Sunday, March 28, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #13 Bondage, Passover, and Exodus

(Exodus 1-3; 5-6; 11-14)

(Study Tip:  Joseph Smith made many small but very significant changes to the story of the Exodus. Be sure to read and mark all the JST changes in the footnotes.)


(Use this interactive quiz game to overview the story of Moses and the Exodus in any of the following ways: 1) If your class members read the assignment ahead of time, read the questions and see if they remember the answers from their reading; 2) Copy out the questions with the scripture references (but not the answers) and hand them out as class members come into the room so they can each look up an answer and give it to the class; 3) Read the questions and references, and have the first class member to find the scripture answer the question.)
  1. God dealt well with the Hebrew midwives and multiplied their posterity because they did what? (Refused to follow Pharoah’s mandate to kill the male Hebrew babies they delivered. Exo. 1:16-21)
  2. How old was Baby Moses when he was set adrift on the Nile by his mother? (3 months. Ex. 2:2)
  3. Pharaoh’s daughter named the baby Moses. What did the name Moses mean? (In Hebrew: To draw out of the water; in Egyptian: To bear a child. Footnote to Ex. 2:10)
  4. Who was Moses’ nursemaid? (His own biological mother. Ex. 2:7-10)
  5. When Moses fled Egypt he traveled a great distance and ended up at the household of Jethro, a Midianite. Who did the Midianites descend from? (Abraham, through his third wife Keturah’s son, Midian. Gen. 25:2)
  6. Jethro, the Midianite, had seven daughters. Which daughter did Moses marry? (Zipporah. Ex. 2:16,21)
  7. Where did Aaron meet Moses upon his return journey to Egypt? (In the Mount of the Lord—the temple place. Ex. 4:27)
  8. How old was Moses when he brought the children of Israel out of Egypt? (80. Ex. 7:7)
  9. Aaron was actually Moses’ biological brother. Was Aaron older or younger than Moses? (Older by 3 years. Ex. 7:7. Miriam was probably about 15 years older. The word used to describe her at the time she set Moses afloat in the water refers to someone who has been through puberty.)
  10. Each time Moses and Aaron petitioned Pharoah to let the Israelites go, what was the reason they said the Lord wanted them freed? (To have the religious freedom to serve the Lord. Ex. 4:23; 5:1; 7:16; 8:1; 8:20; 9:1; 9:13; 10:3)
  11. How many signs or miracles were shown to Pharoah to try to convince him to let the Israelites go? (Twelve. Ex. 5-14)
  12. Who turned the Nile to blood? (Aaron. Ex. 7:17)
  13. Did the Lord harden Pharoah’s heart? (No, the JST changes all of those verses to say that Pharoah hardened his own heart.)
  14. How many Israelites were there at the time of the Exodus? (600,000 men over age 20. Adding in women and children, likely near 2 million people. Ex. 12:37)
  15. How many years had the Israelites been in bondage? (430. Ex. 12:40)
  16. In one instance in these chapters, the Lord became angry with Moses. What was the reason? (Moses was afraid to take the assignment to lead the children of Israel out of bondage. Ex. 4:10-14)

This last question leads us to the next topic of our lesson.


As Moses kept the flocks of Jethro, he came to Mt. Sinai (Institute Manual, p. 105), and he saw the burning bush and went towards it. The voice of the Lord called his name, and Moses answered, “Here am I” (Ex. 3:4). This phrase, “Here am I,” is a Hebrew idiom that indicates readiness or willingness (Amy Blake Hardison in Covenants, Prophecies, and Hymns of the Old Testament: The 30th Annual Sydney B. Sperry Symposium, p. 27). The Lord then issued the command to Moses to lead the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt.

When Moses heard what the Lord’s requirement was, he retracted his ready and willing state. “Who am I,” he said, “that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Ex. 3:11) The Lord answered, “Certainly I will be with thee.” The Lord said “I AM THAT I AM,” which identified himself as the God Jehovah, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and is the first person singular form of the verb to be, signifying that this is the God who is self-existent, who does not need to be made (like an idol does), who lives eternally.

Moses pointed out his own inadequacies. “I am not eloquent…I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue” (Ex. 4:10) Moses had been away from the Egyptian language and culture probably 40 years while he dwelt in Midian as a simple shepherd. He was 80 years old by now. The Lord taught him the role of a prophet in the next two verses. “Who hath made man’s mouth?...Have not I the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say” (Ex. 4:11-12). But Moses gave his answer in verse 13, the equivalent of saying, “O my Lord, send someone else” (Harper-Collins Study Bible).

Moses may have been correct in his assessment of his inadequacies; he may have had good reasons for a poor self-confidence, especially considering the situation. But those reasons were irrelevant! And that’s why the Lord was angry (Ex. 4:14). Moses’ self-esteem was unimportant; it was his faith in the Lord that mattered, and this was shown to be severely lacking. Despite the many promises the Lord had just made to help him every step of the way, Moses did not believe Him.

The Lord offered Moses a spokesman, a counselor, his own brother Aaron, who had been with the Hebrews and Egyptians all these years. “I will be with thy mouth, and with his mouth, and will teach you what ye shall do” (Ex. 4:15). Finally, Moses accepted the call. It is interesting to note that when he asked leave of his father-in-law patriarch, Jethro, Jethro did not argue or point out Moses’ shortcomings, or the impossibility of the task.  And remember:  Moses was taking Jethro's daughter and grandsons, too (Ex. 4:20)!  Jethro had faith in the Lord. All he said was, “Go in peace” (Ex. 4:18). The Lord then sent Aaron into the wilderness to meet Moses at the temple mountain, and Aaron simply went (Ex. 4:27), showing his great faith as well.  (How did he sneak away from the Egyptians?  That would be an interesting story!)

