Friday, July 13, 2012

How Abraham was taught the Law of Sacrifice.

A little time ago, we reviewed the beginnings of Abraham's life, his family tree and the covenants he made early on in his life.  Ok, a not so little time ago.
We also looked at the great man who ordained Abraham to the priesthood, and studied the blessings of the priesthood.
Yeah yeah, I've been slack at posting.  It has been a good while, but we did do it, I swear.
More recently, and my personal favourite, we studied the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and how Abraham tried to intercede on the wicked peoples' behalf.  Such great lessons to be learnt there.

This brings us up to chapter 18 of Genesis, when Abraham finally received his promised son, Isaac.
Yeah,  we're still in Genesis.  Shh.

Do you even remember all the promises that were made to Abraham?  How about the four categories of blessings?
Quickly look back here, because it's important to remember not only what we're entitled to (um, yay!) and how these blessings have/will come to pass, but to also remember that Abraham had been promised a great posterity .. and he was still waiting.  In fact, the majority of these promises were to come through this great posterity.

Wait, what posterity?
Good point.
Most know that Abraham finally got his posterity.  This is how is happened:
In Genesis 16:1-6, we read that his wife Sarai gave her handmaid to Abraham for this very cause.  This was according to the custom of the time, so it was an expected and logical act.  This is how Ishmael came about.  And then, a little later, Isaac was born to Sarai.  Abraham also had several sons by Keturah.

(Note: It was around this time that Abram and Sarai have their names changed to Abraham and Sarah.)

So.  Ishmael was born.

And what became of Ishmael?
Well, the Lord promised blessings to Ishmael.  He may not have been the covenant son of Abraham, but he certainly wasn't forgotten.  You can read about the blessings promised to Ishmael in Genesis 16:7-16 and 17:20.

After the birth of Ishmael, the Lord reaffirmed His promise with Abraham - that Abraham would be a father of many nations and kings.  The Lord then blessed Abraham with the prophecy of a son:

And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be.
And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her.
Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?
And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee!
And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him.
And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation.
But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year.
(Genesis 17:15-21)

Even some mysterious messengers visited Abraham and reiterated the prophesy about the birth of a son, in Genesis 18:1-19.

Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?
And the Lord said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old?
Is any thing too hard for the Lord? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.
(verses 12-14)

And then .. drum roll .. in Genesis 21:1-8, Isaac was finally born.

Later in this same chapter, Isaac was given the birth right as the covenant son of Abraham and Ishmael was given the great blessings he was promised.  We understand that the birthright was given to Isaac because he was the first son of the first wife (i.e. he was born under the covenant of marriage between Abraham and Sarah), even though Ishmael was about fourteen years older than Isaac.  The Lord made it clear that in accordance with the original promise Abraham’s son by Sarah would bear the covenant responsibility.

We now jump over to Genesis chapter 22.  The big guns.
Basically, as we all know, Abraham was commanded by the Lord to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice to the Lord.

And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.
And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.
(Genesis 22:1-2)

(I can't seem to find the institute video to post here ... but it is well worth your viewing time.  In the meantime, knock yourself out with this fun one. Talk about time travel.)
UPDATE:  I found it!!  This video is definately worth your viewing time.

What a severe test for Abraham.  Especially when you remember that Abraham himself was saved from a similar fate when he was very young, all instigated in wickedness by his own father.  After such an experience, you can imagine that Abraham must have abhorred the practice of human sacrifice.
So why on earth with the Lord require such a trial of Abraham's faith?

Let us look to the law of sacrifice.
What is the law of sacrifice?
“The law of sacrifice is that we are willing to sacrifice all that we have for the truth’s sake – our character and reputation; our honor and applause; our good name among men; our house, lands, and families: all things, even our very lives if need be.” [1]
It is a celestial law (just like the law of consecration); “a prerequisite to a godly life”. [2]

The prophet Joseph Smith said:  “A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary [to lead] unto life and salvation.” [3]
He also said:  “It is in vain for persons to fancy to themselves that they are heirs with those … who have offered their all in sacrifice … unless they, in like manner, offer unto him the same sacrifice.” [4]

I love that.  And the law of sacrifice applies to gospel living today.
Have a good look at the following scripture in Doctrine & Covenants 88:22:

For he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory.

