Monday, July 10, 2006

Review: The Story of Joseph and Judah

When I received The Story of Joseph and Judah by Warren Austin Gage and Christopher Barber in the mail, I immediately recognized something unique about it. No, I’m not talking about the fact that it is wider than most books and thus sticks out on my bookshelf (something which is very annoying but very understandable, given that it is a study-guide). Rather, browsing the chapter titles, I noticed something “fresh” about it.

The book had one advantage: I already had a soft spot for Genesis, especially the story of Joseph. I love searching for the Christocentric treasures that lie not-so-hidden in this particular portion of Scripture. And Gage and Barber have aided the church well in portraying for us the unfolding of this section of redemptive history.

The first chapter begins with an illustration: the “story of two visitors.” The metaphor contrasts the difference in how a scientist who specializes in the analysis of old paintings would examine Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper with how an art lover would examine the same painting. The first visitor would move along the painting, noticing all of the small and intricate details, and inspecting it closely. But this observer misses something that the second one recognizes; the second observer (the art lover) takes a step back and sees something he hadn’t noticed before: all the lines in the painting carry his eyes toward Jesus.

It is with the framework of this metaphor that the authors explain to their readers their different approach in this book: “Our portrayal of the differences between the scientist and the art lover allows us to more easily explain the difference between the book you’re now reading and almost any other study of Scripture. Most books examining Genesis (or any other book of the Bible) follow, for the most part, the style of the scientist who stayed very close to the painting.” These type of studies start with chapter one, verse one, and move along examining each part. But while the authors recognize the good and benefit of this type of study, the approach of this book is different. First of all, the authors begin their study of Genesis with the story of Joseph. “Joseph’s story stands out most prominently in Genesis. It is the grand climax of the book of Genesis and also the transition to the account of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt.” Thus, this book focuses on the story of Joseph, but not just the story of Joseph. It is the “Story of Joseph and Judah.” This work recognizes Judah’s unique role in this account, as well as his significant position in the whole of redemptive history (c.f., Gen 49:10, Matt 1:3, Rev 5:5). Indeed, through a comparison of Judah and Joseph, the authors successfully establish that God’s redemptive purposes are accomplished on the sole basis of sovereign, elective, and unmerited grace:

At this point, we should pause to think back on our original question as to which of these two brothers–Judah or Joseph–would seem the more appropriate selection by God for the direct descendant of Christ. Joseph exhibits a level or righteousness that is remarkable for a young man, especially one who has endured what he has to this point. Judah, on the other hand, appears to be the most wicked of the brothers; yet Christ ultimately carries his name as one of his great royal titles (”The Lion of the Tribe of Judah,” Rev 5:5). Could it be that God is showing us how bad Judah is in order to point out how gracious his ultimate choosing of Judah is? In other words, God’s selection does not appear to be based on anything Joseph or Judah does, but on his grace alone (see also Rom 9:11). This is a recurrent theme in Genesis (and throughout Scripture). We will continue to draw it out in later lessons.

The book is written as a study-guide. There is an assigned reading at the beginning, followed by a short summary, and concluded with contemplative and appropriate study questions. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and many of the questions (as well as the provided answers) allowed me to learn much about this story that I had simply overlooked in times past. I highly recommend that all Christians with a love for God’s Word and a desire to know him more purchase this study guide. Even if you do not agree with all of the authors’ perspectives on the story, you will very much enjoy this read.

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