The Arts

Joseph and the Gospel of Many Colors: A Book Review

Voddie Baucham Jr. Joseph and The Gospel of many Colors: Reading the Old Story in a New Way. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2013. 169pp. $13.86

There is no small string of books and articles that deal with the matter of redemptive historical preaching and exegesis from the Old Testament. Some leave you in a tailspin of theological jargon and complex arguments, while others whitewash the text with the NT gospel narrative leaving the original OT context unrecognizable. Both approaches do violence to the text. This is why Voddie Baucham Jr.’s book, Joseph and the Gospel of many colors, is such an invaluable resource to the church. Not only does the book present the story of Joseph on its own terms in a compelling, gospel-centered, redemptive historical way; the book also serves as an instructional manual for how to interpret OT stories in light of NT revelation.

Setting the Stage

From the onset, the reader is cautioned against a hermeneutic of moralism that is often pervasive in the modern exegesis of OT narratives – especially the Joseph narrative. This sort of moralistic hermeneutic strips the text of its theological and redemptive historical significance. More importantly, as Baucham notes, it can present the Bible as a disjointed collection of unrelated tales, rather than a complete and comprehensive story of God redeeming a people unto himself (pg. 24). Baucham then helpfully provides an interpretive grid for us to view the Joseph story that is comprised of: Christ as the interpretive key of the OT, the writers of the NT, and the schema of land, sea, and covenant. With this grid firmly established, Baucham then weaves together a rich tapestry of redemptive historical significance in which, surprisingly, Joseph is presented as a mere bright strand and not the cloth itself.

The Story in Context

Baucham is concerned with addressing the story of Joseph and his brothers within context.  For this reason, the reader is introduced to an unvarnished presentation of Jacob’s sons. Joseph of course is portrayed as an exemplary character, drawing both the favoritism of his earthly father and the prophetic dreams of his heavenly father. In contrast, Joseph’s brothers (Benjamin excluded) are rightly portrayed as jealous, hotheaded, opportunist who stands in need of judgment at every turn (pg. 45-49). It is in the milieu of this dysfunctional family that Baucham shines the light of the gospel by reminding us that anything laudable in Joseph (the character he displayed from the pit to palace) is merely a reflection of God’s glory extended to him and God’s purposes in redemption being accomplished through him (pg.51-52). But Baucham is careful not to establish Joseph as the true hero of this story, that distinction is reserved for another son of Jacob.

The True Hero

In a surprising redemptive historical twist, the narrative (through the lens of Baucham) reveals Judah as the central figure. It is Judah, as Baucham reminds us, that appeals to his father to go back to Egypt for grain, it was Judah who willingly put his life on the line if Benjamin does not return, it was Judah who stood as his brother’s representative before Joseph, it was Judah who offers himself as ransom for Benjamin, and it was through Judah’s line that the Messiah would come (pg. 109-110). By establishing Judah as the son of promise, Baucham places the entire Joseph saga in its proper redemptive historical context: Joseph was the one chosen for that season to save Israel, Judah was the one chosen to bear the promised seed who will save the world from sin. Such a reading of the text provides us with the assured comfort that God alone redeems despite how unredeemable we may appear (pg. 112).

Space For Judah

While we commend Baucham for his labors in bringing the redemptive historical significance of the Joseph narrative to life, the book could give more space to developing Judah as the primary (though at times silent) figure of the story. Along these lines, Joseph then would become a pre-John the Baptist figure who prepares the way for Judah the son of the promise; in much the same way John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ. Such a reading would then make it a bit more natural than it is currently presented in the book to see Judah as the promised son since indeed without Joseph going before him, he would not have had the opportunity to rise to prominence.

The Final Word

I would commend this book to any interpreter of scripture committed to understanding the Bible in its redemptive historical context. Baucham in many ways redeems the story of Joseph from the pit of moralism  and establishes this gripping narrative in its proper place – pointing us to Christ. Perhaps the most arresting feature of the book is its constant reminder that God’s providential hand is guiding every event and circumstance. Everyone then becomes a servant of God, from Joseph and his family to Pharaoh and the people of Egypt. Nothing and no one is outside of God’s providential purview.  Further, all of what we read in the Bible has as its antecedent the gospel and Christ. This is why I found Baucham’s reading of the text to be both refreshing and edifying, because no matter where the text went he pointed us to Christ.

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