Ardis Parshall, in a comment of a blog post of hers I just finally noticed and read yesterday, gave an intriguing explanation of what was going on with Pharaoh during Abraham’s time and just before. Here’s the verses, her explanation, and then I’ll start exploring from there.
21 Now this king of Egypt was a descendant from the loins of Ham, and was a partaker of the blood of the Canaanites by birth. 22 From this descent sprang all the Egyptians, and thus the blood of the Canaanites was preserved in the land. 23 The land of Egypt being first discovered by a woman, who was the daughter of Ham, and the daughter of Egyptus, which in the Chaldean signifies Egypt, which signifies that which is forbidden; 24 When this woman discovered the land it was under water, who afterward settled her sons in it; and thus, from Ham, sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land. 25 Now the first government of Egypt was established by Pharaoh, the eldest son of Egyptus, the daughter of Ham, and it was after the manner of the government of Ham, which was patriarchal. 26 Pharaoh, being a righteous man, established his kingdom and judged his people wisely and justly all his days, seeking earnestly to imitate that order established by the fathers in the first generations, in the days of the first patriarchal reign, even in the reign of Adam, and also of Noah, his father, who blessed him with the blessings of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom, but cursed him as pertaining to the Priesthood. 27 Now, Pharaoh being of that lineage by which he could not have the right of Priesthood, notwithstanding the Pharaohs would fain claim it from Noah, through Ham, therefore my father was led away by their idolatry; 28 But I shall endeavor, hereafter, to delineate the chronology running back from myself to the beginning of the creation, for the records have come into my hands, which I hold unto this present time.
There’s a lot going on in there that I want to explore later, but here’s Ardis’s reading first (which was in comment #32 on her post):
“Right of the priesthood” is not synonymous with “bearing the priesthood.” “Right of the priesthood” means the authority to lead the priesthood, to hold the keys, to direct the labors of those who hold the priesthood. See D&C 68:21. Pharaoh attempted to usurp the presidency of the priesthood, when his line did not have that right. The “right of the priesthood” had passed from Noah down through other channels and was held by Abraham, to be later passed down through a specific line of his own descendants. Condemning Pharaoh for claiming the presidency, when his lineage was not entitled to that presidency, is not evidence that Pharaoh and his lineage were not eligible to bear the priesthood as ordinary members.
So, what do you think of this? I’m still deciding whether or not “right” means leadership, but I with her reference to D&C 68, I think she is definitely right to start looking at that word and think carefully about what is going on here. With the work I’ve done on Moses, Abraham, D&C 107, D&C 132, and so on, my first guess is that “right” means being of that lineage to whom the Melchizedek Priesthood belongs, something like what she points out in D&C 68 about the “right” of the Aaronic Priesthood. As that section points out, and as Ardis points out in her comment, just because one does not have the lineage does not mean one can’t be ordained to that priesthood or officiate in those offices. Others take the place when the one with the “right” isn’t worthy or known. So, it would seem, that others besides those to whom the Melchizedek Priesthood “belongs” can be ordained and officiate as well. I think that basic reading of priesthood holds up. As I’ve read D&C 132 and other passages, I seem to see that there is only one person on earth with all the keys of the priesthood, especially the power to seal heaven and earth, which is, as I understand it, the most essential role of the priesthood itself. All others who seal or use any priesthood only do it under authorization of the one who holds the real right to priesthood power, which for us is the president of the Church. But, on top of that, I think her point about lineage is true too. D&C 107 says,
40 The order of this priesthood was confirmed to be handed down from father to son, and rightly belongs to the literal descendants of the chosen seed, to whom the promises were made.
There is a chosen line, to which the priesthood “rightly belongs.” But the section goes on of course to explain how the various priesthood offices function for the latter-day Church, assuming there will be many, many holding the priesthood and not just one chosen line. I think that promise of a chosen line is still real and crucial, but as Ardis points out, there are many able to “bear” the priesthood even though they don’t have a position or right to lead the priesthood.
