I’ve entitled my talk, “I Will Lay My Hand Upon You by the Hand of My Servant,” coming from Doctrine and Covenants, section 36. I was asked, and a couple of days later I was impressed to talk about patriarchal blessings, and to me, this phrase captures that the Lord will lay His hand upon us by the hand of His servant.
As I think about things that really matter and truth, not all truth is created equal. I have a blue suit on. That is truth, but it doesn’t matter. The most important truths that we can learn are truths about ourselves. Learning who we truly are is the most important knowledge that we can have. To realize that we are sons and daughters of a loving Heavenly Father is the most important truth we can come to understand.
So, you first think, what is the most important thing? Nothing is more important than knowing that we are children of a loving Heavenly Father—and the phrase, “who wants us to succeed.” (Elder Richard G. Scott, Agency and Answers: Recognizing Revelation, October 1989)
We’re a member of the family of Abraham, and children of the covenant, by lineage or by adoption—which doesn’t matter. We are part of the family of Abraham, and we are all future mothers and fathers if we stay faithful.
As we think about patriarchal blessings, it is good to start with Abraham. Abraham was chosen by the Lord to take the gospel to all the earth. It would be through his family that all the families of the earth would be blessed. A covenant with the Lord was made with Abraham. It included priesthood, posterity, and property. (Genesis 17:5-6; Abraham 2:9-11; 3:14) Knowing and understanding that we are from Abraham -- really matters.
It’s interesting, if we go to Abraham, the first chapter, we get a pattern when it comes to Abraham and his life. [He was] a seeker, a follower of righteousness, desiring to receive instructions and to keep the commandments. There was a point where he was about to be destroyed by wicked priests, and he has a vision and he is immediately unloosed. And he was visited by Jehovah -- an interesting pattern as we think about Joseph Smith.
It is important to think about the lineage—from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob to Ephraim. Ephraim ends up with the birthright, and he has the responsibility to gather the rest of the family. That is a very important thing to keep in mind. So here we have Israel laying his hand upon Joseph. And later he lays his hand upon Ephraim and Manasseh.
There is a connection between the family of Abraham and the restored covenants of our day. When Joseph Smith went to the Grove to pray, it was a key element in ushering in the promises Jehovah made with Abraham, that the Lord would remember His children in the last days, and that through Joseph—through the tribe of Ephraim, primarily—the nations of the earth would be blessed.
The pattern again, with Joseph—a seeker after righteousness, asking of God to be delivered from the enemy. Jehovah appears to him also, along with our Father. There is a powerful connection between Joseph Smith and Joseph who was sold into Egypt, and how Joseph was prepared, literally, to save the family. Think about Joseph Smith today and the tribe of Ephraim—being asked to save the family spiritually.
When I look at the temple, I think of Moroni at the top—representing the stick of Joseph, the greatest tool that we have to gather Israel. Elder McConkie taught that without the Book of Mormon, the gathering of Israel would come to a stop. (Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith (1985), 554.) So, we should ponder the role of Moroni in the process of gathering Israel, through the stick of Joseph, on top of our temples.
Joseph Smith taught that the reason we gather is to build temples, (History of the Church, 5:423–25, 427; paragraph divisions altered; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on June 11, 1843, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Wilford Woodruff and Willard Richards) and so that connection to me is a powerful thing. Where children of Israel in the past went to Egypt and physically were saved through Joseph, today the children of Abraham are gathered to the covenant and to temples where they are saved.
Doctrine and Covenants section 101 that teaches this, “Therefore, I must gather together my people, according to the parable of the wheat and the tares, that the wheat may be secured in the garners to possess eternal life,”—Elder Maxwell taught us that the garners are the temples of the Lord—“And be crowned with celestial glory, when I shall come in the kingdom of my Father to reward every man according as his work shall be.”
So literally, the children of Abraham, the children of the covenant, come to the temple. They come to the garner, and there they are fed spiritually -- a powerful symbol. The blessings of being part of the family of Abraham—is something that hopefully we will continually try to better understand in our life.
Joseph Fielding Smith taught that the great majority of those who become members of the Church are literal descendants of Abraham according to the flesh. Now, those that are not are adopted in, and almost like Zoram in the Book of Mormon, either adopted or by literal seed, it really doesn’t matter. What matters is the righteousness and the covenants. That’s what really matters.
