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hristmas pageants usually overlook one character. Oh, sometimes he's given a walk-on part—walking beside a donkey. Even the anonymous innkeeper attracts more attention.
But Joseph, the son of Jacob, the son of Matthan, was God's choice man to act as father to God the Son. He was caretaker to Omnipotence.
According to Matthew's genealogy—a record of the legal heirs to David's throne—Joseph was a royal person, a potential king. But royalty was not his only qualification. He was a man according to God's ideal
Mr. Lewis, a free-lance writer living in Chicago, Illinois, is contemplating pastoral ministry.
of manhood, an ideal that sometimes runs counter to our cultural conceptions of masculinity today.
We know little of his outward appearance. From Mary's sacrifice of two turtledoves, we know he was poor. A carpenter in Nazareth, he may or may not have had physical brawn. But he had the moral and spiritual strength God esteems. From Scripture's brief glimpses we see his sterling character ana brave obedience to God whatever the cost.
We first meet Joseph at a turning point. Deeply in love, he anticipated marriage to his betrothed. But after Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive by the Holy Spirit and bear the Messiah, she abruptly left town "with haste" (Luke 1:39), probably without telling Joseph.
MOODY / DECEMBER 1981
| Then, when Mary returned from her three-month If the decision to end the marriage was hard, an visit at Elizabeth's, he discovered shattering news: The angel gave Joseph an even more difficult course— |
| one he believed to be pure was pregnant (Matt. 1:18-25). He must have found her story of virgin conception incredible.He pondered his options based on the custom of the day. He could publicly accuse Mary or divorce her |
| marry her. What conflict must have torn him!He must have still wanted to marry her, for the angel said, "Do not be afraid to take Mary" (Matt. 1:20). At last, he was free to follow his heart.But this marriage carried a high price tag. He |
| privately. The law required stoning (Deut. 22:20-21) would share Mary's shame and the neighbors' slander |
|or at least a trial (Num. 5:11-31). A guilty woman would be cursed and denounced by her people.Modifications of the law probably eliminated stoning in this case. Later rabbinic writings refer to a bill of divorcement delivered before only two witnesses. Perhaps Joseph planned to divorce her this way on less serious grounds than adultery or by offering no charge at all.|
for apparently violating the rules of betrothal. How many would believe a tale of Holy Spirit conception if Joseph himself hadn't?
Joseph obeyed immediately, without question. In fact, when he awoke he took Mary home as his wife, risking disapproval. Because they did not consummate the marriage until Jesus was born (Matt. 1:25), Luke declares the couple still only betrothed (Luke
T2:5). Perhaps they abstained to refute charges that
o understand his situation, we need to under- Joseph fathered the Child,
stand the three-stage Jewish marital custom. What self-control it must have required for Joseph
First came engagement, a formal settle- to keep Mary a virgin. Real men, the world shouts,
ment by the fathers. boast of unbridled virility. But how much more
If the children did not object, they entered be- strength it must have taken to wait more than six
trothal at the appropriate age through a formal cere- months to take her to himself,
mony in the bride's nouse. The couple made mutual Joseph wasted no time in assuming his role of
promises before witnesses and the bride received family leader, both in civil and religious matters. He
presents from the groom. took Mary to Bethlehem to register for the census of
The betrothal, unlike our modern engagement, Augustus, fulfilling civil duty (Luke 2:1-39).
|About forty days later (Lev. 12:2-4) at the Temple, Joseph and Mary offered a sacrifice for her purification and presented Jesus to die Lord. The law called for redeeming die firstborn son at the price of five shekels—about two ounces of silver (Num. 18:16). Then they returned to their hometown, Nazaredi.|
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could be broken only by death or divorce. The two parties were called husband and wife (Matt. 1:19). If one died, the other was a widow or widower.
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A year later, die marriage took place when the groom and sometimes his friends went to bring the bride to his home for a feast. After this, the marriage was consummated.
|oseph's greatest challenge in leadership came when he was called to protect the Baby Jesus from Herod (Matt. 2:1-23). Joseph was with his family in Bethlehem again, this time in "a house."Had neighborhood gossip made life in Nazaredi unpleasant? Perhaps. At any rate it appears Joseph and Mary moved to Bethlehem, because Joseph tried to return to Judea after the escape to Egypt.The magi found diem in Bethlehem, but we can't be sure iust when. That Herod killed all infants two|
Mary's pregnancy obviously interrupted their plans for marriage. For Joseph, to marry such a woman would dishonor a holy God. That's why Matdiew calls him a "righteous man."
Surely Joseph knew Psalm 119:11, "Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee." He was sensitive to both die Word itself and what would honor God.
M ^// hen die crisis came, he made not only a
m^l/ righteous choice, but a merciful one—
Y y even in face of bitter disappointment.
