Lesson 9 - “God Will Provide Himself a Lamb” – Abraham 1; Genesis 15-17; 21-22
Over the last few lessons, we’ve covered several events in Abraham’s life, including early stories of his childhood in Chaldea, being cast into a raging furnace, his sojourn in Egypt, his triumphs in battle, being blessed by Melchizedek, entertaining heavenly hosts, and receiving the Abrahamic Covenant.
Patterns emerge in the scriptures, as God creates events that will symbolize future events (Melchizedek symbolizing both God and Christ). Abraham has been promised vast posterity and power, but in his older years the odds of such an event occurring becomes less and less probable.
Already, we’ve seen that some ancient texts, including the Quran discuss Abraham being cast into a fiery furnace. His father, Terah not only worships idols, but has become a maker of idols. As a youth, Abraham destroys the idols as part of his stance to worship Jehovah/Yahweh.
Why would his father and others turn to idols of wood and stone? Because such idols do what they are told to do: sit there. Man can use his imagination to advance wonderful stories about gods, but the reality was still there. When Abraham blamed the biggest idol for killing the others because they were all greedy for the food offering he brought them, Terah and the others knew Abraham lied. They knew their idols were incapable of reaching for the food, eating it, or fighting over it. For Terah, it meant he would have to go through the trouble of carving replacements. However, it also brought reality to the forefront. These idols did not have the ability to do anything, therefore they were impotent. They were carved and recast by Terah, so that man had more power than the idols had.
Abraham would face other attempts on his life.
Abraham and the priest of Elkenah
In Abraham 1, we find that Abraham is once again getting himself into trouble. A major sacrifice to the gods of Chaldea and of Egypt is occurring. It may have been a part of the Year Rite – a ceremony many Middle Eastern kings performed (including Israelite and Nephite kings). This ceremony would show the power of the king as a divine son of the national god. In the case of Abraham and Israel, it would represent the king/Abraham being the divine son of Jehovah/Yahweh, who was the divine son of Elohim, the chief God.
Imagine slaying the divine son of Yahweh! This would show the world that the gods of Chaldea/Egypt were more powerful. Previously in the ancient texts, we read how Abraham confounded King Nimrod, even when cast into a fiery furnace. Imagine Nimrod’s surprise when Abraham did not die after days in the furnace. The king would have to admit that Abraham’s god was stronger than his own gods.
We will see such contests again and again in the Old Testament. Jehovah is pitted against other gods, some of whom would traditionally be other divine sons of El Elyon. These gods competed for primacy among the nations and in the divine council, just as Lucifer sought to obtain preeminence in the premortal grand council (Abraham 3, Moses 4:1-4).
At this time in Chaldea, such major ceremonies would require the sacrifice of not just animals, but also human flesh. The ancient belief was that gods obtained greater power from the flesh of humans. And the ultimate sacrifices of power were little children.
Abraham notes that 4 virgins, direct descendants of Ham, one of the holy sons of Noah, refused to worship the gods of the nation. It is likely that these girls were abducted during a military campaign or while plundering a nearby nation. In many instances, the acceptable worship would have required the girls to submit themselves sexually to their conquerors, perhaps even to the priest of Elkenah. When they refused to be sexual slaves, perhaps living comfortably in a harem, they were taken for the sacrifice.
In Abraham 1:8-9, we find that Pharaoh offers the sacrifice at this special Year Rite. He would have chosen foreigners, slaves, and non-believers to sacrifice. Pharaoh offered sacrifice to two gods: Osiris and Ra. Osiris was the first born god of the earth. He was god of the Underworld, who was slain by his enemy Seth, and resurrected by Isis. Pharaohs saw themselves as the descendants and incarnation of Osiris through his divine son, Horus (Osiris - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).
Shagreel or Ra (the Egyptian name) was the Sun. The traditions on Ra changed over time, as Ra was initially viewed as the Sun at mid-day only, but later became the Sun at all times. At one point, he was considered Horus, the son of Osiris, and other times as the brother of Osiris (Ra - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).
With this relationship between Pharaoh, Osiris and Ra/Horus established, we can see how important it would be to destroy the son of Jehovah, Abraham. As with the four virgins, Abraham would not bow down and worship the gods of Chaldea or Egypt. Abraham believed Jehovah to be greater than the Sun itself!
