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Reviews | Joseph: the Saviour

Joseph: The Saviour

Harry Whittaker

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112 pages

Joseph: The Saviour

Online Review

Joseph the Saviour

ALTHOUGH this is a relatively small book, in 15 short chapters the author provides an all-embracing coverage of the life of Joseph. The first chapter opens by stressing that the epic of Joseph is one of the greatest stories in all the world’s literature and yet behind the text there is hidden detail relating to the one whom Joseph typifies, the Lord Jesus. By means of a reference to an earlier work of his (Exploring the Bible) the writer demonstrates that Joseph is a type of Christ twice over. The author augments this by drawing attention to New Testament passages that echo phrases in the Genesis text.

The following chapters consider Joseph’s varied experiences from the initial resentment of his family to the time at which he became the effective ruler of Egypt. The arrival of his brethren to buy corn and ‘the first confrontation’, when Joseph treated them roughly, accusing them to be spies, and his subsequent actions, leading them to accept their guilt, ultimately results in a ‘reconciliation’. The ‘migration’ of Jacob and the family into Egypt provides years of security and safety but the faith of Joseph is seen in his expressed wish, after his death, to return to the Promised Land when God would bring about the promised exodus.

Each chapter concludes with additional notes, and sometimes suggestions that the reader might care to explore, together with a list of the parallels between Joseph and Jesus.

John M. Hellawell

The Christadelphian review (from February 1981)

Joseph: the Saviour

IT IS 100 years since Brother Roberts penned a chapter on Joseph in The Ways of Providence and it seems remarkable that the Christadelphian Office has never published a book on what must surely be one of the most compelling characters of the whole Bible. This little volume by Brother Harry Whittaker will go a long way towards meeting the need.

The story of Joseph is at once as moving and enthralling as any in Scripture. Its fascination lies not only in the fact that it provides the bridge of history between Abraham and his seed “as a stranger in a land that is not theirs”, but also in the undeniable evidence of Providence at work. From the first bowing down of the family sheaves, to the “preserved” Joseph finally coming to rest in the promised land we know that this is no ordinary parable, but that we are in the presence of the Saviour and the Bread-giver.

The difficulty with Old Testament types is knowing where to stop. There are those who would limit them to the fundamental elements of the theme. There are others who see a parallel in every minute coincidence, making it a “kind of Bible game” and thus debasing the coinage of allegory. Brother Whittaker acknowledges this dilemma in his opening chapter on “Joseph and Jesus”; but with endorsement by way of Stephen’s address and phrases from the Old Testament narrative uplifted by New Testament writers he convinces us that Joseph was intended by the Spirit to be an allegory of The Saviour.

Having noted these strong convictions, some may feel disappointment that the author elects to play down the parallels between Joseph and Jesus in the actual text of the book and relegates them to short lists at the end of each chapter. There are over 80 suggestions in all, but some are repetitive and some seem tentative. About one-third have supporting Scripture references, but how useful it would have been for the other 50 or so to have had similar Biblical guidance to what the author had in mind.

The writer leads us through the life of Joseph in a straightforward and earthy narrative that gives us a peep into the various characters and hints at, rather than fully explores, the lessons to be derived from them. Reuben shines a little brighter than perhaps we had suspected; we observe the weakness and the strength of Jacob; Potiphar’s wife plays her part, using charm and position in an attempt to seduce the debonair young Jew (an opportunity here, surely, to focus on problems facing young and old in our evil and adulterous generation?); while Asenath, high priest’s daughter, acts out her part as Gentile wife joining the family of Israel. And shining through the whole narrative, the unblemished character, the unshakeable faith of the godly Joseph. The book keeps very close to the Genesis story, in a literary style that is perhaps less adult than Brother Whittaker’s previous books on Abraham and Jacob, though its appeal will be to discerning readers of all ages.

Notes are added at the end of each chapter, as though the author is attempting to cater for both casual and more studious readers. There is a danger in this device of falling between two stools, and although some of the notes are excellent most could, with profit, have filled out the text, giving it added interest and depth.

