What ARE the promises? In the most general sense I think THE promise is eternal life (1 John 2:25). While God has from time to time made promises to His people that seem material in nature, primarily they are spiritual. And even the material ones have a spiritual element. The ones that seem most related to the work of the temples fall into several categories as outlined below.
Promises for future generations
It is interesting to me how often God has made promises with the clear statement that the promises will not be fulfilled until future generations. I found these most prevalent in the Old Testament and in the Book of Mormon. Some examples:
In the Old Testament, the most noticed of these promises to future generations are made to David after he has fallen because of the Uriah/Bathsheba incident. 2 Chron. 21:7 "Howbeit the Lord would not destroy the house of David, because of the covenant that he had made with David.... "1 Chron. 17:9-11 David is told that God will give Israel a permanent home; their enemies will be subdued and the Lord will build an house. And, even more important, he tells David that he will build David a house, but that it will not happen during David's lifetime.
One might ask how that applies to my heart turning to my ancestors. After all, the promises were to them, not to me. Throughout time, God has made these promises that future generations will come to believe. That gave them great hope because of the redeeming work that could be done by those who would come to believe. I have had that tremendous blessing of learning the gospel and believing it. And I can now in turn provide blessings for those who went before who did not have that blessing. And ties will be made between generations. Those who lived even further back in time who may have had faith and then seen their posterity turn from truth will see the promises fulfilled and family ties made permanent.Throughout the Book of Mormon, the record keepers indicate that the records are kept for future generations. Alma 37: 4, 8-10, 18 is a good example of how those records will "enlarge the memory" and convince many of the error of their ways. Specifically, promises are made that the Lamanites, who have rejected God will at some point believe and be saved.
This one should probably be first as it is what is most often referred to when discussing hearts turning to the fathers. There are multiple references in scripture to this covenant.
Genesis 15: 5, 13-14, 18 Abraham is promised seed as numerous as the stars. He is told about the 400 yrs his people will be in bondage in Egypt but assured that the people will come out of that. I think that 400 year bondage is symbolic of being in a sinful state serving Satan, but God promises to will bring them back to Him. Abraham is also promised a land. That promised land is usually understood to be symbolic of the celestial kingdom.
In Genesis 28 Isaac tells Jacob that he will have the blessings of Abraham. I especially like verse 15 of that chapter: "And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest and will bring thee again into this land, for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of." And in vs 17 he talks of the house of God and the gate of heaven. God is reminding Jacob that His promises are sure. He will indeed bring truth to Jacob's seed. And Jacob learned of all this in a revelatory, temple experience. In temples today we help fulfill that promise of bring truth to Jacob's seed. God uses us to fulfill his promises to our fathers.
In Galatians 3, Paul talks of Abraham's blessing and reminds us that the same blessings were made available to the Gentiles through Christ. Jesus was of Abraham's seed and through Him all were blessed. So, as we enter into covenants and embrace the gospel, we become heirs to Abraham's promise -- and so does our posterity. And we have the opportunity to extend that blessing to our progenitors.
In Hebrews 11, Romans 4, 2 Peter 3, and Acts 7, reference is made to the promises made to Abraham and we are reminded that Abraham lived his life based on a promise that most would think him foolish to believe. I especially like verse 13 of Hebrews 11: "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them...." And we, in our dispensation, have the opportunity to help fulfill those promises that they saw. I could go on and on about these particular scriptures. They are worth the time to read and ponder.
Promised Land Promises
While I think we tend to associate the Promised Land with Moses and the Israelites, I find scriptures referring to a promised land to be especially prominent in the Book of Mormon. We all have our promised land, of course. We are promised that, as we navigate through life with our eye fixed on Christ, we will safely arrive at our promised land in heaven at the end of our journey.
This one post should not become a novel, so I'll just touch on 2 more Promised Land scriptures.
I like the symbolism of the journey of the Nephites as described in 1 Nephi 18. They launched into the sea without really knowing what this promised land was or how to get there. As they sinned, they found themselves floundering and found that the compass that was giving them as a director ceased to work so that they had no idea how to steer towards that land. But, as they repented and turned back to God and to their chosen leader, the wind and storm ceased and they experienced a great calm and were able to successfully navigate the remainder of their journey.