Abraham was violently laid upon the lion bed, which anciently was used for both sacrifice and mummification. As the priest of Elkenah lifted up the knife to slay him, Abraham prayed for deliverance. Abraham has a vision of God Almighty (El Elyon/Elohim), and the “angel of his presence” appeared and released him. As seen previously, the “angel of his/El Elyon’s presence” is Jehovah/Yahweh. God the Father sent his divine Son down to rescue Abraham, who was Jehovah’s divine son (Abr 1:13-16). Jehovah then informs Abraham that it is time to depart of the land, and go to a land of promise.
The Land of Promise
Interestingly, Abraham is delivered from the sacrifice, only to immediately be called to leave. The land is full of idolatry. As with the people of Sodom discussed last week, they have become inhospitable. They seek to force their beliefs upon foreigners. Rather than destroy Chaldea, the Lord removes the prophet to a new land.
The Lord makes promises to Abraham in verse 18: “I will lead thee by my hand, and I will take thee, to put upon thee my name, even the Priesthood of thy father, and my power shall be over thee.” Let’s break this apart.
At this time, Abraham’s name is technically still Abram. The promise of a name change is decades away. In Genesis 17, Jehovah (YHWH) literally puts his name on both Abraham and Sarah by giving each of them a letter from his name (H). To put upon Abraham the “Priesthood of thy father” would suggest not the priesthood of Terah, but of Noah and Shem, his predecessors. God’s name is synonymous with His Priesthood. For this purpose, in the last lesson on Melchizedek, we found that El Elyon IS Melchizedek, as is Jehovah IS Melchizedek. Such is a holy title: Melchizedek literally means “king of righteousness” and that is what Abraham shall become.
The facsimiles in the Book of Abraham are beyond the scope of the Gospel Doctrine lessons, but I refer you to Kerry Shirts’ excellent in-depth articles on the Book of Abraham and the facsimiles: Papyri & Book of Abraham Articles, Analysis & Reviews
Abraham seeks an eternal seed
Once finally established in Canaan after his sojourn in Egypt, Abraham realizes that his time to have children is quickly passing him by. At first, he hoped Lot would be his adopted son. However, contentions forced Abraham to send Lot and his people to their own land. Lot was a decent man, but not the valiant servant of God that Jehovah wanted.
Abraham asked God if he would accept one of his faithful servants to fill the void, but God insists that it will be his literal seed. Sarah, wanting Abraham to be blessed with children, gives Hagar to him as a slave-wife (concubine). Hagar brings forth a son, Ishmael, and Abraham temporarily believes this is the child of the promise. Visited by three angels, one of whom was the Angel of the Lord’s Presence (Jehovah), Abraham again is promised he will bear a son through Sarah. It is such an amazing statement at their advanced ages that Sarah laughs at the thought.
In Genesis 17:9-13, God establishes circumcision as the external evidence that man has entered into the Abrahamic covenant with Him. All boys are to be circumcised at 8 days of age. Abraham immediately circumcises his entire group, including slaves. While circumcision is not required today, we use baptism as a symbol of entering into the Abrahamic covenant, and are to “circumcise your hearts, and do not be stiff-necked any longer” (Deuteronomy 10:16). Abraham being the obedient divine son of Jehovah ensured that “in the selfsame day was Abraham circumcised, and Ishmael his son” (Gen 17:26), as well as all the other males in his household.
This began the new covenant between Abraham and Jehovah in the new land of promise. It was Abraham’s purification test in entering into the new land. At 99 years old, Abraham was purified and ready to prepare to have the promised child in the Promised Land.
Isaac and Ishmael
When Abraham was 100 years old, and Sarah was 90, Isaac was born. Ishmael was 14 years of age. Ishmael was soon to be at the age to inherit his father’s lands and receive his blessings. However, he was now the second-hand son. Semitic tradition gave all blessings to the first born son. Here continues the tradition of the second son receiving the birthright and blessings of first-born, which also occurred between Cain and Abel. It seems the older son tends to never understand why he should not inherit the first born’s blessings, for the simple fact of being born first.
Abraham had asked the Lord to accept Ishmael as his first born: “O that Ishmael might live before thee!” (Gen 17:18). The Lord promised that Ishmael would become a mighty nation, but the promise was to be with Isaac.
