Summary: A study of Joseph as a type of the Messiah, considering the place of Joseph in the Genesis narrative, the theological themes arising from the Joseph narratives and how later OT and NT writers appropriate this material.
I always loved the story of Joseph with his many colored robe and his rise from slave and prisoner to Pharoah’s famine administrators. Later on, I began to realize he was a rather spoiled, insufferable brother, who if destined to leadership, needed some slavery and prison to humble him. Other than saving his family and providing them refuge during the famine, I didn’t think about Joseph’s place in the bigger biblical picture or why Genesis devotes so much space (chapters 37-50, more than to anyone else in Genesis). That would suggest that Joseph was considered a significant figure. Yet there are but a handful of Old Testament and New Testament references to him.
Samuel Emadi argues that Joseph can be understood as a type of Christ. But Emadi is disciplined in his typology. He addresses the criticisms of this approach. He argues that a properly controlled type “is a historical person, event, or institution anticipating an escalated reality. If these features can be established from the original context or from later biblical reflection, then a type is present.
He begins by considering Joseph within the context of Genesis. He begins with the toledot structure of Genesis, and the purpose of that structure to carry for the covenantal promises of God, and how Joseph carries this a step further. It functions to close off the narrative that began with the fall and the alienation that led one brother to kill another. That nearly happens with Joseph and his brothers, but instead there is a reconciliation that “saves” the line of Jacob. Joseph is the rejected, kingly deliverer. His ministry functions to multiply Abraham’s seed. Through both his work and the blessings by Jacob of Pharoah, the blessings of the nations foreseen by Abraham occur in an anticipatory way. Joseph in life and in the directions about the deposition of his bones in Canaan, prepares the way for the fulfillment of the land promises to Abraham and Israel.
He then considers the remainder of the Old Testament. The Exodus passages reiterate Joseph’s expectations of God’s fulfillment of his promises. Psalm 105 is the other significant reference to Joseph, showing how he was one of those who “delivered” Israel and were part of the fulfillment of the promise, indirectly a type of the Messiah, part of a line of “messiahs” who would save his people. The other passage Emadi deals with is the book of Daniel and never before did I see the parallels between Joseph and Daniel. A table is provided showing nineteen parallels, most with close linguistic similarities that would suggest strong literary influence on the writer of Daniel. Daniel is portrayed as the new Joseph, showing how to live faithfully in exile and preparing for a new exodus to the Promised Land.
Emadi considers three New Testament passages, two which reference Joseph and one that he believes makes a strong allusion to Joseph. First he analyzes Acts 7, Stephen’s speech. Joseph anticipates Jesus, both as the rejected prophet of Israel, and the one whose “death” delivers Israel. Hebrews 11 refers to the faith of Joseph in giving direction concerning his bones. His faith is a typological anticipation of the promise fulfilled in Christ’s redemptive work. The final passage is that of the wicked tenants in Matthew 21 who kill the beloved son who becomes the chief cornerstone of God’s work. Just as Joseph was throne in a pit, a symbol of death, so Jesus is murdered, and yet both serve God’s redemptive purposes, Joseph in anticipation of Jesus.
Emadi thus argues that Joseph functions both to close the circle of Genesis, and by his life and death, anticipate a more complete fulfillment of God’s purposes, and he believes this warrants considering Joseph as a type of the Messiah. He grounds this claim in both textual evidence and the covenantal arc of scripture. He makes sense of why so much of Genesis is devoted to Joseph. Joseph carries forward what was begun in the aftermath of the fall, serves as a deliverer of Israel, and one whose suffering and deliverance anticipates the greater work of Jesus. Emadi offers us good biblical theology, recognizing the themes of kingship, deliverance, seed, blessing, and land in Joseph’s life. He shows how through his faith and faithfulness, Joseph accomplished more than he knew and was part of a bigger story yet to unfold but that he embraced by faith.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.