Lesson 23: Genesis 15–16
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“Lesson 23: Genesis 15–16,” Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual (2014)

“Lesson 23,” Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual

Lesson 23

Genesis 15–16


As Abram grew older, he was concerned about how God would fulfill the promises He had made regarding Abram’s posterity. Abram conversed with the Lord in a vision, in which the Lord comforted him, reassuring him that all of the promises would be fulfilled. Sarai gave her handmaid Hagar to Abram as a wife to raise up posterity to Abram. After Hagar conceived, a conflict arose between her and Sarai, during which Hagar received divine guidance.

Suggestions for Teaching

Genesis 15:1–8; Joseph Smith Translation, Genesis 15:9–12 (in the Bible appendix)

Abram asks how the Lord will be able to fulfill His promises

Ask students if they have ever been promised something but had to wait a long time before the promise was fulfilled.

  • What thoughts went through your mind as time passed?

  • Why is waiting sometimes difficult?

Remind students that earlier in Abram’s life, the Lord had promised him that his posterity would be as numerous as the “dust of the earth” (Genesis 13:16). Abram had waited for many years and still did not have any children. Invite students to scan Genesis 15:1 and notice who spoke to Abram in a vision.

  • Who spoke to Abram? What might you have asked the Lord if you had been in Abram’s position?

Invite two students to come to the front of the class to read Genesis 15:1–6 aloud. Assign one student to read the verses in which the Lord is speaking (Genesis 15:1, 4–5), and assign the other to read the verses in which Abram is speaking or being described (Genesis 15:2–3, 6). Ask the students to read the verses in order, alternating parts. Invite half the class to listen for Abram’s concern and the other half to listen for the Lord’s response.

  • What was Abram’s concern? (That he was childless and therefore had no heir. To help students understand these verses, you might need to explain that Eliezer was the man in charge of Abram’s house and that Abram wondered if Eliezer would become his heir.)

  • What was the Lord’s response? (Abram and Sarai would have their own child, and their posterity would be innumerable.)

  • Why do you think Abram was able to believe the Lord despite his circumstances?

Abram also had a concern about the land that the Lord had promised to him and his posterity. Explain that the Joseph Smith Translation adds four verses to this account that show how the Lord addressed this concern. Ask students to turn to the Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis 15:9–12 in the Bible appendix or Guide to the Scriptures.

Invite a student to read Joseph Smith Translation, Genesis 15:9–12 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what Abram learned. (You may need to explain that the phrase “Son of Man” is a title for Jesus Christ.)

  • According to this passage, the Lord told Abram that even if he were to die, God would be able to keep His promise. According to verse 11, why is this so?

Point out that Abram was reminded that he would live again after his mortal life was completed because of the Savior’s Atonement and Resurrection. He was also reminded that God is able to keep His promises, whether in mortality or in the postmortal life.

  • According to Joseph Smith Translation, Genesis 15:12, what was Abram’s reaction when he understood this explanation and saw “the days of the Son of Man”? (“He believed in the Lord” and “was glad, and his soul found rest,” or peace.)

Consider inviting students to write a principle in their scriptures based on Abram’s experience. The following is one way students may express this principle: When we believe that the Lord will fulfill His promises to us, whether in mortality or eternity, our souls can find peace.

Ask students to think of any concerns or worries that they may have about their futures. Invite those who feel comfortable doing so to share some of their thoughts as you write them on the board. (Examples might include questions like the following: Will I find the right person to marry? Will I have children? Will I be able to serve a mission? What should I choose for my career?)

Invite students to ponder how the principle they have identified can help them have gladness and peace like Abram did.

Genesis 15:9–21

God covenants with Abram that His words will be fulfilled

Explain that there are many ways by which people certify or show that they will keep a promise. Invite two students to the front of the class, and ask them to demonstrate how they might show that they would keep a promise with each other (for example, they could shake hands, sign their name to an agreement or contract, or do something similar).

Remind students that Abram asked the Lord how he would receive a land of inheritance. Explain that Genesis 15:9–18 contains the account of the Lord certifying in a unique way that He would keep His promises to Abram. God commanded Abram to take various animals, cut their carcasses into two pieces, and set them apart from each other. A “smoking furnace, and a burning lamp” representing the Lord’s presence then “passed between those pieces” (see verse 17). In ancient times, when such a covenant was made, the individual passing between the carcasses was essentially saying, “May I also be cut in two if I do not keep my part of this covenant.”

Invite a student to read aloud Genesis 15:18. Ask students to follow along, looking for what the Lord promised Abram.

  • What did the Lord promise Abram?

  • Although Abram was assured that the Lord would fulfill His promises to him, what did Abram still not know? (He did not know how the promises of the Lord would be fulfilled.)

  • What lesson can we learn from Abram’s experience? (Students may identify a variety of principles, but make sure it is clear that we can trust that the Lord will fulfill His promises even if we do not know how He will do so. Write this principle on the board.)

To help students understand this principle, invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

Scott, Richard G.

“This life is an experience in profound trust. … To trust means to obey willingly without knowing the end from the beginning (see Prov. 3:5–7). …

“To exercise faith is to trust that the Lord knows what He is doing with you and that He can accomplish it for your eternal good even though you cannot understand how He can possibly do it” (“Trust in the Lord,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 17).

