“Abraham 3:1–28,” The Pearl of Great Price Student Manual (2017)
“Abraham 3:1–28,” The Pearl of Great Price Student Manual
Urim and thummim come from Hebrew words meaning “lights” and “perfections.” The title Urim and Thummim was given to an instrument the Lord prepared to assist man in obtaining revelation and in translating languages. The earliest use of the Urim and Thummim mentioned in the scriptures is associated with the brother of Jared (see Ether 3:21–28).
The Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–44) was given the Urim and Thummim that had previously been in the possession of the brother of Jared (see D&C 17:1). The Prophet described them as being “two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim” (Joseph Smith—History 1:35).
The scriptures reveal that there were more than one Urim and Thummim. While the prophets of the Book of Mormon were using one set of stones (see Omni 1:20–21; Mosiah 8:13–19; 21:26–28; 28:11–20), the prophets of the Old Testament were using another (see Exodus 28:30; Numbers 27:21; Deuteronomy 33:8; 1 Samuel 28:6; Ezra 2:63).
President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) wrote: “The Lord made known to him the following facts: That Kolob is the first creation, and is nearest to the celestial, or the residence of God. It is the first in government, the last pertaining to the measurement of time. This measurement is according to celestial time. One day in Kolob is equal to a thousand years according to the measurement of this earth, which by the Egyptians was called Jah-oh-eh. Oliblish, so called by the Egyptians, stands next to Kolob in the grand governing creation near the celestial, or place where God resides. This great star is also a governing star and is equal to Kolob in its revolutions and in its measuring of time. Other grand governing stars were also revealed to Abraham” (Man: His Origin and Destiny , 461.)
Abraham learned that, like Kolob, there were other stars that were “very great,” and that these great stars were governing stars (see Abraham 3:2–3). The Lord taught Abraham about “the set time of all the stars” (verse 10; see also verses 4–9). Abraham also learned that there are other governing stars located nearer to Kolob and that they rotate more slowly, or “longer,” than many other stars (but not more slowly than Kolob).
The Lord’s teachings about stars and planets helped Abraham understand more about this earth and its relationship to Kolob. For example, he taught Abraham that one day on Kolob was equal to one thousand years of time on our earth (see Abraham 3:4).
“Abraham learned that bodies in space have different periods of revolution and that they move in their own time frames of reference (Abr. 3:4). Each planet, or star, operates according to a time base which is set by its location from a central, governing body. …
“To further clarify, let us consider a moon explorer who is faced with an extended stay on the moon’s surface. After a while, he finds it more convenient to redefine his time base in terms of the sun’s motion across the moon sky (his new environment). Following the method he remembers from his experiences on earth (the old environment), he defines the moon day as beginning when the sun rises at one place on the horizon and ending when the sun sets on the opposite horizon. …
“Long after the moon days, months and years are well established for the intrepid moon voyager, he compares his moon system to the earthly calendar. He finds that one full moon day (complete rotation) corresponds to approximately 29 earth days. … The moon observer agrees that his day passes much slower than the days that are reckoned on the earth” (Fred Holmstrom, “Astronomy and the Book of Abraham,” Sidney B. Sperry Symposium, 1982: The Pearl of Great Price , 110–11).
The Lord identified by name several of the planets or stars in His creations. Speaking of His numerous and marvelous works, the Lord said:
“There are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them. …
“… The heavens, they are many, and they cannot be numbered unto man; but they are numbered unto me, for they are mine” (Moses 1:35, 37).
The Lord fulfilled His promise to Abraham regarding his posterity, for many billions of people have been born on this earth who can consider themselves his children. The promise of great posterity applies to all the faithful. President Joseph Fielding Smith taught:
“The children of Abraham, if they will keep the covenant as they receive it in the house of the Lord, shall, as Abraham their father, continue on through all eternity to increase, and there shall be no end to their posterity. In this way the blessings of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, are extended to them, and they become partakers to the fullest extent. For there is to be a continuation of the ‘seeds forever’ among those who receive exaltation in the kingdom of God” (The Way to Perfection , 96).
