When I was a boy, one of my favorite books was a collection of Bible stories. I loved these stories and read them many times. They had a great impact on my life.
One story I thought I understood as a boy but did not begin to understand until later was that of Abraham and Isaac. In that story, the Lord spoke to Abraham and told him to take his only son, Isaac, and go to the top of a mountain in the land of Moriah “and offer him there for a burnt offering” (Gen. 22:2).
Abraham got up early in the morning and saddled one of his animals, and they started out. I thought that Isaac must have felt privileged to be with his father on such a trip.
On the third day, Abraham and Isaac climbed the mountain to worship. Like most young men, Isaac was curious. He saw the fire and the wood and the knife they carried, “but,” he asked his father, “where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (Gen. 22:7). I did not realize until I had sons of my own how much pain Abraham must have felt when he answered simply, “My son, God will provide” (Gen. 22:8).
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” (Gen. 22:9). What did Isaac think when Abraham did such a strange thing? The Bible mentions no struggle or objection. Isaac’s silence can only be explained in terms of his trust in and obedience to his father.
And then the Bible says, “Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son” (Gen. 22:10).
As you know, Abraham had passed his test, and the Lord saved young Isaac. “Lay not thine hand upon the lad,” an angel commanded Abraham (Gen. 22:12). A ram whose horns were caught in a thicket became the offering, instead of Isaac.
As a young man, I saw mostly the adventure in that story, though I was surely impressed with Isaac’s obedience. When I was older, I learned that the experience of Abraham and Isaac was what the scriptures call a type, which is a likeness or reminder of something else. The Book of Mormon prophet Jacob said that the command for Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac was “a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son” (Jacob 4:5).
This story also 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.
Bible stories such as this do not mean that the servants of God are delivered from all hardship or that they are always saved from death. Some believers lose their lives in persecutions, and some suffer great hardships as a result of their faith. But the protection promised to the faithful servants of God is a reality today as it was in Bible times.
During my life I have had many experiences of being guided in what I should do and in being protected from injury and also from evil. The Lord’s protecting care has shielded me from the evil acts of others and has also protected me from surrendering to my own worst impulses. I enjoyed that protection one warm summer night on the streets of Chicago.
My wife, June, had attended a ward officers’ meeting. When I came to drive her home, she was accompanied by a sister we would take home on our way. She lived in the nearby Woodlawn area, which was the territory of a gang called the Blackstone Rangers.
I parked at the curb outside this sister’s apartment house and accompanied her into the lobby and up the stairs to her door. June remained in the car on 61st Street. She locked all of the doors, and I left the keys in the ignition in case she needed to drive away. We had lived on the south side of Chicago for quite a few years and were accustomed to such precautions.
Back in the lobby, and before stepping out into the street, I looked carefully in each direction. By the light of a nearby streetlight, I could see that the street was deserted except for three young men walking by. I waited until they were out of sight and then walked quickly toward our car.
As I came to the driver’s side and paused for June to unlock the door, I saw one of these young men running back toward me. He had something in his right hand, and I knew what it would be. There was no time to get into the car and drive away before he came within range.
Fortunately, as June leaned across to open the door, she glanced through the back window and saw this fellow coming around the end of the car with a gun in his hand. Wisely, she did not unlock the door. For the next two or three minutes, which seemed like an eternity, she was a horrified spectator to an event happening at her eye level, just outside the driver’s window.
The young man pushed the gun against my stomach and said, “Give me your money.” I took the wallet out of my pocket and showed him it was empty. I wasn’t even wearing a watch I could offer him because my watchband had broken earlier that day. I offered him some coins I had in my pocket, but he growled a rejection.
“Give me your car keys,” he demanded. “They are in the car,” I told him. “Tell her to open the car,” he replied. For a moment I considered the new possibilities that would present, and then refused. He was furious. He jabbed me in the stomach with his gun and said, “Do it, or I’ll kill you.”
When I refused, the young robber repeated his demands, this time emphasizing them with an angrier tone and more motion with his gun. I remember thinking that he probably wouldn’t shoot me on purpose, but if he wasn’t careful in the way he kept jabbing that gun into my stomach, he might shoot me by mistake.
