Light from the Sidra


Genesis 41:1-44:7. Haftarah: Zechariah 2:14-4:7

In his book The Messiah Texts, Jewish scholar Raphael Patai spends four chapters dealing with the curious rabbinic doctrine of two Messiahs. The origins of the idea are shrouded in mystery but Patai suggests it developed because the Talmudists could not reconcile a Messiah who redeems Israel with the “Suffering Servant motif” of (presumably) Isaiah 53. So the rabbis formulated a doctrine of “Messiah Son of David”, who conquers Israel’s enemies, but is preceded by “Messiah Son of Joseph” who is killed by the forces of Gog and Magog at “Armageddon”.

The seeming paradox of a Messiah who redeems Israel and a Messiah who dies at the hands of Israel’s enemies deeply affected the followers of Jesus too. After his crucifixion, his disciples were distraught and dismayed; their hopes had been dashed because they had believed Jesus was the redeemer of Israel (see the Gospel of Luke 24:19-21).

We know from the Tanakh that Messiah will be the “Son of David” but the Bible says nothing about a second Messiah, still less about a “Son of Joseph”. This was an attempt by the Sages to reconcile what appeared to be two contradictory strands of revelation. Nevertheless, although it is far from clear why the rabbis identified Joseph as a Messianic figure, there are remarkable similarities between Joseph and the one millions of Jews and Gentiles throughout the centuries have believed was the only Messiah. It is worth bearing in mind that Jesus of Nazareth, although born to a virgin (remember the prophecy of the “seed of the woman” in Genesis 3:15), had a legal father called Joseph. But let’s look at just a few of the parallels between Joseph and the “son of Joseph” by comparing what the Torah says about the patriarch Joseph and what the books of the B’rit Hadasha (New Testament) reveal about Jesus.

Joseph was the beloved son of his father: “Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons” (Gen 37:3). Jesus – Messiah “son of Joseph” – was the beloved son of his heavenly Father: “And behold, a voice out of the heavens, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’” (Gospel of Matthew 3:17).

Joseph lived in Hebron: “Hebron” means “fellowship” and Joseph was sent by his father from the place of “fellowship” to seek the welfare of his brothers: “Jacob said to Joseph, ‘Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock, and bring me word’” (Genesis 37:14). Messiah “son of Joseph”, lived in fellowship with his heavenly Father and was sent by the Father to seek the welfare of His brothers: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (Gospel of John 3:16).

Joseph’s brothers hated him: “Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him…” (Gen 37:5). At the last Passover Seder Jesus celebrated with his disciples, he revealed his forthcoming betrayal, unjust trial and death to his disciples: “The word that is written in their Torah must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause’” (Gospel of John 15:25). If this statement is anti-Semitic, as some critics of the New Testament claim, should we not say the same about Moses’ account of Joseph being hated and betrayed by members of his own family?

Joseph foretold that he would one day rule over his brothers: “Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” (Gen 37:7). Jesus – Messiah “son of Joseph” – also prophesied that he would one day rule: “You shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power” (Gospel of Matthew 26:64).

Joseph was sold by Judah for silver: “Judah said to his brothers, ‘What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him …’ And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver” (Gen 37: 28). Jesus – Messiah “son of Joseph” – was also betrayed by Judah (Judas Iscariot) for silver: “Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests, and said, ‘What are you willing to give me to deliver Him to you?’ And they weighed out for him thirty pieces of silver” (Gospel of Matthew 26:51).

Joseph was tempted but he did not sin: “After a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, ‘Lie with me.’ But he refused and said to his master’s wife … ‘How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?’” (Gen. 39:7-9). Jesus – Messiah “son of Joseph” – was tempted by the devil: “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Begone, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God,and serve Him only”.’” (Gospel of Matthew 4:1-11).

Joseph was accused falsely: “[Potiphar’s wife] called to the men of her household and said to them … ‘He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice. And as soon as he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me and fled and got out of the house’” (Gen 39:13-15).Jesus was also accused falsely: “Now, the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus, in order that they might put Him to death; and they did not find any, even though many false witnesses came forward. But later on two came forward and said, ‘This man stated, “I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days”’ … the high priest tore his robes, saying, ‘He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses? Behold, you have now heard the blasphemy…’” (Gospel of Matthew 26:59-65).

Joseph was “counted among the transgressors”: Pharaoh’s butler and baker. He promised life to one of them and death to the other. Jesus was counted as a criminal and was executed between two criminals. To one, he promised life: “And one of the criminals who were hanging there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, ‘Are You not the Messiah? Save Yourself and us!’ But the other answered, and rebuking him said, ‘Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he was saying, ‘Jesus, remember me when You come in your kingdom!’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Gan Eden’” (Luke 23:39-43).

The Sidra reading ends with Joseph’s brothers coming to Egypt for bread and failing to see that their saviour is the very one they had despised, rejected and sold. Joseph’s prophecy of his family bowing before him is becoming a reality.  

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