Joseph: The Saviour, though perhaps not a profound study, is immensely readable. The Foreword, general text and an elegant little Epitaph are covered in 60 of the 91 pages, the other 30 being taken up with notes or blank pages (for personal study?). The book certainly whets the appetite for a close examination of some of the lessons for our own day and of our own relationship to the redemptive purpose. (One wonders why Brother Harry leads us to such gems as the beautiful Messianic prophecy concerning Joseph in Genesis 49 and then leaves us to our own devices?) There are a few ungainly phrases and some guesswork “facts” which provoke our thinking; but this is a small price to pay for the biblical stimulus which Brother Whittaker gives, and has given, us over the years. Well produced, with a glossy card cover displaying seven ears of corn, this little volume falls nicely into the series of paperback “lives” and is good value.


The Testimony review (from August 1981)

Joseph: the Saviour

THERE HAS never been a major study of Joseph widely available in the Brotherhood; and thus one approaches this book with considerable anticipation, recognising the tremendous wealth of material that is contained in the closing chapters of Genesis. The immediate reaction is that the need has only been partly met, and that this fascinating subject has not really been tackled in sufficient depth by Brother Whittaker. Two qualifications should however be added to this view. Firstly, there is more in this book than appears from an initial glance. The footnotes and chapter summaries are in note form, and so the length of only 89 pages to some extent belies the amount of material here. Secondly, the author was aware that there were some gaps in his coverage of the subject. Regarding the arrangement of the work he writes in the Foreword: “The experiment has been tried of adding a few brief notes at the end of each chapter as a stimulus to those who like to do a bit of research for themselves. One of my friendly critics has hinted that at times these notes are too brief to be of much value … I’d be happy to expand them, but this would involve the risk of seeing the annotations take over the book.” This is fair enough as far as it goes, but one is left with the impression that on too many occasions a matter of worthwhile exposition is approached but not developed. How many readers will really do their own research? Perhaps it would have been better to expand more points and produce a more “in depth” study.

This leads to a comment on the notes and the layout of the book. Each chapter consists of text followed by notes, followed by a list of types in the section of Scripture covered by that chapter. Much of the material in the notes is useful, but as many of the notes relate to matters mentioned in the text it would have made for more logical reading if the notes and text had been incorporated together. The list of types at the end of each chapter is a useful reference summary, though not comprehensive. Regrettably some of the types are not dealt with any more fully in the text.

Another point where a little too much has been lost in the cause of brevity are the number of quotations where merely the reference is given. This reviewer and others have made the point before that more benefit might well be gained from many of our community’s books and articles if more of the passages used were given in full. Not all reading is done quietly at home where a Bible can be open on a table for each passage to be checked. Higher production costs would surely be worth the increased spiritual value. It should of course be said that any Christadelphian book should be read with an open Bible, for only then can maximum benefit be derived and the words of men be tried against the Word of God. On taking the trouble to look up some of the references listed it was discovered that it was not always obvious why the reference was made at all. Such a case is the list of passages given to parallel Joseph’s role as a family priest. The parallels in some cases are obscure.

In the course of the exposition of the life of Joseph, Brother Whittaker sometimes throws up questions and then, disappointingly, offers no answer, even though the matter is central to the study of Joseph. In connection with Joseph’s time in prison Psalm 105:19 is quoted: “Until the time that His Word came: the Word of the Lord tried him”. With regard to both Joseph and Jesus one asks how the Word of the Lord tried them, and what is meant by the phrase “His Word”. But there is virtually no comment on how the commands and promises of the Word provided a test of obedience and faith for Joseph and Jesus. One would also have liked some more comment on how the faith of these men must have been strengthened after times of trial by the direct revelation of “His (God’s) Word” to them.

It is therefore rather a pity that this book, which contains many useful points and provocations to further research, should leave the reader with the overall impression that the study of Joseph as a type of Christ has only been started and nowhere near finished. This is not meant to imply that the author has not done sufficient study, but that he has left too much undeveloped and unsaid. Brevity has thus sometimes caused a lack of clarity. The reader must therefore approach Joseph the Saviour as an aid to commencing the study of Joseph. The pointers given must be followed through by the reader himself and further types sought on the basis of those given.

