"The Gospel According to Joseph" series on Genesis 37-50 starts this weekend.
Joseph is one of only two people of note in the entire Old Testament whose character shines from beginning to end of their story. (Can you think of the other one?)*** Although a significant portion of Genesis features this man of exemplary character, Joseph is one generation too late to be considered a patriarch, one of his horribly flawed brothers is the descendant of Jesus (not Joseph) and he is barely mentioned in the New Testament. What’s up with that?
I’ll tell you in a moment. But, first, let me just say I love the story of Joseph. I can’t read it without getting choked up at the end. It may be the first rags to riches story in the history of humankind. He goes from slavery to being Pharaoh’s right man. And who doesn’t love a rags to riches story? I also love Joseph himself. He’s the kind of guy after whom you want to model your life. He’s a model you can point to for your kids and those you mentor. Asking what would Joseph do in my shoes makes sense when facing hardship, grave injustice or setbacks that are outside of my control because what Joseph did was to trust God no matter what, and he simply not give up.
Joseph is a breath of fresh air in the story Genesis tells, especially compared to the likes of the Patriarchs! I know that sounds terrible, but it’s true. Abraham is pretty strong, but his flaws are well documented. Isaac and Jacob are pretty bad, at best. And Jacob’s other sons (Joseph’s brothers), after whom the ten of the twelve tribes of Israel are named, are simply horrible people. I know that sounds terrible, too. I do believe we’re all horrible people in comparison to God, and God can transform the worst of the worst. But I would find it hard to ever trust a group of guys who would first plot to kill their own brother out of jealousy and then would sell him into slavery. And these guys don’t change much by the end of their story. I can’t help but think that the story of Joseph, the way it is told, is intended to offer a picture of what a life looks like when someone trusts God and surrenders to him in spite of overwhelmingly difficult circumstances.
But that’s not the main point of his story. To treat is so is a grave misunderstanding of the story God’s Word tells. It’s not ultimately even Joseph’s story. The story told in Genesis 37-50 is ultimately about redemption, and, like the rest of the Old Testament, it points to Jesus. This isn’t simply a broad statement; it points to redemption and Jesus in a very specific way. It tells how God preserved Abraham’s descendants from extinction and, thus, preserved God’s promises to Abraham and the genetic line of Jesus. It also serves as the bridge to the next big event in the story of God—the exodus. It explains how the people of Israel ended up in Egypt and how God eventually delivered them. The exodus is the mother of all stories in the Old Testament. Exodus language and imagery permeates the rest of the Old Testament and the entire New Testament. In fact, the two main references to Joseph in the New Testament focus on his role in the exodus (Acts 7:7-18 and Hebrews 11:21-22).
Along the way Genesis 37-50 also tells us more about the God we worship. It deepens our love for him. The lesson is not, by any means, that God will prosper everyone who trusts in him as he did for Joseph any more than it is that God will reveal the meaning of dreams to all who trust him as he did for Joseph. Don’t ruin this story by cheapening it like that.
Genesis 37-50 tells us the story of God’s loving providence. As Joseph assures his still conniving brothers at the end of the story, “…’Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’” (Genesis 50:19-21)
Genesis 37-50 is the story of the gospel. This series is first and foremost about “The Gospel According to Joseph." My hope is that through it you will grow to love the God who offers us the gospel more deeply, understand his redemptive plans more deeply and trust him more completely with every area of your life.
***The other one is Daniel.