Sometime after this first appearance of the Lord to Moses through the burning bush, but before the Exodus, Moses received the great vision recorded in the Pearl of Great Price.  (See Moses 1:17 in which the burning bush is in the past tense, and Moses 1:26 in which the Exodus is prophecied.)  In this vision he was told by God, “…Behold, thou art my son…And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten…” (Moses 1:4,6). After this vision, did Moses have a better self-esteem? No! Look at verse 10: “And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man; and he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed. But now mine own eyes have beheld God…his glory was upon me; and I beheld his face…” (Moses 1:10-11). Moses’ opinion of himself was even lower than it had been before. But his opinion of God, his faith in God, was greatly increased. He learned for himself that God was great, powerful, loving, and personally helpful!  It was not his self-esteem that mattered, but his knowledge of God, and his understanding of his relationship to God. This is why “the first lesson taught to every child in the world attending Primary is ‘I am a child of God’” (Gayle M. Clegg, Counselor, Primary General Presidency, Ensign, May 2002).


Pharoah exemplifies Satan and his followers in this story. He hardens his heart. He thinks only of himself and his pride and his glory. He is not loyal to his own people. He makes ridiculously impossible assignments and is angry when they are not accomplished.  He does not offer aid.  He shows no mercy.  He does not keep his promises.  He is powerful, but not nearly as powerful as God, yet he seems to keep forgetting that.

Moses and Aaron tackled the long and arduous task of freeing the Children of Israel. Despite knowing that Pharoah would not let them go (Ex. 3:19), they gave him a chance by simply asking him to release the Hebrews from bondage so that they could serve the Lord (Ex. 5:1).  The Lord always warns, he always offers repentance as an option. Pharoah’s answer? “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? (Ex. 5:2). To emphasize that he was greater than Jehovah, he added cruel tasks to the Hebrews as a punishment. Often when we are committing to do as the Lord commands, or when we are trying to free ourselves from the bondage of sin, Satan tightens his reigns and things get temporarily worse. Sometimes the reason the Lord allows this to happen is so that we can see more clearly that it is His hand that redeems us from such a hopeless state, as the Lord reassured the people through the prophet, Moses: “Now shalt thou see what I will do to Pharaoh, for with a strong hand shall he let them go, and with a strong hand shall he drive them out of his land” (Ex. 6:1), meaning not only will he let them go, he will throw them out!  Unimaginable! “I have remembered my covenant. Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments: And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am the Lord your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you in unto the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for an heritage: I am the Lord” (Ex. 6:5-8).

The next four times Moses and Aaron approached Pharoah, they brought proofs of God’s power.  First Aaron (not Moses) turned the staff to a serpent (Ex. 7:10), the river water to blood (Ex. 7:20), caused a frog infestation (Ex. 8:6), and brought dust to life as lice (8:17). Pharoah’s magicians copied the tricks. Whether they performed small replicas of Aaron’s, or whether they used the power of the devil to perform full-blown spectacles, the scripture doesn’t say.

Simply showing great power did not impress Pharoah, so the Lord moved on to plagues that would clearly indicate he favored people who believed in Him. The Lord sent swarms of flies upon the Egyptian, but no flies in the land of Goshen, where the Hebrews lived (Ex. 8:22-24). Pharoah recognized the trouble to be caused by the Lord, and made a deal with Moses: If the Lord took the flies away, he would allow the Children of Israel to go on a three-day leave into the wilderness and sacrifice to their God. The flies disappeared, but Pharoah, like Satan, reneged on his promise.  So the Lord killed all the Egyptians’ cattle while preserving the Hebrews’ (Ex. 9:6).

Now the miracles were performed by Moses, not Aaron. Had Moses watched Aaron’s excellent example until he gained confidence to use the power of God himself?  Or had the Lord saved the more powerful leader for the more challenging works?  In any case, Moses and Aaron made a pretty awesome presidency.  With the power of God, Moses sent ashes into the wind, which alighted on the people and animals and broke out into boils (Ex. 9:8-11). Even the magicians had to retreat and tend to their wounds. Moses brought hail upon the land of Egypt, with lightning, thunder, and fire, while calm weather prevailed in the land of Goshen (Ex. 9:22-26), followed by locusts which tormented the Egyptians (Ex. 10:13).  Moses caused three days of darkness upon the land, so thick the Egyptians were completely immobilized, but the Hebrews had light inside their homes (Ex. 10:21-23), as do all people who trust in the Lord.

After each plague, Pharoah, in his terror, acknowledged his sins, begged forgiveness, and promised freedom to the Hebrews.  Every time, as soon as the trouble was over, he changed his mind and hardened his heart again, refusing to acknowledge the answers to his heavenward pleadings as miracles.  Just like Satan, Pharoah continually promised freedom, and just like Satan, he never delivered it.

The miracles and plagues had a two-fold purpose: 1) to demonstrate the power of the Lord to Pharaoh and give him a chance to repent, and 2) to build the faith of the Israelites so they would know they could trust in their God (Ex. 10:1-2).  After 430 years of bondage, they might have thought that God had forgotten them, or that He had no power to help them, but Moses and Aaron clearly showed His power and care.


The miracle that finally convinced Pharoah to let the people go was the death of his own son and all the firstborn sons of Egypt, man and animal (Ex. 11-12), while the Hebrew children sat safe in their homes. The Hebrews were not protected just because they were the Children of Israel, however. They were protected because they exercised their faith in Jehovah (Jesus Christ) by placing the blood of a firstborn lamb around their doors, and by preparing bread without leaven, to show their certainty that they would be so quickly freed, they would not have time to wait for the dough to rise. This feast of unleavened bread, or the Feast of the Passover, would be an annual commemoration ever after.  We, likewise, must exercise our faith in the blood of the Lamb throughout our lives, and that Atonement will protect us from spiritual death. 

As the Lord had foretold, at the death of his son, Pharoah threw the Hebrews out of Egypt with great force, not even waiting for morning, and their flight was indeed faster than bread could rise (Ex. 12:29-34). This flatbread dough became their emergency evacuation food, the 72-hour kits of the day.  They had all followed the counsel of their prophet and were ready to leave, even in the middle of the night, so that they were all the way to the Red Sea before Pharoah changed his mind this time.  As the Lord had promised, they were not only allowed to take their own possessions, but to also take spoils of the Egyptians as they desired, for a payment for their years of servitude (Ex. 12:36-38).


