“Guardians of the Covenant,” Ensign, May 1972, 25
In far-off Ukraine large packs of wolves used to roam the countryside, and it was necessary for those who traveled long distances to protect themselves at night against these wolves. This they did by building large bonfires. If a fire burned brightly, the wolves would shy away from the camp; if it went out, they would move in. The fate of the camp was in the hands of the person whose responsibility it was to keep the fire burning.
In a spiritual sense, devious wolves roam the countryside awaiting their chance to move in and hurt or destroy. As a protection against this danger, the Lord committed into the hands of the mothers in Israel the responsibility of keeping the fires of faith alive and bright in the hearts of their children. These mothers in Israel are the guardians of the covenant. And if they are true to this trust, the covenant that the Lord has made with his people that they will be a chosen people unto him—“a royal priesthood”—will continue in effect from generation to generation. If they fail, the “wolves” will move in, and the blessings of the covenant will be lost.
This covenant originated with Abraham, who lived in a time of total apostasy. Yet he and his wife Sarah stayed that tide by being the instruments through which the Lord established his royal family—a new race—through which the sceptre of God’s power, his royal priesthood, would be perpetuated to the end of time.
Furthermore, the Lord covenanted with Abraham that his seed would be as numerous as the sands on the seashore or as the stars in the heavens. And yet, at the end of twenty-four years of waiting, Abraham had no seed. Sarah at seventy-five, knowing that she was past the age of childbearing, offered her bondwoman to Abraham, thinking that any child born of the seed of Abraham would be the promised heir. It was not her privilege, however, nor the privilege of Abraham, to choose the mother of the covenant race; this the Lord reserved to himself, and his choice was Sarah.
Then why, we might ask, would the Lord wait thirty-eight years before giving Sarah a child? We do not have a scriptural explanation for this, but perhaps Sarah was not ready for her great role of motherhood until she had endured many hardships and passed through a series of experiences that would strengthen her faith. We must remember that Sarah was born and reared in a land where the people were in a state of total apostasy. They had cast aside the God of their father, Noah, and had turned to the worship of idols. Sarah knew no other life. Her father and grandfather were idol worshipers; only Abraham, her uncle, worshiped the one true God. He alone held out against the great tidal wave of unbelief. We know that Sarah came to understand and know the God of Abraham, for Abraham married her, and he would not have married a woman who was a worshiper of idols.
But would Sarah remain faithful? To be the mother of the covenant race was a high and holy calling. As such, Sarah would give birth to a great and noble spirit, chosen before the foundation of the world, who would be an important link in establishing the Lord’s royal family upon the earth. This noble spirit would be born in a heathen land where he would be fully exposed to all the evils of idol worship. His faith in the one true God would depend largely on the influence his mother would have upon him. Through her he would learn of the covenant the Lord had made with Abraham. He would learn that he was the chosen heir of that covenant, and that to the degree that he honored it, future generations would cherish it.
In this sense, Sarah was the guardian of the covenant, for its continuance would depend largely upon her influence. She must not, under any circumstances, revert back to the worship of her homeland.
Her first trial was in leaving behind everything that was familiar or dear to her heart and following Abraham on a dust-filled caravan trek to an unknown land, sustained only by Abraham’s word that the Lord would lead them there. Sarah withstood this test only to face another. When they arrived at their destination, they did not find the land of milk and honey they expected; instead, they found a land so desolate that it could not sustain their needs. But Sarah’s faith was such that she moved on to Egypt with Abraham without murmuring, obeying without question the Lord’s commandment that she be known there as Abraham’s sister. As a result, she was taken to Pharaoh’s house, where she was thrown into an environment very similar to that of her homeland, for the God of Abraham was not known there.
As a guest of the king, surrounded by idol worshipers, if Sarah were ever to falter in the worship of Jehovah, this would be the time. But she did not! She emerged not only as a virtuous wife, but as a faithful worshiper of the one true God, grateful to him for the protection he had given her against the many evils of that court.
From the time the Lord promised Abraham seed, Sarah quite justifiably would expect the promise to be fulfilled through her. This promise sustained her until after she was past the age of childbearing. Then, with her heart breaking, she bowed to the will of the Lord and relinquished all hope of ever having a child of her own. This most cherished desire of her heart she laid upon the altar of her faith, and she suggested to Abraham that another might be the mother of his promised heir.
