Seeing Christ in the Life of Joseph: Born to Rule

Contributing Writer
Seeing Christ in the Life of Joseph: Born to Rule

The word “dream” gets thrown around a lot today. In most cases, people use the word to express their deep-seated desire. It’s the one thing they would like to accomplish or experience in life above anything else.

Many movies romanticize the notion of chasing after one’s dream at all costs. Anything that gets in the way is viewed as a nuisance because the worst thing that could happen to someone is for them to give up on their dream. After all, how could they have a satisfying life if they don’t get what they want? How can they find fulfillment if they don’t obtain their dream?

Needless to say, this does not align with a biblical perspective about our personal dreams and desires.

Dreams take on a different nature in Scripture. In the Bible, dreams served as a divine means of communication through which God revealed something about His activity within redemptive history. Furthermore, they may seem cryptic, where their meaning requires divine insight for understanding.

Born to Rule

Joseph: An Unexpected Ruler

Dreams have an important role in the Genesis account of Joseph. In the beginning, God gives Joseph two dreams. In the first dream, Joseph’s sheaf (bundle of grain) stood up while the sheaves of his brothers gathered around Joseph’s sheaf and bowed down to it (Genesis 37:6-7). In this case, the meaning of the dream was quite clear. Joseph would rise to a position of honor and authority over his brothers.

As one would expect, when Joseph revealed this dream to his ten older brothers, it was not received well. Not only did they scoff at Joseph’s dream, but their hatred toward Joseph grew even more (Genesis 37:8).

God, however, sent a second dream to Joseph, reiterating the message of the first. Only this time the dream extends to cover Joseph’s entire family, including his father (Genesis 37:9-10). The added dimension of Joseph’s rule extending over his father was quite shocking and even off-putting. After all, how could any son, let alone the second youngest, rule over his father

This flew in the face of all expectation. It’s always the parents who hold honor and authority over their children, not the other way around (Exodus 20:12). The life-giver merits honor from the life-receiver. However, contrary to human expectation and understanding, both the content and divine origin of Joseph’s two dreams made it clear God ordained Joseph to become a ruler over his family.

Jesus: An Unexpected Messiah

As redemptive history unfolds in Scripture, the hope of a godly ruler becomes central to the hope of salvation. The redemption of God’s people is inseparably linked to the rule of the Messiah (For example see Psalm 2 and Psalm 110). Over time, God consistently delivered His people in ways they did not expect. As with Joseph, Jesus also obliterated Israel’s expectations regarding the Messiah. Jesus rightly holds the title “Christ” (meaning “Messiah” in Greek), however, He did not meet the Jews’ initial expectations.

The Gospel of Matthew puts emphasis on Jesus’ kingly stature. Matthew took great care to show how Jesus fulfills the messianic expectations of the Old Testament. As we read Jesus’ birth narrative in Matthew, one cannot help but notice some striking similarities between the Joseph in the Old Testament, and Joseph the husband of Mary in the New Testament.

Power in a Name

To appreciate these similarities, it’s best to begin in the Old Testament with the account of Rachel giving birth. In our modern Western culture, names do not carry the same meaning they used to. In general, the naming of children is based on how well parents like the sound of the name, it is not necessarily based on any kind of meaning behind the name. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this, but it’s important to note in biblical times, names carried a lot of meaning.

In Scripture, parents select their children’s name based on the name’s meaning. Many times, the meaning behind a person’s name has something to do with their character or the way God works in their life. This is true for Joseph. In Genesis chapters 29 and 30, we have the account of Jacob’s sons. Here, Jacob’s two wives have been competing with each other to claim supreme status regarding Jacob’s progeny. Ten sons later, Rachel, the wife Jacob loves, still has not been able to bear a son for Jacob and has had to rely on using her maid as a surrogate (Genesis 30:1-8). But then we read this,

“Then God remembered Rachel, and God gave heed to her and opened her womb. So, she conceived and bore a son and said, ‘God has taken away my reproach.’ She named him Joseph, saying, ‘May the Lord give me another son’” (Genesis 30:22-24).

From this passage, we can see Joseph’s name stemmed from two things. First, Rachel acknowledged God for taking away her reproach through Joseph’s birth. Child-bearing was extremely important in this culture at this time, and any wife who failed to bear children for her husband was viewed unfavorably. The removal of Rachel’s reproach is the first thing which prompts Joseph’s name.

