If you have ever filled out a will, you have probably wrestled with some difficult questions. One of the most difficult is deciding who would take care of your children if you and your spouse both died. While there may be several good choices, none of them seem quite adequate. A million doubts and questions begin to flood your mind. Will they raise your children to be faithful? Will they love them as you do? Will they be able to provide for them? Yet, a choice has to be made and you pick the one you think will be best. God also had to make this choice. Jesus coming to the earth as an infant meant someone would have to raise Him. We know Mary was chosen as His mother, but in choosing Mary, God was also choosing Joseph, the man to whom she was betrothed, to be Jesus’ father. God will even use divine intervention to make sure this marriage happens and Joseph is Jesus’ earthly father. Let’s consider the man God chose to raise His Son.
First of all, it is plain that Joseph was a poor man. By worldly standards, he was not great or important. Matthew 13:55, is where we find out that Joseph was a carpenter. The word translated carpenter means: “one who makes, produces” (Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament). Justin Martyr records that Joseph was a maker of ploughs and yokes (Dialogue of Justin with Trypho a Jew, 88.8). As was Jewish custom, fathers taught their trade to their children and Jesus was also known as a carpenter (Mark 6:3). In fact, this was used as an excuse by the people of Jesus’ hometown to ignore his and take offense—He was someone who grew up around them; just a lowly carpenter. It is clear that God did not require that the man chosen to raise his son be wealthy or influential. These things didn’t matter to God. We need to realize and let it sink in that our job as fathers is not to make a lot of money and provide the best things for our children. I’m sure Joseph provided for Jesus and took care of His needs, he even provided training in an earthly career, but beyond that he had little to offer Jesus physically.
Joseph was, however, a righteous man. We see this when he hears that Mary is with child. The stated reason he was planning to put Mary away quietly was that he was a righteous man (Matthew 1:18-19). He must have been devastated when he heard the news; he did not want a hint of immorality in his life. Even though the wedding ceremony had not taken place and the marriage had not been consummated, a betrothal was sacred and legally binding. Joseph only had a few options available to him:
- He could ignore Mary’s condition and proceed with the marriage. As a righteous man, he probably believed that it would be wrong for him to condone what seemed to be obvious immorality. We do not know whether or not Mary shared with him the news of her heavenly visit; but if she did, he probably found it hard to believe.
- He could have Mary stoned to death as one who was unfaithful to her betrothal vows (Deuteronomy 22:23-24). Righteousness is not devoid of compassion. They hadn’t actually been married yet so it wouldn’t have truly been adultery. He didn’t want her to die because of a mistake.
- He could divorce her publicly and shame her. The Law made provision for a man to give his wife “a certificate of divorce” if he “found some indecency in her” (Deuteronomy 24:1). Like most legal aspects under the old law, two or three witnesses were required. If a man desired, however, he could increase the number of witness and make sure everyone knew about it. Even though it would only have shamed Mary and not himself, Joseph wanted to avoid the public spectacle.
- He could divorce her secretly. Once he gave her the certificate of divorce, he would not be able to change his mind (Deuteronomy 24:2-4). Although probably not pleasing to him, this seemed the best of the options available to him. He would maintain his righteousness, he would show he did not condone sin, yet he would still show compassion toward the woman he had been planning to make his wife
When Joseph finds out that Mary remains pure, he doesn’t hesitate to marry her. Although, the situation would still appear wrong to many, Joseph knew that it was righteous. It shows that he was concerned with true righteousness, not just the appearance of righteousness. This was the kind of father God wanted to raise His Son—one who was striving to be pure and follow His ways.
We also see that Joseph was a faithful and disciplined. In Matthew 1:20, God delivered Joseph from his dilemma by sending an angel. An announcement of the Messiah must have surprised Joseph and filled him with a mixture of emotions. He would be happy to know that he could proceed with the marriage, maintain his righteousness, and even be a part of raising the Messiah, but he also knew most would not see it as a righteous relationship and his family would probably be upset. Most Jews would not marry a woman with child unless they knew that child was theirs. Even then, many would only marry the pregnant woman if they had been caught because they didn’t want to risk ruining their reputation. Nevertheless, Joseph did not hesitate. He believed what the angel said and does, in fact, marry her even though she is with child. You have to wonder how much ridicule he had to endure for this decision and what his family thought of him marrying a woman with child. He demonstrates a great and courageous faith. In addition, we find that he is disciplined and keeps Mary a virgin until after she had Jesus (1:25). He didn’t take his rights as a husband until after the child was born.
Joseph was also obedient and sacrificial. He was one who obeyed God’s commands completely and immediately. In Matthew 2:13-15 when he is told to depart to Egypt he does so that very night In Matthew 2:19-23 when he is told to go back to Israel he does so without question. Each of these moves would have been difficult and costly. It would have meant moving his business and his home. It would have meant facing the uncertainties of travel and setting up again in a new location. What Joseph thought of these moves, we don’t know. All we know is when God said: “Go,” Joseph went and did so immediately.
What God wanted in the father who would raise His son, was not money, power, or fame. He wanted a man who was righteous, faithful, disciplined, and obedient to the point of sacrifice. We need to remember Joseph and the example he set for us as a father so that we will remember what is really important and raise our sons accordingly.
by Jeremy Sprouse
Jeremy Sprouse has been married to Erynn since 1999. They have six children. Jeremy preaches for the Patrick St. Church of Christ in Dublin, TX and is the author of To Train Up a Knight.