Sister Julie B. Beck taught: “When you know who you are and what you are supposed to do, it’s easier to make important decisions about education, career, and marriage. It’s easier to shine our light in our families, with our friends, and in all other places.”
I’d like to discuss briefly the history of patriarchs in the Church. The first patriarch of the Church was Joseph Smith, Sr. It is significant that his name was Joseph. Joseph in Egypt in 2 Nephi 3, talks about, his father’s name shall be Joseph.
The word Joseph, or the name Joseph, means to add to, to gather. The name itself is a powerful symbol of what is happening in the latter days.
The second patriarch was Hyrum Smith. I want to spend a little bit of time on this, because I think it will help us understand the role of patriarchs and patriarchal blessings. Section 124 of the Doctrine and Covenants, Hyrum is asked and called to be a patriarch. If you have your scriptures, feel free to follow along -- let’s go to verse 91.
Asher, I’m going to have you start reading in the middle of the verse where it says, “My servant Hyrum.”
Asher: “That my servant Hyrum may take the office of Priesthood and Patriarch, which was appointed unto him by his father, by blessing and also by right
“That from henceforth he shall hold the keys of the patriarchal blessings upon the heads of all my people,
“That whoever he blesses shall be blessed, and whoever he curses shall be cursed; that whatsoever he shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever he shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
“And from this time forth I appoint unto him that he may be a prophet, and a seer and a revelator unto my church, as well as my servant Joseph.”
Brother Bell: Thank you. I just want to highlight some of the things from those verses. The keys of the patriarchal order, the patriarchal blessings on the heads of all my people. And whoever he blesses will be blessed and whoever he curses will be cursed, and whatever is bound will be bound in heaven. A prophet, seer, and a revelator --that’s very powerful.
Heber J. Grant would refer to Joseph and Hyrum as the prophet and the patriarch (In Conference Report, Apr. 1943, 7–8.), Up until 1979, there was a patriarch to the Church. So here is some brief history. The first patriarch—Joseph Smith, Sr. [Then]Hyrum Smith, Joseph Smith’s brother. John Smith, an uncle. Another John Smith, Joseph’s nephew, the brother of Joseph F. Smith. And then we have a few between that; one was not even a member of the Smith family—George F. Richards.
In 1947, Eldred G. Smith, who was ordained to be the patriarch to the Church, and he was that for several years. In April of 1979 and in years before, Eldred G. Smith, along with 15 other prophets, seers, and revelators, was sustained as a prophet, seer, and revelator. We often think of 15 prophets, seers, and revelators, but in 1979 and earlier, there were 16, including the patriarch to the Church. He died as one of the oldest general authorities ever, at 106.
This is when he was released, and you can read there, “We now designate Elder Eldred G. Smith as Patriarch Emeritus, which means that he is honorably relieved of all duties and responsibilities pertaining to the office of a patriarch in the Church.” (The Sustaining of Church Officers, October 1979) That was a significant event in the Church. The feeling was that there were enough stakes throughout the world that patriarchs could be assigned in each stake.
Part of the calling of a stake president is to oversee the work of the patriarch. I’ve had a chance to set apart a patriarch, which I never thought I would ever do in my life, but it was a very sacred event for me. I had a chance to visit with our patriarch just a few weeks ago and have read some blessings that he has given.
The Quorum of the Twelve oversees the work of the patriarchs. It is one of the five offices in the Melchizedek Priesthood. They are never released; it’s a calling for life. They are either functioning or non-functioning based upon such things as health. If they move, they may be placed on non-functioning status, but they can be brought back into a functioning status based upon the needs of the stake. All of this works through a stake president and the Quorum of the Twelve who holds this stewardship based upon he revelations.
This is not an administrative calling. They are called to bless. All of the administrative duties are taken off their plate in a sense, so they can focus on blessing the saints. It’s a very sacred call. It is so important for them to be in tune with the Spirit of the Lord.
I remember one patriarch that I visited with mentioned, when he would go to city council meetings or other such meetings, if there was contention in the meeting, he would have to leave. I’ve even heard where they [say], “I had to stop doing certain things in my life, because I had to be so in tune in my life. It was so important.”
