Children can tell the story of Joseph being sold into Egypt. We know it well, with nasty brothers, slave dealers, false accusations, pits of despair and drama galore. What’s most important about this story, however, may not be obvious, and that’s what we are talking about today.
Children can tell the story of Joseph being sold into Egypt. We know it well, with nasty brothers, slave dealers, false accusations, pits of despair and drama galore. What’s most important about this story, however, may not be obvious, and that’s what we are talking about today.
Hello, we’re Scot and Maurine Proctor. Welcome to Meridian Magazine Come Follow Me podcast where today we talk about Joseph of Egypt—the story you know well and yet may have never seen before. We will cover Genesis chapters 37-41.
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Maurine, you and I go to Egypt every year leading a tour, and we tell the friends we bring with us that Egypt is another Holy Land. This is where some of the events from the lives of Abraham and Sarah happened, where Joseph came as a slave and became second only to Pharoah, where Moses led the children of Israel out of bondage, where Jesus came to escape Herod.
Yet, we especially think of Joseph when we are there, because he is our grandfather. We are part of his family. We love to tell our Egyptian tour guide, Hany Tafeek, that we belong here because we are Joseph’s children.
Then when he came to Salt Lake and went on a tour with us of Welfare Square and saw the warehouses stacked with food as Joseph stored grain in Egypt, he said you really are Joseph’s grandchildren.
Let’s start with some context. In our last lesson we learned that Jacob was given a new name, which was Israel, meaning “Let God Prevail.” This is a covenant name, affirming the reality that the essence of the covenant is “I will be your God and you will be my people.” With his wives, Jacob, or now Israel, has 12 sons, so the Old Testament will be the story of this posterity with their ability or failure to live the covenant and the events described will portray that. When the Children of Israel live the covenant, they will be prospered and given very specific promised blessings and, when they do not, they falter, fail, are conquered or scattered. If we miss this underlying thread which ties the Old Testament together, we miss its meaning.
We use the term “Israel” in various ways, so let’s stop to clarify that for a moment. Israel, as we mentioned is Jacob’s name, and his posterity are the Children of Israel. The Children of Israel is the lineage through which the covenant is carried, and all the faithful are either born into this line or adopted when they make their covenants. When Moses led Jacob or Israel’s descendants out of Egypt, the entire group was called the Children of Israel. Later, after the reign of Solomon, when Israel divided, the southern kingdom around Jerusalem contained two of the tribes and was called Judah. The northern kingdom, where ten of the tribes lived was called Israel. Finally, the word today also refers to the sovereign nation of Israel. We don’t want to get our “Israels” confused.
We said that Joseph’s life was more than a story. One the one hand, it is a vivid illustration that “all things work together for good to [those] who love God’ (Rom 8:28). But we will see more as we are told again and again that God is with Joseph. Why is He with Joseph, and Joseph prospers even when the situation looks impossibly dire? It is because being prospered and protected are both covenant blessings. God is not only stronger than any circumstance, but He has perfectly orchestrated events long in advance to bless His covenant son, Joseph, and through him all the Children of Israel. The scripture here is not just to tell us an intriguing story, but one designed to teach us something of God’s attributes. He can and does engineer events to bless Joseph and all of the Children of Israel. Note this. He who has all power and is “more Intelligent than they all” can and does orchestrate events to bless and prosper his covenant children. He does the same for His loyal covenant keepers now. With the Lord things work out.
You may have seen this saying painted on to a piece of home décor. “Everything works out in the end. If it hasn’t worked out yet, then it’s not the end.”
As Genesis chapter 37 begins, “Israel loved Joseph more than all his children” undoubtedly, in part, because he had also loved Rachel, who had died giving birth to Benjamin. His father gave to Joseph “a coat of many colors” (v. 3). Now, it is easy to trivialize this and say, no wonder the brothers were jealous of him. His father favored him and he got this great outfit.
