Genesis 40-45

 I am the law and the light. Look unto me, and endure to the end, and ye shall live; for unto him that endureth to the end will I give eternal life… This is the law and the prophets, for they truly testified of me.[1]

What we call the Old Testament Jesus referred to as “the law and the prophets.” The Lord intends everything in the Old Testament to bring us to Christ. As our goal in life is to “come unto Christ and be perfected in him,”[2] the Old Testament becomes a precious and invaluable guidebook.

The question posed by this lesson is: How does the story of Joseph in Egypt help us come unto Christ while living in the midst of this telestial world? 

Joseph in Egypt

In a sense we are all captive “in Egypt.”  Because of the idolatry of Egypt and because it was the place of Israel’s captivity, the prophets of old used the land of Egypt as a symbol for the telestial world in which we now live. The entire world today is a spiritual Egypt, “the land of our affliction,” in captivity to the “god of this world,”[3] who is Satan. The Apostle John spoke of this world as “spiritual Egypt” because here the Lord was crucified.[4]  

At the same time, the telestial world is our testing place, as Egypt was for Joseph. By studying the response of Joseph to his various tests, we can understand how to meet those tests.

Even though Joseph was brought to the lowest point imaginable – as a slave imprisoned for crimes he did not commit – he continued to rely on the Lord. He did not become embittered.

Appointed a seer by the Lord, Joseph was able to receive revelation for the benefit of others – for the butler and baker and for the Pharaoh himself. He must have proven his trustworthiness to the keeper of the prison, who gave over the running of the prison to Joseph.

When the challenges of this telestial world confront us, we would do well to remember the example of Joseph. Even in the midst of his worst trials, “The Lord was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy.”[5] Likewise, the Lord is with us particularly when we need Him the most, and will enable each of us to be “fruitful” even in this world of affliction.

Joseph and the Atonement

Above all, the story of Joseph in Egypt is a great parable of the Atonement. Like the Son of God, Joseph was the “birthright” son of Israel. To him belonged the right of presidency in the priesthood once Reuben, the firstborn of Israel’s first wife, forfeited his birthright through sinfulness.[6] The robe of Joseph was the emblem of his primacy in the priesthood and in the house of Israel.[7]  

Like the Son of God, Joseph was unjustly accused. Like the Son of God, Joseph was stripped of his robes and sold by those who were closest to him. Like the Son of God, Joseph was cast into Egypt – the telestial world – to act as a savior for Israel. Like the Son of God, Joseph was sent out into the world by God “to preserve life… to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance.”[8] The Pharaoh endowed Joseph with a new name: “Zaphnath-Paaneah,” which according to Jerome, the translator of the Latin Bible, means “Savior of the World.”[9]

Joseph’s brothers – the whole house of Israel – ultimately sought nourishment in Egypt from Joseph’s hand, even though they didn’t know it was he. Spiritually, we of the house of Israel must seek to the Son of God for spiritual nourishment and salvation just as Joseph’s brothers did. Interestingly, the sons of Israel did not recognize their savior-brother until he chose to reveal himself – is this a foreshadowing of the fact that the Jews will not recognize their Messiah until He reveals Himself to them in the last days?[10]

Joseph ensured that the sons of Israel did not have to pay for the food they obtained from him in Egypt. He ordered his steward to return their money to them in their sacks.[11] By the same token, the Son of God provides for us spiritual nourishment “without money and without price” as Jacob the brother of Nephi taught: “Come, my brethren, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters [of Christ]; and he that hath no money, come buy and eat; yea, come buy wine and milk without money and without price.”[12]

Like the Son of God, Joseph wept over his brothers and yearned to take them into his arms and forgive them their terrible sin against him.

[13] But he could not do that until they demonstrated that they were repentant. Not until Judah showed that he was willing to give up his own life to save his brother Benjamin was Joseph able to bring the family together again. He pleaded with Joseph:

Thy servant became surety for the lad unto my father saying, If I bring him not unto thee, then I shall bear the blame to my father for ever. Now therefore, I pray thee, let thy servant abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brethren. For how shall I go up to my father, and the lad be not with me?[14]

This act of repentance made the “at-one-ment” or reconciliation of the family possible. This of course is a fundamental meaning of atonement: to bring together the whole family of Israel in one. At Judah’s self-consecrating offering, Joseph could no longer “refrain himself… Come near to me, I pray you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph, your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt.”

