JMS Sunday School Lesson #10

You’ll notice that, as usual, the best questions are plagiarized right out of Jim F.’s lesson materials.

Genesis 24: Best Supporting Actor

–Background: Abraham has covenanted with his servant (who, triangulating from Genesis 15:2, is most likely named Eliezer) to go his homeland and find a wife for Isaac. But he didn’t tell him how to do it.

–Read Genesis 24:10-14.

–The issue of asking God to ratify plans that we come up with is a little tricky (we wouldn’t want to say, for example, “If you don’t want me to smoke this cigarette, then move that mountain.â€?). At the same time, this is clearly the right thing for Eliezer to do.

–Do you have any personal experiences with figuring out whether you are supposed to present a plan for something to God—or wait for God to present one to you? How do you negotiate these situations?

–Read Eliezer’s prayer of gratitude in Genesis 24:26-27.

–Note that later on, Eliezer will repeat his agreement with Abraham to Rebekah’s family almost verbatim. There are, however, a few significant differences: he has omitted the covenant language and he mentions Abraham’s wealth. What does this teach you about Eliezer?

–We don’t usually focus on Eliezer in this story:

The Church [needs] more people who will just do what they have agreed to do, people who will show up for work and stay all day, who will quietly, patiently, and consistently do what they have agreed to do—for as long as it takes, and who will not stop until they have finished. One of my heroes has always been the servant of Abraham who was sent to find a wife for Isaac. . . . We do not know much about his life, but we know a great deal about his character. It was he who governed everything that Abraham had. He was trustworthy and he was trusted. The day came when Abraham put into the care of this servant the most important matter of all—the exaltation of his son. He wanted Isaac to be an heir of the covenant which he had made with the Lord. He knew that the blessings of that covenant could not be realized if Isaac didn’t marry a good and worthy woman who believed in God. . . The kinsfolk wanted a 10-day celebration. The servant replied, “Hinder me not, seeing the Lord hath prospered my way; send me away that I may go to my masterâ€? (Gen. 24:56). Many would have tarried. Others would have justified unwinding a little by saying that the journey had been long or that they were tired or hungry or thirsty. Some, not wanting to appear too zealous, would have stayed. A few, not understanding the significance of the errand, might have tried to talk Abraham out of the assignment, claiming that it was foolishness to travel so far in search of a wife. Some would not have had the faith necessary to discover which of all of the young women of the city was the chosen one. Yet this servant did. He knew how to magnify his calling and accomplish that which he had promised his master. He understood a very important truth. Promises are not just pretty words. Promises have eternal consequences. We are a covenant people. If there is a distinguishing feature about members of the Church, it is that we make covenants. We need to be known as a covenant-keeping people as well. Making promises is easy, but to follow through and do what we have promised is another matter. That involves staying the course, being constant and steadfast. It means keeping the faith and being faithful to the end despite success or failure, doubt or discouragement. It is drawing near to the Lord with all our hearts. It is doing whatever we promise to do with all our might—even when we might not feel like it.â€? –F. Burton Howard, First Q of 70 “Commitment,â€? Ensign, May 1996, 27.

–I really like this because one of the marks of Eliezer as a hero is his quiet commitment—he isn’t the one we focus on in this story, and that is part of his charm. He fades into the background, but he’s the one that got the job done.

Genesis 25: Personal Revelation

–Read Genesis 25:21-23.

–This is a wonderful little story about a person with a real concern who takes it to the Lord and receives an answer to prayer.

–If we were to consider this story as a template, for receiving personal revelation, what would you conclude?

–From Elder McConkie:

Now note it well. She did not say, “Isaac, will you inquire of the Lord. You are the patriarch; you are the head of the house,� which he was. She went to inquire of the Lord, and she gained the answer.

–Do you think that Rebekah understood what this poem meant until later? If so, how would she have? If not, why was she given this answer when she asked?

–Since the Lord could control birth order, why do you suppose he arranged things in this way, a way contrary to what would be expected? Why do you suppose the younger brother so often is the leader in both scripture and Church history?

Genesis 27: A Stolen Blessing?

–Summarize the story.

–Even the Institute manual concedes that this story “is a troubling one in many respects.� I want to use it as an example of how we should think about troubling stories.

–Theories on what’s going on here:

(1) Something is missing from the record but if we had it, all would make sense.
–This may very well be true and there might be no sense in beating ourselves over the head trying to make sense out of this story.
–On the other hand, it is possible the ‘it’s a corrupt text’ theory is a copout when we don’t want to wrestle with a story.

