Gleanings In Genesis

40. Joseph As A Youth

Genesis 37

In the first of our chapters upon Jacob we called attention to the fact that each of the great Israelitish patriarchs illustrated some basic spiritual truth and that the chronological order of their lives agrees with the doctrinal order of truth. In Abraham we have illustrated the doctrine of election, for he was singled out by God from all the heathen and chosen to be the head of the Jewish nation. In Isaac we have foreshadowed the doctrine of Divine sonship: Abram's firstborn, Ishmael, represents the man born after the flesh, the old nature; but Isaac, born by the miraculous power of God, tells of the new man, the spiritual nature. In Jacob we see exemplified the conflict between the two natures in the believer, and also God's gracious discipline which issued, slowly but surely, in the triumph of the spirit over the flesh. Joseph, typically, speaks to us of heirship preceded by "suffering," and points forward to the time when the sons and heirs shall reign together with Christ. There is thus a beautiful moral order in the several leading truths illustrated and personified by these men. And it should be observed that here, as in everything which pertains to God's Word, its orderliness evidences its Divine Authorship; everything is in its proper place.

Joseph, then, speaks of heirship and, as another has beautifully expressed it, "And consistently with this, in Joseph, we get suffering before glories . . . For while discipline attaches to us as children, sufferings go before us as heirs; and this gives us the distinction between Jacob and Joseph. It is discipline we see in Jacob, discipline leading him as a child, under the hand of the Father of his spirit, to a participation of God's holiness. It is sufferings, martyr-sufferings, sufferings for righteousness, we see in Joseph, marking his path to glories. And this is the crowning thing! and thus it comes as the closing thing, in this wondrous book of Genesis- after this manner perfect in its structure, as it is truthful in its records. One moral after another is studied, one secret after another is revealed, in the artless family scenes which constitute its materials, and in them we learn our calling, the sources and the issues of our history, from our election to our inheritance" (Mr. J. G. Bellett).

Joseph is the last of the saints which occupies a prominent position in Genesis. In all there are seven- Adam, Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph. More space is devoted to the last of these seven than to any of the others. There are several reasons for this which appear on the surface. In the first place, the history of Joseph is the chief link which connects Exodus with Genesis; the earlier chapters of Exodus being unintelligible without the last ten chapters of Genesis. It is Joseph's life which explains the remarkable development of the Hebrews from a mere handful of wandering shepherds to a numerous and settled colony in Egypt. But no doubt the chief reason why the life of Joseph is described with such fullness of detail is because almost everything in it typified something in connection with Christ. But more of this later.

"Joseph was the elder son of Rachel (Gen. 30:24). Of his early life nothing is recorded. He could not have been more than five or six years old when his father left Mesopotamia. He was therefore the child of Jacob's later life, and escaped all the sad experiences associated with the earlier years at Haran. He comes before us in this chapter (Gen. 37) at the age of seventeen. His companions were his half-brothers, the grown-up sons of Bilhah and Zilpah. From all that we have hitherto seen of them they must have been utterly unfit companions for such a youth. Jacob's elder sons had, naturally, been affected by the life in Haran, by the jealousy at home, and by the scheming between Laban and Jacob. They had been brought up under the influence of the old Jacob, while Joseph had been the companion of the changed Jacob or ‘Israel.' There are few people more unfitted for influence over younger brothers than elder brothers of bad character" (Dr. G. Thomas).

"These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph being seven. teen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren; and the lad was with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives: and Joseph brought unto his father their evil report. Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colors. And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him" (Gen. 37:2-4).

There are perhaps few portions of Holy Writ with which we are more familiar than the one now before us. From earliest childhood many of us have listened to this beautiful but pathetic narrative. The aged patriarch, his favorite son, the coat of many colors, Joseph's dreams, the envious brothers, their wicked conduct- all so true to life have been indelibly impressed upon our memories since we first learned them on our mother's knee, or from the lips of our Sunday School teacher. Many are the lessons which may be drawn, and pointed are the warnings which are found here. But we shall pass from these to something deeper and even more precious.

