A few more things I wanted to add to this week’s lesson in Sunday School:
Cutting a Covenant
Anciently, the phrase for making a covenant was “cutting a covenant.” Abraham was first commanded to offer a sacrifice. This was a key part of an ancient Semitic covenant, the shedding of blood, to establish it forever. In doing so, God could promise Abraham seed from his own loins, and a multitude of nations coming from him. He also promised that through his priesthood, all could be adopted into the line of Abraham/Israel, and receive the fullness of the blessings of God.
The second half of the covenant also required God to perform a cutting. He performed this second part by sacrificing Jesus Christ. Through the shedding of Christ’s blood, the covenant of Abraham was finalized for all mankind. It is through Christ’s atonement that all can become not only the sons and seed of Abraham, but can become the sons of God.
House of God
In Genesis 12, we read that after leaving Haran and going to the promised land of Canaan, Abraham settles down between Bethel and Hai (Ai). In Hebrew, Beth-El means “House of El/God.” Hai/Ai means “Heap of Ruins.”
How often do we find ourselves settling in between God and a Heap of Ruins/World? Abraham’s first act was to offer sacrifice. While living between Bethel and Ai, spiritually he was completely in God’s camp. He established his own home as a House of El, as well. Today, Latter-day Saints enjoy serving God in their temples. Each temple has on its front piece the title: “House of the Lord. Holiness to the Lord.” They clearly are examples of Beth-El. Mormons and other Christians worship God in their sanctuaries, cathedrals, chapels, and other places of worship.
While we set apart such places for holy worship, each of us lives our daily lives outside of the temple/House of God. Jesus taught us to be in the world, but not of the world. We are physically parked between Bethel and Ai, God’s house and a heap of spiritual ruin. Our homes are what we make of them. Do we immediately offer up prayer and dedicate our home to God? Or do we follow the world, and eventual ruin?
Abraham made his home a holy place, a symbol of Bethel. He intentionally brought into it elements of worship, such as building an altar. He kept the world’s influence out of his home.
Abram to Abraham
In making the covenant with Abram, the Lord changed both Abram’s and Sarai’s names. Anciently, when a person went through a major change in life, there would be a new name would be given, reflecting the event.
It was once suggested to me that he names Abram and Sarai were changed to Abraham and Sarah because God’s covenant with them also included making them his literal children. Yahweh/Jehovah gave each of them an “H” from his name YHWH. This has interesting connotations. First, if God gives a man a part of his name (and God’s name is so powerful that Jews are not allowed to pronounce it to this day) that would suggest God is also giving divine power to the person. Abraham is not only “father of many nations,” but a literal divine son of Yahweh/Jehovah.
In this manner, Paul wrote about the adoption into Israel for all those who took upon themselves the name of Christ (Romans 8-9). When we receive Christ, and take upon ourselves his name, we are given a new name by God (Revelation 3:12, D&C 130). This new name, like Abraham’s new name, signified his new relationship with God. Abraham was now the symbol of God. As mentioned before, in the ancient tradition, Yahweh had recently been given his assigned kingdom. He was just starting out. But he foresaw that through Abraham, His kingdoms would expand and through Abraham, the priesthood, and Abraham’s seed (Jesus Christ), the Lord would eventually bless all the nations of the earth.
Our Own Abrahamic Covenant
Now, LDS believe that Jehovah has always had preeminence in the world. But we also know he was challenged in the pre-mortal existence by Satan and others. We know that Satan continues to challenge God hear on earth for souls. In the world, the ancient division of the peoples into nations meant that gods, whether idols or real, would eventually have to succumb to God’s glory through Christ.
Each of us must cut our own Abrahamic covenant with God. Today’s covenant is not made by sacrificing animals on altars, but as the Lord told the Nephites, by sacrificing our own hearts and spirits on the altar (3 Nephi 9:20, 2 Nephi 2:7). We give up our worldly desires, and determine to be as faithful as Abraham ever was. In doing so, we are adopted in as the seed of Abraham and children of Christ (4 Ne 1:17).