Types and Shadows

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There is an abundance of biblical research today in many fields of scholarship — all except biblical typology. Liberal scholars deny the possibility of typology, the Scriptures being reduced to a mere anthology of ancient writings. Conservative commentaries, too, largely neglect typology. Evangelical expositors have been taught in seminary to follow the instruction of Bishop Marsh (d.1226), who insisted that no type should be recognized unless explicitly named such by a New Testament author. There could hardly have been a better intended rule with a worse effect — namely, to remove Christ completely from much of the Old Testament. 

Standing squarely against Marsh’s dictum is the dominical word of Jesus, “You search the Scriptures…and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39), and the testimony of Luke that “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets,” Jesus explained to the Emmaus disciples “in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). 

The Joseph narrative is subject to Marsh’s dictum, for no New Testament text explicitly calls Joseph a type of Christ. But how magnificent a picture of Jesus is the pattern of Joseph’s sufferings and the glory that followed! Let’s begin with a few of the most emblematic correspondences.

Joseph was the shepherd son beloved by his father yet rejected by his brothers (Gen. 37:2–3). The sign of his father’s love was a coat of many colors. But Joseph’s brothers took the coat and dipped it in blood. This signified that Joseph had suffered an encounter with a “wild beast” (vv. 31–33). In the course of time, however, Joseph was made to rule at the right hand of the king, and he wore a linen robe with a golden collar (41:41–43). Every knee bowed before him, even his own family, like the sun and the moon and the eleven stars (37:9). 

Similarly, Jesus is the shepherd Son (John 10:11) beloved by His Father (Matt. 3:17) yet rejected by His brothers (John 1:11). The sign of Jesus’ rejection is the coat He wears dipped in blood (Rev. 19:13), even though His Father has exalted Him to the right hand of a throne encircled by a rainbow of many colors (Rev. 4:2–3). A “wild beast” tried to devour Jesus (Rev. 12:4), but He was lifted up before His own family, represented by a woman clothed with the sun and the moon and the twelve stars (Rev. 12:1). After Jesus was exalted, He appears wearing a robe with a golden sash (Rev. 1:13). Every knee now bows before Him (Rev. 1:17; Phil. 2:10). 

These are among the most graphic similarities, but let’s focus now on the details of the careers of Joseph and Jesus. We will see that Joseph’s story is nothing less than the Gospel in miniature. Joseph was the beloved son of Jacob who was betrayed by his brothers and sold as a bond slave for silver (Gen. 37:26–28; compare with Matt. 26:15, Phil. 2:7). He was condemned as a criminal, although he was innocent, and put in a dungeon (Gen. 39:19–20; see Matt. 27:24–27). He was in the company of two other criminals condemned by the king (Gen. 40:5; Luke 23:32–33). The two criminals were judged on the third day, however, and one was restored to life and the other given over to death (Gen. 40:20–23; Luke 23:39–43). In his innocence, Joseph had asked to be remembered (Gen. 40:14; Luke 22:19). 

In time God did cause Joseph to be remembered, and because the Spirit of God was upon him (Gen. 41:38, Acts 2:33), he was taken out of the dungeon and lifted up to sit at the right hand of the king, ruling over all the land (Gen. 41:40; Acts 2:34). By such providence God had sent Joseph ahead of his brethren to prepare a place for them (Gen. 45:5–11; John 14:2) and to teach them that they should comfort themselves and not be troubled (Gen. 45:5; John 14:1), even though their enmity had “pierced” Joseph (Gen. 49:23; John 19:37), for God made what they intended for evil to become good (Gen. 50:19–21; Rom. 8:28). So Joseph gave bread to his own family and to all the earth in a time of terrible famine (Gen. 47:12; 41:56; John 6:50–51), and they dwelt in the best portions of all the land of the king (Gen. 47:6; John 17:24). 

But for all the comparisons of Joseph to Jesus, the splendor of the Son of God far outshines the son of Jacob. Joseph showed himself to be a man of exemplary rectitude by refusing the advances of his master’s whorish wife. But Jesus comes with wisdom that can instruct a whorish wife to leave her infidelity and learn to love her husband. Jesus comes with a righteousness that exceeds Joseph’s, for Joseph left the whore in her sin (Gen. 39:12), but Jesus’ righteousness can be imputed to restore a whore and make her right with God (Rom. 5:1). Moreover, Joseph gave bread to his own family (Gen. 47:11–12), but sold it to the Egyptians (vv. 13–17). But Jesus gives the Bread of heaven freely to all who hunger (John 6:50–51). Finally, Joseph enslaved the Egyptians, who indentured themselves in order to buy bread (Gen. 47:19–23). But Jesus has set the whole world free, that we might no longer serve under the yoke of sin (John 8:36; Rom. 6:18–22, 8:2; Gal. 5:1). Truly Joseph was great, but Jesus is greater than all!

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.