Cover image: Illustration of Joseph of Egypt, by Robert T. Barrett.
When I read Genesis 42-50, I can empathize with an emotional Joseph who, after years of trial sees his brothers again. His emotion comes to the surface, when Joseph sees his brother Benjamin, the second son of Rachel his mother. He hastily runs to the other room out of his brother’s sight and weeps. Surely, 22 years apart from his family and seeing his brother and how the Lord had brought about his purposes was overwhelming to Joseph.
Joseph had been sold by his own brothers as a slave They were jealous of his favored status by their father. He was purchased by Potiphar, a captain of the guard of Pharaoh. Despite being a slave and servant, Joseph turned his experiences into good.
Hartman Rector Jr. said of Joseph, “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.”[i]
Years ago, Richard Cracroft, speaking at BYU, shared a story that I have remembered ever since:
Ingrid Olsen (not her real name) was a recently divorced mother of a young son, a recent convert to the church and was supporting her family alone in her home country of Sweden. The divorce had alienated Ingrid from part of her family, and her conversion to the church from her friends. She felt alone and abandoned and overwhelmed before an uncertain future. She wondered every day if her time would ever come.
Bewildered by it all, she welcomed one afternoon the opportunity to visit a cousin in a neighboring village, nearly ninety minutes away by bicycle. She planned to devote the trip to prayer, hoping to receive some sign that heaven was aware of her plight and would give her some needed solace. As she rode her bicycle toward her destination, she was miserably aware that the darkening day and threatening clouds matched her own darkened spirits.
In this state of mind, Ingrid at length reached the distant village and made her visit. Starting on her return trip, she rode her bicycle up a long incline in the face of an increasingly strong wind before which she could hardly make progress. Seeing in her difficulty an opportunity to test the reality of her faith, she stopped, stepped off the road and prayed that God would manifest his presence in a simple way: He would stop the wind.
Then she would know that he heard her prayers and knew her predicament. She would have faith that her time would come. She rose and resumed her journey. But the wind blew even harder. As she rode into the wind, she became more bitter with each kilometer, for it seemed apparent that God, if after all there was really such a Being, had neither heard nor answered her heartfelt pleas. Arriving at last at the hill above her village, a bitter Ingrid dismounted before coasting down the hill toward her home. Looking to the heavens, she uttered a sardonic, “Thanks; now I know.”
Then it happened, she was filled with an intense, powerful, feeling of the Spirit that sounded through her being with the words, “I did not still the wind; instead, I gave you strength to overcome.”
Moved by this, Ingrid Olsen noticed she had made the 90-minute return trip in less than 60 minutes. She rode immediately to the home of her branch president and related all that had occurred. Sensing his role as an instrument in effecting God’s will, he helped raise the funds to send her and her two boys to America.
She attended BYU and discovered a latent artistic talent, and she became a sculptor. Eventually marrying, she returned to Sweden, established a studio, became an accomplished and successful sculptor—even fulfilling commissions for the king of Sweden. Her son is a returned missionary, graduate and father.[ii]
I have no doubt that later in life Ingrid looked back on that bicycle ride, remembered her plea to heaven and realized while God did not stop the wind, he gave her strength, inspired a branch president, provided an education, helped her discover her talents, led her to a husband and helped her serve others and her family. Perhaps God knew that if he simply calmed the wind, she would never have set her foot on the path that led to who she was meant to become.
Like Ingrid, we are all on a road of sorts in life.
You may in fact feel like you are peddling against the wind wondering why God isn’t making it easy. In these difficult times, the lessons we learn from Joseph can help us remember why we are on the windy road and how the Lord will guide our path.
Joseph is a Type and Example for Us
What can we learn from Joseph’s life and experience? Why did Joseph have to be sold as a slave, spend years in prison, be accused wrongly, endure hardships, and be separated from his family? Let’s examine the answers to this question:
Joseph’s life is a type for the descendants of Joseph. Jacob said of Joseph “Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall” (Genesis 49:22). In other words, Joseph’s descendants would become a branch separate (over the wall) from the children of Israel. Like Joseph who was sold into and lived in a gentile nation separate from the children of Jacob, so would his seed live outside the confines of Israel (a branch over the wall) in gentile nations.
