But how did Abraham become such a righteous person?
Although the Bible tells us some things about the life of Abraham it gives very little information about his early years. But for those who belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there is another source of knowledge that gives us additional light that helps us gain a better understanding of who he was and what made him so great in the eyes of God and man.
Abraham was the eldest son of a man named Terah and was born in the city of Ur which was in the land of Chaldea. Archeologists have identified this area as being in the southern portion of what we now call Iraq, just a little north of Kuwait. The account in Genesis, chapter 11 tells us that Abraham had two younger brothers, Nahor, and Haran whose land of nativity was also Ur and this is where Abraham lived during his growing up years. It also appears from the record that this was the area where Terah and his family came from. As such, Abraham grew up living around his grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
Although Haran was the youngest brother, he died early in life but not before marrying and having a son whose name was Lot. After his brother's death, Abraham took Lot into his family and raised him.
It was sometime after that when Terah decided to move from Ur and go to the land of Canaan and he took with him Abraham and his family, including Lot. However, along the way they stopped in a city called Haran, which was still in the land of Chaldea and remained there rather than moving on (Genesis 11:31) From the scriptural record it appears that Tehah also had relatives who lived there so Abraham continued living among his kinsfolk.
However, it doesn't appear that Abraham remained there until his father's death because the scriptures tell us that he left the town of Haran when he was 75 years old (Genesis 12:4) We know that Terah was 75 old when years old when he begat Abraham (Genesis 11:26) which means that if Abraham was 75 years old when he left Haran then Terah would only have been 150 years old at that time, which is 55 years before he died.
But why did Abraham leave? The biblical account doesn't tell us but Abraham himself made a record of his early life that does gives us the answer to that question.
While Abraham lived in the land of Chaldea, it was ruled over by Egypt who had introduced their heathen gods to the Chaldeans. There were five gods in particular who were worshipped; they were: Elkenah, Libnah, Mahmackrah, Korash, and the god of Pharaoh, king of Egypt (Abraham 1:13) and Abraham's father, Terah, was one of the Chaldeans who worshipped these idols of stone and wood (Abraham 1:5).
Although this is the environment that Abraham grew up in, he was not an idol worshipper but rather described himself as a "follower of righteousness" (Abraham 1:2). This must have made it difficult for him to continue living with his father and kinsfolk and he probably longed to find a different place to live knowing that this was the only way he could find greater happiness, peace, and rest (Abraham 1:1).
The record doesn't tell us how Abraham came to have a different belief system than his father but he must have been taking religious instruction from someone in Ur who taught a doctrine about God that had been handed down from Adam through the patriarchs because there came a time when he "sought for the blessings of the fathers and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same" (verse 2).
As he later explains, what he was seeking was to be ordained to the same priesthood that was held by Adam and all the patriarchs down to Noah. It's interesting to note that Abraham "sought" for this blessing. Apparently, it was not something he could simply ask for and receive. The word "sought" means to desire, to yearn, or long for. That implies that having this priesthood was something Abraham not only wanted to have but had to work at to achieve and it appears that to do this he needed to be a follower of righteousness.
Yet, even though he sought to obtain this priesthood, Abraham mentions having "the right" to be ordained to this priesthood. The word "right" as used in this sense means "lawful, legal, legitimate, permissible, entitled to, or due." This means that Abraham had a legal right to have this priesthood conferred upon him yet despite this right he still had to seek after it. It seems reasonable to conclude that even though he had a right to the priesthood there were requirements he first had to meet in order to receive it.
As a further point of clarification, Abraham wrote, "I sought mine appointment unto the Priesthood according to the appointment of God unto the fathers concerning the seed" (verse 4).
There are a number of things we learn from this short statement. The first is that the priesthood Abraham sought to receive was something that was "appointed." This word means "to select or choose." In other words, Abraham had to be selected or chosen to receive the priesthood, no withstanding he had a right to it. The next thing we learn is that God was the one who had instituted the manner in which the appointment was made. And the third thing we learn is that God had given this "unto the fathers concerning the seed."
The word "seed" as used in the scriptures means "children." The obvious meaning of this statement is that the way God had designed for someone to be appointed or chosen to receive the priesthood was for it to be passed down from a father to his "seed," or, in other words, to his children. For this reason the priesthood of God has often been referred to as the patriarchal priesthood.
Once he did receive this priesthood Abraham said that he would then be able "to administer the same." At the time Abraham wrote this account of his life, the Egyptian priests also held the exclusive right to perform certain ordinances connected to their religious beliefs. Therefore, it seems clear that the priesthood Abraham sought would allow him to perform certain ordinances as well although he doesn't explain what they are. It is certain, however, that they were very different from the kinds of ordinances the Egyptian priests were authorized to perform.
But there seems to be another reason why Abraham wanted to obtain the priesthood of God than just to perform certain ordinances. According to his record, Abraham wanted to possess greater knowledge and to become a father of many nations and a prince of peace. In addition to that, he also wanted to receive more instruction (verse 2) and it seems that in order to have all these additional blessings he needed to be ordained a High Priest according to the priesthood that belonged to his fathers.
