By Eric Johnson
This is one in a series of reviews of the weekly lessons found in the Come, Follow Me for Individuals and Families published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To link to all of the 2022 teachings, click here. Bold face type in this article comes from the Church’s curriculum. (Note: Not every sentence written in the curriculum is being reviewed.)
February 28-March 6 (Genesis 28-33)
On his way to Haran to find a wife, Jacob dreamed of a ladder stretching from the earth to heaven, with God standing above it. In the dream, God renewed with Jacob the same covenants He had made with Abraham and Isaac (see Genesis 28:10–17; see also Genesis 12:2–3; 26:1–4). President Marion G. Romney shared this thought about what the ladder could represent: “Jacob realized that the covenants he made with the Lord there were the rungs on the ladder that he himself would have to climb in order to obtain the promised blessings—blessings that would entitle him to enter heaven and associate with the Lord. … Temples are to us all what Bethel was to Jacob” (“Temples—The Gates to Heaven,” Ensign, Mar. 1971, 16).
Jacob’s dream of the ladder at Bethel is used as evidence. Here is what God said in Genesis 28:14-15:
“I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
Look closely. This is God speaking about His promises to Jacob’s ancestors. It is not referring to promises a believer makes to God. So how can the author say that Bethel is similar to what takes place in an LDS temple? Since the Mormon presupposes that keeping commandments is the way to gain God’s favor, this idea is translated into the interpretation. Remember several passages used in previous reviews of this series:
Genesis 15:6: And he [Abraham] believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
Romans 4:16-18: 16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18 In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.”
Notice how the New Testament teaches that “it depends on faith” and “the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring.” It is not based on keeping commandments, no matter how admirable this might be.
As is often the case, LDS leaders miss the forest for the trees.
What other words and phrases in Genesis 28:10–22 suggest to you a connection between Jacob’s experience and temple blessings? As you read these verses, think about the covenants you have made; what impressions come to you?
There is no connection between Jacob and temple blessings. None whatsoever.
As you read Genesis 29:1–18, ponder how Jacob’s marriage to Rachel was important to the covenant God renewed with Jacob in Bethel (“house of God”; see Genesis 28:10–19). Keep this experience in mind as you continue reading about Jacob’s life in Genesis 29–33. How has the house of the Lord brought you closer to God?
The temple does not bring anyone closer to God, as temple work was never a practice of Jesus, the disciples, or, for that matter, New Testament Christians of any era.
Even though Rachel and Leah lived in a time and culture different from ours, we can all understand some of the feelings they had. As you read Genesis 29:31–35 and 30:1–24, look for words and phrases describing God’s mercy to Rachel and Leah. Ponder how God has “looked upon [your] affliction” and “remembered” you (Genesis 29:32; 30:22).
It is also important to remember that even though God hears us, in His wisdom He doesn’t always give us exactly what we ask for. Consider studying Elder Brook P. Hales’s message “Answers to Prayer” (Ensign or Liahona, May 2019, 11–14) to learn about different ways Heavenly Father answers us.
In his talk, Hales predicates God’s “divine guidance” on one’s obedience. In his general conference talk, he said,
One aspect of that perfect love is our Heavenly Father’s involvement in the details of our lives, even when we may not be aware of it or understand it. We seek the Father’s divine guidance and help through heartfelt, earnest prayer. When we honor our covenants and strive to be more like our Savior, we are entitled to a constant stream of divine guidance through the influence and inspiration of the Holy Ghost.
He claims that the faithful believer is “entitled” to answers to prayers based on honoring covenants and being more like Jesus! Like all religions, everything in Mormonism is based on what is done. “What must we do to please God?” all religions ask. Christianity asks a much different question: “What did God do for me?” While we were sinners, Christ died for us, according to Romans 5:8. And this concept motivates Christians to want to do the right thing.
Of course, good works should never be minimized, as the Bible teaches we should follow His Word. Christians call this process sanctification. Yet Mormonism advocates moralism, the idea that God owes answers to prayers based on how good the person is. The truth is, however, God owes you nothing. Even when our prayers do not get answered the way we desire–no matter how good we think we might be–Romans 8 says that all things work out for the good of those who love the Lord.
