Christmas is tomorrow. Since my Christmas post for last year was about Mary, it makes sense that this year I should say something about Joseph.
We know precious little about him. If, as most scholars believe, the genealogy in Matthew 1 is that of Joseph, then he was the royal descendant of David in his generation—the heir to the throne of Israel. I suspect he knew that; the Jews kept track of such things, as is evidenced by the simple fact that the genealogy is produced in Matthew 1. If he was the heir, he certainly knew that he was.
But he also knew that he would never be king. First, because Rome. Caesar Augustus would never tolerate such a thing; he had installed a puppet, Herod, and called him “king,” but Herod wasn’t even really Jewish—he was Idumaean—and the Jews hated him as an interloper and collaborator with the hated Romans.
There was another reason Joseph knew he would never be king. God had cursed his ancestor, Jehoiachin (Jeconiah, or just Coniah), the last Davidic king of Judah (Jer 22.30), saying that none of his offspring would ever rule. Some scholars think that God reversed that curse with Zerubbabel (Hag 2.23), but Zerubbabel never ruled, nor did any of his offspring clear up to Joseph’s day.
So Joseph is a carpenter (Mt 13.55), or perhaps a mason. He works with his hands, in the village of Nazareth, in Israel’s backwater (Jn 1.46).
And that’s that.
Under circumstances we’re not told, he becomes engaged to a Jewish girl. She gives evidence of true godliness. He’ll be able to support her and their eventual children. This will be good.
He didn’t do it.
It all comes crashing down. Yet another curse.
He can’t sensibly give his life to a woman who has so deeply and thoroughly deceived him. The Law gives him an out, however; he can “divorce” her for fornication. The legal penalty is stoning, but he doesn’t want a big scene, or even personal vengeance. We’ll just handle this quietly and move on.
Like Mary, as it turns out, Joseph doesn’t understand either. It’s not what he thinks.
After 400 years of silence, God steps in to ensure the success of the hinge point of all history.
Joseph is asleep—that’s surprising in itself—and God sends a messenger in his dreams.
It’s not what you think, Joseph. Mary is not unfaithful. God is doing a work, a great work, an epochal work. Her child will save his people from their sins.
You need to adopt him.
Like Mary, Joseph knows what the social consequences of that will be. There will be a community wink and nod—we thought that’s who the culprit was. Joseph’s reputation will be ruined. What of his business? How will he support his family?
Adopt the child.
Why is that so important?
Remember the curse?
No biological son of Jehoiachin—or of Joseph—will ever sit on David’s throne. But only a descendant of David—through Solomon—can sit there.
Mary, too, is descended from David, but through his son Nathan, not Solomon (Lk 3). Her son has no claim to the throne by bloodline.
But if Joseph … adopts … the boy …
And there, sitting on his mat, in the dark of night, in a backwater village, a carpenter makes his decision.
He’ll trust, and obey.
Like millions of others before and since.
But unlike any of those others, at the key hinge point of all salvation history.
Next to the obedience of the Son Himself, the most important act of obedience ever.
And hardly anybody even noticed.
Joseph shows up one more time in the Bible, when Jesus is twelve. But after that, he disappears. No one knows what else this critically important man did or how or where he died.
I’m not much for statements about what I’ll do when I get to heaven. I think the Lamb will be the focus of all of it.
But I hope I’ll have a chance to find Joseph and say thanks.