As we read thoughtfully the books of the Old Testament our study of them is but superficial if they fail to show us that in divers ways and by various means God was preparing the way for the coming of His Son. The central purpose in the Divine Incarnation, the great outstanding object in the life and death of the Lord Jesus, were prefigured beforehand, and ought to have been rendered familiar to the minds of men. Among the means thus used of God was the history of different persons through whom the life and character of Christ were to a remarkable degree made manifest beforehand. Thus Adam represented His Headship, Abel His Death, Noah His Work in providing a refuge for His people, Melchizedek pointed to Him as priest, Moses as prophet, David as King. But the fullest and most striking of all these typical personage was Joseph, for between his history and that of Christ we may trace fully a hundred points of analogy! Others before us have written upon this captivating theme, and from their writings we shall draw freely in the course of these papers on the typical significance of Joseph's history.[1]

In the verses quoted above from Genesis 37 there are seven points in which Joseph prefigured Christ, each of which is worthy of our attention, namely, the meaning of his name, the nature of his occupation, his opposition to evil, his father's love, his relation to his father's age, his coat of many colors, and the hatred of his brethren. Let us consider each of these in turn:

1. The Meaning of his Name. It is most significant that our patriarch had two names- Joseph, and Zaphnath-paaneah (Gen. 41:45) which the rabbins translate "Revealer of secrets." This latter name was given to him by Pharaoh in acknowledgment of the Divine wisdom which was in him. Thus, Joseph may be said to be his human name and Zaphnath-paaneah his Divine name. So, also, the one whom Joseph foreshadowed has a double name- "Jesus" being His human name, "Christ" signifying "the Anointed" of God, or, again, we have his double name in "Son of Man" which speaks of His humanity, and "Son of God" which tells of His Deity. Let us note how the meaning of Joseph's names were typical in their significance.

"Joseph" means adding (see Genesis 30:24). The first Adam was the great subtractor, the last Adam is the great Adder: through the one, men became lost; by the other, all who believe are saved. Christ is the One who "adds" to Heaven's inhabitants. It was to this end that He came to this earth, tabernacled among men for more than thirty years, and then died on the Cross: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit" (John 12:24).

The ultimate result of His Death will be "much fruit," and at His return this will be gathered into the Heavenly garner (John 14:3). But Joseph's second name means "Revealer of secrets." This was a most appropriate name. Revealer of secrets Joseph ever was, not merely as an interpreter of dreams, but in every scene of his life, in every relation he sustained- when with his brethren in Potiphar's household, in prison, or before Pharaoh- his words and his works ever tested those with whom he had to do, making manifest their secret condition. How strikingly this foreshadowed Christ, of whom it was said in the days of His infancy, "Behold this Child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against . . . that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed" (Luke 2:34, 35).

In the incident now before us Joseph is seen as the Revealer of secrets in a double way. First, he revealed his father's heart, for he is here seen as the special object on which Jacob's affections were centered. Second, he revealed the hearts of his brethren by making manifest their wicked "hatred." In like manner, our blessed Savior revealed the Father's heart, "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him" (John 1:18). And in like manner, the Lord Jesus also revealed what was in the hearts of men. One of the most striking and prominent features presented in the four Gospels is the fact that everywhere He went the Lord Jesus exposed all. He made manifest the secret condition of all with whom He came into contact. He was truly "the Light of the world," shining in "a dark place"- detecting, displaying, uncovering, bringing to light the hidden things of darkness. Well, then, was Joseph named the one who added, and the one that revealed.

2. By Occupation Joseph was a Shepherd, "feeding the flock." This is one of the prominent lines which is found running through several of the Old Testament typical personages. Abel, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, were each of them "shepherds," and a close study of what is recorded of each one in this particular relation will reveal that each pointed forward to some separate and distinctive aspect of our Lord's Shepherdhood. No figure of Christ is more beautiful than this: our favorite Psalm (the twenty-third) presents Him in this character. One of our earliest conceptions of the Savior, as children, was as the Good Shepherd. The figure suggests His watchful care, His unwearied devotion, His tender solicitude, His blessed patience, His protecting grace, His matchless love in giving His life for the sheep. Above, Joseph is seen "feeding the flock," pointing to the earthly ministry of Christ who, sent unto "the lost sheep of the House of Israel," spent Himself in tending the needs of others.

