Monday, March 28, 2011

“Journey” as Metaphor (Part 3)

If the spiritual journeys of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have special significance, you might expect that the experiences of Joseph would bear even more significance. In some ways Joseph overshadowed his predecessors in the Book of Genesis, primarily because of the highly significant office he attained in the Egyptian court of Pharaoh. While that prominence might be somewhat true in Genesis, it does not hold with the New Testament’s assessments of these patriarchs.

Abraham became the dominant character in the Genesis narrative beginning in Genesis 11:26. Isaac’s birth was recorded in Genesis 21:3 (10 chapters later); and he shared the stage with Abraham until Genesis 25:8, where Abraham’s death is recorded. Genesis devoted about 14 chapters to Abraham’s story.

Jacob’s birth was recorded in Genesis 25:26 (only four chapters after the reference to Isaac’s birth and 18 verses after Abraham’s death); and Isaac shared the stage with Jacob until Genesis 35:29. Genesis also devoted 14 chapters to Isaac’s story, but most of that story was shared with Abraham and Jacob.

Joseph’s birth was recorded in Genesis 30:24 (only five chapters after the reference to Jacob’s birth and prior to Isaac’s death); and Isaac and Joseph shared the stage with Jacob until the record of his death in Genesis 49:33. While Genesis devoted 24 chapters to Jacob’s story, nineteen of those chapters really are more Joseph’s story than Jacob’s.

Joseph’s story stretches from Genesis 30:24 to 50:26; and while Jacob is in the picture until 49:33, he is most often far away from the true action in Egypt. I think we can comfortably conclude that in terms of the narrative and its interest, Joseph’s story of how Israel found itself in Egypt really is the pinnacle of the Genesis narrative and sets the stage for the story of Moses and the Exodus. We have in view in Genesis spiritual journeys for both Joseph and the entire people of Israel.

From the perspective of the New Testament, however, Joseph’s impact is far less significant. The name Joseph is used 34 times in the New Testament, but only 11 of those are references to the Old Testament son of Jacob—and six of those references are included in the one address Stephen made before the Sanhedrin in Acts 7. Even Isaac is referenced 20 times in the New Testament, and Jacob is mentioned 27 times. As you might expect, Abraham became the classic focus among the patriarchs, amassing 73 references in the New Testament. Abraham certainly wins in terms of overall spiritual impact.

In spite of all this data, I think the journey of Joseph may be more relevant to our understanding of spiritual development than any of his fellow patriarchs. We see him in the throes of adolescence. We see him in failure and success, in highs and lows. We see him betrayed and rewarded. We see him under the tutelage of a doting father, the training of a high military official, the encouragement of prison guards, the support of fellow prisoners, and the embrace of the all-powerful Pharaoh. We see him is tension with feckless brothers and in forgiveness with those who sold him into slavery. What a story Joseph had! Let’s look at it in greater detail in future posts.

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