Another Book of Mormon journey to the promised land is related in Ether 2-6. The Jaredites were provided light and air and food (the basics needed for their journey). As they tried to understand how to get air and light they were warned about not using windows and fire, which I think are symbolic of the world's solutions. God always has a better solution to our troubles. They had these nice tight secure barges, but they couldn't steer the barges and didn't know where they were going, and it was a really really rough ride. We too come to earth and have very little control over what life brings us and are often not sure of our destination and it can be a really really rough ride. Their barges protected them and we too are protected if our life is fashioned by God's instructions. They were warned not to stop in the wilderness. How often we are tempted to stop in the wilderness and indulge in sin. But we too need to push on to the promised land and not get side-tracked. Interestingly, the winds that were their adversity were sent by God and were blowing them towards that promise land. And I've lived long enough to be able to look back at many difficulties in my life and to realize that those difficulties were designed to bring me to God and safely home to the ultimate promised land. And, when they arrived, they shed tears of joy! Ah, what a wonderful thing it will be to arrive at our promised land. We are granted glimpses of that joy from time to time. Most often, I have been granted those glimpses in Holy Temples. Well, I could go on and on. The story of the Jaredite journey is so full of wonderful symbolism. I'm sure I still have much to learn from it as a pattern for how to make it safely to my promised land.
This one post should not become a novel, so I'll just touch on 2 more Promised Land scriptures.
D&C 38:18-20 We are reminded that our promised land is given “if you seek it with all your hearts” and that is it our inheritance to be shared with our children eternally.
Numbers 14:6-9 God has promised us the celestial kingdom. The obstacles to attaining it are real and huge. But it is an exceeding good land and if the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us. But we are warned not to rebel nor to fear the obstacles.The link between these sorts of promises and hearts turning to fathers might not be terribly obvious. But I think that every time our hearts are turned to the promises that have been made to the fathers (made in the past), our hearts turn to God and then to our families. Enos in the Book of Mormon experienced that as he turned his heart to God. His next concern was for his family.
There are not a lot of scriptures references that use this term. The ones we have are in latter-day scripture. I will just mention two of them.
In Doctrine and Covenants 2, we are told that if our hearts do not turn, "the earth would be utterly wasted at his coming." As a younger person, I thought that meant that God would be really mad at us and would wipe everything out because we had not done what we should have. I guess I have mellowed over the years. Or maybe I have come to know God a little better. But I now understand this more as a sad statement than as an angry statement. The earth was created for us to learn and grow; to come to know God on a new level; to have families and love them and yearn for an eternal unity with them; to come a little closer to being who we are meant to be. If that does not happen, the whole creation was a waste -- it would not have accomplished what it was created to accomplish.
To wrap up, what have I learned about promises made to the fathers and hearts turning to those promises and to our fathers? The promises made to the fathers are the same promises made today -- promises of eternal life as we are obedient. And, as I turn my heart to those promises and to God, my heart naturally turns to family. We are so wonderfully blessed in this time of earth's history to have technology to help us find our ancestors; to have temples dotting the land where we can go to perform saving ordinances; to have people in our wards and stakes who are called to help us in this sacred and vital work. As I have been blessed to be involved closely with the work of redeeming the dead over the past several years, I have felt the Spirit stronger than at any other period of my life and felt the loving hand of my Father in my life helping me to turn my heart to Him and to my family. I look forward to arriving at my promised land and the hope of eternal association with those I have come to love best.In Doctrine and Covenants 98:16-17 we are instructed to "seek diligently to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers...." So, as our hearts turn to God and family, we need to try to turn the hearts of those we encounter in life. It is interesting to me that this revelation was given at a particularly difficult time in the early life of the Church as they were facing mob violence in Missouri. And God is here telling them that this is the way to peace.
As I am completing this post on Easter Sunday, it seems appropriate to comment that all of this is possible "Because of Him". Because our elder brother Jesus Christ loved his family -- loved me! -- He did what He did and made so very much possible for me, for you, for us all. I shall be eternally grateful.