Abraham, a man through whom the Lord established His covenant to begin a new dispensation of the gospel, has been called the father of the faithful (see D&C 138:41). We read in the scriptures that all who accept the gospel are called Abraham’s children (see Abraham 2:10–11). President Spencer W. Kimball explained why:
“Christ is the supreme example for every faithful holder of the priesthood. As I search the scriptures I read of many who followed this supreme example and qualified themselves for the blessings promised through the priesthood. One of these was Father Abraham, whose life is a model that will lift and elevate any father in this Church who wishes to become a true patriarch to his family. …
“… Do you feel that we can all become as Abraham if we will learn to put God first in our lives? I testify to you that we can become as Abraham, who now, as a result of his valiance, ‘hath entered into his exaltation and sitteth upon his throne.’ (D&C 132:29.) Is such exaltation a blessing reserved only for General Authorities, or stake presidents, or quorum presidents, or bishops? It is not. It is a blessing reserved for all who will prepare themselves by forsaking their sins, by truly receiving the Holy Ghost into their lives, and by following the example Abraham has set.
“If members of the Church could only have such integrity, such obedience, such revelation, such faith, such service as Abraham had! If parents would seek the blessings Abraham sought, they could also receive such revelation, covenants, promises, and eternal rewards as Abraham received” (“The Example of Abraham,” Ensign, June 1975, 4, 6–7).
Since we know that Abraham has been exalted (see D&C 132:29), we should study his life and look for what he did to receive this great blessing. Then we should “go … and do the works of Abraham” (D&C 132:32).
Some Important Gospel Principles to Look For
If forced to choose between obeying God and preserving our mortal lives, we should choose to obey God (see Abraham 1:5–12).
Because of Abraham’s righteousness, the Lord made a covenant to bless him with land, priesthood, eternal posterity, and exaltation. We participate in this covenant, known as the Abrahamic covenant, when we receive and keep gospel ordinances and covenants (see Genesis 15:1–6; 17:1–8; Abraham 1:18–19; 2:9–11).
Suggestions for Teaching
Genesis 11–17. When the Lord made a covenant with Abram, He changed his name to “Abraham” (see Genesis 17:1–9). Studying Abraham’s experience can help us understand the importance of receiving gospel ordinances, making covenants with the Lord, and thus taking upon ourselves the name of Christ. (20–25 minutes)
Help students understand the importance of names. Discuss questions like the following:
Why do parents sometimes spend so much time deciding what to name a child?
Does your name have any special meaning? If so, what is it?
Would you want to change your name? If so, why? What name would you choose?
Have students look for names they recognize in Genesis 11:27–32. Have them turn to Genesis 17:1–8 and find out what the Lord did to Abram’s name. Note that his name was changed as part of the covenant. The name “Abram” means “exalted father,” and the name “Abraham” means “father of a multitude” (see Bible Dictionary, “Abraham,” pp. 601–2). Ask: How was this change an additional testimony of the Lord’s promises to him?
Today the Lord does not change our given name. Instead, when we join the Church through baptism we take upon us the name of Jesus Christ (see Mosiah 5:6–12; D&C 20:37). Although we are still known by our given names, we are also known as “Christians” or “Saints.” A Saint is a purified follower of Christ. Discuss what it means and why it is important to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ.
Read Abraham 1:18–19 and discuss at least one thing that receiving a name from the Lord signified. Have students read Mosiah 5:7–10 and Doctrine and Covenants 20:77, 79 and notice where people receive the name of the Lord. Ask:
What do these scriptures teach us about why we would want the Lord to give us His name?
How might people be different because they take upon them the name of Jesus Christ?
What obligations are associated with taking upon oneself the name of Jesus Christ?
What does the Lord promise when we take upon us the name of Christ?
Abraham 1:1–19. What we truly desire significantly affects our situation in this life and in the life to come. (20–25 minutes)
Have students read Abraham 1:1–4 and list on the board what Abraham desired. Read Doctrine and Covenants 132:29 and Abraham 2:12 and discuss how Abraham’s eternal reward reflects his righteous desires.
Ask students to compare their desires with those of Abraham. Discuss how our reward, like Abraham’s, is foreshadowed in our desires.
Have students read Abraham 1:5–7 and look for what made it difficult for Abraham to obtain his righteous desires. Ask them what decisions Abraham could have made, considering his difficult circumstances (for example, he could have ceased pursuing righteousness, he could have tried to change the religious climate by trying harder to convert his father, or he could have left home). Have them read verses 8–12 and find what Abraham actually did and what the consequences were. Help them understand that it is not always easy to be righteous, even when we truly desire to be so. Like Abraham, we can expect trials and temptations as we try to live the gospel. Assure students that they, like Abraham, are blessed when they persevere in seeking righteousness, especially in the face of trials and temptations.
“From the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things. … And it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God. When a man has offered in sacrifice all that he has for the truth’s sake, not even withholding his life, … he does know, most assuredly, that God does and will accept his sacrifice and offering, and that he has not, nor will not seek his face in vain. Under these circumstances, then, he can obtain the faith necessary for him to lay hold on eternal life” (, 69).
Read Abraham 1:15–20 and list what the Lord did for Abraham because of his faithfulness. Have students choose a blessing the Lord promised Abraham in verses 18–19 that they would want and have them tell why. Help them understand that Abraham received blessings because he desired them, because he was obedient, and because he was willing to courageously sacrifice for what he desired and knew to be true. Based on Abraham’s example, invite students to reflect upon what they can do that would help them enjoy the blessings promised to the faithful.
Abraham 2:1–25. Like Abraham, we can live righteously despite the wickedness of others. (15–20 minutes)
Ask students to name some influences and temptations that make it difficult for people their age and in their community to live righteously. Discuss questions like the following:
How can we live righteously when so many people around us are doing wicked things?
Does the Lord really expect us to live righteously in an increasingly wicked world?
How can Abraham’s example help us choose to do what is right?
Read Abraham 1:2–7 with students. Discuss the circumstance in which Abraham lived and how it was probably hard for him to accomplish his righteous desires.
Draw a vertical line down the middle of the board. On one side write Abraham 2:1–13 and on the other write Abraham 2:14–25. Divide the class into two groups and assign each group one of the references. Tell them to look for what Abraham did that helped him live righteously. When they finish, have each group list their findings under their reference on the board. (Some possible answers include: he married a righteous person [v. 2], he left a wicked environment [v. 4], he prayed [vv. 6, 17–18, 20], he sought the Lord [v. 12], he chose to follow the Lord [v. 13], he obeyed the Lord [vv. 3–4, 13–14], and he did missionary work [v. 15]).
With the lists on the board, discuss what students can do to follow Abraham’s example. Ask them to cross-reference Abraham 2:3–4 with Hebrews 11:8–16 and discuss what Paul said about the power to remain righteous. Ask: How can these same principles help us remain righteous?
Genesis 13:5–15. Charity, unselfishness, and peacemaking are Christlike attributes that merit the blessings of heaven. (15–20 minutes)
Bring two treats to class—one that looks much tastier than the other. Invite two students who like the tastier treat to join you in front of the class. Tell them you would like to give them each a treat. Show them the treats and tell them they have to decide which of the two is going to get which treat. The only rule is that they cannot divide the treat. After they have struggled with the choice and made their decision, ask them if the choice was difficult. Ask: If the choice had involved stereos, cars, houses, or land, how much more difficult would it have been to decide?
Tell students that two men in the scriptures had a similar experience. Have them read Genesis 13:5–7 and identify the two men and the decision they had to make. Have them read verses 8–13 and look for what seems to have motivated Abraham and Lot in solving the strife. Hebrews 11:10, 13–16 provides additional insight as to what motivated Abraham’s actions. Have students read Genesis 13:14–18 and identify what Abraham received from the Lord because of his righteousness and why that blessing was important to Abraham.
