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).


ldswomenofgod said...

I have a long list of likenesses between Joseph and Jesus Christ too. But I discovered one more thing I'll have to add to my list. In Psalms 105:18 it tells us that Joseph was tortured. We know he was in prison, but no where else does it say he was beaten. I believe fetters are burning sticks; correct me if I'm wrong.

Just think what a miracle it was that Joseph kept his good and pure attitude. He truly was a great example to all of us.


Nancy Wyatt Jensen said...

Here is a link to Bruce R. McConkie's list of comparisons between Joseph and Jesus Christ, which has a lot of different ideas than mine.

Marlen Drake said...

Can you tell me if Joseph was older then Pharoah Gen:45:8.