This portion of the Witnessing Christ from the Old Testament study covers Genesis chapters 18-23.
For the remainder of the “Come Follow Me” Old Testament studies, readings will be only from the Bible. Therefore, other LDS scriptures will not be included in the weekly reading and study. This structure will make the rest of this year even more beneficial for witnessing Christ from the Old Testament.
LDS Study Focus
“Is Any Thing Too Hard for the Lord?”
Abraham’s life, filled with events both heartbreaking and heartwarming, is evidence of a truth Abraham learned in a vision—that we are on earth to be proven, “to see if [we] will do all things whatsoever the Lord [our] God shall command” (Abraham 3:25). Would Abraham himself prove faithful? Would he continue to have faith in God’s promise of a large posterity, even when he and Sarah were still childless in their old age? And once Isaac was born, would Abraham’s faith endure the unthinkable—a command to sacrifice the very son through whom God had promised to fulfill that covenant? Abraham did prove faithful. Abraham trusted God, and God trusted Abraham.
In Genesis 18–23, we find stories from the lives of Abraham and others that can prompt us to think about our own ability to believe God’s promises, to flee wickedness and never look back, and to trust God regardless of the sacrifice. (Come, Follow Me—For Individuals and Families: Old Testament 2022, Genesis 18-23)
As these chapters open, Abraham is 99 years old and Sarah 90. Even after God changed their names and the covenant of circumcision had been established, they still did not have a child.
The next few chapters tie together two significant events: Isaac’s birth and God’s command for Abraham to sacrifice his only son. The continued story of Abraham’s nephew Lot and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is also included.
These stories are the last ones in the Abraham narrative. We have seen a man called out of an idolatrous family, sent to a strange land, and given impossible promises. Abraham was often like a yo-yo going back and forth between great signs of faithfulness to God and massive moral failures. Now in these last stories, we meet a man that has been seasoned by God’s continual steadfast mercy and love. Abraham shows that he now believes that God is entirely trustworthy, even in the face of an impossible and seemingly paradoxical command to sacrifice his son.
Throughout the Abraham saga, we have been seeing what true faith is all about. True faith is not about the strength of the individual and his or her allegiance to the Divine. Rather true faith is about the object in which it is placed. The object of Abraham’s faith was the God who had revealed himself over and over again to be faithful.
The Three Visitors
At the start of Genesis 18, when God communicated with Abraham and Sarah, it was again unique. The LORD appeared to them in bodily form along with two angels to announce to Abraham, “This time next year Sarah, your wife, will have a son” (18:10). God showed himself to be personal and accessible as he renewed his promises in this compelling manner.
This manifestation of the Angel of the LORD, the pre-incarnate Christ, might be tempting to use as an opportunity to prove the triune nature of God. However, this line of witnessing is best to be avoided here. Many LDS members will have arguments against this being “the LORD.” Yes, even though it clearly says, “LORD,” throughout the chapter. LDS members are taught that these were men used as “messengers” for the LORD. The LORD merely spoke through them. There are plenty of other good conversations from these chapters of Genesis to focus on.
God waited for Sarah to age so that she was far from the childbearing years. Her womb was as good as dead (Romans 4:19). Therefore, there was no longer any hope for her to bear a child naturally. God’s promise now seemed ridiculous, and from a human perspective, Sarah’s laughter is perhaps understandable. However, laughing is out of place because God never breaks his promises.
- Why do you think God waited so long to keep his promise?
- Can you name any other miraculous births in the Bible? What was God teaching his people through these out-of-the-ordinary births?
- Can you think of a time when you laughed at God’s promises? What happened?
“The way that Sarah laughed at God’s birth announcement in Genesis 18 is relatable. I have my own opinions about how God should run the world and my life. I am impatient as I wait for God to act. I, too, laugh at God when things seem to be taking too long or don’t go my way.
I love that God didn’t abandon Sarah because of her doubt but reassured her. God won’t leave you or me either. Instead, he reassures us that all his promises are certain. Since he has never broken one of them yet, I can trust in him and him alone. He’s got this.”