Of course, there is much more to it. Though we have sung about it and pictured it for years, the “coat of many colors” is a mistranslation. Hugh Nibley calls it “an invention,” that is found in no ancient source. He says, instead of “many colors”, it is a garment of certain marks. “This garment had belonged to Abraham, and it already had a long history…because it went back to the Garden of Eden.” There is only one, and nothing else like it.
“Coat of many colors” is a translation from the Hebrew word ketonet passim, which means a long garment which reaches to the wrists and to the ankles. The Latin vulgate refers to it as a garment “worked very subtly with extra threads” or “special embroidery, special technique.” Nibley notes, however, that this garment has marks on it, and Jacob recognized it, though he was nearly blind, at the end of our story, when he felt the marks and recognized it as belonging to his son Joseph. (See Hugh B. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Vol. 3, Lecture 62).
Scholar Don Parry says that Jewish tradition “provides us with some interesting stories concerning the fate of the original priesthood garment of Adam, along with some insights into the magical properties attributed to it two millennia ago.” For example, the Book of Jasher says that Adam’s original garments were given to Enoch, and when he was taken up to God, Noah took them and brought them into the ark. When they left the Ark, Ham stole them and hid them from his brothers, and eventually they ended up with the wicked Nimrod. In the tradition, Esau battled Nimrod, killing him, took the garment and ran away.
Now, Don Parry says that “The stories of the preservations of Adam and Eve do not agree in the line through which they were transmitted,” but this is how the story goes.
“Abraham passed the garments to his son Isaac and he to his eldest son Esau. When Jacob received from Isaac the blessing intended for Esau, ‘Rebecca took the favorite clothing of her elder son, Esau, which was with her in the house. And she put it on Jacob.’ Isaac then blessed him, noting, among other things, ‘May nations serve you, and the people bow down to you. Become a lord to your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.’ The blessing reminds us of the tradition that people bowed down to Nimrod when they saw him arrayed in the garments of Adam.
“Early Jewish commentators saw evidence that Jacob was arrayed in the garment of Adam in Genesis 27:27, where we read that Isaac ‘smelled the smell of his raiment, and blessed him, and said, See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field which the Lord hath blessed.’ Origen reflected this view, when he cited the Genesis passage and used the term “divine garments.’” (Don Parry, Temples of the Ancient World, Rituals and Symbolism, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book).
Hugh Nibley said, “When they placed [the garment] upon the face of Jacob, he smelled also the smell of the Garden of Eden. For behold there is not in all the earth another garment that has that smell in it.” (Nibley, Ibid.)
No matter what pieces and parts of these traditions we can rely on, what is certain is that this special garment given to Joseph from Jacob, was a one-of-a-kind and signified both birthright and covenant blessings bestowed upon him, with the attendant powers, prosperity, protection that would follow. This was not a small gift, and the brothers knew it.
It is intriguing too, that when Jacob wore the garment, the very blessing he received was that nations would serve him and that he would become a lord to his brothers, and that his mother’s sons would bow down to him.
Yes, this mirrors exactly the dreams that Joseph had. Genesis 37 notes when Joseph said:
7 For, behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and, lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and, behold, your sheaves stood round about, and made obeisance to my sheaf.
8 And his brethren said to him, Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us? And they hated him yet the more for his dreams, and for his words.
9 ¶ And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.
We will see how prophetic these dreams are, for both on a temporal level—when Joseph is next to Pharoah in power in Egypt—and on the spiritual level—Joseph’s assignment to spiritually gather Israel, his brothers will bow to him.
Is their anger and boiling resentment toward Joseph justified—especially at this level? It certainly does give us a disturbing snapshot of the character of these sons. Also, the birthright and covenant blessings were significant and life-changing and many among them may have considered themselves the rightful heir to these. Reuben, born to Leah, was the firstborn of the sons, but an act of immorality disqualified him for that role, though he may not have entirely accepted that.
