Chapter 8: The Abrahamic Covenant

Introduction to Family History Teacher Manual: Religion 261, (2012), 32–37


Introduction

The covenants the Lord made with Abraham are the same gospel covenants available to us today. God promised Abraham and his posterity that these gospel covenants and their resulting blessings would be made available to all the inhabitants of the world through Abraham’s posterity. Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles defined what is meant by the posterity or “seed of Abraham”:

“There are two distinct meanings of the expression, ‘seed of Abraham’: (1) There are his literal descendants who have sprung from his loins and who by virtue of their favored family status are natural heirs of the same blessings which Abraham himself enjoyed; and (2) There are those (including adopted members of the family) who become the ‘seed of Abraham’ in the full spiritual sense by conformity to the same gospel principles which Abraham obeyed. In this spiritual sense, the disobedient literal descendants of Abraham, being ‘children of the flesh,’ are not ‘accounted’ as Abraham’s seed, but are cut off from the blessings of the gospel” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1965–73], 1:459–60).

This lesson will highlight the blessings promised through the Abrahamic covenant and help students understand their vital relationship to the ancient patriarch Abraham. It will also encourage them to continue their family history work in order to provide the promises of Abraham to their deceased ancestors.

    Some Doctrines, Principles, and Gospel Truths

  • Jehovah made a covenant with Abraham that included promises of gospel blessings to Abraham and the entire world through Abraham’s posterity.

  • The Abrahamic covenant has been restored in our day.

  • All who accept the gospel and are baptized are the seed of Abraham and, through faithfulness, inherit the promised blessings.

  • Family history work and vicarious temple ordinances extend the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant to individuals in the spirit world.

Suggestions for Teaching

Note to teacher: You will need to watch your time in this lesson so that you will leave enough time at the end of the lesson to teach how the Abrahamic covenant can be extended to those in the spirit world.

Jehovah Made a Covenant with Abraham That Included Promises of Gospel Blessings to Abraham and the Entire World through Abraham’s Posterity

Have students imagine that someone they know has died and left a will that names them as an heir.

  • Normally, who are named as heirs to an inheritance? (Family members)

  • How might parents and grandparents who have no material wealth still leave their posterity an inheritance? (Family name, a reputation, Church membership, etc.)

Explain to your students that today they will study about the great prophet and patriarch Abraham. The Lord promised Abraham that because of his faithfulness, his posterity would be entitled to an inheritance upon condition of their faithful obedience. Sometimes this promise is referred to as the Abrahamic covenant. Ask several students to share with the class their understanding of the word covenant as it relates to the gospel. After several responses, you might share the following definition with your class:

“An agreement between God and man, but they do not act as equals in the agreement. God gives the conditions for the covenant, and men agree to do what he asks them to do. God then promises men certain blessings for their obedience” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Covenant,” scriptures.LDS.org).

Explain to your class that because of Abraham’s righteous desires and his unwavering faithfulness, the Lord entered into a covenant with him.

Divide the class into two groups. Assign half of the class to study Genesis 13:14–16; 17:4–6, 8; Abraham 1:18–19; 2:9–11 and to make a list of the promises the Lord made to Abraham. Assign the other half of the class to study Genesis 17:1–9; Abraham 1:19; 2:9–11 and to make a list of what Abraham was expected to do in order to receive the promised blessings.

While students are studying, copy the following chart onto the board, leaving space at the bottom:

Abrahamic Covenant

Promises Made to Abraham

Abraham’s Responsibilities

Genesis 13:14–16; 17:4–6, 8

Abraham 1:18–19; 2:9–11

Genesis 17:1–9

Abraham 1:19; 2:9–11

  

After sufficient time, invite a few students from each of the two groups to come to the board and write their findings under the proper heading. Though not limited to these ideas, the lists should include the following information:

Abrahamic Covenant

Promises Made to Abraham

Abraham’s Responsibilities

Genesis 13:14–16; 17:4–6, 8

Abraham 1:18–19; 2:9–11

Genesis 17:1–9

Abraham 1:19; 2:9–11

Inherit land of Canaan

Posterity as numerous as sands upon the earth

Receive the priesthood

Salvation and exaltation

Walk with the Lord and be perfect

Minister gospel to families of the earth

Minister Lord’s name and priesthood to families of the earth

Keep the covenant

To help students understand more about this covenant, invite them to read from the student manual under the heading “There are blessings promised through the Abrahamic covenant” (8.1.3). Have students look for the specific blessings promised to Abraham in the covenant the Lord made with him.

  • In addition to Abraham, who else is entitled to the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant? (All of Abraham’s posterity)

  • Why do you think making and keeping this covenant is important to members of the Church today?

