December 13, 2010

Joseph: The Suffering Servant

Well, unlike so many of his brothers (about whom the Bible says very little, and over whom this author has often had to really stretch his mind to fill up an articles’ worth of space) … Joseph, the eleventh son of Jacob, has more written about him than almost any other person in the Old Testament (filling up Genesis chapters 37-50). In fact, in more recent times whole books have been written about him! So what could I possibly say in this small allotment of space?

Well, we could talk about Joseph’s arrogance, as a young man (boasting about his special place in God’s plan). We could think on his integrity later in life (refusing to give in to the seductions of his master’s wife). We could notice all his sufferings (enslavement, false accusation, imprisonment, famine, estrangement from his family, and so on). And we could surely talk about how, though others meant all those things for evil, meant them for good (Genesis 50.20). Each of those would be worthy subjects!

But what is most intriguing, to me, is how much Joseph’s life and career (and especially God’s good design in his sufferings) resemble the life and sufferings and ministry of Jesus! Think it out …

  • Joseph, like Jesus, was “despised and forsaken” by His brethren. That’s what Isaiah 53.3 says about Jesus. And the New Testament shows it playing out on horrific detail. And Joseph’s being sold by his brothers (also for silver!) is an amazing foreshadowing of what would happen to the Christ!
  • Joseph, like Jesus, spent a period of his life as an exile in Egypt.
  • Joseph, like Jesus, was “oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth” before his accusers. Again, notice Isaiah 53 … this time, verse 7. And notice how the New Testament fulfills that messianic prophecy. Jesus could have called ten legions of angels to His defense at His mockery of a trial. But He didn’t. And when Joseph was falsely accused, he didn’t argue and murmur and threaten either. Like his greater descendant, he entrusted himself to a higher judge.
  • Joseph, like Jesus, pointed away from himself and to his heavenly Father. When it was said he could interpret dreams, Joseph’s reply (worthy of our imitation) was simply: “It is not in me, God” will give the interpretation. That sounds startlingly like the way Jesus’ spoke about His submission to His Father, doesn’t it?
  • In Genesis 42-45 Joseph, like Jesus, single-handedly rescued his people from death!
  • And, in the wise plan of God, the betrayal of Joseph, like the betrayal of Jesus, led to the salvation of the very people who betrayed him.
Now what’s the point in noticing all these similarities? To extol Joseph? To convince you that he was almost as good as Jesus was? No! My point, rather, is simply to remind you that, all throughout the Old Testament, God was dropping breadcrumbs that would lead hungry and attentive readers to the Messiah. The Passover Lamb, the ministry of Moses, the Tabernacle, Jonah’s three days in the belly of the whale, and the life of Joseph … all these people and events were placed into the Old Testament so that, when Jesus came along, we would recognize the divine stamp upon His life; so that we would see that He so clearly fits the pattern … because the pattern was cut after His silhouette!

And there may be no Old Testament character whose life was more closely cut after the pattern of the coming Messiah than the eleventh son of Jacob. In fact, in times of old, there were two strands of thought about what the coming Messiah would be like. Some noticed the Old Testament’s promises of the Messiah’s triumph and kingship, and called the Messiah the Son of David. Others noticed prophecies like Isaiah 53 (which depicts the Messiah as a suffering servant), and saw in Joseph a portrait of what the Christ would be like … calling the long-awaited one: the Son of Joseph. Both were correct, weren’t they? Jesus came (and is coming again) as a king, the Son of David. But so much of His mission, the first time around, was to suffer like Joseph (and, of course, to suffer in far more significant ways and for far more significant reasons than Joseph)!

So, the next time you’re reading through the latter pages of Genesis; the next time you find yourself drawn in by the amazing drama of Joseph’s life … remind yourself: The Son of God was (and is), in a strange kind of way, the son of two different Josephs!

1 comment:

GP said...

Good reminder of God's continued plan to send an everlasting redeemer.