Simeon and Levi, the two born next to Leah, may have desired the birthright, but their massacre of the Shechemites ruled them out. Judah could have argued that since Reuben, Simeon and Levi were not eligible, he could have been the one for the blessing.
Because his mother Bilhah was considered Rachel’s property, Dan could have claimed he was Rachel’s firstborn. Gad, who was the firstborn of Zilpah, could have claimed that he had the birthright after Reuben lost it.
So the scene is set. Envy has done its work. Joseph’s brothers want to eliminate him as the source of pain and irritation in their lives. They conspire against him. Israel sends Joseph to see if all is well with them. It is a journey of about 85 miles from Hebron to Shechem, and then he must go on to the fertile and beautiful Dothan, just south of the Jezreel Valley to find them and their flocks.
You can hear the malice in their words: “Behold, this dreamer cometh. Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and we will say, Some evil beast hath devoured him: and we shall see what will become of his dreams. ” (vv. 19,20).
Reuben spared him from being immediately slain by his brothers, but, while he is gone, the others stripped Joseph of his coat of many colors and cast him into a pit. We saw one movie portraying this scene which was heart-rending as Joseph in the pit is crying and pleading and shouting to his brothers to pull him out.
Yet, what looks like an absolute tragedy is also the perfect timing of the Lord, for just then some Ishmeelite merchantmen, heading for Egypt pass by. Judah has an idea; they can profit if they sell him as a slave, and for the price of twenty pieces of silver, they do. When Reuben returns, he rents his clothes in anguish, saying, “The child is not; and I, whither shall I go?” (v. 30)
Jacob is agonized when the brothers return without Joseph. He, too, rents his clothes in grief and announces, “For I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning” (v. 35).
Imagine Joseph’s feelings at this point. He knows he is utterly despised of his own brothers, who watched callously as he must have screamed and cried to be carried away as a slave. Did the cruel treatment continue with the slave traffickers who had him? What were his prospects? What bottom-line despair he might have hit? After all, at this point he doesn’t know the end of the story as we do. Nobody told Joseph, sold into Egypt as a slave, that he would stand next to Pharoah one day as a ruler. Instead, the present bore upon him with all its weight and difficulty as it does on all of us. Did Joseph think God had utterly forsaken and forgotten him? Why hadn’t God reached out a hand to save him? Couldn’t God’s spirit have touched one of his brothers and made him hesitate and think “don’t do this.”
We don’t know, of course, what he thought, but the point is that we grow up hearing that if you follow the commandments, you will be blessed. That’s true. Yet, also true, is that even for the most righteous, those who go down in history for their integrity, righteousness and obedience, life can be difficult and unjust, and the Lord does not arrest the wicked to stop their actions. Joseph sees the cruelest of injustice at this moment and he will again, when we see him next in Potiphar’s house.
Yet all this was preparing him to later save his family, the Children of Israel from certain death. He had the ability to faithfully persist, firm and unshaken, through the darkest days, while all the time the Lord was leading him to a greater destiny.
Potiphar was an influential and wealthy man, the captain of the guard. When Joseph is sold to Potiphar, we are reminded again and again of the covenant blessings that are upon him. Remember the blessings of the covenant can be captured in six words that begin with “p”. These are promised land, posterity, priesthood, protection, prosperity and the presence of the Lord.
Whenever you see these words or these ideas in the Old Testament, the text is about the power of the covenant. So, Genesis, chapter 39 drives home the point. “The Lord was with him,” meaning Joseph. In verse two, the “Lord was with him” and put him with “a prosperous man”. We are told in verse three that Potiphar “saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord made all that he did to prosper in his hand.” We learn again that Joseph was so trusted that he became overseer in Potiphar’s house and all that he had. We’re told in verse 5 “that the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake and the blessing of the Lord was upon all that he had in the house, and in the field.”