Sarah was now ready for the blessing, and that blessing was Isaac. With the announcement to Abraham that Sarah would have a child, the Lord conferred upon her the title of “Princess”; thus all future generations of the covenant race could refer to her as their royal mother. (See Gen. 17:15–16.) And even though Sarah was ninety years old, she “received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.” (Heb. 11:11.)
Of Isaac the Lord said, “I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant.” (Gen. 17:19.) His wife, Rebekah, was chosen by the Lord and tried and tested for twenty years before receiving the blessing of motherhood. Then she became the mother of twins—Esau and Jacob, Jacob being the younger.
While the children were still in her womb, the Lord revealed to Rebekah that, contrary to the custom of the day, the “elder would serve the younger.” (Gen. 25:23.) With this knowledge, she jealously guarded Jacob’s God-given right to be the heir to the covenant. When she discovered that Isaac intended to give this blessing to Esau, who had already sold his birthright to Jacob and had further discredited himself by marrying two Canaanite women, she interfered and substituted Jacob in his stead.
When Jacob protested, saying, “I shall bring a curse upon me, and not a blessing,” Rebekah replied, “Upon me be thy curse.” (Gen. 27:12–13.) Rebekah would willingly suffer any consequence for her act rather than see the covenant pass on to an illegitimate heir. A guardian of the covenant, indeed!
When Isaac realized what had happened, he told Esau that he had given his blessing to Jacob, and then he added, “and he shall be blessed” (Gen. 27:33), implying that the words that flowed through his lips were not his but the Lord’s, and that they could not be changed.
Later, the Lord covenanted with Jacob that the priesthood would continue through his seed forever and that he would be the father of multitudes, just as he had covenanted with his father and his grandfather before him, thus exonerating Rebekah in the discharge of her duty as she saw it.
Little more is known of Rebekah except that she encouraged Isaac to send Jacob to her brother Laban that he might find a wife among his kinsmen; the more urgent reason, however, was that Esau intended to kill him and Jacob must leave or die.
Jacob married Laban’s two daughters, Leah and Rachel. Leah had six sons and one daughter before Rachel had any children of her own. Like her forebears, Sarah and Rebekah, Rachel waited many long years before she was blessed with a child. “Give me children, or else I die” (Gen. 30:1) was her cry. “And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb.” (Gen. 30:22.) The result was Joseph.
Surely during those long, barren years, the Lord was preparing Rachel for the great responsibility of teaching Joseph and training him in the ways of the Lord. He must be taught well if he would remain faithful, for in his chartered course he would be subjected to the contaminating influence of a heathen nation for the greater part of his life.
Rachel must not fail! Nor did she fail, for Joseph emerged not only as a champion of righteousness but as one who was noble, kind, forgiving, virtuous, and faithful to his God and to his people. He was a credit to a noble mother. Even though he was next to the youngest of his father’s children, the birthright was his, to be realized through his son Ephraim.
But Rachel never knew of the high destiny of Joseph, for she died mourning his supposed death soon after giving birth to his brother Benjamin.
The role of Jochebed, the mother of Moses, was similar to that of Rachel, for Jochebed’s son was also a member of the Egyptian court. He was taken there as a baby and was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter. And yet, when the test came, Moses forsook the court of Pharaoh; he gave up his foster home and country in favor of the oppressed Israelites.
The teachings Moses had received from his mother during the few short years she was employed as his nurse were so engrained in his consciousness that he could not forget that there was only one true God, who had covenanted with his people, Israel, that they would be a special people unto him—instruments of his power. And all the learning Moses received at the hands of his Egyptian tutors was as naught compared with this truth. It might well be said that Jochebed was the true deliverer of Israel, for she taught Moses, without which there would have been no deliverance.
While many mothers in ancient Israel were as true and faithful to their trust as guardians of the covenant as were those mentioned, many were not. Eventually the great mass of people relaxed their guard and allowed the evils of idolatry to creep into their society and into their homes. Ahab, their king, married Jezebel, a worshiper of Baal; and because she was more zealous than the guardians of the covenant, the whole nation succumbed to her wiles and worshiped idols of wood and stone.
The people had “transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, and broken the everlasting covenant.” (Isa. 24:5.) Therefore, the covenant was no longer in effect. As a result, the Lord withdrew his spirit from his people and left them desolate. They became wanderers and strangers in strange lands, for the Lord scattered his people among all the nations of the earth—a tragic testimony that the guardians of the covenant had failed to keep faith with the Lord their God.
Today the Lord is calling his people from every land and clime. Mothers of the birthright tribe again have the privilege of being the guardians of the covenant. This time they must not fail!