One or two examples where this approach should be adopted ought to be laid before the reader. Concerning Joseph’s coat of many colours we read: “It is quite obvious that no one knows for certain just what it means. But one thing seems clear – the coat … was a priestly garment. Certainly in fifteen other instances … this is the meaning” (page 9). This is undoubtedly true, but what scope is here for Joseph as a type of Christ! The obvious link is to the garments of the High Priest under the Mosaic Law. Those garments were made “of gold, of blue, and of purple, of scarlet, and fine twined linen, with cunning work” (Exodus 28:6). Here in each colour there is a type of Christ. Very probably Joseph’s coat was made of the same colours. The types would then lead on to a comparison of Joseph’s priesthood and the Melchisedec priesthood of Christ, about which, surprisingly, no comment is made.

Maybe Brother Whittaker would justify the omission of such an exposition on the grounds that the similarity of the colours is assumed, rather than being stated in the record. He rightly counsels against an extreme view in the search for types that are not there: “It can hardly be emphasised too strongly that first of all there must be discernible in the overall picture a clearly recognisable pattern of redemption. If that is not there in the first place, the wisdom of settling down to fill in details may be doubted … it is better to be safe than foolish” (pages 1,2). Perhaps the search for types can be carried too far, but a cautionary note pointing the opposite way ought to be added. God’s thoughts are vastly higher than our thoughts. When we have searched diligently there will be many types and gems of wisdom which we have overlooked. We should never underestimate the depth, intricacy and wonder of God’s Word. Might it not be better to “see” some types that are not really in the record rather than miss some that are there due to being overcautious?

On page 11, in the list of types occurring in Genesis 37:1-11, we are told that Joseph and Jesus both represent “the wave sheaf (37:7; Leviticus 23:11,12)”. No further comment is made, and no reference to this point occurs in the text. Here is a prime example of where the reader must be urged most strongly to follow through the references given, using Brother Whittaker’s comment only as a starting point for further study. To do so will lead to the discovery from Leviticus 23 that the wave sheaf was offered from the firstfruits of the harvest. Immediately there is a link to the resurrected Christ, “the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Corinthians 15:20). Furthermore, the wave sheaf was offered on the day after the sabbath, the first day of the week, the day on which Christ rose. In a sense this is also the eighth day, and eight is the number of a new beginning or creation. Linking this to Genesis 37:7 as indicated, how remarkable to find that “my sheaf arose, and also stood upright”! What a marvellous description of resurrection, which is also picked up in other Scriptures!

In addition to the fact that the careful reader is guided into some useful lines of study, there are also a considerable number of interesting incidental points which Brother Whittaker brings out, which all make the book more readable. A few examples will whet the appetite. A footnote on page 8 tells us that Joseph had 6 dreams in his career, which came in pairs. This point is linked with Genesis 41:32, which reads: “And for that the dream was doubled unto Pharaoh twice; it is because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass”. Thus an incidental and easily overlooked point about Joseph’s dreams is linked with a most important Divine principle of promise and prophecy.

Towards the end of the book, speaking of Joseph’s coffin being carried from Egypt through the wilderness for 40 years and at last into Canaan, we read: “Through long years of wilderness wandering he and his brothers with him were borne from encampment to encampment until at last they came to their final resting place at Shechem” (pages 85,86). Only a careful reading of Acts 7:15,16 which records Stephen’s words reveals that indeed not just Joseph, but his brothers also, were carried in coffins to Canaan.

A note on page 33 also contains a significant observation. The verse in question reads: “And the captain of the guard charged Joseph with them (the butler and the baker), and he served them: and they continued a season in ward” (Genesis 40:4). Concerning the word “season” the author writes: “Literally: ‘days’ – in not a few places an idiomatic expression for ‘a year’”. This comment should be noted by those who attempt to expound prophetic time periods. It helps to establish the long-accepted principle of “a day for a year”.