This teaching, “I will lay my hand upon you by the hand of my servant,” is sacred. In preparation for this, the impressions kept on coming that this is something that as a Church, we maybe underutilize or we need to take our patriarchal blessings more seriously, and use them. The Lord wants to bless us, and these blessings represent one way He continually does so.
When a patriarch places their hands upon our head in his sacred office to give us a patriarchal blessing, it is very important in our life. My guess is that many of you have had your patriarchal blessings. If you have not, I hope that parents and others are preparing you, and you are preparing to receive a blessing.
I want to share a short video clip from President Boyd K. Packer. He relates a story of a patriarch that he ordained, and an experience he had.
President Packer: A number of years ago I ordained a patriarch in a distant stake. Three months later, he came to my office and told this experience.
After he was ordained, he was overwhelmed. He brooded over the awesome responsibility of giving blessings which must include a declaration of lineage and prophetic insights personal to each individual. He was weighed down with a feeling of inadequacy and could not get himself to attempt to give his first patriarchal blessing.
The stake president would ask if he was ready to give blessings. Each time he would say he did not feel up to the great responsibility.
Finally, he realized that he must prepare himself. He talked to a revered Church leader in the community and asked, “Could I write out two or three brief paragraphs that could be an appropriate introduction to any patriarchal blessing? I could memorize these paragraphs as the beginning with the expectation that the Spirit would then provide the inspiration that I needed.”
It was agreed that it would be all right. So he prepared a short introduction. He wrote and rewrote the paragraphs until he was satisfied it was worthy of an introduction to a patriarchal blessing. Then he informed the stake president he was ready.
Soon the first young person came with his recommend to receive a blessing. Confident that his memorized introduction would get him started, he placed his hands on the young person’s head and did not use a word of it!
“That day,” he said, “I found out whose blessings they are. They are not my blessings; they are the blessings of the Lord, and He will, through His Spirit, dictate what should be said.”
Brother Bell: President [Spencer W.] Kimball asked that patriarchs become a conduit for the blessings that would flow through them to a recipient, a blessing that would be able to create a new person, give a person a new heart. (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, pg. 505)
President [Ezra Taft] Benson said a patriarchal blessing is like “personal scripture.” Yes, it declares lineage. It also declares the accomplishments to be realized, challenges to be overcome, blessings to receive.
I love this from President [James E.] Faust: “Priesthood blessings can help us in the small and great decisions of our lives. If through our priesthood blessings, we can perceive only a small part of the person God intends us to be, we would lose our fear and never doubt again.” Our blessings can encourage us when we are discouraged, strengthen us when we are fearful, comfort us when we sorrow, give us courage when we are filled with anxiety, and lift us when we are weak in spirit. Our testimonies can be strengthened every time we read our patriarchal blessings.”
My patriarchal blessing I received when I was 18 years old, before serving a mission in Chicago— gave me strength and peace. It is not a long blessing—less than a page—but it has just been a powerful thing in my life.
Heber J. Grant’s blessing was about a third of a page. He said that that little blessing had sustained him. Gordon B. Hinckley talks about his blessing, less than a page. He was eleven years old at the time, when they called a stake patriarch, Thomas Callister, to come to their home, and he received his blessing at the age of eleven.
He said, “I think my mother wrote down in shorthand all of our blessings.” By the way, she taught at LDS Business College, so there is the connection to the College. He was told in that blessing his testimony would be shared throughout the world and throughout nations. He thought that that part of his blessing was fulfilled when he came off his mission from Europe, came home and visited the different countries on the way home. He said, “I think that’s done.”
Well, President Hinckley, no. There was more to be done.
A patriarchal blessing is scripture. Patriarchs submit those to the Church Archives to be preserved and requested if needed. You can also request patriarchal blessings of ancestors. I think there is something that can happen with a husband and a wife—I heard a patriarch recently, our patriarch, talk about this—where it’s almost like two halves that become a whole. I also think that, as parents read the blessings of their children, and children read the blessings of their parents, there can be a strong connection that can start to happen. I don’t think we utilize our blessings as much as the Lord would want us to.
