It is the understanding of the Church that all of scripture speaks of Christ. Reading the Old Testament, the Church has found hidden in the text prophecies and foreshadowings of what is fully revealed in the New Testament (Dei Verbum, 14-16).
In a particular way, the Church has illuminated the unity of scripture through typology, “which discerns in God’s works of the Old Covenant prefigurations of what he accomplished in the fullness of time in the person of his incarnate Son” (CCC 128). Some of those in whom the Church Fathers have discerned a “type” of Jesus, that is, a Christ-like figure, are Adam in his original and intended holiness, the high priest Melchizedek, Moses, and Joseph, son of Jacob, who was given the name “Israel,” as well as figures of prophecy like the “suffering servant” proclaimed by Isaiah.
Of the twelve sons of Jacob, Joseph had a special place in his heart. Joseph was the first son born to Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel, who died giving birth to her second son, Benjamin. Centuries later, in the fullness of time and near the tomb where Rachel was buried, Jesus was born. Like Christ, Joseph was an innocent man made to suffer by his own people, sold for money, condemned, and counted among the dead, but God brought good out of evil and raised him to new life, and through Joseph’s suffering and his forgiving their betrayal, God’s people would be saved (Genesis 37:2-47:12).
Rachel’s first-born, Joseph, was Jacob’s greatly favored eleventh son. His older brothers, born to other mothers, resented him. The jealous brothers conspired to kill Joseph, but instead sold him into slavery. Later Joseph was unjustly condemned to prison when he was falsely accused of iniquity. Meanwhile, the brothers devastated their father by telling him that Joseph was killed by a beast.
Throughout the wrongs done to Joseph, God was with him and showed him steadfast love. After interpreting a dream Pharaoh had, Joseph was lifted out of prison to a high position under Pharaoh, where he prepared for and led Egypt out of a long famine by storing up plenty of grain. Thus would Joseph be the salvation of God’s people Israel.
When his older brothers came to buy grain so the family would not starve, Joseph – whom they did not recognize – tested them, during which they repented of the evil done to him years before. Forgiving them, he revealed himself, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed,” he added, “for God sent me before you to preserve life.” When Jacob heard the news – that his son who was once dead was alive again – he rejoiced and, at Pharaoh’s invitation, the entire family came and settled in the land of Goshen, saved from famine and death.
The story of Joseph is prophetic of Jesus – and it teaches us also to trust in God and be forgiving like Joseph. In this way, we too participate in the Lord’s work of salvation.
This is the third post in a series on the Book of Genesis.