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The Life Of Joseph - Introduction

Why is more of the book of Genesis devoted to recording the life of Joseph, than that of any other individual?

For instance, the Genesis record of Adam is covered in two brief chapters in our Bibles; Noah is given only twice that amount. Even Abraham, that worthy friend of God, has only an almost equivalent portion of Joseph in the "Book of Beginnings". Adam as natural head of the race of mankind is a type of Christ, but Genesis focuses more on Adam's failings. Noah, in contrast, is presented as a man who through the grace of God lived in a righteous way; he gained the high endorsement that he "walked with God". That perhaps explains why his life receives more attention. Also his days were critical for all of mankind, whose sinful natures inherited from Adam were displayed in faithless evil thoughts and actions that necessitated the awful judgement of the Flood. Later, Abraham, the Father of the faithful, was chosen by God to be the example of faithfulness in response to the call of God. Who will deny the powerfulness of the illustration of divine faithfulness that is presented in the life of this godly man? But Abraham's life does not typify the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that rise out of His suffering; that privilege is left to Joseph. As it is the Father's desire that in all things the Son should have the preeminence, so Scripture correspondingly accords the largest portion of the book of Genesis to this man, Joseph, whose life in so many ways is just a picture of that of Jesus. In this series we hope to return again and again to see in Joseph the beautiful aspects of Christ that by no accident form so much of the Genesis record.

Joseph: an introductory perspective:

Rachel's first-born son was given the name Joseph (Gen. 30:23,24); Rachel called him this in the context of her desire: "The LORD add to me another son", for his name in Hebrew means to add or increase. Another son indeed arrived. Rachel died after giving birth to Joseph's brother. She called him "Son of my Sorrow", but the child's father called him "Son of the Right Hand" or Benjamin (35:18). If Benjamin displays in a limited way something of the uniquely favoured position of the eternal Son in His closeness to the Father, then Joseph shows us the corresponding part taken by the Son in leaving the Father's side to experience as Mary's first-born son rejection and suffering before returning in glory. Joseph's rise to glory also indicated Rachel's choice in naming him, for he accomplished great increase in the wealth of his brothers. Consider the words of Hebrews 2: "...Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour, that... He should taste death for every man. For it became Him... in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the author of their salvation perfect through sufferings". Let us not, at any point in our study of Joseph's life, fail to notice the distinct likeness to the experiences and character of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Increaser who even now is involved in every addition of a believer to the sphere of willing obedience to His all-authority (Acts 2:47).

When God summarizes the generations of Esau, Joseph's profane uncle, He first says: 'Esau took his wives of the daughters of Canaan" (Gen. 36:2). Students of Scripture will recognize the note of condemnation and grief in these words (Gen. 26:34,35). In contrast, when God turns to record the generations of Jacob (37:2), He moves immediately to draw attention to Joseph as a commendable young man who was righteous in character and uniquely loved by his father. In a later article we intend to draw lessons from the early life of Joseph, but these must necessarily be drawn by inference from the accounts dealing primarily with his brothers. Scripture does not directly describe Joseph's life until he is found as a teenager, obediently doing the will of his father. But how soon the father would see his many-coloured coat again, blood-stained as a token of obedience. And do these facts not stir our heart in respect to Christ's obedience unto death?

The thirteen chapters or so of Genesis that cover the life of Joseph are supplemented by" brief references elsewhere. Those references often remind us of Joseph's endurance despite his unjust treatment. For instance, "his feet they hurt with fetters; his soul entered into the iron" (Ps. 105:18 RVM). Throughout these experiences Joseph was faithful. Not a single blemish is found in his character in the record of Scripture; not a single sin is pointed out. Even David, the man after God's own heart, is recorded as failing in serious ways. But whatever Joseph's failings, they are omitted so that he might be presented as a foreshadowing of the sinless One, whose faithful life he so fittingly illustrates.

In Moses' benediction of the tribes of Israel, he speaks more of Joseph than any others; he describes Joseph as "separate from his brethren" (Deut. 33:16), perhaps describing his relative rank. He was separated from his erring brothers for suffering... but then he was separated from them by his glory. Again we can see in this a summary of both the experience of Joseph and of the Lord Jesus, of whom it is written that He is separate from sinners (Heb. 7:26). The infrequently used Greek word translated "separate" here indicates that the separation in view is likely that resulting from Jesus' resurrection to glory, rather than an aspect of His sinless life on earth.

It is written:

What was the focal point of Joseph's faith? And since faith is founded in the Word of God (Rom. 10:17), what was the word available to Joseph to give him necessary assurance in times of temptation and trial? We can only conjecture concerning the body of written documents that may have existed in Joseph's day, long before the completion of the Books of Moses. But Joseph was undoubtedly a man of faith in the Word of God like his ancestors who believed God's promises (Heb. 11:13). What promises? Promises concerning an inheritance in the heavenly city. In like expression of faith, Joseph gave commandment concerning his bones (11:22). This surely reflects a belief in resurrection, that God would be able to give life to those bones. Is it not meaningful to ponder that they were eventually to be buried in the very midst of Israel (Josh. 24:32), and at a spot perhaps near to the one where the Lord rested one day and told a Samaritan women of eternal life?

No doubt even in the absence of access to sacred writings, Joseph would have learned the fundamental truths of spiritual life and service for God from his father, Jacob. He it was who first received a vision of the spiritual house of God (Gen. 28:17), which made a lasting impression on him. A young man of the spiritual character of Joseph would have listened well to Jacob's accounts and explanations of that event and his subsequent dealings with God. There is no substitute for faith in the Word of God when trying times are upon us and direction is required. And without faith in life beyond the grave, suffering in the body can become both unexplainable and unbearable.

Joseph's prison-house experiences also included the reassurance of direct revelation: visions of God's plans for the immediate future and as illustrations of His dealings throughout ages of divine purpose. Thus Psalm 105:19 notes that the duration of that experience was "until the time that His Word came to pass". All this enabled Joseph later to say to his repentant brothers:

"As for you, ye meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you" (Gen. 50:20,21). The Psalmist could see this from the viewpoint of God's dealings with the children of Israel, the result being that through Joseph, the increaser, God "increased His people greatly" (Ps. 105:24). We can now see how this was also a picture of another Man sent on before, tried then glorified, and now both the nourisher of the Church the Body (Eph. 5:29) and the Lord who is glorified in His service at God's right hand on behalf of the people of God!

In many places where the twelve tribes of Israel are listed, the tribe of Joseph is omitted and represented instead by the inclusion of his two sons. This results from Jacob's blessing of those two sons who, though born of an Egyptian mother, were brought within the people of Israel (Gen. 48:5). And what amazing grace is extended to us that we should have an inheritance among the saints in light, and among them that are sanctified, all because God the Father chooses so to act for us in the manner typified by Jacob's dealings with Joseph's sons, in making them fellow-heirs with Joseph.

More to follow!:

Hopefully we have said enough to stimulate the appetite of readers for this series. Subsequent articles will bring into relief the dark days of suffering and the bright glories of Joseph's life. But more than this, they will focus our attention on the life of Christ, which many would say is illustrated in an unparalleled way in the record of Joseph. Themes of subjection, rejection and servanthood are to give place in later articles to reflections on Joseph's powers of discernment, his capability as a saviour, his character as a peacemaker and his glory as lord and ruler. Do not our minds race ahead, as we search for application of these descriptions in that which is disclosed in all the scriptures concerning Christ?