You may want to discuss the problems that come from strife and the blessings the Lord gives to peacemakers (see Topical Guide, “contention,” pp. 74–75, “strife,” p. 504, and “peacemakers,” pp. 361–62).
Genesis 14:17–24. Abraham is an example of how we express our love for the Lord by honoring His servants, giving of our worldly goods, and keeping our covenants. (15–20 minutes)
Write Melchizedek on the board and ask students what they know about the word. Many of them are familiar with the term “Melchizedek Priesthood” but may not know much about the man. Have them learn about Melchizedek by studying the following sources: Genesis 14:17–24; JST, Genesis 14:25–40; Alma 13:14–19; Doctrine and Covenants 107:1–4; Bible Dictionary, “Melchizedek” (p. 730). Discuss what they learn.
Have students read Genesis 14:17–20 and tell what happened. Remembering what they learned about Melchizedek, ask them why they think Abraham did what he did. Doctrine and Covenants 84:14 provides additional insight into the relationship of Abraham and Melchizedek. Have students compare the way Abraham dealt with Melchizedek with the way he dealt with the king of Sodom (see Genesis 13:13 for help with what the king of Sodom represented). Ask:
What does the contrast teach us about Abraham?
How can we apply Abraham’s example from these verses? For example, who are like the “Melchizedeks” in our midst? Who are like the “kings of Sodom” in our lives?
One reason Abraham was not enticed by the lucrative offers of the king of Sodom was that he desired most of all to be true to his covenants (see Genesis 14:22). Ask:
What covenants have we made?
How can those covenants help us be as faithful as Abraham?
Consider briefly discussing the principle of tithing with students. Ask:
What did Abraham do while he was with Melchizedek? (see Genesis 14:20).
Why do you think the Lord asks us to pay tithing instead of just providing the material resources the Church needs?
How does the Savior’s experience described in Matthew 19:16–22 help us answer that question?
Help students understand that paying tithing is one way we show the Lord that we put Him first in our lives.
Genesis 15. The pattern of making covenants as described in Genesis 15 gives us an opportunity to think more deeply about the symbolism and power of ordinances and covenant-making. (20–25 minutes)
Draw the following diagram on the board:
Which of the three beings listed on the board is most powerful? (God.)
Of the remaining two, man and Satan, who has the greater power?
Before they answer the second question, have them read Ephesians 6:10–13; 2 Nephi 2:27–29; Alma 34:35; Doctrine and Covenants 10:5; 21:4–6; and Moses 4:3–4. Draw a line connecting the diagram circles labeled “God” and “Man.” Label the line “Covenants.” Help students understand that people can have greater power than Satan if they bind themselves to God through covenants, thus drawing upon the power of God. If people do not bind themselves to God, Satan can gain increasing power over them.
Read Genesis 15:1 with students. Point out that the Lord said He was Abraham’s “shield” and “exceeding great reward.” Discuss what these statements mean. Review some of the rewards the Lord promised Abraham, such as land, priesthood, and innumerable posterity. Ask: Which of those rewards, or blessings, had Abraham already received?
Have students read Genesis 15:2–3 and find which blessing Abraham seemed concerned about receiving. Read together verses 4–6 and identify how the Lord responded to his concern and what Abraham did. Read also JST, Genesis 15:9–12 and identify another concern Abraham had and how he interacted with the Lord regarding it. Help students understand that we must try to see the bigger picture in order to understand that God always fulfills His promises (see D&C 1:37–38). This is the emphasis of the final incident in Genesis 15.
“Our Heavenly Father … provided covenants we could make with him. And with those covenants he provided ordinances where he could signify what he promised or covenanted to do and we could signify what we promised or covenanted to do” (Covenants [address to college-age young adults, 6 Sept. 1996], 1).
Ask students to consider the ordinance and covenant of baptism. Then ask:
In the ordinance, what does the Lord promise—especially symbolically—to do?