"[In D&C 8:2-3], the Lord has said, ‘I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart...Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground.’  Why would the Lord use the example of crossing the Red Sea as the classic example of ‘the spirit of revelation’? Why didn’t He use the First Vision? ...Or the vision of the brother of Jared?

“First of all, revelation almost always comes in response to a question, usually an urgent question...Moses’ challenge was how to get himself and the children of Israel out of this horrible predicament they were in. There were chariots behind them, sand dunes on every side, and a lot of water immediately ahead. He needed information to know what to do, but it wasn’t a casual thing he was asking. In this case it was literally a matter of life and death...

"The Red Sea will open to the honest seeker of revelation. The adversary has power to hedge up the way, to marshal Pharaoh’s forces and dog our escape right to the water’s edge, but...he cannot conquer if we will it otherwise. Exerting all our powers, the light will again come, the darkness will again retreat, the safety will be sure. That is lesson number one about crossing the Red Sea by the spirit of revelation.

“Lesson number two is closely related. It is that in the process of revelation and making important decisions, fear plays a destructive, sometimes paralyzing role...That is exactly the problem that beset the children of Israel at the edge of the Red Sea, and it has everything to do with holding fast to your earlier illumination. The record says, ‘And when Pharaoh drew nigh, the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and, behold, the Egyptians marched after them; and they were sore afraid.’ Some...said words to this effect: ‘Let’s go back. This isn’t worth it. We must have been wrong. That probably wasn’t the right spirit telling us to leave Egypt' (Ex. 14:10-12). And I have to say, ‘What about that which has already happened? What about the miracles that got you here? What about the frogs and the lice? What about the rod and the serpent, the river and the blood? What about the hail, the locusts, the fire, the firstborn sons?’ How soon we forget. It would not have been better to stay and serve the Egyptians, and it is not better to remain outside the Church, nor to put off marriage, nor to reject a mission call or other Church service, and so on and so on forever. Of course our faith will be tested as we fight through these self-doubts and second thoughts. Some days we will be miraculously led out of Egypt—seemingly free, seemingly on our way—only to come to yet another confrontation, like all that water lying before us. At those times we must resist the temptation to panic and give up. At those times fear will be the strongest of the adversary’s weapons against us.

“And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord. … The Lord shall fight for you.” In confirmation the great Jehovah said to Moses, “Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward” (Ex. 14:13-15). That is the second lesson of the spirit of revelation. After you have gotten the message, after you have paid the price to feel His love and hear the word of the Lord, go forward... Nobody had ever crossed the Red Sea this way, but so what? There’s always a first time. With the spirit of revelation, dismiss your fears and wade in with both feet. In the words of Joseph Smith, ‘Brethren [and sisters], shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, brethren; and on, on to the victory!’

“The third lesson from the Lord’s spirit of revelation in the miracle of crossing the Red Sea is that along with the illuminating revelation that points us toward a righteous purpose or duty, God will also provide the means and power to achieve that purpose. Trust in that eternal truth. If God has told you something is right, if something is indeed true for you, He will provide the way for you to accomplish it. That is true of joining the Church or raising a family, of going on a mission, or any one of a hundred other worthy tasks in life” (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Ensign, March 2000).

The Lord always turns a trial into a victory for those who trust in Him.  The confrontation at the Red Sea appeared to be a disaster to the Hebrews, but because Pharoah's army followed them to the Red Sea, and through the Red Sea, where the Lord could bring the waters down upon them, "there remained not so much as one of [the Egyptian soldiers]" (Ex. 14:28).  The Egyptian civilization was crushed with the loss of their leader and their men, and the Children of Israel were left to sojourn in the wilderness for 40 years, never fearing their captors again.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #12 "Fruitful in the Land of My Affliction"

(Genesis 40-45)