Lehi and his family are an example of this prophesy. Separated from Jerusalem, they came to the promised land. Here a remnant of Lehi’s seed would eventually live among the gentiles. In 3 Nephi 5:23, Mormon teaches, “surely shall [the Lord] again bring a remnant of the seed of Joseph to the knowledge of the Lord their God. In the latter-days, this has happened.
Most latter-day saints are of the tribe of Ephraim or Manasseh. We have been given the gospel for a purpose which Mormon states in verse 24: “And as surely as the Lord liveth, will he gather in from the four quarters of the earth all the remnant of the seed of Jacob, who are scattered abroad….”
I remember as a young missionary thinking, I am a remnant of Joseph—a part of Joseph. And like Joseph (a governor of Egypt), I have been favored in the house of the Gentiles (in other words I grew up in a free nation with not only worldly advantages but also being born in the covenant and raised up in the gospel of salvation). I have a duty to follow the example of Joseph and through my missionary work (or temple work) help save the children of Israel who are in the midst of a great spiritual famine.
Captain Moroni said, “We are a remnant of the seed of Joseph, whose coat was rent by his brethren into many pieces…. Let us remember the words of Jacob, before his death, for behold he saw that a part of the remnant of the coat of Joseph was preserved….”
We, like the Nephites, are a preserved remnant in the spiritual family of Israel and the time in which we live, is a type and spiritual replica of the story told in Genesis 42-50. We won’t provide corn or wheat for Israel, but we will provide what gives eternal life, the gospel and covenants of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In this and other ways, Joseph’s life was a type or shadow of how God would bring about the restoration of the children of Israel in the last days. You and I stand in Josephs shoes, in his stead, to do the same work he was called to do—restore life to Israel.
Joseph’s providing a home, food and saving the lives of the children of Jacob was his birthright duty. His birthright is our birthright. You see, Joseph was the firstborn of Jacob. Not the first in terms of chronological order. Rueben, the first born of Leah lost his birthright because of transgression. Joseph was the firstborn son of Jacob’s second wife, Rachel, and was next in line for the birthright of his father.
That birthright was passed on to Joseph’s son Ephraim. Ephraim was given the birthright in Israel. In the last days, Joseph’s seed will bear the priesthood, take the message of the gospel to the world, and provide saving ordinances.
In the Bible Dictionary we learn about what it means to be firstborn. “Under the law of Moses, the firstborn son was regarded as belonging to God. The firstborn received a double portion of his father’s possessions. After his father’s death, he was responsible for the care of his mother and sisters.”
You and I have been doubly blessed in the gospel, receiving a double portion, if you will, of covenants and blessings. Along with that blessing comes the responsibility to care for the mother and sisters. In other words, because we are born into or accept the covenant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; we are given their birthright. And as such, we assume the duty to care for the family.
Our birthright and duty are to bring the gospel and its ordinances to the family to help save them.
We are not only firstborn through the lineage of Joseph, but also firstborn when we become the sons and daughters of Christ (Mosiah 5:7). Therefore, like Christ, we are firstborn and assume the duties of the firstborn through him.
Again, the bible dictionary tells us that as firstborn, like firstborn sons of Israel (like Samuel) we belong to God. In other words, our life is to be in the service of God and as members of the church of the firstborn (D&C 76:54) we have the duty of the firstborn.
A Savior of Israel
In chapters 42-45 of Genesis a great drama unfolds. Joseph tests the hearts of his brothers, seeks to learn more about his younger brother Benjamin and causes Benjamin to be brought to him. All the while, his brothers don’t know Joseph is Joseph. How could they? How could they ever assume that Joseph their brother is now the governor?
Well, Joseph arranges for his brothers to be accused and attempts to keep Benjamin in his house, as a prisoner of sorts, until their father Jacob is brought to see Joseph. Judah pleads with Joseph not to do it. He tells Joseph of the pain such a separation would cause Jacob. He pleads with Joseph to let him, Judah, stand in the stead of Benjamin and offers himself as the person to take the blame.
