When President Nelson shared the story of his breaking the bottles of alcohol his father owned, I kept thinking about another prophet who also broke things.
President Nelson shared the following story last April:
“I adored my parents. They meant the world to me and taught me crucial lessons. I cannot thank them enough for the happy homelife they created for me and my siblings. And yet, even as a boy, I knew I was missing something. One day I jumped on the streetcar and went to an LDS bookstore to find a book about the Church. I loved learning about the gospel.
As I came to understand the Word of Wisdom, I wanted my parents to live that law. So, one day when I was very young, I went to our basement and smashed on the concrete floor every bottle of liquor! I expected my father to punish me, but he never said a word.” 1
Abraham is known to have done something similar.
This story is taken from The Book of Jasher 11:21-49
Terah, in response to Abraham’s question to him about who the God was that had created heaven and earth and the children of men, took him to the hall wherein stood twelve great idols and a large number of little idols, and pointing to them he said, “Here are they who have made all thou seest on earth, they who have created also me and thee and all men on the earth,” and he bowed down before his gods, and left the hall with his son. Abraham went thence to his mother, and he spoke to her, saying: “Behold, my father has shown those unto me who made heaven and earth and all the sons of men. Now, therefore, hasten and fetch a kid from the flock, and make of it savory meat, that I may bring it to my father’s gods, perhaps I may thereby become acceptable to them.” His mother did according to his request, but when Abraham brought the offering to the gods, he saw that they had no voice, no hearing, no motion, and not one of them stretched forth his hand to eat. Abraham mocked them, and said, “Surely, the savory meat that I prepared doth not please you, or perhaps it is too little for you! Therefore I will prepare fresh savory meat to-morrow, better and more plentiful than this, that I may see what cometh therefrom.” But the gods remained mute and without motion before the second offering of excellent savory meat as before the first offering, and the spirit of God came over Abraham, and he cried out, and said: “Woe unto my father and his wicked generation, whose hearts are all inclined to vanity, who serve these idols of wood and stone, which cannot eat, nor smell, nor hear, nor speak, which have mouths without speech, eyes without sight, ears without hearing, hands without feeling, and legs without motion!”
Abraham then took a hatchet in his hand, and broke all his father’s gods, and when he had done breaking them he placed the hatchet in the hand of the biggest god among them all, and he went out. Terah, having heard the crash of the hatchet on the stone, ran to the room of the idols, and he reached it at the moment when Abraham was leaving it, and when he saw what had happened, he hastened after Abraham, and he said to him, “What is this mischief thou hast done to my gods?” Abraham answered: “I set savory meat before them, and when I came nigh unto them, that they might eat, they all stretched out their hands to take of the meat, before the big one had put forth his hand to eat. This one, enraged against them on account of their behavior, took the hatchet and broke them all, and, behold, the hatchet is yet in his hands, as thou mayest see.”
Then Terah turned in wrath upon Abraham, and he said: “Thou speakest lies unto me! Is there spirit, soul, or power in these gods to do all thou hast told me? Are they not wood and stone? and have I not myself made them? It is thou that didst place the hatchet in the hand of the big god, and thou sayest he smote them all.” Abraham answered his father, and said: “How, then, canst thou serve these idols in whom there is no power to do anything? Can these idols in which thou trustest deliver thee? Can they hear thy prayers when thou callest upon them?”
After having spoken these and similar words, admonishing his father to mend his ways and refrain from worshipping idols, he leapt up before Terah, took the hatchet from the big idol, broke it therewith, and ran away. 2
13 And in the fiftieth year of the life of Abram son of Terah, Abram came forth from the house of Noah, and went to his father’s house.
14 And Abram knew the Lord, and he went in his ways and instructions, and the Lord his God was with him.
15 And Terah his father was in those days, still captain of the host of king Nimrod, and he still followed strange gods.
16 And Abram came to his father’s house and saw twelve gods standing there in their temples, and the anger of Abram was kindled when he saw these images in his father’s house.
