Friday, February 12, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #8 Living Righteously in a Wicked World

(Genesis 13-14; 18-19)

Abraham and Lot left Ur and traveled to Haran, Canaan, Egypt, and then back to Canaan.  No matter where he lived, Abraham remained on fire with testimony and faithfulness.  Lot seemed to be influenced by the environment which cooled his faith to lukewarm.  Here are some comparisons:

ABRAHAM AND LOT
  • Putting God first.  The first thing Abraham did upon reentering Canaan was to visit his former altar, and call upon God (Gen. 13:3-4).  Everywhere he went, this is what he did (Abr. 2:17-20).  No worship of any kind is mentioned in regard to Lot at this time, but he used to be active in his religion (Abr. 2:6).  After they became wealthy, it seems that he changed.
  • Valuing people more than things.  When a conflict arose between the servants of the two relatives, Abraham offered Lot the choice of land because peaceful relationships were more important than property to him.  Lot took his preference, rather than defer to the elder Abraham.  He "beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where...even as the garden of the Lord."  Land was his priority (Gen. 13:6-11). 
  • Standing in holy placesAbraham took the land the Lord offered to him, in the plain of Mamre, in Hebron, and of course, he "built there an altar unto the Lord" (Gen. 14-18).  He was promised a great posterity.  Lot, however, "pitched his tent toward Sodom" even though "the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly" (Gen. 13:12-13).  It wasn't long until Lot moved right into Sodom, and became one of its citizens (Gen. 14:12).

(This beautiful image of the Salt Lake City Temple
was taken by Bob Brown
and is used with his permission)
TWO KINGS

In a war of many kingdoms, Lot was taken captive along with the city of Sodom and others on the plain.  Abraham and his household of 318 servants went to battle to rescue them (Gen. 14:14)-15.  Neither Lot nor the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah were turned to the Lord after having been saved.  Lot moved right back into the city, and Sodom's wickedness ripened for destruction. 

After the battle, Abraham had dealings with two kings almost simultaneously, the king of Salem (Melchizedek), and the king of Sodom (Bera).  Once again, we see contrasting examples of righteousness and worldliness.
  • Forming an alliance with God, not men.  Melchizedek was the High Priest.  He administered the sacrament to Abraham, blessed him, and reminded him that the Most High God had won the battle for him, whereupon Abraham, recognizing his covenant with the Lord, voluntarily paid tithes of all he had taken (Gen. 14:18-19, including JST footnote).  The king of Sodom was the king of the worldliest of cities.  He offered all his goods recovered from the enemy to Abraham as payment for winning the war .  Abraham refused because he had covenanted with God, the "possessor" of everything, that he would take nothing from the king of Sodom; this prevented him from being bonded in any way to the king of Sodom and his evil citizens (Gen. 14:21-23).
  • Being sanctified or damnedSalem means "peace, righteousness, Heaven." Sodom means "their secret."  Salem later was translated and taken into Heaven (JST Gen. 14:34, p. 798 of LDS Bible).  Sodom later was buried in lava from an earthquake, and is thought to have eventually been covered by the salt of the Dead Sea, making it forever uninhabitable (O.T. Institute Manual, p. 77).
ABRAHAM, LOT AND THE VISITORS

