Gospel Doctrine Old Testament Lesson #12; Genesis 40–41, Genesis 42–45.
This week we’re deep into Genesis, exploring the lives of Joseph, Pharaoh, and all the early Israelite forbears. I love this somewhat bewildering story of family dysfunction and divine intervention. Decades before his brothers bowed down to him to beg for grain, Joseph dreamed of symbolic stars paying respect to him. This revelation-in-a-dream and its interpretation incensed his brothers so much that they attempted to murder him.
Rather than permit him to die, God swept Joseph from Canaan to Egypt, where he served foreign masters for the rest of his youth. We read that these afflictions were fruitful: Joseph’s remarkable spiritual gifts and devotion to the God of Israel saved nations from famine, including his own family, and he and his brothers eventually reconciled.
Fruitful affliction is the theme of this lesson. We are asked to engage in a bit of faithful interpretation. In essence, how are we becoming fruitful through our afflictions? We learn these lessons every day in our own individual ways as we trudge through deserts and hostile kingdoms, perhaps estranged from family and home, feeling forsaken, misunderstood, even persecuted.
“Do not interpretations belong to God?” Joseph asks, rhetorically. Pharaoh’s butler and baker have come to Joseph with their dreams, claiming “there is no interpreter of it,” while the three are imprisoned in the house of the captain of Pharaoh’s guard. Joseph does not claim to have the interpretation on his own power, but rather to be God’s medium of interpretation. Although Joseph was gifted to interpret the meaning of dreams, we do not get the sense from the scriptures that he could interpret the meaning of his own suffering, to discern the purpose for his pain.
Our perspective on our own life journey might be slim. Even if our perspective is expansive, we might still not be able to stretch beyond our current circumstances. Still, we hold out hope that God will reveal the meaning of our experiences in His good time, even if it is decades after the fact that we see reasons in chaos and sense in senseless suffering.
Perhaps our life experiences can only truly be interpreted by God, through the gifts of the spirit. We can trust that the breadcrumbs of understanding have been laid throughout our lives, just as they were in Joseph’s. It is only in retrospect that Joseph can look over his life and discern the purpose of his circuitous path.
Other than this generally applicable lesson, I want to talk about spiritual gifts, gifts of a kind that have been traditionally associated with men: prophecy, or interpretation of tongues, revelation, dreams, etc. These gifts do not belong to men only. Women are just as qualified and called to see and interpret as men are: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your songs and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17–18). As women living in a modern era of the gospel, we are especially called to use these gifts.
We live in a world in dire need of true interpreters, women and men who can cut through the interference of the airwaves and hear divine truth. Our minds are increasingly open to manipulation and suggestion through the myriad messages we imbibe every day from glowing screens. These spiritual gifts are desperately needed. Women have long been disbelieved, discounted, abused, and gaslighted. Labeled “emotional,” “intuitive,” hysterical, unreliable, exaggerators, perseverators. It is time for women to be believed; those who have ears to hear will listen.
The story of Joseph shows that there are false interpreters, false dreams, and false interpretations. Pharaoh’s court had plenty of magicians but only one man who was in tune with God so he could receive the truth. As Latter-day women, we must be attuned to God so we can prophesy. So we can interpret dreams. So we can discern between the true and the false. We have to be prepared to speak boldly, with great assurance, and with confidence in the Lord. The world needs prophetic women who are prepared to stand in places of power and speak truth to that power.
Let me close with a few words from Sister Sarah M. Kimball, “The legitimate exercise of spiritual power obtained through the operations of this sense [the spiritual sense] puts the individual in possession of keys of knowledge and clothes him with additional responsibility relating to the enlightenment and elevation of the human family.
“They that seek, by faith and earnest prayer, find the light that leads to the golden gate. They that knock with study and faith’s assurance have the narrow way opened to them and are received into communion with the Infinite Father and Mother, are permitted to enter hallowed mansions, to attend the school of the prophets, and by advancing steps, to reach the school of the gods, where they learn the processes by which worlds are organized by the combining of eternal, intelligent, obedient elements; the uses for which worlds are called into existence; the manner in which they are controlled; and the laws of progression by which all beings and animate things are perfected and glorified in their respective spheres.”