Genesis 34–41

Old Testament Teacher Resource Manual, (2003), 53–57


In Genesis 34–41 the focus changes from Jacob, or Israel, to his descendants. We read of Joseph’s righteousness and what he suffered because of the wickedness of others. We also read how the Lord turned Joseph’s trials into great blessings that helped him save his entire family from starvation, thus preserving the covenant posterity of Abraham.

The story of Joseph teaches many great lessons. Elder Hartman Rector Jr., who was a member of the Seventy, said, “The story of Joseph, the son of Jacob who was called Israel, is a vivid representation of the great truth that ‘all things work together for good to [those] who’ love God. (See Rom. 8:28.) Joseph always seemed to do the right thing; but still, more importantly, he did it for the right reason. And how very, very significant that is! Joseph was sold by his own brothers as a slave and was purchased by Potiphar, a captain of the guard of Pharaoh. But even as an indentured servant, Joseph turned every experience and all circumstances, no matter how trying, into something good” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1972, 170; or Ensign, Jan. 1973, 130).

As you study the story of Joseph, notice how his life was a “type” or foreshadowing of the life of the Savior. This idea will be discussed in detail in the Genesis 42–50 scripture block.

Some Important Gospel Principles to Look For

Suggestions for Teaching

video icon Old Testament Video presentation 11, “For God Did Send Me” (2:25), can be used in teaching Genesis 34–41 (see Old Testament Video Guide for teaching suggestions).

Genesis 35:1–5. We should prepare ourselves spiritually and physically to attend the temple. (10–15 minutes)

Show students two pictures like the ones shown below (see also p. 236).

man playing soccer

© 1998 PhotoDisc, Inc. All rights reserved


  • What activities do these people look like they are participating in?

  • What clues do you see in the pictures?

  • What determines the appropriateness of certain clothes for certain events?

  • What would you wear if you were preparing to meet the prophet or the Lord?

Have students read Genesis 35:1 and find out where Jacob was commanded to go. As a class, review what you have learned about Bethel and the events that took place there. Remind students that the Hebrew meaning of Bethel is “house of God” (see also President Marion G. Romney’s statement in Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis–2 Samuel, p. 86, that “temples are to us all what Bethel was to Jacob”).

Read Genesis 35:2–5 and ask:

  • What did Jacob say to encourage his people to dress appropriately as they prepared to go to Bethel?

  • How can we apply his counsel today?

  • Besides physical preparation, what other kind of preparation did Jacob refer to in verse 2? (Spiritual preparation.)

  • How could we apply his counsel to “put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean”?

  • How can we prepare spiritually to go to holy places, such as temples or church meetinghouses?

Have students search in their Topical Guides (“clean,” “cleanliness,” “repent, repentance” and “worthiness, worthy”) for scriptures that help us understand how we can become clean or worthy. Invite them to share their findings with the class. Have students read Doctrine and Covenants 110:6–8 and tell what blessings the Lord promised if we do not pollute the temple by coming unworthily. You may also want to share information from “Dress and Appearance” in the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet (pp. 14–16).

Genesis 35:9–13. Jacob’s life illustrates the principle that when we receive blessings from the Lord, it is through making and keeping covenants. (25–30 minutes)

Ask students:

  • Do you think spirituality is something a person is born with or something a person must develop?

  • What do people do to become more righteous and spiritually mature as they grow up?

  • What might lead us to want to be more righteous?

What we know of Jacob’s life shows him to be one who grew spiritually because he learned to turn to the Lord when faced with challenges. Have students skim Genesis 26–35 and list events from Jacob’s life in the order they occurred. Ask them how they think each event helped Jacob grow spiritually. Invite them to share what they most admire about Jacob or what the example of his life taught them about obtaining eternal blessings.

Jacob praying

Have students review and compare the three visits Jacob had from the Lord (see Genesis 28:10–22; 32:24–31; 35:9–13). Ask:

  • How were the visits similar?

  • How were they different?

  • What do they represent in Jacob’s spiritual progress?

  • What could they symbolize in our spiritual progress?

  • In what ways did Jacob grow each time in spiritual maturity?

Note: Use the information in the following three paragraphs to help your students with their analysis of the visits.