It’s a tangent, but here’s my summary of the idea of a “chosen line.” First, see Moses 4-6, where Adam and Eve are promised 3 things that will remain until/unto/at the end of the world: 1, the basic Gospel plan of repentance so people can return to heaven, 2, the Priesthood ordinances to confirm that, and 3, a chosen line which will bear the Priesthood and not die out from Adam on down to the end of the world. When Abel dies, Adam mourns but is glad when Seth is born and says that “God as appointed me another seed.” Of course he has probably hundreds of children by now, but this is a special, chosen seed which will carry the Gospel message and the Priesthood to bind it. It passes father-son till Enoch, and then on to Noah, and then from Noah it’s fuzzy but ends up with Abraham. Abraham says he has the book that proves his connection back to Adam. Then from Abraham, it passes to Issac and Jacob and then again it’s fuzzy to me, but it certainly does go to Joseph and to Ephraim. After that I’m fuzzy again, but then God tells Joseph Smith he is of the direct line to receive the sealing powers:
30 Abraham received promises concerning his seed, and of the fruit of his loins—from whose loins ye are, namely, my servant Joseph—which were to continue so long as they were in the world; and as touching Abraham and his seed, out of the world they should continue; both in the world and out of the world should they continue as innumerable as the stars; or, if ye were to count the sand upon the seashore ye could not number them. 31 This promise is yours also, because ye are of Abraham, and the promise was made unto Abraham; and by this law is the continuation of the works of my Father, wherein he glorifieth himself.
It might not be so obvious just from those two verses, but I really do think that throughout D&C 132 and elsewhere, Joseph is being set up as the next link in the chain of this chosen line. What does that mean about the prophets after Joseph Smith? Of Brigham Young, John Taylor, and so on to Thomas S. Monson? Well, I don’t know of course, but I think it means that they don’t have the “right,” by lineage, to hold the full priesthood power laid out in D&C 132, 107, etc. But, just as D&C 68 explains that others can hold positions within the Aaronic Priesthood when there is no literal, rightful heir, I think the same is going on with the Melchizedek Priesthood. I think this is what Brigham thought, too (whether either one of is us right is another question 🙂 ). I need to do more research to really see what’s going on here, but for now I’m copying and pasting the summary from wikipedia:
Many of the Latter Day Saints who remained in the Midwest, including Strang, believed that one or more of Joseph Smith’s sons would eventually lead the church. The church had published a revelation in 1841 stating “I say unto my servant Joseph, In thee, and in thy seed, shall the kindred of the earth be blessed”, and this was widely interpreted as endorsing the concept of Lineal Succession. Documentary evidence indicates also that Smith set apart his son as his successor at various private meetings and public gatherings, including Liberty and Nauvoo. Indeed, Brigham Young assured the bulk of Smith’s followers as late as 1860 that young Joseph would eventually take his father’s place. Young may have recognized the patrilineal right of succession for Smith’s sons as within the years following Smith’s murder he made apparently earnest entreaties to Smith’s sons, Joseph Smith III and David Hyrum Smith, to join his church’s hierarchy in Utah. Both Smiths, however, were profoundly opposed to a number of practices, especially plural marriage, and refused to join the Utah church.
So, more to work out, but I think it’s documented enough that Brigham assumed he was a sort of placeholder for the literal, chosen seed. But, even then, he was still an authorized placeholder. It’s still okay for someone besides that line to bear the priesthood, even the highest powers of the priesthood, without being of the chosen line. In my understanding, all of Abraham’s seed (including those adopted) have in some sense a “right” to this priesthood. (See Abraham 1 & 2.) But I also think there is something important still with the literal seed. So perhaps Ardis is on to something: those with the “right” are those who are of the seed who are intended to oversee all the work of the priesthood and gospel preaching to save Adam’s children. With or without this person in their proper position, many thousands or millions or billions of Abraham’s seed bear this priesthood too so that we can get this message and the accompanying ordinances to as many of Adam’s seed as possible. So it seems to me, anyway. Thanks again Ardis, for that wonderful insight. I’ll be pondering this one for years to come, I’m assuming.