When Did Abraham Live?
— Adam and Eve and the Fall Approximately 4000 BC
— Enoch Approximately 3000 BC
— Noah and the Flood Approximately 2400 BC
— The tower of Babel Approximately 2200 BC
— Abraham Born in about 2000 BC
We Are the Children of Abraham
EARLY EVENTS IN ABRAHAM’S LIFE
Seeking the Blessings of the Fathers
● Abraham sought the blessings of the priesthood (Abraham 1:1–3).
Neal A. Maxwell said, “The true disciple has an inborn questioning to know, personally, all that God is willing to teach us . . . Abraham sought, even though he had a father who had turned from the faith, ‘for greater happiness and peace’ and ‘for mine appointment unto the priesthood.’ . . . Abraham described himself as desiring ‘great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness’ . . . , questing for the word of Christ. Divine discontent in the form of promptings can move us to feast because we know that by feasting we can increase our knowledge, effectiveness, and joy.”1
Ezra Taft Benson said, “The order of priesthood spoken of in the scriptures is sometimes referred to as the patriarchal order because it came down from father to son . . . Abraham, a righteous servant of God, desiring as he said, ‘to be a greater follower of righteousness,’ sought for these same blessings.”2
Abraham Is Nearly Sacrificed to an Idol
● The Chaldeans and the Egyptians (Abraham 1:1). Ur, the birthplace of Abraham, is 875 miles from Egypt. Nevertheless, it appears that in the days of Abraham they shared religious beliefs and practices. Elkenah was also the priest of Pharaoh. Facsimile 1, Figure 4 shows an Egyptian sacrificial altar.
Elder Mark E. Peterson said: “How did this Egyptian infusion reach into Mesopotamia? What was the priest of Pharaoh doing in Ur? At this time Egyptian influence was felt throughout the Fertile Crescent [ . . . from Egypt north into Mesopotamia, then east and south again toward the Persian Gulf]. Much of the advanced learning of the people of the Nile was exported abroad, including some of their religious customs.”3
● The Courage of Abraham (Abraham 1:4–6).
Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said: “We all know something of the courage it takes for one to stand in opposition to . . . general belief. None of us likes to be ridiculed. Few are able to withstand popular opinion even when they know it is wrong, and it is difficult to comprehend the magnificent courage displayed by Abraham in his profound obedience to Jehovah, in the midst of his surroundings. His moral courage, his implicit faith in God, his boldness in raising his voice in opposition to the prevailing wickedness, is almost beyond comparison.”4
● His father Terah was willing to sacrifice Abraham (Abraham 1:6–7,17). Elkenah sought to kill Abraham because of his opposition to their beliefs and practices. Terah, had given himself to worship of false gods and was willing to sacrifice his own son.
Elder John A. Widtsoe said: “The family of Abraham had turned from righteousness and had become idolaters. Abraham therefore, himself a follower of God’s truth, preached righteousness to them but without avail. For his insistence upon the worship of the only true and Living God, he was persecuted and his life sought. So intense was the hatred of the idolators that it was only by the intervention of the Lord that he was saved from being offered up as a sacrifice to the idols of the people.”5
● Abraham was nearly sacrificed (Abraham 1:8–16). Three virgins who refused to worship false gods were actually sacrificed (v. 11). Abraham was nearly sacrificed, but was miraculously rescued by the Lord (vv. 12, 15; Facsimile 1).
● Pharaohs in Egypt (Abraham 1:20–27). There was mourning in the court of Pharaoh (in Egypt), which shows how widespread the news of Abraham’s miraculous rescue had spread (v. 20).
● “The First Government of Egypt . . . was . . . Patriarchal” (v. 25).