In the same way, when we confess and forsake our sins and consecrate our lives to the service of the Lord, He gathers us to Him in complete forgiveness and acceptance: “Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither.”[15]

Judah’s sincere repentance and Joseph’s generosity made possible the gathering of Israel as one family once again. This reunion of Israel was a tender time: “Joseph kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them.” In this same way the Son of God will greet the repentant righteous – the true family of Israel – on the last day.[16]

Joseph immediately sent for his father and the rest of the family to join him in Egypt. When Israel heard the news, he prayed to God to know what to do: “God spake unto Israel in the visions of the night, and said, Jacob, Jacob. And he said, Here am I. And he said, I am God, the God of thy father: fear not to go down into Egypt for I will there make of thee a great nation; I will go down with thee into Egypt; and I will also surely bring thee up again.”[17]

In a sense the Lord’s word to Israel is for all of us. We all come from His presence, from the premortal existence, into this telestial world. Here we receive covenants that, if we keep them precisely and honorably, will enable each of us to become “a great nation.”  The greatest news of all is that the Lord goes with us “into Egypt” and if we are faithful He will surely bring us up again.

Joseph in the Last Days

Through Joseph’s faithfulness, the posterity of Israel was saved. It is now the task of the family of Joseph to reunite the house of Israel and bring them unto Christ.[18] That mission began with the eponymous father of the tribe – Joseph himself – and continues today. The great majority of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints belong to the family of Joseph through his sons Ephraim and Manasseh. Note carefully from the Book of Mormon the promises and obligations the Lord has laid upon the family of Joseph:

Great were the covenants of the Lord which he made unto Joseph… He obtained a promise of the Lord, that out of the fruit of his loins the Lord God would raise up a righteous branch unto the house of Israel; not the Messiah, but a branch which was to be broken off, nevertheless, to be remembered in the covenants of the Lord that the Messiah should be made manifest unto them in the latter days, in the spirit of power, unto the bringing of them out of darkness unto light – yea, out of hidden darkness and out of captivity unto freedom.[19]

It is the peculiar task of the family of Joseph to bring all people to the Messiah, to bring them out of darkness into light and out of captivity into freedom. For this reason the Church of Jesus Christ sends missionaries into all the world. For this reason the Church energetically pursues family history work in order to seal together and unite the whole family of man in the Lord Jesus Christ. For this reason God raised up the Prophet Joseph Smith from the family of Joseph, “One mighty among them, who shall do much good, both in word and in deed, being an instrument in the hands of God, with exceeding faith, to work mighty wonders, and do that thing which is great in the sight of God, unto the bringing to pass much restoration unto the house of Israel.”[20]

Let us strive to emulate Joseph of old, who knew that his work was the work of salvation, who understood well the work of a “savior on Mount Zion,” and who honored his calling to bring all people unto Christ.


[1] 3 Ne. 15:9-10.

[2] Moro.


[3] 2 Cor. 4:4.

[4] Rev. 11:8.

[5] Gen. 39:21.

[6] Gen. 49: 3-4.

[7] Hugh W. Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, 3rd ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1988), 218-21.

[8] Gen 45:5, 7.

[9] See “Joseph,” The Jewish Encyclopedia (Funk & Wagnalls, 1901), 12:635-636.

[10] See D&C 45:51-53.

[11] Gen. 42:25; 44:1.

[12] 2 Ne. 9:50.

[13] Gen. 42:24, 43:30-31.

[14] Gen. 44:32-34.

[15] Gen. 45:1-5.

[16] See 2 Ne. 1:15.

[17] Gen. 46:2-4.

[18] See D&C 133:32-34.

[19] 2 Ne. 3:3-5.

[20] 2 Ne. 3:24.