Sunday School: Gospel Doctrine
Lesson 11: ‘How Can I Do This Great Wickedness?’

“Lesson 11: ‘How Can I Do This Great Wickedness?’” Old Testament: Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual (2001), 46–50

“Lesson 11,” Old Testament: Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, 46–50

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.


  1. Prayerfully study the following scriptures:

    1. Genesis 37. Joseph, eleventh son of Jacob, is hated by his brothers and sold into slavery.

    2. Genesis 39. Joseph prospers as a slave but is accused of immorality and sent to prison (39:1–20). The keeper of the prison gives Joseph responsibility over the other prisoners (39:21–23).

    3. Genesis 34:1–12; 35:22; 38:1–30. The sin of immorality has negative consequences on Jacob’s family—Dinah, his daughter (34:1–12); Reuben, his eldest son (35:22); and Judah, another of his sons (38:1–30).

  2. Additional reading: Genesis 34:13–31.

  3. If the following audiovisual materials are available, you may want to use some of them as part of the lesson:

    1. A brief excerpt from “The Dreamer” or “Joseph Interprets Pharaoh’s Dream,” parts 1 and 2 of the Joseph and His Brothers videocassette (53152).

    2. The pictures Joseph Is Sold by His Brothers (62525; Gospel Art Picture Kit 109) and Joseph Resists Potiphar’s Wife (62548; Gospel Art Picture Kit 110).

Suggested Lesson Development

Attention Activity

You may want to use the following activity (or one of your own) to begin the lesson.

Ask the class to name some of the movies, television shows, books, or magazines currently popular in your area.

  • What standards of sexual morality are presented by these popular media items? How do these standards differ from the Lord’s standard as taught in the scriptures and by Church leaders?

Explain that the moral behavior of society often differs from the moral standards that the Lord has established. While the standards of society can change, the Lord’s standards are constant.

This lesson discusses the experiences of one man who followed the Lord’s standard of morality and other men who did not. The lesson also discusses the consequences of following or not following the Lord’s standard.

Scripture Discussion and Application

As you teach the following scripture passages, discuss how they apply to daily life. Encourage class members to share experiences that relate to the scriptural principles.

1. Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers.

Teach and discuss Genesis 37.

Jacob married Leah and Rachel, daughters of his mother’s brother Laban, and also married their handmaids, Zilpah and Bilhah. Jacob’s wives bore him twelve sons, who became the beginnings of the twelve tribes of Israel (the Lord changed Jacob’s name to Israel; see Genesis 32:28). Jacob’s eleventh son was Joseph; as the eldest son of Jacob and Rachel, Joseph received the birthright when Reuben, eldest son of Jacob and Leah, lost it through unrighteousness (1 Chronicles 5:1–2).

  • Why were Joseph’s brothers jealous of him? (See Genesis 37:3–8.) How do you react when members of your family offend you or receive better treatment than you do? How can we overcome feelings of jealousy or anger toward family members or friends?

  • How did Joseph respond when his father asked him to go to Shechem to see how his brothers were doing? (See Genesis 37:13–14. Note that Shechem was about 45 miles away.) What did Joseph do when he couldn’t find his brothers in Shechem? (See Genesis 37:15–17. Note that Dothan was at least another 12 miles away.) What can we learn about young Joseph from this account? (Answers could include that he was obedient to his father and persistent in doing what his father asked.)

  • What did Joseph’s brothers conspire to do when Joseph came to the fields where they were feeding the sheep? (See Genesis 37:12–18.) How did Reuben’s reasons for sparing Joseph’s life differ from Judah’s? (See Genesis 37:21–22, 26–27.) What did the brothers eventually do with Joseph instead of killing him? (See Genesis 37:28, 31–33.)

2. Joseph refuses to “sin against God.”

Teach and discuss Genesis 39.

  • How did the Lord bless Joseph after he was sold as a slave? (See Genesis 39:1–4.) Why did Potiphar, a wealthy officer of Pharaoh, put such trust in Joseph, a slave? (See Genesis 39:5–6.)

  • What did Joseph do when Potiphar’s wife tried to tempt him to do wrong? (See Genesis 39:11–12. Point out that Joseph immediately removed himself from the situation.) How can we follow Joseph’s example when we are tempted?

  • What excuses might Joseph have used if he had wanted to give in to the advances of Potiphar’s wife? What excuses do people offer today to try to justify moral transgressions? Why are these excuses not valid justifications?

  • How was Joseph punished for being virtuous when Potiphar’s wife approached him? (See Genesis 39:12–20. He went from being overseer of Potiphar’s household to being a prisoner.) In the world today, how do some people treat others who are virtuous? (Answers may vary. People who are virtuous are sometimes ridiculed and excluded socially, but often they are respected.) You may want to discuss the world’s pressure to be immoral that today’s youth face and how youth can resist this pressure.