In the three generations following Abraham, we have met brothers Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, and Reuben and Joseph.  There are many striking similarities in the three generations. 
  • The older brother had evil or even murderous intent toward his younger brother, who should have been his charge. 
    1. Ishmael mocked and persecuted Isaac (Gen. 21:9; Gal 4:29).  According to the historian Josephus, Sarah had concerns that Ishmael would kill Isaac after their father's death (see "Abraham's Wives" in a previous post.)
    2. Esau intended to kill Jacob after their father's death (Gen. 27:41).
    3. Joseph's older brothers considered killing him, then sold him as a slave instead (Gen. 37).
  • The brothers were estranged for many years.
    1. Ishmael and his mother were sent into the wilderness (Gen. 21:14).
    2. Rebekah sent Jacob to Haran to protect him from Esau (Gen. 27:42-44).  He ended up staying twenty years (Gen. 31:41).
    3. Joseph was sold into Egypt while the rest of his family remained in Canaan (Gen. 37).
  • The younger brother had many trials, but remained righteous.
    1. Isaac was offered as a sacrifice to Jehovah by his father (Gen. 22:9).  Isaac had to wait to the age of 40 to find a covenant wife (Gen. 25:20), and they had to wait 20 years to have children (Gen. 25:26).
    2. Jacob was tricked into marrying Leah, had to work twice as long as planned to earn Rachel, and his father-in-law cheated him continually (Gen. 29-30).
    3. Joseph was sold into slavery, framed as a sex offender, and forgotten in prison (Gen. 39-40).
  • The younger brother had great spiritual experiences.
    1. Isaac was present when the angel of the Lord spoke to his father at the altar (Gen. 22:11-12).  The hand of the Lord was obvious when Abraham's servant went to find a covenant wife for Isaac (Gen. 24).  Isaac also received personal revelation restating the covenant (Gen. 26:2-5; 24).
    2. Jacob saw the vision of the ladder going into heaven (Gen. 28).  He also received direction from an angel in a dream (Gen. 31:11-13).  He saw angels again while traveling home (Gen. 32:1).  Jacob's name was changed to Israel by an angel (Gen. 32:28).
    3. Joseph had the ability to receive and to interpret dreams that were revelations (Gen 41:16,25).
  • The older brother did not follow righteousness.
    1. There is not any information about Ishmael in this regard, except that the Ishmaelites became a heathen nation (Bible Dictionary p. 707).
    2. Esau disregarded the birthright (Gen. 25:32), and married Hittite women (Gen. 26:34-35).
    3. See "Opposites" in the previous post for the many escapades of Joseph's brothers.
  • The younger brother earned the right to be the birthright son.
    1. The Lord established His covenant through Isaac (Gen. 17:18-19), and Abraham gave him all that he had (Gen. 25:5).
    2. Rebekah overrode her husband, and arranged the birthright blessing for Jacob (Gen. 27).
    3. Joseph was given the coat of many colors (Gen. 37:3), which LDS scholars consider to be symbolic of the birthright.  After his sojourn in Egypt, he was able to take care of his family's welfare (Gen 45).
    4. This carried on to the fourth generation as patriarch Israel blessed Joseph's younger son Ephraim with the birthright (Gen. 48:14-20).
  • The older brother eventually mended his ways.
    1. We have no details about Ishmael.
    2. Esau married a third wife who was of the family of Abraham (Gen. 28:8-9).
    3. Joseph's brothers felt remorse for their treatment of him (Gen. 42:21-22); they consequently treated their youngest brother, Benjamin, with much care, offering their own lives or children's lives for his on three occasions (Gen. 42:37; 43:9; 44:33-34).
  • The younger brother prospered...eventually.
    1. Isaac had a hundredfold return in one year (Gen. 26:12-14).
    2. Despite the cheating of Laban, Jacob cleverly increased his own herds (Gen. 30:37-43) and gave the glory to God (Gen. 31:7-9).
    3. Joseph became a leader in Potipher's house, in prison, and in all of Egypt (Gen. 38-41).
  • The younger, birthright brother treated the older brother with great kindness, compassion, and forgiveness.
    1. There are no details about Isaac and Ishmael.
    2. When he returned to his homeland and his murderous brother, Jacob did not bring an army, but gifts of reconciliation (Gen. 33:11).
    3. Joseph sold his brothers food, then returned their money to them (Gen. 42:28; 44:1).  When he revealed himself to them, after testing their integrity, he frankly forgave them, and encouraged them to forgive themselves (Gen. 45:5-8).
  • The brothers were reconciled and reunited.
    1. Isaac and Ishmael together buried their father (Gen. 25:9).  Although there have been centuries of feuding between the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael (the Jews and the Arabs), attempts at reconciliation continue through the missionary work of the House of Israel, and in political organizations such as Ishmael & Isaac.
    2. "Esau ran to meet [Jacob], and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept" (Gen. 33: 4).
    3. Joseph invited his brothers to live near him in Egypt where he could take care of them (Gen. 45:10-11).  He "kissed all his brethren and wept upon them" (Gen. 45:15).  He sent Pharoah's wagons and provisions with them to Canaan to move their families to Egypt (Gen. 45:19).
Whenever we see such repetition in the scriptures, we can be sure that the Lord is trying to teach us something. These stories teach us great truths about birthright sons.


Jesus Christ taught a parable to the Jews, the descendants of Judah, Joseph's older brother. As it is a part of our scriptures, He is still trying to teach that parable to us today.

"A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want" (Luke 15:11-14). The prodigal ("wasteful") son was reduced to poverty and starvation before he decided to return home to his father prepared to beg forgiveness, intending to say, "'Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.' And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him" (Luke 15:18-20). The father hastened to make a feast to welcome his son back wholeheartedly and invited his whole household to celebrate.  This is the beautiful part of the story.  Now comes the ugly part: The other son reacted with bitterness. He complained about a feast being given for his brother when he had always done what his father wanted and never got a calf or a ring.  The father, surprised by this jealousy, pointed out that the older son had been greatly blessed all along and would be in the future because of his obedience.  With this reminder, the story ends abruptly, leaving us to choose for ourselves the older son's reaction.

If we have learned the lessons of the birthright taught three times in Genesis, we will not miss the message of the parable, and neither should have the Jews in Christ's day.  The parable has at least two interpretations:

First, we as the House of Israel, the members of the Church, most of us direct descendants of Joseph through Ephraim, are the birthright sons and daughters. Those who have willfully or wanderingly left the Church family are the younger brothers. We have "ever been with our Father" and have been blessed accordingly. If we are one with Christ, we will be on the road, watching and ready for the return of our younger (or less spiritually mature) siblings. Our "bowels [will] yearn upon [our] brothers," as did Joseph's (Gen. 43:30). We will rejoice at their progress, even when they are still "a great way off," as did the father of the prodigal son.  We will greet them with generosity rather than enmity, as did Jacob, saying, "Take, I pray thee, my blessing that is brought to thee; because God hath dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough" (Gen. 33:11).  Rather than resent any troubles our siblings have brought upon us by their errors, we will recognize, as did Joseph, that it was all a part of the plan: "God sent [us] before [them] [their] lives by a great deliverance" (Gen. 45:7). If we are true birthright sons, our attitude will reflect that of the repentant Judah, who refused to leave Egypt without his younger brother Benjamin, saying, "How shall I go up to my father, and the lad be not with me?" (Gen. 44:34).

We can also learn a great truth from this parable if we put ourselves in the role of the prodigal son. Imagine what would have happened to us had Christ, our birthright Brother, behaved as the "good" son in the parable did! We, as the poorly behaved, short-sighted younger siblings, every one, find ourselves wandering off to riotous living to one degree or another, and ending up in the slop with the pigs. Christ, the birthright Son, our liaison with the Father, watches for us on the road, welcomes us back when we have only partly made the journey, walks with us the rest of the way, gives us a ring, and a robe, and a fatted calf, and forgives and even exalts us through His Atonement. We don't deserve a bit of it, and yet He gives it willingly, just as Joseph gave his brothers the life-saving grain! "Yea, [Christ] saith: Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely" (Alma 5:34).


(Teaching tip:  Print up the following statements about Joseph and Jesus Christ and cut them apart.  Pass all the papers out among the class members.  Have any class member who has a statement about Joseph read it aloud.  Those who have statements about Christ determine whether theirs is a match.  The matching statement is then read aloud.  This continues, in any order, until all statements have been read.)

