Early on in his translation of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith would have encountered a passage that perhaps was overwhelming to the 24-year-old fledgling prophet. In what we now have as 2 Nephi 3, recording Lehi's counsel and instruction to his youngest son, Joseph, is this passage:
"For Joseph truly testified, saying: A seer shall the Lord my God raise up, who shall be a choice seer unto the fruit of my loins.
". . . And I will make him great in mine eyes; for he shall do my work.
"And he shall be great like unto Moses. . . .
"And out of weakness he shall be made strong, in that day when my work shall commence among all my people, unto the restoring thee, O house of Israel, saith the Lord.
"And his name shall be called after me; and it shall be after the name of his father. And he shall be like unto me; for the thing, which the Lord shall bring forth by his hand, by the power of the Lord shall bring my people unto salvation" (2 Nephi 3:6, 8-9, 13, 15).
Lehi, of course, is quoting here a prophecy uttered by Jacob's son Joseph, he who was sold into Egypt, a prophecy that was not preserved in the Bible but which has come to modern readers by virtue of the Book of Mormon. It is noteworthy that Lehi would cite this prophecy while teaching and counseling his own son Joseph. One might reasonably conclude that Lehi, through revelation aware of the broad panorama of God's dealings with man, named his own son after both Joseph who was the son of Jacob or Israel, and Joseph, the great Moses-like seer whom the Lord would raise up in the latter-day dispensation.
The prophecy recorded here is strikingly explicit, to the point that it foretells that the Prophet Joseph Smith would be called Joseph "after the name of his father," Joseph Smith Sr.
When first encountering this passage during translation, did Joseph Smith fully grasp its implications? Did he, at that moment, truly understand who he was and what his role would be? If not, then surely this understanding would come eventually, as he was tutored by angels and subject to continuing revelation from Jesus Christ.
The very name Joseph has meaning that is instructive in its symbolism. As noted in footnote "a" of Genesis 30:20 in the LDS edition of the King James Bible, the name is derived from the Hebrew root yasaph, which means "to add." Jacob and his wife Rachel gave this name to him signifying that the Lord had opened the womb of the previously barren Rachel and added a son to their posterity.
The meaning of the name takes on broader implications in light of Jacob's later prophecy:
"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:)
"The blessings of thy father . . . shall be on the head of Joseph (Genesis 49:22-24, 26).
Latter-day Saints understand this passage to refer to the destiny of the posterity of Joseph (in whose line the Savior was born into mortality, as mentioned in verse 24). Through modern revelation, they know that Joseph Smith, a lineal descendant of Joseph, opened the latter-day work in which members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the majority of whom descend from Joseph through his son Ephraim, would fulfill a great mission. That mission is no less than the gathering of Israel in the last days preparatory to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in glory and the ushering in of His millennial reign.
Thus, in keeping with the symbolic meaning of his name, Joseph's posterity are adding to God's people, a people through whom all the families of the earth are being blessed in keeping with the covenant the Lord made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (see Genesis 28:14).
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