Could the writer of this story make the reality clearer? Joseph is being blessed with extraordinary covenant blessings even when he is a slave.
Clearly, Joseph was a man of spectacular integrity and character. That people could immediately see. What’s more remarkable, is whatever devastation the hatred and betrayal of his brothers had wreaked, Joseph’s soul had not become cankered or corrupted, and he still utterly trusted in the Lord. What this suggests is that this utter trust in the Lord and His promises, fundamentally alters the tragedy and challenges we might face along the way. You want to have a better life? Trust the Lord and don’t resist the challenges you face. He will hold your hand and walk you through.
Yet, now there is a malevolent twist to the story for Potiphar’s wife had eyes for young Joseph for the scriptures reminds us that “he is a goodly man and well-favored.” (v. 6). She seeks to seduce him, not once, but day after day. This again is an interesting note, because our temptations don’t come just once. The Adversary wants to wear down our resolve piece by piece and strand by strand. What we can resist at first may be much harder with incessant temptation, especially at a place where we are vulnerable.
Joseph, who is so trusted, tells Potiphar’s wife, “There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” One day she is even more aggressive, and as he flees from her, she grabs his garment and it is left behind.
This is one of those seminal moments in scripture that tells how to be. We must not court temptation, or play with it, or suppose that everyone else is doing it, so why can’t I? Like Joseph, instead of falling we must flee. We must run from any power that would corrupt or undermine our souls, which are so precious. I had a bishop in college who described this as the “Get the heck out of there principle,” only he used a stronger word. When you are tempted, be as Joseph and get out.
This reminds me of an experience you had when you were a teenager living in Turkey.
Yes. My friends and I traveled from Turkey to the Holy Land for two weeks together to see the wonderful sites and significant places in the area. One Friday evening, which was the eve of the Sabbath, we wanted to find some really fun place to visit in Jerusalem. This is before I knew much about what Shabbat eve meant to the Jews, and, of course, everything was closed and there was apparently nothing to do. So the ten of us went walking, looking for a place to go. It was late and it was very dark that night. We were in a new place to us and we didn’t know where we were going and we were a little bit scared.
In our wandering we went around the south end of Jerusalem, outside of the city walls where we had been told that there was this amazing Tibetan teahouse, that was supposed to be really fun and still open. As we walked, every time there was a little rustling in the weeds or a wind came up and moved a branch of the tree, the girls screamed and all of us were getting nervous because we didn’t know where we were or where we were going. We walked perhaps three miles in the fearful dark of a strange place.
Finally, the ten of us were met by an Israeli who was driving a military jeep. He stopped because he saw that we were out late at night, and he didn’t think it was particularly safe. He said, “Where are you going?” We answered that we had heard there was a Tibetan tea house somewhere near by in this village, but we could not find it. He said, “I know right where it is, and I’ll take you there.”
So all ten of us hopped in the back and on the sides of his military jeep, and he drove us to the Tibetan teahouse. We got out of the jeep, thanked the Israeli soldier and made our way to the door, which was a series of curtains or beads. Inside, many people were sitting on rugs on the floor with hookahs and smoke filled the room. In the corners, various couples were entwined with each other. I knew immediately that I was not supposed to be there.
None of my friends were members of the Church, so this was a very awkward situation for me. We sat in a circle on one of these rugs, and everyone was ordering tea. I ordered a Schweppes orange. But the thing that was happening to me, nobody knew. My heart was pounding, and I knew had to leave. Everything about that place bespoke darkness. Everything said this is not the place that a good member of The Church of Jesus Christ should be. I was 17-years old, and I wondered if I could walk all the way back to our youth hostel in Jerusalem by myself. It had been a long and scary walk to get there, and I just wasn’t sure I could make it all the way back alone or find my way there without directions. But I knew without any doubt that I had to leave.
