Often we read a segment in a book that brings to our memory something from another book or story we have come across in the past, which creates an association between different stories and characters. This is very much the Jewish way to read the Bible – one story triggers associations of another. And God has designed it that way. We need to pay attention to the parallels, because they were put there on purpose.
Professor of Biblical studies, Dr. Yair Zakovitch, explains: “The Biblical narrator does his best to inspire the reader to pay attention to the mirroring associations between the stories, especially those who are set far apart in time from one another”.[1] Similarly, Rabbi Amnon Dov Bazak, from Herzog College writes: “Explicit parallelism between various events is an accepted practice of the Old Testament itself. Quite often we find that various characters in the Old Testament refer to an earlier event in order to ascribe strength and validity to their message”.[2] The reader learns to identify key figures based on past characters with whom he is well familiar already. Therefore, a Jew well versed in the Biblical narratives will expect the image of Messiah to mirror those of existing Biblical characters. Two key characters that are commonly seen as prefiguring the Messiah are Joseph and David. But not only do they serve as a pattern that will point to the coming Messiah, but they also echo one another.

Joseph mirrors David

There are many literary parallels to be found between the stories of Joseph and David, linking the two in our minds. Also, it’s interesting to note that where one fails, the other succeeds. For instance, Joseph does not succumb to the temptation set before him by Potiphar’s wife (Gen. 39:7), while King David does succumb and commits adultery with Bat-Sheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite (2 Sam. 11:2-4). Both characters had to endure suffering and rejection as preparation for the greatness they achieved later on. Indeed, both endured difficult trials that formed their character and prepared them to become the rulers they became (Gen. 37-41; 1 Sam. 17, 2 Sam. 11).
Here are some of the most obvious parallels in the stories that contain linguistic affinities between the description of the life of Joseph and that of the life of King David:
Joseph’s older brothers go away from their home, and likewise so do David’s brothers. Joseph and David both are sent to check on their brothers.

  • “Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, ‘Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.’ And he said to him, ‘Here I am.’ So he said to him, ‘Go now, see if it is well with your brothers…’ “ (Gen. 37:12-14).
  • “The three oldest sons of Jesse … went to the battle… And David … ran to the ranks and went and greeted his brothers.”; “Therefore Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, ‘Send me David your son, who is with the sheep.’ ” (1 Sam. 17:13, 22; 16:19).

Joseph was a youngster and among the youngest in his family, and so was David. These two young men were the ones chosen among their brothers for a great mission designed to serve and save their nation.

  •  “Then Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Are all your sons [lit. boys] here?’ And he said, ‘There remains yet the youngest’; Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers.” (1 Sam. 16:11, 13).
  •  “Joseph, being seventeen years old… He was a boy… His brothers said to him, ‘Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?’ ” (Gen. 37:2, 8).

Joseph shepherded his family’s flocks, and so did David.

  • “Joseph… was pasturing the flock with his brothers” (Gen. 37:2).
  • “David … to feed [lit. shepherd] his father’s sheep. (1 Sam. 17:15).

Just as Joseph’s brothers treated him with sarcasm and cynicism, so did David’s brothers.[3]

  • “They [his brothers] hated him even more”, “they conspired against him to kill him. They said to one another, ‘Here comes this dreamer.’ ” (Gen. 37:5, 18, 19).
  • “Now Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spoke to the men. And Eliab’s anger was kindled against David, and he said, ‘Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart.’ ” (1 Sam. 17:28).

Joseph’s father tells him to go check on his brothers’ welfare, as did David’s father.

  • “And Israel said to Joseph, ‘Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.’ And he said to him, ‘Here I am.’  So he said to him, ‘Go now, see if it is well with your brothers.’ ” (Gen. 37:13-14).
  • “And Jesse said to David his son, ‘Take for your brothers an ephah of this parched grain, and these ten loaves, and carry them quickly to the camp to your brothers. Also take these ten cheeses to the commander of their thousand. See if your brothers are well.’ ” (1 Sam. 17:17-18).

The robe of many colors in the stories of Joseph and David symbolizes times of struggle and sin that brought about much sorrow to both Joseph and David. Joseph’s robe was stripped off him and dipped in blood, symbolizing the struggle he had with his brothers who rejected him and wished him harm. Whereas the multi colored robe in David’s story was torn and represents the bad news King David received.