What do we promise to do?
Tell students that Genesis 15:9–21 describes an ancient way of making covenants, usually between two people, but in this case between God and Abraham. Have students read Genesis 15:9–19 and identify what Abraham did, what the Lord said to him, and what the Lord did as represented by the smoking furnace and burning lamp. Ask:
How did Abraham signify what he would do as part of the covenant? (He waited upon the Lord for as long as it took to fulfill the blessing.)
What did the Lord promise? (He surely would fulfill His word.)
Summarize this discussion by reading Doctrine and Covenants 82:10. Assure students that the Lord will always keep His covenants. Explain that we can have power over the adversary and obtain eternal life by making and keeping covenants with the Lord.
Genesis 11–17; Abraham 1–2. When we understand the importance of the Abrahamic covenant and how it applies to us, we can gain a deeper sense of our possibilities and responsibilities in this life and of the blessings awaiting us in eternity. (30–45 minutes)
Have students imagine that there is a will naming one of them as heir. Ask:
In whose will would you like to be named as 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?
What are some examples of non-material inheritances you have received from your parents, grandparents, or other ancestors?
In what ways are you privileged and blessed because of your membership in your family?
Remind students that “the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children” (“The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 102). Before we came to earth we lived as part of a family—the eternal family of God. While we were in His presence, Heavenly Father taught us about His plan whereby we could inherit all that He has. He sent us to an earthly family for purposes that would allow us to return and not only be with Him but also be like Him.
After the Fall, Adam and Eve were given instructions, ordinances, and covenants relating to the purpose of mortality and what they must do to inherit eternal life—the kind of life God lives. Adam received the priesthood so he could administer these ordinances to others, and both Adam and Eve were commanded to teach and administer all of these things to their children so their children could be gathered back to their eternal family and inherit eternal life (see Moses 5:4–12, 58–59; 6:51–62, 64–68).
The gospel was first preached and administered through families. Because there were those in Adam’s family who did not accept his teachings, many people grew up without receiving the saving ordinances of the gospel. Read Abraham 1:2–5 with students and help them understand that this was Abraham’s situation. Especially highlight the phrase in verse 2 where Abraham said he eventually “became a rightful heir, … holding the right belonging to the fathers” (italics added).
Abraham ultimately participated in the saving ordinances of the gospel. He also received the priesthood so he could administer these ordinances to his posterity. Because of Abraham’s righteousness, the Lord made a special covenant with him, which we call the Abrahamic covenant. As part of this covenant, the Lord called Abraham to be the “father of the faithful” (D&C 138:41), the head of the family through which salvation would be provided to all of Heavenly Father’s children who came to earth.
Those in the family of Abraham serve as Heavenly Father’s agents in His work of salvation. In doing so, Abraham’s family became a type of Heavenly Father’s family. The blessings promised to Abraham become our blessings as we enter into the Abrahamic covenant.
Discuss with students the material in the “Points to Ponder” section in chapter 5 of Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis–2 Samuel (pp. 70–72). Help them understand how each blessing applies to them.
Help students understand that they do not automatically receive the promised blessings of the covenant because of their lineage (see 2 Nephi 30:1–2). Have them read Genesis 17:1 and identify what the Lord said Abraham must do to receive all of the covenant blessings. You may want to point out what else Abraham did to prepare himself to receive covenants and how he kept his covenants prior to the events in Genesis 17.
Help students apply what they have learned by reading them the following lines that might be found in a patriarchal blessing:
“You were blessed to come to this life as a member of the house of Israel and thus receive all of the blessings promised to Abraham. As such, you have been given the responsibilities and are entitled to all of the blessings and promises given to this family in Israel.”
Ask them to write a letter to a person who might have received such a blessing, explaining the significance of this statement. Have them explain in their letter what it means to be an heir to the prophet Abraham and what the responsibilities of this inheritance are, especially as they relate to the idea of family. Invite a few students to share what they wrote.