Joseph, Daniel, and the New Exodus

The story of God and his people involves historical progression that unfold over time.[1] It has been said that the entire Old Testament corpus is pregnant with the message of the Christ. The seed of the gospel was planted in Gen 3:15, then grew in scope, promise, expectation, and clarity throughout the rest of the Old Testament. For this reason, Mark Dever titles his two volume biblical theology of the Bible on the OT and NT Promises Made and Promises Kept respectively. Dever comments that the “God of Scripture has revealed himself and his saving purposes in a progressive way by stages.”[2] When they speak of progression it is in reference to the fact that God’s plan is developing; unfolding from one epoch to the next (e.g. Abraham to David, David to exile, and exile to the Messiah cf. Mt 1:17). Therefore, we would do well to approach the Scriptures with the presupposition that the progressive narrative flow of the Old Testament must lead to its terminal telos: Jesus Christ (cf. Jn 5:39).

The biblical authors were so steeped in the Scriptures that in virtually everything they wrote one can easily observe the thumb print of the entire biblical tradition underneath. Pennington posits that if we have eyes to see “we can note the way in which the texts of the Bible pervasively pick up and embed earlier texts into later ones.”[3] For example, Ezekiel mentions Noah, Daniel, and Job (Ezek 14:14); Daniel references Jeremiah’s prophecy (Dan 9:2). This was not strictly an OT practice, as there are 343 OT quotations in the NT, as well as over 2,309 allusions and verbal parallels (though allusions are more easily debated).[4] These implicit verbal or thematic echoes to other passages are called intertextual allusions—when an “earlier text is taken up, transplanted, and transformed in a later text.”[5]

Intertextuality is a way for the biblical authors to subtly (or sometimes explicitly) cross-reference other passages or themes in Scripture in order to infuse their own writing with the contours, trajectories, and textures of the initial passage. Not only this, but since these biblical authors did not write merely from their own minds or personal interpretations, but wrote and spoke “as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit,” (2 Pet 1:20) God gathers “together the various partial and progressive communicative acts and purposes of the human authors into one ‘great canonical Design.’”[6] Finally, since God’s revelation is progressive, understanding intertextuality assists us in determining how a particular concept fits in God’s unfolding plan—what Gentry and Wellum have called the “epochal horizon.” They explain that “intertextual connections were developed so that we could understand better the interrelations between earlier and later revelation.”[7]

Mimesis

I believe that the narrative of Daniel 2 mimetically patterns Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream in order to set the stage for the new exodus promised in the prophets (cf. Jer 16; 30–33; Is 9; 52), which is both realized and inaugurated at the birth of Christ (Mt 2).[8] Allow me to explain.

There is a myriad of intertextual connections in the may that Daniel mimetically patterns his narrative after Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream. Both were taken from their homes by force at a young age (Gen 39:1; Dan 1:3). Both are said to be handsome in appearance (Gen 41:39; Dan 1:4). Both are called wise men (Gen 41:39; Dan 1:4). Both served in the royal court (Gen 41:40; Dan 1:5). Both are given new names (Gen 41:45; Dan 1:7). Both interact with the “captain of the king’s guard” (Gen 39:1; Dan 2:14). After the professionals had failed, both were given divine wisdom from God in order to interpret the dream(s) of a king (Gen 41:16; Dan 2:48). As a result, both were promoted to positions of power (Gen 41:40; Dan 2:48). Montgomery writes:

Daniel gives all the glory to God in response to the king’s inquiry as to his ability, after Joseph’s example, Gen. 41:8, and denies the power of human wisdom in the premises, as equally, v. 30, any virtue of his own. The humility of Joseph and [Daniel] is capitally depicted as sprung from reverence before God without fear of man, although courtesy to the latter is not ignored.[9]

Lest one accuse me of artificially manufacturing these intertextual connection, I have set the passages from Genesis and Daniel side-by-side in the table below and emboldened the similarities.

Genesis 41:7–8 Daniel 2:1–3, 10
“And Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream. So in the morning his spirit was troubled, and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was none who could interpret them to Pharaoh.” Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his spirit was troubled, and his sleep left him. Then the king commanded that the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans be summoned to tell the king his dreams. So they came in and stood before the king. And the king said to them, ‘I had a dream, and my spirit is troubled to know the dream.’ …The Chaldeans answered the king and said, ’There is not a man on earth who can meet the king’s demand, for no great and powerful king has asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or Chaldean.’”