As soon as the drinks came, I quickly drank my orange soda and I whispered to the girl next to me that I was going to leave and I would meet them back at the youth hostel. This was a brave thing to do and I felt utterly alone and frightened as I stepped out in this dark, moonless night. I
hadn’t gone far when I was accosted by a very large black dog coming right toward me. I prayed, “Please help me and let this dog not notice me.” The dog walked right by me, and even brushed up against the side of me, but he didn’t snarl or growl or even turn his head when he walked by. I felt like the Lord had made me invisible to him.
I continued until I found the main road that was on the eastern side of the walls of Jerusalem, but by this time I was so frightened that I stopped and said a prayer. I looked up in the heavens and I saw all the stars. I had often prayed to the clear skies at night when I was growing up on my farm in Missouri, and so I prayed again. “Heavenly Father, I felt a strong impression that I needed to leave this place, and now because I followed my impression, I need to be helped and blessed with courage and with strength to overcome the fear of being alone. I closed that simple prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen, and the second I said amen the most amazing feeling of peace came over me. It started at the top of my head and went all through my body, and I started to feel so happy. I started to sing songs from Fiddler on the Roof and also songs from our hymn book. The more I sang, I started dancing in the street because there were no cars that late at night, and I looked up in the heavens and I felt the most amazing overwhelming feeling of peace. It was just a glorious experience. I found my way back to the youth hostel. It took me well over an hour, but I was truly blessed and I felt like following that prompting was one of the great lessons of my life.
Joseph set the example by running from temptation, but the consequences were dire. The wife falsely accused Joseph to Potiphar, and he was immediately taken and put in prison. You would think with this accusation, that Joseph would have been put to death instead of sent to prison, but I’ve often thought, Potiphar knew the character of both his wife and Joseph, and there was such a stark contrast between them in integrity. I assume that Potiphar was not fooled, but had his hands tied in sending Joseph to prison.
Now, of course, the covenant promise is still with Joseph, as it always will be. Note how it is said in Genesis 39. “But the Lord was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison” (v. 21). Joseph was put in charge of the prisoners and, of course, we are reminded again—in case we missed it, “the Lord was with him, and that which he did, the Lord made it to prosper” (v. 23).
These are stories and scriptures for covenant people. This is who you are, says the Lord, and this is what I will do for you.
Joseph has a gift to interpret dreams and when the king’s butler and the baker have offended him and are thrown into prison, this will be supernally important. Of course, this is a spiritual gift given to Joseph specifically for the events ahead.
The butler and the baker each dream a significant dream, which no one can interpret. The butler dreams of three vines, which bring forth ripe grapes, and he took the grapes and pressed them into Pharoah’s cup. Joseph tells him that this means that in three days he will be restored to his place in Pharoah’s court. The baker’s dream, unfortunately, does not have such a happy ending. The baker dreamed that he had three baskets on his head filled with bakemeats for Pharoah and the birds came and ate them. Pharoah is going to put the baker to death.
Joseph asks the butler to please remember him when he is back in court, but, he is forgotten until Pharoah himself has a significant dream.
The scriptures remind us that some dreams are revelations, and this is sometimes the method God uses to talk to us. The Lord spoke to Lehi in a dream and warned him to take his family and leave Jerusalem. To protect the Christ child, Joseph was given a dream that he must take Mary and the baby and flee to Egypt. That pattern is sure.
Here is a story from an article Anne Pratt wrote on Meridian Magazine, “While on his mission, Jason Campbell had a revealing experience with an investigator who had a stunning dream. He writes,
“On my mission to Argentina we met a good man at his door, and he asked what church we were from and if we were Mormon. Before I could answer yes, my companion stuck his arm out to stop me and said, ‘The Mormon church does not exist. We are from the Church of Jesus Christ!’ The man got very excited and invited us in and we had the most amazing discussions with him because he was so spiritually prepared.
“He told us that two years earlier he had had a dream where an angel had come to him and told him that two missionaries from the true church would be sent to his home and he was to ask what church they were from and if they said anything but the Church of Jesus Christ he was not to let us in. He had waited for two years for us to arrive. He embraced the gospel, was baptized along with several of his daughters.”
