The Crying Ruler of Egypt

Joseph, the less well known prototype of Messiah

Printer-friendly versionSend by email
Posted on: 
4 Dec 2015
The Crying Ruler of Egypt

According to Jewish tradition there are two main prototypes of Messiah in the Old Testament.

The more prominent prototype is the person of David. Both Jews and Christians see the Messiah in the tradition of the great King of Israel. People on the streets of Israel referred to Jesus as “son of David,” indicating their recognition of his messianic credentials.

But, there is another prototype of Messiah which is less well known and parallels to the life of Jesus are equally striking, and that is Joseph, the son of Jacob, whose life is recorded in Genesis, chapters 37-50.

Messiah Son of Joseph

The Talmud in the tractate Sanhedrin refers to Messiah ben Yosef (Hebrew for “son of Joseph”) in a most remarkable manner. The passage refers to the prophecy of Zechariah which foresees all Israel mourning “as one mourns for his only begotten son” (Zec. 12:10f). In that context the Talmud answers the question, “What was the reason for the mourning?” with: “It is on account of the Messiah, the son of Joseph, who was killed.” The Talmud also gives a reason for why he was killed: Because of “the evil inclination of men.” Amazingly, the passage is followed by a prayer for his resurrection.

A Prototype of The Suffering and Resurrected Christ

The life of Joseph in the Bible contains many astonishing parallels to the life of Jesus and his story climaxes in a most powerful way with the reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers, the sons of Jacob.

We are introduced to Joseph when he is 17 years old (Gen. 37). This gifted young man became his father’s favorite and because of that was envied and even hated by his brothers. When Joseph recklessly shared with his family two dreams he had, in which his brothers and his parents bowed down to him, their hatred grew so strong that they refused to greet Joseph and started plotting to kill him.

As their plans for evil developed, Joseph was rescued from death at the last minute by one of his brothers, only to be handed over to gentile Ishmaelites by the other brothers. They sold Joseph for 20 shekels to a caravan carrying spices to Egypt and then told their father Jacob that his favorite son was dead. Joseph was brought as a slave to Egypt and eventually was falsely convicted and put in an Egyptian prison.

Joseph was miraculously “resurrected” out of this most desperate condition and raised to the highest position in the land. Joseph became the right hand of Pharaoh, ruler of the ancient world who was considered a deity by his subjects. Pharaoh set Joseph over the whole land of Egypt, clothed him in royal clothes, and declared to all of Egypt that if they heard Joseph speak they were to obey and worship him as if he was Pharaoh himself (Gen. 41:40ff).

The story of Jesus is very similar. We read that Jesus was the “beloved son” of his Father in Heaven (Matt. 3:17). He came into his own country but they would not receive him and his own countrymen even planned to kill him. Jesus was sold for 30 shekels and handed over to the Gentiles (Romans). He died on the cross and his disciples wrapped his body in spices and laid him in a tomb. When He was miraculously raised from the dead, Jesus sat at the right hand of the Father and all authority was given to Him in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18).

The Family Reunion

The story of Joseph tells us that a terrible drought visited the earth and through Joseph’s leadership, Egypt became the only place where bread was available. Consequently all nations came to Joseph. “So all countries came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain, because the famine was severe in all lands” (Genesis 41:57). In many ways Joseph became the savior of the ancient world, very much like Jesus has become the savior of the world as “every tribe and nation” comes to Him to receive the Bread of Life.

As the drought continued, the climax of the story unfolded when one day ten Canaanite tribesmen arrived in Egypt in search of food (Gen 42). Joseph immediately recognized his brothers, but they didn’t recognize him. Joseph didn’t look like a son of the Hebrews. On the contrary, his appearance must have been that of typical Egyptian royalty. To add to the mystery, Joseph talked to his brothers through an interpreter.

There is much more to this amazing story, but one important thread runs through the entire story of Joseph, which is his emotional attitude toward his brothers, as well as Pharaoh’s response to Joseph’s family. When Joseph sees his brothers for the first time, he could have reacted in many ways. It was his brothers who were responsible for the most traumatic experiences in his life – the family betrayal, slavery, and imprisonment. As they all stood before him, he could have considered it as a divine appointment for revenge but he chose not to seek it.

The Weeping Ruler

At his first encounter with his brothers Joseph reacted emotionally. “And he turned himself away from them and wept…” (Gen. 42:24). The biblical account of Joseph’s reconciliation with his own family describes seven separate instances of him weeping, more than any other person recorded in the Bible. Even after so many difficult years, the heart of Joseph was full of compassion and love for his family. He recognized the rejection of his brothers had, in reality, fulfilled God’s intention (Gen. 45:5).

Today God is restoring Jesus’ biological family: His Jewish brothers and sisters. Like Joseph’s family, the restoration of Israel is a matter which is central to God’s heart. Israel’s modern day restoration is not just a footnote at the bottom of God’s agenda for the world.
On the contrary! The prophet Zechariah declares: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: I am zealous for Zion with great zeal; with great fervor I am zealous for her. Thus says the Lord: ‘I will return to Zion, and dwell in the midst of Jerusalem’.” (Zec. 8:1f).