Abraham learned that wherever there are two stars one will be greater than the other, and that there are other stars greater than those two, until Kolob, which is the greatest of all. He learned that it is not size that makes one star or planet greater than another, but rather its proximity to Kolob. So it is with the children of God—their greatness and glory will depend upon their proximity to the Creator, Jesus Christ, who is “nearest unto the throne of God,” “the great one,” “the first creation,” and is “set to govern all those which belong to the same order.” Thus the great star, Kolob, is a symbol of Jesus Christ.
God sees to completion the actual accomplishment of everything that He takes into His heart. How different this is from the nature of mankind. The Lord explained:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. …
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8–9).
Abraham learned that there are varying degrees of intelligence among Heavenly Father’s spirit children. (Abraham called the spirit children of our Heavenly Father “spirits” in Abraham 3:18–19, “intelligences” in verse 22, and “souls” in verse 23.) He learned that God dwelled in the midst of all the spirits or intelligences and that God “is more intelligent than they all” (verse 19).
The Prophet Joseph Smith stated: “God himself, finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself. The relationship we have with God places us in a situation to advance in knowledge. He has power to institute laws to instruct the weaker intelligences, that they may be exalted with himself, so that they might have one glory upon another, and all that knowledge, power, glory, and intelligence, which is requisite in order to save them in the world of spirits” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 210).
Speaking of the differences between spirits, President Joseph Fielding Smith said: “We know they were all innocent in the beginning; but the right of free agency which was given to them enabled some to outstrip others, and thus, through the eons of immortal existence, to become more intelligent, more faithful, for they were free to act for themselves, to think for themselves, to receive the truth or rebel against it” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie , 1:59).
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “I am dwelling on the immortality of the spirit of man. Is it logical to say that the intelligence of spirits is immortal, and yet that it has a beginning? The intelligence of spirits had no beginning, neither will it have an end. That is good logic” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 210).
Speaking about the eternal nature of our spirit, President Brigham Young (1801–77) stated:
“Mankind are organized of element designed to endure to all eternity; it never had a beginning and never can have an end. There never was a time when this matter, of which you and I are composed, was not in existence, and there never can be a time when it will pass out of existence; it cannot be annihilated.
“It is brought together, organized, and capacitated to receive knowledge and intelligence, to be enthroned in glory, to be made angels, Gods—beings who will hold control over the elements, and have power by their word to command the creation and redemption of worlds, or to extinguish suns by their breath, and disorganize worlds, hurling them back into their chaotic state. This is what you and I are created for” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe , 48; see also D&C 93:29–33).
Regarding the origin of our spirits in the premortal life, President Marion G. Romney (1897–1988) of the First Presidency taught: “In origin, man is a son of God. The spirits of men ‘are begotten sons and daughters unto God’ (D&C 76:24). Through that birth process, self-existing intelligence was organized into individual spirit beings” (“The Worth of Souls,” Ensign, Nov. 1978, 14).
Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) wrote: “Admittedly we do not now understand all the implications of the words, ‘spirits … have no beginning; they existed before … for they are … eternal’ (Abraham 3:18). Yet we surely understand enough to see a loving and redeeming God at work, striving to help us become as He is—a cause for our deep gratitude and joy, instead of despair and doubt, and for a willing submission to whatever He perceives will further that purpose” (“Not My Will, But Thine” , 40).
Elder Neal A. Maxwell wrote: “Let us not forget that great insight given us about the premortal world. The ascendancy of Jesus Christ (among all of our spirit brothers and sisters) is clearly set forth. Of Him it was said that He is ‘more intelligent than they all.’ (Abraham 3:19.) … Moreover, what the Lord knows is, fortunately, vastly more—not just barely more—than the combination of what all mortals know” (All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience , 22).
