In the spirit of my wanting more posts that comment on specific scriptural passages, I am providing this commentary on Abraham 2:16. I wrote the following as a brief paper for a Pearl of Great Price course that I took as an undergraduate at BYU:
After He rescued Abraham from the murderous priest of Elkenah, Jehovah led Abraham and his family to the land of Haran (Abr. 2:3-4). While there, they avoided the sore famine of their native Ur, prospered economically, and “won” many souls unto the Lord (vv. 5, 15). Haran was not Abraham’s final destination, however; while there, Jehovah promised to send him to “a strange land,” the land of Canaan, where he and his future posterity, if obedient to God, would dwell forever (v. 6). Abraham’s journey from Haran to Canaan must have had special significance, considering the way Abraham writes about it: “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” (v. 16).
Why did Abraham speak of his journey in this way?
The answer is not overtly clear from the text, but perhaps a hint can be gleaned from the curious textual placement of verse 16—Abraham begins the verse with the transition “therefore,” but what this connection refers to is not clear. A plausible connection can be made, though, with an earlier phrase, “we . . . dwelt in tents as we came on our way” (v. 15). Perhaps Abraham is juxtaposing his company’s temporary dwellings—thinly layered and ill-secured—with the eternal protection and covering he speaks of in verse 16. This juxtaposition draws attention to the concept of a temporary, dangerous journey apart from the ordinary securities of life, in which the traveler must rely upon the Savior—eternity—for protection and sustenance. What is more, Abraham’s journey is analogous to the entire mortal journey between pre-mortal paradise and exaltation—though man is separate from God and fraught with peril and uncertainty, his salvation is the eternal covering and protection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This analogy is especially profound when considering Abraham’s poetic use of the words eternity, covering, and rock. The first term, eternity, appears to have a double meaning, referring both to a never-ending star-filled canopy and to an endless and eternal Savior. It is likely that Abraham’s company, to avoid the blistering sun, made their desert treks in the moon- and starlit night. During one of these nights, the Lord appeared to Abraham and “put his hand upon [his] eyes,” allowing him to see the worlds “which his hands had made”—so many that Abraham “could not see the end thereof” (Abr. 3:12). This never-ending sky, illuminated more grandly than through any modern instrumentation, could aptly be referred to by Abraham as “eternity.” One can imagine Abraham, after receiving this manifestation, trekking across the desert with his eyes fixed toward the stars, marveling as he gazes into eternity.
In addition to referring to the star-filled sky, “eternity” refers to the Savior. In fact, the vision of the stars was a preparatory vision, given in part to help Abraham understand the eternal nature of each “intelligence,” Christ being the greatest. These intelligences, or spirits, are like the stars in that some are greater—“more intelligent”—than others (v. 18), one being “more intelligent than they all” (v. 19). This one is Jesus Christ, who, in the vision of the stars, was typified by the star Kolob—“the great one” (v. 3), “nearest unto the throne of God” (v. 2), “set to govern all those planets which belong to the same order as [Earth]” (v. 9). Analogously, the Savior stands in the midst of the intelligences as one who is “like unto God” (v. 24), whose “wisdom excelleth them all, for [He] rules in the heavens above, and in the earth beneath, in all wisdom and prudence” (v. 21). Therefore, in spite of the transience and uncertainty epitomized by Abraham’s desert trek, he and his company could gaze at the stars and rest assured that eternity was their covering, rock, and salvation.
With the phrase “eternity was our covering,” Abraham contrasts the thin and temporal coverings of man (e.g., tents) with the vast and eternal draping of God. To reach the Promised Land, Abraham and his company had to leave the comfort of secure and fixed dwellings, to journey across the desert with portable tents. This rendered them more vulnerable to heat exhaustion, desert storms, and vicious raiding, all of which threatened for their journey to be in vain. Likewise, the journey towards exaltation requires God’s children to temporarily leave their heavenly home to traverse a mortal clime that renders them vulnerable to sin, threatening their goal of exaltation.
However, just as the canopy of the eternal sky covers the imperfect tents of Abraham’s party, so does the atoning blood of Jesus Christ eternally cover the sins of God’s imperfect children! (Ps. 85:2). Because of the Atonement, when a person is baptized and receives the Holy Ghost, the “old man” of sin is covered by burial (Rom. 6:3-6)— it is “hid with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3) and remembered no more (D&C 58:42). Thus, although man treks the mortal journey imperfectly, he can rest assured that he, through the Savior’s blood, is perfect in Christ (Mor. 10:32-33). Thus, in the midst of his imperfection, it is requisite for man to “walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4)—to be covered, or clothed, even as Christ is. He is to “put on the new man,” to put on “bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering” (Col. 3:12). Above all things, he is to put on charity, “which is the bond of perfectness” (v. 14), for “charity shall cover the multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8). This covering is possible because of the Atonement of Christ, in spite of the naked man beneath the clothing.
Abraham’s theme of eternal shelter in the midst of temporal trials is also portrayed by the phrase, “eternity was our . . . rock.” This term contrasts Earth’s temporal uncertainties with the fixed order of the endless, night sky. Abraham’s journey was undoubtedly fraught with uncertainty—not knowing what is ahead, where he will sleep the next night, or how he will obtain food and water. Similarly, mortal man progresses without a perfect knowledge of what lies ahead, “whether the wrath of the storm-tossed sea, or demons or men or whatever it be” (hymn 105).
In the midst of mortal uncertainties, however, man can safely place his confidence upon the Savior—“the Rock of Heaven, which is broad as eternity” (Moses 7:53). The scriptures abound with references of the Savior as the Rock, in juxtaposition with the tempests and uncertainties of mortal life. He is the “chief corner stone” of a sure foundation (Eph. 2:20), lest man be “tossed to and fro . . . with every wind of doctrine” (4:14). In the midst of confronting “snares of death” and “the floods of ungodly men,” (Ps. 18:4-5), Jesus Christ is man’s rock, fortress, and deliverer (v. 2)—his “strong habitation, whereunto [he] may continually resort” (71:3). And though “fair virgins and young men faint for thirst” (Amos 8:13), they may drink of the “spiritual Rock” of Christ (1 Cor. 10:4).
As I trek the mortal clime, I rejoice with Abraham that Jesus Christ—broad as eternity—is “our covering and our rock and our salvation.” Though “my heart groaneth because of my sins . . . I know in whom I have trusted” (2 Ne. 4:19) to cover them with his atoning blood—thus, in the midst of my imperfections, “my soul will rejoice in . . . the rock of my salvation” (v. 30). And in the midst of several in-between aspects of my life—familial, residential, financial, intellectual, and spiritual—“I know not where His islands lift / Their fronded palms in air; / I only know I cannot drift / Beyond His love and care” (Whittier, “The Eternal Goodness”).
Filed under: Scripture | Tagged: Abraham, Atonement, Canaan, Eternity, Gospel of Jesus Christ, Haran, intelligences, Jehovah, Jershon, Jesus Christ, John Greenleaf Whittier, Kolob, Pearl of Great Price, Rock of Heaven, salvation, Scripture, stars |