It is interesting that in Deuteronomy 33, when Moses is speaking of the blessing of Joseph, he says that he handled ‘the precious things of heaven’. Similarly Jacob, in Genesis 49, in blessing his sons says that Joseph was sorely grieved, shot at and hated. These words are true of the Joseph of the Old Testament but they are also true of the two Josephs of the New Testament -Joseph of Arimathea and Joseph the Carpenter. It is the latter who is the subject of this study and there is no doubt that he handled ‘the precious things of heaven’.
We learn in Matthew 1 that Joseph was espoused to Mary. This meant that he was, in our way of things, engaged to her. Yet in Jewish life it went further than that.
While a couple were betrothed they legally belonged to each other, the vows had been taken, but as yet they did not live together. (For further information on Jewish marriage practices see Rise Up My Love by Cyril Hocking, pages 21 to 32).
When he discovered that Mary was pregnant he was appalled. Apparently, although he loved her and she him, she had let him down and not remained faithful. In such circumstances there was only one course of action. She must be put away. However, because he loved the girl, he was prepared not to make a great public song and dance about what had happened, but to do it quietly and privately. This would save her initially from the criticism of those around.
We are told that Joseph was a ‘just’ man. This has not only the idea of righteousness but also of honour in his dealings with Mary before and during the period of espousing. They had not come together, and it was to them a matter of honour that they should not. He was also a patient and thinking man. He did not on his initial discovery rush off and act rashly in a rage. He thought on these things. As he pondered the meaning and his course of action the angel of the Lord appeared to him and gave him specific instructions to follow.
The angel’s message answered all Joseph’s questions. His instructions were to take Mary to wife. In effect to take her to his home, love and cherish her and to show her kindness. He was to provide support, and in this very difficult time for Mary, as the tongues wagged and the words became bitter, to be for her an arm to lean on and a shoulder to cry on. Mary was young, vulnerable and inexperienced. Joseph was to stand by her, support her through the pregnancy and act as guardian of the young Child.
On waking from his dream Joseph immediately acts and puts into effect the directions of the angel. How blessed that not only has the Young Child a reliable and loving mother but He now also has a confident and determined legal, if not actual, father.
And so Joseph married Mary and when the Child was born in Bethlehem Joseph called His name Jesus, as he had been instructed.
It is interesting to note that Joseph was a carpenter. God did not choose a man who was a tanner, shepherd or tinsmith, but a carpenter. Why was this so?
When the Lord was here the ordinary people appreciated Him as a human being. They had great difficulty in handling His deity. They could not accept that somebody who looked like and indeed was a man could possibly be God. They rejected His claims in this area. Consequently God raised up John to write in dogmatic terms of the pre-existence and deity of Christ. John could handle it, he wrote ‘In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God’, John 1. 1.
Similarly Joseph, who knew that he had absolutely nothing to do with the conception and birth of Christ, and was aware that the Child had been conceived of the Holy Ghost and was God’s eternal Son, may have wondered whether He was really a man. Would He need support, help, guidance, direction, discipline and caring for? Would He not be special and totally independent? Would He be mature before His time? Would He look like a God-man? Would He in childhood do amazing feats? Joseph needed to be able to handle, not His deity, but His humanity.
Carpenters handle wood and are expert in its manipulation and use. They understand its properties and characteristics. They know what to do and what not to do. In the Old Testament, shittim wood speaks of:
Consequently, who better than a carpenter to handle the humanity of the Saviour. Who better to understand His situation, needs and character than a carpenter? Used to carefully handling wood, he could adapt to the careful handling and upbringing of the Saviour.
We need to point out however that while ordinary children take after their fathers, Christ never took after or modelled Himself on Joseph, good man though he was. It is more likely that Joseph himself took after the characteristics of this proper Child.
Entrusted with the care and protection of Jesus, as well as Mary, Joseph faced many difficulties. The journey to Bethlehem just before Mary was delivered, must have been a traumatic experience. The journey back to Nazareth, the flight into Egypt and the constant evasion of those who sought the young Child’s life must have been trying, to say the least.
Even under divine instruction Joseph hesitated and when he felt there was still danger to Jesus, turned aside into what he considered to be a safer place.
Previously he had put Mary first in his life. Everything he did and all that he had were put to her good. Now, however, the young Child takes precedence and over and over again we read in Matthew 1 of ‘the young child and his mother’! God could depend on Joseph to place into his hands, his home and his care, that precious thing of heaven, the young Child.
There are many lessons for us to learn here apart altogether from the beauty of the story. We should be honourable in every sense of the word, yet even when the evidence seems indisputable we should not rush ahead but give time for God to reveal how best the problem should be dealt with. We should be obedient, doing precisely what the word of God instructs us to do whether or not this puts us in line for criticism. We should be spiritual enough to be able to handle both the deity and humanity of the Saviour in the great mystery of godliness. We should be obedient, dependable and worthy of heaven’s trust in those things that have been committed to our keeping, for example the deposit of faith and the fundamentals concerning the Person of Christ. May God therefore help us to be like Joseph the Carpenter, dependable in all his ways and particularly committed to the defence of the young Child in the world today.
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