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This week’s Visitor’s Center Fireside begins a two-part study of the seemingly unusual Christian practice of patriarchal blessings. After interviewing local members over what to explore with them, I was told that many equated these blessings with the superstitious practice of fortune telling or horoscopes and so didn’t seek a blessing of their own. So why do we counsel all members to seek one from a stake patriarch when fathers and mothers are the spiritual leaders of the sacred and basic unit of the Kingdom? Among other things, there is no either-or choice between the stake patriarch and parental blessings! Here in the first part we examined the question of lineage; why is it important? How does the patriarch know? Why do different members of the same family sometimes have different lineages? Is there such a thing as patriarchal priesthood? Why are patriarchs ordained instead of set-apart?
Part two will explore the role of blessings in response to other questions. Do I have a divine mortal mission? With a blessing that seems short on details or very general, how would I find any sense of mission if I had one? What is the connection of a patriarchal blessing to the patriarchal authority of the temple and its ordinances? How do patriarchal blessings fit into the coming of Elijah and the sealing power? etc. Patriarch Serge Bamy joins me in the presentation and responses to these and other expected questions.
William Smith, Joseph’s younger brother and church patriarch after the martydom, was excommunicated, in part, because of a misunderstanding of what was then sometimes called, “The Patriarchal Priesthood.” The revelations make it clear that all priesthood is Melchizedek or of the order of the Son of God.[i] There is a patriarchal order to the Melchizedek priesthood, however that is important to understand for our family’s sake. It is by this patriarchal authority that temple ordinances and patriarchal blessings are given. Understanding each of these and their relationship between them becomes a key to living with that “actual knowledge that our course in life pleases God” so as to have sufficient faith to lay hold onto eternal life.[ii]
Our future holds wonderful and powerful experiences for those able to withstand the glorious and purifying presence of our Lord and King. We must first endure both the dangers of mortality without succumbing to the their allurement, and the coming cleansing of the earth. How will God come to the rescue of this withering generation? He will send the prophet Elijah, less it all be for naught.[iii] How could Elijah make a difference that would serve as practical solutions in our morally declining world? Our sense is that somehow either genealogy or temples would make the difference…but then we struggle to find time to do the research and we only occasionally attend the temple using names lovingly provided by someone else.
In a latter explanation, Joseph Smith said that the word “turn” should be translated, “seal.”[iv] So we conclude that Elijah brought the sealing power that could seal us into some semi-understood celestial safety. But Joseph Smith was commanded to seal using the sealing power inherent in the Melchizedek Priesthood, in 1831 and did so numerous times beginning in Kirtland.[v] We have little detail about Elijah’s coming and instruction, in 1836, but know that he brought “the keys” of this sealing power. Significantly, after his coming the scope of sealing changed according to the Kirtland record book. Sealings expanded from the vertical sealing of people to eternal life to sealing people together in transgenerational families.
In addition, we find Joseph teaching that Elijah brought revelations, ordinances, powers, and endowments.[vi] So, we find that turning and sealing our intergenerational hearts included, not only a patriarchal organizing power but also symbolic ordinances containing divine teaching channels called symbols which included key-words, tokens, and signs.[vii] How do these practically serve to “rescue our generation?”
The “Patriarchal authority” firstly includes all the temple ordinances including those that seal families together in this great order. This includes all the knowledge endowed with that power which enables parents to lead their children to Christ for salvation, so families can remain lovingly together throughout eternity. Applying this knowledge and power is, of course, a learning of a lifetime!
Though “patriarchal” sounds like a male-dominated order, The Prophet Joseph understood it differently. The second part of this patriarchal authority was the giving of patriarchal blessings.
When ordaining His Father as patriarch, Joseph included his mother in the blessing. Women serve in this patriarchal authority and with a coming day when it is the operative order of things…
“Then shall woman reign by Divine right, a queen in the resplendent realm of her glorified state, even as exalted man shall stand, priest and king unto the Most High God. Mortal eye cannot see, nor mind comprehend the beauty, glory, and majesty of a righteous woman made perfect in the celestial kingdom of God.” (James E. Talmage; Young Woman’s Journal 25 (1914): 602-3)
Though the patriarch’s wife is not directly participatory in the giving of blessings, she is a partner in his ministry as the Prophet Joseph indicated in ordaining his father.
