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A role model for Messiah

Jacob’s son Josef is a prophetic type for the Messiah of Israel. He was sentenced to death by his brothers and sold as a slave. Through this, he became the savior of the gentiles. They had to make him their king, sell him their property, their land, their lives, their whole existence.

Through the way of Josef, the ancient superpower Egypt was not only provided with bread, but also confronted with the one, true, living God. Josef, through his life, traces the path of the Savior of the world. Paul writes in Romans 11:11: It is through their fall that the salvation of the gentile nations occurs. This is a basic message that runs throughout the Scriptures.

When Josef’s brothers meet him again years later, they do not recognize the Egyptian ruler. After a process that drags on for months, maybe even years, Josef reveals himself to his brothers. They are shocked. How can this be? The one who was no more is! He exists. And he rules! Everything is decided by him. He is the key to bread. He decides over life and death.

Josef doesn’t flinch for long. He sends his brothers to bring their old father Jacob. As it will soon turn out, even Jacob is not able to believe.

A path wants to be walked

The first thing to note is: Josef sends his brothers on a journey (Genesis 45:24). Likewise, Jesus sends His disciples into the world (Matthew 28:18-20). It is noteworthy that Jesus never claimed Himself to be the solution to all problems. Rather, He said of Himself: I am the way… (John 14:6).

Characteristic of any path is that something is constantly changing: The environment, the perspective, the age of the one who walks it, and accordingly the wanderer’s range of experience. Walking a path requires being on the move; to change the position and thus the point of view; a willingness to be corrected; to grow.

The longer someone walks on this way “Jesus,” the clearer it becomes how much our human knowledge, our cognition and therefore also our prophetic speaking are partial; how much we see a blurred image through a mirror. Only in retrospect does the adult realize that his way of seeing and behaving used to be that of a child. Every young person, in contrast, considers himself experienced, knowledgeable, perhaps even wise (compare 1 Corinthians 13:8-13).

When people are together on the road, there are always reasons to argue. Conformity is possible only when a group of like-minded people refuses to leave their own country, homeland and father’s house (compare Genesis 12:1) and at the same possibly submit to the exclusive view of one individual from their group without questioning it. Otherwise, discussions are unavoidable during a journey.

Truth is contested

On the way from Egypt to Canaan, the brothers had an endless list of issues to talk about: How could this have happened? Who is responsible? Many wounds, many ambiguities and uncertainties remained unanswered. This is clear from the fact that years later Jacob’s sons once again officially make themselves available to their younger brother as slaves without rights and claims (Genesis 50:15-21).

How is all this supposed to continue? Is it really wise to take a stand and move away from the rugged Canaanite hill country, from the objective gray area in the borderland between the hostile superpowers on the Nile and in Mesopotamia? There have always been famines. Life in the desert fringe was risky. But that risk was the price of freedom. Was the certainty of getting everything for a secure life indeed sufficient to give up the freedom of the steppe?

And anyway, how established was the relationship between Josef and the ruler of Egypt really? Their brother had always been prone to daydreaming. Hadn’t he overestimated himself by inviting them all? The fact that there were still inconsistencies had become apparent at the latest during the joint meal. Josef was not even able to have table fellowship with the Egyptians (Genesis 43:32)!

When Josef instructs his brothers: Do not quarrel on the way!, he perhaps had in mind not only these considerations (and even more points of view?!), but also the tendency of the sons of Israel to say “Yes, but…” to everything. This has remained a basic characteristic of the Jewish people to this very day.

Just like Josef’s brothers, Jesus’ disciples have a mission. In both cases, it is a matter of introducing unbelievers, the embittered, the lost to the One who sent them. It is crucial that the old father Jacob comes along and thus sees the lost son again.

Life wants to be given away

In the original Hebrew text, it is noticeable that Josef does not use the usual word for being angry, wrathful (כעס, ka’as) or the usual word for arguing, quarreling (ריב, riv) to admonish his brothers, but rather the root רגז (ragaz). What was Josef trying to tell his brothers when he spoke neither of anger (כעס, ka’as) nor of quarreling (ריב, riv)?

