Sunday, February 7, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #7 The Abrahamic Covenant

(Abraham 1:1-4; 2:1-11; Genesis 12:1-8; 17:1-9)


"Genesis" is a plural word meaning "many beginnings" (Robert J. Matthews, Old Testament Symposium, Logan, Utah, Jan. 2002).  The Bible Dictionary says, "Genesis is an introduction to the rest of the Bible."  Also, "The Book of Genesis is the true and original birthplace of all theology."  Theology is, of course, the study of God.  Genesis is the first book in the Old Testament.  "Testament" means "covenant."  The ancient covenant begun in the Book of Genesis is the Abrahamic Covenant.

Chapters 1-10 of Genesis cover thousands of years and three dispensations of the gospel.  Chapters 11-25 cover only 175 years:  Abraham's life.  Obviously, Abraham is extremely important in understanding the rest of the Bible, but is he important to us today?  The answer is: Absolutely!  A large body of text is given to Abraham in Genesis, but surprisingly, "Abraham is mentioned in more verses of modern revelation than in all the verses of the Old Testament. inextricably linked to all who join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" (Elder Russell M. Nelson, Sydney B. Sperry Symposium, BYU, 1997).


Once again, the latter-day revelations are the best commentary on the Old Testament, and make it easier to understand.  Let's look at the Abrahamic Covenant as found in the Pearl of Great Price:

"My name is Jehovah, and I know the end from the beginning; therefore my hand shall be over thee. And 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; And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee; and in thee (that is, in thy Priesthood) and in thy seed (that is, thy Priesthood), for I give unto thee a promise that this right shall continue in thee, and in thy seed after thee (that is to say, the literal seed, or the seed of the body) shall all the families of the earth be blessed, even with the blessings of the Gospel, which are the blessings of salvation, even of life eternal" (Abr. 2:7-11).

Why was Abraham privileged to receive this great covenant?  As always, the reason for any revelation is a request; Abraham desired righteousness with all his heart, and asked the Lord to make him "a father of many nations, and a prince of peace" (Abr. 1:2).  (See "Abraham's Dysfunctional Family" in previous post.)  Abraham's response to the blessing of this covenant is inspiring:  "Now, after the Lord had withdrawn from speaking to me, and withdrawn his face from me, I said in my heart: Thy servant has sought thee earnestly; now I have found thee...I will do well to hearken unto thy voice" (Abr. 2:12-13).

The covenant was initially promised when Abraham was 75 years old (Gen. 12). When he was 99 years old (Gen. 17), the Lord restated the covenant, because the people had not been following it correctly.  They were baptizing infants with sprinkling, rather than baptizing by immersion at the age of accountability, and they were giving Abel the credit for the Atonement. (See the footnote to Gen. 17:3, which refers to JST Gen. 17:3-7, p. 798 of the LDS Bible.)


All of the covenants we make as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, from baptism to temple sealing, are part of the Abrahamic Covenant; the Abrahamic Covenant is just the Gospel of Jesus Christ, with the added emphasis of the responsibility to share the gospel with other potential heirs.  When any person joins the church through baptism, he becomes an heir of Abraham; then it becomes his duty and joy to share that gospel with others.

Four Ways the Nations are Blessed by the Abrahamic Covenant:
1) Jesus Christ's Atonement
2) Priesthood
3) Leaven of Righteousness
4) Opportunity to join Abraham's family, or discover that they already belong, and receive the Holy Ghost
(Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 3:246)

The last three of these blessings are administered by us as we keep our part of the Abrahamic Covenant.  "The responsibility of the seed of Abraham, which we are, is to be missionaries to bear this ministry and Priesthood unto all nations" (Pres. Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, May 1987).


Jesus spoke of the children of Abraham in a parable when he said, "The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened" (Matt. 13:33).

When you add yeast to warm water, the yeast softens, bubbles up and grows much large than its original size.  In the Old Testament, by the time of the Exodus, Abraham's posterity numbered 1 million plus.  Their 40 years in the wilderness provided a time of trial and preparation in which they could grow spiritually.  (See "The Journey" in a previous post, for the symbolic meaning of the 40 years.)  In the latter days, the saints gathered to Kirtland, Jackson County, Nauvoo, and Salt Lake City in order to have the manpower, land, and finances to build temples, which provided them with access to the full Abrahamic covenant.  The trials that drove them from one place to another refined them.

When you mix the yeast in with the other ingredients of the bread, it influences the dough and makes it rise.  In the diaspora (the scattering of Israel) the covenant people were spread throughout the middle east, placing pockets of believers throughout the nations.  In the latter-days, once the initial gathering to Salt Lake was accomplished and the U.S. mountain west was settled, the saints in other nations were counseled to stay where they lived and build up Zion in their own countries.  For this reason, temples now "dot the earth."

If the leaven does not soften and develop at first, it does not have the power to raise the bread.  The same is true of the covenant people.  Their testimonies must be firm in order to bless those around them with the gospel.


By definition, then, the children of the Abrahamic Covenant live in environments that are spiritually inferior.  It is their calling, as leaven, to elevate those surroundings.  The Book of Genesis set ups the overall theme of the Old Testament in these 15 chapters on Abraham and the following 14 chapters on Jacob, which is the question of whether the Lord's people will keep their covenants to influence others toward righteousness, or whether they will allow the environment to influence them.

"Abraham received promises concerning his seed, and of the fruit of his loins...This promise is yours also, because ye are of Abraham, and the promise was made unto Abraham; and by this law is the continuation of the works of my Father, wherein he glorifieth himself.  Go ye, therefore, and do the works of Abraham; enter ye into my law and ye shall be saved" (D&C 132:30-32).


Anonymous said...

Nancy, thank you so much for sharing your lessons with others who may not be as knowledgeable as you. You perform a great service here!

Nancy Wyatt Jensen said...

You are most welcome! Thank you for taking the time to read it!

Jared Ullrich said...

Thank you for what you do. I have applied your insights in my Sunday School lessons in Colorado and it has been great!

I needed some help with the Abrahamic Covenant and yours hit the spot. I have really enjoyed teaching the Old Testament this year!

Thank you!

Nancy Wyatt Jensen said...

Thanks, Jared! You made my day!

Julie said...

I really enjoyed your explanation of the Abrahamic Covenant. I've been struggling with how to teach it. I'm a new GD teacher and really needed this help. You made it so simple and applicable.

Nancy Wyatt Jensen said...

Thanks, Julie! I hope your lesson goes well!

Anonymous said...

Great post! You made it so much easier to understand.