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Abraham lived in a world much like ours: a world that was thick in iniquity. He learned this fact early in his life when he nearly became a victim of the barbaric practice of parents offering their children as sacrifices to heathen gods.
Confessing that he was a stranger and a pilgrim on the earth, Abraham desired to find “a better country; that is, an heavenly.” To obtain that “country,” with its attendant covenants, ordinances, priesthood and promises, Abraham set off on a journey that would consume the better part of his life and take him from Ur to Haran to Canaan to Egypt and back to Canaan.
When Abram (later, the Lord changed his name to Abraham) finally returned to Canaan, he was a wealthy man, who oversaw a large household. His nephew, Lot, was likewise wealthy. Their combined abundance made living proximate to each other difficult, because “the land was not able to bear them.” Abram proposed that they divide the land, and he gave Lot the first choice.
It is important to note that Abram and Lot were good men, who had made covenants with God. However, the distance between making a covenant and keeping one is light years. How many couples say yes at the altar but fail to say yes every day thereafter?
Lot’s commitment to his covenants became evident by the choice he made. “And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where.” The plain of Jordan was also the land of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Abram was content to settle in the rocky wilderness of Canaan, where the city of Salem (later Jeru-Salem) was located. Melchizedek was the king of Salem, the same city that “wrought righteousness and obtained heaven, and sought for the city of Enoch.” Melchizedek had taken a people who had “waxed strong in iniquity and abomination” and “exercised mighty faith” to the extent that the people repented and were taken into heaven without tasting death, just like Enoch’s people.
Melchizedek possessed that which Abram had been searching for. Fertile grassland and a life of ease had never been the objects of Abram’s journey. Melchizedek, the “great high priest,” had the power to open the door to the heavenly “country.” He was the only man on the earth who possessed the priesthood keys of presidency. Moreover, he was the “keeper of the storehouse of God,” and was able to receive Abram’s tithes and offerings and ordain him to the priesthood. We assume that Melchizedek also administered to Abram and Sarah the ordinances and covenants of the temple, including eternal marriage.
Thus, Abram became a high priest “after the order of the Son of God,” and as a consequence, he fulfilled his desires to receive “greater happiness and peace and rest,” “the blessings of the fathers,” and the “right…to administer the same” ordinances and covenants to other worthy people. Having been ordained to the priesthood and having received the attendant covenants and ordinances and entered into the patriarchal order of the priesthood through eternal marriage, he now could receive “great knowledge,” become a “greater follower of righteousness,” a “father of many nations” (meaning endless posterity), and “a prince of peace.” He could more readily “receive instructions from the Lord,” and receive and keep the greater commandments that are associated with the high priesthood.”
None of these things was possible without receiving the priesthood and its blessings. And none of these things was possible by living in the vicinity of Sodom.
Significantly, when Abram paid his tithing to Melchizedek and was ordained to the priesthood under Melchizedek’s hands, Melchizedek “lifted up his voice and blessed Abram.” Joseph Smith received a revelation about that incident and about Melchizedek and the priesthood he held.
Now Melchizedek was a man of faith, who wrought righteousness; and when a child he feared God, and stopped the mouths of lions, and quenched the violence of fire.
And thus, having been approved of God, he was ordained an high priest after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch,
It being after the order of the Son of God; which order came, not by man, nor the will of man; neither by father nor mother; neither by beginning of days nor end of years; but of God;
And it was delivered unto men by the calling of his own voice, according to his own will, unto as many as believed on his name.
For God having sworn unto Enoch and unto his seed with an oath by himself; that every one being ordained after this order and calling should have power, by faith, to break mountains, to divide the seas, to dry up waters, to turn them out of their course;
To put at defiance the armies of nations, to divide the earth, to break every band, to stand in the presence of God; to do all things according to his will, according to his command, subdue principalities and powers; and this by the will of the Son of God which was from before the foundation of the world.
And men having this faith, coming up unto this order of God, were translated and taken up into heaven.
And now, Melchizedek was a priest of this order; therefore he obtained peace in Salem, and was called the Prince of peace.
And his people wrought righteousness, and obtained heaven, and sought for the city of Enoch which God had before taken, separating it from the earth, having reserved it unto the latter days, or the end of the world;
And hath said, and sworn with an oath, that the heavens and the earth should come together; and the sons of God should be tried so as by fire.
And this Melchizedek, having thus established righteousness, was called the king of heaven by his people, or, in other words, the King of peace.
And he lifted up his voice, and he blessed Abram, being the high priest, and the keeper of the storehouse of God;
Him whom God had appointed to receive tithes for the poor.
Wherefore, Abram paid unto him tithes of all that he had, of all the riches which he possessed, which God had given him more than that which he had need.
And it came to pass, that God blessed Abram, and gave unto him riches, and honor, and lands for an everlasting possession; according to the covenant which he had made, and according to the blessing wherewith Melchizedek had blessed him.
Abram’s meeting with Melchizedek coincided with another event that tested Abram’s resolve to keep his covenants. We read that a confederation of kings attacked the cities in the Jordan valley where Lot and his family lived.
“And they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their victuals, and went their way.
And they took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son, who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed.”
In an effort to rescue his relatives, Abram armed his servants, pursued the invading kings and conquered them. “And he brought back all the goods, and also brought again his brother Lot, and his goods, and the women also, and the people.”
