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Ancient Testaments: Some context at an ancient tomb

A bus pulled up outside the Tomb of the Patriarchs, at a city called Hebron, in southern Israel. Below the present day street level is the cave of Machpelah, where the bodies of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah were laid to rest millennia ago.

The group had been touring all day. It was very hot outside. They were hungry. They had just arrived in Israel the day before. Jet lag was setting in.

It didn't seem that many wanted to get off the bus. A look through the window, at the steep stairs and aged building that sat over the cave — this view of things was enough, under the circumstances.

Then, one of their number, a teacher, sitting up front by the microphone, thought it might help to say something about the place.

"Hebron means friend," he began. "It's named after our father Abraham, the friend of God. He lived here, as did Isaac and Jacob at various times in their lives. They, with their wives, were some of the greatest people in history. "

Some in the group had heard of these ancients in less flattering terms. After all, it is common for Bible readers — if not acquainted with the restored gospel — to suppose from a book shorn of its most plain and precious truths that these ancient ones were seriously flawed.

"The Lord has told us," our friend continued, "that their doings were just as he commanded them. We also read that their garments are spotless and pure. You can't say that about many mortals."

Members of the group peered out their windows more intently now, studying the landscape, trying to picture those unassuming heroes who lived in this same hot sun, and who were unaware of the billions who would someday be thrilled to speak their names and take up their covenant.

The teacher said, "God could link himself to any hero. He could call himself the God of Adam or Moses, or Nephi or Isaiah. But instead …"

Many in the group now looked forward at their friend. Little lights seemed to come on in their minds. Several whispered the familiar phrase: "The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."

The teacher also repeated this title, and added, "There must be good reasons for those words."

The bus was quiet. People reconsidered the stories. Three generations, by faith and sacrifice, secured the privilege of service and exaltation for their children.

"It all comes together at this place," the teacher went on, turning his own gaze out the window.

"If we were here 4,000 years ago, we would see, where that building now stands, nothing but a desolate field owned by one of Abraham's neighbors. If we came on a certain day described in Genesis 23, we would have seen our great-grandfather asking for that field and the deep caves underneath.

"We would have heard the neighbor say he would be honored to make a gift of that field to his esteemed friend Abraham.

"But Abraham, who walked by inspiration, knew he should pay for it. And he knew how much he should pay — 400 shekels of silver, a million dollars in today's money!

"From here, he and the others were 'gathered to their fathers' as they each passed away and entered the spirit world. Here, their posterity honors them and their God, and their covenant. And here we are today, at the million-dollar burying place of six heroes — our heroes and God's heroes."

The bus was soon empty. The heat became a bond with the past.

(References: Doctrine and Covenants 132:37; Alma 7:24-25)