3. His Opposition to Evil. "And Joseph brought unto his father their evil report." It is truly pathetic to find how this action of Joseph has been made an occasion for debate, some arguing that in doing what he did Joseph acted wrongly; others defending him. But it is not as a tale bearer that Joseph is here viewed, rather is he seen as the truth-speaker. Not by cowardly silence would he be the accomplice of their evil-doing. And here too we may discern a clear foreshadowing of the Lord Jesus Christ. We will quote but one verse, but it is sufficient to establish the type: "The world cannot hate you; but Me it hateth, because I testify of it that the works thereof are evil" (John 7:7).

4. His Father's Love. "Israel loved Joseph more than all his brethren." This is one of the lines which stands out most distinctly in this lovely Old Testament picture. How Jacob loved Joseph! His mark of special esteem in making for him the coat of many colors: his unconsolsble grief when he believed that Joseph had been devoured by beasts; his taking of that long journey into Egypt that he might again look upon his favorite son ere death overtook him- all tell out the deep love of Jacob for Joseph. And how all this speaks to us of the Father's love for His only begotten Son! Through Solomon the Spirit of prophecy, speaking of the relation which existed between the Father and the Son in a past eternity, said, "The Lord possessed Me in the beginning of His way before His works of old;" and again, "Then I was by Him, as One brought up with Him, and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him" (Prov. 8:22, 30). How sweetly was this illustrated by Jacob's love for Joseph! Again, when the Son of God became incarnate, and was about to begin His public ministry, the heavens were opened and the Voice of the Father was heard saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17). So, also, when His public ministry neared its close, once more the Father's Voice was heard, upon the Mount of Transfiguration, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him" (Matthew 17:5). The Son, too, affirmed the Father's love for Himself - "Therefore doth My Father love me, because I lay down My life, that I might take it again" (John 10:17). And when the Son had finished the Work given Him to do, when He had laid down His life and had risen again from the dead, the Father displayed His love by removing Him from the scenes of His sufferings and shame, "Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name" (Phil. 2:9). And not only did God highly exalt His blessed Son, but He also seated Him upon His own throne (Rev. 3:21), that during these centuries when the Church is being built Christ might be near to the Father!

5. His Relation to his father's Age. "He was the son of his old age." No line in this picture is without its own meaning- how could it be, when none other than the Spirit of God drew it! Every word here is profoundly significant. We quote from the words of another: "Old age, translated into spiritual language and applied to God, signifies ‘eternity.' Jesus Christ was the Son of God's eternity. From all eternity He was God's Son. He was not derived, He was eternally begotten; He is God of God, very God of very God, equal with, and of the same substance as, the Father." As the opening verse of John's Gospel declares, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God." And again, in His high-priestly prayer the Lord Jesus said, "And now, O Father, glorify thou Me with Thine own self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was" (John 17:5). The Lord Jesus Christ is no creature, He is Creator (John 1:3); He is no mere emanation of Deity, He is the One in whom dwelleth "all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (Col. 2:9). He is far more than a manifestation of God, He is Himself "God manifest in the flesh" (1 Tim. 3:16). He is not a person who had His beginning in time, but is Eternal in His being; as the true rendering of Micah 5:2 declares, the One who was born in Bethlehem of Judea was none other than He "whose goings forth have been from of old, from the days of Eternity." Christ then was, in the language of our type "the Son of (His Father's) old age"- the eternal Son of God.

6. His Coat of Many Colors. Thus far the interpreting of the type has been simple, but here, we encounter that which is not quite so easy. How gracious of God for providing us with help on this point! We are not left to our own imaginations to guess at the meaning of the many colored coat. No; guesswork is not only vain, but altogether needless in regard to God's blessed Word. Scripture is its own interpreter. In Judges 5:30, we read, "Have they not sped? have they not divided the prey; to every man a damsel or two; to Sisera a prey of divers colors, a prey of divers colors of needlework, of divers colors on both sides, meet for the necks of them that take the spoil?" Here we learn that such garments were to be worn as a mark of distinction. Again in 2 Samuel 13:18 we read, "And she had a garment of divers colors upon her: for with such robes were the King's daughters that were virgins appareled." Here again we get the same thought: This was the attire of unmarried princesses; it was a mark of honor, singling out the wearer as one of noble birth. This, no doubt, was Jacob's object to distinguish Joseph (born of Rachel) from his half brothers (born of the slave-wives).

