A Book Review
Dr. Voddie T. Baucham Jr. is a reformed preacher, evangelist, author, professor and church planter. He held the position of ‘Pastor of Preaching’ at Grace Family Baptist Church in Spring, Texas for nine years. He was in his seventh year when the book Joseph and the Gospel of Many Colors: Reading an Old Story in a New Way was published. Currently he is the Dean of the Seminary at the African Christian University in Lusaka, Zambia.
Baucham seeks to take a redemptive-historical, biblically-exegeted, contextually-driven focus to the account of the life of Joseph in Genesis 37-50. This is not achieved through the writing of a commentary, a scholarly diagnosis or a collation of other key resources on the text. Rather it is accomplished through a careful observation of the immediate and broader context. His goal is to allow the reader to see that this account is part of the bigger redemptive narrative found throughout the Bible and not merely a moralistic guide for the Christian life. By doing this it is the author’s intention to facilitate a correct interpretation of this part of the Bible that causes an exaltation of God’s redeeming work. Part of the reason Baucham believes that there is a multitude of interpretations that have failed to understand Joseph’s life is due to the lack of discernment in comprehending the rest of Genesis and indeed the whole Bible.
The author carefully outlines how Genesis should be divided up and the key themes that are found throughout the book. Through the phrase, “These are the generations of” or toledots, Baucham divides Genesis up into eleven sections (Gen. 2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10, 27; 25:12, 19; 36:1, 9; 37:2). He also outlines the key themes of land, seed and covenant providing a careful explanation of each of them. Baucham uses these key themes to shine a light on the path to a correct interpretation of the narrative found in chapters 37-50.
After explaining these ideas logically and the reasons for his conclusions, the book tackles two chapters of Genesis per chapter carefully navigating the narrative in detail yet not getting bogged down or sidetracked. At the end of each chapter Baucham provides ‘takeaways’ of the narrative and finishes with ‘looking ahead’. This is an engaging and structured method that keeps the reader involved.
A strength of this book is the beauty of the startling simplicity to which Baucham goes about clarifying many misconceptions about the life of Joseph. One concept that threads its way through the book is that the story of Joseph is not really about Joseph but more importantly about Jacob and Judah, the son of promise. In the first few chapters this is clarified by the structure of Genesis and the emphasis of the latter chapters. Particularly the final toledot, as Baucham puts it, “the toledot of Jacob forces us to look beyond Joseph to understand the meaning of Joseph’s life” (p. 34). The prominence of Judah throughout the chapters is also brought out.
Another concept is the repeated idea of not simply taking the easy way out and applying moralistic interpretations of the text. Baucham refers to this as ‘the low-hanging fruit’ (pp. 17, 19, 55, 65). In chapter one Baucham logically sets out the difference between indicatives and imperatives which assists the reader in the goal of interpreting narratives. The author allows for the inclusion of moralistic implications where appropriate but not stopping there rather pushing on to a deeper understanding of the text in light of the rest of the Bible. He does this by including references to the New Testament and the redemptive work of Christ.
A thorough explanation of the purpose of chapter thirty-eight is provided. Clarifying the misconception that this chapter has been placed out of order, Baucham explains how it fits into the broader theme. This explanation is clear and well argued. The storyline of Judah also allows for the juxtaposition of Judah and Joseph which further illustrates God’s sovereign grace not because of who we are but rather despite who we are. It is enjoyable to follow the life of Judah and witness the progression the fourth son of Jacob makes in his own life story, not because of his own efforts but rather due to the spiritual transformation that God brings about (p. 110).
A further misconception addressed is that Joseph’s life is an example that if you persevere in the faith you will be materially rewarded. The author points out the prison time Joseph served after faithfully fleeing Potiphar’s wife as a logical challenge to this misapplication and concludes, “obedience sometimes results in more hardship” (p. 66). It is concepts such as these that provide a wealth of information simply by logically observing these fourteen chapters in the light of Genesis and the entire Bible.
Another strength of this book is its ability to wade through an extensive amount of text without losing a smooth and coherent flow. This is accomplished through the use of a thoughtful selection of the biblical text and a thorough explanation of the narrative. By using this method the book reaches a wide range of people, from the Christian interested in understanding the narrative more completely, to the pastor seeking to gain a greater comprehension of the broader themes and application of the text. Baucham is careful to define the terms used so as not to alienate Christians who are unacquainted with theological vocabulary. Such words as soteriology, hamartiology and providence are defined for the reader. This, again, points to a desire to include a wider Christian audience.
Through one instance in the life of Joseph, Baucham rightly challenges the concept of material, Hollywood-style reward in chapter forty-one. Although, it may be that a dislike of some interpretations has caused the author to swing the pendulum too far the other way.
The book states that the appointment to second in command of Egypt is not seen as something spectacular by Joseph. Baucham points out that Joseph is still a slave in the wrong place, with the wrong authority believing him and rewarding him. The book suggests this chapter is given for a pause before the grand finale, not as hope.
Despite this, it may be the case that Joseph does see this as an event that gives him hope. Yes, he is still in a different land yet he has gone from a favoured prisoner to second in command of Egypt, from an unjust punishment to a just position. Joseph has clearly been rewarded and it appears as though he names his children in recognition of God’s goodness to him. The firstborn he named, “Manasseh and said, ‘It is because God has made me forget all my trouble…’” (Gen. 41:51). Joseph recognized the goodness of God in setting him up in such a high position and enjoyed what God had given him. This is further qualified in the naming of his second son Ephraim which means, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.” (Gen. 41:52). To not recognise the source of this rejoicing as the position Joseph was promoted to, and the hope that came with such a station, may be going too far in an effort to reject the Hollywood-style concept and materialistic goals that some may interpret from this chapter.
Forgetting that God does desire his children to enjoy what he has given them, may be a point missed in the author’s interpretation of Joseph’s reaction to being appointed to such a high authority. Along with this, the way in which Joseph praises God all the more because of how he is rewarded is left unaddressed. It appears this is true of Joseph despite Baucham’s neglect to address this concept in his worthwhile ambition to deny the focus of material gain.
This book clearly achieves its intended purpose through the concentration on the immediate and broader context, along with a structured, relevant and easy-to-read writing style. There are many Christians who would benefit from reading this book to obtain the clarity, brevity and understanding that Baucham brings to Genesis. The conclusion of the book well summarises the purpose and intent of the author:
Look ahead to the rest of the story of God’s redemption. Read the entire Bible in light of the truths we’ve learned in the story of Joseph. And in every page, look for echoes of the Promised One. He is there. He is always there (p. 158).
Pick this book up and enjoy the truths found in such an outlook.