JEF Sunday School Lesson #7

February 4, 2006 | 8 comments
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Lesson 7: Abraham 1:1-4, 2:1-11; Genesis 12:1-8, 17:1-9

Abraham 1

Verse 1: Why did Abraham think he needed to “find another place of residence”? (Compare Genesis 12:1 as well as Abraham 1:5-12 and 2:1-4) What do you make of the dispassionate character of Abraham’s language in this verse and in his account of the Chaldean attempt to sacrifice him? Is that an artefact of translation, perhaps, or does it show us something about Abraham? In the ancient Near East, gods were associated with a particular place: the gods of Assyria, the gods of Egypt, etc. How was Abraham’s understanding of God important to his time? Is there anything comparable to the local gods in our own understanding?

Verse 2: What does Abraham mean by “the blessings of the fathers”? Who were the fathers? How does possessing the High Priesthood make Abraham “one who possessed great knowledge”? How would it make him “a greater follower of righteousness”? How would he have seen it as relevant to him becoming the father of many nations? Did he receive that blessing (Genesis 12:2) when he received the priesthood?

Verses 3-4: What do these verses tell us about the priesthood? Why is that important to our understanding?

Verse 19 (my addition to the reading for this lesson): What does the Lord mean when he says “As it was with Noah so shall it be with thee”?

Abraham 2

Verses 1-2: Does the account here agree with Genesis 11:31-32? If so, how? If not, how do you explain that difference?

Verses 3-5: Why do you think Abraham felt it necessary to include these kinds of details in his record? What have they to do with us?

Verse 6: How do you think we should understand the word “minister” here? What does it mean to give something as “an everlasting possession” to someone “when they hearken to my voice”? How do you explain the contrast between this promise and Abraham’s prostration before the Canaanites in, among other places, Genesis 23:8-9? If God has given Canaan to Abraham, why doesn’t he just take the cave, the well, whatever he legitimately needs?

Verses 7-8: Is the Lord using the attributes he describes in verse 7 for particular reasons? Explain. Why is it important that Abraham know that the Lord knows the end from the beginning (verse 8 )? Why does the Lord use that wording, “the end from the beginning”? How does the word “from” function in this sentence? For example, does it indicate a difference, like knowing chocolate from vanilla ice cream? Does it entail temporality: the Lord knows how things will end from the very beginning? What does the imagery of “my hand shall be over thee” suggest?

Verse 9: How will the Lord make Abraham into a great nation? Why is that a great blessing? The Lord says, “thou shalt be a blessing unto thy seed after thee, that in their hands they shall bear this ministry and Priesthood unto all nations.” Does this mean “You will be a blessing to your seed so that they can take the ministry and priesthood to everyone,” or does it mean “you will be a blessing to your seed in that they will take the ministry and priesthood to everyone”? In other words, explain how Abraham is a blessing to his posterity and what that has to do with them preaching the Gospel.

Verses 10-11: Who are Abraham’s children? Who will bless Abraham? Why does verse 11 say that both Abraham and his seed are his priesthood? What is Abraham’s priesthood? Do John 8:39 or Romans 9:7-8 add to our understanding of this promise?

Genesis 12

Verse 1: It is often assumed that the word “Hebrew” comes from the root ivri meaning “someone from the other side.” The most straightforward way to understand that name is that it designates someone who comes from Mesopotamia, on the other side of the river. However, are there other ways to understand that Abraham and those who descend from him are from “the other side”? What do you make of the fact that the Lord seems to speak of things in reverse order: first he says “leave your country,” then he says “leave your kinfolk,” and finally he says “leave your father’s house”? The temporal order in which he will have to leave is father’s house then kinfolk then country. After all, to leave the country is to leave everything contained in it, such as kinfolk and immediate family.