What happened next cannot be coincidence. Upon Abram’s return, two kings were there to meet him: the king of Sodom and Melchizedek, the king of Salem. In Hebrew, Melchizedek means “King of Righteousness.” Genesis 13:13 explains that “the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the LORD exceedingly.” Abram was standing before the king of wickedness and the king of righteousness.
The king of Sodom was quick with an offer. “And the king of Sodom said unto Abram, Give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself.” That is, “Return the people of Sodom to me and in return, I will give you all the goods that were stolen from Sodom.”
Abram answered the king of Sodom, “I have lift up mine hand unto the Lord, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth, and have sworn that I will not take of thee from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take any thing that is thine.”
Abram had made a covenant. He had lifted up his hand unto the Lord and made an oath of obedience. Nothing could dissuade him from his sacred promise; he would not retreat from his covenant for any price. Therefore, he faced the king of Sodom and refused to accept anything from him. Abram would not even take a thread or a shoelace from the king of wickedness.
Ted Gibbons points out that Abram’s refusal to accept even a thread hearkens to Nephi’s description of Satan’s binding his captives “with a flaxen cord.” Flax, explains Gibbons, is among the most fragile of natural fibers. Why would Lucifer lead us by the neck with something so fragile and easy to break? Perhaps it is because Satan knows that he can lull us into the belief that we are always in control and can break free at any moment. Meanwhile, we are unaware that Satan is adding more threads of flax. One thread becomes two threads and finally there are enough threads to form an unbreakable cord that can bind us forever.
Abram would not allow one thread in his life. Could we make the same claim?
- “Just one quick look at a suggestive photo won’t matter.”
- “A little fib is not the same as a lie.”
- “I’m just Facebooking with a woman about casual things. It’s all very innocent.”
- “Skipping a meeting at church once in awhile is no big deal. If the bishop would call people to give interesting talks, I would be more inclined to stay and listen.”
When Lot chose the fertile Jordan River valley, he “pitched his tent toward Sodom.” Like Abram, Lot had also made covenants, but the threads and shoelaces of Sodom were alluring. At first, he only pointed his tent toward them, but soon he was bound up and held captive by them. Perhaps in Lot’s mind, he had pitched his tent in a location that was safely within the boundaries of his covenants and outside the boundaries of sin. But, as night follows day, he abandoned his resolve, and before long, he had moved his family inside Sodom.
Try as you might, you cannot break free of Satan’s cords without divine intervention. Abram, who held the priesthood and who had kept his covenants, was the Lord’s messenger of salvation to Lot.
But the task was daunting. First, Abram had to negotiate with the Lord to spare the city if Abram could find just ten righteous people in Sodom. Why ten? That was the number of his relatives living in the city:
- Lot and his wife.
- Lot’s two sons.
- Lot’s two single daughters.
- Lot’s two married daughters and their husbands.
But neither the Lord nor Abram could convince every person in Lot’s family to leave Sodom. Only his wife and his unmarried daughters accompanied him. Even so, Lot’s wife could not resist the lure of Sodom and looked back. In fact, according to Luke 17:31-32, she went back. The Lord cursed her, and she became a pillar of salt in the area of the Dead Sea.
The tragedy was not over. A short time later, Lot’s daughters desired to have children, but imagined that all the eligible males had been destroyed. Their solution was to get their father drunk with wine and commit moral transgressions with him. Where had they learned such behavior? Clearly, the strings of Sodom continued to bind Lot and his family, and he was paying a terrible price for his choices.
He had lost seven of ten family members by pointing his tent toward Sodom, his wife deserted him and turned back to Sodom and was destroyed, and now, his two remaining daughters committed incest with him. Not one of Lot’s family could not break free from the strings of Sodom that had become strangling cords.
On the other hand, Abram refused even a string from Sodom and its king.
Rather, Abram staked his tent, “in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and built an altar unto the Lord.” Hebron was close to Salem and to Melchizedek. Ultimately, Abraham (now his name had been changed) gained everything by his choices. We read “the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things.” Finally, Abraham “entered into his exaltation and sitteth upon his throne.”
What a difference a choice makes.
The promises given to Abraham are likewise given to us with the stipulation: “Go ye, therefore, and do the works of Abraham; enter into my law and ye shall be saved.” Making covenants matters, but keeping covenants matters more. The story of Abraham and Lot are stark reminders that accepting just one string or shoelace from the king of wickedness can unravel covenants and bind us in unbreakable cords.
I acknowledge Ted Gibbons for his notes on this subject.
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 Hebrews 11: 13-16.
 Genesis 13:7.
 Genesis 13:10.
 JST Genesis 14:33-34.
 Alma 13:17-18.
 D&C 107:2.
 JST Genesis 14:37.
 JST Genesis 14:39; Alma 13:15.
 D&C 84:14.
 Alma 13:14.
 D&C 131:2.
 Abraham 1:2.
 JST Genesis 14″25.
 JST Genesis 14:26-40.
 Genesis 14:11,12.
 Genesis 14:16.
 Genesis 14:21.
 Genesis 14:21-23.
 2 Nephi 26:22.
 Genesis 13:12.
 Genesis 19:12-13.
 Genesis 19:26.
 Genesis 19:30-36.
 Genesis 13:18.
 Genesis 24:1.
 D&C 132:29.
 D&C 132:32.