Use “Jacob and His Family” (in Old Testament Stories) to help children understand the events from these chapters. Maybe family members could pause at each picture and identify what is being taught, such as the importance of marriage, covenants, work, and forgiveness.
I have to be honest, I’m not sure (without further guidance from the lesson) how these chapters have much to do with “marriage, covenants, work, and forgiveness.”
As far as marriage, we see how Jacob was tricked by Laban and he ended up marrying the sister of the one he wanted to marry, despite working for seven years to win her hand in marriage (as the “covenant” stated). Then he has to work another 7 years to win Rachel. After this, we see catty sisters manipulating Jacob to produce his children, as both women connive to have Jacob sleep with their servants. Jacob ends up having children with four different women! Is this a good example of marriage according to the LDS position?
As far as covenants, we see how God made promises to Abraham and his posterity, but these were not based on anything Abraham did but solely on God’s pleasure! How do these chapters have anything to do with covenants as defined by Mormonism? The reader is given no direction.
As far as work, I agree it’s important to work hard. But Jacob did what he was told to do and he ended up getting ripped off! Jacob is told by an angel to use breeding methods get the strongest animals to be born striped, speckled and spotted, which he kept. Thus, he got to keep the very best of the animals while Laban was left with the inferior animals. In chapter 31, Laban’s sons said that “Jacob has taken all that was our father’s, and from what was our father’s he has gained all his wealth.” Is there an object lesson for us in this? We are not told.
I have to admit, these are some hard chapters to interpret, but the curriculum writers do not help us understand how we should take these passages and apply them to today’s situation. Genesis 31: 20 says that he “tricked” Laban by not telling him that “he intended to flee.” In addition, his wife Rachel steals her father’s pagan gods. This doesn’t seem to be righteous–after all, what value is there in idols that do not resemble God Himself? There is no analysis provided in the curriculum.
Concerning forgiveness, this is a reference to Jacob fearing what Esau would do to him in revenge.
You could use a ladder (or a picture of one) to talk about how our covenants are like a ladder. What covenants have we made, and how do they bring us closer to God? Family members might enjoy drawing Jacob’s dream, described in Genesis 28:10–22.
When I hear “ladder,” I think about what an illustration used by Joseph Smith as cited in a church manual:
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the Gospel—you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 348). This is the way our Heavenly Father became God” (Gospel Principles, 1997, 305. Italics in original).
Here is another ladder illustration as described by twelfth President Spencer W. Kimball:
Each command we obey sends us another rung up the ladder to perfected manhood and toward godhood; and every law disobeyed is a sliding toward the bottom where man merges into the brute world. Only he who obeys law is free. Serfdom comes to him who defies law (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 153).
Did you notice that Kimball believed “only he who obeys law is free.” Never was more of an oxymoronic statement made! Freedom through the law? Not according to the apostle Paul who talked about being help captive under the law in Galatians 3:23-26:
23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
So when Christ came, believers were set free as Abraham’s heirs! This comes through faith, verse 26 says, for those who have “put on Christ” are justified not by works but by grace. This view is opposite of the LDS position that says a person must covenants to keep the commandments. According to Mormonism, then, the law (keeping commandments) keeps a person captive and does not make a person free.
Once again, we see Mormon presuppositions transferred to the biblical passage in ways that the original text does not intend to convey. For instance, the temple was never a “thing” until 3,000 years ago with Solomon, certainly well before the temple was first built. To suggest there is a tie because “covenants” are made in LDS temples is quite a stretch.
Meanwhile, the writers of the curriculum could have provided some assistance to help church members understand what is meant in the difficult-to-understand stories involving Jacob and Laban as well as Rachel and Leah. These conflicts and the way they are resolved are very unique. Some insight into these passages would have been helpful rather than merely assuming they teach the reader about marriage, covenants, and work–the application on these items from these passages are not well illustrated.
Finally, the idea that covenants are like ladders is scary when it is understood that, as Kimball taught, a person slides to the bottom and has to start all over again upon meeting failure. At this point, the ladder illustration becomes an instrument of despair rather than one of hope.