Joseph is so much a picture of the Messiah that the Talmud twice refers to a Mashiach ben Yoseph, a suffering servant who would die for the sake of the nation and who would appear either just before or alongside the Mashiach ben David, the conquering King. As the Jewish Encyclopedia notes:
[T]here must be mentioned a Messianic figure peculiar to the rabbinical apocalyptic literature—that of Messiah ben Joseph. The earliest mention of him is in Suk. 52a, b, where three statements occur in regard to him, for the first of which R. Dosa (c. 250) is given as authority. In the last of these statements only his name is mentioned, but the first two speak of the fate which he is to meet, namely, to fall in battle (as if alluding to a well-known tradition). Details about him are not found until much later, but he has an established place in the apocalypses of later centuries and in the midrash literature—in Saadia’s description of the future (“Emunot we-De’ot,” ch. viii.) and in that of Hai Gaon (“Ṭa’am Zeḳenim,” p. 59). According to these, Messiah b. Joseph will appear prior to the coming of Messiah b. David; he will gather the children of Israel around him, march to Jerusalem, and there, after overcoming the hostile powers, reestablish the Temple-worship and set up his own dominion. Thereupon Armilus, according to one group of sources, or Gog and Magog, according to the other, will appear with their hosts before Jerusalem, wage war against Messiah b. Joseph, and slay him. His corpse, according to one group, will lie unburied in the streets of Jerusalem; according to theother, it will be hidden by the angels with the bodies of the Patriarchs, until Messiah b. David comes and resurrects him (comp. Jew. Encyc. i. 682, 684 [§§ 8 and 13]; comp. also Midr. Wayosha’ and Agadat ha-Mashiaḥ in Jellinek, “B. H.” i. 55 et seq., iii. 141 et seq.)
We know from the Dead Sea Scrolls that there were several theories in the 1st Century that there would be more than one Annointed One; it seems quite possible that the idea of the Mashiach ben Yoseph was around in Yeshua’s time, perhaps being referenced in Luke 3:23, which states that Yeshua was “being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph”–a bit of a pun engaged by the good Doctor.
Joseph’s life parallels that of Yeshua’s in many ways. First of all, consider his relationship to Isaac: Isaac, another type of Messiah, was born before Jacob/Israel and indeed gave birth to him, and Joseph was born to him. This prefigures that Yeshua would be both the Root and the Branch of David. Secondly, as did many other figures in Israel’s history, both Isaac and Joseph were the products of a miraculous conception, a barren womb being opened. The Holy One one-upped that miracle with the Virgin Birth.
Joseph’s next parallel to Yeshua is in the relationship with his brothers (a subject that I will explore more fully in my second essay). Why did Joseph’s brothers hate him? Because he was the favored son of Israel (and had the gift, the amazing technocolored dreamcoat, to prove it), was prophesied to rule over them despite his low rank in the birth order, and because he gave a bad report about them. Why did Israel’s 1st Century leaders hate Yeshua? Because He was the favored Son of God (and had the gifts to prove it, arousing their envy), because He was prophesied to rule over them and they didn’t think this hick from Galilee had the right (“Look into it and you’ll see that a prophet does not come from Galilee!”), and because instead of siding with them, He brought a bad report.
When Joseph went to look into his brothers and found them goofing off yet again (hanging out in Dothan instead of tending the flocks), that’s when they decided to do away with him. It was when Yeshua cleared out the Temple courts the second time that the plans to get rid of Him kicked into high gear. Judah was the one who got the bright idea to sell Joseph. Judah/Judas was the one who sold Yeshua, and Judah/Judea handed Him over to the Gentiles. Rabbinic tradition has it that Joseph kept his brothers in prison for three days because he was kept in the cistern for three days. It’s interesting that there’s a whole theme in Scripture of life from death being granted on the third day (the third day of creation, the Akeddat Yitzchak, Jonah, Esther, etc.).
Joseph was falsely accused before Potiphar, the official representative of the then-ruling empire. Potiphar essentially washed his hands of someone that he knew to be innocent to save his own honor. Yeshua was falsely accused before Caesar’s representative Pilate, who also washed his hands of an innocent man.
Through his trust and obedience even in the midst of unjust shame and suffering, as well as through his wisdom and gifting to correctly interpret prophecy, Joseph was raised to the right hand of Pharaoh. He was given all of Pharaoh’s authority–only in regards to the throne itself was Pharaoh Joseph’s superior. Through His trust and obedience even in the midst of unjust shame and suffering, as well as through his wisdom and gifting to correctly interpret all Scripture, Yeshua was raised to the right hand of God. All judgment is given to the Son, yet the Father is still the Father.
Through his wisdom, Joseph fed the entire Gentile world bread in the midst of a great famine. Through His wisdom, Yeshua feeds the entire Gentile world the Bread of Life, which is the Word of God. Joseph gave to all who came to him, accepting their goods, livestock, lands, and finally their very lives in return for food–and everything they gave him he made them stewards over for Pharaoh. Yeshua gives His Bread to all who come unto Him, gradually accepting our goods, livestock, lands, and finally our very lives–and everything we give unto Him He makes us stewards over for the King of Eternity.
Only after he had fed the whole Gentile world did Joseph’s brothers come to him, and only in these days of the completion of the Great Commission are Yeshua’s brothers coming before Him. Since Joseph’s and Yeshua’s relationships with their brethren is the focus of my second essay, I’ll stop here.
The more I study the Torah, the more I see the truth of what the Midrash Rabbah says of it: “What the prophets were destined to prophesy in subsequent generations they received from Mount Sinai. . . Moses gave utterance to all the words of the other prophets as well as his own, and whoever prophesied only gave expression to the essence of Moses’ prophecy” (Exo.R. 28:6, 42:8).
Continued in Ben Joseph and His Brothers