Having seen the successes and failures of the Patriarchs to live up to faith in God’s promise, the final narrative act of Genesis goes in a new direction with Joseph. What doesn’t change is the beginning of the story. Joseph is not, at the start, a paragon of right living. He is bratty and has a contentious relationship with his siblings. However, he ultimately becomes a pointer and culmination of the whole narrative shape of Genesis. When the brothers deceive Joseph and sell him into slavery, the deception reads like a mirror to Jacob’s own deception. The family of God again tries to take for themselves, and in their own way, the promises God has given for the whole group. And, as with Jacob’s deception of Esau, God intends to make it all work out.
Joseph is the catalyst for this intention. His ability, through God, to interpret dreams comes as a sign of God’s continued presence not only with Joseph but with the whole family of the promise. This presence is true even and especially when things look their bleakest, while Joseph is suffering persecution in prison and his family is divided, grieving, and facing famine. God leads Joseph to become the archetypal wise human being throughout the narrative, carrying God’s narrative plan forward. He is a ‘full’ human being, capable of establishing a plan to bring about a reversal and reconciliation for the family of the promise. Notably, this reconciliation – this renewal of the covenant promise – requires confession on the part of the family who continually offend and a setting right of the relationship they are meant to have, to each other and towards God.
In this way, as the archetypal wise human, Joseph can be read as a pointer to Jesus because Jesus is the culmination of the model of humanity set forth by the Creator God’s purpose and continued presence.
Question: What does God’s presence with Joseph in prison mean for God’s presence with Israel throughout the OT? Imagine how this story might have been used by the early Hebrews telling their history.
Practice Prompt: Think about other groups who have historically used the Joseph and Exodus stories to inspire their struggles. How does that help you contextualize the role of these stories beyond history?