Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) on Joseph as a foreshadowing of Christ


I am currently working through Jonathan Edwards’ (1703-1758) A History of the Work of Redemption – a book I should have already read a long time ago – and finding it a delightful read. Originally a series of 30 lecture-sermons preached to his congregation at Northampton, Massachusetts, in 1739, these sermons were later edited to take the form of a coherent treatise, and this is the form in which we find the work under its present title.

Edwards’ work traces God’s redemptive dealings with man throughout history, and in his treatment of Old Testament redemptive history he constantly shows how God’s redemptive works in the Old Testament foreshadowed and pointed to the redemption in Christ which was to come. I particularly appreciated his brief exposition of Joseph as a type of Christ. This is from p. 68-69 in the Banner of Truth edition:

“The next thing I would like to observe, is God’s remarkably preserving the family of which Christ was to proceed from perishing by famine by the instrumentality of Joseph. When there was seven years’ famine approaching, God was pleased, by a wonderful providence, to send Joseph into Egypt, there to provide for and feed Jacob and his family, and to keep the holy seed alive, which otherwise would have perished. Joseph was sent to Egypt for that end, as he observes (Gen. 50:20): ‘But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to save much people alive.’ How often had this holy root that had the future branch of righteousness, the glorious Redeemer, in it been in danger of being destroyed! But God wonderfully preserved it.

This salvation of the house of Israel by the hand of Joseph, was upon some accounts very much a resemblance of the salvation of Christ. The children of Israel were saved by Joseph their kinsman and brother, from perishing by famine; as he that saves the souls of the spiritual Israel from spiritual famine is their near kinsman, and one that is not ashamed to call them brethren, Joseph was a brother that they had hated, and sold and as it were killed; for they had designed to kill him. So Christ is one that we naturally hate and, by our wicked lives, have sold for the vain things of the world, and by our sins have slain. Joseph was first in a state of humiliation. He was a servant, as Christ appeared in the form of a servant. Then he was cast into a dungeon, as Christ descended into the grave; and then when he rose out of the dungeon he was in a state of great exaltation, at the king’s right hand as his deputy, to reign over all his kingdom, to provide food, to preserve life. And being in this state of exaltation, he dispenses food to his brethren, and so gives them life; as Christ was exalted at God’s right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour to his brethren, and received gifts for men, even for the rebellious, and for them that hated and had sold him.”

Francis Turretin (1623-1687) on guilt, grace, and gratitude in the Old Testament ceremonial law

Francis Turretin


Those of you who are familiar with the Heidelberg Catechism will know that the Catechism explicitly adopts a threefold structure in its treatment of Christian doctrine, as laid out in Question 2:

Question 2. How many things are necessary for thee to know, that thou, enjoying this comfort, mayest live and die happily?
Answer: Three; the first, how great my sins and miseries are; the second, how I may be delivered from all my sins and miseries; the third, how I shall express my gratitude to God for such deliverance.

These three things are often summarized as “guilt, grace, and gratitude”.

Now, how might the Old Testament ceremonial law have anything to do with the above? With the ceremonial law having been fulfilled and abolished in the work of Christ (Col. 2:14, 16; Dan. 9:27; Eph. 2:15-16), some may wonder whether it is still of any benefit to us when we read of it in the Old Testament. The Belgic Confession helps us in this regard:

Article 25: The Fulfillment of the Law

We believe that the ceremonies and symbols of the law have ended with the coming of Christ, and that all foreshadowings have come to an end, so that the use of them ought to be abolished among Christians. Yet the truth and substance of these things remain for us in Jesus Christ, in whom they have been fulfilled.

Nevertheless, we continue to use the witnesses drawn from the law and prophets to confirm us in the gospel and to regulate our lives with full integrity for the glory of God, according to his will.

The Confession states that “we continue to use the witness drawn from the law and prophets to confirm us in the gospel…”. In this line, Francis Turretin (1623-1687) demonstrates how “guilt, grace, and gratitude” were exhibited in the Old Testament ceremonial law:

“With regard to the covenant of grace, there was a use of the law to show its necessity by a demonstration of sin and of human misery; of its truth and excellence by a shadowing forth of Christ and his offices and benefits; to seal his manifold grace in its figures and sacraments; to keep up the expectation and desire of him by that laborious worship and by the severity of its discipline to compel them to seek him; and to exhibit the righteousness and image of the spiritual worship required by him in that covenant. Undoubtedly three things are always to be specially inculcated upon man: (1) his misery; (2) God’s mercy; (3) the duty of gratitude: what he is by nature; what he has received by grace; and what he owes by obedience. These three things the ceremonial law set before the eyes of the Israelites, since ceremonies included especially these three relations. The first inasmuch as they were appendices of the law and the two others as sacraments of evangelical grace. (a) There were confessions of sins, of human misery and of guilt contracted by sin (Col. 2:14; Heb.10:1-3). (b) Symbols and shadows of God’s mercy and of the grace to be bestowed by Christ (Col. 2:17; Heb. 9:13, 14). (c) Images and pictures of duty and of the worship to be paid to God in testimony of a grateful mind (Rom. 12:1). Misery engendered in their minds humility; mercy, solace; and the duty of gratitude, sanctification. These three were expressly designated in the sacrifices. For as they were a “handwriting” on the part of God (Col. 2:14) representing the debt contracted by sin, so they were a shadow of the ransom (lytrou) to be paid by Christ (Col. 2:17, Heb. 10:5, 10) and pictures of the reasonable (latreias logikēs) and gospel worship to be given to God by believers (Rom. 12:1; 1 Pet. 2:5).”

– Francis Turretin (1623-1687), Institutes of Elenctic Theology, XI.24.9

Matthew Henry (1662–1714) on Isaac’s question in Genesis 22:7 – “Where is the lamb?”



7. Without any ruffle or disorder, he talks it over with Isaac, as if it had been but a common sacrifice that he was going to offer, v. 7, 8.

(1.) It was a very affecting question that Isaac asked him, as they were going together: My father, said Isaac; it was a melting word, which, one would think, would strike deeper into the breast of Abraham than his knife could into the breast of Isaac. He might have said, or thought, at least, “Call me not thy father who am now to be thy murderer; can a father be so barbarous, so perfectly lost to all the tenderness of a father?” Yet he keeps his temper, and keeps his countenance, to admiration; he calmly waits for his son’s question, and this is it: Behold the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb? See how expert Isaac was in the law and custom of sacrifices. This it is to be well-catechised: this is, [1.] A trying question to Abraham. How could he endure to think that Isaac was himself the lamb? So it is, but Abraham, as yet, dares not tell him so. Where God knows the faith to be armour of proof, he will laugh at the trial of the innocent, Job ix. 23. [2.] It is a teaching question to us all, that, when we are going to worship God, we should seriously consider whether we have every thing ready, especially the lamb for a burnt-offering. Behold, the fire is ready, the Spirit’s assistance and God’s acceptance; the wood is ready, the instituted ordinances designed to kindle our affections (which indeed, without the Spirit, are but like wood without fire, but the Spirit works by them); all things are now ready, but where is the lamb? Where is the heart? Is that ready to be offered up to God, to ascend to him as a burnt-offering?

(2.) It was a very prudent answer which Abraham gave him: My son, God will provide himself a lamb. This was the language, either, [1.] Of his obedience. “We must offer the lamb which God has appointed now to be offered;” thus giving him this general rule of submission to the divine will, to prepare him for the application of it to himself very quickly. Or, [2.] Of his faith. Whether he meant it so or not, this proved to be the meaning of it; a sacrifice was provided instead of Isaac. Thus, First, Christ, the great sacrifice of atonement, was of God’s providing; when none in heaven or earth could have found a lamb for that burnt-offering, God himself found the ransom, Ps. lxxxix. 20. Secondly, All our sacrifices of acknowledgment are of God’s providing too. It is he that prepares the heart, Ps. x. 17. The broken and contrite spirit is a sacrifice of God (Ps. li. 17), of his providing.

– Matthew Henry (1662–1714), Commentary on Genesis 22:7

Christopher J.H. Wright: This surely has to be one of the most foundational elements of the Old Testament contribution to our theology of mission


“All stand under YHWH’s judgment. All can turn to YHWH and find his mercy. This surely has to be one of the most foundational elements of the Old Testament contribution to our theology of mission.

1) If it were not the case that all nations stand under the impending judgment of God, there would be no need to proclaim the gospel.

2) But if it were not for the fact that God deals in mercy and forgiveness with all who repent, there would be no gospel to proclaim.”