(2) This is another Cain–she just did something wrong.
–This is how many Christians view this story.
–On the other hand, why would God honor the blessing if that were the case.

(3) She may have been inspired to do this unusual thing, perhaps on the basis of 25:23.
–This might be a Nephi and Laban type situation.
–On the other hand, are we really comfortable with the idea that someone would be told to trick their priesthood leader?

(4) Isaac is a weak link and she needed to work around him.
–Evidence for Isaac as a ‘weak link’:
(a) Why on earth is he giving this blessing to his second son, anyway?
(b) Note that unlike Abraham and Jacob, his name isn’t changed; does this mean he didn’t enter into the covenant?

(5) We know that Rebecah received revelation but we don’t know that Isaac does.
–On the other hand: Why is Isaac in this role if he isn’t up to par?

(6) It is a woman’s role to be sure that if her husband is not presiding in righteousness, that she acts. Note that in the Garden, while Eve is supposed to hearken to Adam, it is only when he is hearkening to the Lord. Hugh Nibley explained that this implies that Eve has a judging relationship over Adam’s actions.

(7) Rebekah was simply fulfilling her obligation to maintain the covenant line. Elder McConkie:

It is an eternal principle—the man and the woman are not alone: neither is the man without the woman, nor the woman without the man in the Lord. Women are appointed, Rebekah-like, to be guides and lights in righteousness in the family unit, and to engineer and arrange so that things are done in the way that will result in the salvation of more of our Father’s children.

–On the other hand, it would have been far more appropriate for Rebekah to counsel with Isaac than to try to trick him!

(8) Perhaps Rebekah was shortsighted and the Lord had another plan for making his prophecy come to pass.
–This may possibly be similar to Eve (who thought there was no other way) and Sarah (who thought that the covenant couldn’t be fulfilled without Hagar) . . .
–. . .but there are many other ways to read Eve and Sarah’s stories. Even if Rebekah was acting on the revelation that the older would serve the younger, was she right to try to make that happen by her own hand?

(9) Can a prophet be deceived? Issue of inerrancy. He can if God lets him. Why would God let him?

(10) The ends justifies the means. Isaac unfairly favored Esau and Rebekah corrected that.

(11) The irony of the cycle is that Jacob did not know he had been foreordained to prevail. He schemed to get what God had already granted him at birth.

(12) Rebekah was carefully selected to be Isaac’s wife. Was it for this event?

(13) Some readers do not think that Isaac was really fooled. (He asks many questions that suggest that he had his doubts.) So then, why are Rebekah and Isaac playacting? I have no idea.

(14) Interesting that later, Jacob wants to favor the younger daughter (Rachel) over the older (Leah) but that doesn’t quite work out . . . Are these stories related?


–Point: I cannot solve this for anyone else. But I want to present this laundry list as a way of suggesting that the best thing that we can do with the scriptures is to think about them and try, prayerfully, to understand them. Let me tell you what I do take from this story:

(a) Gratitude for the Book of Mormon and modern revelation and living prophets, who clarify the things that are necessary for our salvation.
(b) We don’t always know; sometimes we need to live with ambiguity. This is OK. Cf. Mosiah 4:9 .

–A big picture: Why is Isaac so passive (sacrifice, marriage, blessing)? He is not the main character in his own story.

14 comments for “JMS Sunday School Lesson #10

  1. “The Church [needs] more people who will just do what they have agreed to do, people who will show up for work and stay all day, who will quietly, patiently, and consistently do what they have agreed to do—for as long as it takes, and who will not stop until they have finished.”

    Here, here. Enough of the Chapel or Internet Mormons, Iron Rod or Great’n’Spacious Mormons, Utah or Mission Field Mormons. We need more Hufflepuff Mormons.

  2. i read “godwrestling” in sunstone. it had its possibilities.

    i have thought of a few other things. this is the story of a patriarch who, at least in one aspect of life, did not follow the Spirit, but allowed his personal feelings to interfere with the work of God. why did he want to give the blessings to his first son? he was his firstborn; he was a hunter–the wrong reasons. who was more faithful? who hearkened to the better things? his second son. have any of us allowed our personal point of view, opinions, preferences to interfere with God’s work?

    also, perhaps jacob was “losing” it. perhaps as he was losing it, he was also getting gruff, more stubborn, his mind was overcome, etc.

    after he is tricked, he acknowledges that it was done as God would that it had been done. it’s not he was tricked, and God was tricked. the priesthood can bless, and curse. if it can bless, it can bless the other even more, if correct. but, no. the blessings are from God, and the Spirit.

    isaac’s wife, on the other hand, already knew God’s will, and wouldn’t let it be overcome by the natural man. (and i’m sure that has NEVER happened to any of us, right?) oh, the ways of women… anyway, along with this story of lying/ deceiving comes something like this: “thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother”. he did.

