“The Everlasting Covenant,” Liahona, Oct. 2022.
In this world torn by wars and rumors of wars, the need for truth, light, and the pure love of Jesus Christ is greater than ever. The gospel of Christ is glorious, and we are blessed to study it and live according to its precepts. We rejoice in our opportunities to share it—to testify of its truths wherever we are.
I have spoken frequently about the importance of the Abrahamic covenant and the gathering of Israel. When we embrace the gospel and are baptized, we take upon ourselves the sacred name of Jesus Christ. Baptism is the gate that leads to becoming joint heirs to all the promises given anciently by the Lord to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their posterity.1
“The new and everlasting covenant”2 (Doctrine and Covenants 132:6) and the Abrahamic covenant are essentially the same—two ways of phrasing the covenant God made with mortal men and women at different times.
The adjective everlasting denotes that this covenant existed even before the foundation of the world! The plan laid out in the Grand Council in Heaven included the sobering realization that we would all be cut off from God’s presence. However, God promised that He would provide a Savior who would overcome the consequences of the Fall. God told Adam after his baptism:
“Thou art after the order of him who was without beginning of days or end of years, from all eternity to all eternity.
“Behold, thou art one in me, a son of God; and thus may all become my sons” (Moses 6:67–68).
Adam and Eve accepted the ordinance of baptism and began the process of being one with God. They had entered the covenant path.
When you and I also enter that path, we have a new way of life. We thereby create a relationship with God that allows Him to bless and change us. The covenant path leads us back to Him. If we let God prevail in our lives, that covenant will lead us closer and closer to Him. All covenants are intended to be binding. They create a relationship with everlasting ties.
Once we make a covenant with God, we leave neutral ground forever. God will not abandon His relationship with those who have forged such a bond with Him. In fact, all those who have made a covenant with God have access to a special kind of love and mercy. In the Hebrew language, that covenantal love is called hesed (חֶסֶד).3
Hesed has no adequate English equivalent. Translators of the King James Version of the Bible must have struggled with how to render hesed in English. They often chose “lovingkindness.” This captures much but not all the meaning of hesed. Other translations were also rendered, such as “mercy” and “goodness.” Hesed is a unique term describing a covenant relationship in which both parties are bound to be loyal and faithful to each other.
A celestial marriage is such a covenant relationship. A husband and wife make a covenant with God and with each other to be loyal and faithful to each other.
Hesed is a special kind of love and mercy that God feels for and extends to those who have made a covenant with Him. And we reciprocate with hesed for Him.
Because God has hesed for those who have covenanted with Him, He will love them. He will continue to work with them and offer them opportunities to change. He will forgive them when they repent. And should they stray, He will help them find their way back to Him.
Once you and I have made a covenant with God, our relationship with Him becomes much closer than before our covenant. Now we are bound together. Because of our covenant with God, He will never tire in His efforts to help us, and we will never exhaust His merciful patience with us. Each of us has a special place in God’s heart. He has high hopes for us.
You know of the historic declaration the Lord gave to the Prophet Joseph Smith. It came by revelation. The Lord said to Joseph, “This promise is yours also, because ye are of Abraham, and the promise was made unto Abraham” (Doctrine and Covenants 132:31).
Thereby, this everlasting covenant was restored as part of the great Restoration of the gospel in its fulness. Think of it! A marriage covenant made in the temple is tied directly to that Abrahamic covenant. In the temple a couple is introduced to all the blessings reserved for the faithful posterity of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
As did Adam, you and I personally entered the covenant path at baptism. Then we enter it more completely in the temple. The blessings of the Abrahamic covenant are conferred in holy temples. These blessings allow us, upon being resurrected, to “inherit thrones, kingdoms, powers, principalities, and dominions, to our ‘exaltation and glory in all things’ [Doctrine and Covenants 132:19].”4
In the closing text of the Old Testament, we read of Malachi’s promise that Elijah will “turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6). In ancient Israel, such reference to the fathers would have included fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This promise is clarified when we read the different version of this verse Moroni quoted to the Prophet Joseph Smith: “He [Elijah] shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers” (Joseph Smith—History 1:39). Those fathers surely include Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (See Doctrine and Covenants 27:9–10.)
