Voddie Baucham Jr. Joseph and the Gospel of Many Colors. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013. 176 pp. $15.99.
Joseph is on one of the most beloved characters in the Bible, and his story is one of the Old Testament’s most familiar. And yet, the way that it’s typically written about and preached from misses the point completely: it’s really not about Joseph at all! “Our tendency is to look at the story in isolation as if it were one of Aesop’s fables with a moral at the end: ‘Let ’em hate you. If you’re faithful, you’ll end up rich, powerful and vindicated.’ However, this interpretation not only misses the mark, it also perverts the very message of the narrative in particular, and the Bible in general. Joseph is not a mere example of what awaits us if we’re ‘good enough.’ His story, like every story in the Bible, is part of the broader redemptive narrative designed to cause us to recognize the glory of our great God” (15).
Contra the popular hermeneutic influenced by moralistic therapeutic deism, Voddie Baucham Jr. presents in this book a refreshing and much needed gospel-centered/redemptive-historic exposition of the story of Joseph. This book is not a collection of sermons; nor is it a distillation of the best of what commentators have written on Genesis 37-50. In fact, Baucham has intentionally not included many notes from commentaries or other sources. His desire is for the reader to grasp the significance of the text. This is about good observation – something all Christians can and should do. And his goal is not to find Christ under every rock, but rather, to be mindful of the gospel at every turn. The Bible is not a book of character studies; it is a book of redemption. Therefore, a correct reading and interpretation of the life of Joseph will exalt in God’s redemptive work; and this is precisely what Baucham hopes his latest book does.
In Chapter 1, Baucham gives us a piercing and insightful analysis into Christless moralism and why it’s so appealing to believers. He states that ultimately, we lean toward moralism because it’s easy. It’s the way we’re wired, and it takes very little effort or creativity to pull off. And we can feel good when we naturally/easily don’t do the things we’re preaching against (e.g. murder. never mind what Christ said about anger). There must be something more! There is. Finding it involves changing the way we read, and remembering a few interpretive keys. In the remainder of this chapter, Baucham explains a few key hermeneutic principles and highlights their importance: the distinction between indicatives and imperatives, the role of the New Testament in interpreting the Old, and Christ as the interpretive key to the Old Testament (as evidenced by Luke 24:25-27). However this, Baucham, reminds us, does not mean that morality is irrelevant or that we find Christ in every verse. It does mean that we read the story of Joseph in light of Christ.
Chapter 2 begins by stating that part of the difficulty in tackling the story of Joseph is that it is found in the most substantial book in the entire Bible. In just the first three chapters, the groundwork is laid for our cosmology, our theology proper, our anthropology, our harmatiology, our soteriology, our christology, our pneumatology, and our eschatology. We can not take the story of one character without examining the whole; we can not understand Joseph until we understand Genesis, and that is the main reason we get Joseph so wrong. Therefore, in this chapter Baucham takes us on a whirlwind tour through the book of Genesis, examining the structure, divisions, and themes of the book, with a view toward placing Joseph’s life and times in historical and theological context.
He uses two main streams to accomplish this. One is the obvious divisions that Moses gave us explicitly – the eleven toledots, marked by “these are the generations of.” Indicating pivotal transition points, these toledots are: the
heavens and the earth (the toledot of creation), Adam (the toledot of the
fall), Noah (the toledot of de-creation), Noah’s sons (the toledot of
re-creation), Shem (the toledot of God’s new people), Terah (the toledot of
transition), Ishmael (the toledot of unbelief), Isaac (the toledot of promise),
Esau (the toledot of election. Repeated twice), and Jacob (the toledot of a new nation). Baucham briefly explains each of these in relation to their significance in redemptive history, and shows how Joseph’s narrative is connected to these toledots.
The second stream is that of the themes of land, seed, and covenant, which repeat themselves again and again throughout Genesis to mark the progression of redemptive history. Baucham traces these themes by examining each of them first in relation to creation, then the fall, then the patriarchs, and finally Joseph. Viewing Joseph through the threefold themes of land, seed, and covenant will give us the perspective that God, through Moses, intended us to have. The chapter ends with Baucham stating that none of these three themes find their consummation in Genesis, and that we must look beyond Genesis in order to understand God’s plan of redemption.
With the key interpretive framework established and the theological big picture of Genesis illumined, Baucham spends the rest of the book expositing Genesis 37-50. He spends more time tracing the themes of land, seed, and covenant in Joseph’s narrative and points out the redemptive-historic significance of key events. Every chapter ends with a section of takeaways on each chapter of Genesis and a section looking ahead, both Christocentric and redemptive-historic. The “Looking Ahead” section in the last chapter says:
However, the greater echo calling out from the end of Genesis is the echo of Christ, the Messiah, the Promised Seed. We have caught a glimpse of the Savior to come. He is the Lion of Judah! At the close of Genesis, we can almost hear him roar. No longer are we tempted to limit the Joseph narrative to the story of a boy prospering far away from home. Our attention has been drawn far afield. Joseph is a player in a much more significant drama. God redeems Judah so Judah’s son David can be king, and his greater Son, Jesus, can be King of Kings, and the redeemer of God’s elect (157).
In this book, Baucham accomplishes the goal he had hoped for – to help us grasp the significance of the text and make good observations, to be mindful of the gospel at every turn in the narrative of Joseph, and to exult in God’s redemptive work. This is a book that I highly recommend to everyone, from laypersons to Bible study leaders to preachers. It’s written at a popular level and thus very readable, but there is a lot of meat. I have already recommended it to one person who is studying Genesis on her own, and one person whose church will be preaching through Genesis.
*I received a free electronic review copy from Crossway Books through NetGalley. I was not obligated to provide a positive review, and the opinions expressed here are entirely my own.