Bruce R. McConkie said: “After the immersion of the earth in the waters of Noah . . . , as in Adam’s day, the faithful lived under a theocratic system, and as in the days before the flood, those who chose to live after the manner of the world set up their own governments and their own ways of worship. The seed of Shem, Ham, and Japheth began to populate the earth, and it so continued for more than four hundred years, when Abraham, who received theocratic power from Melchizedek, went down into Egypt. There he found a descendant of Ham, reigning as Pharaoh, whose government was patterned after the patriarchal governments of old, but which was devoid of priesthood and revelation, and hence, as far as worship is concerned—a worship prescribed, mandated, and commanded by pharaoh—had turned to idolatry.”6
● The Pharaohs “fain[ed] claim” to the right of priesthood (vv. 24–27). Fain means “content or willing to accept an alternative when the more desirable thing cannot be attained.”7 The Pharaohs fained claimed the priesthood from Noah, through Ham.
● Abraham received “the records of the fathers from the patriarchs (Abraham 1:28–31). These records confirmed his right to the priesthood.
Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said: “The order of this priesthood which was established in the beginning was patriarchal. The authority descended from father to son, and those who held it were high priests. This order of descent from Adam to Noah is given in the Doctrine and Covenants. Noah, who stands next to Adam in authority, brought this priesthood through the flood, and it continued from generation to generation. Abraham, the 10th from Noah, received special blessings from the Lord, and the priesthood continued through him and his seed with the promise that all who received the gospel should be counted as Abraham’s seed and partake of his blessings.”8
● Abraham’s immediate fathers had “turned from their righteousness,” and therefore could not confer the holy priesthood upon Abraham (Abraham 1:5).
● Abraham received the priesthood from Melchizedek, who received it through the lineage of his fathers till Noah and from Noah back to Enoch and Adam (D&C 84:14–16).
Ezra Taft Benson said: “Speaking of the order of the priesthood, [Abraham] said: ‘It was conferred upon me from the fathers; it came down from the fathers, from the beginning of time, even the right of the firstborn, or the first man, who is Adam, our first father, through the fathers unto me.’ (Abr. 1:2–3).”9
The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “Abraham . . . [believed] all that [Melchizedek] taught . . . concerning the priesthood and the coming of the Son of Man; so Melchizedek ordained Abraham and sent him away. Abraham rejoiced, saying, Now I have a priesthood.”10 We do not know precisely when this ordination took place.
ABRAHAM IS LED TO A PROMISED LAND
The Abrahamic Covenant (Abraham 2:1–13)
● Abraham departed from Ur and went to Haran (Abraham 2:1–5).
● He was promised a “strange land” as an “everlasting possession” (Abraham 2:6).
— The strange land was the land of Canaan (Gen. 17:8; Abr. 2:15).
— It was named for Canaan, the fourth son of Ham (Gen. 9:22; 10:6).
— It refers to all the country west of the Jordan River, from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south—the same land that Joshua gave to the 12 tribes of Israel (Joshua 14–21).
Bruce R. McConkie said: “Abraham’s inheritance in Canaan, for himself and his seed after him, was to be an eternal inheritance, one that would endure in time and in eternity. This promise is the hope of Israel, the hope that the meek shall inherit the earth, first during the millennial era and finally in that same immortal state when the earth becomes a celestial sphere.”11
Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said: “The descendants of Abraham, the tribes of Israel, became the chosen people of the Lord according to the promise. The Lord honored them, nourished them, watched over them with a jealous care, until they became a great nation in the land the Lord had given to their fathers. Notwithstanding this tender care and the instructions and warnings this people received from time to time through their prophets, they failed to comprehend the goodness of the Lord and departed from him. Because of their rebellion they were driven out . . . and eventually . . . scattered among the nations.”12
● Abraham’s Seed (Abraham 2:10–11). Elder John A. Widtsoe said: “All who accept the gospel become by adoption members of the family of Abraham.”13
● The responsibilities of Abraham’s seed. The Bible Dictionary says, “Being an heir to the Abrahamic covenant does not make one a ‘chosen person’ per se, but does signify that such are chosen to responsibly carry the gospel to all the peoples of the earth.”14 Ezra Taft Benson said: “The responsibility of the seed of Abraham, which we are, is to be missionaries to ‘bear this ministry and priesthood unto all nations’ (Abraham 2:9).”15
THE ABRAHAMIC COVENANT & BLESSINGS
The Abrahamic Covenant
● This covenant includes four promises: (Genesis 12:2–3, 7).