Verses 2-3: What does it mean to say that Abram will not only be blessed, but will “be a blessing” to others? Why is that part of the covenant? Do those who inherit Abram’s blessing inherit that obligation to be blessing? What does that mean to us? Is verse three a repetition of the meaning of verse 2, or does it say something new? If it is a repetition of verse 2, why does the Lord bother with that repetition? Notice that the revelation of verse placed Abram outside, putting a barrier between him and all those to whom he had been related. (Is this another repetition of the “expulsion from the Garden” theme? If so, why does scripture repeat that theme?) In these verses, however, Abram becomes universal, a blessing to all. The movement is from particularism in verse 1 to universalism in verse 3. What do you make of that? What does it mean to us? Does it perhaps help us understand our individual relation to the Church or the world, the relation of the Church to the world, . . . ?

Verses 4-5: What does “all their substance that they had gathered” (verse 5) imply? What does “all [. . .] the souls that they had gotten in Haran” imply? In this verse, the wording suggests that Lot and his family are part of Abram’s family: “Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son.” However, the wording in Genesis 13:1 suggests a difference: “Abram went up out of Egypt, he, and his wife, and all that he had, and Lot with him.” If something has changed, what is it?

Verses 6-8: If you can, locate on a map where Abraham settled. What is the significance of Abram building an altar? Is there anything comparable in our lives? If so, what? If not, why not? Where are our altars to the Lord that express our gratitude for his blessings to us and from which we make our petitions to him?

Genesis 17

Verse 1: When the Lord commands Abram to be perfect, what is he commanding him to do? The Hebrew word translated “perfect” is the same word we saw used to describe Noah (Moses 8:27; Genesis 6:9): tamim. (For more discussion, see the notes for lesson 7.) How is this like or unlike the commandment that the Savior gave in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:48—the Greek word there is teleios, “having attained its purpose or end”)? How is what the Lord commands here like or unlike the commandment with which the Lord begins the Mosaic law (Leviticus 19:2)? Do these help us understand what the Lord is commanding when he commands us to be perfect? What kinds of misunderstandings might we have of that commandment? Do the scriptures undo those misunderstandings?

Verse 2: What is a covenant? We often compare it to a contract, but how does it differ from a contract? In the ancient Near East, society was created and maintained by covenants rather than by laws. (There were laws, such as Hammurabi’s Code, in some societies, but those societies were the exception rather than the rule.) Looking at those ancient covenants between peoples and nations can help us understand better what a covenant was in that world and it may help us better understand what a covenant is for us. In those ancient covenants we see several things: (1) They usually occur in response to some important historical event, such as a battle. (2) The parties making the covenant are not usually equals. (3) They involve appeals to God. (4) They describe the norms for expected future behavior. (5) A ritual act of some kind, often a sacrifice or the eating of a sacrificed animal, is part of ratifying the covenant. How does the covenant that the Lord makes here with Abraham fit that model? We see the Lord covenant with Abraham at least three times, in Genesis 12 (Abraham 1), Genesis 15, and here. Are these three different covenants or a repetition of the same covenant?

Verse 3: Why did Abraham fall on his face? What does that act imply?

Verses 4-9: Why might the Lord have changed Abram’s name to Abraham? (Verse 5) “Abram” means “exalted or lofty father.” Given Hebrew naming conventions, most scholars believe that means “the Father is exalted” rather than “Abram is an exalted father.” The name “Abraham” means “father of many.”

8 Responses to JEF Sunday School Lesson #7

  1. Howie on February 4, 2006 at 6:45 pm

    Wha??

  2. Jim F. on February 4, 2006 at 8:56 pm

    Howie, you’re going to have to flesh out your question just a bit.

  3. Clinton on February 6, 2006 at 10:04 am

    “all [. . .] the souls that they had gotten in Haranâ€? Oh boy is that a verse that the Rabbi’s of the 1400-1500′s had a hay day with. Great questioin. :-)

  4. Edward A. Erdtsieck on February 9, 2006 at 11:48 am

    After reading your blog I saw myself swimming upstream on the Niagara Falls. I was literally inundated by all that falling water, that I forgot to swim.

    It is not that I am lacking in knowledge or opinions. The Book of Abraham is like a time capsule, loaded with rich ideas awaiting the help of the Holy Ghost to unravel it.

