Discourses, 14:9.)
The seed of Joseph came to the land of America at the time Lehi and his family departed from the Mediterranean world. The land of America is specifically designated by the Lord as the land reserved for “a remnant of the house of Joseph” (3 Nephi 15:12).
“I suppose that Jacob saw this land as well as Moses, and he designates it a land afar off; the utmost bounds would signify a very distant land. He said this land was over and above, what his progenitors gave to him and he would give it to Joseph. . . . The precious things of heaven were to be given to Joseph on this land. Blessed of the Lord be his land for the precious things of heaven, more precious than the fullness of earth, more precious than the productions of the various climates of the earth, more precious than the grain, and the gold and silver of the earth. The precious things of heaven revealed to the people of Joseph on the great land given to them unto the utmost bounds of the everlasting hills.” (Orson Pratt, in Journal of Discourses, 18:167–68.)
In 2 Nephi 3, the prophet Lehi told his son Joseph of the great prophecies of their progenitor, Joseph who was sold into Egypt. These prophecies were evidently on the brass plates that Lehi had but have been lost from our present Bible. Through revelation, Joseph Smith restored the lost scriptures by adding thirteen verses between Genesis 50:24 and 25 of the King James Version. Because of their significance for Saints of the latter days, the verses are reprinted here. (They are also found in the appendix of the LDS edition of the King James Version of the Bible.)
“And Joseph said unto his brethren, I die, and go unto my fathers; and I go down to my grave with joy. The God of my father Jacob be with you, to deliver you out of affliction in the days of your bondage; for the Lord hath visited me, and I have obtained a promise of the Lord, that out of the fruit of my loins, the Lord God will raise up a righteous branch out of my loins; and unto thee, whom my father Jacob hath named Israel, a prophet; (not the Messiah who is called Shilo;) and this prophet shall deliver my people out of Egypt in the days of thy bondage.
“And it shall come to pass that they shall be scattered again; and a branch shall be broken off, and shall be carried into a far country; nevertheless they shall be remembered in the covenants of the Lord, when the Messiah cometh; for he shall be made manifest unto them in the latter days, in the Spirit of power; and shall bring them out of darkness into light; out of hidden darkness, and out of captivity unto freedom.
“A seer shall the Lord my God raise up, who shall be a choice seer unto the fruit of my loins.
“Thus saith the Lord God of my fathers unto me, A choice seer will I raise up out of the fruit of thy loins, and he shall be esteemed highly among the fruit of thy loins; and unto him will I give commandment that he shall do a work for the fruit of thy loins, his brethren.
“And he shall bring them to the knowledge of the covenants which I have made with thy fathers; and he shall do whatsoever work I shall command him.
“And I will make him great in mine eyes, for he shall do my work; and he shall be great like unto him whom I have said I would raise up unto you, to deliver my people, O house of Israel, out of the land of Egypt; for a seer will I raise up to deliver my people out of the land of Egypt; and he shall be called Moses. And by his name he shall know that he is of thy house; for he shall be nursed by the king’s daughter, and shall be called her son.
“And again, a seer will I raise up out of the fruit of thy loins, and unto him will I give power to bring forth my word unto the seed of thy loins; and not to the bringing forth of my word only, saith the Lord, but to the convincing them of my word, which shall have already gone forth among them in the last days;
“Wherefore the fruit of thy loins shall write, and the fruit of the loins of Judah shall write; and that which shall be written by the fruit of thy loins, and also that which shall be written by the fruit of the loins of Judah, shall grow together unto the confounding of false doctrines, and laying down of contentions, and establishing peace among the fruit of thy loins, and bringing them to a knowledge of their fathers in the latter days; and also to the knowledge of my covenants, saith the Lord.
“And out of weakness shall he be made strong, in that day when my work shall go forth among all my people, which shall restore them, who are of the house of Israel, in the last days.
“And that seer will I bless, and they that seek to destroy him shall be confounded; for this promise I give unto you; for I will remember you from generation to generation; and his name shall be called Joseph, and it shall be after the name of his father; and he shall be like unto you; for the thing which the Lord shall bring forth by his hand shall bring my people unto salvation.
“And the Lord sware unto Joseph that he would preserve his seed for ever, saying, I will raise up Moses, and a rod shall be in his hand, and he shall gather together my people, and he shall lead them as a flock, and he shall smite the waters of the Red Sea with his rod.
“And he shall have judgment, and shall write the word of the Lord. And he shall not speak many words, for I will write unto him my law by the finger of mine own hand. And I will make a spokesman for him, and his name shall be called Aaron.