The Savior’s atoning sacrifice enabled the Father to fulfill His promises made to His children. Because Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life,” it follows that “no man cometh unto the Father, but by [Him]” (John 14:6). The fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant becomes feasible because of the Atonement of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is at the center of the Abrahamic covenant.
The Old Testament is not only a book of scripture; it is also a book of history. You remember reading about the marriage of Sarai and Abram. Because they were childless, Sarai gave her handmaid, Hagar, to be Abram’s wife also, in accordance with the Lord’s direction. Hagar gave birth to Ishmael.5 Abram loved Ishmael, but he was not to be the child through whom the covenant would pass. (See Genesis 11:29–30; 16:1, 3, 11; Doctrine and Covenants 132:34.)
God gave Sarai and Abram new names—Sarah and Abraham (see Genesis 17:5, 15). The bestowal of those new names marked the beginning of a new life and a new destiny for this family.
Abraham loved both Ishmael and Isaac. God told Abraham that Ishmael would be multiplied and become a great nation (see Genesis 17:20). At the same time, God made it clear that the everlasting covenant would be established through Isaac (see Genesis 17:19).
All who accept the gospel become part of the lineage of Abraham. In Galatians we read:
“For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
“… Ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
“And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:27–29).
Thus, we can become heirs to the covenant either by birth or by adoption.
Isaac and Rebekah’s son Jacob was born in the covenant. In addition, he chose to enter of his own accord. As you know, Jacob’s name was changed to Israel (see Genesis 32:28), meaning “let God prevail” or “one who prevails with God.”7
In Exodus we read that “God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob” (Exodus 2:24). God told the children of Israel, “If ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me” (Exodus 19:5).
The phrase “peculiar treasure” was translated from the Hebrew segullah, meaning a highly valued possession—a “treasure.”8
The book of Deuteronomy recounts the importance of the covenant. Apostles of the New Testament knew of this covenant. After Peter had healed a lame man on the temple steps, he taught onlookers about Jesus. Peter said, “The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus” (Acts 3:13).
Peter closed his message by telling his audience, “Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed” (Acts 3:25). Peter made it clear to them that part of Christ’s mission was to fulfill God’s covenant.
The Lord gave a similar sermon to the people of ancient America. There, the resurrected Christ told the people who they really were. He said:
“Ye are the children of the prophets; and ye are of the house of Israel; and ye are of the covenant which the Father made with your fathers, saying unto Abraham: And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.
“The Father having raised me up unto you first, and sent me to bless you in turning away every one of you from [your] iniquities; and this because ye are the children of the covenant” (3 Nephi 20:25–26).
Do you see the significance of this? Those who keep their covenants with God will become a strain of sin-resistant souls! Those who keep their covenants will have the strength to resist the constant influence of the world.
The Lord has commanded that we spread the gospel and share the covenant. That is why we have missionaries. He wishes for every one of His children to have the opportunity to choose the Savior’s gospel and embark upon the covenant path. God wants to connect all people to the covenant He made anciently with Abraham.
Thus, missionary work is an essential part of the great gathering of Israel. That gathering is the most important work taking place on earth today. Nothing else compares in magnitude. Nothing else compares in importance. The Lord’s missionaries—His disciples—are engaged in the greatest challenge, the greatest cause, the greatest work on earth today.
But there is even more—much more. There is a huge need to spread the gospel to people on the other side of the veil. God wants everyone, on both sides of the veil, to enjoy the blessings of His covenant. The covenant path is open to all. We plead with everyone to walk that path with us. No other work is so universally inclusive. For “the Lord is merciful unto all who will, in the sincerity of their hearts, call upon his holy name” (Helaman 3:27).
Because the Melchizedek Priesthood has been restored, covenant-keeping women and men have access to “all the spiritual blessings” of the gospel (Doctrine and Covenants 107:18; emphasis added).
