Thursday, January 7, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #2 "Thou Wast Chosen Before Thou Wast Born"


When you were young, did you ever want something so much, but no matter how you hoped and wished, that desire was not realized?

Elder Vaughan J. Featherstone tells such a story:

"When I was a deacon in the Aaronic Priesthood, the member of the bishopric who advised the deacons quorum came into our quorum meeting the Sunday before Thanksgiving and said, 'I hope we won’t have one family of this quorum who won’t kneel down in family prayer and have a blessing on the food this Thanksgiving.' It was 1943, and our country was engaged in World War II. We discussed our need for a divine blessing for those who were in military service and for all the other difficulties we as a nation were facing. We also talked about the blessings we each enjoyed. Then we were again encouraged to have family prayer.

"A heavy cloud settled on my heart. I didn’t know how my family could have family prayer. My father had a drinking problem, and my mother was not a member of the Church at that time. We had never had a prayer in our home, not even a blessing on the food. After quorum meeting I continued to consider the challenge, and finally concluded we would not be able to have prayer.

"That evening at sacrament meeting the bishop stood up at the close of the meeting and said, 'Brothers and sisters, Thursday is Thanksgiving. I hope we will not have one family in the ward that will not kneel in family prayer. We ought to express our gratitude for the great goodness of our Heavenly Father to us.' And then he enumerated some of our many blessings.

"Again it seemed as if my soul were filled with an enormous gloom. I tried to figure out a way our family could have prayer. I thought about it Monday, and again on Tuesday, and on Wednesday. On Wednesday evening my father did not return home from work at the normal hour, and I knew from experience that, because it was payday, he was satisfying his thirst for alcohol. When he finally came at two in the morning quite an argument ensued. I lay in bed wondering how we could ever have prayer with that kind of contention in our home.

"On Thanksgiving morning, we did not eat breakfast so we could eat more dinner. My four brothers and I went out to play with some neighbor boys. We decided to dig a hole and make a trench to it and cover it over as a clubhouse. We dug a deep hole, and with every shovelful of dirt I threw out of the hole I thought about family prayer for Thanksgiving. I wondered if I would have enough courage to suggest to my parents that we have a prayer, but I was afraid I would not. I wondered if my older brother, who has always been an ideal in my life, would suggest it, since he had been in the same sacrament meeting and had heard the bishop’s suggestion.

"Finally, at about two-thirty in the afternoon, Mother told us to come get cleaned up for dinner. Then we sat down at the big round oak table. Dad sat down with us silently—he and Mother were not speaking to each other. As she brought in the platter with the beautiful golden brown turkey, my young heart was about to burst. I thought, Now please, won’t someone suggest we have a family prayer? I thought the words over and over, but they wouldn’t come out. I turned and looked at my older brother, praying desperately that he would suggest prayer. The bowls of delicious food were being passed around the table; plates were being filled; and time and opportunity were passing. I knew that if someone did not act immediately, it would be too late. Then suddenly, as always, everyone just started eating.

"My heart sank, and despair filled my soul. Although I had worked up a great appetite, and Mother was a marvelous cook, I wasn’t hungry. I just wanted to pray."


The Book of Abraham starts very simply:  "In the land of the Chaldeans, at the residence of my fathers, I, Abraham, saw that it was needful for me to obtain another place of residence" (Abraham 1:1). This sounds so ordinary, but there was a great deal of suffering which caused the move.  The rest of the chapter gives us the explanation. Abraham's kinsfolk and community had become horrifically wicked, and were offering human sacrifice to idols, even sacrificing their own children (see verses 5-14). As the knife was raised to sacrifice Abraham himself, he cried unto the Lord. A "vision of the Almighty" filled him, and an angel of the Lord appeared to rescue Abraham.  God spoke to him personally, counseling him to move to a strange land, and promising him great blessings once he did so (verses 16-18).

Abraham had possessed a great desire for righteousness in his youth and young adulthood, but as with Elder Featherstone, it was not realized until he started his own family.  "And finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers" (verse 2).  It would be interesting to know who taught Abraham the gospel.  Where did he learn of God, and where did he see this example of righteousness? 

Abraham married and followed the Lord's command to journey to a new land.  Even before he reached his destination, however, he received the blessing he had sought.


In the land of Haran, the Lord said to him, "I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee above measure, and make thy name great among all nations, and thou shalt be a blessing unto thy seed after thee, that in their hands they shall bear this ministry and Priesthood unto all nations; and I will bless them through thy name; for as many as receive this Gospel shall be called after thy name, and shall be accounted thy seed, and shall rise up and bless thee, as their father" (Abraham 2:9-10).  We call this the Abrahamic Covenant, and even today, everyone who hearkens to the gospel and joins the Church, becomes a partaker, an child of Abraham.

So Abraham, one who had been raised in idolatry and great wickedness, a victim of life-threatening abuse, who had to escape his own home in order to fulfill his desire for righteousness, became the literal and symbolic father of all the righteous for all the following generations of time!  What an amazing irony!  Abraham is the finest example of the principle taught by Elder Neal A. Maxwell: "What we insistently desire, over time, is what we will eventually become and what we will receive in eternity."


In a vision, as Abraham was shown the preexistence, he discovered that he, himself, was in the council of the great leaders the Lord was preparing for His kingdom on earth.  I wonder if that surprised him?  "Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones...and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born" (Abraham 3:22-23).

It is interesting to note how the Lord fosters his leaders when he sends them to earth.  Joseph Smith was raised in a family that had been prepared for generations to receive a prophet in their midst, where his parents and grandparents had sought truth and read the Bible to their children, and studied religion carefully.  Gordon B. Hinckley was born in Salt Lake City, the hub of Church activity, into a family where the restored gospel had been lived for generations, and where his father was a great local Church leader.  But Abraham came to a different environment, to an abusive, non-believing home, to a heritage of gross wickedness.  And yet he became one of the greatest of all the prophets, the father of all believers, because he was foreordained to it, he desired it, and he followed through on his desire. 

What can we learn from this?  Not that the home environment is not important, because it is, but that foreordained "noble and great ones" can be planted on the earth in surprising places.  They can be anyone from any background.  Perhaps the challenges that a person faces because of his family helps to prepare him for the specific work the Lord has for him to do.  We would do well to assume that each person in our quorum, in our Primary class, or in our Young Women group, regardless of their present circumstance, is foreordained to a great work, and that we have a responsibility to help them and train them accordingly.  We may also do well to lift our vision of ourselves, because our capabilities and responsibilities may be much greater than we realize.

President Ezra Taft Benson said, "God has held you in reserve to make your appearance in the final days before the second coming of the Lord.  Some individuals will fall away; but the kingdom of God will remain intact to welcome the return of its head--even Jesus Christ.  While our generation will be comparable in wickedness to the days of Noah, when the Lord cleansed the earth by flood, there is a major difference this time.  It is that God has saved for the final inning some of His strongest children, who will help bear off the kingdom triumphantly...Make no mistake about it--you are a marked generation.  There has never been more expected of the faithful in such a short period of time than there is of us."

Sources:  Vaughan J. Featherstone, The New Era, Nov. 1985, p. 4; Neal A. Maxwell, Ensign, November 1996; Ezra Taft Benson, The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 104-105.


Grandma said...

Wonderful lesson, I could have used it today in Sunday School and made some great comments.

calibosmom said...

This is fantastic! Thank you!

Unknown said...

Beautiful! thanks for posting this :)