There is a bit of humor that circulates among missionaries: “Every time missionaries knock on a door in Europe, someone gets baptized in the Americas!”   Why is it that there is so much success with conversions to the restored gospel here in these lands of America?  In fact, why are there more baptisms in the Americas than in all the rest of the world combined?  What is so special about these lands of the western hemisphere?

 

To understand the remarkable reasons, we have to go back about 4,000 years in time and about 8,000 miles in distance to a man called Joseph in a land called Egypt.

 

Father Jacob gave his twelve sons patriarchal blessings, and they are recorded, at least in part, in Genesis 49.  Particularly outstanding blessings were given to Judah and to Joseph.  First, Judah was promised that through his lineage the Messiah would come, “and unto him shall the gathering of the people be” (v. 10).  Jacob then pronounced a prophetic metaphor to describe Joseph’s descendants:

 

“Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall” (Genesis 49:22).

 

The parallel images are clear.  Joseph and his branches, or descendants, would be productive and prolific, and they would extend “over the wall”; in this case, as it turned out, over a well or wall of water, the ocean.

 

Continuing his blessing to Joseph, Jacob promised: “The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors” (v. 26) – that is, Jacob says in essence, the ‘blessings that I’m pronouncing on you, Joseph, are even greater than the blessings of my fathers (Abraham and Isaac)’—“unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills.” And where are the “everlasting hills” to which the blessings of Joseph would extend?  Only in the western hemisphere, spanning the continents of the Americas, is there a continuous chain of mountains—from Alaska to the Patagonia—and to the “utmost bound” of these “everlasting hills” the descendants of Joseph would be spread over many centuries and into the latter days. 

 

Indeed, today there are stakes of the Church in the northernmost reaches (Fairbanks, Alaska) to the southernmost reaches (Punta Arenas, Chile), and thousands of cities, towns, and villages in between.  These vast lands of Joseph—called the “Americas” in our current geographic vocabulary—are also designated in the Book of Mormon as “land[s] of promise” (1 Nephi 4:14; 7:13; 14:1-2; Ether 2:8-10); “precious lands” (1 Nephi 17:38; 2 Nephi 3:2); “holy land” (Enos 1:10); and lands which are “choice above all other lands” (1 Nephi 2:20; 2 Nephi 1:5; Ether 2:7, 10, 15; 9:20; 13:2).

 

Joseph’s descendants through his sons Manasseh (Lehi and his posterity) and Ephraim (Ishmael and his posterity) would be brought to these consecrated lands because, as Lehi explained, “It must needs be that we should be led with one accord into the land of promise, unto the fulfilling of the word of the Lord, that we [remnants of Jacob or Israel] should be scattered upon all the face of the earth” (1 Nephi 10:13).

 

The blessings pronounced by Jacob “shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren” (Genesis 49:26).  And how was Joseph separated from his brothers?  We all know the story of how the other sons of Jacob were annoyed with their younger brother and his dreams of dominion over the rest of the family, and of their hatred that was so intense that the brothers even entertained thoughts of killing him; and how, in the end, they arranged to have him sold into Egypt (recounted in Genesis 37).  Thus, at the tender age of seventeen Joseph was separated from his home and his brethren.  He actually spent the rest of his life living in Egypt, until he died at the age of 110 (Genesis 50:26).  As far as we know, Joseph’s sons Manasseh and Ephraim lived their whole lives, died, and were buried in Egypt, without ever becoming acquainted with their promised land.

 

Although Joseph and his immediate posterity were at first separated from the rest of the family of Jacob, the great patriarch’s reference to Joseph being “separate from his brethren” would have a much wider and grander fulfillment in Joseph’s descendants, through the families of Lehi and Ishmael inheriting lands that were much more separated from the rest of Israel than was the land of Egypt.

 

Thus we see, through all this scriptural history, that what we denominate “the Americas” are truly lands of Joseph, inhabited at least in part by descendants of him who ultimately received the blessings—the double inheritance—of the firstborn.


  “Joseph obtained the birthright in Israel because he was worthy and because it was his natural right.  When Reuben, the actual firstborn, lost the privilege by transgression (1 Chr. 5:1-2), Joseph, as the firstborn son of Jacob’s second wife, was next in line for the blessing” (Bible Dictionary, 716-717).  Joseph received the greatest inheritance, including the greatest lands of inheritance, which were “choice above all other lands.”

