Old Testament Lesson 11
“How Can I Do This Great Wickedness”
By Philip A. Allred

The Weaver

            My life is but a weaving, between my God and me.
            I let Him choose the colors-He worketh steadily.
            Oftimes He worketh sorrow and I, within my heart,
            Forget He sees the pattern while I see only part.
            The dark threads were as needful in the Weaver’s skillful hand,
            As the threads of gold and silver in the pattern He had planned.
            Not till the loom is silent and the shuttles cease to fly,
            Shall God unroll the canvas and explain the reason why. (Anonymous)

As this beautiful poetry expresses, mortality is necessarily full of light and dark threads if it is to work its Christ-like changes in us.  Few passages of scripture contain as memorable an illustration of this reality than Moses’ account of young Joseph sold into Egypt.  Elder Maxwell’s inimitable prose punctuates this point: Divine Design

“Now, as you and I look at our lives. we sometimes do not understand that through which we are passing, but, being submissive, we can trust Him.  The day will come, brothers and sisters, when the tapestry of your life will be unfolded, and you will see divine design all through it, and praise God for the experience and the tutoring which, in His goodness, He has given you.”(Elder Neal A. Maxwell, Devotional, 9 Feb. 1988, BYU-Hawaii, 8.)

The “divine design” for Joseph was marvelously prophesied of in his two dreams as recorded in Genesis 37.  The first dream (37:5-7) contained elements of their recent work in the fields and featured an “obeisance” of the brother’s sheaves of grain to his own.  The second dream’s elements (37:9) were cosmic bodies making deference to Joseph- eleven stars, the moon, and the sun, personifying Joseph’s father, mother, and his eleven brothers according to Jacob (37:10).  While Moses records that Jacob “rebuked” Joseph at his first hearing, we learn also that he “observed the saying” (37:11; perhaps like Mary after the 12 year-old Savior told his mother, “wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” Lk. 2:49). 

Some years ago while teaching an Old Testament class, I had a student ask me if there was something to be learned in seeing the differences between the two dreams.  It was an instructive moment as I contemplated what to do considering that I had not personally explored that question before.  Desiring to be taught as well, I turned to the chalkboard and decided to analyze this question and see what the Lord might reveal.  I split the chalkboard in half detailing the first dream on one side and the second dream on the other with the student’s participation.  As our analysis progressed, we started to see an important difference emerge.  The first dream seemed to point so clearly to the Egyptian granaries Joseph set up and his brother’s humble petitions to buy grain from him later in their lives.  But what intrigued and amazed us was the potential in the second dream for a later, more expansive work by Joseph’s descendants in saving his brother’s descendants well after their progenitor’s lifetimes.  It became apparent that during and through the dispensation of the fullness of times as illustrated below, Joseph’s descendants have a great work to accomplish just like their righteous patriarch. 

The chalkboard ended up looking something like this:

Joseph’s 1st Dream (37:7)

Joseph’s 2nd Dream (37:9)

12 sheaves of grain

11 stars, the moon, and the sun

Joseph’s stood upright while brother’s surrounded and bowed down to Joseph’s

Heavenly bodies bowed down to Joseph

Symbolism: crop field = daily labors of Joseph’s family for their physical sustenance; need for Joseph to provide food for their mortal life

Symbolism: heavens = future potential of Joseph’s family and their ultimate destiny; need for Joseph to provide priesthood blessings for their eternal life

Fulfillment of Prophecy: Joseph rising to power in Egypt and erecting granaries where temporal salvation from famine was available for Joseph’s brothers and family.

Fulfillment of Prophecy: Joseph’s descendants (Ephraim and Manasseh)  setting up temples world-wide where eternal salvation is made available for the descendants of Joseph’s brothers – the tribes of Israel

Scriptural Reference: Genesis 39-47, 50

Scriptural Reference: Genesis 48-49; JST Gen. 48:5-11; D&C 133:19-37

Turning to the Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis 48:5-11 (pp. 798-99, appendix of the LDS edition of the King James Version), we found some exciting confirmation for this hypothesis.  After the brothers and Jacob had settled in Egypt, Joseph sought a blessing from his father for his sons Manasseh and Ephraim.  As part of his counsel at that time, Jacob revealed that he’d learned something of the nature of Joseph’s dreams since that initial rebuke before Joseph was sold by his brothers. 