It is this second function of the patriarchal authority that we will scan with only passing, though vital mention of the first.
To begin with, as Patriarch Bamy indicates, we all received a premortal fore-ordination well modeled through ancient and modern scripture. With the veil firmly obscuring our memories but providing precious agency to our choices, the patriarchal blessing plays an important and vital role as a peek through the haze. [viii]
President Monson said it clearly, “He who created us and who loves us perfectly knows just how we need to live our lives in order to obtain the greatest happiness possible. He has provided us with guidelines which, if we follow them, will see us safely through this often-treacherous mortal journey.” President Thomas Monson, Oct 2015.
Not only does our Father know our possibilities but also just how much to divulge so as not to compromise our agency in the values-clarifying struggles of mortality. We must choose from our transforming nature, not some role-play script we think would win us an eternal Oscar.
The importance of a patriarchal lineage cannot be overstated, but not for the reasons that we often think. President Faust stated, “Genealogical ancestry or bloodlines are of importance because our lineage is a chain or linkage through which many of our blessings flow. This began with father Abraham.
Since this is a divine assignment connected to but not reliant on DNA connection, families may be of differing lineages. Elder Faust said, “Since families are of mixed lineage, it occasionally happens that members of the same family have blessings declaring them to be of different lineages. There has been an intermixture of the tribes one with another. One child may be of Ephraim, and another in the same family of Manasseh, Judah, or one of the other tribes. The blood of one tribe, therefore, may be dominant in one child and the blood of another tribe dominant in another child, so children from the same parents could belong to different tribes”.[ix]
As President Faust indicated, this inter-generational linkage “began with father Abraham.” Understanding each of the promises made to Abraham that are then selectively inheritable by us, enables us to claim them as our own. Some 10-15 promises made to the patriarch are listed throughout the scriptures, best discovered starting in Abraham 2:7-11 and the associated footnotes and TG sections.
In Hebrews chapter 11, the Apostle Paul set up a delicious conundrum. He lists some 28 ancients who received divine promises but then makes it clear that none ever lived to receive them, in both verses 13, and 39. Then he hints at the reason and justification for promising and not delivering in verse 40 which is then quoted by Joseph in DC 128:18. It is clear that Father has purposely set a necessary link between children and fathers across generations, cultures, and the veil so as to bring about the great AT-ONE-MENT of all things both in Heaven and in Earth.[xi]
This requires that we understand our connection to, and their promises for, which we are participatory in fulfilling them as an instrument of divine righteousness.
A follow-up to trace the lineage and subsequent promises through the sons of Jacob, (the tribes of Israel), allows us to drill into more detail. Though some blessings are certainly not well preserved, they do give us essential insight.
These blessings are found in Genesis 49 and then listed again in Deuteronomy 33:6-25 with differing detail which may be interpreted to mean that these are not complete and shouldn’t be inferences as limitations due to probable omissions.
Combining them and then working through ancient idioms, customs, and geography might then help summarize the blessings to each of the tribes.
Even though the meridian events were carried by Judah’s posterity, the restoration and last dispensation sits on the shoulders of the tribe of Joseph. Today modern patriarchal blessings identify latter-day saints with lineages linked to all twelve of the tribes. The blessings all then have important door opening application.
In Father’s great wisdom, knowing the foolishness and unsteadiness of men, He planned two failsafe pathways to the hearts of His children. Since ten of the tribes were taken into captivity and subsequently lost to biblical history, Judah and the absorbed Benjamin carried the weight of the divine commission to bring Father’s gentile children to a knowledge of the gospel message and strait pathway. Knowing that they, as the symbolic bride, would be blinded by the subtle craftiness of priestcrafts even unto the murder of the “Bridegroom,” Father didn’t lose the other tribes but rather hid them in the nethermost part of the vineyard to be raised up under the direction of the birthright son, Joseph’s posterity.