Among the spirits or intelligences that Abraham saw were many “noble and great ones” (Abraham 3:22). God said that these noble and great spirits were good and that He would make them His rulers. Abraham was one of the noble and great ones. President Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918) also saw in a vision many of the noble and great spirits “who were chosen in the beginning to be rulers in the Church of God” (D&C 138:55). Of them President Smith stated: “Even before they were born, they, with many others, received their first lessons in the world of spirits and were prepared to come forth in the due time of the Lord to labor in his vineyard for the salvation of the souls of men” (D&C 138:56).
The Lord told Abraham that he, Abraham, was chosen in the premortal existence to be a ruler on earth. Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained: “As it was with Abraham, so it was with Joseph Smith. Each was foreordained [chosen and set apart before mortal birth] to preside over a great gospel dispensation” (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith , 4).
The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand Council of heaven before this world was. I suppose that I was ordained to this very office in that Grand Council” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 511).
Abraham learned additional things about Jesus Christ. For example, Jesus Christ was the One who created the earth upon which the spirit children of Heavenly Father would dwell (see Abraham 3:24). He was also chosen and sent to earth to be the Savior (see verses 27–28; see also Moses 4:1–4).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught: “Christ, acting under the direction of the Father, was and is the Creator of all things. (D.&C. 38:1–4; 76:22–24; John 1:1–3; Col. 1:16–17; Heb. 1:1–3; Moses 1; 2; 3.) That he was aided in the creation of this earth by ‘many of the noble and great’ spirit children of the Father is evident from Abraham’s writings. … Michael or Adam was one of these. Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Peter, James, and John, Joseph Smith, and many other ‘noble and great’ ones played a part in the great creative enterprise” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary , 3:194).
President Ezra Taft Benson (1801–77) succinctly restated the message of Abraham 3:25 when he said: “The great test of life is obedience to God” (“The Great Commandment—Love the Lord,” Ensign, May 1988, 4). We are not here to test or “prove” God, but to be tested and proved ourselves. We are on trial, not God.
Elder Rex C. Reeve Sr. (1914–2005) of the Seventy said: “This life is a time of testing. It is not the reward time. That will come later. We are here being tested. The test is going on now!” (“Look to God,” Ensign, Nov. 1982, 26).
The “first estate” refers to the period of time before we were born on this earth, also known as the premortal life. To “keep” this first estate, a spirit child of God in pre-earth life had to use his or her agency to choose to follow the plan of salvation offered by Heavenly Father. A third part of the spirit children of Heavenly Father followed Lucifer (the devil) and rebelled against God and the plan of salvation, thereby failing to keep their first estate. They were therefore cast out of heaven, with no more opportunity to progress.
The “second estate” refers to mankind’s mortal existence on this earth. This estate is a probationary period in which individuals “prepare to meet God” (Alma 12:24). All who accept and obey the saving principles and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ will receive eternal life, the greatest gift of God, and will have “glory added upon their heads for ever and ever” (Abraham 3:26). Those who do not have the opportunity to accept and live the gospel in mortality are given that opportunity in the spirit world, after they die.
Additional insight on the first and second estates is offered by Elder Neal A. Maxwell:
“Premortality is not a relaxing doctrine. For each of us, there are choices to be made, incessant and difficult chores to be done, ironies and adversities to be experienced, time to be well spent, talents and gifts to be well employed. Just because we were chosen ‘there and then,’ surely does not mean we can be indifferent ‘here and now.’ …
“In fact, adequacy in the first estate may merely have ensured a stern, second estate with more duties and no immunities! Additional tutoring and suffering appears to be the pattern for the Lord’s most apt pupils. (See Mosiah 3:19; 1 Peter 4:19.) Our existence, therefore, is a continuum matched by God’s stretching curriculum. …
“Agreeing to enter this second estate, therefore, was like agreeing in advance to anesthetic—the anesthetic of forgetfulness. Doctors do not deanesthetize a patient, in the midst of what was previously authorized, to ask him, again, if it should be continued. We agreed to come here and to undergo certain experiences under certain conditions” (“Premortality, a Glorious Reality,” Ensign, Nov. 1985, 17).