Elder [John A.] Widstoe talked about that fathers can give blessings, and they can be written down, but not submitted to the Church. But they can be written down.
As I was researching this, there is a lot of symbols that have been used for a patriarchal blessing, and you can read down through those: a passport, a roadmap, a lighthouse, a priceless personal treasure. The one that stuck out to me was one by President Thomas S. Monson, and that was “a Liahona of light.”
I’ve chosen to spend time on this, because there is some rich symbolism that we can learn. Instead of going to 1 Nephi 16 where the Liahona is given to the family, I want to go about 500 years down the road where this Nephite treasury was given to the prophets, and ends up with Alma the Younger. He is going to spend time with his son, Helaman, who is going to take over this treasury. He talks about the Liahona. So, if you will turn with me, if you have your scriptures, let’s go to Alma 37. I love this chapter, and most of you do. You have read this numerous times. This is the “small and simple” chapter. These are verses about the scriptures, about—in this case—the Liahona, and the impact that small and simple things can have in our lives.
My personal feeling is, in the gospel of Jesus Christ, as we prepare for the Lord’s return, it will be small and simple things that will bring about grand and glorious things. And I think if we are not careful, we can look beyond the mark. The small and simple will bring about grand and glorious. I know that to be true; this is a pattern in the gospel.
Let’s go to, starting at verse 38. I picture Helaman maybe your age. He’s younger, making decisions in his life. We don’t know exactly how old he is, but I think when Alma the Younger visits with his three sons, I think there is something to that in the youth of the Church. Asher, will you go ahead and read verse 38?
Asher: “And now, my son, I have somewhat to say [to you] concerning the thing which our fathers call a ball, or director—or our fathers called it Liahona, which is, being interpreted, a compass; and the Lord prepared it.”
Brother Bell: And 39. We’ll have you keep on going.
Asher: “And behold, there cannot any man work after the manner of so curious a workmanship. And behold, it was prepared to show unto our fathers the course which they should travel in the wilderness.”
Brother Bell: So a compass, a ball, a director. And of curious workmanship. A patriarchal blessing is unique. There is nothing else like it in the world. And the calling of a patriarch, or an evangelist, as they were called in the New Testament. Asher, if you could read verse 40.
Asher: “And it did work for them according to their faith in God; therefore, if they had faith to believe that God could cause that those spindles should point the way they should go, behold, it was done; therefore, they had this miracle, and also many other miracles wrought by the power of God, day by day.”
Brother Bell: Good. Now I want to focus on this verse just for a little bit. And Sister Glynn, thank you for pointing this out. “Therefore, if they had faith to believe that God could cause that those spindles should point the way they should go, behold, it was done.”
One of the unique things about the Liahona is it not only gave direction, there were words that were written. How the Lord—well, He can do anything, right? But that would have been an interesting technology to see. Words to be written that it could point the way.
Elder [Dallin H.] Oaks, in a talk about the scriptures, mentioned this, and I think this is significant: “We may also find that a specific verse of scripture”—now, I’m referring to personal scripture, your patriarchal blessing—“that was spoken for quite a different purpose in an entirely different age will, under the interpretive influence of the Holy Ghost, give us a very personal message adapted to our personal needs today.”
This is significant for our patriarchal blessings. I heard one sister in our stake who said, “President, my patriarchal blessing is so generic I could almost give it to anybody in this room and it would fit them.”
Well, let’s suppose that that blessing is like a Liahona and, like Elder Oaks taught us, the messages when we read it and how we read it, it can open up further messages and further insights. That is a powerful aspect of a Liahona and our patriarchal blessings.
Let me go to verse 43: “And now, my son, I would that ye should understand that these things are not without a shadow; for as our fathers were slothful to give heed to this compass”—or our blessing— “they did not prosper; even so it is with things which are spiritual.
“For behold, it is as easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point to you a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass, which would point unto them in a straight course to the promised land.”
So these words of Christ, verse 46, I think this applies to patriarchal blessings: “O my son, do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way; for so it was with our fathers; for so was it prepared for them, that if they would look they might live.”
Verse 47, I think is true for us: “And now, my son, see that ye take care of these sacred things, yea, see that ye look to God and live. Go unto this people and declare the word, and be sober. My son.”
