Previous: Abraham 1  |      Book Home      |   Next: Abraham 3

Abraham Chapter 2 The Life of Abraham

Scripture Mastery

Abraham 2 Abraham in Haran, Canaan, and Egypt

Chapter 2 contains more details of Abraham's life after he leaves Ur of the Chaldees, bound initially for Haran and then for Canaan. God promised Abraham and his posterity the latter land-Canaan (verses 1-5, 14-20). Chapter 2 also contains Abraham's plan to go on to Egypt because of the continuing famine (verses 21-25). We also find here a detailed description of the covenant God made with Abraham, including important elements of this covenant that are not found in Genesis (verses 6-13). See especially the commentary for verse 6.

Though the book of Abraham contains many additional details not found in the biblical account of Abraham's, the close similarity of language of some of the verses contained in both the book of Abraham and Genesis (compare Abraham 2 with Genesis 12, and the Creation accounts in Genesis 1-2 with that in Abraham 4-5) seems to indicate that Moses may have used the book of Abraham as one of his sources in the writing of Genesis.

1 Now the Lord God caused the famine to wax sore in the land of Ur, insomuch that Haran, my brother, died; but Terah, my father, yet lived in the land of Ur, of the Chaldees.

verse 1 "insomuch that Haran, my brother, died" The biblical account tells of Haran's death (see Genesis 11:28) but does not indicate it came by famine.

2 And it came to pass that I, Abraham, took Sarai to wife, and Nahor, my brother, took Milcah to wife, who was the daughter of Haran.

verse 2 "I, Abraham, took Sarai to wife" As Abraham was known as "Abram" until God changed his name to "Abraham" in token of the covenant he made with him, so Sarai's name was changed at the same time to "Sarah" for the same reason (Genesis 17:15). Sarai (Hebrew saray) and Sarah (Hebrew sarah) seem to be variants of the word meaning "princess," the -ah being the standard Hebrew feminine ending, and -ay being an older feminine ending (Francis Brown et. al., eds., A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978], 979).

Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote: "The Lord never sends apostles and prophets and righteous men to minister to his people without placing women of like spiritual stature at their sides. Adam stands as the great high priest, under Christ, to rule as a natural patriarch over all men of all ages, but he cannot rule alone; Eve, his wife, rules at his side, having like caliber and attainments to his own. Abraham is tested as few men have been when the Lord commands him to offer Isaac upon the altar (Genesis 22:1-19); and Sarah struggles with like problems when the Lord directs that she withhold from the Egyptians her status as Abraham's wife. And so it goes, in all dispensations and at all times when there are holy men there are also holy women. Neither stands alone before the Lord. The exaltation of the one is dependent upon that of the other" (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:302).

"who was the daughter of Haran" Earlier editions of the Pearl of Great Price had "who were the daughters of Haran," implying that Sarai too was the daughter of Haran. However, the earliest manuscripts of the book of Abraham, which date to the Kirtland period, when Joseph Smith was doing this translation, all read "who was the daughter of Haran," limiting the reference only to Milcah. In the latest edition (1981), this reading is restored. This agrees with the biblical account (see Genesis 11:29).

3 Now the Lord had said unto me: Abraham, get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee.

verse 3 "Abraham, get thee out of thy country" President John Taylor had this verse in mind when he penned the following charming note: "I fancy I see some of his neighbors coming to him, and saying: 'Abraham, where are you going?' 'Oh,' says he, 'I do not know.' 'You don't know?' 'No.' 'Well, who told you to go?' 'The Lord.' 'And you do not know where you are going?' 'Oh, no,' says he, 'I am going to a land that he will show me, and that he has promised to give me and my seed after me for an inheritance; and I believe in God, and therefore I am starting.' There was something very peculiar about it, almost as bad as us when we started to come off from Nauvoo . . . hardly knowing whither we went, just as Abraham did, and I do not think we were any bigger fools than he, for he went just about as we did, not knowing whither he went" (JD, 14:359).

4 Therefore I left the land of Ur, of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and I took Lot, my brother's son, and his wife, and Sarai my wife; and also my father followed after me, unto the land which we denominated Haran.

verse 4 "the land of Canaan" Ancient Canaan is approximately equivalent to present-day Palestine. The Canaanites spoke a language closely related to Hebrew and were Semitic.

"Lot, my brother's son" Two of Abraham's brothers have been mentioned, the late Haran and Nahor, the husband of Milcah. Lot's father was Haran.