How appropriate was this as an adumbration of Christ! He, too, was marked off from all His brethren according to the flesh, marked off as one of noble birth, marked off by outward signs of peculiar distinction and honor. It is blessed to behold what care and pains God took to manifest this coat of many colors, in connection with His blessed Son. The "virgin's" Babe was distinguished from all others born by the Angelic Song o'er Bethlehem's plains- none other was ever welcomed thus by the Heavenly hosts! So, too, the "star" that appeared to the wise men gave evidence of the Heavenly Origin of the new-born King. At His baptism we see again the many-colored coat: multitudes presented themselves to John at the river Jordan and were baptized of him; but when the Christ of God came up out of the waters, the Heavens were opened and the Spirit of God descended upon Him in the form of a dove, thus distinguishing Christ from all others! Behold again the coat of many colors in John 12. In John 13 the feet of the disciples (pointing to their walk) are defiled, and need to be washed with water (type of Word); but in the previous chapter (for in all things Christ must have the pre-eminence) we see the feet of our blessed Lord, not washed with water (for there was no defilement in Him), but anointed with precious ointment, the fragrance of which filled the house, telling that the walk of Him (as well as His blessed person) was a sweet smelling savor to the Father. Thus again was Christ distinguished from and elevated above all others. So, too, at the Cross, the distinguishing coat of many colors may be seen. In death, as everywhere, His uniqueness was manifested. He died as none other ever died or could: He "laid down His life." And the uniqueness of His death was divinely attested in the supernatural phenomena that accompanied it: the three hours darkness, the quaking of the earth, and the rending of the veil. The "many colors" of the coat also speak to us of Christ's varied glories and infinite perfections.

7. The Hatred of his Brethren. "They hated him and could not speak peaceably to him." It was Jacob's love which brought out the heart's enmity of these men. Joseph then, made manifest both his father's love and his brethren's hatred. So when Christ came to the earth He did these two things. He revealed the Father's heart and He exposed man's enmity. And one of two things always followed: either men hated Him for exposing them, or they accepted such exposure and took refuge in the Grace which He revealed. When Christ exposed the hypocrisy of the Pharisees they hated Him; but when He exposed to the woman at the well her sinful life and condition, she welcomed it, and availed herself of God's grace. So it is now: those who hear the truth of God faithfully preached, the lost and guilty condition of the natural man fearlessly proclaimed, either they hate it, and seek to hide behind the filthy rags of their own self-righteousness, or they come out into the light, bow to God's verdict, and casting themselves in the dust before Him as Hell-deserving sinners, believe in the Savior which the Gospel makes known. In which class are you found, dear reader? Are you, like the brethren of Joseph who hated the son of the father's love, "despising and rejecting" Christ? Friend, make no mistake here. You either love or you hate the Lord Jesus Christ! and it is written, "If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ let him be accursed" (1 Cor. 16:22). O heed now this solemn admonition of God, "Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and ye perish from the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him" (Ps. 2:12).

Before we turn to consider the special subject of this article we must first notice three or four points in the first eleven verses of Genesis 37 which, through lack of space, we omitted from our last.

"And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it his brethren: and they hated him yet the more. And he said unto them, Hear, I pray you, this dream which I have dreamed: For, behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and, lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and, behold, your sheaves stood around about, and made obeisance to my sheaf. And his brethren said to him, Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us? And they hated him yet the more for his dreams, and for his words. And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me. And he told it to his father, and to his brethren: and his father rebuked him, and said unto him, What is this dream that thou hast dreamed! Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth? And his brethren envied him; but his father observed the saying" (vv. 5-11). Continuing our numeration we may note:

8. Joseph is hated because of his Words. There are two lines which are, perhaps, made more prominent than others in this first typical picture: the love of Jacob for his son, and the hatred of the brethren. Three times over within the compass of these few verses reference is made to the "hatred" of Joseph's brethren. In verse 4 we read, "they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him." Again, in verse 5 we are told, "and they hated him yet the more." And again in verse 8: "And they hated him yet the more for his dreams and for his words." It will be seen from these references there was a twofold occasion for their wicked enmity. First, they hated Joseph's person, because of Jacob's special love for him; second, they hated him because of "his words." They hated him because of what he was, and also because of what he said. Thus it was, too, with the One whom Joseph typified.

