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Ancient Testaments: Before His Manger: Ch. 20, 'The Similitude'

In Chapter 19, Tova invited the neighborhood children and their mothers to join her in a "Shat Sippur," a story-telling. She spoke of a time nearly 4000 years before — the early days of mankind. She told of 12-year-old Abel, watching over an expectant ewe about to deliver her babies. This boy believed in the sacred law of sacrificing the firstlings of their flocks, though he didn't understand it. But his older brother, Cain, considered it nonsense, and said as much before ending their conversation in his anger. Later, their mother, Eve, came to see how things were going at the birthing pen. After showing Eve the new lambs, Abel asked about the principle of animal sacrifice. Tova stopped the story for a little snack time. Now, in Chapter 20, she continues.Chapter 20 — The Similitude"For a long time," Eve began, "and it was a very long time, Father and I didn't know why the firstlings were to be offered. . . ."Abel knew his parents were given many instructions before leaving Eden. One of these was about sacrifice. And he knew they had been obedient, obedient to everything, even the parts they didn't understand."Some of the children were grown and had moved away," she continued. "Then came a springtime, not long before Cain was born. We had just made an offering on the altar, a big handsome yearling sheep." Her eyes turned south. At the end of the hill, several hundred paces away, was the old stone altar they still used for this purpose. "As usual, a sweet feeling was there. You know the feeling I mean, don't you?"Abel nodded again, thinking back on the offerings he had witnessed. It was true. Always the solemnity was mixed with a taste of rightness, a sense of something important. Instead of feeling that his family was giving something up, it was as if they were receiving a gift.Eve continued. "We had a few of the older children visiting. That evening, as we ate together, the old question came up, the question of why. And as usual, we didn't really have an answer.""Cain brought it up again early this morning, Mother.""Of course he did, dear.""You heard us talking?""No," she said with a little sigh, "but I know my son Cain.""So, Mother, . . . what happened that spring?""It was a few nights later. Your father and I were having our evening prayer. As we knelt at the bedside, a light began to fill the room. I could tell the brightness even with my eyes shut. And when I opened my eyes, the candle on the table next to our bed, ... the flame of that candle seemed as nothing. And then, on the other side of the bed there stood a glorious being.""An angel, in our house?""Yes, Abel. Seeing that angel reminded us of when we were in the Garden, being visited by the Father Himself.""Were you scared?""No," she smiled. "Surprised at first, but not afraid. The angel had a kind expression. We felt the same warmth that you and I feel right now, but even stronger."Abel nodded slowly and looked over at their home. He thought about his parents' room, where his baby sister was sleeping in her little cradle even now. It occurred to him that places can be sacred without your ever realizing it."The angel didn't take long to begin teaching. He began with a question — spoken to Father, but I'm sure it was intended for both of us. 'Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord?' he asked.""What did Father answer?""What else could he say? 'I know not,' he said. The angel nodded, first at Father and then at me, letting us know that he wasn't disappointed in us. That's when we knew we were going to be taught that night." Eve's radiant face was still for a few moments, while her mind scanned the years. "The key of knowledge we received that night" — she was speaking very softly now — "opened our eyes.""What key, Mother? What did the angel say?""He said, 'This thing' — remember, he was talking about the offering of firstborn animals — 'This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father.' Think of that, Abel.""I'm trying." Now it was Abel whose face and body were motionless. He sat on the bench with his eyes staring in the general direction of the ground in front of him."Think of the Messiah, the one in whose name we pray to the Father.""Yes?""The death of the firstborn animals is teaching us about something about Him, something he is going to do." She paused until her son was ready for another thought. "He is going to die for us, Abel."Abel's eyes slowly rose to meet his mother's."He will be offered for us, in place of us ... ." Eve said it slowly, carefully. Her eyes connected tenderly with the eyes of her pondering son. "The animals aren't being offered for our sins, Abel. They are only reminders ... ." She gave him a few moments and asked, "Do you see? The firstlings are reminders, not of something in the past, but something in the future, something he is going to do for us someday."She let the long seconds pass as he thought. She also took advantage of this moment to listen for the baby. All was still quiet.Finally, Abel asked, "Will Messiah make His offering many times?""No ... just once. But it won't be our kind of suffering. It will be more, as only a God can suffer — totally, completely.""Then the reason we sacrifice so often is ... " Abel thought he would be able to explain, but he couldn't. He didn't quite see it yet.Eve, loving the faith of this boy, finished for him. "We do this for our sake, Abel. So that we don't forget the Messiah, so that we will watch for his coming. In fact, the angel told us that everything we do should be in the name of the Messiah. 