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“God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” So Joseph would have had every reason to believe before the fateful day he was sent out once again to check on his brothers in the fields (Gen. 37:12–13). Thus far, his life had all been grace and glory: the favorite son of a wealthy father, a multicolored robe marking him out from the crowd, and, to cap it all off, two dreams from heaven promising that one day his family would bow in admiration before him. God did indeed have a wonderful plan for Joseph’s life, but as with Christ, whose life Joseph so fascinatingly foreshadows, the path would be one of suffering before glory.

Into the Pit

The story of Joseph’s downfall is well known. Out in the wilderness, away from Jacob’s watchful eye, the hatred of the brothers of Joseph toward him gives birth to sin. The eldest brother, Reuben, manages to persuade the others to stop short of murder. Instead they pounce on Joseph, strip him of his robe, and throw him into a pit. With Reuben offstage, the nine remaining patriarchs spot a caravan of Ishmaelites heading to Egypt and quickly resolve to sell Joseph for twenty shekels of silver. But Joseph’s journey to the “pit” is far from over. Bought by Potiphar, captain of Pharaoh’s guard, he initially rises to be placed over everything in his master’s household. But Potiphar’s wife has her eye on the handsome Hebrew slave, and she demands that he come and lie with her. When righteous Joseph spurns her advances, she falsely accuses him of attempted rape, grabbing his robe from him to use as evidence in her deceiving Potiphar—rather as the brothers seized his first robe to deceive their father. Two unjust attacks, two lying robes, and two pits for Joseph. Surprisingly, Joseph is again spared death—perhaps Potiphar had his suspicions about his wife’s honesty—but he returns to “the pit,” as Joseph calls his prison (Gen. 40:15).

As he lingers in jail, in the depths of the pit, Joseph might be forgiven for wondering what had happened to the promises of God he’d received in his two dreams. But those dreams hadn’t described Joseph’s journey, just his destination. Yes, one day he will be raised to glory and his brothers would indeed bow before him. But Joseph must bear the cross before he wears the crown. In this way, his life foreshadows that of Christ. Jesus, too, knew that His destiny was one of majesty and glory, raised to the right hand of the Father with the promise that one day every knee would bow. But His path, too, led first to the pit.

Joseph must bear the cross before he wears the crown. In this way, his life foreshadows that of Christ.

The parallels are no coincidence. Both Joseph and Jesus are betrayed by those closest to them—Israelite brothers—and sold for silver. Both are handed over to cousins of the people of Israel: Jesus to Herod the Edomite, a descendant of Esau the brother of Jacob, and Joseph to the Ishmaelites, descendants of Ishmael brother of Isaac. Both were falsely accused and delivered over to gentiles—Roman and Egyptian—for punishment. Both were stripped of their robes and cast into the pit. For Joseph, this was a literal pit, symbolic of death. For Jesus, there was no stay of execution: His descent to death was real. On several occasions in the New Testament, Psalm 69 is used to describe the life and death of Christ, notably by Jesus Himself, who identifies Himself as its subject (John 15:25), the true singer of this song of lament. And in the center of the psalm comes the cry, ultimately from the lips of Jesus, “Let not the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the pit close its mouth over me” (Ps. 69:15). As He enters the jaws of death, Jesus prays for resurrection, that death would not have the final say. He asks that the pit would not win but instead be emptied of its prey.

The Greater Joseph

Jesus had already picked up the language of the brothers as He confronted their descendants in His own day. In the parable of the tenants, the wicked Israelite leaders recognize that Jesus is God’s Son, yet, jealous of Him, they plot together: “This is the heir. Come, let us kill him” (Mark 12:7). The words are eerily familiar: “Here comes this dreamer.  Come now, let us kill him,” Joseph’s brothers say (Gen. 37:19–20). But there is a difference. Jesus willingly faced His trials. No passive victim, He knew full well what awaited Him. Time after time He warned His disciples, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise” (Mark 10:33–34). As we’ll see in the next article, Joseph was eventually lifted from the pit in order to feed the world. Christ, the true Bread of Life, was willingly cast into the depths in order that He might bury our sin and rise again to give spiritual life to all who will feed on Him. Our sin remains dead and buried—sealed forever in the pit. But the pit could not contain Christ, and the empty tomb speaks of a King now robed in glory. Jesus’ descent was fueled by hope, but also by love. He was cast down in order that we might be raised up. The greater Joseph was betrayed, sold, condemned, stripped, and killed in order that His brothers might live.

Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series on Jospeh and Jesus. Previous post.

A Reformation of the Heart

Peace with God