As we turn to the four Gospels it will be found that those who were our Lord's brethren according to the flesh hated Him in this same twofold way. They hated Him because He was the beloved Son of the Father, and they also hated Him because of His teaching. As illustrations of the former we may note the following passages: "Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill Him, because He not only had broken the Sabbath, but said also that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God" (John 5:18). "The Jews then murmured at Him, because He said, I am the Bread which came down from heaven" (John 6:41). "I and My Father are one. Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him" (John 10:30, 31). Such was their wicked hostility against His person. And it was just the same, too, in regard to His teaching: "And all they in the synagogue when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city, and led Him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might east Him down headlong" (Luke 4:28, 29). "The world cannot hate you: but Me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil" (John 7:7). "But now ye seek to kill Me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God" (John 8:40).

9. Joseph was to enjoy a remarkable future. These dreams of Joseph intimated that this favored son of Jacob was the subject of high destinies: they were Divine announcements of his future exaltation. There can be little doubt that Jacob and his sons perceived that these dreams were prophetic, otherwise the brethren would have regarded them as "idle tales," instead of being angered by them. Note, too, that "his father observed the saying" (v. 11).

So, too, of the Antitype. A remarkable future was promised to the One who first appeared in lowliness and shame. Concerning the Child that was to be born unto Israel, the Son given, it was pre-announced: "The government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end" (Isa. 9:6, 7). To his mother the angel declared, "Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David; and He shall reign over the House of Jacob for ever: and of His kingdom there shall be no end" (Luke 1:31-33). That Joseph's Antitype was to enjoy a remarkable future was thus intimated beforehand.

10. Joseph foretold his future Sovereignty. It is worthy of notice that the two recorded dreams of Joseph contemplated a double sovereignty: the first dream concerned "the field," which pointed to the earthly dominion of our Lord; but the second dream was occupied with the sun, the moon and the stars, and tells, in type, of the Heavenly dominion of Christ, for all power (or authority) has been given to Him in heaven and on earth.

Joseph's announcement of his future exaltation only served to fan the fires of enmity, and gave intensity to his brethren's hatred. And so it was with the Savior. The more our Lord unfolded the glory of His person, the more He spoke of His future exaltation, the more did the Jews- His brethren according to the flesh- hate Him. The climax of this is to be seen in Matthew 26:64: "Nevertheless, I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven." Here was the announcement of His future sovereignty, and mark the immediate effects of His words on those that heard Him: "Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy."

11. Joseph was envied by his brethren. "When his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him" (verse 4). In these words are found the key to what followed. That which was the prime cause of the brethren's hatred was envy: as verse 11 tells us, "And his brethren envied him." They were jealous of the partiality shown by Jacob to their half-brother. This is a sin which has characterized human nature all down the ages: the difference between envy and covetousness is this- we envy persons, we covet things.

Here, too the type holds good. Christ was "envied" by those who were His brethren, according to the flesh. This comes out in His parable of the Wicked Husbandman, "Having yet therefore one son, His well-beloved, He sent Him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence My Son. But those husbandmen said among themselves, This is the Heir; come, let us kill Him, and the inheritance shall be ours" (Mark 12:6, 7). Again, "For this cause the people also met Him, for that they heard that He had done this miracle. The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after Him" (John 12:18, 19). How that utterance manifested the jealousy of their hearts! But even plainer is the testimony of Matthew 27:17, 18, for there the very word "envy" is found, "Therefore when they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ? For he knew that for envy they had delivered Him." In our next we shall consider, Joseph betrayed by his brethren.


[1] We take this occasion to acknowledge our indebtedness to Dr. Haldeman and Mr. C. Knapp.

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