December 11, 2014

The Story of Joseph

Joseph is one of my favorite characters of the nativity story. I think it's because he not only shows an incredible amount of obedience to the Lord, but more importantly, he shows a great level of kindness and forgiveness to those around him.

Joseph was a carpenter or craftsman most likely of stone, not of wood as is often depicted in art work. According to Matthew, Joseph actually lived in Bethlehem, not in Nazareth as the Lukan account records. According to Jewish custom we also know that Joseph was most likely quite young. In fact, he was probably only about seventeen to twenty years old when he was engaged to Mary. We also know that Joseph knew the law and the scriptures, and more importantly, he not only knew how to obey them, but he knew how to use the law to bless the lives of those around him.

To better understand the story of Joseph it will help to have a historical setting for the marriage process during the time of Christ. There were three parts of the Jewish marriage: first, there was the betrothal, then there was a waiting period, and then there was the actual wedding feast.

During the betrothal, the groom and the bride would actually exchanged wedding vows, very similar to what we would have in a modern day wedding. During this time, they were literally considered man and wife. During the next phase, the waiting period, the groom would prepare a home, and the family would prepare for the enormous wedding feast that would occur. The third phase was the actual wedding feast. On this night, the groom would go to the bride's home, followed by a huge procession of lights and torches and lamps. There he would take his bride back to his home, or to his parent’s home, and the feast would begin! The feast would be huge and could last up to seven days long, which would help you understand why they needed a year to prepare. At the end of the night, the bride and the groom would consummate their marriage. However, up to this point they were still were considered husband and wife. So if the wife at any point during the betrothal process was found to be pregnant, according to the law, the husband had to divorce her.

Now naturally there are two ways for a woman to become pregnant. First, she would break her vows that she had made by committing adultery, and second she would be raped, which would mean she would still be innocent.

If the husband found out that his bride was pregnant he had two options. He first could bring her to court, where there would be witnesses and a judge who would try to determine whether she was guilty or not of committing adultery, and second the groom could divorce his bride privately. Now this does not mean that it would be private in the fact that nobody would know about it, everybody would still know about it! Nazareth was a very small town and everybody would know about what was going on. By divorcing Mary privately, Joseph not only saved Mary from humiliation (by not having to be brought before a public court), but more importantly he saved her life because of the fact that accusations were never brought against her, meaning that nobody could accuse her of being guilty of committing adultery (the penalty being death).

As we study the life of Joseph, we learn several valuable things about who he was and about his character. First, we learn that even though it was an arranged marriage, Joseph really loved Mary. The fact the he decided to divorce her privately shows that he cared more about Mary then about being vindicated for something that had been done wrong to him.

Second, everybody knew the story Joseph and Mary. Everybody knew what had happened, or at least what the townspeople would accuse them of. By taking Mary as his wife, Joseph shows that he was willing to do whatever it took and to deal with whatever would come in the future because he knew what the Lord had commanded and he loved Mary.

Third, it shows how much he cared for Jesus Christ. The fact that he actually names Jesus as the Matthew account records (see Matthew 2:25), shows that he not only was willing to take Mary in, but he was actually taking Jesus in as his own adopted son (in essence he was taking in an illegitimate child). By naming Jesus, Joseph literally is legally adopting him into his own line, which is the reason that Jesus Christ can be called the son of David, just as Joseph was the son of David.

Last, we learn that Joseph immediately acted. In the scriptures, it reads “Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife” (Matthew 1:24). In other words, Joseph was quick to act and did exactly as the angel told him the very next day. From this, it would seem that there was no wedding feast that actually occurred, dashing all the hopes and dreams that Mary and Joseph may have had. The huge feast, the lights, the torches, the music all would have been cancelled and forgone because of the fact that Jesus would be born to Mary. And yet this does not discourage Joseph to the least degree. He knows what is right and he acts.

It is often said that Mary was chosen by the Lord because of her faithfulness and her devotion to the Lord, which is absolutely true, and I would say it is just as true that the Lord chose Joseph to be the adopted father of the Savior because he knew and understood the character of Joseph.

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