Genesis 35:9–13 tells of the third recorded visit of the Lord to Jacob, which was the second time at Bethel. In many ways this visit completed a spiritual journey that began when Jacob was younger, unmarried, and fleeing from the anger of his brother, Esau. During Jacob’s first visit to Bethel, the Lord revealed Himself to Jacob in a dream. Jacob’s remarks upon waking from his dream suggest he had a spiritual awakening in his life as well, leaving him with an increased commitment to God (see Genesis 28:10–22; see also the commentary for Genesis 28:10–19 in Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis–2 Samuel, p. 86). In that first dream the Lord spoke to him of many of the promises of the Abrahamic covenant that could be his. Jacob responded by calling the place “Beth-el” (Hebrew for “house of God”) and by making specific commitments of obedience to the Lord and His commandments.

After twenty years in Padan-aram (Syria), Jacob journeyed back to his homeland. He had kept his covenants with the Lord and he had grown spiritually. At the place called Peniel, which means “the face of God,” Jacob had a very sacred experience (see Genesis 32:24–31). He wrestled a man for a blessing (later he called this man an angel; see Genesis 48:16). The personage he wrestled first gave him a new name, then gave him a blessing. The new name of “Israel” (which in Hebrew could mean “he who perseveres with God” or “let God prevail”) is an indication of how Jacob had lived over the previous twenty years and of his spiritual growth. Genesis 28 records how the Lord had looked for Jacob, but in Genesis 32, twenty years later, we read how Jacob actively sought the Lord and wrestled for a blessing from Him. Jacob wanted to know where he stood with the Lord and received a reassuring response (see Genesis 32:24–29).

In Genesis 35 we read of a third significant spiritual event in Jacob’s life. Jacob returned to the place where the Lord first revealed Himself to him and where he committed himself to wholly follow the Lord. This time Jacob brought his whole family, and the Lord confirmed upon him the new name of Israel (first received at Peniel) and many other blessings relating to the Abrahamic covenant, including blessings concerning his posterity. He had proved faithful to the knowledge he received and the commitments he made the first time at Bethel. Like his father and grandfather, Jacob sought for and obtained covenant blessings from God pertaining to his family and eternal life. In conclusion, have students read Doctrine and Covenants 132:37 and look for where Jacob is now and why he received that blessing.

Based on what your students learned about Jacob’s spiritual progression and what they know about the blessings of the gospel that are available today, make a ladder with your students that shows the steps they must take to receive the blessings of eternity (see the teaching suggestion for Genesis 28:10–22, p. 51).

Genesis 37–41. Striving to be righteous does not mean that our lives will always be pleasant, prosperous, and painless. If we are faithful, the Lord will turn our trials and hardships into blessings, but this will happen on His time schedule, not ours. (60–70 minutes)

one boy pushing another

Picture 1

boy pushing another from path of car

Picture 2

Show students picture 1 (p. 237) and ask them if they think something good or bad is happening in the picture. (Most will say something bad is happening. If students say that something good is happening, ask them to explain, and work it into what you are teaching.) Next show picture 2 (p. 238) and ask how seeing the event in picture 1 in the larger context changes their judgment of what was happening. Ask them if they have ever experienced adversity that later turned out to be a blessing. (For example, they might have cared for an elderly or ill person and received knowledge and blessings from the experience.) If any of your students feel comfortable sharing an experience that is not too personal, consider inviting them to share their experiences with the class. Tell students that they are going to study the story of a man who had several trying experiences that later turned into blessings.

Write the following references, containing incidents in Joseph’s life, on the board:

  1. 1.

    Genesis 37:1–4

  2. 2.

    Genesis 37:5–11

  3. 3.

    Genesis 37:12–28

  4. 4.

    Genesis 39:1–6

  5. 5.

    Genesis 39:7–20

  6. 6.

    Genesis 39:21–23

  7. 7.

    Genesis 40:1–19

  8. 8.

    Genesis 40:20–23

  9. 9.

    Genesis 41:9–45

  10. 10.

    Genesis 41:46–49, 53–57

  11. 11.

    Genesis 41:50–52

Assign individuals or groups of students one or more of the references. After they read their assigned passage, have them decide whether that experience was adversity or a blessing, and write the appropriate word next to the reference on the board.

Have each student or someone from each group come forward in the order the references are numbered, tell the scripture story, and explain why the experience was an adversity or a blessing for Joseph. As they report, encourage the other students to suggest how the labels might be changed as they see how the story unfolds. For example, Joseph getting thrown into prison because of Potiphar’s wife might be labeled adversity, but a later group may decide that it was more of a blessing because it led him to eventually be placed second-in-command to Pharaoh. At the end of the exercise ask students how understanding those events in the larger perspective of Joseph’s whole life changed their perception of those incidents.

