Joseph, the Earliest “Symbol” of Christ

At the first Bridegroom Matins, served on Sunday evening of Palm Sunday, the Church commemorates Joseph the All-Comely (Joseph the son of Jacob in the book of Genesis). The Church holds up Joseph as the “earliest symbol of Christ.”

There are many aspects of Joseph’s life that make him a symbol or type of Christ. First, he is the only major character of the Old Testament who has no record of any sin associated with his life. As an early representation of the Christ who would come, Joseph prophesies with his life that the Christ would be without sin.

Joseph is beloved of his father, and this leads his brothers to envy him. And out of envy they throw him into a pit and sell him into slavery in Egypt. Similarly Christ is envied by his brothers, the Jewish leaders, and handed over as a captive to the Roman authority. As Joseph finds himself a slave under the authority of a foreign power, so Jesus is handed over out of envy to a foreign power.

Moreover, Joseph must further resist temptation even in his humbled circumstance. The hymns of this day say that the Egyptian woman, Potiphar’s wife, was to Joseph a “new Eve” by trying to seduce him. But Joseph resists temptation, fleeing naked from Potiphar’s wife–which symbolizes pre-fall innocence. In aggressively resisting temptation, Joseph finds again the innocence of Eden. Jesus also resists all temptation, fasting in the wilderness and sweating great drops of blood as He reaffirms his submission to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus goes to the Cross as a completely innocent man, submitting completely to the will of His Father, and holding no resentment. With the innocence of Adam in the Garden, and of Joseph fleeing from the “new Eve,” Jesus offers Himself to all Mankind as a ransom to death.

Most stirringly, however, I think Joseph prefigures Christ in his continued humiliations and his lack of resentment against his brothers, but rather interpreting all of his sorrows in terms of God’s will for their salvation. Joseph first has his robe stripped from him by his brothers, then he is thrown into a pit. Next he is sold into slavery. Then, as a final blow, for the sake of righteousness he resists Potiphar’s wife, and finds himself slandered and cast into prison. And if that were not enough, in prison he interprets the dreams of the butler and baker, receiving from the butler the promise of speedy delivery–which does not come. It is several years later when Pharaoh has his dream and the butler remembers Joseph in prison. The humiliations of Joseph come one on top of another. Lower and lower he sinks until all hope seems to be gone. And then, suddenly, he is raised up to be ruler of the whole land. And when Joseph’s brothers finally come to him begging food (and fulfilling the dream Joseph had as a boy), Joseph holds no resentment against them but tells them that what they did was actually God’s will to save many people.

Jesus also experiences successive humiliation, however, for Christ the humiliation is something He has taken on himself voluntarily. Christ does not cling to his prerogatives as God, to his power, to his greatness; but He humbles himself and becomes a human being. As a human being, he becomes a servant–and not just the servant of one person, but the servant of all. He resists the devil and finds himself handed over to be condemned in a mockery of a trial. And condemned, he is beaten mercilessly, and hung on a cross to die where he asks the Father to forgive those very ones who have killed Him, “for they don’t know what they are doing.” And so he dies and descends into the realm of the dead–into prison–and there not only rises from the dead, but with Him Christ also raises all who were dead. Light enters darkness, thus darkness–the darkness of death and hell–no longer exists.

Joseph prefigures this descent and rising. We too can in a sense prefigure Christ, if we will allow ourselves to learn from Joseph, when we are brought low by life’s injustices, tragic accidents, and our own human weaknesses. If, like Joseph, we can learn to entrust ourselves to God even in the pits and prisons and economic servitude we find ourselves in, and if even here we can resist temptation, then we too can proclaim Christ through our lives. We too can witness that from the depths when we cry, God hears us.

One comment:

  1. Joseph sold by Judea with 30 silver , he was in prison with 2 , one set fre the other killed like christ by 2 thieves. ,one died ihe other went paradise , Joseph set free and become the ruler in Egypt , Jesus rose from dead and set down in right hand of father

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