Joseph is not an Old Testament type of Jesus Christ, but there are many ways in which Joseph reflects the character of Jesus Christ in his life. When I read and think about Joseph’s life, there are three things that stand out, three characteristics in Joseph that I, a follower of Christ, admire; three ways in which I pray that I may become more like Joseph and thus more like Christ.
First, I admire Joseph’s endurance. Led through many trials, confronted with great temptations, and called on to do some very difficult things, Joseph persevered in faith.
Joseph’s life is a remarkable story of God’s providence. In Genesis 50:20, after his father Jacob’s death, and in response to the fear of his brothers that he would now repay them for the evil that they had committed against him, Joseph through tears confessed to his brothers, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.”
How different are these words to the words of his father Jacob in Genesis 42:36, who exclaimed, “Me have ye bereaved of my children: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away: all these things are against me.” The contrast is this: Jacob looked at man, whereas Joseph looked to God.
Yes, Joseph experienced pain because of the evil committed against him, but rather than reacting to his brothers, he responded before God. Note three things that he confessed to his brothers.
First, he confessed that God was sovereign over evil and evil men. Literally, Joseph says, “you planned evil, but God planned good.” Even the evil purposes and deeds of his brothers were a part of God’s purpose. God does not merely allow evil to happen, and then overturn it, but He includes evil in His plans and purposes. Evil men have one purpose by their wickedness, but God has another, and their evil purposes serve His good purpose.
Second, he confessed that God knew what he was doing when he brought these evils into his life. Joseph’s confession is not made in the abstract, from an arm chair, but looking back on all the evils that had come on him—the hatred of his brothers when they sold him, the toil of being a slave, the unjust imprisonment, the years of loneliness in the land of his captivity; Joseph could say, God always had a good purpose in view. Did he always see God’s purpose? No, but he believed and trusted in the goodness, the love, and the sovereignty of God.
Third, his confession was one of faith in the promise of God to save His church and people in Jesus Christ. Joseph’s explanation of God’s purpose—“to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive”—meant more than just that he, his family, and Egypt were spared from starvation during the famine. What Joseph had in mind was the salvation of God’s Covenant people and the promise of Jesus Christ. Hebrews 11 tells us that in faith Joseph “made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.” In faith, Joseph believed the promise of God, the promise being Christ, who would come. He saw Christ afar off, and he believed that God was working in everything, even the evils in his own life, to bring the promised Messiah and in this way, to save not just Joseph himself, but all the people of God.
How would you describe your life as a Christian? Is it difficult? Are there people who persecute and deride you for your faith? Is your way dark, so that you are enduring things without understanding what God is doing and why your life is as it is? Certainly it is very often this way for the young Christian.
Thus, understand that the strength of Joseph’s endurance was his trust in God. He trusted, not merely in the providence of God, but in the God of providence. God was on the foreground of his thoughts. I recommend that you read and meditate on the truth of God’s Providence from the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 10, asking yourself, “What does this teach me about God?”
The second characteristic that I see and admire in Joseph is forgiveness. Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers is amazing. This kind of forgiveness is rare. Here is a man who not only forgives his brothers, but wants and implements the complete restoration of their relationship.
Think about what his brothers had done to him. They banded together, and breathing out cruelty, they sold their brother, who was of their own flesh and blood, as a slave. They deprived him of his freedom and made him the property of another man. They separated him from the family and father he loved. They fabricated a cover up story for years. All this, because they hated him for his godliness. Think about this today in a real life situation—someone you love, someone you pray with and care about, someone you help, turns on you, becomes your enemy, maligns your character, and deliberately hurts you. How is it possible to repay such evil with good—when naturally every fibre of our being wants to get back at that person, to hurt him?
Then look at Joseph’s response to his brothers: he was ruler in Egypt and had the power to pay them back. His father was dead and he had become the family patriarch. Yet there was not a hint of retribution. The very thought of it went against every fibre in his being— “Am I in the place of God?” (Genesis 50:19). Yes, for a period he pressured them in order to test them—with the returned money and the stolen cup. This, however, was not out of cruelty but in the interest of their repentance and salvation.
In Genesis 45:1-15 Joseph revealed himself to his brothers—I suggest you read it. In this passage, especially, we see the tender forgiveness of Joseph, and his explanation for it.
Notice, first, that Joseph did not want their sin to become a public shame, and did this by sending all the Egyptians out of the room.
Second, Joseph made great efforts to assure his brothers that he had forgiven them. When first he said, “I am Joseph,” his brothers were stunned and terrified, and so he called them close to him and asked them about their father, and he told them that they should not be sad or angry with themselves about what they had done. He was intimate and he affirmed forgiveness while they experienced guilt. He wanted them to experience forgiveness.
Third, he affirmed his love and forgiveness with tokens of kindness that show he wanted a full restoration in their relationship, giving them gifts, a place to live, and promising to be their provider and protector.
Fourth, he explained his forgiveness in terms of God’s sovereignty. Five times within five verses, Joseph repeatedly told his brothers that it was “God” who sent him before them into Egypt (Genesis 45:5-9). He responded to God’s sovereign work, rather than reacting to their evil against him. When he looked at his life in view of God’s work and purposes, he saw that God had a purpose even in their sins against him, and he could forgive them. When someone has sinned against you, are you able to say, “God sent this into my life, now how must I respond to God?”
Fifth, we should see how selfless Joseph was in his forgiveness. It wasn’t about getting even, or portraying himself as a victim. Instead, as he looked at God’s purpose, Joseph saw that God was working things for the good, not first of himself, but of others. So often when we are afflicted we want to know, “What good does God have in this for me?” With Joseph it was different; “God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance” (Genesis 45:7). All this evil came on me for your sakes (2 Corinthians 1:6). When you have been wronged, do you want to see yourself as a victim, or do you look for ways that God uses this for the good of others, perhaps even those who have hurt you?
Sixth, we see in Joseph’s forgiveness an experience of God’s grace and goodness that he wants to show to others. How can we forgive without bitterness? Where do we find the grace to reconcile to one who has hurt us? It is in the experience of God’s grace towards us that we find the grace to forgive others. “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32). In this passage Joseph is saying, “Even as God has blessed me, so I want to bless you” (Genesis 45:8, 9, 11, 13).
The third characteristic I see and admire in Joseph is godliness. By godliness I mean two things: 1) that he lived with a constant awareness of God, and 2) that, as a result, he lived a godly and holy life.
Joseph’s godliness is a thread that runs through his life. Because of it, he was able to identify evil and keep himself separate from its influences even though this meant persecution (Genesis 37:2). Because of his godliness, he was able to work in a very difficult employment situation as a slave, still doing his work as unto the Lord (Genesis 39:1-6). Out of his godliness came the strength to resist and overcome deep temptation—“How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9). His godliness gave him the wisdom, not only to answer dreams, but also to be a great economic leader in Egypt (Genesis 41:38-40).
In fact, as we have already seen, the other two characteristics of Joseph, his strength to endure and his grace to forgive, were born out of this deep godliness.
Godliness expresses itself in prayer and in constant dependence on God. It is in the awareness of who God is and what he has done for us, that we find the strength to endure, to forgive, and to have victory over sin.
May God make us more Joseph-like and so more Christ-like.
Soli Deo Gloria.
Written by: Pastor Rodney Kleyn | Issue 38