Secondly, Rachel selects Joseph’s name on the basis of an optimistic hope that God will “add another son.” In fact, the Hebrew root of Joseph’s name means to add or continue (see Strong’s Hebrew Concordance #3130 and #3254). So, the name Joseph anticipates the blessing of another son to come. Sadly, in Rachel’s case, this son was Benjamin, and she died while giving birth (Genesis 35:16-19).

From the Old Testament, we can see Joseph’s name revolved around the removal of reproach and an optimistic anticipation of another son.

Looking forward to the New Testament and the birth narrative of Jesus, we can see these two qualities surface in the life of Mary’s husband who also bears the name Joseph. First, Matthew tells us Joseph was an honorable man and didn’t want to divorce Mary in a disgraceful fashion (Matthew 1:19). When Joseph received news of Mary’s pregnancy, he came to the logical conclusion she had been unfaithful to him. In those days, sexual infidelity was public suicide when the truth got out.

We can surmise from the way Scripture commends Joseph’s desire to divorce Mary quietly that it was not uncommon for a man to make a public spectacle of his divorce in order to amplify the public shame on his unfaithful wife. Joseph demonstrates his righteous character by seeking to minimize the damage done to Mary. In this way, Joseph (like the one in the Old Testament) lives up to his name in the way he seeks to cover Mary’s reproach by keeping the matter as small as possible.

In the New Testament, Mary’s husband also lives up to the root meaning of his name when God adds His Own Son to Joseph’s household through his marriage to Mary. In keeping with Joseph’s name, God does add a Son, though not one of Joseph’s own flesh and blood. This comes to light when the angel commands Joseph to name his Son Jesus (Matthew 1:21). The fact that Joseph named Jesus indicated Jesus had now come under the household of David through Joseph.

What Joseph’s name anticipates, Jesus fulfills. The account of Joseph in the beginning of Matthew reminds the reader of the Joseph in Genesis and culminates the anticipation of another son along with the removal of one’s reproach in the Person of Christ. Jesus is the anticipated Son whom God promised to give (Isaiah 7:14; 9:6) and He is the Son who takes away the reproach of His people before God by getting crushed for their transgressions (Isaiah 53).

A third component connects the two Josephs together and ties into God’s call for both Joseph (in the OT) and Jesus to rule. God sends dreams to both Josephs. However, unlike Jacob’s son, in the New Testament the dream Joseph receives from God does not revolve around his own rule, but rather it reveals God has set apart Jesus to save His people from their sin (Matthew 1:20). In this case, the Messianic expectation for Jesus to rule comes from the angel’s address of Joseph as “the son of David.” This recalls the reader to the Davidic Covenant where God promised David He would bring the Messiah through his descendants (2 Samuel 7:12-17).

Putting It Together

In the Old Testament, the name Joseph becomes identified with the greatest ruler to come out of the patriarchs. Joseph, the son of Jacob, became the ruler of Egypt and ultimately all the nations through the sovereign will of God, Who had purposed to raise Joseph up for that very purpose (Genesis 45:4-8). Through the benevolent reign of Joseph, many escaped the clutches of death which threatened the whole world through famine.

This picture provided a foreshadowing of the Messiah to come Who would be the true Savior of the world. Jesus is the only One Who can deliver us from the eternal death brought by sin and grant eternal life.

When we come to Jesus’ birth narrative in the Gospel of Matthew, this messianic anticipation surfaces in multiple ways. One of those ways is through the life and character of Jesus’ father who also bears the name Joseph. The striking similarities between the Joseph in the Old Testament and the father of Jesus form a common thread that helps weave a picture and understanding of the unveiled Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Related article: Seeing Christ in the Life of Joseph: Beloved Sons

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Liudmila Chernetska

Stephen Baker headshotStephen Baker serves as the Associate Pastor at Faith Fellowship Church in Minerva, OH where he is discipled by pastor Chet Howes. He is currently a student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also the writer of a special Scripture study/reflection addendum to Someplace to Be Somebody, authored by his wife, Lisa Loraine Baker (End Game Press Spring 2022).