17 And Abram said, As the Lord liveth these images shall not remain in my father’s house; so shall the Lord who created me do unto me if in three days’ time I do not break them all.
18 And Abram went from them, and his anger burned within him. And Abram hastened and went from the chamber to his father’s outer court, and he found his father sitting in the court, and all his servants with him, and Abram came and sat before him.
19 And Abram asked his father, saying, Father, tell me where is God who created heaven and earth, and all the sons of men upon earth, and who created thee and me. And Terah answered his son Abram and said, Behold those who created us are all with us in the house.
20 And Abram said to his father, My lord, shew them to me I pray thee; and Terah brought Abram into the chamber of the inner court, and Abram saw, and behold the whole room was full of gods of wood and stone, twelve great images and others less than they without number.
21 And Terah said to his son, Behold these are they which made all thou seest upon earth, and which created me and thee, and all mankind.
22 And Terah bowed down to his gods, and he then went away from them, and Abram, his son, went away with him.
23 And when Abram had gone from them he went to his mother and sat before her, and he said to his mother, Behold, my father has shown me those who made heaven and earth, and all the sons of men.
24 Now, therefore, hasten and fetch a kid from the flock, and make of it savory meat, that I may bring it to my father’s gods as an offering for them to eat; perhaps I may thereby become acceptable to them.
25 And his mother did so, and she fetched a kid, and made savory meat thereof, and brought it to Abram, and Abram took the savory meat from his mother and brought it before his father’s gods, and he drew nigh to them that they might eat; and Terah his father, did not know of it.
26 And Abram saw on the day when he was sitting amongst them, that they had no voice, no hearing, no motion, and not one of them could stretch forth his hand to eat.
27 And Abram mocked them, and said, Surely the savory meat that I prepared has not pleased them, or perhaps it was too little for them, and for that reason they would not eat; therefore tomorrow I will prepare fresh savory meat, better and more plentiful than this, in order that I may see the result.
28 And it was on the next day that Abram directed his mother concerning the savory meat, and his mother rose and fetched three fine kids from the flock, and she made of them some excellent savory meat, such as her son was fond of, and she gave it to her son Abram; and Terah his father did not know of it.
29 And Abram took the savory meat from his mother, and brought it before his father’s gods into the chamber; and he came nigh unto them that they might eat, and he placed it before them, and Abram sat before them all day, thinking perhaps they might eat.
30 And Abram viewed them, and behold they had neither voice nor hearing, nor did one of them stretch forth his hand to the meat to eat.
31 And in the evening of that day in that house Abram was clothed with the spirit of God.
32 And he called out and said, Wo unto my father and this wicked generation, whose hearts are all inclined to vanity, who serve these idols of wood and stone which can neither eat, smell, hear nor speak, who have mouths without speech, eyes without sight, ears without hearing, hands without feeling, and legs which cannot move; like them are those that made them and that trust in them.
33 And when Abram saw all these things his anger was kindled against his father, and he hastened and took a hatchet in his hand, and came unto the chamber of the gods, and he broke all his father’s gods.
34 And when he had done breaking the images, he placed the hatchet in the hand of the great god which was there before them, and he went out; and Terah his father came home, for he had heard at the door the sound of the striking of the hatchet; so Terah came into the house to know what this was about.
35 And Terah, having heard the noise of the hatchet in the room of images, ran to the room to the images, and he met Abram going out.
36 And Terah entered the room and found all the idols fallen down and broken, and the hatchet in the hand of the largest, which was not broken, and the savory meat which Abram his son had made was still before them.
37 And when Terah saw this his anger was greatly kindled, and he hastened and went from the room to Abram.
38 And he found Abram his son still sitting in the house; and he said to him, What is this work thou hast done to my gods?
39 And Abram answered Terah his father and he said, Not so my lord, for I brought savory meat before them, and when I came nigh to them with the meat that they might eat, they all at once stretched forth their hands to eat before the great one had put forth his hand to eat.
40 And the large one saw their works that they did before him, and his anger was violently kindled against them, and he went and took the hatchet that was in the house and came to them and broke them all, and behold the hatchet is yet in his hand as thou seest.
