Joseph teaches us three things about prophecy: 1) how to understand prophetic language, 2) a good way to view the resurrection of the unjust, and 3) another tip on determining imminence.
Joseph and Prophetic Language
Now he had still another dream, and related it to his brothers, and said, “Lo, I have had still another dream; and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” He related it to his father and to his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have had? Shall I and your mother and your brothers actually come to bow ourselves down before you to the ground?”Genesis 37:9–10
Jacob immediately knows what the dream means: the stars represent his sons, the moon represents his wife, and the sun represents himself. So, when this language is used later to talk about the fall of Babylon, we know how to interpret it: the sun is the king, the moon is the queen, and the stars are the rulers under the king (princes, governors, lords, etc.).
For the stars of heaven and their constellations Will not flash forth their light; The sun will be dark when it rises And the moon will not shed its light.Isaiah 13:10
This is also helpful to us in several other New Testament passages:
But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.Matthew 24:29
THE SUN WILL BE TURNED INTO DARKNESS AND THE MOON INTO BLOOD, BEFORE THE GREAT AND GLORIOUS DAY OF THE LORD SHALL COME.Acts 2:20
I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind.Revelation 6:12–13
Joseph helps us with all these passages: the leaders of Israel were going to fall.
Joseph and the Resurrection of the Unjust
In studying resurrection, many focus on the resurrection of the just but hardly speak of the resurrection of the unjust. Joseph gives us a helpful picture of what that looks like. In Genesis 40, Joseph interprets two dreams. The first dream is the dream of the chief cupbearer. The second dream he interpreted was that of the chief baker. Both of their heads would be “lifted up” but one would receive forgiveness while the other judgement.
Thus it came about on the third day, which was Pharaoh's birthday, that he made a feast for all his servants; and he lifted up the head of the chief cupbearer and the head of the chief baker among his servants. He restored the chief cupbearer to his office, and he put the cup into Pharaoh's hand; but he hanged the chief baker, just as Joseph had interpreted to them.Genesis 40:20–22
In the Septuagint, the word “remembered” is used instead of “lifted up.” The Greek word translated “remembered” is used several times in the New Testament. Sometimes, the word is used in reference to the disciples remembering something that Jesus had said or done. The word is also used by the people to call on God to remember promises that He made:
He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy, As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his descendants forever.Luke 1:54–55
To show mercy toward our fathers, And to remember His holy covenant, The oath which He swore to Abraham our father, To grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, Might serve Him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.Luke 1:72–75
And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!”Luke 23:42
It is also used in reference to God remembering someone in judgement:
The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath.Revelation 16:19
So, when the chief cupbearer and the chief baker were “remembered” or “lifted up” it was talking about them both coming forward in order that a decision be made: one would receive judgement while the other a blessing.
This is how one could understand the resurrection of the just and the unjust. In speaking to Israel, Jesus announced the good news to them, and they had a choice to make: they could accept it and pass from death to life or reject it and remain in death. So, at the time of the restoration of Israel when God remembered His covenant with David, Abraham, and the rest, some would receive eternal life, like the cupbearer (from prison to the kingdom of Pharaoh), while others would remain in death (from prison to the grave), like the baker.
Joseph and Imminence
In Genesis 41, Pharaoh has two dreams, and Joseph interprets them for him. These are the dreams about the years of plenty and the years of famine that would eventually lead to Joseph's family to move to Goshen. This sets the stage for the Exodus several generations later. In this passage, we are not as interested in the interpretation of the dreams as we are the duplication of them. Here is Joseph's explanation for the repetition:
Now as for the repeating of the dream to Pharaoh twice, it means that the matter is determined by God, and God will quickly bring it about.Genesis 41:32
Think of how this may apply to New Testament prophecy:
Jesus said He was coming quickly three times in the Book of Revelation:
And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.Revelation 22:7
Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.Revelation 22:12
He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.Revelation 22:20
Could this repetition be a way to emphasize how near these events were?
Also, think about the Book of Revelation in general. It repeats the same event from multiple perspectives: seven trumpets, seven seals, seven bowls, etc., etc. Is this repetition another indication of the imminence of the material within the book?
I think so.
So, Joseph teaches us three things: 1) how to interpret prophetic language, 2) how to understand the resurrection of the unjust, and 3) what repetition means in prophecy.
I hope you found this insightful like I did when I was reading through Genesis last week!