“We are not always called upon to live the whole law of consecration and give all of our time, talents, and means to the building up of the Lord’s earthy kingdom.  Few of us are called upon to sacrifice much of what we possess, and at the moment there is only an occasional martyr in the case of revealed religion.  But what the scriptural account means is that to gain celestial salvation we must be able to live these laws to the full if we are called upon to do so.  How, for instance, can we establish our ability to live the full law of consecration if we do not in fact pay an honest tithing?  Or who can we prove our willingness to sacrifice all things, if need be, if we do not make the small sacrifices of time and toil, or of money and means, that we are now asked to make?” [5]

So what are some of the ways that we can live the law of sacrifice?

President Ezra Taft Benson actually listed four ways the principle of sacrifice may be practiced today.  Handy.

1. To sacrifice, deny yourself all ungodliness.

“To deny oneself of all ungodliness is to come to Christ by ordinances and covenants to repent of any sins which prevent the Spirit of the Lord from taking precedence in our lives.  To deny oneself of all ungodliness is to “offer sacrifice unto the Lord they God…, even that of a broken heart and a contrite spirit” (D&C 59:8)”. [6]

Moroni described the way: read Moroni 10:32.

Q: How is this applicable to you?  How can you deny yourself all ungodliness?
Perhaps it means “to forgo personal bad habits … habits which cause us, the children of God, to be less than our destiny.”

2. To sacrifice, be willing to serve a mission.

Not just a 2 year mission…

President Kimball said: “How selfish and thoughtless would it be for a young man to grow to maturity, spend his time preparing for his life’s work and his occupation and be unwilling to serve his Creator in this, the most important service in the world.” [7]

“While you reap the benefits of prosperity unprecedented in the history of mankind, do you ever think that one of the reasons the Lord sent you to earth under such favourable circumstances is that you could use your talents, education, and money to bless others with the gospel?” [8]

This kind of sacrifice is an investment.

3. To sacrifice, solemnise your marriage in the house of the Lord.

“No sacrifice is too great to have the blessings of an eternal marriage. To most of us, a temple is easily accessible, perhaps so conveniently that the blessing is taken too casually.” [9]

Q: So what can you do?

“Don’t trifle away your happiness by an involvement with someone who cannot take you worthily to the temple.  Make a decision now that this is the place where you will marry.  To leave that decision until a romantic involvement develops is to take a risk, the importance of which you can’t calculate now.  I would urge you further to pray about this matter.” [10]

And this may be a sacrifice for some … remember “by this act of faith, we show our love to God and our regard for a posterity yet unborn.”

4. To sacrifice, serve with all your time and means to build the kingdom of God on earth.

In Matthew it says:

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.(Matthew 16:24-25)

“If you would find yourself, learn to deny yourself for the blessing of others.  Forget yourself and find someone who needs your service, and you will discover the secret to the happy, fulfilled life.” [11]

President Harold B. Lee said: “I [am] persuaded of one great truth: Whenever the Lord has a great blessing for one of his children, he puts that son or daughter in the way to make a great sacrifice”. [12]

The overriding principle = sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven!

President Harold B. Lee said: “I bear witness that not until a person has been willing to sacrifice all he possessed in the world, not even withholding his own life if it were necessary for the upbuilding of the kingdom, can he claim kinship to Him who gave his life that men might be.” [13]

So, the question is ... what are some of the specific sacrifices we are asked to make today?

I testify that sacrifice is a prerequisite to faith.

[1] Bruce R. McConkie “Obedience, Consecration, and Sacrifice”, Ensign, May 1975
[2] Ezra Taft Benson, “This Is a Day of Sacrifice”, Ensign, May 1979
[3] Joseph Smith, Lectures of Faith, 6:7
[4] Joseph Smith, Lectures of Faith, 6:8, italics added
[5] Bruce R. McConkie “Obedience, Consecration, and Sacrifice”, Ensign, May 1975
[6] Benson, This Is a Day of Sacrifice”, Ensign, May 1979
[7] Spencer W. Kimball, Regional Representatives’ Seminar, 30 Sept. 1977, as cited by Benson, “This Is a Day of Sacrifice”, Ensign, May 1979
[8] Benson, This Is a Day of Sacrifice”, Ensign, May 1979
[9] Benson, ibid
[10] Benson, ibid
[11] Benson, ibid
[12] In Conference Report, Apr. 1947, p.50, as cited by Benson, ibid
[13] “A Sure Trumpet Sound: Quotations from President Lee”, Ensign, Feb. 1974, p.79

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