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The Blessings of Abraham: Becoming a Zion People (LDS Caucus)
Meridian Magazine ^ | Sept 2007 | By E. Douglas Clark

Posted on 09/11/2007 4:09:21 AM PDT by restornu

Showing Forth the Power and Knowledge of Zion: The Wisdom of Heaven and Earth Chapter 5, part 2 of The Blessings of Abraham: Becoming a Zion People

Ironically, to preserve his own life, the righteous Abraham was now being commanded to violate one of his fundamental principles, that of perfect honesty in his dealings with his fellow men, by asking Sarah to represent herself as his sister. Or was it a violation?

If Jubilees is correct, which seems to be vindicated by a later statement in Genesis, Sarah was in fact his sister, the daughter of his father but through a different wife. [1] Or, as other traditions hold, if she was his niece or cousin, she still could, according to ancient custom, properly be called his sister. [2]

The word sister could also be used, in both Hebrew and Egyptian, as a term of endearment, meaning “sweetheart” or “wife.” [3] The Zohar mentions yet another dimension — “Abraham always called her sister because he was attached to her inseparably” in a spiritual bond that the world did not understand [4] (apparently a reference to eternal marriage).

In sum, as Augustine stated, when Abraham called his wife his sister, “he told no lie.” [5]

But in the context that the Lord was commanding, it would also result in a deception, masking her relationship as his wife. Earlier in his life, according to the Qur’an, Abraham had prayed, “O Lord ... let me be honest in all I say to others.” [6] The Zohar insists that Abraham’s “words were always truth.” [7]

Among all who knew him, Abraham had built a reputation for uncompromising integrity. Now he was being asked by God not only to veer from that course, but to involve his wife in the duplicity, which would further require the complicity of his followers, those who honored him as their righteous prophet and patriarch. Jasher reports that Abraham asked not only Sarah but also all those who accompanied them to say that Sarah was Abraham’s sister. [8]

But it was the Lord’s command, reminding us of His command to young Nephi, who hesitated before complying and taking the life of Laban (1 Ne. 4:7–18). “Whatever God requires is right,” said Joseph Smith, “no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire.” [9]

In the short term, however, some commandments can be confusing, and Abraham was so troubled on this occasion that he apparently arose in the night and built an altar and offered sacrifice. [10] To offer up one of his remaining animals after suffering through famine conditions was a sacrifice indeed, but Abraham was equal to the task. Sacrifice was, says Hugh Nibley, “the theme of Abraham’s life,” which has everything to do with us. “We will be called upon to make some sacrifices; “indeed, to please God we must be willing to sacrifice all the way, taking Abraham for our model.” [11]

Abraham then, according to his own account in the Book of Abraham, consulted the Urim and Thummim, apparently trying to see if they should continue on into Egypt. [12] What he saw instead was a close-up view of the stars, even as he heard the voice of the Creator begin to explain his creations and their organization in relation to “the throne of God” (Abr. 3:9–10).

Jewish legend echoes this event in reporting that Abraham possessed a stone through which he gazed at the heavens, [13] a kind of super-telescope about which he is reported to have said: “I have looked through my crystal to see the stars.” [14]

But as further related in the Book of Abraham, somehow the scene changed and Abraham now found himself face to face with the Creator, who, as Abraham tells, “said unto me: My son, my son (and his hand was stretched out), behold I will show you all these. And he put his hand upon mine eyes, and I saw those things which his hands had made, which were many; and they multiplied before mine eyes; and I could not see the end thereof” (Abr. 3:12).

We are reminded of the statement of Galileo, the first human to peer at the heavens through a telescope, which, although rudely primitive by today’s standards, revealed a multitude of stars that left Galileo in utter amazement: “You will behold through the telescope,” he recorded, “a host of other stars, which escape the unassisted sight, so numerous as to be almost beyond belief.” [15]

Galileo’s view, of course, was nothing compared to what Abraham was now being shown. Having earlier in life discovered the Creator by his starry creations, Abraham now has the privilege of learning about those creations from their Creator, who allows Abraham to see his handiwork and even see the great stars nearest God’s own residence. Abraham is that “certain unique man” [16] spoken of in the Orphic hymn “whose insights pierced the mysteries of the stars and the heavenly sphere.” [17]

John Taylor insisted that Abraham knew more about the cosmos “than all the combined wisdom of the world today” [18] — a statement that is surely still no exaggeration despite the incredible advancements in astronomy.