"my father followed after me" This notation differs from the biblical account that maintains Terah took Abraham with him to Haran (Genesis 11:31). Abraham's father Terah went along meekly, having been humbled by the famine. He was also temporarily repentant of his idolatrous religious practices, but he will revert to his apostate practices as soon as conditions improve. When Abraham eventually leaves Haran to go to Canaan, Terah will remain behind in Haran.

"unto the land which we denominated Haran" To "denominated" means to designate or name. This is not the same name as that of the brother of Abraham. In Hebrew the name of Abraham's brother Haran means, perhaps, "mountaineer," whereas the name of the land Haran means "way, road; journey; caravan" (Francis Brown et. al., eds., A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978], 248; also Black, Jeremy, Andrew George, and Nicholas Postgate, ed. A Concise Dictionary of Akkadian, 2nd ed. [Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2000], 108).

5 And the famine abated; and my father tarried in Haran and dwelt there, as there were many flocks in Haran; and my father turned again unto his idolatry, therefore he continued in Haran.

verse 5 While Abraham, Lot, and Terah were in Haran the famine abated. With the return of prosperity, Terah went back to his idolatry. Not wishing to continue with Abraham to the promised land of Canaan, he remained in Haran and subsequently died at the age of 205 years. See the supplemental article, Abrahamic Lore that Supports the Book of Abraham.

Bible dictionaries say that Nahor, who did not accompany Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees, afterward went to Haran to live, no doubt to be with his father and any other relatives who may have gathered there.

6 But I, Abraham, and Lot, my brother's son, prayed unto the Lord, and the Lord appeared unto me, and said unto me: Arise, and take Lot with thee; for I have purposed to take thee away out of Haran, and to make of thee a minister to bear my name in a strange land which I will give unto thy seed after thee for an everlasting possession, when they hearken to my voice.

verse 6 "to make of thee a minister to bear my name" The Lord explains that his purposes in leading Abraham out of his homeland to Canaan are not only to preserve his life but also to call Abraham to be a prophet and to teach and warn the inhabitants of that land. As in Abraham 1:18, to bear God's name is to bear the priesthood.

"a strange land" A strange land is a foreign land.

"which I will give unto thy seed after thee for an everlasting possession" At the time of the calling of Abraham to leave Haran and become the Lord's prophet, the Lord entered into a covenant with him and his posterity. This covenant promise was renewed with Isaac, and again with Jacob. Prior to his death father Jacob called his twelve sons to him, blessed them, and defined the future of their posterity, adding little to that which had before been promised, until he laid his hands upon the head of Joseph and not only conferred upon him the blessing and heritage of his fathers, but also declared that his heritage prevailed above that of his progenitors, unto the utmost bounds of the Everlasting Hills, to a land choice above all other lands, a land rich in the blessings of the earth, of the heavens above, and the sea beneath. Upon Ephraim, the younger of the two sons born to Joseph during his sojourn in Egypt, he sealed the heirship to the blessings and promises conferred upon his father.

Let us review these covenants. These covenants, as a group, are often referred to as the Abrahamic covenant as it was first made between father Abraham and the Lord. The reader has been referred to throughout this set of commentaries to the verse commentary for 1 Nephi 14:8 for a review of the Abrahamic covenant. For the convenience of the reader, this commentary is repeated here.

The Abrahamic covenant may be said to consist of five main provisions-five main promises of the Lord to those of Abraham's seed who "hearken to my voice"-to those who obey the Lord's commands. Abraham received from the Lord the gospel, baptism, the higher priesthood, and the ordinance of celestial marriage. He agreed to abide by the gospel law and honor his priesthood, or, as the Lord told Abraham elsewhere, "Walk before me, and be thou perfect" (Genesis 17:1). The Lord in turn made eternally binding promises to Abraham. They include:

1. Abraham would be blessed to become the "father of many nations" (Genesis 17:19), and his posterity would be exceedingly numerous-even "as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is upon the seashore" (Genesis 17:2; Genesis 22:17-18; Abraham 2:9). Abraham's seed would grow and continue forever.

2. Abraham and his posterity were blessed with certain lands as an eternal inheritance (Abraham 2:6; cf. Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:15; Genesis 15:9-14). Initially this included the land of Canaan (Genesis 17:8) extending from the Nile River to the Euphrates (Genesis 15:18).

3. Abraham and his descendants would be blessed to have a right to the priesthood and enjoy its blessings (Abraham 1:18; Abraham 2:11).