You can learn more about how and when to talk with Mormons about the Trinity in our article Talking About the Trinity.
Abraham Pleads for Sodom
The following account moves to Abraham’s pleading with the LORD concerning the impending destruction of two nearby cities. The sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, where Abraham’s nephew Lot lived, had become so grievous that God planned to destroy them. God shared his plans with Abraham because of his close, chosen relationship.
Abraham knew that his nephew Lot would share in the fate of the wicked. He intervened with passionate and personal prayer, asking God to spare the “righteous” believers who dwelt there. The unique relational nature of God is again exhibited, along with how bold and honest we can be before him in every need and situation.
LDS commentaries on these chapters focus mainly on the sin of homosexuality and how God detests all sexual immorality. This LDS emphasis can be used as an opportunity to discuss how God not only despises sexual sins but all sins.
Sodom and Gomorrah Destroyed
God sent two angels to Sodom to rescue Lot and his family out of love for Abraham and Lot. As the angels explained why he should leave, Lot hesitated. The angels had to pull him out of the city, yet tragically, Lot’s wife rejected the rescue (and God) as she looked back. The city is where the desires of her heart remained.
Lot and His Daughters
God, in the Bible, never shies away from showing people at their very worst. Lot’s daughters hatch a terrible plan to sleep with their drunken father. Their hasty actions will have lasting repercussions for the family of Abraham for generations to come as they deal with the unbelieving tribes of Moab and Ammon born from this incestuous relationship.
- What does the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah teach about what sinners deserve?
- Abraham uses the two words “righteous” and “wicked” to describe the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. Considering what you know about Abraham’s faults, what do you think he means by righteous?
- Why do you think Lot was reluctant to leave? Can we compare ourselves to Lot as we struggle to leave sin behind?
- God rescues Lot by literally pulling him out of the way of danger. How is our rescue similar?
“Believers are sojourners on earth. We are not yet dwelling in our true home with God. In Genesis 19, I see myself in Lot as he hesitates to leave Sodom and, in his wife, as she looks back.
Sometimes I forget that I am not a true citizen of this temporary place, but I belong to a different kingdom and can place my full trust for life and eternity in a different kind of King. God sent his son Jesus to rescue me from my desires and the destruction all around me to take me to the promised land of heaven one day.”
For a deeper dive into Biblical prayer, please see A Humanitarian by Giving Us Prayer from the study of God—The Ultimate Humanitarian on BeYePerfect.org or chapter 17 of the book by the same name, available in our online store.
Abraham and Abimelech
In Genesis 12, Abraham told a half-truth to the Egyptian pharaoh, saying that Sarah was his sister. Abraham committed the same sin again in Gerar, with King Abimelech. In doing so, Abraham endangered Sarah and all of Gerar. God intervened and prevented Abimelech from consummating the marriage and bringing disgrace and destruction upon himself and his community.
LDS theology emphasizes that genuinely repentant individuals will not repeat the same sin twice. This same-sin-again account can be used to help Mormons reconsider what repentance is all about. Since LDS members are taught that Abraham is an example to follow, they may attempt to explain away Abraham’s sin by saying this was a culturally acceptable and excusable action for him to take.
- What do we learn about the character of Abraham from this story?
- What do we learn about the character of God from this story?
“Like Abraham, in Genesis 20, who lied again about his wife Sarah to protect himself, I often fall back into and repeat the same sins. I fail to trust God regularly and then regularly fall back into the same sins. If receiving the forgiveness of sins depended on me never committing the same sin again, I would be helpless and hopeless. So, I love how God intervened to rescue Sarah and to preserve his promise despite the repeated sin of doubt.”
See the following articles to learn more about repentance:
- Dictionary of Mormonese: Repentance
- Witnessing Scenario: 3 Nephi 11 and Repentance
- BeYePerfect.org Article: What is Repentance? (Sharable article for LDS Friends)
The Birth of Isaac
After years of waiting, the birth of Isaac seems almost anticlimactic. Yet perhaps because it was inevitable in God’s plan all along, the account is so briefly told. Sarah, who had laughed at God’s announcement of a son to be soon born, now laughs with joy and names her child, Isaac, “one who laughs.”