“O my son, [God] hath blessed me in raising thee up to be a servant unto me, in saving my house from death; in delivering my people, thy brethren, from famine which was sore in the land.. For thou hast prevailed, and thy father’s house hath bowed down unto thee, even as it was shown unto thee [in his dreams], before thou wast sold into Egypt” (JST Gen. 48:8-9; emphasis added). 

Clearly the brothers, and apparently also Jacob, had misunderstood the nature of their bowing to Joseph.  They understandably, but incorrectly took that to mean they would worship Joseph, or took it as some kind of measure of their relative value of worth.  Wonderfully we learn that Joseph was elevated to his position in order to serve them.  And, their bowing was an act of receiving their brother’s help, not meant to establish some kind of family pecking order. 

So it is in our day.  The JST further records Jacob’s prophetic interpretation as it relates to Joseph’s seed in our day: 

“Wherefore thy brethren [the other tribes of Israel] shall bow down unto thee, from generation to generation, unto the fruit of thy loins [Ephraim and Manasseh] for ever; 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” (JST Gen. 48:10-11). 

In this way – the same as Joseph had done during his lifetime – Joseph’s progeny are to become saviors to their brethren of Israel (and by extension the rest of Father’s children).  During this last dispensation Joseph’s descendants are charged with providing the covenants, ordinances, and saving truths of the gospel for the rest of the family.  With this in mind, it is exciting to see our modern Temples as veritable spiritual granaries or storehouses where souls are literally delivered and saved while all around a famine seeks to lay waste precious mortal opportunities.    

Two passages from our modern revelations add insight to this understanding:

“Therefore, thus saith the Lord unto you, with whom the priesthood hath continued through the lineage of your fathers-For ye are lawful heirs, according to the flesh, and have been hid from the world with Christ in God-Therefore your life and the priesthood have remained, and must needs remain through you and your lineage until the restoration of all things spoken by the mouths of all the holy prophets since the world began.  Therefore, blessed are ye if ye continue in my goodness, a light unto the Gentiles, and through this priesthood, a savior unto my people Israel” (D&C 86:8-11; emphasis added). 

“And they shall bring forth their rich treasures unto the children of Ephraim, my servants.  And the boundaries of the everlasting hills shall tremble at their presence.  And there shall they fall down and be crowned with glory, even in Zion, by the hands of the servants of the Lord, even the children of Ephraim.  And they shall be filled with songs of everlasting joy.  Behold, this is the blessing of the everlasting God upon the tribes of Israel, and the richer blessing upon the head of Ephraim and his fellows” [perhaps the “richer blessing” refers to the joy Ephraim and the other gathered “fellows” get when they extend these crowning blessings to those gathering in the temples?] (D&C 133:30-34; emphasis added).

President Joseph Fielding Smith taught along these lines:

It is Ephraim who is building temples and performing the ordinances in them for both the living and for the dead, When the “lost tribes” come-and it will be a most wonderful sight and a marvelous thing when they do come to Zion-in fulfillment of the promises made through Isaiah and Jeremiah, they will have to receive the crowning blessings from their brother Ephraim, the “firstborn” in Israel” (Doctrines of Salvation, 3: 252.)

In light of these profound opportunities for service and joy, it is staggering to think of what lay on the line when his Egyptian master’s wife tempted Joseph.  Not only would Joseph’s personal ability to be in a position to save his own family from the food famine later in his lifetime (a position he was ironically elevated to by what temporarily appeared to be a bad end to his righteous resistance) but, the ripple-effect on his descendants and their critical role in the latter-day gathering may well have been in the balance.  And, so, it is with us.  The Lord only knows what great things may be brought to pass by our staying faithful throughout any and all circumstances, as did our patriarch Joseph. 

Elder Maxwell invites us to such faithfulness in his unforgettable style:

“Joseph understood that reason clearly when he resisted the entreaties of Potiphar’s predatory wife (see Gen. 39:9). Joseph, who clearly noted his loyalty to his employer, Potiphar, concluded, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” Joseph’s obedience was an act of many-splendored loyalty-to himself, to his future family, to Potiphar, to God, and, yes, even to Potiphar’s wife!... Do not company with fornicators-not because you are too good for them but because you are not good enough. Remember that bad situations can wear down even good people. Joseph had both good sense and good legs in fleeing from Potiphar’s wife” (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, New Era, Mar. 2003, 43, 44; emphasis added.)