When Abraham talks about being conferred with the same priesthood as "his fathers" he explains he is referring to that priesthood which came down from the ancient patriarchs and which originated or existed even before the world was created. He also explains that this priesthood has been passed down from father to son beginning with Adam until the time when it was conferred upon him (verse 3).
He further explains that it is the right of the eldest son to hold this priesthood (verse 3). Since Abraham was the first born son of his father, Terah, that means he had the right to have this priesthood conferred upon him according to the manner which God had appointed. However, since it doesn't appear that Abraham's father was worthy of having this priesthood himself, then Abraham would have had to go to someone else in his lineage who held the priesthood of God and have them confer it upon him. But clearly such a person would have to have been a man of righteousness himself as one who kept the commandments of God.
Abraham writes that his father, Terah, had turned away from the ways of righteousness and no longer kept the holy commandments which God had given, which seems to indicate that at one time Terah may have believe in the God of his fathers. At what point in his life Terah began worshipping the Egyptian gods we are not told but we do know that when Abraham tried to talk to his father about following the true God, Tehah utterly refused to listen because his heart had become completely turned to serving the gods of Egypt. (verse 5).
Abraham considered the Egyptian religion to be evil because it called for offering men, women, and children as sacrifices to the Egyptian gods (verses 6,7). They called the sacrifice of children "the thank-offering" (verse 10). Since Terah was a devoted disciple of this faith, he believed in the performance of this ritual and when Abraham would not stop trying to talk his father out of this kind of worship, Terah had his son Abraham turned over to the priest of Elkenah to be offered up as a sacrifice (verse 7).
The altar upon which they put the sacrificial human was located outside the city near a hill they called Potiphar's Hill which was "at the head of the plain of (called) Olishem" (verse10). This particular altar had been erected by the Egyptians in the land of Chaldea (verse 8) and was made in the shape of a bed like that used by the Chaldeans and was placed in front of the statues of the five gods mentioned earlier (verse 13).
On the very altar that Abraham was to be offered, the priests of Pharaoh had earlier placed three virgins and slew them at one time as an offering to the gods. The reason these three women had been chosen for this ritual was because of their virtue and because they would not bow down and worship the statues which had been made of wood or stone (verse 11).
Abraham was placed on this very altar where he too was to be sacrificed according to the "the manner of the Egyptians" (verse 11). To make sure that the person being sacrificed wasn't able to flee, they were bound or tied to the altar. As the priest raised his knife in preparation for making the sacrificial insertion, Abraham cried aloud unto God for help.
Suddenly, Abraham had vision, not only of God, the Almighty, but he also saw an angel standing beside him who "immediately unloosed my bands" (verse 15). Of course, since he was no longer bound to the altar Abraham now had the ability to move out of the way of the dagger being held above his chest.
However, at that very moment of being freed Abraham also heard the voice of God saying to him, "Abraham, Abraham, behold, my name is Jehovah, and I have heard thee, and have come down to deliver thee, and to take thee away from thy father's house, and from all thy kinsfolk, into a strange land which thou knowest not of" (verse 16).
Since the Egyptians worshipped many gods, and to make sure Abraham knew which God it was that was delivering him from death, the Being in the vision identified Himself by name - Jehovah. He furthermore informed Abraham that the reason why his life was being preserved was because God intended not only to take him away from living in his father's house but away from all of his relatives and lead him to a land where he had never been to before.
Jehovah also told Abraham that He would "destroy him (the priest) who had lifted up his hand against thee, Abraham, my son, to take away thy life" (verse 18).
What is of particular notice in this statement is that God calls Abraham "my son." In the New Testament we often hear believers in Christ being referred to as the children of God but we don't find God using that phrase in the Old Testament when speaking of His relationship with man. But here we see that, after having received the priesthood of God, Abraham is now considered by God to be one of His children.
That raises another interesting thought. If Abraham is a son of God that means God is His father, and if the priesthood that was conferred upon Abraham is the priesthood of God, the Father, which was appointed to him "according to the appointment of God," being passed down from father to son, then this gives additional meaning to the term "patriarchal priesthood."
The Lord then continued talking to Abraham saying, "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" (verse 16). In other words, God wouldn't merely provide a way for Abraham to escape death and to get away from his father and kinsfolk but that He would lead him to the place where He wanted Abraham to go.
Abraham had no idea where this place was and so he had to place his faith and trust in God to lead him but this time there would be no cloudy pillar by day or fiery pillar by night to guide him as would happen with Moses or a Liahona that guided Lehi and his family. Instead, Abraham would leave Haran on foot, taking with him his wife, family, and possession without knowing where he was going or in which direction he should travel. The only thing he had to guide him was his trust in God that He would somehow lead him to the right place.