Hagar and Ishmael
As the saga between Hagar and Sarah continues, we witness more consequences of past sinful decisions. By taking the fulfillment of the promise into his own hands, Abraham brought into the world a son, Ishmael, for whom he would not be allowed to provide. Abraham had failed Hagar, but God did not. Instead, he provided for both Hagar and Ishmael. Now that Ishmael is gone, Abraham truly only has one son—the son that God promised all along—Isaac. This “only son” is significant in the following chapter.
Chapter 22 is arguably one of the most critical chapters in the entire book of Genesis. Embedded in the text is a foreshadowing of the passion of Christ. Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection are prefigured in the actions of Abraham, Isaac, and the ram. The text is rich with passion parallels. The place of sacrifice, Mount Moriah, is where the temple was eventually built. Thousands of animals that pointed forward to the ultimate sacrifice of God’s Son, Jesus, died upon its altars.
This test was not a pass/fail kind of test for Abraham. If so, God would have had to renege on his promises if Abraham did not perform. Instead, the experience of the test itself changed, molded, and formed Abraham’s faith so that he had a deeper understanding of who God was and of his plan for salvation. But this only came after years of God patiently proving his faithfulness to Abraham.
Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on the mountain I will show you.Genesis 22:2
God’s command to Abraham was shocking and seemingly full of contradictions. However, God had seasoned and developed his faith by this point in Abraham’s life. Although he did not know that this was a test, nor did he know he would not have to go through with killing Isaac, Abraham did know a lot about God’s character. He had already learned that God could overcome the impossible and that his promises would never be revoked. Because he had faith, Abraham responded by obeying God and trusting that God would resolve the contractions. Hebrews 11:19 tells us, “Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead.”
- How do the trials we face today affect our trust in the LORD?
- What parallels to the death and resurrection of Christ did you notice?
- Why do you think Abraham concluded that God could raise the dead?
The Angel of the LORD called out from heaven.Genesis 22:11-12
It is noteworthy that the Angel of the LORD is the one who stopped Abraham. Although some commentators disagree, many believe that anytime the “Angel of the LORD” is mentioned in the Old Testament, it is the name for the pre-incarnate Christ, Jesus. (It is undoubtedly an appearance of God himself.) It would be significant if Jesus were the one to stop the sacrifice because he would one day be the sacrifice in place of Isaac!
Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram.Genesis 22:13
Not only did the Angel of the LORD stop Abraham, but he provided a substitutionary sacrifice.
LDS commentaries and resources also make the Abraham/God and Christ/Isaac connections, so many LDS members will have already studied and thought about these connections. Build upon them.
Help your LDS friends see that the big focus of this section is not “follow the example of Abraham,” but instead “God provides a substitute.”
- Why did God provide a ram for Abraham and Isaac?
- How does this prefigure Christ?
- Why is it significant that God declared Abraham righteous back in Genesis 15:6?
Try to get your LDS friends to think about the fact that Abraham’s actions here are not what made him righteous before God, but that because he had been declared righteous before God, he now acted in this way. Genesis 22 came after Genesis 15:6.
“When I think of God testing anyone, I immediately get uncomfortable. Who likes taking tests? The account of the sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22 causes me to pause and consider why God would allow Abraham to suffer and agonize in the way he did. My initial feelings come from a misunderstanding of God’s purpose for testing Abraham and me. When I understand that God allows testing to draw me closer in trust of him, my whole perspective changes.”
You can learn more about the proper relationship between faith and works and why Abraham did what he did in our witnessing scenario: Faith and Works: James 2:14-26.
We want to hear from you:
What questions and comments for witnessing do you have about Genesis 18-23 or the topic of faith? We would love to hear from you. Please email us or share in the comments section below.
Are you formerly LDS? We would love to read your insights into how you would have understood these chapters and what you have come to appreciate or see differently about them now. Please email us or share in the comments section below.