41 And Terah’s anger was kindled against his son Abram, when he spoke this; and Terah said to Abram his son in his anger, What is this tale that thou hast told? Thou speakest lies to me.
42 Is there in these gods spirit, soul or power to do all thou hast told me? Are they not wood and stone, and have I not myself made them, and canst thou speak such lies, saying that the large god that was with them smote them? It is thou that didst place the hatchet in his hands, and then sayest he smote them all.
43 And Abram answered his father and said to him, And how canst thou then serve these idols in whom there is no power to do any thing? Can those idols in which thou trustest deliver thee? can they hear thy prayers when thou callest upon them? can they deliver thee from the hands of thy enemies, or will they fight thy battles for thee against thy enemies, that thou shouldst serve wood and stone which can neither speak nor hear?
44 And now surely it is not good for thee nor for the sons of men that are connected with thee, to do these things; are you so silly, so foolish or so short of understanding that you will serve wood and stone, and do after this manner?
45 And forget the Lord God who made heaven and earth, and who created you in the earth, and thereby bring a great evil upon your souls in this matter by serving stone and wood?
46 Did not our fathers in days of old sin in this matter, and the Lord God of the universe brought the waters of the flood upon them and destroyed the whole earth?
47 And how can you continue to do this and serve gods of wood and stone, who cannot hear, or speak, or deliver you from oppression, thereby bringing down the anger of the God of the universe upon you?
48 Now therefore my father refrain from this, and bring not evil upon thy soul and the souls of thy household.
49 And Abram hastened and sprang from before his father, and took the hatchet from his father’s largest idol, with which Abram broke it and ran away.
50 And Terah, seeing all that Abram had done, hastened to go from his house, and he went to the king and he came before Nimrod and stood before him, and he bowed down to the king; and the king said, What dost thou want?
51 And he said, I beseech thee my lord, to hear me–Now fifty years back a child was born to me, and thus has he done to my gods and thus has he spoken; and now therefore, my lord and king, send for him that he may come before thee, and judge him according to the law, that we may be delivered from his evil.
52 And the king sent three men of his servants, and they went and brought Abram before the king. And Nimrod and all his princes and servants were that day sitting before him, and Terah sat also before them.
53 And the king said to Abram, What is this that thou hast done to thy father and to his gods? And Abram answered the king in the words that he spoke to his father, and he said, The large god that was with them in the house did to them what thou hast heard.
54 And the king said to Abram, Had they power to speak and eat and do as thou hast said? And Abram answered the king, saying, And if there be no power in them why dost thou serve them and cause the sons of men to err through thy follies?
55 Dost thou imagine that they can deliver thee or do anything small or great, that thou shouldst serve them? And why wilt thou not sense the God of the whole universe, who created thee and in whose power it is to kill and keep alive?
56 0 foolish, simple, and ignorant king, woe unto thee forever.
57 I thought thou wouldst teach thy servants the upright way, but thou hast not done this, but hast filled the whole earth with thy sins and the sins of thy people who have followed thy ways.
58 Dost thou not know, or hast thou not heard, that this evil which thou doest, our ancestors sinned therein in days of old, and the eternal God brought the waters of the flood upon them and destroyed them all, and also destroyed the whole earth on their account? And wilt thou and thy people rise up now and do like unto this work, in order to bring down the anger of the Lord God of the universe, and to bring evil upon thee and the whole earth?
59 Now therefore put away this evil deed which thou doest, and serve the God of the universe, as thy soul is in his hands, and then it will be well with thee.
60 And if thy wicked heart will not hearken to my words to cause thee to forsake thy evil ways, and to serve the eternal God, then wilt thou die in shame in the latter days, thou, thy people and all who are connected with thee, hearing thy words or walking in thy evil ways.
61 And when Abram had ceased speaking before the king and princes, Abram lifted up his eyes to the heavens, and he said, The Lord seeth all the wicked, and he will judge them.
