Lesson 11: “How Can I Do this Great Wickedness?”
Genesis 34, 37-39
To help class members (1) learn how to make all experiences and circumstances work together for their good, and (2) strengthen their commitment to obey the Lord’s standard of sexual morality.
[Write the names of the 12 sons of Jacob on the whiteboard before class begins: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulon, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Joseph, Benjamin]
Today we begin our first focus on the tribes of Israel, whose history forms the background to the rest of our year’s discussions. Because the topics of our lessons were chosen to help us live better lives today, rather than to study the Old Testament as a book of scripture, we lose track of the history recorded in the Bible. Without knowing how the covenant people developed, we risk misunderstanding important points of doctrine.
Because of the importance of understanding who and what the tribes of Israel were – and are – and because of some issues raised in last week’s discussion of patriarchal blessings, I’m going to begin today where Brother K. left off last week, with a brief review of who and what is meant by the term “Israel.”
Abraham was the great patriarch with whom the Lord established his gospel covenant, as we have discussed for the past several weeks. He passed his patriarchal priesthood authority and responsibility to his son Isaac, who passed that priesthood to his son Jacob.
Jacob had 12 sons, whose names I have written on the board. He also had an unknown number of daughters; we know the name of only one of those daughters – Dinah. At the time Jacob wrestled with the angel of the Lord and had his vision of the ladder into heaven, which Brother K. touched on last week, Jacob’s name was changed to Israel:
Genesis 32:28: And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men …
As we’ll review in coming weeks, each of Israel’s sons had a large posterity – each became one of the “tribes” that sprang from Israel. Although through most of their history we call them the “twelve tribes of Israel,” in the beginning, and all through their stay in Egypt and through the Exodus under Moses, there were 13 tribes: In order to give Joseph the double inheritance that was due to the birthright son – again as was mentioned last week – Israel adopted Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh, who each had equal status with the other sons of Israel. [Cross out “Joseph” and add “Ephraim” and “Manasseh” to list on whiteboard] Instead of speaking of a “tribe of Joseph,” we speak of the two tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh.
Later, when the Israelites entered the Promised Land, each tribe drew lots and was assigned a certain parcel of land. There are two exceptions to that: First, the tribe of Levi did not inherit a block of land, but were assigned cities scattered throughout the land of Israel. Second, the tribe of Manasseh settled in two different geographic regions and thereafter are usually referred to as half-tribes. Joshua 13:7, for example, speaks of “the nine tribes, and the half tribe of Manasseh” that settled on one side of the River Jordan. Finally, the land assigned to the tribe of Simeon was completely surrounded by the land assigned to the tribe of Judah, and almost immediately the tribe of Simeon seems to have been assimilated by that of Judah – although the Simeonites recognized their blood lines and spiritual blessings, the Old Testament ceases to speak of the tribe or land of Simeon.
[On whiteboard, put parentheses around “Simeon” and “Levi,” and divide Manasseh into “1/2 Manasseh” and “1/2 Manasseh” as those tribes are discussed.]
More time passes, and after the death of Solomon Israel is divided into two kingdoms. The Kingdom of Judah, in the south, consists of the lands of Judah and Benjamin, together with Simeon who has been absorbed into Judah, and whatever Levites are in the cities of that region. In the north, we have the remaining territories occupied by the remaining tribal groups.
[On whiteboard, draw arrows to two different parts of the board. Toward the top, list Reuben, Ephraim, Issachar, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Dan, 1/2 Manasseh, 1/2 Manasseh, Zebulun. Toward the bottom, list: Judah, Benjamin.
In 722 B.C., these northern tribes were carried away into captivity by the Assyrians. In 586 B.C., these southern tribes were carried away into captivity by the Babylonians. These southern tribes – Judah and Benjamin – were released by the Babylonians in 537 B.C. and allowed to return to the Promised Land. The northern tribes never returned; Judah and Benjamin did not know what happened to them after they were carried northward to Assyria. It is because all knowledge of them was lost to the record-keepers of Judah and Benjamin that these ten tribes are referred to as the “Lost Tribes.”
If you are a member of the tribe of Ephraim, as most people in this room probably are, you are a member of one of the “lost ten tribes.” We sometimes have the notion that the lost tribes are living in isolation somewhere, and from the earliest days of the church, whenever a new mission area has been opened, rumors run rampant that the lost tribes have been found because of declarations made in patriarchal blessings. But members of all of the tribes have been “found” through patriarchal blessings from the beginning of this dispensation. Ephraim was scattered throughout the world, as we could confirm if we cited the places that ancestors of all class members came from, and it is just as evident that the other tribes were scattered just as broadly.
“We believe in the literal gathering of Israel, and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes.” That gathering and restoration is going forth now, exactly as it has been done since the opening of this dispensation, as Israel is restored to the gospel covenant by baptism, and “pitch their tents toward the temple,” and gather into the wards and stakes of Zion. This isn’t some dramatic event that will happen overnight at some future date – your presence in this chapel this morning is evidence that the prophecy is being fulfilled today.
Now let’s go back to the beginning, when the Twelve Tribes of Israel consisted only of the twelve sons of Jacob ...
Scripture Discussion and Application
1. Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers.
