One of the more interesting characters in the Old Testament is Joseph. There are some very clear parallels between Joseph and the Lord, but the New Testament doesn't seem to notice them. So is Joseph a type of Christ?
As far as I can tell, Joseph is mentioned only a handful of times in the New Testament:
- John 4:5
- Acts 7:9–14, 7:18
- Hebrews 11:21–22
(There is a mention in Revelation 7:8, but it's a reference to the tribe of Joseph, not to him as an individual.)
So there are three places Joseph is mentioned in the New Testament, and in none of those is the he brought up as prefiguring the Lord.
But if we read the story of the woman at the well in Sychar (John 4:5–42) a little more closely, there is a hint lurking a little deeper... The story of the the woman at the well begins with the first mention of Joseph in the New Testament (not that there are many of those), and as far as I can tell, it's a reference to Genesis 48:21–22. We're told that Sychar is "near to the land which Jacob gave to his son Joseph".
While I don't claim to be very wise, I have learned to pay attention to these passing references when I read Scripture. There are a whole lot of "Wait... what?" moments, and I've learned to slow down and let them sink in. It's not for nothing that Scripture throws these mentions into a story.
So there is a very slight connection between Joseph and the story of the woman at the well. But there are two more very slender threads connecting her story to Joseph. Both come from Genesis 41:45. There, Pharaoh calls Joseph Zaphnath-paaneah. If we look in the margin, we find that Zaphnath-paaneah means "Savior of the world" in Egyptian, and "Revealer of Secrets" in Hebrew. Notice that both of these play into the story of the woman at the well. First, the woman describes Christ as "a man who told me all things I had ever done" (John 4:29) – the Revealer of secrets. Then the Samaritans call the Lord "the Savior of the world" (John 4:42).
So is Joseph a type of Christ? I honestly don't know. Those connections are real, but they're awfully slender. It seems to me there are a lot of those in Scripture, where "type" seems like it might be too strong a word, but there's more there than just coincidence.
There are some striking features to the story of the woman at the well. It's very rare that we see anyone invite the Lord to stay in their home. The Samaritans asked the Lord to stay, and He stayed with them two days (John 4:40). I'm sure there were others who hosted the Lord, we know about Mary, Martha, and Lazarus (John 12:2) and Simon the leper (Mark 14:3) and Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1–10). But it's certainly not a common thing in Scripture for someone to invite the Lord into their home. What's even less common is the Lord refusing an invitation; off the top of my head, I can't recall the Lord ever doing so.
And then we have the title "Savior of the world," which I can only find twice in the New Testament (John 4:42, 1 John 4:14). It seems like the Samaritans in Sychar had seen a truth much more clearly even than the disciples did at the time. And that's not because the Samaritans were smarter than the disciples. It's because God was revealing His Son to them.
The Lord's promise of "living water" to the woman is a striking feature of the story as well. I used to think the Lord was speaking to her about eternal life, but that's not what "living water" is. Yes, living water results in eternal life (John 4:14), but "living water" refers to the Holy Spirit (John 7:38–39). So here the Lord is, talking to a woman who is apparently lost, and He jumps to the indwelling Spirit of God. Doesn't that seem strange? It's like He's skipping a step. I would expect the Lord to hit her with "you must be born again" (John 3:3–7). But that's not what He does.
At Sychar, the Lord reveals Himself as the Man who can give the Spirit of God. Let that sink in: He is a Man and He can give God as a gift!
I've written too long about this already, and this post is long overdue, so we'll just wrap this up here. The connections between Joseph and John 4 aren't accidental. I'm not willing to commit to saying that Joseph is a type of Christ (well... not yet), but there is certainly a "Joseph character" to John 4. And the more I look at that chapter, the more surprising it is, especially as early as it appears in the Gospel. Here we have idolaters who recognize Christ for who He is, take Him at His word, and acknowledge Him. Almost sounds like Asenath, doesn't it?