Akhough he had done no wrong, he cared for Mary's and uncler was only based on the time die star ap-
feelings. He chose the kindness of a quiet divorce over peared.
coldlegalism. Warned of impending danger, the magi most likely
Tenderness is often viewed as unmasculine. But a left Bedilehem in the middle of die night. Joseph's
man controlled by God's Spirit shows kindness and sleep was also interrupted when an angel told him to
gendeness. Only one secure in the Lord dares to lay take the Child and His mother and escape to Egypt,
aside carnal ideas of macho in deference to a woman's By morning, the family had vanished,
feelings. Once again, Joseph had immediately obeyed God's
Joseph was diat kind of man. He could have lashed instruction. His leadership required great self-sacri-
out at Mary, but he resisted. fice. As protector, he had his family ready to go within
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a few hours, leaving no time for good-byes. He abandoned his job, friends, and all possessions except what he could carry.
Travel accommodations were primitive. And travel would not be made easier with a young child, however precocious He was. Travelers were easy prey to thieves. Joseph and Mary traveled about 150 miles to Egypt. Once there, they found a haven, for Egypt was the home of many Jews.
Herod's savage response when he could not find the Child was unfortunately typical. An Edomite, he embraced Judaism outwardly while building pagan temples. He executed forty-five members of the ruling class when he came to power in Judea. Always suspicious, he killed one of his ten wives and three of his sons as well as other relatives.
His madness culminated when he tried to arrange for the murder upon his death of alt the principle men of the entire Jewish nation. This was to insure national mourning rather than a festival.
^L ^^/ hen Herod did die in 4 B.C., God once \A/ again called Joseph to resettle his family
y W in Israel. But Joseph was afraid to return to Bethlehem.
Had he turned coward? Not at all. His fear reveals another facet of his masculine leadership. A brave man respects danger and acts accordingly. A coward refuses to act. Bravery without fear is foolhardy.
Joseph's fears were well-founded. Judea now trembled under Archelaus, Herod's son and hated successor.
Even before he had been con-
many in Jerusalem rioted as they mourned two teachers—Judas and Matthias, who were slain by Herod for inspiring others to tear down the golden eagle he placed above the Temple gate.
Archelaus ordered his cavalry to surround the Temple, slaughtering three thousand men. The remaining pilgrims fled. He dealt so ruthlessly that the Emperor eventually banished him lest his oppression cause a full-scale revolt.
When Joseph entered the borders of Israel with his family, he would have heard of this incident. But God providentially guided him to the safety of Nazareth.
Bethlehem, just two hours from Jerusalem, would have seemed a much better environment for the Messiah. Galilee was far from the center of religious life. But, though Nazaredi was not aprominent city, its rich agricultural and fishing industries provided Jesus with background for communicating to the "common people," both Jews and Gentiles.
On an international trade route, Nazareth would see people from all nations. And it may have been a gathering place for priests going to Jerusalem. Rab-
binic writings indicate that religion in Galilee may have been more pious and less rigorous than that in Judea.
Although a strong family leader, Joseph depended on God's guidance. Popular thought doesn't leave a man room for dependence on anyone, much less God. But men such as Samson and Saul, who flaunted their self-sufficiency, ended as failures. Those like David, who cried to God, succeeded. Because Joseph listened to God, he settled in Nazareth, in the despised "Galilee of the Gentiles."
Once again leadership demanded sacrifice. Joseph set up his home and reestablished his trade for the third time in just a few years.
n Scripture's last glimpse of Joseph, he led his family, including twelve-year-old Jesus, to the Passover Feast in Jerusalem (Luke 2:41-52). The Feast of Passover, lasted seven days. All males were required to attend (Ex. 23:14-17). Rabbinic traditions
expense ot the eighty-mile, eight-day trip (three days one-way). But he apparently considered it worthwhile to invest in spiritual priorities.
How many of us are willing to set aside several days for spiritual activity? We find it hard to take several minutes a day for God. Devotion and love to God may not fit carnal ideas of manliness, but the great people of the Bible all feared God.
A man cannot lead spiritually without wholehearted commitment to the Lord. We forget this. We sometimes assume leadership out of pride or obligation or with an executive get-the-job-done attitude. But before we can lead in spiritual matters, we have to be surrendered to the Lord and yielded to the Holy Spirit's control.
Joseph's life conforms to Micah's summary of genuine religion: "... And what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8, NASB). He was kind to Mary and humbly obedient to God. As Jesus' primary authority figure, Joseph realized the key part fathers have in raising children (Prov. 4:1-4). He taught Jesus God's Word and, keeping rabbinic tradition, a craft—carpentry (Mark 6:3). God never exempts fathers from active parenting.
Joseph must have felt great awe as he lived with the Boy Jesus. Later Paul would write: ". . . great is the mystery of godliness..." (1 Tim. 3:16).
And John would say: "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). Yet Joseph had the responsi-
|looks for leaders, Joseph stands out as one of God's exemplary men/ □|
bility of parenting Jesus. In an age thatlc
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