  3. grego, thanks for the recommendation of the Godwrestling article, very interesting. Can you elaborate on your view regarding Jacob honoring his father and his mother, even though he deceived his father? Is your view that, since Isaac wasn’t following the Spirit, Jacob didn’t owe any allegiance to him?

    Jim F. gives offers an opposing view: “[Jacob] was also supposed to be obedient to his father, and in that culture the obligation wasn’t symmetrical: he owed his father obedience more than his mother. “

  4. Re: the stolen blessing. “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

  5. Sorry this is late, but we won’t have lesson 10 until this Sunday. My question is what is the difference between Esau’s birthright that was sold to Jacob and the blessing Isaac gave to Jacob? I thought the two were the same but in this story apparently not.

  6. I would suggest that the idea that there was deception or trickery is incomplete or inaccurate. There is no doubt that Issac and Rebecka knew that Jacob was to receive the birthright. He had already gained the birthright inheritance (temporal) and he was to receive the birthright blessing (spiritual). I would propose that the “trickery” was to convince Jacob that the birthright was his. He needed to take charge and start his leadership especially considering the trials that he would have to encounter with his immediate posterity. To suggest that the profit of the day was unfit or that there was trickery is somewhat blasphemous, especially considering that on 2 more occasions Isaac confirms the blessing and acknowledges the Lord’s will.

  7. Julie: Do you think that Rebekah understood what this poem meant until later?

    You are assuming that this poem is the specific wording the Lord used and not an artistic rendition created much later for our consumption. I’m not convinced we can count on any parts of this story as being particularly historically accurate (at least not in the sense we Americans like to think history ought to be.)

  8. Gomez, There are two birthrights. The birthright blessing and the birthright inheritance. Esau sold Jacob the birthright inheritance.

    Birthright Inheritance:

    • The firstborn son had the first right to receive the birthright inheritance.
    • It dealt with physical property, such as flocks and herds.
    • Unless the father determined otherwise, at his death the physical property was to be divided into balanced portions equal to the number of sons, plus one.
    • The eldest son received the double portion. With this he assumed responsibility for his mother and unmarried sisters.
    • He usually served as the social-political leader of the family.
    • After the time of Moses, the birthright inheritance automatically went to the eldest son, regardless of whether or not his mother was the first or favored wife.

    Birthright Blessing:
    • This was a spiritual blessing.
    • It included the keys of the priesthood and the authority to preside as the religious leader of the family or clan.
    • It did not automatically belong to the oldest son, but fell to the most righteous. Examples: Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Ephraim, Nephi.

  9. “You are assuming that this poem is the specific wording the Lord used and not an artistic rendition created much later for our consumption.”

    No, never occured to me to assume that.

  10. Geoff J: Why isn’t it enough for us to ask about the meaning of the text we have? Even knowing about the textual problems of the OT, about possible later scribal changes and additions, etc., we have a text before us that tells us a story. We have accepted that text as canonical. What’s wrong with asking about the meaning of that canonical text without too much concern for the scholarly questions (especially in Sunday School)?

  11. Julie – Good point. I should have said, “you are assuming Rebekah actually heard that poem and it wasn’t written long after the actual events”.

    Jim F. – Also a good point. Looking at the text as we have it does seem to be the wisest approach for a Sunday School class. But here in this setting I think that the real questions I currently have about the lens through which we should see the book of Genesis can be brought up. That lens makes all the difference in the questions we ask (as Julie’s question illustrates).

  12. Our teacher today made a connection between the conversation between Jacob and Esau about the birthright and the blessing…that through the conversation, knowledge was gained that Esau didn’t care about receiving the birthright. Who knows….

  13. Geoff J: I don’t think there is any “lens through which we should see the book of Genesis” (my italics). The lens we shouild use will depend on why we are reading, won’t it?

  14. Julie,

    I miss your lesson postings. I’ve been parked for awhile at the piano in primary. Though certainly not lacking in entertainment value, this position requires self motivation in the study department and I found your creativity, humor and insight perfect for stimulating the sometimes neglected adult portion of my brain. Thanks.

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