“Give me your money.” “I don’t have any.” “Give me your car keys.” “They’re in the car.” “Tell her to open the car.” “I won’t do it.” “I’ll kill you if you don’t.” “I won’t do it.”
Inside the car June couldn’t hear the conversation, but she could see the action with the gun. She agonized over what she should do. Should she unlock the door? Should she honk the horn? Should she drive away? Everything she considered seemed to have the possibility of making matters worse, so she just waited and prayed. Then a peaceful feeling came over her. She felt it would be all right.
Then, for the first time, I saw the possibility of help. From behind the robber, a city bus approached. It stopped about 20 feet away. A passenger stepped off and scurried away. The driver looked directly at me, but I could see that he was not going to offer any assistance.
While this was happening behind the young robber, out of his view, he became nervous and distracted. His gun wavered from my stomach until its barrel pointed slightly to my left. My arm was already partly raised, and with a quick motion I could seize the gun and struggle with him without the likelihood of being shot. I was taller and heavier than this young man, and at that time of my life was somewhat athletic. I had no doubt that I could prevail in a quick wrestling match if I could get his gun out of the contest.
Just as I was about to make my move, I had a unique experience. I did not see anything or hear anything, but I knew something. I knew what would happen if I grabbed that gun. We would struggle, and I would turn the gun into that young man’s chest. It would fire, and he would die. I also understood that I must not have the blood of that young man on my conscience for the rest of my life.
I relaxed, and as the bus pulled away I followed an impulse to put my right hand on his shoulder and give him a lecture. June and I had some teenage children at that time, and giving lectures came naturally.
“Look here,” I said. “This isn’t right. What you’re doing just isn’t right. The next car might be a policeman, and you could get killed or sent to jail for this.”
With the gun back in my stomach, the young robber replied to my lecture by going through his demands for the third time. But this time his voice was subdued. When he offered the final threat to kill me, he didn’t sound persuasive. When I refused again, he hesitated for a moment and then stuck the gun in his pocket and ran away. June unlocked the door, and we drove off, uttering a prayer of thanks. We had experienced the kind of miraculous protection illustrated in the Bible stories I had read as a boy.
I have often pondered the significance of that event in relation to the responsibilities that came later in my life. Less than a year after that August night, I was chosen as president of Brigham Young University. Almost 14 years after that experience, I received my present calling.
Another favorite example of God’s protecting care is the shepherd boy David. David had a firm faith in the God of Israel, and that faith gave him great courage.
When the armies of the Philistines were gathered to battle against the Israelites, the mighty Goliath came forward and hurled his challenge to individual combat. King Saul and all Israel “were dismayed, and greatly afraid” (1 Sam. 17:11). Day after day he renewed his challenge, but no one would face him.
When young David came to the camp of Israel to deliver provisions, he heard Goliath’s roar. In surprise David asked, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam. 17:26). David asked if he could fight the man. The king refused, saying, “Thou art but a youth” (1 Sam. 17:33). David replied with courage and faith: “The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, … he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine” (1 Sam. 17:37).
As David went onto the field of battle, Goliath mocked him for his youth, cursed him by his gods, and shouted that he would feed his flesh to the birds and beasts of the field (see 1 Sam. 17:42–44).
David’s reply is one of the great expressions of faith and courage in all our literature. It thrilled me as a boy, and it still thrills me.
“Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied.
“This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will give the carcases of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.
“And all this assembly shall know that the Lord saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hands” (1 Sam. 17:45–47).
You all know what happened next. David stunned the Philistine with a sling-stone and cut off his head with his own sword. Frightened by the fall of their champion, the Philistines fled. Shouting in triumph, the armies of Israel pursued them and won a great victory.
At times all of us must stand against those who mock and revile. Some of us, sometime, will face some earthly power as mighty as Goliath. When that happens, we should emulate the courage of David, who was mighty because he had faith and he went forth in a righteous cause in the name of the Lord of Hosts.
I am grateful for the protection promised to those who have kept their covenants and qualified for the blessings promised in sacred places.
These and all promises to the faithful children of God are made by the voice and power of the Lord God of Israel. I testify of that God, our Savior Jesus Christ, whose resurrection and atonement have assured immortality and provided the opportunity and direction toward eternal life.