This dream so touched this man that he watched and waited until his dream was fulfilled and was gathered into the Gospel ‘net.’” https://latterdaysaintmag.com/profound-and-prophetic-dreams-sent-to-help-gather-israel/
Joseph was 17 years old when he was sold into Egypt, and now he is 30. He has spent a combined 13 years working in Potiphar’s house and being in prison. It must have felt like a lifetime. I can think of no better example of spiritual greatness than Joseph, falsely accused, thrown into prison and, believing that is his lot for life, waits patiently on the Lord without bitterness or blaming, resentment or resistance to God. But God had a plan.
Two years after the butler was returned to his place, Pharoah had a dream that disturbed and weighed upon him and for which all the wise men of the kingdom had no interpretation. It is surprising that this priestly caste in Egypt could not have devised a logical explanation.
Pharoah dreamed of seven fat and well-favored cows that came out of the river to feed in the meadows, followed by seven ill-favored and lean-fleshed cows that ate the seven fat ones. Next, he dreamed of seven good ears of corn that grew up on a stalk, followed by seven thin ears that were blasted by the east wind. Then the seven thin ears devoured the seven full ones.
When the Pharoah was so troubled that he did not know the meaning of the dream, at last the butler remembered the man in the prison who had the gift of dream interpretation. Joseph was brought before Pharoah who asked the meaning of his dream. In all these 13 years, Joseph has not forgotten from whence his blessings came. He told Pharoah, “It is not in me: God shall give Pharoah an answer of peace” (v. 16).
Joseph explained that this dream was of primal importance. There would be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine and “it shall be very grievous” (Genesis 41:31). If famine hasn’t been in our experience, we can hardly imagine it. I remember seeing a baby who was dying of starvation in Haiti after the earthquake, so weak he couldn’t cry. Famine is grievous, but there was a way to prepare for this by storing grains during the seven years of plenty. Pharoah recognized the significance of what he must do.
“And Pharaoh said unto his servants, Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?
“And Pharoah said unto Joseph, Forasmuch as God hath shewed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art“(v. 38,39).
Joseph is installed as second only to Pharoah. “And he made him to ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried before him, Bow the knee and he made him ruler over all the land of Egypt” (v 44). Joseph is given a new name which is Zaphnath-paaneah, which means among other things, “savior of the world,” the “giver of the nourishment of life,” and “revealer of a secret.” (See Alonzo Gaskill, The Lost Language of Symbolism, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book).
He is also given Asenath, the daughter of the priest Potipherah to marry. Together they give birth to twins Ephraim and Manassah.
Now Asenath matters to us, because for many she is also our grandmother. Who was she? That question has been debated for centuries. There are two Rabbinic traditions about Asenath’s descent. The first is that she is an ethnic Egyptian who converted to the Lord and raised her children in the faith. The other is that she is not Egyptian, but a member of the family of Jacob, being the daughter born to Dinah after she was abused by Shechem, son of Hamor. In this tradition, Jacob’s sons wanted to kill the infant, but Jacob brought a gold plate and wrote God’s name on it and hung it around her neck, and she was brought by an angel to the home of Potiphera, whose wife was barren and she raised Asenath as her own daughter. The point is, in either tradition that all was foreseen and planned by God.
So when the famine spread over “all the face of the earth” Joseph opened all the storehouses “and all countries came into Egypt to Joseph for to buy corn; because that the famine was so sore in all lands” (v. 57). Joseph, who withstood real hardship, with such spiritual power had been moved into place to save the Children of Israel.
That’s all for today. Find the transcripts for these podcasts at latterdaysaintmag.com/podcast. Next week we’ll study Genesis 42-50. Thanks to Paul Cardall for the music and to Michaela Proctor Hutchins, our producer for this show.