WeeK Eight: February 6 Genesis 18–23
When the Lord calls me to do something difficult, the thought crosses my mind, “There is no way that I can do that!” But I move forward, struggling ahead with the Lord by my side. With His help, my heart fills with His hope that His works will be accomplished through me, a weak and simple vessel.
In Genesis 18, Abraham had visitors from the Lord bearing a message of hope and a message of destruction. When the three men arrived, Abraham recognized them as messengers of God; he “bowed himself toward the ground”[i] and asked them to stay with him. He wanted to wash their feet, bring them food and have them rest and talk with him and Sarah for a while. Abraham hastened and ran to make the best food possible for his guests. “And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat.”[ii]
The first lesson I learn from Abraham in these verses is the importance of recognizing servants of the Lord and of giving them honor and service because they represent the Lord. Every General Conference, the General Authorities virtually come into my home. Do I hasten to make everything ready to listen to their words just as Abraham did? The next Genesis chapter illustrates a very different example. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah did not recognize who these men were (except for Lot). They did the opposite of honoring and welcoming them into their homes. The contrast of these two examples is stark; I ask myself: “Where am I on the continuum between these two extremes?”
Elder Paul V. Johnson challenged us: “Decide now to make general conference a priority in your life. Decide to listen carefully and follow the teachings that are given. Listen to or read the talks more than once to better understand and follow the counsel. By doing these things, the gates of hell will not prevail against you, the powers of darkness will be dispersed from before you, and the heavens will shake for your good.”[iii]
The second lesson that I have learned from Abraham and Sarah is to believe the words of the Lord, even when they seem impossible. After eating, the messengers told Abraham happy, but seemingly impossible news. “Sarah, thy wife shall have a son.”[iv] Sarah was behind the tent door and could not be seen, but she could hear what they were saying. Sarah and Abraham were old, and Sarah was well beyond the age for having children. When she heard the statement, she “laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?”[v] She probably found this as a joke, being 99 years old at the time. After decades of wanting and waiting for a child, I can understand how Sarah might have felt. Every month, she would be disappointed and now that her monthly friend was gone, the Lord prophesied that she would have a baby.
The Lord heard her laughter and her incredulity that this prophecy would happen. Sarah denied laughing because she was afraid. The Lord’s reminder to Sarah’s unbelief was: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”[vi] Then, the Lord reaffirmed that He would return, and Sarah would have a son.
Elder Russell M. Nelson told us: “I feel impressed to counsel those engaged in personal challenges to do right. In particular, my heart reaches out to those who feel discouraged by the magnitude of their struggle. Many shoulder heavy burdens of righteous responsibility which, on occasion, seem so difficult to bear. I have heard those challenges termed impossible….”
“We are children of the noble birthright, who must carry on in spite of our foredetermined status to be broadly outnumbered and widely opposed. Challenges lie ahead for the Church and for each member divinely charged toward self-improvement and service.”
“How is it possible to achieve the “impossible”? Learn and obey the teachings of God. From the holy scriptures, heaven-sent lift will be found for heaven-sent duties.”[vii] Russell M. Nelson, GC April 1988, With God Nothing Shall be Impossible.
We can understand how Sarah might have felt being called out by the Lord for her laughing and her unbelief after decades and decades of wanting a child. We too may be afraid when the Lord chides us for our unbelief. For example, we have the task to spread the gospel throughout the world, yet we might feel discouraged like Sarah, with the years of trying to bring the gospel to the world. But we can hold on to these words of Pres. Hinckley: “Jesus is our leader, our strength, and our king, This is an age of pessimism. Ours is a mission of faith…. I call upon you to reaffirm your faith, to move this work forward across the world. You can make it stronger by the manner in which you live.” We can have faith and believe, rather than be fearful because of mistakes and doubts.
Abraham’s visitors were about to leave. In the Joseph Smith translation, these men are described as “angels which were holy men, and were sent forth after the order of God” (JST v. 22). They had priesthood power and were about to use their priesthood power in judgement. The Lord decided to tell Abraham the purpose of the holy men’s visit to Sodom and Gomorrah, which was to destroy the wickedness of the city. Abraham asked the question of the Lord: “Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked if there be fifty righteous within the city?” The Lord answered: “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.”[viii] Then Abraham asks if there were 45, 40, 30, 20, and finally 10 righteous people found there will the Lord destroy the city. And the Lord said, “I will not destroy it for ten’s sake.”[ix]
As the righteous, we can be assured that we will be protected, even when there is wickedness all around us. The wicked are protected by the righteous in their midst.
Elder Mark E. Petersen said: “Our great Redeemer calls us to be loyal as we take up the torch of our destiny. Let us never disappoint Him. Though evil abounds in the world and violence grows by the day, He will watch over us if we are true. He has pledged to protect the righteous even if He must send down fire from heaven to do so. If we will stand by Him, He will stand by us!”[x]
I learn from Abraham and Sarah that I can have faith in the Lord that He can do anything He asks me to do and my faith and righteous protects me from the evil of the world around me.
[i] Genesis 18:2
[ii] Genesis 18:8
[iii] Paul V. Johnson, The Blessings of General Conference, GC Oct. 2005.
[iv] Genesis 18:10
[v] Genesis 18:12
[vi] Genesis 18:14
[vii] Russell M. Nelson, With God Nothing Shall be Impossible, GC April 1988.
[viii] Genesis 18:26
[ix] Genesis 18:32
[x] Mark E. Peterson, Even as I am, GC April 1982.