It was then, that Joseph could no longer refrain himself. He wept aloud and revealed his identity to his brothers. Was it because of Judah’s offer? Did Joseph know that a descendant of Judah, the Son of God, would stand in the place of all the sons of Israel, for their sins? Was it because he personally knew what it was like to be separated from his brothers and family, and he couldn’t do that to Benjamin or Jacob? Was it because he loved his father Jacob, and Joseph suddenly sensed what pain Jacob had endured when he had lost his son Joseph 22 years earlier?
Regardless, Joseph sends everyone but his brothers from the room. The scripture says he wept aloud and said, “I am Joseph; doth my father yet live?” (Genesis 45:3).
He would go on to say in forgiveness, “be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life…. God sent me before you to…save your lives by a great deliverance.”
Now, there is a question for us to answer: “Is there not a type in this thing?” In these verses, doesn’t Joseph stand in the shoes of Jesus Christ? Can’t you hear our savior saying to us, “be not grieved or angry that you abandoned me, or sold me, or at times forgot me; God sent me before you to deliver you to save your life by a great deliverance.”
Joseph tells his family that he has prepared a place for them to preserve their lives. Then, “he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck, and wept; and Benjamin wept on his neck. Moreover, he kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them; and after that his brethren talked with him” (Genesis 45:14-15).
Now, I don’t know what it will be like to meet the Savior, but this scene of Joseph and his family in Genesis 45 could be an apt depiction of what it will be like when we meet our Savior from whom we have been separated. I imagine, like the father of the prodigal son, he will fall on our neck, and we will weep for joy.
And I don’t know if we will meet those for whom we did temple ordinances in the hereafter, or what that experience will be like, but I like to imagine it will be similar to that of Joseph and his brothers. In these and many ways, Joseph is an example and a type for the salvation of the children of Israel.
Your Prepared Road
Samuel Taylor Coleridge said, “He who is best prepared can best serve his moment of inspiration.”
I believe, even though we sometimes don’t see it, we are being prepared for remarkable things. You see, we get blinded by the day to day, and as result, we aren’t watching or perhaps not inspired when the need or opportunity arises.
But if we could open our eyes and see that our heavenly father has been preparing us, that all the work and experience we’ve gathered has set us up for his purposes; that change of view will and can help us keep our faith in difficult times.
I suspect Joseph had a dream or two in which he knew why he had to endure difficult things. I suppose he persevered at times because he knew he was destined to do great good for his family and God had prepared the way for that to happen.
Likewise, I believe that God is preparing the way in your life and mine. And we need to keep that view, that belief, in our mind. Recent research published in Neuroscience news, shows that two people experience the same thing and have completely different memories or view of the experience. Why is that? Here is what the research said, “Perception is strongly affected by what we’ve experienced in the past and our expectations of what we might experience in the future.”
If our expectation is that God is preparing us, we can endure the wind. Like Joseph, if our expectation is that God will use us for his good, we can turn our circumstances for good. As Shakespeare wrote in Henry the 5th, “All things are ready, if our mind be so.”
In short, I believe you are being prepared. God is more at work in our life, than we know.
On New Year’s Day several years ago, Dorothy Fletcher was on a flight from Manchester England to attend her daughter’s wedding in Florida. Partway into the flight, she started having a terrible pain in her back, across her chest and down her arm. What Dorothy soon realized was that she was having a heart attack.
In the last three years, 920 people showed symptoms of a heart problem during an airplane flight. Of those, 162 were admitted to the hospital after landing, 38 suffered cardiac arrest on the airplane, and 31 died. So, having a heart attack while onboard a plane is serious because the best treatment for these symptoms is early intervention.
When Dorothy notified the flight attendant, she was already in trouble and the plane was hours from any airport. So, the flight attendance got on the PA system and put out a call for help, she said, “Is there a doctor on board the plane? If so, will you please ring your flight attendant button?”
Immediately a series of beeps ensued and 15 people stood up. Unbeknownst to Dorothy and the flight attendant, was that there was a heart disease research conference being held in Orlando and the plane was filled with cardiologists on their way to the conference.