'Forevermore,' he said. All that we do! For this, we need reminders."As Abel grasped this, he thought about Cain. Would he believe in the sacrifices if he knew the purpose? Would he care about the Messiah's coming, and about His suffering? Would he want the reminders?After studying her son's expression for a time, Eve finally interrupted. "So, you must have other questions.""What was it the angel called the Messiah ... the 'Only Begotten'? What does that mean?""Ahh, another key. 'The Only Begotten of the Father' means the Messiah will come into the world by a very special birth.""You mean he won't have earthly parents?""Not an earthly father, no. He will need a mortal mother, so that he can die. But His father will actually be ... ." She gave Abel a solemn look, and nodded that he might try to finish stating the sacred truth she had started.At first, Abel's young mind did not see the idea coming, and then it was there. "The Only Begotten of the ... Father! Messiah's father will actually be ... God the Father!" After he spoke those words, Abel's mind halted. For just a moment, he wondered if he had just uttered the unutterable — something too dramatic, too wondrous, to be true. But then the feeling of peace and clarity returned, even more certain than before. "That is what 'Only Begotten' means, right?""Yes, you understand. The great sacrifice will be as if the Heavenly Father himself were suffering it. He will send his very own substitute, his own personal Son."You see, the Son will have a special kind of life, different from ours, much bigger than ours, a divine kind of life. He will be able to overcome death in a special way, a divine way, when he lets go of that life. But before that can happen, he must have a special kind of birth.""The most important birth that will ever be ... ," Abel muttered softly, as he stood and looked into the birth pen again. "So, the reason we watch for a perfect firstling ... ." Again he was not sure of how to complete this thought, and wanted his mother to help him find the words."... We always watch for the perfect firstling of our flocks," she said, "to remind us to watch for the one son who represents the Great One. The first and oldest son of God — the true perfect firstling — will not only be God's son, but God's lamb." Eve stood and joined her son at the birthing pen. She, too, studied the one with the red scarf, and then continued, "An animal that will teach us of this, must be just right for the job. It must have no blemish, no deformity. It must be a perfect member of the flock. Just as Messiah will be the perfect member of our race.""He will be your descendant, won't he, Mother?""Yes, of course," she said with a soft smile, "and the greatest descendant. The saving one, the one who will save all my other descents, and save me, too."Abel blinked slowly, and looked up with yet another question in mind."Now what are you wondering?" she asked with a smile."Will it be soon?""His birth? Oh, no. Many generations will pass in our family." She paused, thinking back to the insights — not all of them happy ones — that had come to her and Adam as they had contemplated the long future of their family. "Many sorrows will come upon our flock before he is born. It will not be soon.""Not in my day?""No, I'm sorry to say. Not in your day.""So ... he will come when there are many on earth... ."With her arm around Abel's shoulder, Eve led her to the opening of the shelter where they could look across the panorama — with its layer after layer of hills. "Our posterity will be almost numberless. Families of families, on many lands.""... But, among so many, how will they know about him when he comes?""He can be known only if he is born into a certain branch, small and noticeable, ...""You mean," Abel asked, "a branch that other people will know about?""Yes, exactly," she said with extra firmness. Abel could tell that his mother considered this to be an important part of the future. "The Great Father will use prophets and mighty works to keep pointing to the branch, to set it apart from all the rest of our descendents.""Not because they are better than the others, right? ...""You are right, Abel," she nodded quietly, "for surely all parts of our race will be precious. No, it is for other reasons that this one branch will be set apart, like a tiny stream trickling alongside the great rivers of people." Eve waited for her son to see why the chosen branch should someday have the attention of the nations."