  • “So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he wore”, “ Then they took Joseph’s robe and slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood.” (Gen. 37:23, 31).
  • “And Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the long robe [lit. robe of many colors] that she wore. And she laid her hand on her head and went away, crying aloud as she went”, “When King David heard of all these things, he was very angry.” (2 Sam. 13:19, 21).

Both Joseph and David were married by the king. Both were also married to women who were not Israelites.[4]

  • “And he gave him in marriage Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On.” (Gen. 41:45).
  • “And Saul gave him his daughter Michal for a wife.” (1 Sam. 18:27).

Joseph was thirty years old when he came into position and honor, and David too was thirty when he received honor and position among the people.[5] Both “went out” (יצא) over the people, both are beloved by “Israel”.

  • “Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons”,  “So Joseph went out over the land of Egypt. Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh and went through all the land of Egypt.” (Gen. 37:3; 41:45-46).
  • “So Saul removed him from his presence and made him a commander of a thousand. And he went out and came in before the people. And David had success in all his undertakings, for the Lord was with him. And when Saul saw that he had great success, he stood in fearful awe of him. But all Israel and Judah loved David, for he went out and came in before them”, “David was thirty years old when he began to reign” (1 Sam. 18:13-16; 2 Sam. 5:4).

The rulers reigning above Joseph and David both see (and fear) that God is with them and that they are “wise”.[6]

  • “His master saw that the Lord was with him”, “Now therefore let Pharaoh select [lit. see – יֵרֶא] a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt.” (Gen. 39:3; 41:33).
  • “… man of valor, a man of war, prudent [lit. wise – נָבוֹן] in speech, and a man of good presence, and the Lord is with him”, “Saul was afraid of David because the Lord was with him.” (1 Sam. 16:18; 18:12).

Both Joseph and David are described as יפֵה מַרְאֶה – handsome. [7] 

  • “Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance” (Gen. 39:6).
  • “And when the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was but a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance” (1 Sam. 17:42)

Joseph and David both were faced with sexual temptation by a married woman, a foreigner, while they were alone. Both faced punishment because of that temptation. David was punished justly for he did sin, whereas Joseph punishment was unjust since he was innocent (Gen. 39, 2 Sam. 11, 12).

  • “Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, ‘Lie with me.’ ” … “ ‘How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?’ ” (Gen. 39:6-7, 9).
  • “[David] saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful…  So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.) Then she returned to her house… But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.” (2 Sam. 11:2, 4, 27).

According to Bible scholar Amnon Bazak, Joseph and David are the only two biblical characters that were ever described as “handsome” and “wise”.[8] In addition to that, they are the only two described as being “thirty years old” and the usage of the term “robe of many colors” (כתונת-הפסים) is unique to these two stories.

In the same manner that Joseph and David’s characters point to one another, they also point to the character of Messiah.

There is an ancient Jewish midrash written by R’ Zalman Baruch Melamed explaining how both Joseph and David are both forerunners to the anticipated Messiah:

“Joseph is the breaker making a way, and in the future it is expressed by the fact that there is Messiah son of Joseph and Messiah son of David. Messiah son of Joseph’s actions are unknown, he appears in an external reality, unrecognized, unclear, as if there is no holiness in him. ‘And Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him’ (Gen. 42:8), in the book Kol HaTor it is said that the brothers do not understand and do not recognize the degree of Messiah son of Joseph, they do not recognize the holiness found in these actions, they think these are negative actions, external and secular and not containing any internal content of holiness, but that is the way of Messiah son of Joseph and of Joseph – his internal aspects are extremely strong whereas externally he seems otherwise.
On the other hand, the strength of Messiah son of Joseph is: ‘the LORD caused all that he did to succeed in his hands’ (Gen. 39:3). He is to advance and succeed through the troubles and misunderstandings. His job is to always be first, the one pushing forward – yet not the finisher, the finisher is Messiah son of David. Here too at the beginning we find the concept of ‘like father, like son’, Joseph is the first, the one leading, he is the ruler that leads and guides all his brothers… Joseph had to go through the whole difficult ordeal he had been through, in order to reach the fulfillment and the revealing of this special character, this special ‘Josephism.’ ”[9]