One can observe the fact that accounts depict a king awoken from a dream, which resulted in a “troubled spirit.” Both kings called for their professional diviners to interpret the meaning of the dream; but to no avail. Both kings exhibit a heightened sense of dismay when they realize that all their servants are incapable of making clear the meaning of the dream.

Daniel and the New Exodus

With all of the points of connection between Daniel and Joseph, the most important similitude with regards to the thesis of this post is Dumbrell’s observation that “both operated in an Israel that stood before an exodus.”[10] God speaks through the prophet Jeremiah saying that “the days are coming, declares the Lord, when it shall no longer be said, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt’” (Jer 16:14). In essence, God informs Israel that when they remember his saving acts in the future, he will no longer be remembered by the exodus out of Egypt. Rather, his people will point to the new exodus (out of exile), when he will “bring them back to their own land that I gave to their fathers” (Jer 16:15). The second exodus, when the Lord will restore Israel will be far greater than the first one.

Isaiah also speaks of new exodus. In his final prophesy about Judah (Isaiah 9:1–4), Isaiah speaks of the end to the “gloom of anguish” (cf. Is 8:22; 9:1). In the “former time” God sent his people into exile. But “in the latter time” he will eliminate the darkness with the light of hope. What is this hope? Smith answers: “The first paragraph in this section introduces a future righteous Davidic king who will bring a period of light and peace to God’s people.”[11] While Israel experiences a partial fulfillment of this when they returned to the land God promised them, the prophecy indicates that what happens in Isaiah’s own day was going to be the pattern of the new exodus when the Messiah would come and bring his people into a new and better land of promise. Childs comments, “…Isaiah used the imagery of a new exodus to present the coming of a new eschatological age that would occur simultaneously with the deliverance of Israel from Babylon.”[12]

Joseph, Daniel, and Jesus

In his book, Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction, Jonathan Pennington argues that authors of the Gospels shaped their accounts in the narrative form of most of the Jewish Scriptures with the intention of “clearly mimicking these stories, intertextually and figurally explaining the events of Jesus’s life as the goal and telos of the story of God.”[13] Matthew mimics the Joseph/Daniel “promised shaped paradigm” to put Christ forth as the fulfillment of all the types before him. Though there are many passages in Daniel’s narrative that shadow Joseph’s story, this one in particular illustrates Matthew’s parallel account. I have added a column to the previous table to demonstrate the parallels between the three narratives. Again, I have emboldened the similarities.

Genesis 41:7–8 Daniel 2:1–3, 10 Matthew 2:3–4
“And Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream. So in the morning his spirit was troubled, and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was none who could interpret them to Pharaoh.” Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his spirit was troubled, and his sleep left him. Then the king commanded that the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans be summoned to tell the king his dreams. So they came in and stood before the king. And the king said to them, ‘I had a dream, and my spirit is troubled to know the dream.’ …The Chaldeans answered the king and said, ’There is not a man on earth who can meet the king’s demand, for no great and powerful king has asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or Chaldean.’” “[Magicians] from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.”

All three accounts depict a king receiving a divine message (two receive a dream, one a star), which result in the kings being “troubled.”[14] While they all call for their professionals to interpret the meaning of the sign, the outcomes are varied. In the first two narratives, the kings call for their pagan magicians and wise men who are impotent in divining this mystery.[15] In the third narrative, the king calls on the chief priests and scribes of Israel, who, through God’s revelation, are able to explain the meaning to him. You will notice that there is both continuity and discontinuity in the three accounts.[16]

Because some Hebrew manuscripts treat the second psalm (which lacks a heading) as a continuation of the first,[17] many commentators believe that Psalm 1–the two ways to live–should be coupled with the psalm that proceeds it. The second psalm is typically categorized as a royal psalm; used at the coronation of a new king. This idea is only corroborated by the fact that Psalm 2:7 is quoted four times in the NT to describe Christ’s coronation following his resurrection from the dead (Rom 1:4; Acts 13:33; Heb 1:5; 5:5). After the installation of Yahweh’s everlasting king God says that he will break all hostile nations with a rod of iron and “dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (Psalm 2:8–9). The fate of the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is relayed in the language of Psalm 1:4 and Psalm 2:8–9 (i.e., the description of the fate of the wicked): “Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found” (Dan 2:35, emphasis added).

