Joseph [Jō'zeph]—may god add or increaser.
The story of this young man who went from pit to palace and from rags to riches, never loses its charm for young and old alike. It would take a book itself to fully portray all the vicissitudes and virtues of Joseph, who kept his record clean. All that we can do in our treatment of him is to suggest a few aspects of his character for development.
Joseph was a youthful dreamer and his dream came true (Gen. 37:5-9; 41:42-44).
Joseph labored as a slave, but was faithful in hard places (Gen. 39:1-6, 20-23).
Joseph enjoyed the presence of God and won the confidence of his master (Gen. 39:2, 4).
Joseph had physical beauty, but it was never a snare to him (Gen. 39:6).
Joseph resisted temptation. His godless mistress could not seduce him. Grace was his to flee youthful lusts. Thus he did not commit a “great wickedness” (Gen. 39:7-13).
Joseph was silent amid foul accusations and the appearance of guilt and unjust punishment (Gen. 39:14-20).
Joseph was unspoiled by sudden prosperity. When days of honor followed days of humiliation, he did not yield to pride (Gen. 41:14-16).
Joseph the interpreter of dreams proved that “prison walls do not a prison make.” He acknowledged his dependence upon God for illumination, proving that he was not a mere dreamer but an interpreter of dreams (Gen. 40).
Joseph manifested great wisdom, brotherly love, filial devotion and utter submission to God (Gen. 43:20; 45:8, 14, 23; 47:7). He knew how to return good for evil (Gen. 50:16-21). If we cannot have all the gifts of Joseph, who is a perfect type of Christ, we can certainly covet all his graces. If we cannot have his greatness, we can certainly emulate his goodness.
R. W. Moss says, “A very high place must be given Joseph among the early founders of his race. In strength of right purpose he was second to none, whilst in graces of reverence and kindness, of insight and assurance, he became the type of a faith that is at once personal and national (Heb. 11:22), and allows neither misery nor a career of triumph to eclipse the sense of Divine destiny.”
11. The husband of Mary, and foster-father of our Lord (Matt. 1:16-24; 2:13; Luke 1:27; 2:4-43; 3:23; 4:22; John 1:45; 6:42).
It is somewhat unique that two Josephs were associated with Christ, one at His birth and the other at His death. Both of these godly men gave Jesus of their best. In this section we think of Joseph the carpenter, who was present at the manger when Jesus was born, even though he was not His father. While Christ came as the Son of Man, He was never a son of a man.
Joseph’s presence at Christ’s birth witnesses to a severe test that had emerged triumphant. Mary was the pure young woman he had fallen in love with, and was about to make his wife. Yet the Child she was about to bear would not be his. Seeing her “great with child,” without fanfare Joseph was minded to put her away. He never acted rashly with his espoused, although he was baffled by her condition. This serves for all time as an example of godly wisdom and tender consideration for others.
Bitterly disappointed that Mary had apparently betrayed him, yet believing, he made no haste. As a praying man he waited upon God, and his love for and patience with Mary were rewarded. God understood his mental difficulties and rewarded Joseph’s conscientious attitude toward Mary by revealing His redemptive plan. God never fails those who carry their anxieties to Him. Joseph received a direct and distinct revelation from God, and at once his fears were banished, and his line of duty made clear.
Tenderly he cared for his dear one as if the Child she was bearing were his own. Overawed by the mystery of it all, that his beloved Mary had been chosen as the mother of the Lord he as a devout Jew had eagerly anticipated, we can imagine how he would superintend every detail of the Nativity.
What holy thoughts must have filled the mind of Mary’s guardian. Where suspicion regarding Mary’s purity once lurked, strong faith now reigned as he looked into the lovely face of Mary’s Child. At last God’s promises had been fulfilled and before him was the Babe through whom God’s covenants would be established.
When it became necessary because of Herod’s hatred to flee into Egypt, Joseph cared for Mary and her first-born Son with reverent devotion until tidings came that Herod was dead, and that they could safely return to their own land. While a shroud of secrecy covers the thirty years Christ spent at home, we can be sure of this, that between Jesus and Joseph there was an affection strong and deep.
Briefly stated, we have these glimpses of Joseph:
I. He was “a son of David” and could claim royal or priestly descent (Matt. 1:20).
II. His family belonged to Bethlehem, David’s city.
III. He followed the trade of carpenter, and doubtless taught Christ how to use wood and nails (Matt. 13:55).
IV. He was a pious Israelite, faithful in all the ordinances of the Temple (Luke 2:22-24, 41, 42).
V. He was a kindly, charitable man, treating Mary gently in her time of need (Matt. 1:19; Luke 2:1-7).
VII. He never appears in the Gospels after Christ was twelve years of age and became “a son of the Law” (Luke 2:41-51), which may suggest that he died during the interval. This would explain why Jesus at His death asked John to care for His mother.
VIII. He died, tradition says, at the age of 111 years, when Jesus was but eighteen years of age.
12. Joseph of Arimathaea, a secret disciple of Jesus, whose unused grave was surrendered to Jesus. Thus the One born in a virgin womb was buried in a virgin tomb (Matt. 27:57-60; Mark 15:43; Luke 23:50; John 19:38).
This wealthy and devout Israelite, a member of the Sanhedrin, lived in a city of Jews (Luke 23:51). It is to the provision he made for the body of Christ that Isaiah had reference when he said, “He made His grave with the rich” (Isa. 53:9). Of this renowned Joseph we discover:
1. He was an honorable counselor (Mark 15:43). Because of his adherence to the Law and integrity of life he was a member of the governing body known as the Sanhedrin.
II. He looked for the kingdom of God. Immersed in Old Testament Scriptures, he anticipated the reign of the promised Messiah.
III. He was “a good man and just” (Luke 23:50, 51). As the Bible never uses words unnecessarily, there must be a distinction between “good” and “just.” As a “good man” we have his own internal disposition—what he was in himself. As a “just man” we have his external conduct—what he was towards others. His just dealings were the fruit of the root of his goodness. His was the belief that knew how to behave.
IV. He was a secret disciple (John 19:38). Joseph of Arimathaea was similar to Nicodemus in his respect for our Lord as a man, admiration for Him as a teacher, belief in Him as the Christ, and yet, till now, his lack of confessing Him before men. Dreading the hostility of his colleagues on the Sanhedrin, he kept his faith secret.
V. He begged the body of Jesus (Matt. 27:58). As soon as Jesus was dead, Joseph hastened to Pilate for permission to inter His body. David Smith observes that when the condemnation of Jesus was over—a condemnation in which Joseph took no part—he realized how cowardly a part he had played and, stricken with shame and remorse, plucked up courage and went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. It was common for friends of the crucified to purchase their bodies, which would otherwise have been cast out as refuse, and give them decent burial (Mark 15:45).
VI. He gave his grave to Christ (Matt. 27:59, 60). With lingering reverence Joseph paid his last respects to the One he admired, and in the hour of sorrow helped the friends and not the foes of the righteous Sufferer. Joseph had a garden close to Calvary, where he had hewn a smoothed and polished tomb in the side of the rock as his own last resting place, in which, aided by Nicodemus, he buried the linencovered and perfumed body of Christ.
VII. Joseph, legend tells us, was sent to Britain by Philip the Apostle, and founded the Church of Glastonbury. Medieval chroniclers delighted to tell of the staff Joseph stuck into the ground. The staff supposedly took root, brought forth leaves and flowers and became the parent of all the Glastonbury thorns from that day to this.