4. Abraham's posterity would prove to be a blessing to all families of the earth (Genesis 12:3; Abraham 2:9-11). They would do this by bearing the priesthood and by having the right and responsibility to preach the gospel to all the world.

5. Thus will every individual and every family have the opportunity, through the posterity of Abraham, to enjoy the blessings of the gospel, which eventually include the "blessings of salvation, even of life eternal"-the blessing of salvation and exaltation (Abraham 2:9-11).

These covenants were renewed with Isaac (Genesis 26:1-4; Genesis 26:24) and again with Jacob (Genesis 28; 35:9-13; 48:3-4). The restoration of the fulness of the gospel through the prophet Joseph Smith is in fact the restoration of the Abrahamic covenant. Through this restoration God has renewed for the Latter-day Saints all he promised to the former-day Saints, including his covenants and his gospel, a "mighty nation among the Gentiles." And in this dispensation of the fulness of times the Father will "make bare his arm in the eyes of the nations"-he will demonstrate his power to gather his children throughout the earth.

Today, individuals in the Lord's earthly kingdom actually enter into the Abrahamic covenant with the Lord at the time of their sealing in the temple. This is the new and everlasting covenant of eternal marriage, and each person who enters into this covenant makes the same promises to the Lord as Abraham did, and the Lord makes the same promises to him or her as he made to Abraham (D&C 132:31).

This verse particularly describes the Lord's promise of land (cf. Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:15; Genesis 15:9-14).

Milton R. Hunter taught: "It should be observed at this point that on April 3, 1836, a heavenly messenger bestowed upon modern Israel through Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery the same blessings, covenants, and promises which had been made approximately 4,000 years ago to Father Abraham. The revelation states that: 'Elias appeared and committed the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham, saying, that in us and our seed, all generations after us should be blessed'" (Pearl of Great Price Commentary, 201-02).

Let us review the descent of the higher priesthood from Abraham to Moses. Moses received it from Jethro, a priest of the house of Midian. The Midianites were descendants of Abraham, through the children of Keturah, wife of Abraham, therefore the Midianites, who were neighbors to the Israelites in Palestine, were related to the Israelites, and were Hebrews. As descendants of Abraham they were entitled through their faithfulness to his blessings (see Abraham 2:9-11), and in the days of Moses and preceding them, in Midian the Priesthood was found.

Elder John A. Widtsoe wrote: "The promise that in him all nations should be blessed, brought Abraham's work beyond that of flesh and blood relationships. It made of him a universal figure in the Lord's plan of salvation for all who were sent upon the earth. It would seem that the acceptance of the knowledge of the gospel, and the possession of the priesthood which Abraham bore would make all mankind heirs to the blessings promised Abraham" (Evidences and Reconciliations, 3:27).

Elder Widtsoe added: "This covenant with Abraham was also a call to leadership. Therefore, it has been interpreted to mean that Abraham and his descendants were chosen to conserve in purity and to advance on earth the eternal plan for human salvation" (Gospel Interpretations, 95).

7 For I am the Lord thy God; I dwell in heaven; the earth is my footstool; I stretch my hand over the sea, and it obeys my voice; I cause the wind and the fire to be my chariot; I say to the mountains-Depart hence-and behold, they are taken away by a whirlwind, in an instant, suddenly.

verse 7 This verse illustrates the magnificent power of God-indeed, his omnipotence. See a discussion of the power of God in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 14, The Power of God.

8 My name is Jehovah, and I know the end from the beginning; therefore my hand shall be over thee.

verse 8 "My name is Jehovah" See the commentary on Abraham 1:16.

"I know the end from the beginning" The Lord is able to foresee the future-not because he is actually able to see future events as they happen-rather, he is able accurately predict the future because he knows intimately and perfectly all of the intelligences of the earth (human, animal, plant, and "inanimate") and he can therefore predict what they will do in the future. His foreseeing of events does not, however, mean that they are absolutely predestined to happen. His foreseeing denies no intelligence its agency.

9 And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee above measure, and make thy name great among all nations, and thou shalt be a blessing unto thy seed after thee, that in their hands they shall bear this ministry and Priesthood unto all nations;

verse 9 "I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee above measure, and make thy name great among all nations" Here is a mention of three of the other provisions of the Abrahamic covenant including the Lord's promise of posterity (cf. Genesis 12:2; Genesis 18:18) (this promise is made even in more clear in Abraham 3:14). Also mentioned here are the promises that the posterity of Abraham will both receive the priesthood and bless the entire family of man by carrying the priesthood and gospel to them.