The same root (רגז, ragaz = to tremble, to quake) is used to describe what the gentile nations experience, when they witness the living God dealing with Israel (Exodus 15:14; Deuteronomy 2:25; 1 Samuel 14:14; Jeremiah 50:34; Micah 2:25), or simply because the Lord reigns as king (Psalm 99:1; similarly, Isaiah 64:1; Habakkuk 3:7,16). When the one, true and only God appears, all of creation shakes (2 Samuel 22:8; Psalm 18:8; Psalm 77:17,19; Job 9:6; Isaiah 5:25; 13:13; Joel 2:1,10).

Trembling in the Bible can also be a consequence of disobedience. Therefore, not only the people of Israel (Deuteronomy 28:65) and the land of Israel (Amos 8:8) trembled, but also the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 12:18). And then God promises His people a future in which they will be shaken no more (2 Samuel 7:10; 1 Chronicles 17:9).

In this respect, it is not illogical when Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch concludes that רגז (ragaz) is “predominantly not an angry but a fearful inner movement” and, thus, Josef tells his brothers: “Make your journey in good cheer and do not worry about the future!”[1] In a certain way, this “Do not be afraid!” that Josef tells his brothers, corresponds to the “All authority has been given to me…” or the “I am with you always…” (Matthew 28:18,20) that Messiah Jesus promised his disciples before sending them out. However, quaking in biblical texts can also be an expression of rebellion against God (2 Kings 19:27,28/Isaiah 37:28-29; Ezra 5:12; Job 12:6).

Whether the trembling springs from overwhelming awe, guilt, fears about the future, a realistic assessment of reality, theological insights, or unwavering convictions that might be threatened, Josef tells his brothers: Don’t get upset! Do not lose sight of the goal I have set before you.

In today’s colloquial Hebrew, the root רגז (ragaz) is used when one wants to say that someone is angry because he has been insulted or hurt. And that is exactly the point. When Jesus asks in regard to his followers that they be one or have love for one another, it was not an indirect request to sweep disagreements under the rug.

On the contrary, the Lord was aware that there would be arguments along the way. The New Testament tells of how even the very first disciples had to come to grips with differences of opinion.

If there are no differences of opinion, that must be startling. A lack of diverse perspectives is not infrequently an indicator of blind cadaver obedience. If the Creator had dreamed of this, He would have created puppets and not human beings in His image.

It is probably one of the greatest sacrifices required of a person when he knows that he is called into a spiritual ministry; is certain that the living God Himself has assigned him a task; if he said with Joshua: I and my house, we will serve the Lord! – and then is required to put this service on the altar.

But this is exactly what the Father in heaven has been doing over and over again – ever since He required Abraham to bring Isaac up as an offering (Genesis 22). And He continues to do so to this very day. This, by the way, in no way calls into question the fact that Isaac is indeed the exclusive bearer of the promise.

It becomes very difficult when the Father in heaven demands as a sacrifice theological insights that have cost us a lot of sweat; that we consider to be absolutely decisive; without which we can no longer imagine our existence as believers. And these findings may be as correct as Isaac was the promised son.

In such situations, it is crucial to remember what is actually written in Scripture. Jesus never prayed for all of us to be orthodox; nor that we would all have the right insight. But that we are one.

When He Himself lay before the Father and learned obedience in a very practical way, finally coming to the conclusion: Not my will, but yours be done (Luke 22:42; compare John 6:38; 12:27; Philippians 2:8; Hebrews 5:7-9), then the consequence was that the only One who was able to say of Himself, “I am the life!,” hung dead as a doornail on the cross in front of all the public.

Those who have died with Messiah no longer have any reason to argue. A corpse can no longer react because it is dead. If two quarrel, neither of them has died, certainly not with Christ. If even one of the disputants were actually dead, there would simply be no more reason to argue.

I know that the death on the cross is not the end of the Messiah story. Nor is death with Christ the goal of our career. If we have died with Christ, we will rise with Him. That is absolutely certain! But we are not there yet. For our question about the dispute among brothers, it is crucial that we are on the way. And so far, none of us has reached that goal.



[1] Samson Raphael Hirsch, Die Fünf Bücher der Tora mit den Haftarot, übersetzt und erläutert von Dr. Mendel Hirsch, Erster Teil: Bereschit (Basel: Verlag Morascha, 2008), 662.

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By Published On: June 18, 20238.4 min read

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