Some people develop phobias to things that are good and helpful. For example, a child might develop a phobia to milk, or to meat, or even to eating altogether!
Psychologists will often help these children by introducing them to small amounts of the food now and again, then gradually increasing the size and frequency of the food until the child is able to swallow and even enjoy what was previously unpalatable.
In some ways, this is what was happening in the Old Testament. God was gradually habituating His people to accept not only an unpalatable deliverance but an unpalatable deliverer.
The deliverer was unpalatable because, like all sinners, Old Testament sinners wanted to deliver themselves and did not like to admit that they needed outside help.
The deliverance was also unpalatable because it was not going to be a glorious straightforward smashing of their enemies, but the deliverer would suffer pain, humiliation, and death in order to smash their sins.
Thus, from Genesis 3 onwards, we have the institution of sacrifice that pointed people away from themselves to a substitute in their place, and that also underlined in red how suffering and death were necessary for salvation.
Further, from Genesis 3 onwards, God raised up numerous deliverers of His people, but all of them experienced pain and humiliation on the way to delivering God’s people. The three greatest examples of that are Joseph, Moses, and David.
All of these were God’s way of habituating His people, of preparing them gradually to accept, embrace, and believe His plan of a coming Deliverer whose deliverance would involve humiliation and suffering before glory would eventually arise. As Leyland Ryken says in The Complete Literary Guide to the Bible:
It seems clear that a “narrative typology” lies behind the composition of these texts. The author wants to show that the events of the past are pointers to those of the future (p. 110).
That’s one way we can get from Joseph to Jesus – by seeing Joseph as part of God’s gradual habituation of the people for His ultimate deliverer.
How can we be sure?
Some might look at the Joseph story and say, “Well there are indeed many parallels between Joseph and Jesus, but how can you be sure that God meant this to be part of His preparation of His Old Testament people for Jesus?”
Well, consider this. In the New Testament, God explicitly picked out less obvious parallels in the Old Testament (like Melchizedek and Jonah) as part of His preparation of His Old Testament people for Jesus. If He is explicit about these less obvious parallels, how much more easily should we conclude the same for the more obvious and major Old Testament characters like Joseph. Clearly, Jesus and the New Testament authors saw Jonah, Melchizedek, Moses, etc., as samples of a larger body of prophetic parallels (or “types”).
The Spirit of Christ
Also, we know that the Spirit that was in Joseph was the Spirit of Christ, shaping and forming his character in such beautiful Christ-like ways. Joseph did not become such an outstandingly gifted, godly, and gracious man by natural personality or by his own efforts. There’s no more extraordinary story of human forgiveness in the whole of human history, and that could only be accomplished by the work of the Holy Spirit filling him and fueling his wise and loving dealings with his murderous brothers.
So how do we get from Joseph to Jesus? Three ways:
- By God’s gradual habituation of His people
- By arguing from the lesser to the greater (if less Christ-like characters were types, how much more Joseph).
- By the work and indwelling of the Holy Spirit in Joseph’s life conforming him to the image of Christ.