Joseph was the favored son, the birthright son.
Jesus was the Only Begotten Son, the Birthright Son.

Joseph announced his prophecied position as leader of his family to his brothers, and they despised him for it.
Jesus announced himself as the prophecied King of the Jews, and they despised him for it.

Joseph was rejected by his brothers, the Israelites, and sold into the hands of the Gentiles.
Jesus was rejected by his "brothers," the Israelites, and sold into the hands of the Romans, the "Gentiles."

Judah proposed the sale of Joseph.  Judah became the head of the tribe of Judah, later known as the "Jews."
Leaders of the Jews turned Jesus over to the Romans.  Judas (the Greek form of the name "Judah") Proposed the sale.

Joseph was sold for 20 pieces of silver, the price of a slave his age.
Jesus was sold for 30 pieces of silver, the price of a slave his age.

Joseph began his mission of preparing salvation for Israel at age 30.
Jesus began His ministry of preparing salvation for the world at age 30.

In their very attempt to destroy Joseph, his brothers actually set up the conditions that would bring about their eventual temporal salvation--that is, Joseph, by virtue of being sold, would become their deliverer.
In their very attempt to destroy Jesus, the Jews actually set up the conditions that would bring about their spiritual salvation--that is, Jesus, by virtue of being crucified, completed the atoning sacrifice, becoming the Deliverer for all mankind, even those who sold Him and killed Him.

When Joseph was finally raised to his exalted position in Egypt, all bowed the knee to him.
When Jesus is finally raised to his exalted position as King of all creation, all will bow the knee to Him.

Joseph provided bread for Israel and saved them from death, all without cost to them.
Jesus, the Bread of Life, saved all men from death, all without cost to them.

Judah and the brothers of Joseph, even twenty years after selling him as a slave, were racked with guilt.
After the crucifixion, Judas was tortured by guilt.

When Joseph was reunited with his brethren, after determining whether they had truly repented, he forgave them, embraced them and wept.
When Jesus welcomes us back into His presence, after determining whether we have repented, He will forgive us, and embrace us.

The brothers of Joseph were saved from famine because they came to Joseph in Egypt and begged his mercy.
Christ saves all those who will come to Him and beg His mercy.

Joseph acted as mediator between his brothers and Pharoah, pleading their cause.
Jesus will plead our cause as Mediator between us and our Father in Heaven.

Pharoah provided a royal inheritance for the Israelites because they were the family of Joseph.
Heavenly Father will provide a royal inheritance for those who have become the children of Christ.

Joseph was in a position to save his family because of his righteousness, his reliance upon God, and his great personal effort in Egypt.
Jesus is in a position to save us because of His righteousness, His godliness, and His tremendous personal effort in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Joseph's brothers had a difficult time believing that he had really forgiven them of their great sin, but Joseph said, "'Fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones.' And he comforted them and spake kindly unto them" (Gen. 50:21).  At their father's death, those worries returned and they once again begged his forgiveness.  He was saddened that they had not believed they were forgiven seventeen years before (Gen. 50:15-17).
Many of us have a difficult time believing that Christ will really forgive us of our sins; we think they are too great, or too many times repeated.  But Christ said, "Will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you?  Yea, verily, if ye will come unto me ye shall have eternal life.  Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you, and whosoever will come, him will I receive; and blessed are those who come unto me" (3 Nephi 9:13-14).

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #11 "How Can I Do This Great Wickedness?"

(Genesis 34; 37-39)


As near as we can guess, the Book of Genesis covers approximately 2,500 years. During this 2,500-year time period, a remarkable man lived whose name was Joseph. The very last verse of the very last chapter of Genesis tells us how long he lived: 110 years. 110 years is 4.4% of the time span of the Book of Genesis, yet the story of Joseph's life begins at Genesis 30:24 and ends at Genesis 50:26--40% of the book of Genesis is used to cover the 110-year history of Joseph! Obviously, the story of Joseph is very important (Russell M. Nelson, "Remnants, Gathered, Covenants Fulfilled, Voices of Old Testament Prophets, p. 4).


How would you describe water to an alien from Mars? What does it look like? What color is it? What shape is it? The answer is that it depends upon the situation it is in: what is behind it, what is in it, what is underneath it, what is above it. The water of Bear Lake, Utah is a stunning turquoise blue in sunny weather. The water in the Black Sea of Russia is black in stormy weather. Yet the water in both has the same chemical composition: H2O. If you put water in a box, the water is square. If you put water in a vase, it's a cylinder. If you spill it on the floor, it's flat. If it evaporates into the air, it becomes invisible. If it gets too cold, it becomes solid.

A rock would be much easier to describe. Each individual rock is slightly different from another. You could say what shape it is, what size it is, what color it is. A rock does not change to match its environment. If you drop it on the ground, it's still the same shape, size and color. If you put it in a box, it's still the same shape, size and color. If it is larger than a vase, it will not change in order to fit, and you won't be able to put it in there. A rock is solid and stable.

This lesson is about water and rock.


To understand the story of the family of Jacob, renamed Israel, we need to know the characters.  Here are Jacob's sons, listed in order of birth.

1) Reuben, son of Leah
2) Simeon, son of Leah
3) Levi, son of Leah
4) Judah, son of Leah
5) Dan, son of Bilhah, Rachel's handmaid
6) Naphtali, son of Bilhah, Rachel's handmaid
7) Gad, son of Zilpah, Leah's handmaid
8) Asher, son of Zilpah, Leah's handmaid
9) Issacher, son of Leah
10) Zebulun, son of Leah
11) Joseph, son of Rachel
12) Benjamin, son of Rachel


In Old Testament times, the father was the patriarch of the entire family.  His rule was nearly absolute, as was his responsibility for the welfare of his family.  He decided upon the marriage partners of his children.  He provided training, employment, and land for all his sons.  Any single women or orphaned children within the family had claim upon his care.  When he died, the right and responsibility of the patriarchy of the clan fell to the son who was born first, hence the term birthright.  Each of the sons would receive an equal inheritance at the father's death, except the birthright son.  He would receive double in order to carry out his responsibilities.