Parallels between Joseph and Yeshua – the suffering Messiah, Son of Joseph

The reason the Biblical narrator chose to portray David’s story in light of that of Joseph is to ask the question: “Is David Messiah son of Joseph, or should we wait for another?” Though David is also considered to be a Messianic prototype in some ways,[10] he is not the promised one who will complete the task without sin, the Messiah. Since the character of Joseph is undoubtedly the “prototypical” character of Messiah, we can see that Yeshua is indeed the parallel to the image of Joseph and as such answers the definition of “Messiah son of Joseph”.

  • Both were despised
  • Thirty years old was a key time in their story
  • Stripped of their clothing
  • Became a servant
  • Resisted temptation
  • Described as a shepherd
  • Knew what their future held
  • Accused of being a dreamer
  • The intended target of a conspiracy to kill
  • Sold to gentiles for silver coins
  • Falsely accused
  • Suffered as result of rejection
  • Spent time alone deep under the ground
  • Counted among criminals
  • Gave hope to a criminal
  • Considered dead
  • Appeared foreign and belonging to gentiles
  • Not recognized by their brothers
  • Unidentified and unrecognized
  • Raised up from the earth
  • Acted as an advocate
  • Provided food
  • Reconciliation at the end of the story
  • Ended up as rulers, against all expectations

Note: please remember that Joseph’s brothers represent the whole of the tribes of Israel and therefore the entire people of Israel (even though Joseph is one of Jacob’s sons, he is set apart from his brothers as evidenced by the fact that there is no tribe named directly after him. Likewise, Yeshua, though a part of the people of Israel, is set apart from them.)

The suffering Messiah Son of Joseph is also the victorious Messiah Son of David

The Bible tells the story of the life of David in light of that of Joseph. David did not fulfill the expectations set for “Messiah son of Joseph”, but fell into sin, a fact that leads the reader to look expectantly to the future, to the one that will come and not sin, to Messiah, to Yeshua. The characters of Joseph and David are prototypes of Messiah.
These are not two separate messiahs, just like Joseph and David are two individual people, but one messianic pattern. A pattern of the character of Messiah, who will first be rejected and suffer undeservedly, and later become ruler and king. Joseph was rejected, suffered and punished for crimes he did not commit, because his brothers considered his behavior and speech to be condescending and prideful. Yet because of the suffering and rejection he endured, the lives of his brothers and his family were later spared, and a wonderful blessing ensued to all nations thanks to him!
Likewise, Yeshua, when he first came, was rejected, suffered and punished, not for his own sins, but because his “brethren” interpreted his behavior and words as condescending. But like Joseph, through his suffering, his rejection and death, forgiveness of sins is now offered, and like Joseph, Yeshua’s life is a blessing to all nations!

[1] Zakovitch Yair, Through the Looking Glass – Reflection Stories in the Bible. Tel Aviv, Hakibbutz Hameuhad. Paraphrased from Hebrew. (Free translation)
[2] Amnon Bazak, When Parallels Meet: Linguistic Parallels in the Book of Samuel. Alon Shevut, 2005. P. 7.
[3] Yoma tractate in the Mishna points out this connection between the stories of Joseph and David (Yoma, Day of Assembly, addendums and letters, 251).
[4] Athalya Brenner, New Jewish Time: Jewish Culture in a Secular Age – an Encyclopedic View, Vol 1: Modern Jewish Contemplation; Memory, Myth and History; Changes in lifestyle. Lamda publication, Jerusalem, 2007, p. 179-182.
[5] The author of Yoma tractate in the Mishna points out this particular connection between David and Joseph. (Yoma, Day of Assembly, addendums and letters, 251).
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Amnon Bazak, When Parallels Meet: Linguistic Parallels in the Book of Samuel. Alon Shevut, 2005. P. 98.
[9] Hebrew original found on http://www.yeshiva.org.il/midrash/23213
[10] Zakovitch, Y., David – from a Shepherd to Messiah, Yad Izhak Ben Zvi, Jerusalem, 1995, p. 19; 162-169.

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