Foreshadows of Christ and Calvary: A Typical Person—Joseph (Genesis 37)

Joseph was endowed with two names. Rachel called his name “Joseph” (Gen 30:24), whereas Pharaoh called his name “Zaphnath-paaneah” (Gen 41:45). The meanings of both these names remind us of the glories of the Lord Jesus whom Joseph typifies so clearly.

Joseph means “addition” or “increase.” Not only did Christ restore that which He took not away (Psa 69:4), but according to the law of the trespass offering, He added a fifth part thereto (Lev 5:16). Christ has not just made amends for sin but has more than restored what sin took away. Greater glory is due to God from Calvary than creation. Note that the swelling chorus of heaven, which begins with twenty-four elders ascribing glory to God as Creator (Rev 4:11), develops into a new song that incorporates every creature blessing God for the Lamb once slain (Rev 5:9-13). And believers have been more than simply restored to Adam’s innocent state – we are justified and glorified (Rom 8:30). Even the earth will be more than simply restored to Edenic conditions. The fulness of John 1:29 will be realised in new heavens and a new earth wherein righteousness will dwell, not simply reign (Isa 32:1).

The name Zaphnath-paaneah is attributed various meanings. Whether “Saviour of the world,” “Sustainer of life” or “Revealer of secrets,” all beautifully apply to Christ, the One who has fully declared the Father (Joh 1:18).

Joseph, the Delight of his Father (vv1-4)

Joseph is connected with six different houses. This article is primarily concerned with the one who is presented in Genesis 37 as a son in his father’s house (Gospel of John). The reader might also trace with profit the servant in Potiphar’s house (Gospel of Mark), the sufferer in the prison house (Gospel of Luke), and the sovereign in Pharaoh’s house (Gospel of Matthew). This section begins with “the generations of Jacob.” We would expect the name of Reuben or Simeon to follow, but instead it is Joseph (v2); the others are merely “his brethren.” The Spirit of God delights to exalt that which speaks of Christ – a principle we would do well to heed in our local gatherings. We meet to glorify and honour the heavenly Joseph; there should be no promotion of those who are merely “his brethren.”

Joseph brought an evil report to his father of his brethren’s activities and behaviour. He was not telling tales. Their behaviour was dishonouring to Jacob’s name, in contrast to Joseph who was zealous for the same. Likewise, the Lord Jesus was consumed by zeal for His Father’s house (Joh 2:13-17). Are we zealous for the honour of Christ and His local assembly? No wonder Jacob delighted in Joseph more than all his children (v3). Reuben had defiled his father’s bed (Gen 35) and Simeon and Levi caused their father’s name to “stink” (Gen 34), but Joseph answered the spiritual desires of his heart. He was the “son of his old age” (Jacob was 90 years old when Joseph was born), which phrase may be idiomatic of one characterised by wisdom. Christ is the Wisdom of God and speaks as One “brought up with him” and “daily his delight” (Pro 8:30). Jacob made Joseph a “coat of many colours,” literally “a tunic of palms and soles,” i.e., reaching to the hands and feet. The same language is used in 2 Samuel 13:18 of the clothing of David’s virgin daughters – a clear symbol of noble birth and high standing. Indeed, Jacob may have been conferring the right of the firstborn upon Joseph by arraying him in such a coat. Truly the Father also gave frequent public expressions of delight in His Son as the variegated glories of His spotless character ascended as a sweet smelling fragrance (cf. Joh 12:28).

Joseph Destined to Reign (vv5-11)

In the preceding verses Joseph stands as a type of the Son of God. In these verses he is a type of Christ as the King of Israel, as One destined to reign over His brethren. Though similar, the first dream is set in an earthly sphere (the field) while the second is set in the heavenly sphere (sun, moon and stars). At present, both heaven (spiritual wickedness in high places) and earth are set in rebellion against God. Yet in the coming millennial reign, God will gather all things together under one Head, Christ, “both which are in heaven, and on earth” (Eph 1:10). It is of great practical benefit to remember Joseph received no further direct revelation from God (except in the matter of interpreting dreams). Thus, the revelation God gave him as a young man of 17 sustained him through the various trials of life. Thanks be to God for great and precious promises that sustain us through the wilderness.

Joseph Despised by his Brethren (vv12-24)

Joseph was intensely hated because of his father (v4), dreams (v5) and words (v8), and that hatred is now fully manifested. Joseph, the willing servant, is sent from Hebron (“fellowship”) to Shechem (“shoulder”) and on to Dothan (“law”) to seek whether it was “well” (Heb. shalom) with his brethren. We are reminded that the Father sent the Son to seek the salvation, not condemnation, of the world. In coming from above, He took the burden of service upon His shoulder and came to His own who were languishing under the bondage of Law. Yet in words very similar to the parable of the husbandmen (Mat 21:37-38), his brethren “saw him afar off” and conspired to kill the heir. Ultimately, Joseph was stripped of his garments and cast into a pit that was “empty” and without water (v24). The parallels with Calvary are plain to see. We pause merely to note that the cross was surely a pit empty and dry; the Saviour was forsaken and, after suffering for our sins, cried, “I thirst.”

Joseph Delivered from the Pit (vv25-28)

These verses surely contain a divine anticipation of resurrection. After having been sold to Ishmaelites at the suggestion of Judah (the Greek equivalent of Judas), his brethren “drew and lifted” Joseph from the pit. We are reminded of the testimony of the psalmist: “He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings” (Psa 40:2 KJV). In due course, Joseph’s blood-stained coat was presented to his father. We rejoice to know our heavenly Joseph has entered the holiest on high “by His blood” – our title to enter in spiritually today, and physically in a coming day.