It was clear to see who was the birthright son when there was only one wife.  But with multiple wives, the question became confusing.  In addition, if the birthright son did not prove himself worthy in terms of righteousness and ability, he could lose the privilege to another son, as in the case of Jacob and Esau.

BYU Professor Victor Ludlow considers Joseph to have been second in line for the birthright:  "As the firstborn son of the first wife, Reuben was the birthright son. When Reuben proved to be unworthy by committing adultery...the birthright went to the firstborn son of Rachel (see 1 Chr. 5:1). Although Joseph was the eleventh-born son in order of birth, he was second in line for the birthright because he was the firstborn son of the second wife. Jacob had a special coat made for Joseph so that the other brothers would recognize Joseph’s right to preside over the family upon his father’s death" ("Question and Answer," Daniel H. Ludlow, Liahona, Sept. 1981, p. 33).

The writers of the Old Testament Student Manual for the Religion 310 Institute class, however, see most of the brothers as possible birthright candidates. The oldest child of Leah would be the obvious choice, she being the first wife. If he failed to earn it, it could fall to the oldest biological child of the second wife, which would be Joseph, but it also could likely fall to each of the remaining sons of the first wife, because they were all older than Joseph. The first sons of the concubines could also qualify, since their mothers were handmaids or property of the first and second wives. Each of them was older than Joseph (p. 93).

Israel, however, chose Joseph to be his birthright son.  Many Bible experts agree that the special "coat of many colors" likely was an expression of this pending privilege.  On his deathbed, Israel officially pronounced Joseph as the birthright son.


The Old Testament often teaches great principles by juxtaposing severely opposite stories.  Genesis 34 tells a ghastly tale.  Jacob's and Leah's daughter, Dinah, is raped by a local prince, Shechem, who then decides he wants to marry her (v. 2-3).  He's important enough that the area was probably named for him (33:18).  His father asks Jacob to let his son marry Dinah, offering any dowry they might ask (v. 6-12).  Apparently, she is being held at their city.  Jacob's response is not recorded, but her brothers, Simeon and Levi, tell these Canaanites that they will agree to the marriage if the Canaanites will all be circumcised.  Shechem did not delay (v. 19).  He and his men trusted the little fledgling clan of Israelites (v. 21).  Every man that "went out of the gate of his city," in other words, every man who was fit to go out in battle in defense of the city, was circumcised (Harper-Collins Study Bible).  When they were all in the worst pain, three days after the procedure, Simeon and Levi (probably with a band of their servants, their own fighting men), marched into the city and killed every one of the men (v. 25), including the king and his son (v. 26).  They grabbed Dinah, all the women and children of the city, and every bit of property (v. 27-29).  Jacob, who apparently was not privvy to these goings-on, chastised them and said, "Now we have to move.  Everyone here is going to be repulsed by us, and we are just a little band.  We'll be wiped out if we stay here" (v. 30).  And the sons reply, "Well?  He started it!" (v. 31).  They justify a premeditated, horrific massacre because of a crime against a single person, committed in passion, which the perpetrator was trying to rectify.

The next two chapters detail their move and their genealogy. 

Sandwiched in between these factual recitations, we find another appalling event:  Reuben, who is Leah's oldest son, and would normally be the birthright son, goes in and lays with his father's wife, Bilhah!  Bilhah is a concubine, or a servant-wife, and may not have had much say in the matter (35:22).  (See "Abraham's Wives" in a previous post for more about concubines.)  So now three of the possible top contenders for the birthright have committed heinous crimes, and their father knows they are all unworthy.  Later in the story (Gen. 38), Judah, the fourth, commits adultery with his daughter-in-law Tamar, who was masquerading as a prostitute.  The double standard of the day is clearly evident as he is prepared to burn her at the stake when he finds out she's pregnant, until she proves he's the father.  The reason she committed this grossly immoral deception was that Judah and his sons had cheated her out of progeny, sent her back to her father's house, and consigned her to life as a childless widow, a state that would undoubtedly lead to devastating poverty in her old age. 

And all of Joseph's brothers, as we know, were willing to either kill their younger brother or sell him into slavery because of jealousy, and then tell their father the heartbreaking lie that he had been killed.  Their jealousy was over the birthright, doubly emphasized by Joseph's dreams in which his family bowed in obeisance to him.  Ironically, the harm they did to Joseph was the exact opposite of the way a birthright son should treat a younger brother.  Clearly, they were each totally unfit to be the family patriarch.

So, all of the older brothers of Joseph gave up blessings because they yielded to temptations, emotions, and circumstances.  In the traditional deathbed blessing from his father Israel, the oldest son Reuben received the chastisement, "Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel" (Gen. 49:4).


We are all very familiar with the story of Joseph's kidnapping, enslavement, labor, and imprisonment in Egypt (Gen. 37, 39-40).  Its position in the Book of Genesis directly following the stories of his brothers' lack of integrity and of their heinous crimes clearly shows that Joseph was their polar opposite.  It did not matter in which land he lived, which woman he was with, whether he was a best-loved birthright son, a prosperous servant in an Egyptian's household, or a prisoner in a dungeon: Joseph was always the same.  He was kidnapped, beaten, nearly murdered, enslaved, lied about, tempted, framed, and forgotten, yet his integrity remained unchanged.  Joseph was a rock.  Because of his integrity and his unwavering faith in God, he excelled at home in his father's household, in Potipher's home as his chief servant, in prison as the guard's assistant, and in all of Egypt as Pharoah's right-hand man.

On his deathbed, Father Israel said of Joseph: "Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall: The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him: But his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob; from thence is the shepherd, the stone [or rock] of Israel" (Gen. 49:22-24).  (See the comment from reader Steve below this post for an explanation of this scripture.)

Joseph was always faithful to his God, Jehovah, and Jehovah was therefore always with Him.  As Chapter 39 details the rags to riches to rags to riches story of Joseph in Egypt, four times we read one significant phrase:  "The Lord was with Joseph" (v. 2, 3, 21, and 23).  Joseph always qualified for the companionship of the Holy Spirit, and always followed the direction he knew was right, regardless of what the consequences would be to himself.  Why?  Because he trusted in the Rock.  "Wherefore, I am in your midst, and I am the good shepherd, and the stone of Israel. He that buildeth upon this rock shall never fall" (D&C 50:44).