Abraham further tells that “it was in the night time when the Lord spake these words unto me: I will multiply thee, and thy seed after thee, like unto these; and if thou canst count the number of sands, so shall be the number of thy seeds.” (Abr. 3:14).

This incident, not reported in Genesis, is the first time that the Lord compares Abraham’s future posterity to the stars. No metaphor could have been more meaningful or moving to Abraham, whose early years had been spent with stargazers and star worshippers, and whose very discovery of the Creator had come by reflecting on the starry heavens. Now the Creator, who has just personally shown to Abraham something of the vastness of those heavens with their seeming infinitude of stars — numbers too great for mortal man to begin to fathom (Moses 1:37) — makes the breathtaking announcement that the vastness of Abraham’s posterity would match that of the stars.

Abraham does not recount what his feelings were upon hearing this, but to use the word “overwhelming” may well be an understatement. Such matters are simply beyond the ken of mortals without divine revelation. We can read and reflect, but understanding Abraham’s experience must necessarily await our own qualification for those same blessings.

Abraham continues his account by relating that “the Lord said unto me: Abraham, I show these things unto thee before ye go into Egypt, that ye may declare all these words” (Abr. 3:15). Abraham now understood that he must continue on into Egypt, even if he didn’t understand why the Lord had directed that Sarah say she was his sister.

As the Lord continued the lesson, He compared the stars to the spirits, symbolism apparently also known to Abraham’s forefathers. [19] The Lord then showed Abraham the host of premortal spirits, including “many of the noble and great ones” who “were good” and were chosen, before they were born (Abr. 3:22–23) to be “rulers in the Church of God” (D&C 138:55).

The Lord then said, “Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born” (Abr. 3:23). The passage is reminiscent of the Qur’anic verse in which God tells Abraham that “I have appointed you a leader of mankind,” [20] and reminiscent of a Jewish kabbalistic source that states, “When Abraham our father understood ... probed, thought, and was successful, the blessed Holy One revealed himself to him, declaring to him, ‘Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you emerged from the womb, I sanctified you. I have made you a prophet for the nations.’” [21]

According to the Book of Abraham, he was further shown the presentation of the great plan for God’s children in order to “prove them ... to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them,” so that those “who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads forever and ever” (Abr. 3:26). Among all of the vast multitudes of God’s children that Abraham saw, he alone was now being honored with this vision of the premortal life and this majestically precious truth that the primary purpose of mortality was to test the obedience of God’s children. Is it coincidence that this foundational purpose of mortality as a test of obedience would be revealed to this consummately obedient mortal?

Abraham saw Satan’s rebellion and expulsion, followed by the Creation, in which Abraham and other great and noble spirits participated (Abr. 3:24–28; 4:1ff). Similarly Jewish tradition held that God “called him His partner in creation,” [22] and that Abraham wrote down what God had revealed to him about the Creation in a work called the Book of Creation, or Sefer Yetzirah [23] — echoing the fact that Abraham’s record known as the Book of Abraham contains not only a Creation account but also Facsimile 2, an astronomical document of deep significance. [24]

Abraham had now been taught firsthand what he had only read about in the writings of Enoch, namely “a knowledge of the beginning of the creation, and also of the planets, and of the stars” (Abr. 1:31). [25] It was all part of Abraham’s continuing quest to “acquire ever more and more knowledge from above.” [26] As we have seen, part of this quest was through the miraculous means God had provided him, the Urim and Thummim. Talmudic tradition similarly reports that “God blessed Abraham ... and delivered to him a rare stone in which he could read a man’s destiny,” and that Abraham “used [this] rare crystal” and “studied [it] with great care.” [27]

But Abraham also sought knowledge directly through prayer: “Teach me, show me,” Abraham prayed on one occasion, [28] while on another occasion he implored: “My Lord, grant me wisdom.” [29] Abraham asked and received revelation upon revelation teaching him about history, astronomy, theology, and science. [30] He also ardently searched the scriptures [31] as well as the wisdom of the world.

