Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Joseph: No Ordinary Man

Joseph: No Ordinary Man or The World's Greatest Step-father

I have been thinking about Joseph a lot lately. He pops into my mind during random conversations, in the temple, while I am studying my scriptures. I figured I better blog about him and get my feelings for him out on paper or he will keep popping up randomly. He is probably the most amazing man the world will gloss over and not look twice at. He is a very unassuming man but he did a remarkable thing. He raised the Son of God with love and tenderness. He is not mentioned very much in the scriptures. In fact he is only mentioned by name 16 times, 2 of those times were to show the genealogy of Jesus Christ, 3 were as a reference to who Christ was; ie. Jesus the son of Joseph. Back in those days there were a lot of Jesus's or Yeshua's as was his Hebrew name. Miriam was a very popular name in those days, as evidenced by the fact that including His mother, Jesus knew at least 7 Miriams. Yeshua was a form of Joshua, a very popular name at the time so using Joseph's name was akin to our using last names now. So of the 16 times Joseph's name is used in the New Testament only 11 are about what he was actually doing. Now most of what I will be writing is my own opinion based on scriptural evidence.
Joseph was an amazingly righteous man. It doesn't out rightly state that in the NT but look at how much care was chosen for the mother of the Son of God. She was pure, holy, righteous, obedient, and humble. She was raised in such a way that when the angel Gabriel came and told her what would happen her responses showed both virtue and humility. Her first reaction wasn't "how can I do this?" or "why me?" it was "how shall this be, seeing I know not a man?" Her second response was, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord..." If so much care was taken to find a righteous and pure vessel to carry the Son of God, how can we believe any less care was taken to find the man who would raise this precious child. After receiving this information Mary went off to her cousin's house for 3 months, in those days it was uncommon for a woman to make that kind of journey without her father or her husband's permission. Mary was already "espoused" to Joseph. The way Jewish custom worked was as follows, "The word eyrusin means - Betrothal. The period is also called - kiddushim - meaning "sanctification" or "set apart." This word really defines the purpose of the betrothal period - it is a time in which the couple are to set side to prepare themselves to enter into the covenant of marriage. The betrothal was so binding that the couple would need a religious divorce or (get) in order to annul the contract (Deut. 24:1-4). After the couple had undergone - Mikveh hwqm (immersion) , each separately, they would appear together under the Huppah - or canopy - and in public they would express their intention of becoming betrothed or engaged. While under the Huppah the couple participated in a ceremony in which some items of value were exchanged - such as rings, and a cup of wine was shared to seal the betrothal vows. After the ceremony - the couple was considered to have entered into the betrothal agreement. This period was to last for one year. During this time the couple was considered married - yet did not have sexual relations - and continued to live separately until the end of the betrothal. (1)" So after getting engaged, which in those times was like being married but not having sex, Mary goes off by herself for 3 months and comes home pregnant. Joseph knows he is not the father. There are several biblical laws about virginity and stoning. A man who takes his bride and discovers that she is not a virgin can publicly denounce her and she will be stoned. Also a woman taken in adultery can be stoned as in NT when Jesus saves the woman taken in adultery by pricking the conscience of those who want to stone her. Either case is possible with Mary and Joseph. They are betrothed and therefore considered married by law so her being pregnant and not by Joseph could be considered adultery. It is here that we see that Joseph was a truly noble and righteous man. It was within his rights to ask that Mary be stoned but he wanted to quietly divorce her. He didn't rashly decide that though, he was pondering it. Studying it out in his mind and praying about it. It is here that an angel comes to him and explains the situation. This is not the only time that an angel comes to him. There are 3 times in the book of Matthew that an angel comes to Joseph and tells him what he needs to do. Each time the very next scripture states that Joseph gets up and immediately does what he is told, one time in the middle of the night.
How many times do we feel like we need to do something, or call someone, and we tell ourselves, "I'll do it tomorrow"?
By taking Mary as his wife, even though he had no relations with her until after she gave birth to Jesus, the people around him took that as his accepting the child as his. It was tantamount to a confession. Mary and Jesus were not the only ones who were mocked, Jesus was called the result of fornication by the pharisees, but Joseph surely was as well. Her family probably looked down on him as impatient and muttered about eating green grapes as he passed. His family probably blamed Mary. This might have been hard for him to take as well, it is obvious that he cared about Mary and had accepted his divine calling to raise the Messiah. To hear the slander against Mary would have been hard. But again, what a great example of righteousness. He willingly took the ridicule and was probably a great comfort to Mary as one of only 3 people that knew the true lineage of the child she bore.
As for the angelic visits, they are in and of themselves very significant. There are several instances of angels visiting people. In all the times of biblical angelic visitations all but 2 of them were to righteous people. Saul's conversion to Paul on the road to Damascus and all of Israel was chastised by an angel of the Lord. I am sure that the Holy Prophets had visitations frequently but they are only mentioned 1 time each for Daniel, Lot, Jacob, Abraham and Peter. Twice for Hagar and Samson's mother. The shepherds that were called as witnesses to the birth of Christ and the women that were witnesses of his Resurrection saw multiple angels. Joseph had at least 3 visits from angels, it was his righteousness and obedience that led to the additional visions. I personally think that he had at least 4 just because he didn't touch Mary until after Jesus was born. I personally would be terrified to and would need an angel to come and tell me it was ok to finally be married.
