With this lesson, we end our journey through Genesis and the patriarchs of the ancient Church. From Adam to Joseph, the patriarchs were those individuals selected by God for a special purpose. They were to be representative of the Firstborn, Jesus Christ. They would lead their people from among the wicked, bring them to promised lands of safety, and endure trials that tested their mettle and their faith. Each would carry the special covenant God had made with mankind. Each was tied to priesthood authority Each would receive revelation and authority that would lead mankind back into the presence of God.
Last week, we focused on the final Testaments of the 12 Patriarchs. There is overlap with that lesson and this week’s lesson on Joseph rising to power in Egypt and rescuing his family. The 12 patriarchs discussed how Reuben lost the right of Firstborn and it descended to Joseph, the Firstborn of Rachel. They discussed how several of them were jealous of Joseph, some wanting to slay him, but in the end selling him into slavery. Reuben, Judah and Joseph spoke about the importance of chastity, with only Joseph coming out as victor over the flesh.
While Joseph had dreams of his family bowing to him, others in the family had dreams, as well. While Levi and Judah are seen as catching the sun and moon, Joseph grabs the horns on a bull (anciently representing Elohim). In another dream, while the Ship of Israel breaks apart and the family is scattered, it is noted that Joseph escapes on a little boat (literally fulfilled by his descendant Lehi’s escape by boat to the New World).
Ancient Egyptian Prison Life
Anciently, with the exception of debtor’s prison, where people stayed until they paid off their debts; most prisons were built as temporary holding places for criminals. They usually were established to hold people until final judgment was passed upon them. Not so for Joseph, who seems to never have come before a tribunal of any kind. Sitting patiently in prison for his day to appear before a magistrate, he spent many years waiting.
Enter the butler and the cook. These were members of high station in Pharaoh’s court. Their stay in the prison will not last long, but they would soon be judged by Pharaoh himself as to their final outcome. Waiting nervously in this situation, both have a dream. Anciently, Egyptians believed that one received visions from the dead and Gods at night, when one’s body was sleeping. Sleep was tied to death, and represented a gateway to the underworld of the Gods and dead. So, when a person had a dream, it obviously signified important events to come.
Joseph is tied into the dream world himself, having received several visions himself. In defining the two dreams, he was able to not only predict the specific outcomes, but how the two were related. For the butler, “within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thine head, and restore thee unto thy place” (Gen 4);13). Meanwhile, the cook is told, “within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thy head from off thee, and shall hang thee on a tree” (Gen 40:19). Both heads would be lifted up. One head lifted to honor, and the other to an ignominious death.
Joseph asks the butler to remember him, but is quickly forgotten, and remains several more years in prison as the Forgotten Man. One thinks of the words of the Savior, “I was in prison and ye did not visit me” (Mat 25:43). Only when Pharaoh struggled with his own dreams does the butler remember.
Pharaoh dreams two dreams. He has a large bureaucracy to run the land of Egypt, including counselors, wise men, and magicians (not like today’s entertainers, but those who worked real magic by the power of the gods). None are able to deduce or divine the dreams’ meanings. When all have failed, only then do we find that the butler did it. He remembers Joseph in prison.
Pharaoh must have been very desperate. Joseph is a slave, who has been imprisoned for years for attempted rape of the wife of one of Pharaoh’s high officials. It is unknown what the ancient attitudes toward sexual predators may have been, but imagine it today. Joseph would be on a registry for sex crime offenders. He would spend years in prison, afterwards to be tossed aside by today’s society as being lower than dirt.
Pharaoh knows that the dreams had a major warning behind them. One does not see corn and cattle go from robust and healthy to being eaten by diseased cattle and wind-blasted corn without realizing that something is very wrong with the picture. There is only one seer in Egypt. No other god in Egypt is able to interpret the dreams.
Just as with Abraham, who entered Egypt and became a force to be reckoned with in the land, so it is with Joseph. Both sit on Pharaoh’s throne. Concerning the Egyptians, Abraham “communicated to them arithmetic, and delivered to them the science of astronomy” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 1, ch 8:2). Joseph will teach them about economy, food storage, and preparation for harsh times.
Joseph answers the Pharaoh’s request for assistance: “It is not in me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace” (Gen 41:16). Joseph shows that it is God working through him that will interpret the dream. Joseph is just a man, but Jehovah is able to accomplish a task that no Egyptian god is capable of doing. From at least the days of Abraham and down to Moses, we shall see that God’s true prophets are greater than the prophets and clerics of the Egyptian gods. Abraham taught that while his Pharaoh was a good man, he did not have the true priesthood authority, which Abraham sought diligently for and obtained (Abraham 1). Joseph will prove his worth and the power of Jehovah by not only interpreting the dreams, but saving Egypt and the surrounding peoples during a seven year famine. In doing so, he will also make Pharaoh exceedingly rich and powerful.
“And Pharaoh said unto his servants, Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is? And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Forasmuch as God hath shewed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art: Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou.
And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt.
And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph’s hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck” (Gen 41:38-42).
Pharaoh recognizes the power of God and his Spirit. It has blessed Joseph with the gift of wisdom, exceeding all the wise men in Egypt. Joseph is made the right hand of Pharaoh. Pharaoh is considered the son of the gods Osiris, Horus and Ra. He is a god in his own right. In giving his signet ring to Joseph, he has endowed the former slave and prisoner with the gifts of the gods. Joseph could have been considered Pharaoh’s adopted son and potential heir to the throne.
“And he made him to ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried before him, Bow the knee: and he made him ruler over all the land of Egypt” (Gen 41:43). They bowed to Joseph as they would to Pharaoh or one of the gods. Joseph was a mortal god in Egypt.
“And Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphnath-paaneah” (41:44). It is uncertain what the name originally meant in Egyptian. Some scholars have thought it meant “one who reveals mysteries.” Jerome thought it meant "savior of the world." While modern Egyptologists are uncertain of the term “Zaphnath”, most agree that “paaneah” means “the life.” Some suggest it means “the god speaks, [and] he lives” (JewishEncyclopedia.com - ZAPHNATH-PAANEAH:).
Given these possibilities, we see that the Egyptians recognized Joseph as a Revelator. They also possibly saw him as the “Savior of the (Egyptian) world” which would place him squarely as a symbol for Jesus Christ. While Joseph would save all from physical famine, Jesus is the Bread of Life (John 6:35), saving us all from spiritual famine. In the context of “the life” or “god speaks and he lives” we see that both Joseph provided life to the Egyptians when God spoke. When Jesus speaks, and we listen, we are given the gift of eternal life.
“And the seven years of plenteousness that was in the land of Egypt, were ended. And the seven years of dearth began to come, according as Joseph had said: and the dearth was in all lands; but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. And when all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread: and Pharaoh said unto all the Egyptians, Go unto Joseph; what he saith to you, do. And the famine was over all the face of the earth: And Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold unto the Egyptians; and the famine waxed sore in the land of Egypt. And all countries came into Egypt to Joseph for to buy corn; because that the famine was so sore in all lands” (Gen 41:53-57).
Those who prepared, such as Pharaoh and Joseph, were ready not only to care for their own, but to open up their storehouses to others. However, note that the storehouses were opened for a price. First the people sold what they had, then their property, and finally sold themselves into “slavery” or more like indentured servants or sharecroppers working the land for Pharaoh (Gen 47:13-25). There would be a future tax of 20% placed on the sharecroppers to work the newly purchased lands of Pharaoh.
Modern Prophets Foresee Famine Today
Modern prophets have spoken concerning Joseph and Pharaoh’s dream. In October 1998, President Gordon B. Hinckley warned of an upcoming economic disaster. He told the story of Pharaoh’s dreams, of 7 years of good, followed by 7 years of famine. He then recollected the trials of the Great Depression, hoping one would not come. But he still foresaw trouble on the horizon.
“Now, brethren, I want to make it very clear that I am not prophesying, that I am not predicting years of famine in the future. But I am suggesting that the time has come to get our houses in order.
“So many of our people are living on the very edge of their incomes. In fact, some are living on borrowings.
“We have witnessed in recent weeks wide and fearsome swings in the markets of the world. The economy is a fragile thing. A stumble in the economy in Jakarta or Moscow can immediately affect the entire world. It can eventually reach down to each of us as individuals. There is a portent of stormy weather ahead to which we had better give heed.
“I hope with all my heart that we shall never slip into a depression. I am a child of the Great Depression of the thirties. I finished the university in 1932, when unemployment in this area exceeded 33 percent.
“My father was then president of the largest stake in the Church in this valley. It was before our present welfare program was established. He walked the floor worrying about his people. He and his associates established a great wood-chopping project designed to keep the home furnaces and stoves going and the people warm in the winter. They had no money with which to buy coal. Men who had been affluent were among those who chopped wood.
“I repeat, I hope we will never again see such a depression. But I am troubled by the huge consumer installment debt which hangs over the people of the nation, including our own people. In March 1997 that debt totaled $1.2 trillion, which represented a 7 percent increase over the previous year…. I recognize that it may be necessary to borrow to get a home, of course. But let us buy a home that we can afford and thus ease the payments which will constantly hang over our heads without mercy or respite for as long as 30 years…. I urge you, brethren, to look to the condition of your finances. I urge you to be modest in your expenditures; discipline yourselves in your purchases to avoid debt to the extent possible. Pay off debt as quickly as you can, and free yourselves from bondage.” (Ensign, Nov 1998, To The Boys and Men, see also at: LDS.org - Ensign Article - To the Boys and to the Men ).
Isn’t it amazing that a modern prophet of God would reveal such a mystery in our day! God spoke and the prophet “gave life”. For those who listened, they would have avoided the great credit and housing crash that has given us the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. And it isn’t over yet. With huge government, corporate and individual debt still on the books, it is possible the economy could dip again into a harder recession. A modern prophet was a “savior of the world” for those who listened to him in 1998, as the Egyptian leadership listened to Joseph.