“And it shall be done unto thee in the last days also, even as I have sworn.” (JST, Genesis 50:24–36.)
(8-28) Write a short essay entitled “Joseph in Egypt—A Model for Personal Righteousness.” The purpose of the essay is not to summarize the story of Joseph but to show its application to you today. How might a modern Saint use the example of Joseph in his day-to-day living? As you prepare your essay, consider the following:
“Joseph vividly demonstrated why he was favored of the Lord, or, as the scriptures said, why ‘the Lord was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man. . . .’ (Gen. 39.) His reliance was upon the Lord. His trust was in the Lord, and his allegiance ran to the Lord.
“I believe this is the greatest lesson that can be learned by the youth of Zion—to do the right thing because you love the Lord. It is so vitally important that, I feel, if you do anything in righteousness for any other reason than you love the Lord, you are wrong—at least you are on very shaky ground. And, somewhere your reasons for acting in righteousness will not be strong enough to see you through. You will give way to expediency, or peer group pressure, or honor, or fame, or applause, or the thrill of the moment, or some other worldly reason. Unless your motives are built upon the firm foundation of love of the Lord, you will not be able to stand.” (Hartman Rector, Jr., “Live above the Law to Be Free,” Ensign, Jan. 1973, p. 130.)
(8-29) As you reflect on what you have just read concerning the sons of Jacob receiving a blessing from their father, ask yourself what great value each son’s blessing would have to help him meet the challenge of his life. Contemplate the far-reaching effects of that blessing on his posterity and all mankind. As a descendant of Israel, you have many of the same challenges facing you in your life. How can you best use the great truths your blessing contains to help you achieve your maximum potential and be of greatest service to the Lord?
Elder Bruce R. McConkie has commented on this question:
“Nearly every member of the Church is a literal descendant of Jacob who gave patriarchal blessings to his 12 sons, predicting what would happen to them and their posterity after them. (Gen. 49; Teachings, p. 151.) As inheritors of the blessings of Jacob, it is the privilege of the gathered remnant of Jacob to receive their own patriarchal blessings and, by faith, to be blessed equally with the ancients. Patriarchal blessings may be given by natural patriarchs, that is by fathers in Israel who enjoy the blessings of the patriarchal order, or they may be given by ordained patriarchs, specially selected brethren who are appointed to bless worthy church members.
“The First Presidency (David O. McKay, Stephen L Richards, J. Reuben Clark, Jr.), in a letter to all stake presidents, dated June 28, 1957, gave the following definition and explanation: ‘Patriarchal blessings contemplate an inspired declaration of the lineage of the recipient, and also where so moved upon by the Spirit, an inspired and prophetic statement of the life mission of the recipient, together with such blessings, cautions, and admonitions as the patriarch may be prompted to give for the accomplishment of such life’s mission, it being always made clear that the realization of all promised blessings is conditioned upon faithfulness to the gospel of our Lord, whose servant the patriarch is. All such blessings are recorded and generally only one such blessing should be adequate for each person’s life. The sacred nature of the patriarchal blessing must of necessity urge all patriarchs to most earnest solicitation of divine guidance for their prophetic utterances and superior wisdom for cautions and admonitions.’” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 558.)
Every person who has a father who can bless his children should ask for and receive a father’s blessing when one is needed. In addition, every eligible person in the Church may receive a patriarchal blessing from an ordained patriarch. One’s patriarchal blessing should be read and reread with intelligent consideration of its meaning. Just as blessings are given through the inspiration of the Lord, so too will their meaning be made clear by the same power. Their fulfillment will be in His hands. Regarding patriarchal blessings, Elder John A. Widtsoe wrote:
“These blessings are possibilities predicated upon faithful devotion to the cause of truth. They must be earned. Otherwise they are but empty words. Indeed, they rise to their highest value when used as ideals, specific possibilities, toward which we may strive throughout life. To look upon a patriarch as a fortune-teller is an offense to the Priesthood; the patriarch only indicates the gifts the Lord would give us, if we labor for them. He helps us by pointing out the divine goal which we may enjoy if we pay the price.
“Such a blessing, given in the spirit of a father’s love, and sealed upon us in the authority of the Priesthood, becomes a power in our lives; a comfort to our days. It is a message which if read and honored aright, will become an anchor in stormy days, our encouragement in cloudy days. It states our certain destination here and hereafter, if we live by the law; and as life goes on, it strengthens our faith and leads us into truth.” (Evidences and Reconciliations, 1:74–75.)
|“Thus saith the Lord God of my fathers unto me, A choice seer will I raise up” (JST, Genesis 50:27).|