We can see there are a lot of similarities between the Liahona and our patriarchal blessing. It is prepared by God; it is the words of God to us. It’s curious; there is nothing else like it in the world. It is based upon our faith, our diligence, our heed. It is word from God written from time to time, and those words can change, and inspiration can come. It is small and simple. There are about 2500 pages of scripture, canonized scripture today. Most patriarchal blessings are one to two pages. It’s a small and simple thing. But it can give context to all the other scriptures. What if we use our patriarchal blessings as lenses to look at and read our scriptures? I think that could be a powerful thing.
I would recommend—and I just did this this week—I made copies of my patriarchal blessing. And I took it out and treated it like scripture. I marked it. I annotated it. I made notes. There were phrases that I went into the scripture to see where else [it was said]. I treated it like scripture.
Someone is nodding right in front of me. You do this. That’s a powerful thing. Asher, your microphone—I want her to say something, right there. Tell me the impact that has had.
Female student: It was really cool being able to identify the blessings and what I need to do in order to receive those blessings, kind of the equation—you do this, I do that.
Brother Bell: Good. Thank you. And we do need to work. Just like any priesthood blessing, a blessing can be given, but we need to go to work to claim those blessings. It’s like a sister who received a priesthood blessing for a healing, and the next day a priesthood holder shows up and asks her, “Would you like a priesthood blessing?”
She says, “No, I have been anointed and administered to. The ordinance has been performed. It is up to me now to claim my blessing through my faith.” (Oaks, Healing the Sick, April GC 2010) I believe this is true regarding a patriarchal blessing. It provides direction, but we must act.
Think and ponder what other insights do you have about the Liahona, and how it applies to a patriarchal blessing?
In summary, a patriarchal blessing is a key to understanding who we are, the most important truth that we can ever discover in our lives deal with who we are, that we are children of God, that we are children of the covenant, children of the promise, that have been asked to gather Israel in the latter days. Yes, there is part of the Abrahamic covenant that we receive, but it is more giving, about what we are asked to give i.e. taking the gospel to the earth, the gathering of Israel in the latter days. It connects us with our patriarchal fathers and our current family.
It is a sacred and unique calling to be a patriarch. [Blessings are given] one by one—that’s a pattern in the scriptures. The Lord blesses us one by one. But we need to claim our blessings through faith to believe, and revelation to receive more revelation. It truly is a personal Liahona of light.
Brothers and sisters, just in closing, to share my testimony. As we all know, we live in the latter days. No prophet that I am aware of has spent more time teaching and focusing on the Abrahamic Covenant and the gathering of Israel than President Russell M. Nelson. If you go through his talks and his teachings, it has been a theme in his life. He is leading us, and he is helping us and inviting us to gather Israel. The role of a patriarch, and our personal patriarchal blessings, are part of that as we move forward in preparation for the Lord’s return.
I testify that Jesus Christ lives. He loves us. A patriarchal blessing is demonstration of His love for us. One by one, He will lay His hand upon us by the hand of His servant. And I leave this with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Craig D. Bell began his LDS Church Educational System employment in August 1987 as an instructor in the Seminary and Institute program. After spending some time in the wood products industry, he returned to Church education as an instructor in the business department at Ricks College in August 1996. In 2001, he was part of the team that transitioned the business department from a two-year to a four-year degree program for Brigham Young University–Idaho.
From 2004 to 2009, he served as the chairman of the BYU-I Business Management Department. In 2005, he was awarded the Exemplary Faculty Award in the College of Business and Communication.
Bell holds an A.S in health science from Ricks College, a B.S in psychology from Brigham Young University, an MBA from Portland State University and a Ph.D. in educational leadership from the University of Nebraska.
Bell has served in many capacities in the LDS Church, including full-time missionary (Illinois Chicago Mission) primary teacher, elders quorum president, bishop and stake president. He currently serves as the president of the North Salt Lake, Utah Parkway Stake.
Craig Bell became the academic vice president at LDS Business College in April 2017.
Bell and his wife, Susan, were married in the Idaho Falls Temple in 1986. They are the parents of six children and have seven grandchildren. His interests include spending time with family, swimming and LDS Church history.