Think about what you would do if God asked you to give up, or sacrifice, someone you truly love or something that you value very highly. How would you respond? This lesson will help us improve our understanding of Heavenly Father’s sacrifice of his Only Begotten Son as we learn of Abraham’s willingness to be obedient when he was commanded to sacrifice Isaac. Because of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his beloved son, he and his posterity were greatly blessed.
Abraham and the false priests of Pharaoh Abraham 1:1, 5-20.
To understand fully the revulsion that Abraham must have felt when confronted with ritual human sacrifice, we need to briefly review his personal experience as a young man when he was almost sacrificed by a false priest of Pharaoh.
Abraham 1:1, 5-8 tells of his fathers (ancestors) conversion to idol worship and human sacrifice.
Abraham 1:7, 12 reveal that Abraham was threatened as the priests sought to take his life.
Abraham 1:15-16, 20 recounts that God not only loosed Abraham’s bands in answer to his prayer, but he also broke down the altar of the false priests in Chaldea and utterly destroyed them. Abraham was then led out of that land.
This experience gave Abraham the opportunity to strengthen his testimony that the Lord would protect him in all circumstances as long as Abraham demonstrated obedience and maintained faith in the Lord. It was a dramatic preparation for Abraham’s future trials.
Genesis 15:1-6 reveals that Abraham was promised a vast posterity that would be as numerous as the stars in the heavens.
Genesis 16:1-3; D&C 132:34-35 – Sarah gave Hagar, her Egyptian handmaid, to Abraham so that he might have seed. In the D&C, we find that this arrangement was a result of the Lord’s command.
Genesis 16:10-11 – Hagar was promised that her seed would be multiplied and she was told that her child would be a male whose name should be Ishmael.
Genesis 17:15-16, 19, 21 – Here, Sarai is renamed Sarah and receives the promise that many nations will come of her son. The child was to be named Isaac and the covenant between the Lord and Abraham would be the birthright of Isaac.
Genesis 17:17 – Note that while the King James version uses the word “laughed” in describing Abraham’s reaction to the news of his wife’s conception, the Joseph Smith Translation uses “rejoiced” –the more correct rendering of his reaction.
The revelation that Abraham and Sarah would have a son teaches us that God fulfills his promises. That is true although God does not necessarily fulfill promises in the way or at the time we might expect. Promised blessings only came after years of faithful waiting by Abraham and Sarah. We need to remain faithful while we wait for promised blessings that will come!
Genesis 17:19-21 – note that the promises made regarding Isaac were different than those given regarding Ishmael. Ishmael would have a numerous posterity and father a great nation, but Isaac’s blessings were for a numerous posterity that would bear the responsibility of the Abrahamic covenant and the opportunity for unlimited blessings as that covenant was fulfilled.
Truman Madsen wrote that while he and President Hugh B. Brown were together in the valley of Hebron where tradition has it that there is a tomb to father Abraham, he asked President Brown, ,,,” ‘What are the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?’ Elder Brown thought a moment and answered in one word, ‘Posterity.’ Then Bro. Madsen said he almost burst out, “Why, then, was Abraham commanded to go to Mount Moriah and offer his only hope of posterity?’ It was clear that this man, nearly ninety, had thought and prayed and wept over that question before. He finally said, ‘Abraham needed to learn something about Abraham’.” (Truman G. Madsen, The Highest in Us , 49).
D&C 101:4 - The Lord has revealed that we must be tried “even as Abraham”.
D&C 101:5, 35-38; 122:5-7 – informs us that trials are necessary since we must be willing to endure chastening, suffer persecution for [the Lord’s] name, endure in faith, lay down our lives if necessary, care not for the body, care only for the soul, seek eternal life, pass through tribulation, be falsely accused, be torn from our families, and face the gaping jaws of hell. To be prepared for such trials, we have to build an undeniable testimony and live according to that testimony.
Genesis 22:2-3 – Abraham responds to the Lord’s command to sacrifice Isaac.
James 2:20-23 – Abraham is shown to be a dramatic example of faith and works.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained Isaac’s response to the situation: “When they came to the prescribed place, Abraham built an altar and laid wood upon it. Then, the Bible says, ‘Abraham …bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood’ (Genesis 22:9). What did Isaac think when Abraham did such a strange thing? The Bible mentions no struggle or objection. Isaac’s silence can be explained only in terms of his trust in and obedience to his father” (Ensign, Nov. 1992, 37).
Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac was a similitude of Heavenly Father’s willingness to sacrifice his Only Begotten Son (Jacob 4:5; Genesis 22:8, 13). In class, please suggest some ways in which Abraham’s and Heavenly Father’s experiences were similar; then how they were different.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks said: “This story…shows the goodness of God in protecting Isaac and in providing a substitute so he would not have to die. Because of our sins and our mortality, we, like Isaac, are condemned to death. When all other hope is gone, our Father in Heaven provides the Lamb of God, and we are saved by his sacrifice” (Ensign, Nov. 1992, 37).
Genesis 22:11-12 – Abraham proved his respect for, faith in, and devotion to God by his willingness to sacrifice Isaac, the son of the covenant.
While perhaps the most dramatic, this is not the only story in the scriptures where an individual has been tested as an opportunity to prove his faithfulness. Imagine the joy and blessing of peace that must come after successfully passing such a test.
Genesis 22:15-18 promises Abraham innumerable seed (eternal increase) and the opportunity for his seed to bless all the nations of the earth (by carrying the gospel to them through the priesthood).
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President Spencer W. Kimball urged all to follow the example of Abraham:
“If parents would seek the blessings Abraham sought, they could also receive such revelation, covenants, promises, and eternal rewards as Abraham received…
“Remember that Abraham sought for his appointment to the priesthood. He did not wait for God to come to him; he sought diligently through prayer and obedient living to learn the will of God. Here then, is the challenge the Lord gives every returned missionary, every single man and woman, every father and mother in the Church: ‘Go ye, therefore, and do the works of Abraham’ (D&C 132:32).
“As we follow Abraham’s example, we will grow from grace to grace, we will find greater happiness and peace and rest, we will find favor with God and with man. As we follow his example, we will confirm upon ourselves and our families joy and fulfillment in this life and for all eternity” (Ensign, June 1975, 7).