In the Come, Follow Me “Ideas for Personal Study” for the week of September 23-29, the following statement by Joseph Smith is included: “We cannot believe, that the ancients in all ages were so ignorant of the system of heaven as many suppose, since all that were ever saved, were saved through the power of this great plan of redemption, as much so before the coming of Christ as since. … Abraham offered sacrifice, and notwithstanding this, had the gospel preached to him” (“The Elders of the Church in Kirtland to Their Brethren Abroad,” The Evening and the Morning Star, Mar. 1834, 143, josephsmithpapers.org). This statement clarifies that the gospel of Jesus Christ has been taught in all dispensations.
Living the Law of Sacrifice
As was revealed to Joseph Smith in June-October 1830, soon after Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden, they and their posterity were given “commandments, that they should worship the Lord their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord” (Moses 5:5). Adam was obedient but did not understand why until an angel appeared and explained, “This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth” (Moses 5:7). As the Bible Dictionary explains: “Thereafter, whenever there were true believers on the earth, with priesthood authority, sacrifices were offered. ...This continued until the death of Jesus Christ, which ended the shedding of blood as a gospel ordinance. It is now replaced in the Church by the sacrament of the bread and water, in remembrance of the offering of Jesus Christ” (“Sacrifices,” the Bible Dictionary, 720).
New Revelation: The Book of Abraham
In June 1835, Joseph Smith was able to purchase some Egyptian papyri and begin translating the writings now part of the Pearl of Great Price and known as The Book of Abraham. Its contents clearly confirm that Abraham had ‘records of the fathers, even the patriarchs, concerning the right of the Priesthood, …a knowledge of the beginning of the creation, and also of the planets, and of the stars” (Abraham 1:31). The Lord also showed unto Abraham, “the intelligences that were organized before the world was” (Abraham 3:22). He witnessed the Father’s premortal designation of Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world, and Christ’s role in the Creation. As he grew into manhood, Abraham was faithful in keeping the commandments and sought “mine appointment unto the Priesthood” (Abraham 1:4).
Abraham, however, lived during a time of great apostasy. His father, Terah, and many of his kinsfolk had “turned their hearts to the sacrifice of the heathen in offering up their children unto these dumb idols” (Abraham 1:7). As the priest Elkenah raised a knife to kill him, Abraham prayed and “the Lord hearkened and heard, and he filled me with the vision of the Almighty, and the angel of his presence stood by me, and immediately unloosed my bands” (Abraham 1:15) and “smote the priest that he died” (Abraham 1:20).
Next, the angel instructed Abraham to leave the land of Chaldea: “Behold, 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” (Abraham 1:18). Abraham married Sarah, and because of famines, they began their journeys to Canaan and Egypt. After surviving multiple instances of traumatic stress violence, Abraham as a younger man knew that the only way to endure any future tests and trials was to live by faith.
Yielding to the Will of God
God saved His greatest tests of Abraham for a time of life that many today would regard as the “golden years of retirement.” A key doctrine of the gospel is “he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Mark 13:13). When Abraham was 100 and Sarah 90, their only son was miraculously born to them. They reared Isaac in love and righteousness. Sometime before Sarah’s death at the age of 127 (Genesis 23:1), God gave Abraham the greatest test of faith: “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” (Genesis 22:2). According to a Christian Sunday school curriculum provided by David Cook publishers: “The site where traditionally Abraham offered Isaac is now the site of the Dome of the Rock, a beautiful Muslim mosque. Only a short distance away on a higher point of the same hill (Mount Moriah), is Calvary (” (“Isaac: Child of the promise and heir of the promises,” Church News, archive, May 7, 1994).
It is impossible to know the anguish that Abraham felt upon receiving this command. We know that he “rose up early in the morning, … and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, … and went unto the place which God had told him” (Genesis 22:3). Abraham was faithfully obedient.
Additionally, Isaac was willingly obedient. In many modern depictions, Isaac is portrayed as being a young boy. Several biblical studies, however, suggest that Isaac was more likely a strong young man (30 to 37 years-old) who could have resisted had he chosen to do so (see David C. Cook, “Isaac: Child of the promise and heir of the promises”; “How old was Isaac when Abraham was asked by the lord sacrifice him” LDS Doctrinal Studies, 2010; “The Sacrifice of Isaac,” Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906). A physical evidence of Isaac’s strength is that all of the wood needed for the burnt offering was laid upon Isaac (Genesis 22:6). Just as Jesus bore his own cross (John 19:17), Isaac carried the means of his own sacrifice. It is also not improbable that Isaac was aware of his father’s personal history of traumatic trials, and Isaac wanted to see if he could faithfully follow in his father’s footsteps.
Isaac did have such faith, for as Abraham “stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son … the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven … And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God” (Genesis 22:10-12). From the faithful examples of both Abraham and Isaac incalculable spiritual lessons had been taught and a divine sacrifice foreshadowed.
Do We Likewise Fear and Love God?
The question above is something we all need to ponder. Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has explained, “we generally interpret the word fear as ‘respect’ or ‘reverence’ or ‘love’; that is, the fear of God means the love of God or respect for him and His law. …We should so love and reverence Him that we fear doing anything wrong in His sight” (“A Sense of the Sacred,” [Church Educational System fireside for young adults, Nov. 7, 2004], 8; speeches.byu.edu). We cannot save ourselves; we must faithfully rely on the Mediator.
Abraham and Isaac teach us the importance of Christ’s great atoning sacrifice. As latter-day Apostles have testified: “He gave His life to atone for the sins of all mankind. His was a great vicarious gift in behalf of all who would ever live upon the earth” (“The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles,” Ensign, Apr. 2000, 2).