As I said, the biblical authors often utilize intertextual allusions in order to infuse their own writing with the contours, trajectories, and textures of the initial passage. I believe Daniel evokes the same narrative points of the Joseph story to hint at the pattern of deliverance. When someone starts a story with “Once upon a time” we expect them to end it with “They lived happily ever after.” In the same way the Joseph narrative sets up the exodus, the Daniel narrative sets up the new exodus, which is inaugurated at the incarnation. The fate of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue depicts the eschatological future of all who oppose Yahweh’s king.


  1. See Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom Through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants, Kindle Edition (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), Kindle Locations 422–4.  ↩

  2. Mark Dever, The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made, Kindle Edition (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 12.  ↩

  3. Jonathan T. Pennington, Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 115–6.  ↩

  4. See Walter A. Elwell, ed., “Old Testament in the New Testament, the” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich. : Carlisle, Cumbria, U.K: Baker Academic, 2001).  ↩

  5. Pennington, Reading the Gospels Wisely, 116.  ↩

  6. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text?: The Bible, the Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge, Kindle Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 314.  ↩

  7. Gentry and Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, Kindle Locations 4804–6.  ↩

  8. By mimesis I mean an author’s premeditated emulation of the actions or behavior of either a person or group of people to showcase a similar pattern or outcome in a new context.  ↩

  9. James A. Montgomery, Daniel: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary, ICC (N.Y.: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1927), 162.  ↩

  10. William J. Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel: A Theological Survey of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 391.  ↩

  11. Gary Smith, The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1–39, Vol. 15A (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2007), 235  ↩

  12. Brevard S. Childs, Isaiah (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000), 479.  ↩

  13. Pennington, Reading the Gospels Wisely, 247 emphasis added.  ↩

  14. To further substantiate this claim, note that the only time you see the word “μάγος” (wise men/magi) in the LXX is in Daniel 2—where the Babylonian king calls his magicians (and others) to interpret the dream. Daniel paints a scene of a king from the East attempting to use his impotent magi to interpret a dream that involves a mystery hidden by God, which was subsequently revealed to Daniel. Matthew reports of men from the East (Babylon?) who followed a star, more specifically his star (cf. Gen 49:10; Num 24:17), in order to come and worship him. Those who were once ignorant of God, now recognize his star and came to worship him, while God’s people were greatly troubled.  ↩

  15. For an excellent treatment of the biblical concept of mystery see G. K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd, Hidden But Now Revealed: A Biblical Theology of Mystery (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2014).  ↩

  16. While this is certainly a more tenuos connection, it could be argued that Matthew inverts the Daniellic temporal formula to make another connection. “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon *came to Jerusalem and besieged it*” (Daniel 1:1). “In the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his spirit was troubled, and his sleep left him” (Daniel 2:1). “In the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar a vision appeared to me, Daniel, after that which appeared to me at the first” (Daniel 8:1). Chapters 1 and 2 of Daniel follow a near-identical pattern. After the Aramaic section of Daniel (chapters 3–7), Daniel returns to using Hebrew in chapter 8, which begins with the same pattern of chapters 1–2—interestingly, the opening line of Daniel chs. 3–4, 7 mimics the introductory formula of chs. 1–2, 8 in the LXX. James M. Hamilton Jr, With the Clouds of Heaven: The Book of Daniel in Biblical Theology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 65 lays out the basic formula used in the openings of chs. 1, 2, and 8 as: in year –> number –> of the kingdom –> to [king’s name] –> king of [place]. This formula operates as a structural transition that signifies the start of a new literary unit. Considering the lack of spacing and vowels in the originals, authors would often use literary devices to signify the end of a section or the beginning of a new one: discourse markers. Notice the way Matthew begins the second chapter of his gospel: “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king…“ (Matthew 2:1, ESV). Matthew inverts the Danielic-formula to reveal the True king (Daniel 2:47)—[king’s name] –> king of [place]–> in year –> number –> of the kingdom. He uses Herod, the ”king", as a temporal marker to announce the birth of Jesus, the King of kings, in his kingdom, Bethlehem of Judea (Mic 5:2).  ↩

  17. See Derek Kidner, Psalms 1–72 (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2009), 66 n. 2.  ↩