— A promised land (v.7; Gen. 13:15; Gen. 15:18; Abraham 2:19).
— Numerous posterity (v. 2; Gen.13:16; 15:5; 17:2–6; 22:17; Abr.1:2; 2:9; 3:14).
— A great name (vv. 2–3; Abraham 2:9–11).
— His posterity will bless the nations of the world (vv. 2–3; Gen. 18:18; 22:18; Abraham 1:18; 2:9–11).
● These blessings were later reaffirmed to Abraham by covenant (Genesis 15:1–12; JST Genesis 15:9–12). Before this vision of Christ, a horror of great darkness fell upon Abraham (similar to Joseph Smith in the Sacred Grove) (v. 12).
● The early patriarchs knew all about Christ and His mission (JST vv. 9–12). Paul affirmed that Abraham knew about Christ and the gospel (Galatians 3:16–17).
● The Lord prophesied of the bondage of Abram’s posterity in Egypt and also of their eventual freedom (Genesis 15:12–16).
● The promised land was not empty at the time. The Lord said He would not drive the Canaanites out of the land without cause (vv. 13–16). But when their iniquity is full, they will be destroyed and driven out.
● The extent of the promised land was revealed to Abram (Genesis 15:17–21).
Who May Receive the Blessings of Abraham?
● Even after baptism, these blessings are conditional. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “[All promises are] earned by our own diligence in keeping His commandments and walking uprightly before Him.”16
Elder Bruce R. McConkie said:
“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 . . . 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. . . .
“All of these promises . . . together are called the Abrahamic covenant. [This] was renewed with Isaac . . . and again with Jacob . . . 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 which] the . . . parties become inheritors of all the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”17
ABRAHAM & SARAH ARE PROMISED A SON
The Covenant Re-confirmed
● The Lord reaffirmed his promise to Abraham that he would be a father of nations and kings (Genesis 17:1–6; JST Genesis 17:1–10). The messenger called himself “El Shaddai”—the Lord Almighty (v. 1). The command to walk uprightly and be “perfect” comes from the Hebrew “tammim” which means “whole, complete, or with integrity” (v. 1).
● Abram and Sarai were given new names: (vv. 5, 15)
— Abraham means “Father of a multitude.”
— Sarah means “Princess” (feminine form of “ruler” or “prince).
They Are Promised a Covenant Son
● The Lord also blessed Sarah and prophesied of the birth of Isaac (Genesis 17:15–21).
— Abraham “laughed (v. 17).” Joseph Smith corrected this verse to say that Abraham rejoiced (JST Genesis 17:23). This is substantiated by the boy’s name. The boy’s name was to be “Yitzkhaq” (Isaac), meaning “rejoice” or “laugh” (vv. 19, 21).
— 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 (vv. 18–21).
1. Wherefore, Ye Must Press Forward, 119.
2. “What I Hope You Will Teach Your Children about the Temple,” Ensign, Aug. 1985, 9.
3. Abraham, Friend of God, 42–43.
4. The Way to Perfection, 86.
5. Evidences and Reconciliations, 398.
6. A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, 660.
7. Webster’s 20th Century Dictionary, 657.
8. Doctrines of Salvation, 3:160–161.
9. “What I Hope You Will Teach Your Children about the Temple,” 9.
10. History of the Church, 5:555.
11. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 2:71.
12. Doctrines of Salvation, 1:164.
13. Evidences and Reconciliations, 399.
14. Bible Dictionary, “Abraham, covenant of,” 602.
15. In Conference Report, Apr. 1987, 107; or Ensign, May 1987, 85.
16. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith , 66.
17. Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. , 2nd ed. , 13.