Have students read the statement by the Prophet Joseph Smith quoted in the introduction to Genesis 38–39 in their student study guides (p. 35) and tell how the same could be said about Joseph of Egypt. List with the class times when a person with less faith than Joseph of Egypt could easily have gotten discouraged and given up on the promises the Lord made to him in his dreams. Ask: What do you think would have happened if Joseph had given in to discouragement and wickedness? Read and discuss the Lord’s counsel to the Prophet Joseph Smith about trials and persecution in Doctrine and Covenants 122:5–9.

Ask students how many times they have heard someone say “That’s not fair!” or “Life isn’t fair!” Ask them if they agree or disagree, and why. Ask: Do you think life always seemed fair to Joseph?

Remind students about your discussion at the beginning of the school year about our Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness. Ask: What part did trials and tribulations play in that plan? (see “The Great Plan of Happiness,” pp. 13–19; see also Ether 12:6). Have them read Revelation 15:3 and 2 Nephi 26:7 and discuss what they teach about God’s justice.

The Savior’s whole work is to help us progress and grow and is for our benefit if we will trust Him and be obedient to the truths we have received (see 2 Nephi 26:24; Moses 1:39). Given all these truths, have students write an answer to the question: Why does God sometimes allow bad things to happen to good people? Ask a few students to share what they wrote.

Share your testimony about the importance of facing our trials with courage and faith. Assure the class that, in time, “all things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good” (D&C 98:3; see also D&C 90:24).

scripture mastery icon Genesis 39:7–20 (Scripture Mastery, Genesis 39:9). As we obey God and make Him the most important influence in our lives, we receive strength to resist temptation. (35–40 minutes)

Consider writing the following statement by President Gordon B. Hinckley on the board:

“It seems as if the whole world has become obsessed with sex. In a very beguiling and alluring way, it is thrown at you constantly. You are exposed to it on television, in magazines and books, in videos, even in music. Turn your back on it. Shun it. I know that is easy to say and difficult to do. But each time that you do so, it will be so much the easier the next time. What a wonderful thing it will be if someday you can stand before the Lord and say, ‘I am clean.’” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1996, 69; or Ensign, May 1996, 48).

Tell students they are going to read about two brothers, Judah and Joseph, and how each of them handled temptation. Read with the class Genesis 38:15–26 and 39:7–20. Help them compare and contrast the two stories by discussing questions like the following:

  • How did the moral temptations Joseph faced compare to Judah’s?

  • How did Joseph’s reaction show how committed he was to maintaining his chastity?

  • What were the immediate results of both men’s actions?

  • What were the long-term effects of their actions? (see the commentaries for Genesis 38–41 in Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis–2 Samuel, pp. 94–95).

President Ezra Taft Benson said:

“When Joseph was in Egypt, what came first in his life—God, his job, or Potiphar’s wife? When she tried to seduce him, he responded by saying, ‘How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?’ (Genesis 39:9).

“Joseph was put in prison because he put God first. If we were faced with a similar choice, where would we place our first loyalty? Can we put God ahead of security, peace, passions, wealth, and the honors of men?

“When Joseph was forced to choose, he was more anxious to please God than to please his employer’s wife. When we are required to choose, are we more anxious to please God than our boss, our teacher, our neighbor, or our date?” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1988, 4; or Ensign, May 1988, 4–5).

Invite your students to mark Genesis 39:9 and tell how that verse shows that keeping his covenants helped Joseph resist temptation. Discuss how keeping our covenants can help us not only live the law of chastity but other commandments as well.

Have students read Genesis 39:10 and identify what Joseph did when his master’s wife tempted him “day by day.” Have them look at verses 11–12 and tell what Joseph did when she refused to be ignored. Read the following statement by Elder Hartman Rector Jr., a former member of the Seventy:

“Joseph did the very best thing he could do under the circumstances. … In today’s language—he ran.

Maybe that doesn’t sound like a very sophisticated thing to do, but sometimes running is the only thing to do. …

“It is so important that young people who are unmarried erect barriers against temptation to help them avoid the compromising situations. May I suggest a few barriers.

“1. Never go into a house alone with one of the opposite sex.

“2. Never, never enter a bedroom alone with one of the opposite sex.

“3. Do not neck or pet. …

“4. Never park on a lonely road with just the two of you alone.

“5. Do not read pornographic literature.

“6. Do not attend [movies that encourage immoral behavior]. …

“Yes, Joseph ran, and because he did, he was temporarily placed in prison, where he was shut out from society, but if he had not run, he would have been an eternal prisoner, being shut out from God perhaps forever, because he would not have been in condition to receive the necessary communications that made him the great prophet that he was” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1972, 172–73; or Ensign, Jan. 1973, 131).