Jewish tradition remembers Abraham as one who “possessed great genius,” [32] including “the wisdom of a Just Man [and] the fiery language of a prophet or high priest. He spoke every tongue and mastered every art,” [33] and “was the greatest scientist of his day.” [34] He gained such wisdom that his advice and knowledge were widely sought out, [35] and he became admired “as a man of extreme sagacity, gifted not only with high intelligence but with power to convince his hearers on any subject which he undertook to teach.” [36]

Referencing fragments of a second century B.C. Jewish history modern scholar notes, “it is the figure of Abraham who spreads [astronomical] learning” from his native land “to Phoenicia and then to Egypt.” [37] And among both Jewish and non-Jewish authors of the ancient world, Abraham was “widely regarded as a great sage.” [38] In Sufi tradition, Abraham personifies knowledge, one of the essential divine attributes. [39] According to Nibley, if we were to make a list of the greatest minds of the last forty centuries, “Abraham must surely make a strong bid for number one.” [40]

Abraham personifies the Lord’s command to Latter-day Saints to “seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion; seek not for riches, but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you” (D&C 6:6–7).

Abraham further exemplifies the Lord’s latter-day command to prepare for missionary service by seeking learning “by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118), about not only “the gospel” and “the kingdom of God” but also “things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and kingdoms” (D&C 88:78–79).

Accordingly, “we follow the example of Adam and Abraham,” notes Hugh Nibley, “ever seeking more light and knowledge.” [41] Indeed, “it is the merit of the seed of Abraham … that above all people they treasure the things of the mind.” [42]

1. See Jubilees 12:9, in VanderKam, Book of Jubilees, 70; and Genesis 20:12.

2. So states the Midrash Hagadol, in Kasher, Encyclopedia of Biblical Interpretation, 2:130.

3. Sarna, Genesis, 94.

4. Zohar 111b–112a, in Sperling and Simon, Zohar, 1:352–53.

5. City of God 16.19, quoted in Oden, Ancient Christian Commentary, 2:8.

6. Qur’an 26:84, in Cragg, Qur’an, 118.

7. Kasher, Encyclopedia of Biblical Interpretation, 3:94.

8. Jasher 15:6, in Noah, Book of Yashar, 41.

9. Galbraith and Smith, Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 287.

10. See the explanation to figure 2 of Facsimile 2 of Book of Abraham, combined with the ensuing revelation that occurred “in the night time.” Abraham 3:14.

11. Nibley, Approaching Zion, 426, 262.

12. The Book of Abraham doesn’t mention why Abraham was consulting the Urim and Thummim, but does place the incident immediately after he asked Sarah to say she was his sister. Abraham 3:1.

13. Schwartz, Tree of Souls, 332, and see Baba Bathra 16b, in Epstein, Babylonian Talmud: “Abraham possessed a power of reading the stars for which he was much sought after. . . . Abraham had a precious stone hung around his neck . . . ”

14. Gutwirth, Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism, 98.

15. Bolles, Galileo’s Commandment, 101.

16. Orphica, Long Version, in Charlesworth, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha 2:799.

17. Gruen, Heritage and Hellenism, 250, paraphrasing the Orphic Hymn, which states that “no one has seen the ruler of mortal men, except a certain unique man, an offshoot from far back of the race of the Chaldeans. For he was knowledgeable about the path of the Star, and how the movement of the Sphere goes around the earth.” Orphica, Long Version, in Charlesworth, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha 2:799. For the identification of this “certain unique man” with Abraham, see Gruen, Heritage and Hellenism, 250, n. 16.

18. Journal of Discourses 21:245. I have normalized the spelling of “to-day.”

19. Such symbolism appears to be at least as ancient as the Egyptian hieroglyphics. “As a light shining in the darkness, the star is a symbol of the spirit ... As far back as in the days of Egyptian hieroglyphics it signified ‘rising upwards towards the point of origin.’” Cirlot, Dictionary of Symbols, 309. That such tradition may have originated with the antediluvian patriarchs (Abraham’s forefathers) is seen from Abraham’s own writings, which mention not only the forefathers’ knowledge of the stars, but also that the first pharaohs sought earnestly to imitate the ancient patriarchal order of things. See Abraham 1:26, 31.