The first-born position was one of great honor. All were expected to respect the first-born, even like they would the father. In Genesis 21, Ishmael mocks the child, Isaac. Ishmael knows this small child is taking away everything from him. Had the child not been born, he would have received the birthright. With this in mind, we perhaps can understand why Ishmael would mock his younger half-brother. For all his life, Ishmael was treated like a king, and now would be nothing but the son of a concubine.
Sacrifice of Ishmael
To ensure Isaac’s safety, Sarah had no choice but to insist that Hagar and her son leave. If at 14 years of age Ishmael was already teasing and mocking the new born baby, what would he do a few years down the road? The possible murder of Isaac would end the covenant God said he would make through Isaac, and Sarah was already past her prime.
Abraham was saddened, but reassured by the Lord that it was the best thing to do. Hagar and Ishmael were sent out into the wilderness with the Lord’s promise. Ishmael receives his own covenant in the wilderness with God. While the first born son receives the greatest blessings and promises, often other blessings can be reserved for the other children. In this instance, God promised Abraham to make a great nation out of Ishmael. An angel reaffirms this promise to Hagar when she was about to give up and die.
Ishmael became an archer or hunter (Gen 21:20). Genesis seems to be antagonistic towards hunters, viewing them as the enemy of the good. The good are described as shepherds: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. Hunters are wild and ferocious, undeserving of the blessings of the firstborn or of God: Nimrod, Ishmael, and Esau.
There was another reason for Ishmael to leave. In the Mosaic Law (Leviticus 16), the high priest annually performed rites to cleanse the entire congregation of God. This rite, which occurred on the Day of Atonement, included the scapegoat. All the sins and wrongs of the people were blamed on the goat. The high priest would lay his hands on the goat’s head to transfer all the sins to the goat. The goat was then led out into the wilderness, away from the people (Scapegoating - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).
Ishmael represented the world of Abraham before the full covenant was established. Ishmael represented Abram, not Abraham. He represented Hagar, the slave-wife, not Sarah the covenant and free wife. He represented the mistakes of the past, not the promises of the future. In this instance, the scapegoat and Ishmael symbolize Jesus Christ. As an innocent being, Jesus took our sins upon himself, so we would not have to bear them. He is the world’s scapegoat. And even though rejected and cast out into the wilderness by his people, Jesus has become a mighty nation of Christians, as Ishmael became a mighty nation.
Abraham’s well and his Asherah
We see in Genesis 21:22-32, Abraham meets up with Abimelech, a Philistine neighbor. The Philistines were probably Sea People, who came from islands near Greece. They settled the coast line of Canaan not long before Abraham entered the area, and were involved in conquest of much of the coast line of the eastern Mediterranean (Sea Peoples - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).
Abimelech knows that Jehovah has greatly blessed Abraham, and realizes that a peace covenant through the generations would ensure his own family’s future existence and prosperity. Before a covenant could be established, political issues had to be ironed out.
Abraham notes that he had dug a well for his flocks, and that Abimelech’s men had violently stolen it from him. Such a claim was very serious in the extremely arid Middle East. Water meant life. It meant crops could be grown and flocks fed. As a testimony of his statement, Abraham gives Abimelech 7 ewes, female sheep.
Both cut the covenant, by offering oxen and sheep on an altar to Jehovah. As mentioned in a previous lesson, covenants were very important. The breaking of a covenant meant the worst curse of God would befall the family – being cast off or totally wiped off the face of the earth.
Abraham then planted a grove in Beersheba and worshiped God (Gen 21:33). Groves of trees were a symbol of the consort/wife of God. Canaanites called her Asherah, and early Semites and Canaanites believed that both El Elyon and Yahweh had a wife, named Asherah (a title). Asherah depicted wisdom (see Proverbs 3) and fertility (multiply and replenish the earth) (Asherah - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).
BYU professor Daniel Peterson discusses Lehi and Nephi’s Vision of the Tree of Life and how it fits in as the mother of God (Nephi and His Asherah - Daniel C. Peterson - Journal of Book of Mormon Studies - Volume 9 - Issue 2), and Old Testament scholar and Methodist minister, Margaret Barker noted that Nephi’s Asherah is a perfect symbol for the First Temple’s belief in a mother Goddess (Margaret Barker - A Transcript of Her Response The Worlds of Joseph Smith).
It is very possible that Abraham created the grove as an outdoor temple, where he could worship his God Jehovah, while having the inspiration of Jehovah’s consort Asherah all around. He would have been thankful that Sarah was made fertile at such an advanced age, and safely gave birth to Isaac.