  • The scriptures emphasize that while Joseph was in prison, the Lord was with him (Genesis 39:21–23). What does this reveal about Joseph? (He continued in faith rather than questioning or blaming God for the imprisonment that resulted from being virtuous.) What can we learn from Joseph about turning bad experiences and circumstances into good ones? (You may want to read Romans 8:28 during this discussion.)

    Elder Hartman Rector Jr. explained: “[The] ability to turn everything into something good appears to be a godly characteristic. Our Heavenly Father always seems 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” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1972, 170; or Ensign, Jan. 1973, 130).

3. Shechem, Reuben, and Judah commit serious moral sins.

Teach and discuss Genesis 34:1–12; 35:22; and Genesis 38:1–30. Do not discuss at length the sins of these men; use them as a contrast to the faithfulness of Joseph.

  • Point out that not all of Joseph’s family members and acquaintances were as valiant as Joseph was when facing temptation. How did Shechem, Reuben, and Judah react to sexual temptation?

  • Notice the language in Genesis 34:3 that describes Shechem’s feelings for Dinah: “And his soul clave unto Dinah … and he loved the damsel.” Why is this description inconsistent with Shechem’s actions? (If Shechem had truly loved Dinah, he would not have defiled her. Help class members understand that often people use the excuse “We are in love” to justify immoral activity, but people who truly love each other will not cause each other guilt and suffering to gratify physical passions and desires. Behavior that makes it hard to pray, makes people unworthy to enter the temple, or breaks up families is not motivated by love.)

  • When Jacob blessed each of his sons at the end of his life, he referred to Reuben’s moral transgression and described Reuben as “unstable as water” (Genesis 49:3–4). How is this a valid comparison? What did Jacob tell Reuben would result from his being “unstable as water”?

  • Compare the price that Joseph paid to be virtuous with the price that Reuben paid to be immoral. What did Reuben lose because of his immorality? (See 1 Chronicles 5:1–2.) What are the spiritual and temporal consequences of sexual sin today? Why does the Lord place such importance on being morally clean?

  • Church leaders have consistently taught that obedience to God’s commandments is true freedom. How do we see this in the life of Joseph? How did disobedience result in less freedom for Shechem, Reuben, and Judah? How can choosing to keep the commandments make us more free than choosing to break them? (See John 8:31–36.)


Testify that with the Lord’s help, all of our experiences and circumstances can work together for our good. Testify also of the value of remaining morally clean in thought and action. Challenge class members to evaluate the movies, magazines, and other media and use only those that reflect the Lord’s standard of sexual morality. Encourage class members to be as committed as Joseph was to obeying the law of chastity.

Additional Teaching Ideas

The following material supplements the suggested lesson outline. You may want to use one or more of these ideas as part of the lesson.

1. Bethel—the house of God

  • While Jacob was traveling from Canaan to the land of his kindred, he stopped to rest for the night and had a remarkable dream of a ladder that reached up into heaven (Genesis 28:10–19; see the fourth additional teaching idea in lesson 10). Jacob named this place Bethel, which means “house of God” (Genesis 28:19; see footnote 19a). What place has the same name today? (The temple, which is called the house of the Lord.)

    Elder Marion G. Romney stated, “Temples are to us all what Bethel was to Jacob” (“Temples—The Gates to Heaven,” Ensign, Mar. 1971, 16).

  • In Genesis 35:1–15, Jacob took his family back to this sacred place. What did Jacob ask his family to do to prepare to return to Bethel, the “House of God”? (See Genesis 35:2.) How do these things compare to the preparations we make to go to the house of the Lord? What “strange gods” may be among us?

    President Spencer W. Kimball said:

    “The Lord has blessed us as a people with a prosperity 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 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” (“The False Gods We Worship,” Ensign, June 1976, 4, 6).

  • How can we “put away [our] strange gods … and be clean” and worthy to attend the temple? (See Genesis 35:2; Psalm 24:3–4; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Moroni 10:30, 32.)

2. Jacob and Esau are reunited

  • In returning to the land of Canaan, Jacob knew that he would meet again with his brother Esau (Genesis 32:3–23; 33:1–17). Why was Jacob afraid to see Esau? (See Genesis 32:11.) How did Jacob prepare to meet Esau? (See Genesis 32:13–20.) How did Esau react to Jacob when they met again? (See Genesis 33:4, 8–11.) What can we learn from Jacob and Esau about resolving family conflicts?

3. Concubines in Old Testament times

In Genesis 35:22, Bilhah, one of Rachel’s handmaids, is referred to as Jacob’s concubine. Elder Bruce R. McConkie provided the following explanation of the use of the term concubine in the Old Testament:

“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).