In Genesis 38 and 39 students have read about Joseph, whose temptations seemed to seek him out, and Judah, who sought out temptations. Your students may fit in both categories. Read Doctrine and Covenants 20:22 and discuss how the Savior set the pattern for how we should deal with temptation. Invite students to tell how we can apply the examples set by the Savior and by Joseph in our lives.

Read 1 Corinthians 10:13–14 with the class and share your testimony that if they are living righteously and flee temptation when it comes, there is no temptation they will not have power to resist. Consider also discussing counsel given in the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet to help them avoid temptations to break the law of chastity.

Help students understand that great blessings come to those who obey the law of chastity. Have them read Genesis 39:21, 23 and see the blessings Joseph received for maintaining his virtue. Have them read Doctrine and Covenants 131:1–4 and ask them what one of the requirements is to obtain exaltation in the celestial kingdom. Remind them that a prerequisite to obtaining those blessings on earth is to keep the law of chastity. To receive blessings in eternity we must continue to keep this and other laws and commandments (see D&C 14:7). Read again with your students the statement by President Hinckley at the beginning of this teaching suggestion.

Genesis 40–41. The Lord was with Joseph and helped him interpret the dreams of the butler, the baker, and Pharaoh. (20–30 minutes)

Divide students into groups and give each group some paper and materials to draw with. Ask each group to do activity A for Genesis 41 in their student study guides (p. 37).

Invite a student from each group to explain their drawing and its possible meanings to the class. Have the class read Genesis 41:29–36 and look for the interpretations to Pharaoh’s two dreams. Ask them if dreams can be a source of revelation (see Joel 2:28–29; Matthew 1:20; 2:12; 1 Nephi 3:2; 8:2). Read Doctrine and Covenants 46:27; 50:9–10, 15–25, 28–32 and look for ways we can tell if a dream is from the Lord.

Have students read Genesis 40:8; 41:16, 39 and identify what enabled Joseph to give a correct interpretation of the dreams. Read Moroni 7:16–17 and share your testimony of the importance of having the Spirit in order to understand any revelation from the Lord. Help students understand that because Joseph interpreted the dreams by the power of God, his interpretation was correct (see Genesis 40:20–23; 41:44–57).

Have students read Genesis 41:38 and mark the phrase “a man in whom the Spirit of God is.” Ask:

  • How is that an appropriate description of Joseph?

  • How would you feel if that compliment were paid to you?

  • What would you need to do in order to fit that description?

Encourage students to work at being worthy of that description.

Genesis 41:46–57. The Lord’s people have always been counseled to be prepared, both temporally and spiritually. (15–20 minutes)

Present a situation like one of the following to your students:

  • How would you dress if you knew that it would snow three feet today while you were at school?

  • What would you do today if you knew that tomorrow the entire supply of drinking water for your town would be contaminated for the next two days?

Tell students that Joseph in Egypt was faced with a similar situation. Have them read Genesis 41:46–57 and look for ways that Joseph prepared Egypt for the coming famine.

Ask students how important it is for them and their families to prepare for their physical needs. Explain that the Lord has foretold that before the Second Coming of the Savior many tribulations will be sent upon the earth that will make such preparation necessary (see D&C 29:14–16). President Ezra Taft Benson said:

“I ask you earnestly, have you provided for your family a year’s supply of food, clothing, and, where possible, fuel? The revelation to produce and store food may be as essential to our temporal welfare today as boarding the ark was to the people in the days of Noah” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1987, 61; or Ensign, Nov. 1987, 49).

The Church has further explained:

“In order to be self-reliant, we should have sufficient food, clothing, and shelter. We are therefore counseled to store, use, and know how to produce and prepare essential items. We are more secure if we are able to provide for ourselves in times of adversity (see D&C 38:30)” (A Leader’s Guide to Welfare, 7).

Ask students: If physical preparation is so vital, how important is our spiritual preparation? Have them read Matthew 25:1–13 and ask how that parable relates to spiritual preparation. Read Doctrine and Covenants 45:56–57 and discuss what we can do to fill our spiritual lamps with oil. Ask students why they think the five wise virgins did not share their oil. President Spencer W. Kimball, then President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said that some things cannot be shared:

How can one share obedience to the principle of tithing; a mind at peace from righteous living; an accumulation of knowledge? How can one share faith or testimony? How can one share attitudes or chastity, or the experience of a mission? How can one share temple privileges? Each must obtain that kind of oil for himself” (Faith Precedes the Miracle [1972], 255–56).

Share your testimony of the importance of preparation. Share the Lord’s counsel about preparation in Doctrine and Covenants 38:30.