How Modern Prophets Contextualized This Account
[Abraham] understood that there was a God in heaven, a living and true God, and that no man should worship any other God but Him. These were the feelings of Abraham, and he taught his father’s house, and all around him, as far as he had the privilege. The consequence was, his father and the idolatrous priests of that day sought to take his life. In the book of Abraham, translated in our day and generation, we are informed that Abraham was bound, and those priests sought to take his life, but the Lord delivered him from them. One reason why they did so was, that he had gone into those places which his father considered sacred, and among the wooden gods which were there, and, being filled with anger that his father should bow down and worship gods of wood and stone, he broke them. When his father saw that his son Abraham had broken his gods he was very angry with him. But Abraham, trying to reason with his father, said that probably the gods had got to fighting among themselves and had killed one another. He tried to bring him to reason, but his father did not believe they had life enough to kill one another. If he had possessed the spirit which his son had, he would have said there is no power with these gods; but he did not, and Abraham had to flee from his father’s house, confiding in the Lord, who gave many promises to him and concerning his posterity. 3
There is something humorous in a history that we have in relation to this personage. The priests of those days offered sacrifices to their gods, and, like the priests of these days, they were generally opposed to new revelation from God. Abraham’s father had instructed him in the doctrines of these idols, and had sought to induce him to have faith in them and in their power, authority, and dominion, telling him what great personages they were. But Abraham, inspired by the Lord, went on a certain occasion into the temple of these gods and smote them right and left, upsetting and breaking them in pieces. His father came in and asked what he had been doing, what great sin this was that he had committed, why he was so sacrilegious in his feelings and so wicked as to seek to destroy these gods? Said he, “Father, I did not do anything to them, they quarreled among themselves and went to work fighting and knocked one another down, broke one another’s heads and knocked off one another’s arms and legs.” “Oh,” said his father, “my sons do not tell me anything of that kind, for they are made of wood and they could not move or stir from their place nor knock one another down; it has been some other agency that has done it.” “Why, father,” said he, “would you worship a being that could not stir or move, that had hands and could not handle, that had legs and could not walk, a mouth that could not speak, and a head and it was of no use? Would you worship a being like that?” But nevertheless our history informs us that the priests were angry and stirred up his father against him. But the Lord inspired Abraham to leave there. The Bible tells us the Lord said to him: “Get thee up from thy father’s house, from the land wherein thou wast born, and go up to a land I will show unto thee, and which I will afterwards give unto thee for an inheritance.” And we are told that “he went up, not knowing whither he went.” 4
It is said Abraham’s father was an idolater, and that he had a number of gods in his house. This grieved Abraham, whilst his father wanted his son to believe and worship as he himself did; but Abraham knew better than to do such a thing. Abraham at last thought he would teach his father a lesson by making a clean sweep of his gods. So he got a club, or some other weapon, and knocked off the heads of some, the arms and legs of others, and made a general wreck among the idols, but left the biggest untouched. When Abraham’s father learned what had happened, he of course was greatly exercised; he inquired of Abraham who had done it. Abraham told him that the gods had had a quarrel among themselves, “and,” said he, “here is the fellow, (pointing to the big one he had spared) that did it.” Said the father: “My son, why do you tell me such a thing. My gods cannot fight; they have legs, but they cannot walk; they have arms, but they cannot use them; they have eyes and ears, but they cannot see nor hear.” “Why, father,” said Abraham, “is it possible that you worship a god that cannot hear or see, walk or use himself at all?” The god of the Christians, according to their own description of him, being a god without body, parts or passions, would be as unlikely to hear them when they called upon him, as were the gods of Terah, Abraham’s father, when he called upon them. 5
- President Russell M. Nelson, Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives, April General Conference, 2018.
- Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, 7 vols. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1909-38.
- Wilford Woodruff, Journal of Discourses, 11:244.
- John Taylor, Journal of Discourses, 14:359, March 17, 1872.
- Discourse by President John Taylor, Duties of the Saints—The Atonement, etc. Delivered at Provo, Sunday Afternoon, August 28th, 1881, Reported by Geo. F. Gibbs.