10 And I will bless them through thy name; for as many as receive this Gospel shall be called after thy name, and shall be accounted thy seed, and shall rise up and bless thee, as their father;

verses 10 This verse expands upon the provision of the Abrahamic covenant that the seed of Abraham will bear the gospel message of salvation to the world. See also the following verse.

"as many as receive this Gospel shall be called after thy name" As indicated by Paul (see Galatians 3:7-9), all who accept the gospel are adopted into the family of Abraham and are heirs to all that was promised him.

President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote: "'For as many as receive this Gospel shall be called after thy name, and shall be accounted thy seed.' Every person who embraces the gospel becomes of the house of Israel. In other words, they become members of the chosen lineage, or Abraham's children through Isaac and Jacob unto whom the promises were made. The great majority of those who become members of the Church are literal descendants of Abraham through Ephraim, son of Joseph. Those who are not literal descendants of Abraham and Israel must become such, and when they are baptized and confirmed they are grafted into the tree and are entitled to all the rights and privileges as heirs" (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:246).

Orson F. Whitney gave important insight: "What was the purpose of Abraham's call? Why was he taken out of his own country and from his father's house and promised that he should become a great nation? It was because Mesopotamia was steeped in idolatry, and the time had arrived for the founding of a pure lineage through which the Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior, would come into the world. Abraham was required to separate himself from his idolatrous surroundings, that he might establish such a lineage. The strict laws given to Israel, Abraham's descendants, had as their object the preservation in purity of the lineage of our Lord" (Elder's Journal, 17 June 1924, as quoted in Mark E. Petersen, Abraham, Friend of God, 58. See also John Taylor, in JD, 24:125 and Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 3:246, 249-50).

11 And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee; and in thee (that is, in thy Priesthood) and in thy seed (that is, thy Priesthood), for I give unto thee a promise that this right shall continue in thee, and in thy seed after thee (that is to say, the literal seed, or the seed of the body) shall all the families of the earth be blessed, even with the blessings of the Gospel, which are the blessings of salvation, even of life eternal.

verse 11 "for I give unto thee a promise that this right shall continue in thee, and in thy seed after thee" God promises Abraham that he and his posterity will have a right to the priesthood, and that through this priesthood they will make the blessings of the gospel, salvation, and exaltation, available to everyone on earth. Implicit in this is vicarious work for the dead, since most of the inhabitants of the earth have died without the opportunity. Note that this element of the Abrahamic covenant is not mentioned in the Bible. The cursing occurs when people reject the gospel and its power to save them.

"in thy seed . . . shall all the families of the earth be blessed, even with the blessings of the Gospel, which are the blessings of salvation, even of life eternal" In this verse are described two additional provisions of the Abrahamic covenant-the Lord's promise of the right to the priesthood and the Lord's promise that the seed of Abraham will bear the gospel message of salvation to the world.

So Abraham had the priesthood and the gospel of salvation. The prophet Joseph gave valuable insight: "We would like to be informed in what name the Gospel was then preached, whether it was in the name of Christ or some other name [see Galatians 1:8]. If in any other name, was it the Gospel? And if it was the Gospel, and that preached in the name of Christ, had it any ordinances? If not, was it the Gospel? And if it had ordinances, what were they? Our friends may say, perhaps, that there were never any ordinances except those of offering sacrifices before the coming of Christ, and that it could not be possible for the Gospel to have been administered while the law of sacrifices of blood was in force. But we will recollect that Abraham offered sacrifice, and notwithstanding this, had the Gospel preached to him. That the offering of sacrifice was only to point the mind forward to Christ we infer from these remarkable words of Jesus to the Jews [John 8:56: 'Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad']" (HC, 2:17).

12 Now, after the Lord had withdrawn from speaking to me, and withdrawn his face from me, I said in my heart: Thy servant has sought thee earnestly; now I have found thee;

13 Thou didst send thine angel to deliver me from the gods of Elkenah, and I will do well to hearken unto thy voice, therefore let thy servant rise up and depart in peace.

14 So I, Abraham, departed as the Lord had said unto me, and Lot with me; and I, Abraham, was sixty and two years old when I departed out of Haran.

verse 14 "I, Abraham, was sixty and two years old when I departed out of Haran" Elder Bruce R. McConkie commented, "From the Book of Abraham we learn that Abraham was sixty-two and not seventy-five years of age when he left Haran (see Genesis 12:4), showing at least that much of an error in the Old Testament account" (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 2:71).

