The Life of Joseph
December 5th, 2012
One summer evening during a violent thunderstorm, a mother was tucking her small son into bed. She was just about to turn off the light when he asked in a trembling voice, "Mommy, will you sleep with me tonight?" His mother smiled and gave him a reassuring hug. "I can’t, Dear," she said, "I have to sleep with your daddy." After a long silence he said, "The big sissy."
There are certain sayings we associate with our fathers. Here are some typical Dad quotes:
“Ask your mother.”
”Do I look like I’m made of money?”
“I’m not sleeping; I was resting my eyes.”
”I’m not just talking to hear my voice.”
”A little dirt never hurt anyone; just wipe it off.”
”We’re not lost!”
”No, we’re not there yet.”
”Don’t make me stop this car!”
I looked in my Bible for a quote from another prominent father, Joseph, and to my surprise I couldn’t find one. I never thought about this before, but Joseph doesn’t say a single word in the Gospels. He listens and obeys. We might assume his words are recorded, because we can imagine the conversations he had with Mary, and the Angel Gabriel. We can “hear” him talking to the innkeeper. We can visualize him teaching Jesus about carpentry…but then he fades from the scene. It is widely thought that Joseph was much older than Mary, and when Jesus began His ministry, Mary appears alone, and although the Bible doesn’t say she’s a widow, we can figure that Joseph has since died.
Joseph probably thought his life was pretty well planned. His marriage and his vocation were all arranged neatly for him, but then his world came crashing down. He discovered that his bride-to-be was pregnant. Can you imagine the real-life shock of these words: “Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1: 18). We know that Joseph was a man of integrity—he wanted to do the right thing, in the right way. He considered divorcing Mary when he learned of her pregnancy, but wanted to do so without calling attention to the reason, whereas he could have had her publicly disgraced or even stoned to death for adultery. Instead, he risks being questioned about Mary’s pregnancy and marries her.
In those days, a marriage contract was worked out between families, and the engaged couple continued to live with their parents till their wedding. Marriages were arranged for individuals by parents, and contracts were negotiated. After this was accomplished, the individuals were considered married and were called husband and wife. They did not, however, begin to live together. Instead, the woman continued to live with her parents and the man with his for one year. The waiting period was to demonstrate the faithfulness of the pledge of purity given concerning the bride. If she was found to be with child in this period, she obviously was not pure, but had been involved in an unfaithful sexual relationship. Therefore the marriage could be annulled. If, however, the one-year waiting period demonstrated the purity of the bride, the husband would then go to the house of the bride’s parents and in a grand processional march lead his bride back to his home. There they would begin to live together as husband and wife and consummate their marriage physically. Matthew’s story should be read with this background in mind.
Mary and Joseph were in the one-year waiting period when Mary was found to be with child. They had never had sexual intercourse and Mary herself had been faithful (vv. 20, 23). While little is said about Joseph, one can imagine how his heart must have broken. He genuinely loved Mary, and yet the word came that she was pregnant.
The townspeople could well have thought Mary and Joseph didn’t wait till their wedding. Joseph protected their reputation by moving up the wedding date, and the Roman census took them far away from the town’s questioning eyes.