“How Can I Do This Great Wickedness?”

Lesson 11 - Genesis 34; 37-39



Think of some of the movies, TV shows, books, or magazines that are currently popular. What are the standards of morality presented by those media offerings? How do those standards differ from the Lord’s standards? While the moral behavior of society often fails to reach the high standards set by God, the Lord’s standards never change. Today’s lesson reviews the experiences of one man who followed the Lord’s standard of morality and other men who did not.


His brothers sold Joseph into slavery -- (Genesis 37)


Jacob married Leah and Rachel, his cousins, and their handmaids, Zilpah and Bilhah. These four wives were the mothers of the twelve sons who were the beginnings of the twelve tribes of Israel. (As we know, the Lord changed Jacob’s name to Israel. See Genesis 32:28). Jacob’s eleventh son, Joseph, as the eldest son of Jacob and Rachel, received the birthright when Reuben, eldest son of Jacob and Leah, lost it through unrighteousness (1 Chronicles 5:1-2).


Genesis 37:3-8 reveals that Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him because he was his father’s favorite and because he shared a dream he had that indicated that he would rule over his brethren.

Genesis 37:13-14 - When Joseph was asked by Jacob to check on the welfare of his brothers and their flocks in Shechem, 45 miles away, he replied without hesitation that he would do so.

Genesis 37:15-17 – His brothers had moved their flocks to Dothan, another 12 miles further, but Joseph journeyed on without complaint. From this account, we learn that Joseph was obedient and persistent in doing his father’s will.

Genesis 37:18-20 tells us that his brothers conspired to slay Joseph as he approached them. But, upon further discussion, they were persuaded by Reuben not to take Joseph’s life. Instead, they sold him to passing Midianites as a slave.

Genesis 37:28, 31-34 reveal what they did to deceive their father about Joseph’s disappearance.


Joseph refused to “sin against God (Genesis 39)


Genesis 39:1-4 records how Joseph was blessed by the Lord after being sold as a slave.

Genesis 39:5-6 teaches that as Joseph remained faithful to the Lord, he was blessed with a great ability to serve his master, Potiphar, a wealthy officer of Pharaoh. Potiphar’s wealth increased as a result of the Lord blessing him through Joseph’s stewardship.

Genesis 39:11-12 – When tempted by Potiphar’s wife to commit sexual sin, Joseph fled rather than comply with her worldly wishes. As we should know from this example, we too should immediately flee from the presence of temptation rather than succumb to it. Of course, if he had wanted to give in to the advances of Potiphar’s wife, Joseph could have invented and used numerous excuses. The practice of making excuses to justify sexual sins is commonplace today. We see it constantly in the “entertainment” media. But the Lord gives no merit to any excuses or worldly justifications for indulging in sexual immorality.

Genesis 39:12-20. The lies and false accusations of Potiphar’s wicked wife resulted in Potiphar’s imprisonment of Joseph because he thought Joseph had tried to assault his wife. So, he went from being the trusted overseer of the estate to a lowly prisoner as a result of his virtue. In today’s world, the virtuous are sometimes ridiculed and excluded from social activities, but often they are respected for their wholesome values and righteous behavior. Of course, the greatest pressure to engage in immorality is on our youth—and unfortunately, too many of them fail when put to the test.

Genesis 39:21-23 emphasizes that while Joseph was imprisoned, the Lord was with him. This assures us that Joseph continued in righteousness instead of blaming God for his problems since he was only following the Lord’s commandments. Because of his faith and sincere desire to follow the Lord no matter what the cost, Joseph’s bad circumstances were turned into good ones.


Elder Hartman Rector Jr. explained: “[The] ability to turn everything into something good appears to be a godly characteristic. Our Heavenly Father always seems to be 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. People like this cannot be defeated” (Ensign, Jan. 1973, 130).


Shechem, Reuben, and Judah committed serious moral sins


While Joseph was valiant in the face of temptation, not all of his family and acquaintances were so valiant. Shechem (with Dinah), Reuben (with Bilhah), and Judah (with Tamar) failed the test of sexual temptations. (Genesis 34:1-12; 35:22; 38:1-30).


Genesis 34:3 describes Shechem’s feelings for Dinah, but If he had truly loved her, he would not have defiled her. People’s excuse that “We are in love” as a justification for immoral behavior doesn’t ring true. People in love don’t cause each other to sin and suffer guilt just to satisfy physical desires. Behavior that makes it hard for people to pray, makes them unworthy for entrance to the temple, and breaks up families is not motivated by love.


Genesis 49:3-4 compliments Reuben’s good attributes, but Jacob’s blessing condemns Reuben for his moral sins. He was judged to be “unstable as water”. Just as his sins cost him dearly, the spiritual and temporal consequences of sexual sin today are serious in the sight of the Lord. The Lord places great importance on being morally clean.


Bethel – the house of God

Genesis 28:10-19 is the story of “Jacob’s ladder” that reached up to heaven. Jacob named the place Bethel, which means “house of God”. Today that name refers to the temple—the house of God. Elder Marion G. Romney stated, “Temples are to us all what Bethel was to Jacob” (Ensign, May, 1971, 16). In preparation for a return to Bethel, Jacob asked his family to make specific preparations—“Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments:” (Genesis 35:2). They were to be temporally prepared to go to that sacred place just as we have responsibilities to properly prepare for temple attendance. They took off symbols of their strange gods (rings and earrings, etc.).


Elder Spencer W. Kimball said: “The Lord has blessed us as a people unequaled in times past. The resources that have been placed in our power are good, and necessary to our work here on the earth. But I am afraid that many of us have been surfeited (supplied to excess) with flocks and herds and acres and barns and wealth and have begun to worship them as false gods, and they have power over us. Do we have more of these good things than our faith can stand?… In spite of our delight in defining ourselves as modern, and our tendency to think we possess a sophistication that no people in the past ever had—in spite of these things, we are, on the whole, an idolatrous people—a condition most repugnant to the Lord” (Ensign, June 1976, 4, 6). Have we put away our “strange gods”???


Jacob and Esau were reunited

Returning to Canaan, Jacob expected to meet again with Esau. But according to Genesis 32:11, he was afraid that Esau would smite him. Genesis 32:13-20 details Jacob’s preparations to appease his elder brother with a multitude of presents. When they did meet, Esau was happy to see Jacob and was reluctant to accept the gifts. This serves as an example for us in resolving family conflicts.


Concubines in Old Testament times

Genesis 35:22 refers to Bilhah, one of Rachel’s handmaids, as Jacob’s concubine. Elder Bruce R. McConkie provided the following explanation: “ All down through the history of God’s dealings with his people, including those with the house of Israel, concubines were legal wives married to their husbands in the new and everlasting covenant of marriage…Anciently they were considered to be secondary wives, that is, wives who did not have the same standing in the caste system then prevailing as did those wives who were not called concubines” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. [1966], 154).


With the Lord’s help, all of our experiences and circumstances can work together for our good.


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