Providing gospel blessings both at home and throughout the world turns out to be our sacred familial trust.  Just as our father Joseph overcame adversity and became the true provider for his immediate family, we will also find our God and Father more than faithful and able to sustain us through and out of life’s contradictions and injustices so that we may help Him “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life” (Moses 1:39) of our beloved brothers and sisters.

In conclusion, I appreciate the following statements giving insight into how Joseph was able to resist not only Potiphar’s wife’s adulterous advances, but also overcome what could have been an overwhelming sense of hopelessness and abandonment. 

“Young man, a thousand miles away from home, can you keep the standards of your mother and father? One man changed the history of the world by taking into a foreign country these standards: He was good looking; he had personality; he was young. Because of his physique and general carriage, he carried prestige. She was a woman of importance-yes, I presume she was attractive. She tempted him once-she tempted him twice-yes, and many more times. Each time he remembered the teachings of his folk at home. He looked sin in the face and stood like a rock. Yes, as the saying goes, he took it on the chin. For just a moment what a price he paid to keep straight-and don’t forget he was praying all the time. When she found herself unvictorious, she caught his garment as he fled. The sample of the clothing was shown to her husband and if we can use our imagination, a remark from her treacherous lips went to her husband about as follows: “Well, here’s the evidence. You thought he was lily-white, didn’t you?” Into a dark dungeon he went for two years. And he was still praying. And when he was sold into Egypt by his brothers for a few pieces of silver, he was praying. Does the Lord really answer prayers? But let’s shift to the last act of our play. The curtain goes up with an entirely different scene. “And they came from all nations to buy corn.” Who was head of this great commissary department? Who was it that was next to the king of the land? Joseph who was sold into Egypt, the boy who could say “no”-the lad who took the standards of his parents into a foreign land! It was that boy who stood at the crossroads all alone” (Bishop Marvin O. Ashton, Improvement Era, Vol. Xlviii, December, 1945. No. 12).

“Joseph vividly demonstrated why he was favored of the Lord, or, as the scriptures said, why ‘the Lord was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man..’ (Gen. 39).  His reliance was upon the Lord.  His trust was in the Lord, and his allegiance ran to the Lord.  I believe this is the greatest lesson that can be learned by the youth of Zion-to do the right thing because you love the Lord.  It is so vitally important that, I feel, if you do anything in righteousness for any other reason that you love the Lord, you are wrong-at least you are on very shaky ground.  And, somewhere your reasons for acting in righteousness will not be strong enough to see you through.  You will give way to expediency, or peer group pressure, or honor, or fame, or applause, or the thrill of the moment, or some other worldy reason.  Unless your motives are built upon the firm foundation of love of the Lord, you will not be able to stand” (Elder Hartman Rector, Jr., “Live Above the Law to Be Free,”Ensign, Jan. 1973, 130.)

“The story of Joseph, the son of Jacob who was called Israel, is a vivid representation of the great truth that `all things work together for good to [those] who love God.’ (See Rom. 8:28.) Joseph always seemed to do the right thing; but still, more importantly, he did it for the right reason. And how very, very significant that is! Joseph was sold by his own brothers as a slave and was purchased by Potiphar, a captain of the guard of Pharaoh. But even as an indentured servant, Joseph turned every experience and all circumstances, no matter how trying, into something good. This ability to turn everything into something good appears to be a godly characteristic. Our Heavenly Father always seems able to do this. Everything, no matter how dire, becomes a victory to the Lord. Joseph, although a slave and wholly undeserving of this fate, nevertheless remained faithful to the Lord and continued to live the commandments and made something very good of his degrading circumstances. People like this cannot be defeated, because they will not give up. They have the correct, positive attitude, and Dale Carnegie’s expression seems to apply: If you feel you have a lemon, you can either complain about how sour it is, or you can make a lemonade. It is all up to you” (Elder Hartman Rector, Jr., “Live Above the Law to Be Free,” Ensign, Jan. 1973, 130).


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