15 And I took Sarai, whom I took to wife when I was in Ur, in Chaldea, and Lot, my brother's son, and all our substance that we had gathered, and the souls that we had won in Haran, and came forth in the way to the land of Canaan, and dwelt in tents as we came on our way;

verse 15 "the souls that we had won in Haran" Presumably this phrase refers to the converts to the gospel that Abraham had made. That there were a significant number of converts is indirectly implied by the events described in Genesis 14, wherein Abraham musters a force of 318 men from his own party to rescue his nephew Lot from a raiding party of four kings who had taken him captive (see Genesis 14:14).

16 Therefore, eternity was our covering and our rock and our salvation, as we journeyed from Haran by the way of Jershon, to come to the land of Canaan.

verse 16 "eternity was our covering and our rock and our salvation" Abraham clearly points out that his family's literal and spiritual exodus from Haran to Canaan was fraught with larger meaning. Abraham seems to be confessing that he and his people were "strangers and pilgrims on the earth." They were abjectly dependent upon the Lord-trusting that the Lord would take care of their worldly needs. Eternity here is an abstract title for Jehovah. With one eye directed heavenward and the other focused on the physical realities of their pilgrimage, Abraham and his group made their way simultaneously to Canaan and an eternal land of promise. Paul supports this interpretation in his letter to the Hebrews, where he writes that these saints "confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth" (Hebrews 11:13), seeking for a "better country" than Canaan, "that is, an heavenly [country]" (Hebrews 11:16).

"we journeyed from Haran by the way of Jershon" Jershon is obviously a land located along the route Abraham traveled from Haran to Shechem (see verse 18). This place is not mentioned in the Genesis account of Abraham's travels or elsewhere in the Bible. Neither is there a modern-day location which obviously corresponds to the land Jershon.

There is a Book of Mormon land called Jershon, which the Nephites gave to the Anti-Nephi-Lehites "for an inheritance" (Alma 27:22). The name may be derived from the Hebrew verb yaras which means "to inherit."

17 Now I, Abraham, built an altar in the land of Jershon, and made an offering unto the Lord, and prayed that the famine might be turned away from my father's house, that they might not perish.

verse 17 "prayed that the famine might be turned away from my father's house" Abraham's prayer was answered. This is important because, years later, both his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob obtained wives from the descendants of Abraham's father, Terah. Rebekah, Isaac's wife, was the granddaughter of Nahor, Abraham's brother (see verse 2), and Leah and Rachel, the wives of Jacob, were the daughters of Laban, who was Rebekah's brother (see Genesis 28:2).

18 And then we passed from Jershon through the land unto the place of Sechem; it was situated in the plains of Moreh, and we had already come into the borders of the land of the Canaanites, and I offered sacrifice there in the plains of Moreh, and called on the Lord devoutly, because we had already come into the land of this idolatrous nation.

verse 18 "unto the place of Sechem" The ancient city of Shechem lies near present-day Nablus.

"plains of Moreh" In the parallel biblical account (Genesis 12:6), the King James translation reads "the plain of Moreh." The Hebrew word translated as "plain" is 'elon, which is regularly translated as "oak" (Francis Brown et. al., eds., A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978], 18). However, there is question as to whether the Hebrew 'elon might have another plausible translation, another meaning. In an apocryphal Aramaic version of Genesis called the Onkelos Targum of Genesis, this phrase is translated mesre moreh, "plains of Morey" (Aberbach, Moses, and Bernard Grossfeld, Targum Onkelos to Genesis, [Denver: Ktav Publishing House, 1982], 79). The book of Abraham reading shows that the reading "plain" rather than "oak" is preferable for the biblical text. "Moreh" may be the Hebrew moreh, "teacher," or it may be a proper name.

"we had . . . come into the land of this idolatrous nation" Like the Chaldeans, the Canaanites practiced human sacrifice, and Abraham was justifiably concerned as he entered into their territory (Adams, William James Jr. "Human Sacrifice and the Book of Abraham," BYU Studies 9, no. 4, summer 1969; Day, John, Molech A God of Human Sacrifice in the Old Testament [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989]).