At one point in time, Dorothy’s condition became gravely serious. The doctors used an IV from an onboard medical kit and administered life-saving care to keep her alive. The plane was diverted to North Carolina, where Dorothy would spend two days in intensive care. Luckily, she still made it to her daughter’s wedding.
In the Old Testament, Elisha the prophet of Israel is with his assistant. During the night, the soldiers of Syria surround them. In the morning, when they awake, the assistant cries to Elijah, “Alas, Master. What shall we do?”
But Elisha has the prepared view. He understands. He says back to his student: “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them” (2 Kings 6:16).
But the assistant didn’t get it. He didn’t see. So, Elisha prayed, and said, “Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about. In short, there was a host of angels with horses and chariots” (2 Kings 6:17).
God’s hand is in more of our life than we likely realize. Trust in him and his purposes. Don’t doubt that you are being prepared.
Don’t Doubt Your Preparation
Despite its name, Guadalcanal is not a canal. It is an island and part of the larger Solomon Islands in the southwestern Pacific. It’s about 2,047 square miles. In the months following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Japanese took control of Guadalcanal and began building an airfield on the island.
This was of significant concern because from the island the Japanese could attack Australia. So, in August of 1942, the US Marines took control of the island and started a six-month battle with the Japanese who refused to leave.
Serving on the island was Frederic Gehring, a navy chaplain. A few years after his ordination as a priest in 1930, Gehring was assigned to missions in China, where he ran orphanages for children. There he learned mandarin Chinese and became familiar with working with native cultures.
During his service on Guadalcanal, the marines brought a six-year-old girl they had found to Gehring for care. She had been beaten and bayoneted and was suffering from malaria. Gehring nursed the girl back to life. She reminded him of the orphans he cared for in China. He spoke to her in mandarin, what he thought was her native language.
Gehring felt impressed to name her Pasty Lee. He called her white blossom Pai Tai Li in Chinese. He did all he could to hide the war from the child. He cared for her and brought her back to health.
Eight years later, Gehring and others would pay to have Pasty brought to the US. They helped her get an education. In the meantime, a New York Times reported wrote a few stories about Patsy Lee—an orphan from the war. Coincidently, those stories were read by Katherine Li, a medical researcher in Manhattan. Her sister, now living in Singapore, was in Malaysia during the war and fled with her two daughters on a ship that was sunk by the Japanese.
After the ship sunk, in the water, Mrs. Li put her five-year old daughter on a piece of wreckage and tried unsuccessfully to save her other child. She herself was picked up by the Japanese and she believed both her children were dead.
Katherine felt impressed to reach out to her sister because the name of her sister’s was Patsy Li. But she still thought it would be impossible if the young girl found was her niece, but Katherine was impressed by the coincidence and sent the story clippings to her sister.
Well, one thing would lead to another, and her sister would travel to, find and verify that the girl was in fact her daughter.
How did the girl end up in the care of Chaplain Gehring? No one knows. But consider how he was prepared for this miracle. He was prepared with the skills to speak the Chinese language, he had knowledge of how to care for orphans, he was caring enough to bring her to the US and inspired to name her the exact same name that she was given as a baby.
Chaplain Gehring would later write a book about her. He would name the book The Child of Miracles.
Now, I’ll bet had Patsy been found by anyone other than Chaplain Gehring, she would not live in the US, have an education and be reunited with her birth mother. Gehring was especially prepared and inspired to bring Patsy Li to her life today.
The same goes for you. You are being prepared. You may not see how but I believe miracles are in store for you because of that preparation.
So, on that road of preparation, follow the example of Joseph, who had faith he was being prepared. And let your calling as firstborn in the house of Israel inspire you to use your preparation for the salvation of Israel.
[i] Hartman Rector, Jr., Live above the Law to Be Free, Ensign, January 1973.
[ii] Richard H. Cracroft, “We’ll Sing and We’ll Shout”: A Mantic Celebration of the Holy Spirit, BYU Speeches, June 29, 1993.