Testing His Brethren
I will not detail this experience, as it will be the focus of the discussions in Gospel Doctrine class. What I will note, however, is that Joseph tested his brethren. He knew they were capable of treachery, and possibly murder. His main concerns were his father Jacob, and his brother Benjamin. He needed to know that both were safe and treated fairly by the other ten sons of Israel. Only when he saw his brother Benjamin, and Benjamin was able to verify that Jacob was well, did Joseph reveal himself to his family and forgive them openly for what they had done. He understood that God allowed it to happen so that Joseph would become the savior of Israel and God’s covenant people, in similitude of Christ as Savior of the World and of spiritual Israel and the covenant people.
The Covenant Continues Through Ephraim
However, standard Christian teachings do teach that all twelve tribes entered and left Egypt. It is very likely that while in Egypt, all were seen as Joseph’s family, since he was Pharaoh’s second in command.
It would be easy for the other tribes to be subsumed for a time under Joseph.
After settling in the land of Goshen, Egypt, near the Nile delta, Jacob is visited by Joseph, who introduces his two young sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. Jacob places his right hand on Ephraim, intent on giving the birthright and firstborn blessings to the younger son. Once again, the promise of the covenant which would normally go to the older son is placed with the younger. The two will replace Reuben and Simeon as Jacob’s oldest children, due to their own fall from grace (Reuben for sleeping with his step-mother, and Simeon for killing the men of Shechem). Jacob blesses them both to be a “multitude in the earth” as he and his fathers had also been blessed.
The promised covenant with Joseph through Ephraim is a continuation of the Melchizedek Priesthood and its keys. Through Levi the Aaronic/Levitical Priesthood would guide Israel through the era of the Mosaic Law. Judah was promised to be the physical ruler and to have the Messiah/King of Israel born to his line. To Ephraim was promised the covenant of First Born.
Even after the tribes were scattered, the Lord insisted, “I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn” (Jeremiah 31:9).
In the latter days, Ephraim would return to its rightful place next to Judah in ruling Israel.
“Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in mine hand. And the sticks whereon thou writest shall be in thine hand before their eyes. And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land: And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all” (Ezekiel 37:15-22).
Isaiah foresaw the return of the tribes, and particularly the joining of Judah and Ephraim together in the last days:
“And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea. And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. The envy also of Ephraim shall depart, and the adversaries of Judah shall be cut off: Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim” (Is 11:10-16).
Clearly the story of Joseph and Ephraim do not end with the people of Israel being carried off by Assyria in 721 BC.
Jacob Blesses His Children
Each of the blessings predicts future events for the descendants of the twelve patriarchs, often based upon how each lived his own life. Because Reuben was unstable and defiled his father, his children would never excel or become leaders in Israel again.
Simeon and Levi are both chastised for their violence. As they divided and scattered Shechem, so their descendants would be divided and scattered.
Judah started out rough, but made up for his early mistakes by offering his own life in exchange for Benjamin’s. From him would come rulers, but particularly Shiloh (or the Messiah) would come from his line. The Messiah is foreseen with the statement, “until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes: His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk” (Gen 49:10-12). The Messiah would come and gathered all people unto him. Jesus would use an ass’ colt to enter in triumph into Jerusalem. In his first coming, Christ washed his garments with his own blood, but shall in a future coming return with vengeance in his eyes towards the wicked.
Zebulon, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, and Napthali are told how their tribes shall be in the future. Some would have trials, others would succeed in business.
Joseph is then given a long description of the future of his people.
“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 of Israel Even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts, and of the womb: The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren” (Gen 49:22-26).
Joseph will extend beyond the wall of Israel. Just as Joseph was cast off from Israel in the land of Canaan, so a vine from Joseph’s vineyard would go over the wall. This ties in with the vision in the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs: while the tribes of Israel are scattered from the Ship Israel on planks, Joseph hops a boat and paddles away. Joseph is promised a great progeny, and blessings “of the deep that lieth under” perhaps meaning safety on a long ocean voyage, as Lehi and Nephi undertook as descendants of Joseph. Joseph would be blessed “unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills” – there weren’t any everlasting hills in Egypt’s Nile Delta. The land of Canaan had hills, but most are not so remarkable as to call them everlasting. But the hills of the Americas could be considered everlasting. The Rockies and Andes are two of the longest mountain ranges on earth, with some of the highest mountains outside of the Himalayas. It is possible that these many events tie in directly with the dispersion of Joseph’s seed, as is described in the Book of Mormon.
With Joseph’s death comes the end of the Patriarchal era. The people will not have another prophet to guide them for centuries. Egypt’s survival through the seven years of famine will be remembered for a time, but only until a new Pharaoh arises that does not know Joseph. The people of Israel are about to change from a dynastic family to a nation.
Zaphnath-paaneah, Jewish Encyclopedia: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=31&letter=Z
President Gordon B. Hinckley, Ensign, Nov 1998, To The Boys and Men, see also at: http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?hideNav=1&locale=0&sourceId=cac5605ff590c010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD
Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 1, ch 8:2 http://www.biblestudytools.com/history/flavius-josephus/antiquities-jews/book-1/chapter-8.html