  • According to Elder Scott, how can we show the Lord that we trust Him?

Ask students to think about promises that the Lord has made to them (through patriarchal and other blessings, ordinances and covenants, the words of living prophets, or the scriptures).

Invite students to ponder the importance of obeying God’s commandments while they wait for the Lord’s promises to be fulfilled in their lives.

Genesis 16:1–16

Sarai gives Hagar to Abram as his wife, and Hagar bears a son

Invite students to write in their scripture study journals or class notebooks about a challenge they or their families have experienced. After sufficient time, ask a few students to share how they were able to get through that challenging time. Caution students not to share anything that might be too personal or private.

Encourage students as they study Genesis 16 to look for a principle that can help them when they face challenges in the future.

Summarize Genesis 16:1–3 by explaining that Sarai could not have any children, so she gave her handmaid Hagar to Abram as a plural wife. From latter-day revelation we understand that this was a commandment from God that Abram and Sarai obeyed (see D&C 132:34). In this way, Sarai could obtain children by her servant Hagar, thus fulfilling the Lord’s promise that Abram would have children.

Explain that at certain times in the history of the world, the Lord has commanded His people to practice plural marriage. Plural marriage was practiced by Abram and Sarai and by their grandson Jacob, and it was practiced for a time during the early days of the restored Church, beginning with Joseph Smith.

Explain that we read in Genesis 16:4–6 that Hagar conceived a child but began to feel jealousy and bitterness toward Sarai. Sarai responded by dealing “hardly” with Hagar, who fled into the wilderness.

  • How would you feel if you had been in Sarai’s position? How would you feel if you had been in Hagar’s position?

Explain that while Hagar was in the wilderness, an angel appeared to her. Invite a student to read Genesis 16:7–10 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the angel told Hagar.

  • What instructions did the angel give Hagar?

  • According to Genesis 16:10, what promise did Hagar receive?

Explain that in the scriptures the names of people and places often have symbolic meanings. Divide the class in half and ask one half to read Genesis 16:11–12 and the other to read Genesis 16:13–14. Instruct each half to read their assigned verses and find the names contained in them. Ask students to report what they found. Invite students to use their footnotes to find the meanings of the names they discovered. For example, students should discover that the name Ishmael means “God hears” and the name Beer-lahai-roi means “the well of Him who liveth and seeth me.” (Note: Hagar and her son Ishmael are revered in the Islamic faith as ancestors of Muhammad, the founder of Islam. Muslims [followers of Islam] also honor Abraham as a prophet.)

  • What can Hagar’s experience and the meanings of these names teach us about the Lord?

After students respond, write the following principle on the board: The Lord hears and sees us in our trials and can help us through them.

To help students understand this principle, invite a student to read the following statement by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency:

Uchtdorf, Dieter F.

“You are not alone on this journey. Your Heavenly Father knows you. Even when no one else hears you, He hears you. When you rejoice in righteousness, He rejoices with you. When you are beset with trial, He grieves with you” (“Your Wonderful Journey Home,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2013, 127–28).

  • How can knowing that Heavenly Father really does see and hear you help you deal with the challenges you face?

Consider inviting students to share their testimonies.

You might want to conclude by providing students with copies of President Uchtdorf’s statement and inviting them to consider giving their copy to someone they think might be having a challenging time and needs encouragement.

Commentary and Background Information

Genesis 15:9–21. How to maintain faith in the face of challenges

After sharing the account of a father who brought his afflicted son to the Savior for healing (see Mark 9:14–29), Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles encouraged us to maintain our faith when we encounter doubt:

“In moments of fear or doubt or troubling times, hold the ground you have already won, even if that ground is limited. In the growth we all have to experience in mortality, the spiritual equivalent of this boy’s affliction or this parent’s desperation is going to come to all of us. When those moments come and issues surface, the resolution of which is not immediately forthcoming, hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes. … Jesus said, ‘If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you” [Matthew 17:20]. The size of your faith or the degree of your knowledge is not the issue—it is the integrity you demonstrate toward the faith you do have and the truth you already know” (“Lord, I Believe,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2013, 93–94).

Genesis 16:3. How plural marriage in the Old Testament connects to plural marriage in the last dispensation

“While working on the translation of the Bible in the early 1830s, the Prophet Joseph Smith became troubled by the fact that Abraham, Jacob, David, and other Old Testament leaders had more than one wife. The Prophet prayed for understanding and learned that at certain times, for specific purposes, following divinely given laws, plural marriage was approved and directed by God. Joseph Smith also learned that with divine approval, some Latter-day Saints would soon be chosen by priesthood authority to marry more than one wife. A number of Latter-day Saints practiced plural marriage in Nauvoo, but a public announcement of this doctrine and practice was not made until the August 1852 general conference in Salt Lake City. At that conference, Elder Orson Pratt, as directed by President Brigham Young, announced that the practice of a man having more than one wife was part of the Lord’s restitution of all things (see Acts 3:19–21)” (Our Heritage: A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints [1996], 97; see also Jacob 2:27–30).

For more information about the Church’s practice of plural marriage, go to Gospel Topics on and search for “plural marriage.”