19 And the Lord appeared unto me in answer to my prayers, and said unto me: Unto thy seed will I give this land.

20 And I, Abraham, arose from the place of the altar which I had built unto the Lord, and removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched my tent there, Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east; and there I built another altar unto the Lord, and called again upon the name of the Lord.

verse 20 "Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east" Bethel (Hebrew bet' el, "house of God") was a town about ten miles north of Jerusalem. Here the Lord also appeared to Jacob, making the same covenants with him that he had made with Abraham. A sanctuary of the Lord was located there during the days of Samuel the prophet (see 1 Samuel 7:16; 1 Samuel 10:3). Hai (Hebrew ha-'ay) was another town less than a mile southeast of Bethel.

21 And I, Abraham, journeyed, going on still towards the south; and there was a continuation of a famine in the land; and I, Abraham, concluded to go down into Egypt, to sojourn there, for the famine became very grievous.

verse 21 "I, Abraham, concluded to go down into Egypt" Because the famine continued in the land of Canaan, Abraham traveled on to Egypt. Unlike most of the rest of the Near East, Egypt was not dependent on rainfall because the Nile provided a constant source of water for irrigation. Whenever famine was brought on by drought, many of the peoples of Palestine would go to Egypt for food. One ancient Egyptian papyrus from the reign of the Egyptian pharaoh Merneptah describes how a group of Bedouins from Palestine were allowed to enter the delta region of Egypt "in order to keep them alive and to keep alive their flocks by the goodness of Pharaoh" (Gardiner, Alan H., Egypt of the Pharaohs: An Introduction [London: Oxford University Press, 1961], 196).

22 And it came to pass when I was come near to enter into Egypt, the Lord said unto me: Behold, Sarai, thy wife, is a very fair woman to look upon;

23 Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see her, they will say - She is his wife; and they will kill you, but they will save her alive; therefore see that ye do on this wise:

24 Let her say unto the Egyptians, she is thy sister, and thy soul shall live.

verse 24 "Let her say unto the Egyptians, she is thy sister" Some people are bothered by the deception practiced by Abraham in preserving his life by claiming Sarah to be his sister. Also some have been concerned that the episode suggests that the Lord is commanding Abraham to tell a lie. Hence, this episode has led to much speculation. For example some have wondered whether Sarah might have been Abraham's literal blood sister. Others have suggested that perhaps a double entendre was intended by the Lord when he asked Sarah to claim that she was Abraham's sister. Perhaps it was hoped that the Egyptians would take his meaning in the strictly literal sense of a blood relative, while actually intending the terms "brother' and "sister" as affectionate synonyms for husband and wife. Still others have commented on the judicial status of wife-sistership, whereby a woman, in addition to becoming a man's wife, was adopted by him as sister and thereby merited higher social status and greater privileges than an ordinary wife (Ephraim A. Speiser, "The Wife-Sister Motif in the Patriarchal Narratives," in Alexander H. Altmann, ed., Biblical and Other Studies, 123-41).

It would seem, however, that all of these explanations are of second significance. Of primary importance is obedience to God's commands. Joseph Smith wrote:

That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be and often is, right under another. God said thou shalt not kill,-at another time he said thou shalt utterly destroy. This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted-by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire (Dean Jessee, ed., The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, 256).

The Lord used this method to introduce Abraham into the high courts of Egypt while protecting Sarai's virtue.

In the parallel biblical account (Genesis 12:11-13), there is no hint that it was God who told Abraham to ask Sarah to say this. This account makes it clear that Abraham acted at God's suggestion. Moreover, as the Bible indicates, Sarah was in fact Abraham's half-sister, a daughter of Terah but from another wife (Genesis 20:12).

The Genesis Apocryphon, an apocryphal book, found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, describes how Abram had a dream of a cedar tree and a beautiful date palm. Some men come to chop down the cedar, but the date palm pleads with them to spare the cedar. The idea is that Abraham was warned of the danger by God in a dream. Abram then awakens and tells the dream to Sarai, explaining that the dream means the Egyptians will try to kill him. But if she will tell them that Abram is her brother, his life will be preserved (1QapGen 19:14-21). This similarity is particularly notable as the Dead Sea Scrolls were not discovered until the 1940s.

25 And it came to pass that I, Abraham, told Sarai, my wife, all that the Lord had said unto me-Therefore say unto them, I pray thee, thou art my sister, that it may be well with me for thy sake, and my soul shall live because of thee.

The book of Abraham as we now have it does not include a narrative of the events in Egypt and the remainder of Abraham's life. Presumably, if we had the full text of the book of Abraham, it would include this.

Previous: Abraham 1  |      Book Home      |   Next: Abraham 3