... It will be," he said, "so that people can watch for him, ... right?""Yes," she said. "They can't watch if they don't know where to look. And not only watch, but await him their whole lives, wait and never forget, always trust the promises and foretellings of him.""So ... the people in that branch, Mother — what about them?!"Eve paused at that question. ~~~Here, Tova herself paused. She looked around the room at members of that very branch. Jacob, the little architect, noticed the sudden quiet in the room and looked up at Tova with an inquiring expression. Tova returned his gaze instinctively as her eyes came to him. She supposed that this boy — a prime heir to the throne of Israel — would, in time, be a predecessor to the coming Messiah.Finally, she continued the story. ~~~"I do hope," said Mother Eve, "that the people of his very own family will wait faithfully and patiently. Surely some of them will. They will serve and lift and teach the rest of mankind. Some of them will make great sacrifices — and not only animal sacrifices... .""Their sacrifices will be . . . in similitude of the Only Begotten, right?""Yes! Just as the angel said.""So this family," Abel said decisively, "will be important to all families."Eve nodded. "Because of that, God will groom them for The Birth. They will have many clues. Think of it, Abel. After the great Son is begotten, and that divine life is started on earth, he will be born among them."Abel leaned back and sighed, as if just finishing a big meal. For now, he was full. "Thank you for telling me, Mother — for teaching me."He stood up and looked to the northern fields. "I'll have plenty to think about today won't I?" He smiled and gave his mother a quick hug. "But I'd better go and do my thinking out there. Cain probably thinks I'm sound asleep."Eve watched Abel as he made his way along a path leading to the fields north of their home. She carefully listened for the baby. Still quiet.So, with a few minutes to herself, she returned to peer once again into the birthing pen. Her eyes went, not to the lambs, not even to the newborn with its red collar. No, Eve studied the mother sheep lying by her lambs and looking up with eyes full of fatigue and contentment.The fragrance of freshly spread hay was heavy and sweet in the air. In her thoughts, Eve spoke aloud, as if to the innocent mother laying in that stone pen."I am wondering about the mother of the Only Begotten. Will she be as unknowing as you, in your innocence? Or will she realize that her son is marked, as yours must be? Will she know he is born for sacrifice? Born to be an offering?"She turned and looked to the north, where Abel would be working with his brother. "What grief there must be for a mother," she said in a whisper, "in knowing such a thing. Eve's heart shuddered. "Oh the sorrow! How could a mother endure it?"At last she made her way to the house, where a day full of chores awaited. As she walked, this mother of all mankind knew that The Birth would someday be known to all. Until then, it was right that her descendants should keep watching and waiting.But after it actually happens, what then? Should not all her race know the story, and rejoice in it?

See Chapter 21NOTES to Chapter 20** Animal Sacrifice. Before the Great Offering was born, people were taught — by the birth of certain animals — to think about Him, to wait for Him ... They could keep most of the young who were born in their flocks, but not all. The first male to be born, if perfect, belonged to God. It was not destined to be a pet or a breeding animal. It was to be a sacrifice. The mother sheep usually carried more than one baby at a time. Unless someone watched over the birth, there was no way to tell which lamb came first. So, during the 40 centuries before Christmas, the faithful watched for the firstborn. ** A Family Matter. Animal sacrifice was a family experience. The newborns — small, soft and charming — were endeared to everyone in the home, and especially to the children. Solemn was the time when a family gathered for the sacred ceremony. Afterward, they partook of the products of the animal at meals and in making clothing. It was a reminder that salvation was a family matter.For a hundred generations or more generations after Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden, faithful families watched for the next firstling in their flocks, the one that would belong to God, the one born to die in a special way. When such a birth took place, it was an event both serious and sweet. They could then look ahead to their next privilege — a ceremony in which they would exchange gifts with God. They would offer a little life to Him, and He would offer His Eternal Life to them.Watching for the firstling male mirrored another kind of excitement in homes of faith: hoping and watching for the real Lamb to be born. Because salvation is a family blessing, God is pleased when families care about the birth of His Lamb. How perfect it is that Christmas is a family affair. ** Abraham 3:27-28. ** Moses 4:1-4. ** Moses 5:1-17, 57. ** D&C 76:39. ** Moses 6:12-27, 38. ** Isaiah 62:11. ** Zechariah 9:9. ** Zechariah 10:4.