The Sacrifice of Isaac
It has been said that Isaac could not have been a teenager when Abraham sacrificed him, because it would not have been a sacrifice.
All around Abraham, human sacrifice was occurring in the names of the gods. Since the days of Adam and Noah, animal sacrifice was demanded by Elohim/El Elyon and Jehovah/Yahweh. Human sacrifice was demeaning and the apostate form of worship. Or was it? While some rabbis thought that Abraham just did it on his own without God's command, Rabbi J. H. Hertz wrote that child sacrifice was "rife among the Semitic peoples" and "in that age, it was astounding that Abraham's God should have interposed to prevent the sacrifice, not that He should have asked for it." (Binding of Isaac - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
Regardless of whose interpretation one uses, Jehovah commanded Abraham to perform a human sacrifice! This special event is known as the Akedah, or Binding of Isaac. Unlike other times when Abraham plead with God to spare the lives of those in Sodom, or to accept someone else as his chosen son, Abraham quietly accepts God’s command and prepares for the trip.
Why such a long trip? The travel gave opportunity for Abraham to ponder what he was going to do. Yet he did not back down or change his mind. It also brought them to the traditional Mt Moriah, the holy mountain upon which the temple would one day be built by Solomon. Abraham was sacrificing Isaac on what would be the future altar of the temple of Jehovah.
Isaac accepts his part. In the ancient writings, we are told he calmly allows Abraham to bind him and lay him on the altar. In the final moments, as Abraham is about to plunge the knife, the angel of the Lord stops him. He is told the sacrifice is sufficient enough to show their obedience as father and son.
Represented in this sacrifice was the future sacrifice God the Father would make of his Son, Jesus Christ for all mankind. When Isaac asked his father where the animal was for the sacrifice, Abraham responded, “God will provide himself a lamb.” (Gen 22:8). When the angel told Abraham to stop, he provided a ram, with its horns caught in a bush. For us in our day, God has provided Jesus Christ as our sacrificial lamb. Without Jesus as a stand-in for Isaac and for the rest of us, none of us could return to God’s presence and live again.
Isaac as the Atoning One
In conjunction with the scapegoat (Ishmael), would be the atoning sacrificial goat (Lev 16:15-19). This goat was pure, without blemish. It would be the perfect sacrifice to atone for the congregation’s sins. It would cleanse them. Anciently, after Aaron and the priests sacrificed the goat, its blood would be taken by the high priest into the Holy of Holies of the temple and sprinkle the Mercy Seat – God’s throne. Then the high priest would sprinkle the altar, the temple’s instruments, and finally the people. The blood would atone for their sins. Isaac and the atoning sacrificial goat represent Christ as sacrifice for all mankind.
No one but the high priest could enter into the Holy of Holies, and then only on this one day each year. This was Jehovah’s Year Rite ceremony, where He proclaimed himself king of Israel. Instead of offering up his enemies as a sacrifice, Jesus Christ offered himself. Paul teaches us that Jesus, the Great I AM and Jehovah was the Great High Priest, who entered alone into the Holy of Holies. He sprinkled his own blood on the altar and the Mercy Seat. And we are cleansed in his blood as we humbly join his congregation through faith, repentance, and baptism of water and spirit.
Kerry Shirts (Backyard Professor) on the Book of Abraham’s Facsimiles: http://www2.ida.net/graphics/shirtail/papyri.htm
Philistines as Sea People: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_Peoples#Philistine_hypothesis
Asherah – God’s consort: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asherah#In_Israel_and_Judah
Nephi’s Asherah by Daniel Peterson: http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/jbms/?vol=9&num=2&id=223
Margaret Barker’s talk on Nephi’s Vision of the Tree of Life (from the 2005 Joseph Smith Conference at the Library of Congress): http://www.joehunt.org/joseph-smith-margaret-barker-talk.html
Akedah or Binding of Isaac: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Binding_of_Isaac
Ardis Parshall’s Keepapitchinin Blog on how this lesson was taught in the past: http://www.keepapitchinin.org/2010/02/21/how-we-taught-this-lesson-in-the-past-lesson-9-god-will-provide-himself-a-lamb/
The Akedah or Binding of Isaac: Binding of Isaac - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Ardis Parshall’s Keepapitchinin Blog on how this lesson was taught in the past: Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog How We Taught This Lesson in the Past: Lesson 9: “God Will Provide Himself a Lamb”