But how does the patriarch know which tribal promises to pronounce upon each of our heads? The story of patriarch James Womack, who I met when visiting my missionary grandparents in the south, is illustrative though not universal. The story of his call is told by President Kimball and recounted again by Elder Monson.[xii] Though he lost both hands to an explosion while serving his country in the war, he faithfully gave blessings for decades. He was, however, slow to begin, concerned over know how to know which lineage to declare. His stake president finally intervened, giving him his first appointment after dragging his feet for weeks… Fasting and praying, he fell into a fitful sleep the night before only to dream:
He later recounted to the group of us as I remember it, “In my dream, I saw people from all nations come to me. As they came to me, everyone wore a label with the name of one of the tribes of Israel. After I woke up and finally took my first meeting, after postponing it for weeks, as I put the ends of my arms on their head and closed my eyes, I saw them lined up wearing a badge with the name of their tribe. I then understood my dream. Patriarch Bamy smiled, when hearing the story and said it wasn’t that way for him, “it is simply by revelation.”
Though Joseph was given a blessing along with his brothers, he would later take his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh to his father, Jacob/Israel, for blessings, as well. Perhaps to his surprise, Jacob claims his grandsons as his own, which later gave them tribal-land status when the land of Israel was divided up among them. So, whether a lineage is “Joseph or Ephraim” they are the same birthright promises.
Elder Packer details, “In giving a blessing, the patriarch may declare our lineage—that is, that we are of Israel therefore of the family of Abraham, and of a specific tribe of Jacob. In the great majority of cases, Latter-day Saints are of the tribe of Ephraim, the tribe to which has been committed the leadership of the Latter-day work. Whether this lineage is of blood or adoption does not matter. This is very important, for it is through the lineage of Abraham alone that the mighty blessings of the Lord for His children on earth are to be consummated”[xiii]
These inspired comments help us see that with blessings come responsibilities that, when accepted and tended to, bring privileges and power. The second part of this fireside series will explore the connection to our ordinance-covenants, as well as how to skillfully use the patriarchal blessing in finding and fulfilling our life’s mission.
[i] There are references to a patriarchal priesthood. The patriarchal order is not a third, separate priesthood (see D&C 84:6–17; D&C 107:40–57). Whatever relates to the patriarchal order is embraced in the Melchizedek Priesthood. “All other authorities or offices in the church are appendages to [the Melchizedek] priesthood” (D&C 107:5). President Boyd K. Packer, “What Every Elder Should Know,” Ensign Nov 1994
DC 107:1-4 There are, in the church, two priesthoods, namely, the Melchizedek and Aaronic, including the Levitical Priesthood. Why the first is called the Melchizedek Priesthood is because Melchizedek was such a great high priest. Before his day it was called the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God. But out of respect or reverence to the name of the Supreme Being, to avoid the too frequent repetition of his name, they, the church, in ancient days, called that priesthood after Melchizedek, or the Melchizedek Priesthood.
[ii] See Meridian article “How to Deal with Temple Questions” https://latterdaysaintmag.com/how-to-deal-with-temple-questions/
[iii] See Meridian “Understanding What Malachi Meant About Turning Hearts
[iv] The word “turn,” here should be translated bind, or seal. But what is the object of this important mission? Or how is it to be fulfilled? By…going forth and receiving all the ordinances… in behalf of their progenitors who are dead and redeem them that they may come forth in the first resurrection and be exalted… here in is the chain that binds the hearts of the fathers to the children …which fulfills the mission of Elijah. Joseph Smith HC 6:183-4
[v] DC 68:12 And of as many as the Father shall bear record, to you shall be given power to seal them up unto eternal life. Amen.
[vi] TPJS 337
[vii] Boyd K. Packer, President Brigham Young (1801–77) said of the endowment: “Let me give you a definition in brief. Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the house of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell.” Oct 2007, “Come to the Temple”
[viii] Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and… I sanctified thee..(Jeremiah1 : 4-5)
being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God,
(Al 13 :3)
Even before they were born, they, with many others, received their first lessons in the world of spirits and were prepared to come forth in the due time of the Lord (DC 138 : 56)
they were also among the noble and great ones who were chosen in the beginning to be rulers in the Church of God. (DC 138 : 53-55)
[ix] JAMES E. FAUST 30, 1980 • BYU Devotional
[x] “Understand What Malachi Meant by Turning Hearts, https://latterdaysaintmag.com/understanding-what-malachi-meant-about-turning-hearts/ by Craig R. Frogley
[xi] DC 27:13 … a dispensation of the gospel for the last times; and for the fulness of times, in the which I will gather together in one all things, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth.
See also footnote 11 below
[xiii] BKPacker Oct 2002, Gen 12 : 2-3; Abr 2 :11 ; JST Gen 48