    Let me pose this challenge. What did Abraham think was the issue, that made his father, Terah choose to worship idolatries?

  5. Jim F. on February 9, 2006 at 12:46 pm

    Edward D.Erdtsieck: That is an excellent question. Thank you.

  6. BrianJ on February 11, 2006 at 7:00 pm

    Jim F. said, “Verse 3: Why did Abraham fall on his face? What does that act imply?” The answer to your question seems very straightforward (Abraham was showing humility in the way people all over do). It’s so straightforward that I’m afraid I am missing something; you are too deep a thinker to ask a shallow question.

    Thanks for the explanation and discussion of the word “perfect” in the scriptures. How many lessons have I sat through that focused entirely on this word? Too many.

    Edward D.Erdtsieck: I cannot find any explicit answer to your question. Is this why you called it a “challenge”? Abr 1:6-7 clearly shows that they worshipped idols because their hearts were set to do evil, but this doesn’t give the reason(s) why they had made this decision.

  7. Jim F. on February 11, 2006 at 9:47 pm

    BrianJ: When I wrote the question about verse three, I was more intrested in the implications of falling to the ground on one’s face. Humility is, as you say, obvious. But why couldn’t we call what Abraham does “groveling”? Or should we, perhaps? And, more than humility, does it imply servitude as well? The notes for lesson 6 discuss “tamim.” I should have made that reference in these notes, so I amd going to add that reference.

  8. Edward A. Erdtsieck on February 13, 2006 at 4:51 pm

    The Book of Abraham is a challenge, because it’s no ordinary book. It is a written TIME CAPSULE of CONCEPTS with closely packed-together thoughts. You run into this problem. Ever tried to peel off, a postage stamp, from an envelope and re-use it. It comes off unevenly and it thwarts your intent to re-use it. The longer that stamp has been on that envelope, it becomes absolutely impossible to do it. It is God’s way to copy-write the principles of His doctrine. It can not be tinkered with by the children of man. They can call it untrue and reject it outright.

    To get meaning from reading it, you must rely on witnesses familiar with the Ways of the Lord, i.e. the General Authorities or the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost has been a witness by which His truth is established, since the beginning, the dispensation of the patriarchs.

    Since I am neither one of the above witnesses, this is my meaning of the question I posed before. [What did Abraham think was the issue, that made his father, Terah choose to worship idolatries?] To get a better understanding of the Book of Abraham, you have to read the Book of Moses. The Book of Moses has far more details of what occurred during the patriarchal period, that ended with the flood.

    During the patriarchal period the descendents of Adam divided themselves into two groups, the Righteous Fathers, who remained committed to His doctrine and the children of man, to whom murder and idolatries were a acceptable life styles. Sometime during this patriarchal period, God commanded the Fathers not to ordain the children of men or their descendents to the priesthood, but it did not work, because the children of the Righteous Fathers continue to inter-marry much to the displeasure of God. The flood merely covered over the problem.

    The problem of inter-marriage appeared early on the other side of the flood. I believe that Abraham’s practice of God’s commandments consumed his father Terah to the point of contention. Since murder was an acceptable way of doing business, the presentation of persons with opposing beliefs to the false priests for ritual murder, was also common. In the end it drove Abraham from his father’s house.

    I believe, that Terah had a soft spot for the perceived injustice, that the denial of the priesthood brought to so many in his own family, that he forgot to comprehend the perspective from God’s view point. Does that make him a bleeding heart liberal?

    As God withheld His blessings a grievous famine prevailed across the land. Haran, one of Terah’s sons died during this famine. He adopted Haran’s children as his own and was so tormented by the famine, that he briefly repented of the evil, he had against Abraham. Only to return to it later.

    Of course, I have no idea what Abraham thought the issue was, but I can take a stab at it. Terah did not believe in free agency. He may not have believed, as the children of man did, that murder was an acceptable option to gain wealth or believed that Abraham’s obedience to God brought him the blessings to make him wealthy. However, Terah accepted murder as an option, when meeting with religious opposition, even to the point of turning Abraham over to the false priests for the ritual murder of his son.

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