As the Sages searched the Scriptures looking for clues about the coming Messiah, they discovered that there were potentially two Messiahs that the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings spoke of. Would Messiah come in the clouds or come on a donkey? Is he the man of sorrows who is well acquainted with suffering or is he a mighty victorious warrior who brings judgment on the world? Is he the king to sit on David’s throne or is he despised and rejected? There are several clues about Messiah in the Scriptures that don’t seem like they are part of the same equation.
Today, we are quite familiar with Messiah, the Son of David, the Conquering King. This is the Messiah we all anxiously await. Whether we’re anticipating His first coming or His second, this is the Messiah that everyone (mostly, anyway) is anticipating. Those who trust that Yeshua of Nazareth is G-d’s Messiah have put a lot of energy in learning about Messiah, Son of David, the Conquering King. So much so that we’ve lost the understanding of Messiah, Son of Joseph, the Suffering Servant. At the same time, those who did not recognize Yeshua as the coming Messiah stopped talking about the Suffering Servant so much, for obvious reasons. I’d like to take some time to explore “Messiah, the Son of Joseph, the Suffering Servant.” This has been a subject of discussion in our weekly Bible study (yes, a bunny trail but a fun one!) so I’ll try to be thorough without going overboard (at least, not too much).
This stone, written on in ink, dates to about the late first century BCE and early first century CE. Written on by one called Gabriel, it is referred to as Gabriel’s Revelation. The 87 lines of text tell of a Messiah, Son of Joseph, who suffers death at the hands of the Romans but is resurrected after 3 days. The text also speaks of a Messiah, Son of David. Ancient Tablet Ignites Debate on Messiah and Resurrection
The story of Joseph is one of the most detailed descriptions of any of the Patriarchs, taking a whole chunk of Genesis, from Genesis 37 – 50. As the Sages searched the Joseph narratives they found a prototype of the Messiah, the Suffering Servant. As they looked at the Torah and the words of the prophets and then compared the expectations of the Messiah with the life of Joseph, they saw some incredible potential parallels, parallels that are also quite clear to those who have studied the Gospels. Joseph suffered a great deal in order to come to a place where he could save his family from certain death and thereby rescuing all of Israel and giving them life, life as from the dead. Through all of his trials Joseph remained devoted to HaShem. There are several passages that hint at Messiah suffering on behalf of Israel but one of the clearest passages is Isaiah 53 as found in Targum Yonatan. (A targum is a paraphrase of the Scriptures in the modern Aramaic language and expectations of the day – Targum Yonatan was widely used in the first century CE as it is quoted by the Apostolic writers.) The Targum shows us that at the time of Yeshua’s ministry, it was widely accepted that Isaiah 53 was a passage completely about the Messiah.
In the Talmud, the subject of Messiah is discussed often. One example is Tractate Sanhedrin 98 a and b. In 98b we read this:
What is his [the messiah's] name? The Rabbis said: His name is ‘the leper scholar,’ as it is written, Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God, and afflicted.
To some, it seems clear that the Messiah would come and be the substance that cast the shadow known as “Messiah, Son of Joseph, the Suffering Servant.” Judging by the snippet of information available from the end of the BC era and the early Common Era (Gabriel’s Revelation, above, for example), it seems that the concept and expectation of the Suffering Servant, Son of Joseph wasn’t limited to just a few sages.
Let’s take a look at the life of Joseph and see how it parallels the life and expectations of Messiah Yeshua. The Joseph narratives are not only relatively long, but they are the most intricately composed and complex unit of the Torah, maybe even the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures. You’d think that we’d learn so much detail about Abraham, Isaac or Jacob. But it is Joseph that occupies the largest single chunk of the first book of the Torah. Such detail and beauty went into the multiple chapters of the life of Joseph that it is clear there has to be something special the Joseph narratives are communicating to us! Joseph is the special son of his father, Jacob. While his brothers aren’t too keen about him, his father knows and his heart is bound up with the boy’s heart. The brothers, who don’t recognize anything particularly special about him, take all they can stand of Joseph and decide to beat him, stick him in a dry cistern then turn him over to gentiles where now he’s as good as dead to them. For the brothers, the thought of Joseph brings a sense of anger and frustration mingled with a sense of regret and fear so it’s best to never discuss him because, after all, he’s dead right? Joseph finds himself in a strange land where his position as the favored son is surely not recognized. He undergoes a series of trials where his dedication to HaShem does not waver and yet he finds himself in a more difficult position than before. HaShem blessed others because Joseph, a tzaddik (righteous man), was part of their household. While Joseph gains respect and honor among his household, it is quite a long time before he is recognized as “something special” by the Egyptians. We see that when the time is right, he is given the second highest seat in all of Egypt, sitting down at the right hand of Pharaoh with all of the rights, responsibilities, duties and honor of Pharaoh himself. No one is higher than Joseph but Pharaoh alone.
It is particularly interesting to look at the portion of Genesis where the brothers come to Joseph in Egypt, unaware that this is their long-lost brother. Here we have a glimpse into today and tomorrow. Joseph is not recognized by his brothers because not only did he look like a gentile, speak like a gentile, sit in a gentile royal court, have a gentile wife and children by her who were born in Egypt, but never in their wildest dreams would they have ever thought that their little ‘dreamer’ brother would be ruling Egypt and they would indeed bow before him in reverence. Really, who would have thought it? They thought this dreamer brother had some strange ideas about himself as a young man and once he was sold to the gentiles, who would ever expect to see him again? What are the chances of EVER seeing him again, anywhere? They simply forgot all about Joseph and his annoying dreams. But Joseph never forgot – he never forgot his family, his heritage or his dreams. Joseph always knew who he was. This is where the parallel between Joseph and Yeshua are intriguing for today.
