Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Joseph the Carpenter – God’s Choice for Perfect Dad

Forget Ozzie Nelson.  Forget Cliff Huxtable.  Forget Fred McMurray.  Forget “Father Knows Best.”  Joseph the Carpenter is, hands down, the perfect dad.  But don't take my word for it. Ask God.  He is the one who chose Joseph as "Father of the Year" for every year in eternity.

Its' true that Joseph doesn’t get all the good press his wife, Mary does, and perhaps rightly so.  After all, she carried God Incarnate in her womb for nine months, while God the Father carefully and lovingly knit his only son together in her womb.  Carrying the Son of God - that’s a major responsibility.

But God didn’t just choose Mary as the perfect mother to bring Christ into the world. He chose Joseph as well.  Of all the men who ever lived, God the Father chose Joseph the Carpenter to be the earthly father of Jesus. He chose Joseph to be the man who would support Jesus, defend him, feed him and train him up in both the ways of God and the ways of a skilled craftsman.

Yet Joseph the perfect human father gets far less recognition than I think he deserves.  Perhaps it’s because he – in cinematic terms – has no dialog.   In theatrical stage-play terms, he’s a “spear carrier,” someone in the chorus who is necessary, but not important enough to have dialog.  There is no fatherly Magnificat, no "here I am, Lord" moment for Joseph.  Instead, he let his actions speak for him.

I think it’s time that Joseph the Carpenter, earthly father of Jesus, got some of the credit he deserves.   

Consider this:

Joseph received four prophetic dream visions which are reported in the bible. In each case his answer was “Yes, Lord, right away.”  Moses argued with God. Abraham debated with God.  Jacob even wrestled with God.  But when Joseph got his heavenly messages, his response was always immediate, decisive and affirmative. 

Each time, the command he received threw his life into turmoil.  Yet – based on his actions – that sudden turmoil didn’t matter to him at all, at least not when compared with his commitment to serve his Lord and God.

The first time occurred when he learned that his betrothed was pregnant.  

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about:  His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  (Matthew 1:18-21)

Even though Joseph must have felt betrayed, and even though he could have exercised his right to publicly divorce her - or even have her stoned - he chose to quietly divorce her, to spare her from public shame.  

Clearly,  even wounded as he must have felt, thoughts of revenge or punishment or payback were not in him.  He was a good man.

But then came his first dream vision, when an Angel of the Lord spoke to Joseph and told him what God wanted him to do.  Because Joseph was the faithful and God-fearing kind of man that he was, this word from God changed everything. Immediately.

In the first dream vision, that Angel told Joseph to go ahead and marry his betrothed Mary, even though she was pregnant.  Joseph knew this would shame him in his own hometown.  He knew he'd be labeled either a sex offender by “knowing” her before marriage, or – more likely – he'd be known as a cuckold, since nobody apparently seemed to think Joseph was the unborn child’s father. 

Yet, after the dream vision in which an Angel of God told him the child was conceived by God, and that he should marry his betrothed fiancée and raise her child as his own, Joseph decided that God must have his reasons.  Which was good enough for Joseph

The bible says:

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.  But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. (Matthew 1:24-25)

So Joseph married a pregnant girl and assumed all responsibility for her child, who was now also his child.   At the very least, by this selfless, obedient act, he saved Mary’s reputation.  Perhaps he even saved her life, since infidelity before marriage was a stoning offense.

Then Joseph went further, giving up any thoughts of marital intimacy until after the baby was born, presumably some months into the future.  For a young man with normal drives and passions, that must have been difficult. 

Yet the bible says that he did what he was told, without complaint.

Then the second time Joseph had a dream vision – this one about Herod’s threat to kill Jesus - Joseph didn’t even wait till morning.  Sure, he’d lived in Bethlehem for at least two years, and must have established himself with a home and a business that supported his growing family, but when God said “Go,” Joseph went.  He didn't close his shop or put his house on the market.  

As before, he followed God's command without question and without hesitation

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod.  And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet:  "Out of Egypt I called my son." (Matthew 2:14-15)

Of course, any good father would do whatever it took to protect his son's life.  But Joseph was an adoptive father, and some people (mostly people who don't know any better) might expect less of him.  But not God – he had no doubt what Joseph would do. 

Note:  As an aside, I am both adopted by my parents and I am an adoptive father.  I know the bonds between father and child are no different than for those of a child I’d sired.  I’m just saying …

So Joseph, Mary and at least Jesus – and perhaps, by this time, the first others of Jesus’ brothers and sisters – got up in the night, fled to Egypt, and started a new life, which was becoming something of a specialty for Joseph and Mary.   

Then some time later – the bible doesn’t say just how much time later - Joseph got his third dream vision, this one telling him to head home.

After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child's life are dead." (Matthew 2:19-20)

Once again, Joseph had to decide if he would, as ordered, close down his new business and hit the hot, grueling and not entirely safe road back from Egypt to Judea.  And the bible makes it clear that this was exactly what Joseph did.  He didn’t argue, or drag his feet, or even mutter under his breath.   

He did his Lord’s bidding.

Now Joseph’s final recorded dream vision is often overlooked, because Matthew doesn’t set it aside in quite the way he did the first three dream visions.  However, this was a “big one.”  But to realize why this was the "big one" requires you to read between the lines, at least a bit.  While they were already on the road back to Judea, Joseph got another course-correction message.

So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.  But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there.  Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth.  So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene. (Matthew 2:21-23)

This was the last time that Joseph had a dream vision encounter with God – at least it was the last time we know of.  And this one was very likely just as emotionally gut-wrenching as his first dream vision, the one that commanded Joseph to marry Mary, and to raise her son as his own.   

That is because, once again, this command put him at “ground zero” for being judged harshly and unfairly by his fellows back in Nazareth. These were men and women who thought they knew his entire story about Joseph, Mary and that boy, Jesus.  They were the ones who thought of Joseph as a cuckold, or worse.

Consider:  It shouldn’t be surprising that, after heading for Bethlehem to participate in Caesar’s census, Joseph and Mary decided to remain in the ancient City of David.  There, they were unknown.  There, as far as anyone knew, their firstborn son had been born of a married couple.  There was no “shame” waiting for them in Bethlehem. 

The story of the Magi makes it clear that Joseph and Mary and Jesus stayed in Bethlehem for at least two years, if only because Herod’s murderous orders targeted every male child born during a two-year period.  But Bethlehem had been their port of shelter, the home they planned to return to.   Read it carefully - this last dream vision makes it clear that the couple had planned to return to Bethlehem from Egypt.  Yet to fulfill prophecy, and to once again save young Jesus' life, God commanded them to go back to Nazareth.

But was Nazareth really such a bad place?   

Actually, I think so.  Small towns can be like that.  Recall, for instance, that later, when - early in his ministry - Jesus went there to teach in the synagogue, the town-folk got so incensed at him that they drove him to the edge of a cliff, doing so with murderous intent. It was only a miracle that saved Jesus from that fate.   

So clearly, this was a town made up of judgmental hotheads.  First Century redneck yahoos, who, when provoked (and it didn't take much to provoke them) could turn themselves into a virtual lynch mob. Yet that’s where God sent Joseph and his family, and once again, Joseph said “yes Lord,” even as he moved to obey.

Even before he first encountered God's messenger, Joseph was a good man at heart. When God spoke, it became clear that Joseph was God-fearing man who obeyed his Lord without question or hesitation. He was a devoted family man who always acted to put his wife and his son first, ahead of anything he might prefer for himself.  

God chose well when he chose the perfect human earthly father to raise up his only begotten son, Jesus.

Despite his importance, Joseph only appeared in two Gospels – Matthew and Luke – and his choices and decisions are only really played out in Matthew.  He was referred to in John and Mark, but only in past tense as the earthly father of the now-adult Jesus.  Most of what we really know of him comes from Matthew. However, everything we know about him points to the fact that he was, indeed, the perfect earthly father for Jesus – obedient, steadfast, loving and protective. He was a man who put his wife and his son ahead of him, every time, and he was a man who didn’t count the cost of his obedience.

However, there is one other thing that we do know about Jesus.  The Talmud – that basic guide to living a Godly life used by the 1st Century Hebrews – considered the term “carpenter” to refer to a “takton." This also applied to the term “son of a carpenter.”  In the Aramaic of the day, a takton was a deeply devout person, well-schooled in scripture.  Who better to teach the young son of the living God about faith and scripture?  I'm speculating here, but this fact could offer an additional reason why God chose Joseph to be the earthly father of his only begotten son.

While. for 2,000 years, Mary has gotten most of the good press, it is only reasonable to assume that God chose Joseph with the same care as he chose Mary.  Out of all the men who’d ever lived, Joseph was seen by God as the ideal man to be the earthly father of his only son, just as Mary was the ideal mother for Jesus.  Joseph lived up to those expectations, always putting Mary and Jesus first, always obeying God’s every command, and never once questioning or hesitating.   

He accepted his role with dignity, and fulfilled that role with diligence. 

The rest of what we know about Joseph is based on inference.  We presume he died before Jesus began his ministry, for there is no mention of a funeral, and Mary appears several times in the Gospel during her son's ministry without her husband present. This includes a gala social event – the wedding feast at Cana – where you’d expect her to be accompanied by her husband.

The bible also tells us that Joseph fathered at least six other children – four named sons and at least two unnamed daughters.  Two of those sons – though they did not believe in their older brother until after his resurrection – became church leaders after Jesus’ death, going on to write the epistles of James and Jude.  So, as a father, Joseph did himself proud – not just with his oldest son, but with at least two of his other sons.   

I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and say all his kids turned out exceptionally well.

Note:  Regarding Joseph's other children, both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox faiths hold the belief that Mary was a perpetual virgin. They state that the named and un-named brothers and sisters of Jesus were either step-brothers (assuming, as the Orthodox do, that Joseph had a previous wife before Mary and was, by the time of that marriage, 80 years old or older) or they were His cousins.   

I honor their belief without sharing it.  Several reasons:

First, I can and do venerate Mary as the sanctified mother of the son of God without needing her to be a perpetual virgin.  The Old Testament prophecies do not demand that, and the New Testament’s inspired Gospel writers did not say that she was a perpetual virgin.  So I consider it "extra-biblical," and subject to devout belief on either side of the issue.

Second, the bible says clearly that Joseph “didn’t consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son.”  To me, that clearly suggests that Joseph did consummate the marriage later.  If it was not so, this verse from Matthew (1:21) would have read differently.

Finally, the bible is consistent in naming James as a brother of Jesus – never as a cousin or step-brother or just a relative – and it is also consistent in referring to the brothers and sisters of Jesus. Not once, but several times.

But that question really has very little to do with my respect for Joseph, God’s choice to be the earthly father of his only son, our Lord Jesus Christ. 

As a father, a husband and a man, Joseph is worthy of emulation, but first you’ve got to really look at this strong, quiet man of God.  As a father - and as one who has lost a son - I find Joseph to be that perfect father, just as Mary was that perfect mother.


  1. Ned, I loved this blog about Joseph! Excellent read, very moving and enlightening.

  2. Nice eschatology on Joseph's life. Isn't it nice to know that Joseph secretly thought he'd divorce Mary later in his fleshly way until hearing from the angel of God. Even though we all fall short of the glory of God, He can still use us for profound things for the Kingdom.