When we think of Bible heroes, names like Moses, David, Samson, and Daniel come to mind. Joseph of Nazareth – husband to Mary and earthly father of Jesus – is generally not on the list. But on closer inspection, this quiet man is due more notice and respect than he is given. His heart is very much like God’s and provides a powerful role model for all of us today.
Joseph and Mary were betrothed in the Hebrew tradition. This is rather difficult for us to understand for it was not just a joining of two people in marriage but a merging of families, fortunes, and futures. A betrothal period could last up to seven years. During that time the expectations of both families looked and worked toward the union in a way foreign to us today. In addition, the entire community knew of and anticipated the union.
The Spirit and will of God interrupt this proceeding with the purpose of changing mankind’s destiny. From a heavenly perspective, it made perfect sense. From an earthly perspective, it made no sense. Fortunately, Joseph was not a man given to emotional reaction. Here we find his first quality of merit. Matthew 1: 19 tells us that Joseph “considered these things.” He didn’t react in a reality TV/Jerry Springer kind of way. He thought carefully and took the issue before God. He opened the door of his heart to hear what God had to say about the matter before he made any decision. Though his personal reputation was on the line, his first consideration was finding out what was the right thing to do.
A second quality to notice is that Joseph chose not to seek retribution, but to cover Mary and “break the engagement quietly.” (vs 18) If Mary’s pregnancy were to be discovered she would, at the least, be exiled or, at worst, stoned to death. Imagine Jesus’ life being ended before He had a chance to be born. But Joseph chose grace. He chose to cover her rather than expose her. In this day of “investigative reporting” when no secret is safe, and when many delight in the downfall of others, we could learn a great deal from this type of grace. Joseph took Mary as his wife but did not sleep with her as his wife until Jesus was born. Pretty amazing, right? Imagine walking in that kind of obedience.
Most importantly, Joseph’s willingness to set his own feelings and opinions aside and be open to God brought the will of God to pass. God sent an angel to Joseph in a dream to confirm the truth of the story Mary had told him. Joseph protected them and provided for them as Jesus grew. Once the story of Jesus’ birth, the flight to Egypt, and the return to Nazareth is done, we don’t hear any more about Joseph. He fades into the background. But without his obedience, the story would never have taken place. Imagine the multitude of lives that have been changed because Joseph chose to consider God in his actions. How many of us are living our best life because of his choice and how many others might find their best life if we choose to live by his example?