In spite of everything which had happened to him, Joseph was still attached to his own family and Jesus is still passionate about his fellow Jews who have and are still returning to the land of Israel. This raises the important question: If Jesus is passionate about Israel, are we?

As the bride of Christ, a passion for Jesus’ family needs to be our priority as well. Any married couple can affirm that an important ingredient of a healthy marriage is caring for and being affectionate toward our spouse’s family. Too many Christians today belong to the bride of Christ, yet could not care less about the physical brothers and sisters of Jesus. We regularly visit our family members, even if they don’t hold the same beliefs as we do. Paul calls the Jewish people “beloved for the sake of the fathers,” (Rom 11:28) even if they may be “enemies of the gospel.” Loving Israel is not optional, it must be a part of any healthy relationship with Jesus.

Love Made Public

Even more fascinating is how Joseph’s emotional reaction to his brothers develops. “…Joseph made haste and sought somewhere to weep. And he went into his chamber and wept there. Then he washed his face and came out…” (Genesis 43:30–31). The first two times when Joseph wept, he did so in secret. Only a few servants around him were aware of his strong emotional reaction. But as the story unfolds, Joseph reached a point where he could no longer keep his feelings secret.

“Then Joseph could not restrain himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, ‘Make everyone go out from me!’ So no one stood with him when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept aloud, and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard it” (Genesis 45:1–2).

Eventually the entire kingdom of Egypt understood that Joseph was not a Gentile like them, rather he had a family who were Hebrews. If we look at the history of the church, for many centuries the Israel-awareness was often in “a hidden chamber.” For many long years, very few Christians understood the heartbeat of God toward the Jewish people. Surmising that the church had replaced the Jews in God’s plan, the majority of them were indifferent or worse, believed there to be no future for the Jews.

Today, a dramatic shift is taking place within the church. Wherever we go around the world we see churches and even entire denominations aligning themselves with what God is doing in Israel like never before. This is true in particular for the centers of revival in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. For them, standing with Israel is a part of what defines a believer We also see it happening in the churches and denominations in the West. Jesus’ passion and His love for His people has gone public in the house of God.

Pharoah Reacts 

Finally, it is also of central importance to us, how Pharaoh saw and reacted to the family reunion of his most trusted right hand man. Again, there were many ways he could have responded. He could have tried to keep Joseph’s Jewish ancestry a secret or he could have said: “Joseph, it is great that your family is here, but we are facing a global crisis! Our people and the whole world need to be fed. Stay focused!”

This would have been a very logical reaction given the crisis in the land of Egypt at that time. It reminds me of a response I recently received from a pastor of large church with thousands of members, when I asked what they, as a church body, were doing for Israel: “Jürgen, you do not know how busy we are in our church. We have several hundred home groups, we care for the homeless and women in prostitution, and we reach virtually every segment of our city. We honestly do not have room for Israel.”

In contrast, let us look at what Pharaoh said in the midst of a global crisis:

“Now the report of it was heard in Pharaoh’s house, saying, ‘Joseph’s brothers have come.’ So it pleased Pharaoh and his servants well. […] ‘Bring your father and your households and come to me; I will give you the best of the land of Egypt, and you will eat the fat of the land’” (Genesis 45:16–18).

It pleased Pharaoh! Joseph’s family was not an additional burden. We can imagine him saying: “I must meet this family, who brought forth a son that blessed my nation so greatly!” He wanted to learn who they were and eagerly welcomed them. Not only that, he also called for an immediate action: “I will give you the best! They need to eat the fat of the land!” In the midst of a crisis, when resources were scarce, Pharaoh released the best for Joseph’s family.


Recently I heard Pastor Robert Morris of Gateway Church in Texas, tell a story to a group of leaders in Jerusalem. God revealed to him why his church and ministry were blessed in such extraordinary ways. God showed him a parable of a father, who had a large family, but out of love and passion for children, the father started adopting many more children. Because of this, many orphanages opened around the world, but in the process, his own children felt neglected. Pastor Morris realized God was telling him: “Robert, I bless your ministry because you took care of my natural children. You bless my family, the Jews, and that’s why I bless you.” According to Pastor Morris, the main reason why God blesses the Gateway Church is because they bless Israel.

The story of Joseph teaches us that God is passionate about His people. Since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, God’s love for the Jews has been made public. As with Joseph, Jesus has a very emotional passion for His family and His land. Jesus wept over Jerusalem, and I believe He is weeping today. Pharaoh reacted immediately, releasing the best for Joseph’s family. Let us pray and consider with discernment, what can we do to bless the Jewish people who are returning home today after 2000 years. It is a time of restoration and, for us as believers and as the global Church, it is a time to act!  


Share this: