JOSEPH THE OVERCOMER
D. M. Panton, B. A.
That Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress has been enormously more circulated and incomparably more God-used than any other uninspired book ever written startles us into attention to its contents: it must express the mind of the [Holy] Spirit on the progress of a pilgrim with a rarer truth than any book outside Scripture. What then is its heart and core? That the ideal Christian life is no cushion of privilege, no easy and prosperous part, no glory about to crown a disciple of low standards and secret sins: it is perils in Vanity Fair, it is the awful possibility of the castle of Giant Despair, it is Apollyon straddling across the path, it is hard going until the River and the Celestial Hills. An easy discipleship is already a proved failure.
Now the very embodiment of this strenuous struggle home, carved out of concrete life, is the history of Joseph. While the parallel between Joseph’s life and our Lord’s has impressed all ages, Joseph is nowhere said to be a type of Christ; for he is a type of Christ only because our Lord is the supreme Overcomer: "as I also overcame" (Rev. 3: 21). Joseph is the first patriarch whose life is exhaustively recorded: his experiences are lucid, graphic summaries of what every faithful servant of God must meet: his testing is a training, so that the trials conquered, actually create the king: the throne immediately succeeds the dungeon. As Enoch is the mighty forecast of rapture in the world’s dawn, removal from earth without dying, so Joseph - appropriately after the Flood of wrath - is the mighty forecast of the Overcomer, inheriting the throne.
The overcoming live opens - as ever - in golden and God-given visions. The risen sun; the harvest field; the bowing sheaves: a constellation; a central orb; subordinate stars: as Paul puts it - "one star differeth from another star in glory, so also is the resurrection of the dead" (1 Cor. 15: 41). It is Joseph’s version of Daniel’s marvelous words (Dan. 12: 3): "They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever."* Youth is the time for immense dreams, which life has got to make real. The Lord held out an identical vision to the Philadelphian Angel, for his life to make good: "Behold, I will make them" - his persecutors - "to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee" (Rev. 3: 9). God sets before us all the same golden dreams - the possibility of the highest - but on conditions as severe as the vision is golden; for the life must manufacture the dream. Joseph’s dreams cost him everything, sustained him in everything, and ultimately gave him everything: by dreams God summoned him to the highest; by dreams God cheered, sustained, and instructed him in prison; by dreams God at last exalted him to the throne.
[* So far from ambition for coming glory being wrong, the very absence of the ambition our Lord makes one vice of the Pharisees: "The glory that cometh from the only God ye seek not" (John 5: 44).]
Joseph’s dreams at once plunge him into disaster. "And his brethren" - the other patriarchs, the official leaders of God’s only people on earth - "hated him yet more for his dreams, and for his words" (Gen. 27: 8), in which he had reported their conduct to his father, and revealed his own more scrupulous standard. It is the history of all the ages. His brothers, instead of wisely answering - "Our fidelity and sanctity will yet show you that, no less than you, we are bound for coming glory," they sweep the whole doctrine of future dominion aside, and start to persecute.* For long years Joseph became, to them, a buried man, and they described him (Gen. 44: 20) as ‘dead.’ Isolation is the penalty of devotion. There is a rawness in youth, and there can be a naďve and tactless exultation in possible coming glory, which jars; the more so as Joseph seems utterly unconscious of the blood-sprinkled path thither: nevertheless the father’s distinguishing love, on a youth who had earned it, and the lad’s passionate idealism, rouse the anger and jealousy of the un-ideal, un-ambitious, un-spiritual among the servants of God. Somehow, somewhere, every Joseph must meet his brother’s devastating criticism or even actual persecution.
[* It corresponds to a
scornful denial of all reward according to works, and especially
of any selection for rapture and rule. The parallel type teaches
exactly the same lesson: all
Now arrives the crisis of Joseph’s life - all the testing of all saved souls in all ages crammed into one concrete, overwhelming test. Alone in the house, with no eye upon them but God’s had Joseph yielded to Potiphar’s wife, the overcoming life would have at once ended, probably never to have been captured again. [Regenerate] Believers innumerable, often through some sin never known to anyone but God, lose the throne in the house of Potiphar. Concerning such sins Paul warns the Church (Gal. 5: 21): "Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, heresies, [parties], envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and the like: of the which I warn you" - for he is dealing with the sins of [regenerate] believers and their consequences - "even as I did forewarn you, that they which practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." Joseph, at enormous cost, refuses the sin.
now, in Potiphar’s prison, because of fidelity in Potiphar’s house, the peculiar sufferings of God’s
overcoming saint are for ever embodied - not chastisement, nor purging because
of sin, but purely and solely suffering
for righteousness’ sake. The accusation of Potiphar’s
wife is the first calumny recorded in the Bible; and it is the pregnant
forecast of crimes the most atrocious which, under the Soviets as under the
Caesars, are charged upon perfectly innocent Christians. As he and the
woman alone knew the facts, it was a total impossibility for him to clear
himself: his honour, his good name, his sanctity were gone, in the eyes of all
men. If we refuse the kingdoms of the world, we must face some measure
So Joseph’s concrete experiences reveal how the knife of God carves and shapes a king. First in Potiphar’s mansion, and then in Potiphar’s prison-cells, the youth was learning, first heart-discipline through the refining of sorrow, and then administrative capacity for handling men and affairs; a large and understanding heart, together with a character trained for responsibility, both of which are essentials for those who are to exercise world-power for the benefit of others, and without which any kingdom would be a chaos. His sufferings have passed into a proverb: "The word of the Lord tried him; he was laid in iron" (Ps. 105: 18, 19). In the dungeon Joseph unlearnt any tendency to censoriousness or self-complacency: the prison, moreover, was to him no grim goal of inglorious idleness, or moody depression, or a soured and embittered spirit: on the contrary, all the time he was spending and being spent; all his talents were put to fullest use; he was a king in the dungeon. The magnanimity he showed throughout, especially to his brothers, is superb,* meriting Pharaoh’s word (Gen. 41: 38) - "a man in whom the s[S]piritą of God is." For the whole stormy, upright, tested, deeply experienced life is in the inevitable and infallible preparation for a septre and a throne.
[* It is doubtful if (apart from Calvary) in all the revelations of God so large a section has ever been devoted to a single incident as is given to the reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers; and it pours a flood of light on the reunion of alienated Christians - even martyrs and their slayers - in Eternal Life.]
So now Joseph reaches, as the glorious goal, exactly the rank and functions which are an overcomer’s at our Lord’s return: he rules Egypt - always a symbol of the world; shapes its politics and economics; safeguards it under famine; and so controls even its princes (Ps. 105: 22) that "all countries came into Egypt" (Gen. 41: 57) for bread. Proved faithful in little, he is made ruler over much. The dungeon, the ‘concentration camp.’ The shooting squad are actual steps up the throne. Joseph exclaims: "God hath made me fruitful IN THE LAND OF MY AFFLICTION" (Gen. 41: 52): like his Lord, where the martyr’s blood fell, he reigns - that is, on [this] earth. So our Lord’s promises to the overcomer in the Churches singularly cluster in Joseph. Arrayed in white ["fine linen" R.V.] (Gen. 41: 42) as those who shall walk with Christ (Rev. 3: 4), Pharaoh confers on him a new name (Gen. 41: 45), as does our Lord on the overcomer (Rev. 2: 17), * and both combine the new designation with a signet ring, or stone. God given dreams are realities; and His very enemies God makes their executors. Joseph goes through great tribulation for righteousness’ sake, and reaches a throne: his brothers - rejoining him under the pressure of a famine throughout the world - go through ‘great tribulation’ for punitive and purging’s sake, and reach no throne. ** So Joseph’s blood-dipt ‘coat of many colours’ - the robe is all we see of the man, that is, his conduct - was (in the East) the heir’s robe, and in the Apocalypse it is the Bride’s trousseau - "the righteous acts of the saints" (Rev. 19: 8); and as a kid’s blood is, equally with a lamb’s, a symbol of Calvary (Lev. 4: 24), so we read - "These are they which came out of the great tribulation, and they washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb: THEREFORE ARE THEY BEFORE THE THRONE OF GOD" (Rev. 7: 14).
[* The new name Pharoah confers on Joseph not only describes the Supreme Overcomer, but also each of his associate kings – [it means,] ‘World Deliverer.’]
** Jacob and his family are, at the moment, the entire body of God’s servants in the world, and so are a type of the whole Church; and as Aaron’s rod alone budded - one in twelve (Num. 17: 6) - forecasting the first resurrection, so Joseph’s sheaf alone - one on twelve (Gen. 36: 1, 7) - ruled in harvest, forecasting the Reign after the reaping in resurrection.]
sums it all up in his own words and his own life: "O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision!"
Joseph had not a single page of Scripture, yet God’s words to him governed
his life, and God’s words to others through him he expounded without fear or
favour. Let us grasp one overmastering fact - that however we may be
involved (and rightly) in the desperate battle of others, and whatever our
despair over Church and world, ultimately we are responsible for ourselves
alone, and remain for ever masters of our own fate. We can carry a
white robe to the Judgment Seat. Joseph was alone among his
brothers: he was alone in the pit; he was alone in
the house of Potiphar’s wife; he was alone
in the prison; and he was alone (under Pharoah)
on the throne - "I HAVE SET THEE
OVER ALL THE
1. Here the author has used a small "s" in the word ‘spirit’; the translators of the A.V. have a capital. The difference is great: the former denotes the spirit as a frame of mind, the latter as the indwelling Holy Spirit. The latter is (in my opinion) is correct.
Compare Joseph the overcomer, with Samson (Judges 16: 20), who was, for a time overcome, but later in life, after repentance and restoration, died an overcomer. Therefore, Samson will inherit the millennial kingdom, for all martyrs will rule with Christ during the Millennium, (Rev. 20: 4); he will rise from Hades at the time of the “the first resurrection”, (Matt. 16: 24; Rev. 6: 9-11).
Die to the world: its hope and aspiration,
See not the colour of its flick’ring flame;
To all the glamour of its soft persuasion
Die! For, for you, is a worthier aim.
On past man-censure and strident decrying
Through fierce distress and allure and decay
To the seen kingdom fixed unwavering
Certain and sure to the chosen determined
Is there a rest long-assured and prepared,
Heirs of a promise by God made and vital
Shall we light-lose the as yet uncompared?
Dumbly enduring the waging of warring,
Steel’d ‘gainst delight of the passing unreal,
On with link’d arms with the few lion-hearted,
Iron, unflinching to other appeal.
Nearing and sounding, the threat’ning horizon
Trembles to hasten the blood-running sod,
Still in the shadow, undaunted the faithful
Banded, intrepid, awaiting their God.
Sound of the fury of a world abandon’d,
Unrestrain’d hurt of a sin-madden’d night,
Impulsive burst of tempestuous weeping -
On! ‘tis the herald of rapture and flight!
- Hazel Potter.