Highlights for Genesis 12-17 and Abraham 1-2
This week, let’s focus on Abraham 1 and additional verses in the Joseph Smith Translation. Genesis has almost no information about Abraham’s earlier life before leaving Ur (2 verses). Somehow, great Father Abraham’s story (before he is called of God) did not make it into the Bible. Did you know Abraham is considered an important, major prophet by the Muslims, the Jews, and the Christians alike? He is the last prophet our three great religions have in common before all of our sacred canons split off into different directions. From Abraham back to Adam, we have a lot of scripture in common.
Both the Jews and Muslims have chapters and chapters and even whole books of sacred writ on Abraham’s life. There is a lot of similarity between them. Somehow those stories have been lost to the Bible. If it were not for the Pearl of Great Price or additional JST verses, we would have almost no background or context for what happened to Abraham before he left Ur.
Here are the two verses from the KJV Bible about Abraham’s earlier life:
KJV Genesis 11:29, Genesis 12:1
29 And Abram and Nahor took them wives: the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah.
1 Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee.
The Hebrew Bible – Genesis 12:1
Robert Alter comments on the abrupt introduction of Abraham. It’s obvious there is content missing:
“Abram, a mere figure in a notation of genealogy and migration in the preceding passage, becomes an individual character, and begins the Patriarchal narratives, when he is here addressed by God, though he himself as yet says nothing.”
In other words, there is no natural Biblical history of who Abraham personally is. Instead, he is suddenly a principal player being talked to by God and given great promises.
Pearl of Great Price
Even the Pearl of Great Price only has 56 verses about Abraham’s earlier life. Nonetheless, it’s a rich story. We learn Abraham is rescued from near death as he is prepared to be sacrificed on one of Pharoah’s alters to a contemporary god (Abraham, chapter 1).
Joseph Smith adds a lot of detail to the interactions between Abraham and King Melchizedek, to whom he pays tithes. At the end of the narrative, it says:
JST Genesis 14:40
all bold type = words Joseph Smith added
40 And it came to pass, that God blessed Abram, and gave unto him riches, and honor, and lands for an everlasting possession; according to the covenant which he had made, and according to the blessing wherewith Melchizedek’ had blessed him.
Abraham had it all: regal heritage (Noah, Enoch, Adam, etc.), status, riches, extraordinary posterity (Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Christ, etc.) This story has become our gold standard of what “blessed” means. It appeals to our worldly appetites and our worldly concept of status. We regard the presence of Abraham-like blessings in our own lives as a witness that we are obedient and blessed. Or sometimes, we consider the lack of such things as evidence of our not being chosen and the Heavens not favoring us.
But what about Moroni? He is one of the greatest, most mighty prophets ever lived, yet he spent his young life surviving the war. His older life consisted mainly of hiding and running to keep on living. No riches, no status, no lands, and all of his family murdered. Leaving him very alone.
What about Joseph Smith, who was told wealth was not his destiny and spent a good deal of his adult life steeped in persecution and struggling to rebuild time after time. All of his adult sons left the Church.
What about Christ who could have chosen any circumstance, yet he chose a simple missionary life with nothing to His name?
What about Nephi, who had to leave all his wealth and comfortable living? Instead, he scrapes the wilderness for a meal and starts a dwelling place from scratch, over and over? Not to mention his bipolar, narcissistic brothers who regularly threatened his life! And what about Lehi, who endured the same and who was the parent to such characters?
Our Latter-day Saint culture sometimes allows one story (like Abraham’s) to define what blessings of Heaven look like. And we ignore all the other histories of obviously chosen and noble souls; who did not experience the same gifts.
As we look into Moroni, Nephi, and Joseph Smith’s lives – we realize they were blessed with a richness of existence. Moroni had visions and powerful spiritual gifts bestowed upon him. He had a richness of self-confidence, purpose, and understanding. His life was continuously preserved from danger by miracles. He had a library full of the best and most sacred writ ever created. We have yet to read all the extraordinary, sealed prophecies that he could.
We have on record that Joseph met with more than 130 different heavenly personalities. The veil was mainly very thin or non-existent for him. Joseph had many experiences where the past and the future were opened up to him. He was a happy, outgoing man in between trials and setbacks. His life had an incredible richness and satisfaction to it. Many exciting people decorated his life, and his social life was most fulfilling. He had dear, devoted friends and family to the end.
Nephi visited with Christ from a young age. He understood the Universe on a deep, fascinating level. He witnessed many large miracles. In the end, Nephi had a large family group who revered him much like a king. We all love him after we read his candid, perilous adventure story.
All of these men had stature, purpose, and richness of experience. They had heavenly confidence.
President Benson’s Promise
President Benson clarified the richness the Heavens bestow upon all genuine seekers and faithful followers of Christ:
“Men and women who turn their lives over to God will find out that he can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour our peace. Whoever will lose his life in God will find he has eternal life.”
May you find cheer and well-being even if your blessings do not look like Abraham’s. Abraham had a job to do – settle a foreign place, go to war, establish a nation and prepare land for future generations. He was given the tools he needed to make that happen.
You have a job to do – turn over your life to God and let Him define what your great blessings are. Whatever combination they happen to be – you will experience richness, joy, and strength of confidence. Purpose and peace are far greater statuses than what the world prizes. Consequently, the world knows very little about well-being and joy. May it abundantly be yours as you draw closer to Christ and follow after him.
This post draws on two resources – (1) Joseph Smith’s complete translation of the Bible – amazingly, Joseph Smith corrected translations for more than 3,900 verses from the KJV Bible. And (2) Robert Alter’s “The Hebrew Bible – A Translation with Commentary.” Robert Alter’s book is considered one of the best translations of the Bible in our modern time and came highly recommended by bookofmormoncentral.org – a premiere Latter-day Saint scholarship site. Robert Alter’s lifetime work was published in 2018. See My Secrets for Falling In Love with the Old Testament for more information about these two books and where to get them.