The Abrahamic Covenant Has Been Restored in Our Day

Ask a student to briefly explain the effects of the Great Apostasy following the ministry of Jesus Christ and His Apostles in New Testament times. (Possible explanations could include: The priesthood was lost from the earth, there were no apostles and prophets, doctrines were changed, and so forth.) Ask students:

  • What effect did the Apostasy have on the ability of Abraham’s posterity to receive the promised blessings? (Since the priesthood was taken from the earth, they could no longer receive the promises; the doctrine concerning the Abrahamic covenant was lost or corrupted.)

Ask another student to briefly explain a few of the blessings of the Restoration through the Prophet Joseph Smith. (Possible answers include: The priesthood was restored, the Church was again led by prophets and apostles, sealing ordinances could be performed, true doctrine was taught, Abraham’s posterity would once again be able to receive the promises, and so forth.) Be sure to emphasize that the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant would not be available without the Restoration of the gospel.

Have students read from the student manual under the heading “Blessings of the Abrahamic covenant are conferred in temples” (8.2.3), looking for what is made available to us through the Abrahamic covenant. Then discuss with the class:

  • How does the availability of the blessings promised to Abraham and his posterity have the potential to strengthen families and to guide us in the decisions we make in life?

All Who Accept the Gospel and Are Baptized Are the Seed of Abraham and, through Faithfulness, Inherit the Promised Blessings

Ask students if they know anyone who is adopted. Then ask:

  • When someone is adopted into a family, generally what benefits are they afforded? (In most cases they are nurtured and loved and cared for just as if they had been born into the family.)

Have a student read Galatians 3:26–29. As they listen, have the class consider how a person becomes the seed of Abraham.

  • According to Paul’s teachings in Galatians 3:26–29, how does a person become the seed of Abraham? (We must first become Christ’s through faith in Jesus Christ and baptism.)

Have students pair up with another member of the class and read aloud to each other from the student manual under the headings “Are you of the seed of Abraham?” (8.3.1) and “The Abrahamic covenant helps define us” (8.3.3). Then have students discuss the following questions with their partners:

  • What would you say to a person who is concerned that they might not be a literal descendant of Abraham?

  • What does it mean to you to be the seed of Abraham?

Family History Work and Vicarious Temple Ordinances Extend the Blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant to Individuals in the Spirit World

Whom do you think the fathers are in the phrase “promises made to the fathers” in verse 2?

Summarize by saying that one definition of the fathers would be ancient prophets, such as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who received and taught the gospel and desired that everyone have an opportunity to accept it. President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) provided this additional definition:

Kevin Pearson

“The fathers are our dead ancestors who died without the privilege of receiving the gospel, but who received the promise that the time would come when that privilege would be granted them” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 2:127).

  • From our lesson today, what would “the promises made to the fathers” be referring to? (The promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that they would one day inherit the earth, have innumerable posterity, and be exalted; those who died without receiving the opportunity to receive the gospel could one day receive the same promises given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.)

Copy the following diagram onto the board:

Posterity chain

Invite students to share how they think this diagram appropriately relates to Abraham and his posterity. Explain to your class that this chain illustrates Abraham and all of his posterity—they are all linked together and entitled to the blessings of salvation and eternal family. Then ask:

  • What effect did the Apostasy have on the ability of Abraham’s descendants to receive the promised blessings of the Abrahamic covenant? (They no longer had access to the blessings. Erase the middle and right-hand links in the chain.)

  • What happened to the chain when the gospel was restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith? (Draw the right-hand link back on the chain over the caption “Latter-day descendants of Abraham.”) Explain that through baptism and temple covenants, faithful Church members may receive all the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant. (The middle link should still be missing.)

  • When we go to the temple and do work for our deceased ancestors—many of whom lived during the time of the Great Apostasy or who never had the opportunity to accept the gospel in mortality—what happens to the middle link and the chain we erased? (Fill in the middle link of the chain.)

Share with students the following quotation by Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

M. Russell Ballard

“Without the Atonement of the Lord, none of these blessings would be available to us, and we could not become worthy and prepared to return to dwell in the presence of God” (“The Atonement and the Value of One Soul,” Ensign, May 2004, 85).

Ask students what they might do to the illustration to show that through our Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation, Jesus Christ made all of this possible through His Atonement. You might draw a circle around all the information and write “Through our Father’s plan, Jesus makes this possible” somewhere on the board.

Before concluding the lesson, you might also add “our posterity” to the board and point out that through faithfulness, the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant are also available to our posterity. As you conclude this lesson, invite students to share any recent successes they have experienced doing family history research. Ask them to share any thoughts they might have as they consider what it means to extend the promises of the Abrahamic covenant to their deceased ancestors. Share your testimony about the great love Heavenly Father has for all His children. Every blessing promised to Abraham is available to all of God’s children. Invite students to do all they can to make it possible for their ancestors to receive all of the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant.