The importance of Joseph of old is evidenced by the vast amount of scripture devoted to his story, his role in the future of the House of Israel, his destiny, his prophetic powers and the responsibilities of his descendants. Many of the books of the Bible were written by members of the tribes of Judah, or Levites, yet these men devoted a large portion of their writing to the tribe of Joseph rather than Judah or the other tribes of Israel. More than one-fourth of the book of Genesis is devoted to the story of Joseph.
Joseph is referred to in all four standard works of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Book of Mormon is an extension of the story of Joseph because Lehi was a descendant of Joseph through Manasseh.1 In addition, the Prophet Joseph Smith had access to some of Joseph's writings which we do not have published for our use today.2To most Christians, the story of Joseph and his coat of many colors is well known. It is a scriptural story with appeal for all ages, but for Latter-day Saints it is especially meaningful. Told in its simplest form, the story of young Joseph - greatly loved by his father Jacob (Israel) who gave him a beautiful coat of many colors - is easily understood by young children. For older children, the story contains the elements of a modern adventure full of intrigue as Joseph's older brothers plot to kill the 17-year-old young man.3 For parents, the story of Joseph's life is an excellent example of the admirable character traits they desire their children to develop: honesty, chastity, service, faith, forgiveness, honoring parents, and, most important, maintaining faith and always "trusting in the Lord" (a key theme of Genesis 39 where it is mentioned at least five times).
The details of Joseph's life as a young boy blessed with dreams and their interpretations, taken into captivity to Egypt, sold as a slave to Potiphar, his escape from the temptations of Potiphar's wife, his interpretation of the dreams of the butcher and baker in prison, and his ultimate rise to power in the government of the Pharaoh are either already known by the reader or readily accessible in the scriptures.4 Therefore, consideration here is given to theological ideas other than the details of the story line.
As sometimes happens, men of evil intent unwittingly put into place the plan of our Heavenly Father. As for the events in Joseph's life, "God meant it unto good."5
The 20th century author Thomas Mann was so intrigued with the story of Joseph that he wrote five books about him. A theme in his book Joseph in Egypt is that the Ishmaelites who purchased Joseph and took him to Egypt were only playing their part in a plan designed of God, which Joseph recognized. For example, in the opening pages of the book Joseph asks, "Where are you taking me?" Their answer is, "Thou art by chance with us, because our father hath purchased thee from harsh masters, and thou goest with us wither-ever we go." Joseph responds: "I only meant: whither doth God lead me, in that I go with you? . . . Journey whither you will and on your own affairs . . . so that you Ishmaelites do indeed journey quite independently and according to your own ends . . . whither you will, but besides that you are the means and tool . . . that I arrive at my goal."6
Joseph - an archetype of Jesus Christ
Biblical scholars and prophets have read Joseph's life as an archetypical foreshadowing of Jesus Christ. Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught that all prophets are types of Christ. "Many of
the prophetsT lived in special situations or did particular things that singled them out as types and patterns and shadows of that which was to be in the life of him who is our Lord."7
The following comparisons indicate that the life of Joseph is a particularly compelling foreshadowing of the Savior.
Joseph was the beloved and favored son of his father, as was Jesus Christ.8 Both were clothed with authority and power by their fathers. Both were servants: Joseph to his father and eventually to Potiphar and the Pharaoh; Jesus Christ to His Father and all mankind.9
Joseph was rejected by his brothers as Jesus was rejected by the Israelites.10 Not only were they rejected, they were betrayed. Joseph was sold by his brothers into the hands of others just as Jesus was sold by Judas into the hands of His enemies.11
Judah, the head of the tribe of Judah, proposed the sale of Joseph. Certain leaders of the Jews in Jesus' day turned Jesus over to the Romans. Judas (the Greek spelling of Judah) was the one who actually sold Jesus.12
Joseph was sold for 20 pieces of silver, the price for a slave his age. When His time came, Christ was sold for 30 pieces of silver, also the price of a slave.13
Joseph, using his position of authority, began preparing to save Egypt (and Israel) from famine at age 30, the same age at which Jesus began His ministry of preparing salvation for the world.14
Joseph's brothers, in their attempt to destroy Joseph, 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 from the famine. Similarly, Jesus Christ, delivered into the hands of his enemies was crucified and completed the atoning sacrifice, becoming the Deliverer of all mankind from the bands of death and hell.15
Joseph and Jesus were greatly tempted but both resisted the enticements Satan presented them and were fully obedient to the will, statutes and commandments of their fathers.16
Joseph and Jesus had a future sovereignty awaiting them. When Joseph was finally raised to his exalted position in Egypt, all bowed the knee to him. All will eventually bow the knee to Jesus Christ.17
Joseph and Jesus both were cast into a pit - Joseph into the cistern and Jesus Christ into the depth of suffering for the sins of all, as well as the "pit" of the world of spirits - before completing their missions.18
Joseph provided bread for Israel and saved them from physical death by starvation, all without cost. Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life, did the same for all mankind, feeding them the words of eternal life, as well as becoming their literal Savior.19
Truly Joseph's story is one that teaches the truth that "all things work together for good to them who love God."20 For this reason alone, the similarity of Joseph to Jesus Christ is significant - one to be studied and taught.
The birthright: We are the family of Joseph today
Many Latter-day Saints have been told in their patriarchal blessings that they are the descendants of Joseph.21 The significance of his life and mission is of deep import for the covenant blessings and responsibilities given to Joseph have also been passed on to those descendants. The story of Joseph is our own family history, one to be studied and cherished, yet with obligations to be fulfilled.
Joseph received the birthright blessing. As Joseph's literal descendants, through either Ephraim or Manasseh, we are part of that birthright blessing and should understand what it means - both as a gift and as a right.
"Under the patriarchal order, the right of inheritance of the firstborn is known as birthright. This generally included a land inheritance as well as the authority to preside."22 The physical possessions of the birthright included property, herds, flocks, etc. These were divided into balanced portions equal to the number of sons plus one, because the eldest son received a double portion. This son received the extra portion because he had to assume responsibility for his mother and unmarried sisters and to help his brothers when they needed it. He was the physical provider of the family. The birthright blessing was also a spiritual blessing within the patriarchal order of the priesthood and thus must go to a son who was righteous. The decision of which son was to receive the birthright was the prerogative of the father or patriarch of the family.
In Jacob's family the birthright would seem to belong to Reuben, the firstborn of Leah, the first wife. But Reuben lost that right through his immorality. The rule of primogeniture as operative at that time would not give the birthright blessing to the second son of the first wife. The rule was that the birthright always went to a firstborn son; therefore, the birthright went to Joseph, the firstborn of the second wife, Rachel.23 Since the birthright blessing was conditional we can all be grateful to Joseph, our progenitor, for his righteousness which allowed him to receive the birthright blessing. The blessings he received and the promises he obtained were mighty, but were also conditionally pronounced upon the heads of his descendants - us!
Joseph's birthright blessing included the prophecy that a branch of his posterity would go beyond Canaan (at that time considered the promised land), "over a wall unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills (the Americas)."24 His descendants would be subject to war, but they would be blessed of the Lord and victorious in the end. His tribe would receive the blessings of heaven above and of the deep, meaning great spiritual and temporal blessings. He would have a great posterity and they would carry the birthright blessings of the fathers.25
It is significant for us to know that in the Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis 48:5-7 there are six additional verses which make it clear that Ephraim and Manasseh did not replace Reuben and Simeon within the house or tribes of Israel, but were to be considered sons of Israel and would be called Israel just as Reuben and Simeon were also sons.26 The actual birthright blessing was passed on to Ephraim through Joseph.27
Key points of the blessing given to Joseph by Israel have been lost to the world in general. Some of these have been added or clarified in the Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis 50 and the account in 2 Nephi 3, including the following:
God would deliver the Israelites from Egypt and bondage by a prophet, but that prophet would not be the Messiah, but Moses.28
A branch of Joseph's posterity would be carried into a far country but they would be remembered in the covenants of the Lord made with Abraham.
They would be brought out of darkness into light.
Just as Joseph gathered Israel to Egypt and saved them temporally, a latter-day prophet would be instrumental in gathering Israel both spiritually and temporally. This choice seer would be raised up out of Joseph's loins in the latter days and he would do a great work for the fruit of the loins of his brethren, bringing them to a knowledge of the covenants.29
This seer's name would be Joseph, after the name of his father, and he would be like Joseph of old for he would bring his people salvation.30 Latter-day Saints revere this seer as the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Two records would be kept, one of Judah (the Bible) and one of Joseph (the Book of Mormon), which in the latter days would grow together to the confounding of doctrines and contentions and bring the knowledge of the covenants to the rest of Israel as well as to the Gentiles.31
In addition, the great responsibility of Joseph's descendants through Ephraim and Manasseh are clarified: "For thou shalt be a light unto my people, to deliver them in the days of their captivity, from bondage; and to bring salvation unto them, when they are altogether bowed down under sin." 32 (Italics added.)
Joseph, our ancestor, fulfilled the great mission given to him by Heavenly Father. He lived a faithful life, trusting in Heavenly Father, saving his family temporally but also spiritually by obtaining the covenant blessings which remain in force for his posterity. His prophecies about Joseph Smith, the restoration, and the role of Latter-day Saints in fulfilling many other prophecies are treasures not known to the world in general. The spiritual richness that would be added to our lives by studying Joseph's life cannot be too strongly emphasized.
Joseph can be our example in rising above challenges and temptations to accomplish the mission to save Heavenly Father's children from starvation for the Bread of Life and the blessings of salvation. That mission and spiritual responsibility given to us must be paramount in honoring our ancestor. As Joseph's posterity, we cannot neglect our role as the covenant people and our obligation today to gather Israel, bringing souls to Jesus Christ, our Savior, as we help prepare the world for His second coming.
Joseph Smith identified one of the Egyptian papyri scrolls he obtained from Michael Chandler in 1835 as containing the writings of Joseph of Egypt. (History of the Church 2:236; 5 July 1835.) Although these writings were not published, Joseph must have studied the scroll and conveyed some of the information to Olivery Cowdery who wrote an account of it in the LDS Messenger and Advocate in 1835. (HC 2:236-237.) It appears from Brother Cowdery's description, that several of the pieces of papyri which the Church obtained from the New York Metropolitan Museum in 1967 are from the Joseph scroll. (See Robert J. Matthews, "Our Heritage from Joseph," 1993 Sperry Symposium, ms. copy, p. 10.) Used by permission.
"Joseph, the son of Jacob, must have received the priesthood before he was seventeen years old. There is ample evidence that boys were called and ordained
to the priesthoodT in ancient times. . . . How old Joseph, son of Israel, was when he received the priesthood is not recorded; but it must have been when he was very young. He was sold by his brethren when he was only seventeen, and he must have had the priesthood before that time, for he exercised it in the land of Egypt." (Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 2:9.)
Thomas Mann, Joseph in Egypt (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1938), pp. 1-2.
Bruce R. McConkie, The Promised Messiah. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976), p. 448.
See Gen. 37:3; Matt. 3:17.
See Gen. 37-41; Matt. 20:19.
See Gen. 37:4; John 1:11; Isa. 53:3; 1 Ne. 19:13-14.
See Gen. 37:25-28; Matt. 20:19.
See Gen. 37:26; Matt. 26:14-15.
See Gen. 37:28; Matt. 6:15; Lev. 27:5.
See Gen. 41:46; Luke 3:23.
See Gen. 42; John 6:48-57; 2 Ne.9:50-51.
See Gen. 39:9; Matt. 4-5; Heb. 2:16, 18; 4:15.
See Gen. 41:43; D&C 88:104.
Gen. 37:24; Luke 22:44; D&C 19:15-19.
See Gen. 42:35; John 6:48-57; 2 Ne. 9:5.
See Mark E. Petersen, Joseph of Egypt (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1981) pp. 15-17.
Birthright, Bible Dictionary, p. 625.
See Gen. 48:5; 1 Chron. 5:1-2; also Daniel H. Ludlow, "What laws governed the inheritance of birthright in the Old Testament?" Ensign, September 1980, p. 52.
See Gen. 49:26; 2 Nephi 3.
Deut. 33:13-18. Additional sources for reading the blessing given to Joseph are Gen. 42:22-27; JST Gen. 50:24-34; 2 Ne. 3:15-17.
See Joseph Smith Translation Gen. 48:5-11; (Bible Appendix, pp. 798-799).
See Gen. 48:19-20; Jer. 31:9; 1 Chron. 5:1.
See JST Gen. 50:29.
See JST Gen. 50:24, 27, 28, 30; 2 Ne. 3:7-8.
See JST Gen. 50:33.
See JST Gen. 50:31; 2 Ne. 3:11-12; Ezek. 37:15-17.
JST Gen. 48:11.