 

Joseph’s descendants, along with other scattered remnants of his father Jacob and those adopted into the covenant people of Israel, are now experiencing tremendous spiritual growth and blessings in direct fulfillment of the patriarchal blessing of Jacob to his son Joseph.

 

Another Joseph

 

Many of these spiritual blessings being poured out in the lands of Joseph are the result of the divinely-led work of another Joseph in the latter days—a direct descendant of the original Joseph.

 

Lehi taught his last-born son (yet another Joseph) that “Joseph [of Egypt] truly saw our day.  And 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.  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” (2 Nephi 3:5-6).

 

The Lord further taught Joseph in Egypt: “A seer will I raise up out of the fruit of thy loins; and unto him will I give power to bring forth my word unto the seed of thy loins—and not to the bringing forth my word [the Book of Mormon] only, saith the Lord, but to the convincing them of my word [the Bible], which shall have already gone forth among them. . . . And his name shall be called after me [“Joseph”]; . . . 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 [the Hebrew word “salvation” is yeshua, which is the mortal name of the Savior; Yeshua = Jesus]” (2 Nephi 3:11, 15).

 

Preparations for the Restoration

 

Before this latter-day Joseph was born and put in position by the God of the land, Jesus Christ, some other conditions had to be in place for the “restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:21).

 

Soon after the declaration of independence of the United States of America (1776), along with the resultant war, the spirit of independence began to assert itself throughout the western hemisphere.  Peoples revolted against the occupying powers of England, Spain, and Portugal.  Revolutionary efforts were led especially by continental liberators Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín.  Various peoples patterned their own declarations of independence, and their constitutions, laws, and governments after the United States of America, which was raised up by the hand of God to provide a physical setting for the prophesied Restoration in the latter days.  At one time or another several countries even similarly entitled their nations; for example, the United States of México, the United States of Central America, and the United States of Colombia.

 

Following are some dates of declarations of independence from Spain and Portugal in the early 19th century.  Surely it is no coincidence that they were taking place during the same time period of the Restoration of the Church and gospel of Jesus Christ, which would need freedom of religion and freedom of thought and expression in order to eventually blossom throughout “the lands of Joseph.”

 

1810:  Colombia, México, Chile

1811:  Paraguay, Venezuela

1816:  Argentina

1821:  Peru, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama

1822:  Ecuador, Brazil  (from Portugal)

1825:  Bolivia, Uruguay

 

The Hand of the Lord was in it 

 

Throughout the thousands of years of recorded history of the lands of Joseph, involving peoples that the Lord brought to these lands (“there shall none come into this land save they shall be brought by the hand of the Lord” – 2 Nephi 1:6), we see time after time that God himself was directly involved in the unfolding events.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

      (1)  The Lord sent Joseph, son of Jacob, into Egypt to save the house of Israel.  “God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Genesis 50:20; see also 1 Nephi 5:14).

 

      (2)  The Lord sent the descendants of Joseph, in the persons of Lehi and Ishmael and their families, to the specially-preserved lands of promise in the western hemisphere (2 Nephi 1:5; 3:2; 10:19), and these descendants of Joseph were instrumental in preparing, under the direction of the Lord, additional scripture needed for the latter-day Restoration of all things.

 

      (3)  The Lord sent seekers of religious freedom in the 1600s and 1700s to settle a new promised land, to fight a war of liberty, and to establish a government with a new constitution inspired by Heaven (1 Nephi 13:16-19; D&C 101:77, 80).

 

      (4)  The Lord raised up a new Joseph in these latter days to establish once again the kingdom of God on earth, headquartered in the lands of Joseph but meant for all the world (JST Genesis 50:25-33; 2 Nephi 3:5-15).

 

      (5)  The Lord raised up other liberators in the Americas to secure freedom in order to provide the physical and political conditions in which the gospel of Jesus Christ could flourish in the last days.

 

Surely the hand of the Lord has guided these events from the beginning, events that are center-stage in the unfolding drama which is his work and his glory.

 

Dr. D. Kelly Ogden is a professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University.