Joseph was not a wealthy man. Both he and Mary came from a very poor area. Where they lived is known for it's hard land. It is not easy to make a living there. Their poverty as a couple is documented in the NT and no I am not talking about when Christ was born. The fact that they stayed in a stable only says that they weren't rich enough to kick someone out of a room in the inn. My reference is from Luke 2. After the days of her purification were over, meaning 40 days (a girl child would be twice as long for purification) she went to offer the ritual sacrifice, a pair of turtledoves. Leviticus 12 explains the sacrifice and that the woman brings a lamb of the first year for a burnt offering and a turtledove for a sin offering. The bible does allow that if they are too poor to buy a lamb they may use two turtledoves instead. This had been the law since the time of Moses so they would have been saving money for the trip and the offerings. Joseph might have been counting on the year engagement to save up money. Instead, he finds out shortly after the betrothal that his fiancee is pregnant. To take on a child when you do not have a lot of money showed his trust in the Lord. Here was the Messiah, the son of Kings. People were expecting him to be a military leader, to be a wealthy man, and yet the Lord chose a humble, poor man to be his guardian. The timely gifts of the Magi were what allowed them to flee to Egypt and then return several years later.
Joseph taught Jesus both spiritual and temporal lessons. Jesus learned a lot by the Spirit but he also learned a lot from Joseph and Mary. Jesus was able to quote scriptures and expound on them. Alma 7:13 teaches us, "Now the Spirit aknoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the bflesh that he might ctake upon him the sins of his people" Jesus could have had all knowledge just given to him but he chose to learn the way we learn. Seeing how righteous Joseph and Mary were I am certain that they took the time to teach him as soon as he was old enough to understand. Like any of us with children we start teaching them as soon as they are born, sometimes even before they are born. We talk to them as if they can understand us (because they do), we sing to them, we read to them. I have friends who don't believe in God and therefore do not teach their children anything concerning God. I have a strong belief and have taught my daughter since she was small. She is only 8 but she knows who her Heavenly Father is and that she can turn to Him in times of need. She has also used my very words and scriptures to counsel and comfort me. We do not know much of Jesus's youth but by the time he was 12 he had a firm grasp on religious concepts and knew who his Father was. He loved and respected Joseph as was proper for his position, but both Mary and Joseph knew who his real Father was. When they went back to the temple for him Mary referred to Joseph as his father. Jesus gently reminded her that his Father had business for him to be doing. He knew who his Father was, which meant he knew who He was, all because Joseph had taught him scriptures and answered his questions. Joseph also taught him carpentry. It might have been while Jesus was sanding wood for his earthly guardian that they had spiritual talks as well.
Joseph's 4 sons eventually chose to follow Jesus as well. It took them a while and I can't really blame them. They had grown up with him, they had seen his perfect example. I personally think it would have been difficult to have such a perfect sibling. I am sure that Mary and Joseph tried not to compare their other children knowing Jesus's divine lineage, but it would be hard not to wonder why my older brother always did the right thing and no matter how hard I tried I still messed up. I think also it would be hard to watch your brother do everything right and then suddenly turn the world upside-down by declaring that he was the Messiah. That would be blasphemous to them. It would probably be especially hard for Judas who, according to biblical scholars, was studying to be a rabbi. Also possibly for James who was closest in age to him and had known him the longest. Joseph wasn't at liberty to explain why their brother did the things he did or the quiet reverence he showed Jesus. Jesus's divinity was declared at the Lord's timing. It must have been hard, as a parent we sometimes want to make things easier for our children, and I can see how it would have been easier for Joseph to just let the other kids know why their big brother was special and the things he would do. But ever obedient, Joseph just taught them to love the Lord and to study the scriptures. It was these teachings that eventually let them feel the spirit and be converted to their brother and accept him as their Savior.
Joseph's actions are only mentioned in the first one or two chapters of Matthew, Luke, and John. He isn't even mentioned by Mark. He is not mentioned anywhere else in the NT. He disappears from history. We know that he died before Jesus turned 30. Here again, another example of Jesus learning through doing rather than by the spirit alone. I don't know if Joseph knew he was going to die before Jesus, but because he did Jesus knows first hand the pain of losing a parent. He knows the pain of knowing you are going to be buried by a parent as well. Joseph was so important in the story of Jesus. He gave us so many examples of being righteous. He was given hard things to do and he did them immediately. He raised the man that became our Savior in a way that made it possible for him to become our Savior. I look at the way he obeyed, especially when he fled to Egypt. It says in Matthew 2:14 When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt... He didn't wait til morning, or a more convenient time, it doesn't say that he waited until the papyrus store was open so he could write a letter to his family, he got up, got his family and went, not knowing when he would come back. The angel just told him to stay in Egypt until the Lord let him know it was safe. I admire and respect this man. Such an amazing man, such a great example of righteous priesthood leadership, a man that as a parent I can look up to and emulate. Joseph was no ordinary man, truly he was one of the greatest of the sons of God.

1. Jewish Wedding Customs and the Bride of Messiah
Written by Glenn Kay   

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