– Christopher J.H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative, p. 462

John Knox (c. 1514–1572) on ungrateful Israel


“The people were slothful; and the priests, who should have provoked the people to tho remembrance of those great benefits, were become even like to the rest. The Lord therefor did raise up his Prophet Malachi, (who was the last before Christ), sharply to rebuke, and plainly to convict this horrible ingratitude of that unthankful nation, who so shamefully had forgotten those so great benefits recently bestowed upon them. And thus begins he his Prophecy: ‘I have loved you, says the Lord;’ in which words he speaks not of a common love, which in preserving and feeding all creatures is common to the reprobate, but of that love by which he had sanctified and separated them from the rest of nations, to have his glory manifested. But because they (as all ungrateful persons do) did not consider wherein this his love towards them more then towards others did stand, he bringing them to the fountain, demanding this question: ‘Was not Esau brother to Jacob? says the Lord, and nevertheless Jacob l have I loved, and Esau have hated’.”

– John Knox (c. 1514–1572), “On Predestination in Answer to the Cavillations by an Anabaptist, 1560,” in Works, 5:151

S.G. de Graaf (1889-1955): Genesis 3 is more about the covenant of grace than it is about the fall


S.G. de Graaf (1889-1955), a Dutch Reformed minister perhaps not too well-known among English-speaking readers, published an excellent work on the history of redemption which he titled Verbondgeschiedenis (literally, “History of the Covenant”), which was translated into English under the title Promise and Deliverance in four volumes, which I got hold of a couple of months ago. Throughout De Graaf’s work he focuses on the Kingdom of God being established and working out its means in human history. De Graaf does a great job moving beyond the ‘moral lesson’ or ‘typical point’ used in the stories of the Bible to seeing Old Testament stories as foreshadows of Jesus and all part of the redemptive plan of God. The New Testament work points out the Kingdom of God being established on earth. To give an idea, here is an example from the Old Testament in Vol. I, beginning of chapter 3 – see where he places the emphasis when discussing Genesis 3:

“I have deliberately entitled this chapter ‘The Covenant of Grace’ instead of ‘The Fall’.  The fall certainly merits our attention, but if we put too much emphasis on it, the revelation of God’s grace might become a mere afterthought. When we read through Genesis 3, we see that the fall is described in just seven verses, while the rest of the chapter is devoted to God’s grace. Even more important for our purposes is the fact that the Scripture is not a book of the acts of men but the book of revelation of God. Here in Genesis 3, God shows us how He opposed sin and conquered it by His grace when it entered His creation.”

– S.G. de Graaf (1889-1955), Promise and Deliverance, Vol. I, p.43

That is a very important point. Most often when someone mentions the words “Genesis 3” to us, our thoughts immediately jump to the fall. While indeed Genesis 3 is about the fall of man, it is, more importantly, also about the covenant of grace and God’s promises of deliverance (the English title of de Graaf’s work is very appropriate). Right from the beginning of the 4-volume work, De Graaf places great emphasis on the utmost importance of the covenant:

“Without covenant, there is no religion, no conscious fellowship between man and God, no exchange of love and faithfulness. Without the covenant, man would be just an instrument in God’s hand. When God created man, He had more than an instrument in mind: He made a creature that could respond to Him.” (p. 36)

Geerhardus Vos (1862–1949) on Abraham’s faith


Geerhardus Vos’ (1862–1949) description of the faith of the Old Testament patriarchs – particularly Abraham – is most excellent. I highly recommend the entire section, but I only have selected a few passages. This section can be found in Vos’ Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments, p. 83-87.

“Faith was in Abraham’s life the chief religious act and frame of mind.  His whole life was a school of faith in which the divine training developed this grace from step to step.  Even at the beginning there was a heavy demand on the patriarch’s faith.  He was called upon to leave his own country, kindred, father’s house.”

Abraham’s “faith and a desire for more faith” went hand in hand.  “There entered into it a personal factor, viz., the trustworthiness of God, who made the declaration of the promises.  Religious belief exists not in its last analysis on what we can prove to be so, but on the fact of God having declared it to be so.”  “Faith therefore begins and ends in the trust – rest in God.” 

“For this treasure [Gen 15.1 – the reward – God himself] he could cheerfully renounce all other gifts.”  By faith, “Abraham…renounced all of his own purely human resources.  He expected nothing from himself…he expected everything from the supernatural interposition of God….  This is the reason why the Apostle [Paul] compares Abraham’s faith…to the Christian’s faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  This kind of faith is a faith in the creative interposition of God.  It trusts in Him for calling the things that are not as though they were….  Abraham learned to possess the promses of God, in the promising God alone.  The promises had no chance of becoming materialized through detachment from their centre in God.  They could only be had and enjoyed as a part and potential outflow of the divine heart itself.  For the promises are like an ethereal garment, more precious than the body of the promised thing over which it is thrown.”

“From the earthly, possessed or not-yet-possessed, they [the patriarchs] had learned to look upward to a form of possession of the promise identifying it more closely with God Himself.”