But within that statement we also read the words of the Lord when He said, "I will take thee, to put upon thee my name, even the Priesthood of thy father, and my power shall be over thee." What this tells us is that when a person takes upon him "the Priesthood of the fathers" they are also taking upon themselves not only the name of God but also His power. Therefore, by holding the priesthood they are not only representing God as His ambassador but they also have the power of God at their disposal.
Then God told Abraham one more thing. He said, "As it was with Noah so shall it be with thee; but through thy ministry my name shall be known in the earth forever, for I am thy God."
The word "ministry" comes from the root verb "to minister" which means "to attend to or care for the needs of others." For example, the duty of a nurse or doctor is to minister to or attend to the needs of the sick. In the same way, the ministry of a bishop is to care for the needs of those within his ward. The ministry of a missionary is to minister to the needs of unbaptized people so they can hear and be given the chance to accept the gospel.
As used in this verse it seems clear that Abraham's ministry was to preach the gospel to others and bring them to a knowledge of the true God. This is what Noah did prior to the time of the flood and this also seems to have been the ministry of Melchizedek who was not only the king of Salem at the time of Abraham but was 'a priest of the most high God" (Genesis 14:18).
Alma tells us that Melchizedek ruled over a wicked people yet, "having exercised mighty faith and received the office of the High priesthood according to the holy order of God, did preach repentance unto his people. And behold they did repent; and Melchizedek did establish peach in the land in his days; therefore he was called the prince of peace, for he was the king of Salem; and he did reign under his father" (Alma 13:17,18).
It is interesting to note the last part of Alma's statements which says that Melchizedek "reigned under his father." This seems to indicate that the priesthood Melchizedek held was patriarchal in nature, being confirmed to him by the fathers just as was the priesthood of Abraham.
Prior to this statement by God Abraham may have already been attempting to do missionary work with his own father and possibly with some of his kinsman before being turned over to the priest of Elkenah. But what God now told Abraham is that through his ministry God's name will "be known in the earth forever." That promise was not given to Moses or Melchizedek.
All of this raises the question concerning the priesthood of the Egyptian priests. Where did their priesthood come from and how did it differ from that which Abraham held?
Abraham gives us the answer by explaining that Ham, who was one sons of Noah, was married to a woman named Egyptus which, in the Chaldean language "signifies that which is forbidden" (verse 23). Exactly why she was "forbidden" Abraham doesn't explicitly explain but he does say that his children were of Canaanite blood which "preserved the curse in the land" (verse 24). As we shall soon see this curse pertained to being prevented from having the right to hold the priesthood of the fathers. Entomologists tells us that the Canaanites were a dark skinned people. In other words, they were black. Whether that is the reason why Ham's wife was "forbidden" the scriptures don't say.
Ham and his wife had two children that we know of, one of which was a son named Canaan (Genesis 9:18). However, Canaan was cursed by Noah for an indiscretion that his father Ham committed (Genesis 9:20-27). Ham also had a daughter whose name, like her mother, was Egyptus (Abraham 1:23,25). This daughter eventually gave birth to several sons and the name she gave to her first born son was Pharaoh (verse 25).
It was Pharaoh who first established the kingdom of Egypt. He was a righteous man and ruled wisely all the days of his life however, he was "cursed… as pertaining to the priesthood" (verse 26). This meant that, even though he was the eldest son who could trace his lineage back through the patriarchs and therefore should have the right to receive the priesthood of the fathers, he was not entitled to have it conferred upon him. Although he had received "the blessings of the earth, and…the blessings of wisdom" from his "father" Noah, he was cursed "as pertaining to the Priesthood" (verse 26) because he was "of that lineage by which he could not have the right of Priesthood" (verse 27).
Since he could not hold the patriarchal priesthood of the fathers, yet being a ruler, he therefore sought "to imitate that order established by the fathers in the first generations, in the days of the first patriarchal reign, even in the reign of Adam, and also of Noah, his father" (verse 26). The way he did this was by fashioning his government "after the manner of the government of Ham, which was patriarchal" (verse 25). In other words, Pharaoh set up his own patriarchal priesthood government.
Although he was denied the right of being ordained to the priesthood of God, Pharaoh nonetheless pretended to hold it through his father Ham and through his grandfather, Noah (verse 27). Over time, he ordained others to become priests, imitating the order of the fathers but eventually this priesthood degenerated into idolatry, even down to the time of Terah.
The reason why Abraham knew all of this is because he was in possession of "the records of the fathers, even the patriarchs, concerning the right of the priesthood". And it was because of the "records of the fathers" that he also had "a knowledge of the beginning of creation and also of the planets, and of the stars, as they were made known unto the fathers." This perhaps may have been "the greater knowledge" he said he desired to possess (verse 2).
Abraham thought this knowledge was of such great importance that he made a copy for his own records in his own handwriting as well as adding his own entry of events that occurred during his lifetime and he preserved this record "for the benefit of my posterity that shall come after me" (verse 31).
We are grateful to Abraham for making this record for his posterity because it has also benefited us today. But, then again, are not also the posterity of Abraham?
Return to main menu