The story of Joseph is one of the most well known stories of the Bible. Besides continuing the patriarchal narrative, providing the essential link between the patriarchs and the children of Israel in bondage in Egypt, the story illustrates several doctrinal issues. Beyond this, the story of Joseph is a type of both Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith. Further, it is just a good story, full of drama and intrigue, with surprising twists and turns, all with a happy ending.
The story of Joseph is of special interest for Latter-day Saints for most Latter-day Saints are descendants from Joseph, son of Jacob, through his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. Recently, President James E. Faust stated: “We now have stakes of Zion in a great many countries of the world, and most stakes have at least one patriarch. This growth permits many people across the earth the privilege of receiving patriarchal blessings. As President Joseph Fielding Smith stated, “The great majority of those who become members of the Church are literal descendants of Abraham through Ephraim, son of Joseph” [Doctrines of Salvation, 3:246.] However, Manasseh, the other son of Joseph, as well as the other sons of Jacob, have many descendants in the Church” (“Priesthood Blessings,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 64).
Joseph Prefigures Christ
The natural interest in Joseph for Latter-day Saints has produced some good literature regarding him. For example, Joseph Fielding McConkie in his book, Gospel Symbolism, (Salt Lake City: Bookraft, 1985), has noted twenty-eight ways in which the life Joseph prefigured that of Christ. The following are taken from his book (for details see, pp. 30-36):
1. Both were granted a new name (Jesus: Christ; Joseph: Zaphnath-paaneah).
2. Both were good shepherds (Gen. 37:2; John 7:7).
3. Both were known as the most loved of their father (Gen. 37:3; Mark 1:ll).
4. Both were clothed in authority and power of their father.
5. Both were revelators (Gen,. 37:5-10; Matt. 24).
6. Both were fully obedient to the will of their father.
7. Both were promised a future sovereignty.
8. Both were betrayed by their brothers.
9. Both were cast into a pit (Christ: spirit world; Joseph: empty cistern)
10. Both were betrayed with the utmost hypocrisy (Gen. 37:27; John 18:31).
11. Both were sold (Gen. 37:36-38; Matt. 26:15).
12. The blood-sprinkled coat of each was presented to his father (Gen. 37:31-32; D&C 45:3-5).
13. Both blessed those with whom they labored in prison (Genesis 39:21-23; Isaiah 61:1; D&C 138).
14. Both were servants, and as such, all that they touched were blessed.
15. Both were tempted with great sin, and both refused its enticements (Genesis 39:21-23; Isaiah 61:1; D&C 138).
16. Both were falsely accused: Joseph by Potiphar’s wife, Christ by false witnesses.
17. Both stood as the source of divine knowledge to their day and generation.
18. Both were triumphant, overcoming all.
19. Both were granted rule over all (Genesis 41:40; 1 Peter 3:22).
20. Both were thirty years old when they began their life’s work (Genesis 41:46; Luke 3:23).
21. Both were saviors to their people, giving them the bread of life.
22. The rejection of both brought bondage upon the people.
23. Both were unrecognized by their people (Genesis 45:3-5; D&C 45:51-53).
24. Both would be recognized and accepted by their brothers only at the “second time.”
25. As Joseph’s brothers bowed to him in fulfillment of prophecy, so all will yet bow the knee to Christ (Genesis 43:26-28; D&C 76:110).
26. Through both, mercy is granted to a repentant people.
27. After the reconciliation, Israel is gathered.
28. To ailing Jacob, then nearly blind, the Lord said: “Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes” (Genesis 46:4). Through him you shall see, through him you shall be gathered, through him you shall be introduced to the king and granted a land from whence you shall increase endlessly. Such is our story and such is our type. Again, how perfect: We but substitute Christ for Joseph and extend the temporal blessings to the endless eternities, and our story is one and the same.
Joseph Prefigures the Work of his Tribe in the Last Days
Likewise, Bro. McConkie has observed that the life of Joseph also prefigures the foreordained work of his tribe (represented by Ephraim and Manasseh) in the last days (see Gospel Symbolism, 38-43):
1. Because they have forsaken the true way, the older brothers (that is, the Christian churches) have lost the spiritual birthright. The great evidence of this is that the Lord no longer speaks to them.
2. The birthright is then given to the youthful Joseph (Joseph Smith and the tribe of Joseph).
3. Joseph (both Prophet and tribe) have been clothed in the same coat or robes of authority that Jacob gave his “most loved” son.
4. The name Joseph is itself a prophecy of events of the last days. The etymology of the name is usually given as “the Lord addeth” or “increaser.” Though appropriate, such renderings have veiled a richer meaning. In the Bible account wherein Rachel names her infant son Joseph the Hebrew text reads Asaph, which means “he who gathers,” “he who causes to return,” or perhaps most appropriately “God gathereth” (Genesis 30:24; see also the footnote to the LDS edition).
5. Like their ancient father, Joseph Smith and the tribe of Joseph have had their destiny revealed to them.
6. Joseph Smith in his youthful innocence also shared his visionary promises with his “Christian” brothers, only to be severely rebuked.
7. The thought that Joseph had some promised destiny that was not theirs caused Joseph’s brothers anciently to “hate him yet the more.” . . . Joseph’s brothers were often quarrelsome, envious, and resentful. One matter alone seems to have united them: that of persecuting their younger brother. Such is the type, and so we find Joseph Smith declaring of his “Christian” brothers, “all united to persecute me,” this being but the pattern of a quarrelsome world of churches that can agree upon nothing but to oppose Mormonism.
8. It is of interest that the promise of future destiny was given to Joseph of Egypt when he was seventeen years of age (Genesis 37:2). Similarly, it was when Joseph Smith was seventeen that Moroni appeared to him and unfolded the great destiny that was his and many passages of scripture promising the restoration of Israel in the last days (JS-H 1:33-41).
9. As Joseph’s brothers anciently found it impossible to speak “peaceably unto him,” so we of the last days can anticipate an endless parade of anti-Mormon literature.
10. Such emotions as noted above constituted the setting in which Joseph of old was sent as a special messenger of his father to his brothers, and such is the setting in which Joseph Smith and his followers are sent as messengers to all the world in the name of the Father.
11. Joseph Smith, like his ancient prototype, obediently responded to the call, knowing full well of his brothers’ bitterness toward him.
12. Joseph’s brothers, seeing him coming, plotted to betray him. So we find Joseph Smith martyred by those in whom he should have been able to trust, a mob that had in its number leaders of the Christian churches and some who had once been his brothers in the faith of the restored gospel.
13. As Potiphar’s wife accused Joseph of her own sins that she might have him cast into prison, so Joseph Smith was accused of the crimes of his enemies who had him cast into prison.
14. “The keeper of the prison” anciently “committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners that were in the prison” (Genesis 39:22). And so were “committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners” in the spirit world. As he stands at the head of this dispensation of the gospel on earth, so he stands at its head in the spirit prison.
15. As Joseph was sold into Egypt, so Joseph (the Church in the last days) was forced into the bondage of a desert, where it was assumed that it would perish. As this happened to Joseph when he was seventeen, so it happened to the Church in 1847, or in its seventeenth year.
16. As Joseph interpreted the dreams of those in prison anciently, so Joseph Smith by the power of that same spirit has been able to interpret revelations given to others (the Bible, the papyrus of Abraham, and so on) in our day.
17. To the hungry, Pharaoh, lord of Egypt, said, “Go unto Joseph” (Genesis 41:55). As Joseph was the only source of bread to a starving world, so Joseph Smith, to whom the truths and authority of salvation have been revealed, becomes the only source of the bread of life to a world perishing for want of the truth.
18. As Joseph of Egypt was lifted up and sustained by a foreign power, thus enabling him to restore his family, so Joseph of the last days has been lifted up by a great Gentile nation and granted the power to again restore Israel.
19. Joseph’s brothers, the ten tribes, will yet come to him (the Church) seeking the bread of everlasting life (D&C 133:26-32). As Joseph of old was a temporal savior to Israel, Joseph (the Church or the tribes of Joseph) will now be recognized as the source of salvation by gathering Israel, who will bow the knee and acknowledge their younger brother.
20. As Joseph opened his arms and granted his wealth to his family anciently, so will Joseph of the last days receive his brothers as once again the family of Israel will be united.
21. As the whole nation of Egypt was blessed anciently because of Joseph, so the United States and all nations of the earth will be blessed because of the labors of the latter-day Joseph.
22. As Joseph saved his family anciently, so Joseph of the last days will be a savior to Israel (D&C 86:11).
Literary Context of Genesis 40-45
The literary context in which the story of Joseph is placed adds to the impact of the story. The Joseph story is contrasted by two “foil” stories. One of the dictionary definitions of foil is: “a person or thing that sets off or enhances another by contrast” (Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second College Edition). The stories of the revenge of Simeon and Levi (Gen. 34) and the double standard of Judah with Tamar (Gen. 38) enhance by contrast the character of Joseph in a remarkable way.
In the first story, Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah, was raped by Shechem, a Canaanite. Shechem wanted to marry Dinah. When he asked the family for her hand in marriage, the sons of Jacob answered “deceitfully” saying, “We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one that is uncircumcised; for that were a reproach unto us: But in this will we consent unto you: If ye will be as we be, that every male of you be circumcised; Then will we give our daughters unto you, and we will take your daughters to us, and we will dwell with you, and we will become one people” (Gen. 34:13-16). Shechem and his people agreed and they were circumcised. The motives of the sons of Jacob were anything but honorable. Their desire was revenge. “And it came to pass on the third day, when they [Shechem and his men] were sore, that two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brethren, took each man his sword, and came upon the city boldly, and slew all the males.” Further, “The sons of Jacob came upon the slain, and spoiled the city, because they had defiled their sister” (Gen. 34:25, 27). Jacob was appalled by the actions of his sons. He scolded them: “Ye have troubled me to make me to stink among the inhabitants of the land” (Gen. 34:30).
The second story focuses on the reprehensible behavior of Judah. First, he married out of the covenant. Second, he failed in his duties as a father-in-law in providing through the customary ways of the day, a husband for his daughter-in-law, Tamar, after her husband, Judah’s son, had died. This left Tamar without seed and inheritance. Tamar decided to secure her future through stratagem. She dressed like a prostitute (which included a heavy veil) and waited in a location where she knew Judah would pass by. Judah, not knowing it was Tamar, came to her and after agreeing on a price, he slept with her. He then gave her a ring, bracelet, and staff. Later, when she was found pregnant, Judah sought to have her burned to death for her immorality. Then when she was brought before him to suffer the imposed judgment, she displayed the ring, bracelet, and staff. When Judah saw it, he recognized that he was the father. His double-standard of morality was exposed. He relented from the judgment.
These two stories leave the reader of the Old Testament with a disgusting feeling. The revengeful spirit of Simeon and Levi and the double-standard of Judah are abhorrent. But that is the feeling these stories were intended to convey. Through these incidents, the story of Joseph is enhanced by contrast. The double-standard of Judah stands in direct contrast to the moral behavior of Joseph as illustrated in the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife (Gen. 39) – as discussed in the gospel doctrine lesson (Gen. 34; 37-39) prior to this lesson. Likewise, the revenge of Simeon and Levi contrast the lack of a revengeful spirit in Joseph, as we shall now see.
Joseph Forgives his Brothers
The story of Joseph is well known, so I will not repeat it in detail. After Joseph was released from prison and placed next to Pharaoh in power, he immediately prepared Egypt for the coming seven-year famine. The famine came as foretold. Its effects were felt well beyond the borders of Egypt, even into the land of Canaan where Jacob and his sons lived. In the second year of the famine, Jacob sent his sons, except for Benjamin, to Egypt to buy grain. When they arrived, they were brought before Joseph to make their request. Because of his position, his new name, and because they were not expecting to see Joseph, the brothers did not recognize him. But he recognized them!
Unlike Simeon and Levi, there was no spirit of revenge in Joseph against his brothers who had so cruelly betrayed him. But it does appear he wanted to test their hearts, to see if they had changed. He accused them of being spies. The only way the could prove their innocense was to return to their father and bring Benjamin back. Then he would know that they were “true men” (Gen. 42:18-19). To ensure they would return, Simeon was placed in prison as a hostage.
When the brothers heard Joseph’s edict, they turned to each other and, assuming Joseph could not understand them, “said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us” (Gen. 42:21). For twenty-two years, the brothers had lived with their sin of betrayal. For twenty-two years, the image of their anguished brother’s pleading played through their minds. For twenty-two years, the brothers languished having no way to repent of their sin. In anger, Reuben said to his brothers, “Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and ye would not hear? therefore, behold, also his blood is required” (Gen. 42: 21-22).
Upon hearing this, Joseph “turned himself about from them, and wept” (Gen. 42:24). Joseph’s tears seem to be for the burden of remorse his brothers were experiencing because of the evil they had afflicted upon him. They had no way to repent. They could not confess their deplorable act to their father. They could not make restitution. As far as they knew, Joseph was dead, having lived the miserable life of a slave for the remainder of his days. Having matured, having seen the evilness of their earlier actions, there seemed to be no way of escape from their anguish. Joseph felt the pain of their souls.
The brothers left Egypt with heavy hearts. When they returned to their father, Jacob was horrified that Simeon was imprisoned in Egypt. He would not let the brothers return to Egypt with Benjamin, the last son of his beloved Rachel, who had died giving birth to Benjamin. He had lost the love of his life. Further, he had lost Joseph. The thought of the possibility of losing Benjamin was too much. However, after the famine continued, Jacob finally relented and sent his sons, including Benjamin, to Egypt to buy more food.
Now came the test. The brothers, including Benjamin, were once again brought before Joseph. Simeon was released from prison and the brothers all ate lunch with Joseph. Then, having filled their sacks with grain, he sent them back to the land of Canaan. Before they left, Joseph had his servants secretly place his silver cup within the grain sack of Benjamin. The day after the brothers began their journey home, Joseph sent soldiers after them saying that one of them had stolen Joseph’s silver cup. The brothers denied the accusation. The soldiers searched the sacks, beginning with the oldest to the youngest. To the horror of the brothers, the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. The brothers were brought back to Joseph’s house.
Upon seeing Joseph, “they fell before him on the ground.” Joseph cried, “What deed is this that ye have done?” Judah responded, “What shall we say unto my lord? What shall we speak? or how shall we clear ourselves? we are my lord’s servants (Heb., slaves), both we, and he also with whom the cup is found” (Gen. 44:16).
Joseph now put the brothers to the test: “God forbid that I should do so: but the man in whose hand the cup is found, he shall be my servant (Heb., slave); and as for you, get you up in peace unto your father” (Gen. 44:7) How would the brothers react? They had betrayed one brother into slavery earlier in life. Would they now leave their youngest brother to be a slave?
Then Judah came near to Joseph. Judah! The one who had led the brothers into selling Joseph into slavery! The one who had married out of the covenant! The one who had displayed a sickening double-standard of morality! But this was not the same Judah who was plagued with sin in his earlier life. Instead, it was a chastened Judah. A humbled Judah. A Judah who’s heart had changed.
Judah humbly stood before Joseph and plead for the life of Benjamin. ” I pray thee,” he said, “let thy servant abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brethren” (Gen. 44:33). Judah was willing to become a slave in behalf of his brother!
That was enough! It appeared the brothers had changed. He told all to leave the room except for his brothers. He then wept in their sight. Gaining his composure, he looked at his brothers and said, “I am Joseph: doth my father yet live?” The brothers “were troubled at his presence.” But Joseph said, “Come near to me, I pray you.” They came near. He said, “I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt. Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.”
There was no spirit of revenge in him! No hate for his brothers! Not even any remorse for the thirteen years of slavery and imprisonment. Joseph had come to a clear understanding of the dealings of God. That understanding ruled his life, not his emotions. Because of this, Joseph was the instrument of God to save his adopted country from physical destruction. Further, he was able to save his own family from demise. Moreover, he was able to help his brothers repent.
In this way, the story of Joseph foreshadows the work of Jesus Christ.
2002 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.