As the story unfolds, the brothers come to Egypt to buy grain. Things had been abundantly good in Egypt for quite some time. But now there is a famine and the children of Jacob find themselves in need of food. So they do the natural thing – they travel to Egypt to buy grain. Can you imagine what Joseph must have thought as his brothers, the very brothers who ridiculed him and beat him and sold him to the gentiles, these same brothers now bow before him? Oh, how heady that is! What would YOU do? It’s a tough one, to be sure. But Joseph is a true tzaddik, a righteous man. He decides it’s prudent to test the hearts of his brothers before he goes any further. Did they still hate him and would they spurn him again? Or would they suck up to him like some low-life distant relative when one wins the lottery? What had become of Benjamin – had they done away with him too? What about Jacob, how had they treated him? How wicked were they, really? Should he throw them in prison and give them a taste of their own medicine? Should he have them executed for attempting to murder the #2 man in the entire world? All of Egypt would have backed him, for sure! But, Joseph had time to consider all those possibilities. Maybe he gave himself the position of selling grain to each and every buyer so that when his family came, and he knew they would, he might have the opportunity to begin the process of restoration. Before he reveals his true identity to them, if he were to do so at all, he wanted to know the condition of their hearts toward him, his brother Benjamin and their father Jacob (also known as Israel).
Really, the theme of concealed identity is found regularly throughout the Joseph narratives. And the idea of an unrecognized Messiah is not a new one, nor is it an uncommon one. It is not an uncommon concept for Messiah to remain hidden until the time of redemption is at hand. The apostle Paul taught the same thing in Romans 11. It seems that in this portion of his letter to the believers in Rome he is alluding to the story of Joseph and his brothers as he speaks of those of Israel who did not recognize Yeshua as the promised Messiah. Consider this – had Joseph not been rejected by his brothers and given up for dead, there would have been no salvation for Egypt, which means no salvation for the entire region – including the whole family of Jacob living in the Promised Land. In other words, salvation would not have been extended to the whole world had Joseph not been rejected by the family of Israel. However, once Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and the immediate tension of that recognition is over, it is the sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that are honored and highly favored above all people (except Pharaoh, mind you). And for what? Simply for being his beloved family. All the past schtuff was forgiven, never brought up again, and there was instead only abundant blessing for them. The reconciliation was complete and whole – lacking nothing.
We know that at some point in time Messiah Yeshua will be revealed to His brothers. But what does He look like to many of them right now? Years ago I wrote an entry called Is Yeshua A False Prophet? It ties in very nicely with this stage of the assessment of the life of Joseph. What does Yeshua look like to the Jewish people today? One can say, “It is for our benefit that His identity is concealed from them” and leave it at that. Really? Let’s look a little deeper. It didn’t take too long for Christianity to portray Jesus as a gentile. Look at your favorite paintings and story books and movies of Jesus. Does he seem Jewish to you? I mean, really truly Jewish? Would you know what “really truly Jewish” looked like? True Jews do, and they don’t see anything familiar in this Jesus. Christianity has made him into a gentile, through and through. How can the Jewish Messiah, who “was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel“, now be a thoroughly gentile Messiah? What happened there? What did we do with his reputation? Jesus looks like a gentile, speaks like a gentile, sits in a gentile royal court (think – the Vatican and its history of controlling kings, for example), and his ‘children’ are gentile. No wonder he’s not recognized! But the trouble is that this Jesus is not the Messiah we find in the Bible. This Jesus is one we made up, based loosely on the Messiah we find in the Bible. But that’s another topic for another entry. Check out Is Yeshua A False Prophet? for some thoughts on that…
So now consider Yeshua’s words in Luke about “when the time of the gentiles are fulfilled” in light of Joseph and his time in Egypt – when the time was right, he was revealed as not only the savior of Egypt but as the savior of Israel and the whole “world”. When all the destruction that began in 70 AD and has continued right into our modern-day is complete and the signs of the times point to the return of Yeshua, G-d’s Messiah, then the great revelation will come and the Suffering Servant, the Son of Joseph, will return in the clouds as Yeshua the Messiah, the Son of David, the Conquering King who will sit on the throne of David in Jerusalem! He will be restored to his brothers and sisters, the sons and daughters of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – wholly and completely, lacking nothing. And what about we who are non-Jews, we who are grafted in and part of the commonwealth of Israel based our faith? We have a share in this too, but it may not be quite the same as that of the Jewish people. And that’s okay! It’s still going to be beyond our wildest dreams. We are grafted into this people but we retain our identity as non-Jews, and that is okay because our King reigns over the whole world. Those of us who recognize Joseph, the chief of Egypt, as a Hebrew savior while he sits among the gentiles in Egypt will have the opportunity to stand and say, “Yes, this is true! Joseph IS your brother!! He’s been waiting for you for a long time now.” Now is the time for the Son of Joseph to come out of Egypt and now is the time for His brothers to begin to sing in the streets, the way wedding guests celebrate the coming of the bridegroom. The time is very close, the time is here – but not yet. The time is now for believers to begin (once again) to wear Messiah Yeshua’s name rightly. The time for beginning the revelation process is now. Exciting times are ahead of us.
Articles for further reading:
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