"And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall" (Helaman 5:12)

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #10 Birthright Blessings; Marriage in the Covenant

(Genesis 24-29)


The overriding theme of the stories of these chapters is that it is not easy to come by a covenant marriage, but that when we put forth the tremendous effort required, the Lord will assist and blessings will ensue.  Here are some incidents that teach these lessons:

Gen. 24--Abraham's servant was given the overwhelming responsibility of traveling back to the homeland to find a worthy wife for Abraham's birthright son, Isaac.  He brought great riches with him as gifts, requiring ten camels for transport (vs. 10).  The task was overwhelming, requiring divine guidance.  The servant asked in prayer for a sign that the future wife of his master would be one who would offer him water, and additionally offer the ten camels water.  This would certainly single out the woman, because, although offering water to a male traveler was fairly normal ettiquette, offering to water the camels was well beyond the call of duty.  One camel could drink up to 30 gallons!  It was an extraordinary young woman who would offer this service, perhaps it was even unheard of.  But when the caravan arrived at the well, not only did Rebekah volunteer the service, but she "hasted" and she "ran" to complete it (v. 19-20).  When the servant discovered that she was a cousin, and therefore met the requirement set forth by Abraham, he knew his prayer was answered (v. 23-27). 

Rebekah's family wanted to have a little time with her before she left them to marry Isaac (v. 55), but the servant wanted to obey the Lord immediately, since the Lord had answered his prayer so immediately (v. 56).  Rebekah concurred, and went with the servant, never to see her family again.  Upon their arrival at Isaac's property, she saw a man cutting through the field to meet them (v. 64-65), and was told it was her future husband.  The closing words of this episode of the story are beautiful:  "and she became his wife; and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother's death" (v. 67).  Loving each other, and comforting each other are elements of a covenant marriage.

Gen. 25--While Isaac's brother Ishmael was blessed with a dozen sons, Rebekah was left childless.  (It's interesting how many righteous women in the Old Testament struggle with fertility issues.)  Finally, she was blessed with twin sons, Esau and Jacob.  An interesting description is given of Jacob in the footnote to vs. 27:  Jacob was "whole, complete, perfect, simple, plain."  Jacob valued the birthright, and bought it from his brother (v. 31-33).  Esau, like so many people, was overtaken by the physical desire of the moment, in his case hunger, and lost perspective of eternity. Unfortunately, many saints today do the same, selling their spiritual privileges for fleeting passions.

Gen. 26--Because Isaac continued in righteousness, the covenant promised to his father was restated in his behalf (vs. 2-5).  The same can be true for each one of us, as covenant children, particularly as we receive our patriarchal blessing.  Like his father, everywhere that Isaac went, he built an altar and called upon the Lord (v. 25).

Meanwhile Esau sold his birthright again, marrying outside the covenant and against his parents' wishes (v. 34-35) while  Jacob remained unmarried until age 40, presumably because no covenant wife was available where they lived.

A little note of explanation: Both Abraham and Isaac, when they moved to a new land, ended up telling the local royalty that their wives were their sisters. Both wives were cousins, so this was true, "sister" and "brother" being general terms for relations. Why hide the fact that they were wives? Camille Fronk Olson explains that if a king desired the wife of another man, he would kill the husband [Women of the Old Testament, p. 32-33]. This deception, therefore, saved the lives of Abraham and Isaac. In both cases, the king, upon discovering that the object of his affection was already married, returned the wife to her husband, and promised protection for the husband from others who might desire the wife. So why did the deception have to occur in the first place? One idea: Perhaps the kings needed to personally get to know the people involved, and gain an appreciation for their integrity, before they would extend this highly unusual offer.


"Rebekah is one of the greatest patterns in all the revelations of what a woman can do to influence a family in righteousness...Women are appointed, Rebekahlike, to be guides and lights in righteousness in the family unit and to engineer and arrange so that things are done in the way that will result in the salvation of more of our Father's children" (Bruce R. McConkie, Ensign, Jan. 1979, p. 62, 63).

Gen. 27--Isaac planned to bless his son Esau with the birthright, despite Esau's unworthiness.  This would have been a grave error, and Rebekah saw that.  She conspired with Jacob to put him in the right place at the right time to receive the birthright blessing.  This is an example of a wife who kept her covenant to obey her husband "in righteousness."  In this case, she would have been wrong to obey her husband, because in a matter of eternal importance, he was following convention and personal preference, rather than the Spirit.  Rebekah, however, had received a revelation before the twins were born that the younger was to be the leader of the family (Gen. 25:23), and besides, Esau had given up his birthright twice, definitely demonstrating that he did not have the integrity or foresight to be the patriarch of the family. 

When Isaac realized which son had received the blessing, he knew it was right.  What a prophet binds on earth is bound in heaven, but also what he looses on earth is loosed in heaven (Matt. 16:19).  Isaac had the power to revoke the blessing, but he let it stand (v. 33), because he knew his wife was right.  The Lord could easily have caused Jacob to be born before Esau, therefore preventing this problem from arising, but instead He chose to teach a lesson for many generations to come:  Righteousness is more important than circumstance, and revelation is more important than tradition.  When Isaac afterwards blessed Esau, he restated through revelation the same truth that had been revealed to Rebekah years before, that he would be subservient to his younger brother.  Despite the outward confusion, the blessings were given correctly through the Spirit, as the Apostle Paul stated, "By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come" (Heb. 11:20).

Esau was so angry at being tricked, he plotted to kill his brother after his father's death (v.41).  This was told to Rebekah and she sent Isaac away to stay with relatives, saying that otherwise she would lose both her sons in one day: one to murder, and the other to execution (v. 45; see Gen. 9:6).  To Isaac, she stated the reason for sending him away to be the need for Jacob to find a wife among the covenant people, which was definitely necessary.  Of course, this was the Lord's plan as well.

It is worth noting that later Esau took a covenant wife (Gen. 28:6-9), and that when Jacob returned to Canaan many years later,  "Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept" (Gen. 33:4).


Gen. 28--As Jacob went on his journey, he was granted a remarkable dream in which he saw a ladder ascending into heaven, with angels traveling up and down it, and the Lord standing above it.  The message of the dream was that the covenants Jacob made with the Lord were as rungs of a ladder to heaven.  He himself would have to climb the rungs in order to obtain the promised blessings that would allow him to enter into heaven with the Lord (Pres. Marion G. Romney, "Temples--The Gates to Heaven," Ensign, Mar. 1971, p. 16)  The Hebrew word translated as "ladder" could also be translated as "stairway" or "ramp."  The choice the King James translators made to use the word "ladder" provides us with a great symbol of the effort and time required to make our way to heaven.  We believe that it is through the merits of Christ that we are saved, but Christ requires us to move our hands and feet and climb the ladder of covenants in order to qualify for His grace.  It is not an elevator.

David E. Bokovoy, instructor at the Boston LDS Institute, currently a doctoral student in Hebrew Bible studies, recommends circling "the place" or "this place" anytime it is found in the Old Testament, because it almost always refers to a temple place (Know Your Religion Lecture, Feb. 15, 2002, Logan, Utah). Jacob said, "Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not.  And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place!  this is none other but the house of god, and this is the gate of heaven...And he called the name of that place Beth-el" (v. 16-19).  "Beth-el is [short for] Beth-Elohim, which means literally 'The House of the Lord'" (Pres. Romney, as noted above.)  Even more interesting is to note a couple of additions which Joseph Smith made to verse 22 in his translation.  (These additions are not in the LDS Bible footnotes.)  The added words are in italics:  And the place of this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be the place of God's house.  (How much Hebrew did Joseph Smith know?)

Gen. 29--Interestingly, Jacob met his wife, Rachel, at a well, just as his father's servant had met his mother at a well.  In this case, however, it was Jacob who served Rachel, by rolling away the stone covering, and drawing the water for the flock.  Typically it was the woman's job to water the sheep, however in this instance it seems that a tremendous effort was required to open the well, since the shepherds were waiting for all to be gathered together in order to do it (v. 8).  It was "a prodigious feat for one person--a measure of Jacob's elation at seeing [Rachel]" (Harper-Collins Study Bible, p. 44)  Both of these covenant marriage relationships began with an act of great service: another lesson for us to follow throughout our marriages.

In an ironic twist, Jacob's father-in-law Laban and Rachel's older sister Leah tricked him into marrying Leah first, a similar act to the deception that Jacob and his mother worked in order to procure the birthright blessing.  Of course, in keeping with social convention, the older daughter should be married first, and in all the seven years of labor, there was apparently no other suitor.  Since parents always arranged their children's marriages, and the father had supreme rule over the family, it was not so strange for Laban to control the marriages of his daughters (Sidney B. Sperry, "Hebrew Manners and Customs," Ensign, May 1972).   It certainly would have been nicer, though, if it could have been done honestly, as this method set up a conflict and competition in the family at the outset: Leah was "unloved" (another translation for the word used as "hated" in v. 31), while Rachel was cherished (v. 20).


The people of the Old Testament times lived in an imperfect society with flawed families.  Plural marriage was particularly plagued with feelings of competitiveness and unfairness, so much so that the problems of "loved" versus "hated" wives were actually recognized and addressed in the Law (Deut. 21:15-17).  We today still live in a fallen world with imperfect people and troubled relationships.  We may encounter discrimination, negligence, or abuse from others when we expected love and kindness.  But God Himself is perfect, and His love is extended towards all.  In the lives of Leah and Rachel, as in the lives of Sarah and Hagar, we see the impartial kindliness of the Lord.  In both cases, both women found solace in their relationships with God.  In both cases, the Lord blessed the less-loved wife with the compensatory joy of motherhood immediately, and made the favored wife wait a while.  This delay of infertility, though, was followed by the delight of a son who had the birthright, or earned it through his righteousness.  In all cases, the Lord communicated his care and concern to the woman in her individual trial (Sarah in Gen. 21:1, 6; Hagar in Gen. 21:17; Leah in Gen. 29:31-32; Rachel in Gen. 30:22). 

God is always inviting, comforting, and encouraging, and is no respecter of persons.  The scriptures show repeatedly that His love is offered to all:  "He layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him" (2 Ne. 26:24); "Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price" (2 Ne. 26:25); "All men are privileged [to partake of God's goodness] the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden" (2 Ne. 26:28); "Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men" (Alma 5:33); "Blessed are all they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost" (3 Ne. 12:6).

In our times of affliction, or our situations of injustice, we can have confidence that the love of God will find us and compensate.  "I, Jacob, would speak unto you that are pure in heart. Look unto God with firmness of mind, and pray unto him with exceeding faith, and he will console you in your afflictions, and he will plead your cause, and send down justice upon those who seek your destruction. O all ye that are pure in heart, lift up your heads and receive the pleasing word of God, and feast upon his love; for ye may, if your minds are firm, forever" (Jacob 3:1-2).
(This is my own photograph of the Salt Lake City Temple.
I hold the copyright, but you are welcome to use it
for teaching purposes.)
Despite the imperfections of the partners involved, covenant marriages put us on that ladder, bringing us ever closer to heaven.  Both Leah and Rachel developed great faith through their marriage and child-bearing trials, which carried them through other trials.  For example, when their prophet-husband received the command of the Lord to uproot the family and move back to his birthplace, where the threat of being murdered by Esau weighed heavily on his mind, he consulted both women, and both responded, "Whatsoever God hath said unto thee, do" (31:14).  Jacob did, and was joyously surprised by the heartfelt welcome of his now repentant brother Esau (Gen. 33).  Generations afterward, when Boaz married Ruth, the blessing of the members of the wedding party to Ruth was that God would make her as great as Leah and Rachel.  Together, these two women, with their two handmaids and their husband, bore and built the House of Israel, and their names are honored forever.  Today, regardless of our circumstances, we similarly play a part in building our own branch of the House of Israel, and we can also leave a great legacy of faith as we make and remain true to our covenants.