2. Joseph refuses to “sin against God.”
3. Shechem, Reuben and Judah commit serious moral sins.
The chapters of Genesis that form the basis of today’s lesson are examples of why the Old Testament is so much fun to study: These chapters of full of stories of people – individuals whose names and histories we know – who behave both very well and very badly. They are real people, in some ways very much like ourselves.
These chapters are also examples of why the Old Testament can be so difficult to study. Even while the people are behaving in very human ways, they live in a time and culture that is very different from our own, so their actions are sometimes just as different from us in some ways as they are alike in other ways.
We start out with trouble in the family of Jacob, or Israel. The incident happened apparently when the children of Israel were still very young – some of the youngest sons had not yet been born – and the youth of the others may have contributed to their impetuous misbehavior. Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah, and the only daughter whose name we know, was away from her family’s grounds, visiting other young women in the area who were not of her people. A young man, Shechem, sees her, and is smitten. Shechem seized Dinah and raped, or seduced, her. He wanted to marry Dinah and sent his father to Israel to negotiate a marriage. Despite his sexual misbehavior, Shechem was evidently a decent young man – Genesis describes him as “more honourable than all the house of his father” (34:19) and he agreed to the terms set by Israel: Shechem and all his people agreed to make peace with Israel, to trade together, to share their substance, and perhaps most importantly, to submit to circumcision as a sign that they were of the same people as Israel. In other words, it appears that Shechem and his household did all they could to right the wrong that had been committed against Dinah. But, the scripture records that while the men were still incapacitated following their surgery, Dinah’s brothers, Simeon and Levi, went to Shechem’s village, slaughtered all the males, seized their women and children and cattle, plundered their goods, and destroyed everything they could not carry away with them.
Parts of this story, obviously, are not acceptable in any modern definition of morality. What parts of this story, though, are sometimes reenacted in our own families and among our own people? Is there any moral we might draw from this report of the sexual misbehavior of Shechem and Dinah?
Other chapters in our reading for this week tell about other sexual misbehavior by members of Israel’s family: Reuben, the first-born, committed adultery with one of his father’s wives, and lost his birthright in part because of that sin. Judah committed adultery with his widowed daughter-in-law, thinking that she was a prostitute (the Old Testament sounds like a modern soap opera sometimes, doesn’t it?) and refused to follow the law in atoning for those sins, until he was shamed into it by the public disclosure of his wrongdoing.
And then we come to other troubles in the family involving Joseph, the first-born son of Rachel, Jacob’s favored wife, the one he had served his father-in-law for 14 years in order to have the right to marry her. Joseph was quite a bit younger than most of his brothers. When he was 17 years old, there came a major rift in the family focusing on Joseph. Can you remember what caused these hard feelings toward Joseph? (His father’s obvious preference in presenting him with his “coat of many colors” which was probably a mark of his inheriting the birthright; Joseph’s lack of tact in telling about his two dreams showing how his brothers would bow to his superior authority; and even Joseph’s tattle-taling when he “brought unto his father [the] evil report” of some of his brethren, who were tending the sheep in the fields – Gen. 37:2. Plus – face it – he was 17!)
How did his brothers deal with Joseph, whom they hated, and could not speak peaceably to? (Gen. 37:4) (Draw out the story from class members of Joseph’s being sold into slavery, and also the brothers’ covering of this evil by presenting Joseph’s coat dipped in goat’s blood to convince their father that he was dead)
While I know that there is real, actual slavery in the world today, it is not a crime that Latter-day Saints are likely to engage in. Are there times, however, when we contribute to the downfall of neighbors or fellow workers or members of our community by not considering their interests as important as our own? (Try to head off overtly political discussion, but try to establish from comments the idea that becoming a Zion people means watching out for others’ welfare as well as our own.) (Class discussion actually went more toward how proclaiming that we’re special, or chosen, or more righteous, drive people away from willingness to hear the gospel.)
What happened then to Joseph, after he was sold to the slave traders? (Discuss the events in Potiphar’s house, and his prison experiences – don’t go beyond that point; the story carries on in later lessons.) (If there is time, read Genesis 39 with the class to refresh their memory of the details of exactly how trusted Joseph was, and why he responded the way he did.)
Joseph was a young man then, presumably as hot-blooded and hot-headed as any of his brethren had been. How does his behavior when placed in a situation where he had every opportunity to commit the same sexual sins as his brothers mark him as different from them, as worthy of the birthright blessings?
Do you see any clues from this chapter that Potiphar believed and rewarded Joseph for his good behavior, even though he was thrown into prison? (The commentaries suggest that he should have been executed for the crime he was accused of, but instead he was placed in a prison, a relatively “prestigious” one with the pharaoh’s closest personal servants rather than with common criminals – a situation that later permits him to come into contact with the pharaoh.
(If time permits, ask the class to identify elements of Joseph’s story so far that foreshadow events in the Savior’s life.)
We will have to leave the story of Joseph there, and pick it up again the week after Conference.
The stories included in our scripture portion today all center on chastity, or the breaking of that law. This is a law that we all know. We have sat through countless lessons focusing on chastity. It is part of our temple covenants. We sometimes might think that we have heard it all, know it all, and can think of nothing new to say. Why, then, do you think the brethren continue to speak of chastity in General Conference, and continue to have us discuss it in our Sunday lessons? What blessings, beyond simply being free of guilt, does obedience to the law of chastity bring to our lives?