Joseph the Dreamer
I would suppose that when I first announced the title for this sermon that it would have been about the other Joseph, the son of Jacob in the Old Testament rather than Joseph the son of Jacob in the New. We remember the dreams of the Old Testament Joseph. The first of them got him into trouble with his brothers who then sold him into slavery in Egypt. Little did his brothers know that their evil act would actually save them from death in Israel.
In Egypt, God used the means of dreams to bring the deliverance of the old Joseph from prison. We remember the dreams of Pharaoh’s cupbearer and chief baker and how joseph correctly interpreted them by God’s help. Later on the cupbearer would remember him to Pharaoh to interpret the strange dreams he had had. The interpretation given by the means of the Lord saved all Egypt and exalted Joseph to second in command over the mightiest empire on the earth. It also saved his father and family.
This old Joseph had another dream in his old age that he would return to Canaan land from which he had been forcibly removed. This dream apparently never fulfilled in his life, but he commanded his dead bones to be carried back. His remains would get to return home, but only after 400 years.
The new Joseph was a dreamer too. In chapter one of Matthew, it was revealed to him that Mary, his espoused wife was pregnant. He knew he wasn’t the father. He was pondering what he might do. He could have had her shamed or worse. But the Scripture says that the new Joseph was an honorable man and had decided to divorce her instead. On this night, he had his first dream. God told him not to divorce her but marry her. In the eyes of other people, it would have exposed him to shame. By marrying Mary, he was admitting that he was the father of the child, a child conceived before the marriage was officially consummated. The Israelites of Hosea’s day would have looked the same way at a man who married a whore.
Joseph obeyed the Lord who appeared to Him in a dream and married Mary, providing protection and legitimacy to the baby Jesus. This Joseph was first in line to be the next king of Israel according to lineage, if only the country wasn’t under foreign domination and a non-Jew named Herod was called “King of the Jews.” He would become the earthly father of the greatest king Israel would ever have.
After Jesus was born, the new Joseph had a second dream. The baby Jesus’s life was in danger by Herod. He was commanded by the Lord to flee to Egypt. For a second time a Joseph who was a son of Jacob would save the promised seed of Israel by a dream and by going to Egypt.
In today’s text, the new Joseph had two more dreams. It says that he had the first one when Herod the Great died. In it, he was commanded to bring Jesus and his mother back into the Promised Land. Joseph obeyed, but while he was heading home, presumably to Bethlehem where he and Mary had stayed after the birth of Jesus, he heard that Herod’s son Archelaus was on the throne, he became afraid again. So God gave Joseph a final dream to take the family back to Mary’s hometown of Nazareth.
We can see that this Joseph was a dreamer also. And like the dreams of the old Joseph, God used the dreams of the new Joseph as the means of delivering Israel. These dreams, like the old ones, were used by God to fulfill His plan for Israel.
There are several important things to note in the text. Matthew cites two Old Testament texts that are fulfilled. The first of them is Hosea 11:1 which states: “Out of Egypt I called my Son:. At first, one might shake their head as this interpretation seemed to be the farthest thing from Hosea’s mind. It would not seem at first to fit the context of the rest of Hosea. But there are some interesting things to note here. Hosea’s name is another form of Joshua (The Lord saves). Joshua (Yeshua) in Hebrew) is the same as Jesus in Greek. Another thing to note in Matthew is that Jesus seems to relive the history of Israel in His life. His time in the wilderness, for example, is a reliving of the forty years in the wilderness of Israel. In this case Jesus makes the right decisions to the temptations there that the Israelites failed to do. Part of the idea of substitutionary atonement is that Jesus is seen before God as one who made all of our bad decisions and sins and we as if we were perfectly obedient. This isn’t just lived out in the cross, but in the entire life of Jesus. Here Jesus relives the story of the Israelites going into Egypt and returning in the Exodus. The other allusion to Hosea was mentioned earlier in the sermon.
Matthew tells us the purpose of the second dream was to get Joseph and his family to return to Nazareth in order to fulfill the saying of the prophets (plural). The problem is that from the text of Scripture we have received to even find a single reference to Nazareth, which was a tiny town of under 2,000 people. There is perhaps a play on words with the consonants NZR. The trouble in Hebrew is that only consonants were written in ancient Hebrew. The reader had to supply the correct vowels. For example SLM can have the vowels a and o added to make shalom, which is the Hebrew word for peace. But it can also add other vowels to make sholem which is the Hebrew word for “perfect”.
What we know of Nazareth is that it served as a garrison town for a Roman detachment, which meant that Gentiles who were despised by the Jews lived with them in Nazareth. Considering that Matthew’s gospel seems to center around the new Israel, which is made up of both Jew and Gentile, there may be more here than we know.
We can learn from this passage that God directs the fulfillment of His plan. In some cases, God uses dreams to direct His people. It does not mean that he will give you a vision when you are in trouble or need guidance concerning decisions facing you. But God has promised that He would be with his people until the end of the age. In fact these are the final words in this gospel of Matthew which we have been studying.
We also learn from this text that God works in mysterious ways. He inspires a text in Hosea that He did not intend to fulfill for hundreds of years in a way that would have been most unexpected. This means that God may use us in ways we are unaware of and do not now understand to fulfill His plan. If we are his people, we should rejoice that God allows us to join in His plan, and that in the end, it will work out for our good as well. So in this we rejoice. Faith tells us we shall understand one day.
This ends Matthew’s account of the early life of Jesus. Luke includes a passage of the twelve year old Jesus confounding the Jewish doctors of the law in the Temple in Jerusalem. The next we will hear from Jesus will be at His baptism at the age of 30. Stay tuned.