There are also some useful observations concerning the history and archaeology of ancient Egypt which illuminate items in the record about Joseph. The baker’s fate, foreshadowed in his dream, was that he should be beheaded, and his corpse eaten by vultures. “A more shameful fate for an Egyptian could hardly be described. All national custom and conviction required the most careful preservation of the body for the future life. Egypt was a land of elaborate graves. The destiny now foretold for this prisoner could hardly be more horrifying for him” (page 31). Here then, quite unexpectedly, is a lesson directed against the false religion of Egypt. A similar point is made about Pharaoh’s dream of the seven well-fed kine and the seven ill-favoured kine that consumed them. We are told that they may well be oblique references to the god Hathor, or to Osiris, “often depicted as a bull attended by seven cows” (pages 35,36), or maybe to the seven administrative divisions of Egypt. The dream thus presented a challenge to the gods and political organisation of Egypt. No wonder Pharaoh was troubled!

There are also some good comments on the basis of the archaeology of Egypt. For example the 20 pieces of silver for which Joseph was sold to the Ishmaelites was apparently the price of a slave. It is a shame that this thought is not developed as a possible connection with Jesus, who was sold for 30 pieces of silver. The amount of course is different, yet the similarity of circumstance so alike as to be hardly unintentional. Christ, as the true Saviour of the world, was more valuable than Joseph, despite the latter’s crucial role in God’s purpose. This may well be the lesson of the apparent anomaly.

There is in fact hardly anything in this useful little book with which one would disagree. As will have been observed from what has already been written, the chief criticism is the sketchy coverage of too many of the types, and the omission of others. The occasional section however did provoke a question in the reviewer’s mind. Writing of the incident when Joseph’s brethren laid the torn and bloodstained coat of many colours before Jacob as “proof” that a wild animal had killed him, Brother Whittaker adds the comment: “Thus the one who, many years before, had used a priestly garment and a kid of the goats to deceive his aged father … was now himself deceived by the same means” (pages 20,21). But is this widely held view of Jacob deceiving Isaac to obtain the birthright really correct? Jacob means “Supplanter”. He supplanted Esau’s right to the inheritance of the firstborn. Esau means “Red Earth” and is thus parallel with Adam. Jacob was thus a type of Christ in that he supplanted the old Adam, or the flesh and its associated curses, by his victory over sin and death. Remembering that God named Jacob the “Supplanter”, this was clearly a Divinely organised type of the central mission of the Messiah. Is it therefore really right to condemn Jacob for deceit when he was carrying out God’s foreordained will?

Similar comments can be applied to the rather odd suggestion on page 47 that Jacob’s policy in sending his sons to Egypt was “ill-conceived” because Egypt represents the world. But God had sent Joseph to Egypt in order to save life. Furthermore the resultant deliverance from Egypt of the nation that sprang from Jacob was a type of Christ’s deliverance from Egypt, and hence that of all his brethren, for “I … called My son out of Egypt” (Hosea 11:1).

Bearing in mind the author’s own comments about not searching for unintended types he has one particularly curious and unintelligible suggestion. With reference to the discovery of Joseph’s cup in Benjamin’s sack of corn, and Joseph’s comment, “wot ye not that such a man as I can certainly divine?” (Genesis 44:15), the suggested type is: “He also ‘divines’ by means of the cup” (page 65). What does this mean, as a type of Christ?

Just one more slight criticism. A version (or versions) other than the AV is sometimes quoted, but is not identified, which it ought to be, either in notes or in a preface.

In conclusion, this little book can be recommended, while asking the reader to remember certain qualifications. Although short, there is more information here than one would at first imagine. However, the gaps in the exposition are often large and noticeable, and too many of the points that are mentioned are not sufficiently developed. The material that is presented is almost all useful and constitutes a worthwhile guide to further study, which is in part what the author intended it to be.


(Originally published in the August 1981 edition of The Testimony Magazine (pages 244-247), and is reproduced by kind permission.)

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