At the dedication of the Kirtland Temple in 1836, under the direction of the Lord, Elijah appeared. His purpose? “To turn … the children to the fathers” (Doctrine and Covenants 110:15). Elias also appeared. His purpose? To commit to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery “the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham, saying that in us and our seed all generations after us should be blessed” (Doctrine and Covenants 110:12). Thus, the Master conferred upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery priesthood authority and the right to convey the unique blessings of the Abrahamic covenant to others.9
In the Church, we travel the covenant path both individually and collectively. Just as marriages and families share a unique lateral bond that creates a special love, so does the new relationship formed when we bind ourselves by covenant vertically to our God!
This may be what Nephi meant when he said that God “loveth those who will have him to be their God” (1 Nephi 17:40). This is exactly why, as part of the covenant, a special mercy and love—or hesed—is available to all who enter this binding and intimate relationship with God, even “to a thousand generations” (Deuteronomy 7:9).
Making a covenant with God changes our relationship with Him forever. It blesses us with an extra measure of love and mercy.10 It affects who we are and how God will help us become what we can become. We are promised that we, also, can be a “peculiar treasure” unto Him (Psalm 135:4).
Those who make sacred covenants and keep them are promised eternal life and exaltation, “the greatest of all the gifts of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 14:7). Jesus Christ is the guarantor of those covenants (see Hebrews 7:22; 8:6). Covenant keepers who love God and allow Him to prevail over all other things in their lives make Him the most powerful influence in their lives.
In our day we are privileged to receive patriarchal blessings and learn of our connection to the ancient patriarchs. Those blessings also provide a glimpse into what lies ahead.
Our calling as covenant Israel is to make sure every member of the Church realizes the joy and privileges associated with making covenants with God. It is a call to encourage every covenant-keeping man and woman, boy and girl, to share the gospel with those who come within their sphere of influence. It is also a call to support and encourage our missionaries, who are sent forth with instructions to baptize and help to gather Israel, so that together we may be God’s people and He will be our God (see Doctrine and Covenants 42:9).
Every man and every woman who participates in priesthood ordinances and who makes and keeps covenants with God has direct access to the power of God. We take the Lord’s name upon ourselves as individuals. We also take His name upon us as a people. Being passionate about using the correct name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a vital way that we as a people take His name upon us. Truly, every benevolent act of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its members is an expression of God’s hesed.
Why was Israel scattered? Because the people broke the commandments and stoned the prophets. A loving but grieving Father responded by scattering Israel far and wide.11
However, He scattered them with a promise that one day Israel would be gathered again into His fold.
The tribe of Judah was given responsibility to prepare the world for the first coming of the Lord. From that tribe, Mary was called upon to be the mother of the Son of God.
The tribe of Joseph, through his and Asenath’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh (see Genesis 41:50–52; 46:20), was given the responsibility to lead in the gathering of Israel, to prepare the world for the Second Coming of the Lord.
In such a timeless hesed relationship, it is only natural that God wants to gather Israel. He is our Heavenly Father! He wants each of His children—on both sides of the veil—to hear the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
The covenant path is a path of love—that incredible hesed, that compassionate caring for and reaching out to each other. Feeling that love is liberating and uplifting. The greatest joy you will ever experience is when you are consumed with love for God and for all His children.
Loving God more than anyone or anything else is the condition that brings true peace, comfort, confidence, and joy.
The covenant path is all about our relationship with God—our hesed relationship with Him. When we enter a covenant with God, we have made a covenant with Him who will always keep His word. He will do everything He can, without infringing on our agency, to help us keep ours.
The Book of Mormon begins and ends with reference to this everlasting covenant. From its title page to the closing testimonies of Mormon and Moroni, the Book of Mormon makes reference to the covenant (see Mormon 5:20; 9:37). “The coming forth of the Book of Mormon is a sign to the entire world that the Lord has commenced to gather Israel and fulfill the covenants He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”12
My dear brothers and sisters, we have been called at this pivotal time in the history of the earth to teach the world about the beauty and power of the everlasting covenant. Our Heavenly Father trusts us implicitly to do this great work.
This message was also delivered at a general conference leadership meeting on March 31, 2022.