Monday, May 30, 2016

"Joseph and the Gospel of Many Colors" by Voddie Baucham: A Review

Ironically, it is the dramatic nature of Joseph's story, coupled with our addiction to heroic character arcs and story lines, that make it difficult to interpret this well-worn narrative properly. Our tendency is to look at the story in isolation as though 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.

We all know the story of Joseph - the favorite son of the last Jewish patriarch betrayed and sold into slavery by his own brothers only to rise to save them from starvation - and that is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because it is a central story of Scripture that unfolds God's ultimate plan of redemption. It is a curse because, like the many other well-known stories (like David and Goliath, Jonah, Moses, Abraham, and the miracles of Jesus), we have a tendency to moralize the narrative. In his new book Joseph and the Gospel of Many Colors (Crossway, 2013), Dr. Voddie Baucham shows how to read the the story of Jacob's favorite son with redemption, and not moralism, in mind.

The book begins with a helpful introduction and first chapter that lays out the issues. Baucham explains what his book is not (a commentary, a sermon series turned into a book, etc.) and what the book is. Any believer, pastor, or scholar looking for an in-depth study of the story of Joseph will be disappointed, but anyone looking to apply a redemptive hermeneutic to one of the Bible's most beloved characters will be blessed.

In the first chapter Baucham rightly blasts our natural tendency to moralize the Bible. He returns to this exhortation throughout the book showing how exegetically it does not work. For example, when Joseph literally flees sexual temptation from Potipher's wife, it is tempting to interpret the text morally revealing how we ought to respond to sexual temptation. The problem, however, is the stories conclusion: Joseph is arrested and put in jail. Moralism depends on a happy ending otherwise the moral of the story makes no sense.

Key to Baucham's redemptive hermeneutic is the theme of seed, land, and covenant. The author walks the reader through this argument in an extremely helpful chapter on how to understand the Bible in general and Genesis in particular. Chapter 2, where this theme is discussed, is worth the price of the book itself.

From here, the author surveys the narrative of Joseph mostly highlighting two chapters at a time almost always returning to the theme of seed, land, and covenant. Like a good pastor, Bauchman explains any textual difficulties and background information necessary, but he certainly does not dwell on any of these unless he is forced to. Again, this is not a scholarly treatment of the story nor a commentary. Bauchman remains focused in showing what the story of Joseph has to do with the gospel.

Perhaps an example of how Bauchman applies the three themes of seed, land, and covenant might be helpful. In his chapter on Genesis 37-38, the author writes:
The significance of Judah's marriage is threefold. First, we have already seen how important the marriages of their children are to be the patriarchs. Abraham made his servant swear that he would "not take a wife for [his] son from the daughters of the Canaanites" (Gen. 24:3). Now we find Judah, the next in the line of the Promised Seed, doing presently that. This raises questions about the seed.

Second, not only does Judah end up with a Canaanite, but he "went down from his brothers and turned aside." This raises questions about the land. Judah wasn't sold into slavery. nor was he advancing the patriarch's acquisition of territory. No one forced him to abandon the Land of Promise; he simply departed on his own. This is an amazing juxtaposition.

Third, the narrative makes it clear that Judah has not just left for a short while. He is among the Canaanites long enough for the woman to conceive three times. Even if she was exceptionally fertile, this took at least two-and-a-half to three years. How could Judah have been raised by the last of the patriarchs, tasted the Land of Promise, and decided to "turn aside" to live among the Canaanites? This raises questions about the covenant. Is Judah part of the covenant people of God? Of course, this question will be answered later. Nevertheless, the point is clear: Moses is showing how far Judah has fallen. (54)
Baucham's approach has forced me to go back over the story itself and look more closely for these themes which has been extremely helpful to me. The significance of the Judah story here, as the author points out, is that though Joseph might be the main character in the closing chapters of Genesis, he is not its central character: Jacob and Judah are. Judah becomes the promised seed, not Joseph, and it is Judah that learns to lead after his own repentance and it is upon his offspring (his seed) that Jacob makes his messianic promise.

This is the pattern of the book. Though I felt that Baucham could have made more direct connections with Christ and His passion, Baucham illustrates for us how faithful exegesis leads naturally to redemption. He is always careful not to allegorize in his effort to reveal its redemptive nature common among those with a redemptive hermeneutic of the Old Testament.

One opportunity Baucham missed regards Genesis 49:10. The NASB makes mention of a mysterious "Shiloh" whereas the ESV, the translation Baucham uses, translates using the word "tribute." I prefer the NASB as it forces the reader to see the messianic connection more clearly. This difference of translation, something Baucham does not mention, leads to him ignoring it. He does well in emphasizing the metaphor of a lion and a king, but fails to see the messianic prophecy here.

Overall, however, this is a helpful book for any reader of Scripture. Though a concluding chapter tying everything together would have been beneficial, Bauchman succeeds in guiding the reader to seeing redemption in one of the Bible's most known stories.

 This book was provided for the purpose of this review by its publisher, Crossway Books.

For more:
"Against the Gods" by John Currid: A Review
Archeological & Historical Evidence of the Exodus
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