The story of Joseph in Genesis is, in part, the story of God’s sovereign control of history. God alone knows the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:10), so He alone knows where this arc of history is heading. Even those with no faith, who talk about history having a direction, often admit this truth: we are not stuck in the pointless meanderings of a cold dead universe or the endless circles of some Eastern mystical religion. No, history has a goal, a direction, a purpose.

Robed to Rule

As we first meet Joseph in Genesis 37, we see a young man of seventeen with everything going for him. He’s the favored child of the patriarch Jacob, son of the beloved Rachel. Though Joseph is sometimes portrayed as an arrogant young upstart, pleased with himself and lording it over his brothers, I’m not convinced this is right. The evidence to prove this view of him usually boils down to his robe, report, and revelation. The famous robe (likely a robe of many colors, though the word is somewhat tricky to translate) was given by his father, who we’re told “loved him more than all his brothers” (Gen. 37:4). Favoring one child over the others is certainly foolish, a lesson you might have thought Jacob would have learned from his own experience, as his father Isaac preferred tough-guy Esau to the gentler Jacob. But that’s hardly Joseph’s fault. Nor, I’d suggest, does he do anything wrong when reporting back to his father that the brothers aren’t behaving themselves while out tending the sheep. Before this story in Genesis, we’ve seen Reuben sleep with his father’s concubine Bilhah, and we’ve seen Simeon and Levi slaughter a whole town in retribution for one man’s attack on their sister. Soon we’ll see all the brothers conspire to beat up Joseph, sell him into slavery, and lie to their father. It’s hard to think of any of the Ten Commandments they haven’t broken. Joseph, in contrast, maintains his integrity even when tempted by Potiphar’s wife or when abandoned in Pharaoh’s jail. Rather than inventing tales to get his brothers into trouble, Joseph is simply giving his father the truth when he gives a bad report.

Which brings us to Joseph’s dreams, his revelation. The key thing to realize is that they are just that: revelation. The dreams come from God; they are not the ambitious fantasies of a power-hungry young man. All the way through the Joseph story, dreams come in twos: the butler and the baker, Pharaoh’s cows and crops, Joseph’s harvest and heavenly bodies. Throughout Scripture, a matter is confirmed by two or more witnesses (Deut. 19:15, 1 Tim. 5:19). Here, the double dreams confirm the truth they reveal—that Joseph is destined to rule.

Joseph and Jesus

Although we’ve barely begun the Joseph story, already we are beginning to see ways in which Joseph foreshadows Jesus. Joseph is the beloved son, robed in glory, hated by his brothers but destined to rule over them. Similarly, Jesus is the eternally beloved Son of the Father, as the Father announces at His baptism (Mark 1:11). He is hated by His brothers, the descendants of the sons of Jacob who so hate Joseph. In time, we’ll see how they send Him to the pit before He’s raised in glory to feed the world with the true Bread of Life, Himself. But for now, we’ll concentrate on Joseph, Jesus, and revelation.

Joseph is the beloved son, robed in glory, hated by his brothers but destined to rule over them.
Revealed to Jesus

The dreams revealed to Joseph that he would rule. The evidence around him may not have supported God’s message, but Joseph was called to live by faith, not by sight. God had spoken and promised that one day he would rule. Joseph was to live in light of this revelation.

Jesus, too, had to trust His Father’s revelation that one day He would be raised from the grave to rule over the nations. Of course, according to His divine nature, Christ knew all things; God never learns or discovers new information. But, in the mystery of the incarnation, Jesus was also fully human and therefore, according to His human nature, had to learn like anyone else. Luke 2:52 tells us He “grew in wisdom” as well as in stature. If we’re to maintain the integrity of the incarnation and not collapse the human nature into the divine, we must say that according to His human nature, the two-year-old Jesus didn’t know the population of Nigeria in 2019 or the Spanish word for a hamburger. Perhaps more startingly, according to His humanity He wasn’t born knowing and comprehending the fullness of His mission as Messiah. Even this was something that Jesus would have had to learn according to His human nature. This is just as Isaiah prophesied, “The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward” (Isa. 50:5).

This is an extraordinary passage. The “Servant” in Isaiah goes on to speak of how He gave His back to those who would strike Him, set His face like flint to accomplish His task, and trusted the Lord to vindicate Him. He knew that one day He would rule, that one day the suffering would end and His Father would restore Him to the position of glory He deserved. We don’t know exactly how Jesus grew in wisdom and in His understanding of His role as Messiah. No doubt He received supernatural revelation from the Father. But He surely learned His messianic in part by reading the Scriptures, the Scriptures that testified about Him. Jesus lived by revelation, and like Joseph, He had to trust that despite His present sufferings, one day He would rule in glory. It was, after all, “for the joy that was set before him” that He “endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).

Revealed by Jesus

Once Joseph received his dreams, he naturally shared them with his brothers. That they reacted with fury wasn’t his fault; he was passing on the truth God had given him. In other words, it wasn’t just revealed to Joseph that he would rule; it was revealed by Joseph that he would rule. So, too, with Christ. Speaking through His Apostle Paul, Christ tells us that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10–11). Revelation is full of pictures of Christ seated on the throne, reigning in glory. We have been told where history is going. We know which way the arc is bending. Therefore, to stand with Jesus and uphold His law is to stand on the right side of history, whatever the world may say. Christians are not traitors and rebels; we are loyal subjects of the true King. We are not the “odd ones out,” out of sync with reality. Nor are we out of date, stuck in the past. On the contrary, in light of the resurrection and ascension of Christ, we are men and women of the future, of the coming kingdom. Sometimes churches or denominations abandon Jesus’ standards in order to be “progressive,” but nothing could be more wrongheaded. To liberalize a church theologically is to regress—it is to look to the ruler of this age rather than the coming King. Of course, Jesus is already ruling; it’s just that as yet we don’t see that rule fully worked out. But the call and comfort of Genesis 37 is to trust God’s revelation and live now for the coming King.

Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series on Jospeh and Jesus, and was originally published on June 8, 2020. Next post.

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