As a young man I visited the Patriarch of my stake to receive a Patriarchal blessing. He laid his hands on my head and said, “Brother Michael, I name you of the lineage of Ephraim and the House of Israel.”
It wasn’t a surprising revelation. Most of the Church members I’d met were aligned with Joseph, either through Ephraim or Manasseh.
In Mormonism, it was probably the best tribe to be from. After all, it was Joseph, not Judah, who obtained the birthright. It was Joseph who had a morally upright character and saved his brothers from starvation. Judah, on the other hand, married a Canaanite and slept with his daughter in law.
Joseph also received one of the greatest blessings from Jacob. It seemed odd that his descendants would be lost forever. But that’s where Mormonism filled in the gaps. According to LDS doctrine, before Jerusalem was captured by the Babylonians, a family from the tribe of Joseph fled and crossed the ocean to the American continent. There, they became a great people and wrote a record called The Book of Mormon.
Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, was allegedly given this record by an angel, along with the ability to translate it into English. In 2 Nephi chapter 3 of The Book of Mormon it’s revealed that Joseph Smith himself was a descendant of Joseph who was sold to Egypt.
Joseph was a revered name in the Mormon church. The tribe of Joseph was renewed through the restoration of the gospel, and was now in charge of gathering the other tribes. This was done through missionary work because baptism was what made someone Abraham’s offspring and inheritor of his covenant.
In 2016 the mindset I’d grown up with came crashing down when I embraced Christianity. I went from law to grace, from works to faith, and from Joseph to Judah.
I’ve studied the paths these tribes took, and can see a clear parallel with Mormonism and Christianity. I’d like to share my insights here.
Let’s start with the parable of the Prodigal Son, as told in Luke 15:11-32. It begins with a man having two sons. The younger son departs for a faraway land and engages in riotous living. He loses his inheritance, and comes back begging to be made a servant. Surprisingly, the father accepts him back and throws a party in his honor, even killing the fatted calf. The older son is furious and wonders how his brother could be welcomed back after wasting their money on harlots.
In Genesis 38 Judah leaves and settles among the Canaanites. He marries a Canaanite woman and has three sons. Two of his sons marry a woman named Tamar, and God kills both of them for their wickedness.
Judah tells Tamar he will give her his third son when he grows up, but reneges on the offer. Tamar dresses like a prostitute and sleeps with Judah. It’s a crazy story, but when Judah realizes what has happened he is convicted of his wickedness, just like the younger son in the parable.
The tribe of Judah resembles the prodigal son, having been passed over to receive the birthright. And yet, the Messiah comes through their lineage. This is something Mormon doctrine cannot grasp.
There’s a passage in Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21 which reads:
There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated- and when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.
In other words, every blessing is merited by the good we do in this life. This flies in the face of the Biblical account. You see, Judah wasn’t the only shady character in Jesus’ family tree. There was Tamar, a Canaanite, and Bethsheba, who David stole from Uriah. Rahab the harlot was also part of Christ’s genealogy.
Why did the Savior come from such a broken family and not the one holding the birthright?
Truth be told, the tribe of Ephraim ended up being one of the most wicked tribes. In Judges 1:27-29 we read that Manasseh and Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites as commanded, but subjected them to hard labor instead.
Perhaps they thought keeping the Canaanites as slaves would give them a leg up. They were wrong. The Canaanites corrupted them, and as early as Judges chapter 2, they are seen worshipping Baal. These people did not give them a leg up, they weakened them. Ephraim in particular, would become head of the rival state of Israel and would war with Judah, siding with Judah’s pagan enemies.
In order to give its adherents a leg up, the LDS church institutes sacraments and temple ordinances. But really, it’s just putting something else in the place of Jesus. It’s a little leaven leavening the whole loaf. It’s Ephraim trying again to usurp Judah’s authority, and failing miserably.
As for this former Latter-day Saint, I renounce my “birthright” and the priesthood ordinances that were supposed to make me holy. I renounce the whited sepulchers they call temples. I choose the Messiah who came from a broken lineage and befriended sinners. I choose the God who instituted mercy and came to cleanse the unclean.
All my hope rests with the Lion of Judah.