Three priesthood brethren visited Abraham and then Lot to warn them of the coming destruction.  The way that the two men responded to these brethren is also indicative of their faithfulness:
  • Respecting the Lord's messengersAbraham's entire household took upon themselves the covenant of circumcision as directed (Gen. 17), then Abraham was visited by the Lord (Gen. 18:1-2).  (Joseph Fielding Smith in Doctrines of Salvation, 1:17, states that there should be a new paragraph after "The Lord appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre," because it was a separate visit than that of the three men. Notice the name "Lord" is in all capitals, the King James translators' way of writing the name "Jehovah." They made this substitution in reverence to the Jews' custom of never speaking the name of the Lord [Bible Dictionary, p. 711].)  After the Lord's visit, three men who held priesthood authority over Abraham, visited him, then later visited Lot in Salem.  Both men recognized them, and revered them by "bowing low toward the ground" (Gen. 18:2; 19:1).  (In verse 3, "Lord" is in lowercase, indicating that Abraham is not refering to God, but just speaking respectfully to his priesthood leader.  In the footnotes to 19:1, the JST says there were "three angels," and the Hebrew word for "angels" equates to "messengers.")
  • Supporting the BrethrenAbraham offered to bring the men water for washing their feet, allowed them to rest under his tree, offered to feed them bread, and to comfort their hearts before they passed on their journey.  Abraham "hastened" to get Sarah to "quickly" make cakes of "fine meal." He "ran" to the herd and fetched a calf "tender and good," and gave it to a servant who "hasted" to dress it. He took butter, milk, and the calf and "stood by them," as a servant would, under the tree while they ate (Gen. 18:3-8).  Lot also offered them water for washing their feet, a feast, and bread, and "pressed upon them greatly" to stay in his home, rather than in the street, knowing the dangers of the city (Gen. 19:2-3).
  • Staying out of "Babylon."  The men blessed Abraham by their priesthood power and promised his wife a child (Gen. 18:10-15).  When they visited Lot, however, they had a polar opposite experience.  Lot insisted the brethren stay in his home for safety, but the men of the city, claiming that Lot had moved in with them and therefore shouldn't condemn their actions, attacked the house, insisting he allow them to rape the visitors and Lot's daughters.  Lot had mistakenly assumed that he had the power to keep his home safe, despite being in Sodom.  He tried to protect his guests, but was not successful.  The holy men ended up protecting themselves and Lot by dragging him back inside the house and using their priesthood power to blind the assailants so that they couldn't find the entrance (JST Gen. 19:4-11, p. 798).  (Note that the JST says that Lot did not offer his daughters to the men of Sodom, as the Bible reports.)
  • The prophet as an advocateThe brethren told the prophet, Abraham, their mission: to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7).  Abraham went with the holy men to show them the way to Sodom, thereby helping them with their mission. Abraham went toward Sodom (remembering his nephew, Lot) and asked the Lord if he would spare it if there were 50 righteous, or 45, or even only 10, undoubtedly hoping his nephew's family would qualify (Gen. 18:16-33, also JST Gen. 18:23), but it was in vain.  The men also warned Lot of the destruction of Sodom and allowed him to warn his married children, but this was also in vain; they didn't believe him (Gen. 19:12-14).
  • Lingering in sin.  After the messengers gave their warning to Lot, they "hastened" Lot out of Sodom, but Lot "lingered."  They had to "take" him, his wife and unmarried daughters "by the hand" to "bring them forth" and "set them outside the city" (Gen. 19:15-16).  Lot's family was not in a hurry to go.  The messengers told Lot to flee to the mountain (which is often a symbol of a temple-type place), and not look back toward the city. But Lot was afraid of the mountain and asked for another asylum.  Did he feel he was not worthy to be in a mountain-temple, was he just frightened of wild animals, or did he have doubts that the destruction would actually occur so he wanted to stay close for an easy move back?  Who knows? At any rate, he begged to instead go to a town that was more humble and less worldly than Sodom (Gen. 19:17-20).  The holy men accepted Lot's plan; it was an improvement upon living in Sodom.
  • Looking back on sin.  "Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven."  Lot's wife turned back and was caught in the destruction, eventually becoming a figurative "pillar of salt" as the Dead Sea likely overtook the ruins (Gen. 19:24-26).  After this, Lot was afraid to stay in the little town of Zoar, but moved to the mountain, as initially instructed. Could that be because he changed his ways and desired to be closer to God, or did he just want to distance himself from the destruction on the plain? (Gen. 19:-21-30).
  • Visiting the temple in times of fear. Early the next morning, Abraham went to the mountain "temple" ("the place where he stood before the Lord") and from that elevated point saw that Sodom and Gomorrah had been consumed.  God then spoke comfort to Abraham, letting him know that he had saved Lot from the destruction (Gen. 19:27-29).
  • Teaching the family to trust in the LordAbraham carefully taught his family and servants to keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment, and to honor the covenants they had made (Gen. 18:19).  He waited upon the Lord for decades for the long-promised blessing of posterity.  In contrast, Lot's daughters left Sodom with him, but having grown up in that environment, they retained those wicked ways in their hearts, and in their incredible short-sightedness, committed incest in order to create progeny (Gen. 19:31-36).  From the children they bore in this wicked manner, came two of the most evil, idolatrous nations of Bible times:  The Moabites and the Ammonites.
THE MERCY OF THE LORD

Abraham asked the Lord if he would spare the City of Sodom if 50 righteous people could be found, or if 40 could be found, and so on down to 10.  Not even 10 were found.  Only Lot was found as marginally righteous, with his wife and two daughters who really weren't.  But the Lord in his mercy was willing to go to extra effort to save just Lot, even though Lot was not obedient enough to leave the city quickly, or to travel directly to the mountain.  Simply because he was willing to go partway in the right direction (although at first he had to be dragged there), he was saved from destruction--that's how merciful and kind the Lord is. 

The intensely and constantly faithful Abraham, however, was given many more blessings than just the avoidance of destruction.

WHICH EXAMPLE DO WE FOLLOW?

Latter-day Saints live in a promised land (even if just in a pocket of Zion), under covenant with God, but surrounded by worldly influences.  To remain safe, we must be vigilant in our faithfulness like Abraham, and not lukewarm, like Lot.
  • Like Abraham, we need to worship at the altar of the Lord often and renew our covenants through the sacrament.
  • Like Abraham, we need to acknowledge the hand of the Lord in all our successes.
  • Like Abraham, we need to get out of "Babylon" by going to the "mountains of the Lord's house" (D&C 133:10-15).  The only place in the scriptures in which this phrase is plural is in latter-day scripture.  We have 130 temples now, and 22 more under construction.  The best "fire insurance" is a temple recommend!
  • Like Abraham, we need to earn our money honestly and pay our full tithe willingly.
  • Like Abraham, we need to honor and support our priesthood leaders as "angels" or messengers of God.
  • Like Abraham, we need to plead in prayer for those who succumb to the world's influence, and go with His power to rescue them, while never "moving into Sodom" ourselves.
  • Like Abraham, we need to continue to love and care for them, even when they do not seem to learn from their mistakes.
  • Like Abraham, we need to provide a home and work environment in which our families and employees are safely taught to "keep the way of the Lord" (Gen. 18:19).

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Nancy,
I am a primary teacher and struggling to understand how to teach this to the kids simply when I wasn't getting it myself. Thank you so much for your insight, I now
get it and can teach it !! Thank you Thank you !!

Nancy W. Jensen said...

So glad it was helpful!