20. Qur’an 2:124, in Dawood, Koran, 345.

21. Sefer Yetzirah (Saadia version) 8:8, in Kaplan, Sefer Yetzirah, 293.

22. Culi, Magriso, and Argueti, Torah Anthology, 2:21.

23. Speaking of the authorship of the Sefer Yetzirah, Aryeh Kaplan explained: “As early as the 10th century, Saadia Gaon writes that, ‘the ancients say that Abraham wrote it.’ This opinion is supported by almost all of the early commentators. Such ancient Kabbalistic texts as the Zohar and Raziel also attribute Sefer Yetzirah to Abraham. A number of very old manuscripts of Sefer Yetzirah likewise begin with a colophon calling it ‘the Letters of Abraham our Father, which is called Sefer Yetzirah.’” Kaplan, Sefer Yetzirah, xii. As Charles Poncé observes of the Sefer Yetzirah, “The doctrine outlined within it was revealed to the Patriarch Abraham. After he perceived and understood the nature of the revelation, he recorded it.” Kabbalah, 39.

24. On the astronomical character of Facsimile 2, see Nibley, Abraham in Egypt, 42–67, especially 50; and John Gee, “Eyewitness, Hearsay, and Physical Evidence of the Joseph Smith Papyri,” in Ricks, Parry, and Hedges, Disciple as Witness, 198–99.

25. Compare the extensive cosmological sections of the extant Enoch literature in 1 Enoch, 2 Enoch, and 3 Enoch.

26. Nibley, Abraham in Egypt, 652.

27. Gutwirth, Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism, 97.

28. This prayer by Abraham was taught to him by the angel: “Teach me, show me, and make known to your servant what you have promised me.” Apocalypse of Abraham 17:21, in Charlesworth, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 1:697.

29. Qur’an 26:83, in M. M. Ali, Qur’an, 716.

30. See, for example, Abraham 3–5; Apocalypse of Abraham, in Charlesworth, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 1:689–705.

31. See Abraham’s references to his forefathers and his citations and explanations of their writings, for example, in 1QapGen 19.25, in Martinez and Tigchelaar, Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, 1:41; and Jubilees 19:24, 27; 21:10, in Charlesworth, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2:93, 95.

32. Culi, Magriso, and Argueti, Torah Anthology, 2:15.

33. Wiesel, Messengers of God, 92.

34. Faier, Malbim, 2:3, x.

35. Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, 1:292; 5:258–60.

36. Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 1.8.2, in Josephus 4, 83.

37. The quote uses the word “astrological,” meaning in this context astronomical. Stuckenbruck, Book of the Giants from Qumran, 36–37, referring to the two fragments from the source commonly called “Pseudo Eupolemus,” but the first of which is probably from Eupolemus. See analysis by translator R. Doran in Charlesworth, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2:873–78.

38. James E. Bowley, “The Compositions of Abraham,” in Reeves, Tracing the Threads, 227.

39. Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, 379.

40. Nibley, Abraham’s Creation Drama, 2.

41. Nibley, Approaching Zion, 263.

42. Nibley, Approaching Zion, 282.

TOPICS: History; Religion & Culture
KEYWORDS: abraham; lds; mormon; resty
Absolutely no flaming! These Devotional /Caucus threads are intended to be ponder in nature. If a particular day's offering says nothing to you, please just go on and wait for the next day. Consider these threads a DMZ of sorts, a place where a perpetual truce is in effect and a place where all other arguments and disagreements from other times and places are left behind.

Thank you for your respect!

1 posted on 09/11/2007 4:09:25 AM PDT by restornu
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To: America always; Halls; Choose Ye This Day; CheyennePress; TChris; kkmo9; Safford; T. P. Pole; ...

“The message of . . . The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that there is but one guiding hand in the universe, only one truly infallible light, one unfailing beacon to the world. That light is Jesus Christ, the light and life of the world, the light which one Book of Mormon prophet described as ‘a light that is endless, that can never be darkened’ (Mosiah 16:9).

“As we search for the shore of safety and peace, whether we be individual women and men, families, communities, or nations, Christ is the only beacon on which we can ultimately rely” (The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, p. 42).

2 posted on 09/11/2007 4:10:24 AM PDT by restornu (No one is perfect but you can always strive to be honest in all of your dealings!)
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