Genealogies – don’t you just love them! When Matthew sat down to write his gospel, he understood how important it was to grab the reader’s attention with the first few paragraphs. So what did he do? He chose to use the first 17 verses to trace the ancestry of Yeshua back to Abraham, 41 generations in all!
But then Luke goes and does the same thing in Chapter 3 of his gospel! What’s the big deal with genealogies I hear you say? They are important for many reasons, but for our purposes today they help us understand a couple of things central to our story. The first thing to notice is that the two genealogies are different, but they converge on a common ancestor: David. Matthew’s genealogy follows Yosef’s lineage, whilst that of Luke follows Miriam’s lineage (don’t be confused that it doesn’t contain her name – normally only males are listed, and so Yosef is named instead as the husband of Miriam). So both Yosef and Miriam are descendants of David: Yosef through Solomon, and Miriam through Nathan. Thereafter they are both consistent in their lineage to Abraham, and Luke takes it further still back to Adam, and then to God. Luke’s main point is to show that Yeshua, through his blood relationship with Miriam is truly a son of God. Matthew makes the point that as a descendant of Abraham, Yeshua is a true Jew, and is also of the royal line through Solomon, so has a claim to the throne of David. It’s amazing what you can learn through these lists of names. You can probably tell, I like genealogies!
Now here is an interesting little aside. Jechoniah (also called Coniah) was an evil king who was in the royal line of David as it is mentioned in Matthew's genealogy. God was outraged with him and judged the royal line with a curse: no descendant of Jechoniah would sit as king of Israel (Jeremiah 22:24-30). This seemingly contradicts the promise that God made to David that his son, Solomon's seed would always be on the throne (1Chr 22:7-10) and also would make Yeshua ineligible to the throne, as he was a descendant of Jechoniah. But, since Yeshua was only an adopted son and not biological son of Yosef, the curse did not affect his right to the throne as he was not of Jechoniah’s seed. This curse also indicates that the Messiah cannot have a human father since then the curse would pass onto him too. So, since we know that God has approved Yeshua to sit on David’s throne, we can conclude that Yosef could not have been Yeshua’s biological father.
Yosef was betrothed to Miriam. In Jewish culture this betrothal would have been arranged by the parents of the couple, and there would have been a formal ceremony before family and friends; this would have given Yosef the right to call Miriam his wife. Then, according to custom, Miriam would have returned to her own home to wait for about a year before the marriage ceremony and the consummation of the marriage. At this time they were both living in Nazareth Traditionally Yosef was called a carpenter, but the greek work “tekton” means that by trade was an artisan, skilled in the use of various materials including wood, iron and stone. He would later pass on his skills to Yeshua, and many of his illustrations in the gospels are drawn from this knowledge.
Whilst Miriam was a young teenager, Yosef was probably in his 20s; this kind of age difference was quite normal in the culture of the day. He was a righteous and God-fearing man, and was also faithful in his observance of Jewish ordinances and feasts. We can learn much about his character and nature as we trace the events following his betrothal to Miriam.
Yosef had a problem: Miriam was pregnant! And to make matters worse, she was convinced that the child had been conceived by an act of God! He wanted to believe her, but, well…. it was all a bit far-fetched, and he knew how these young girls sometimes got confused between fantasy and reality. Then there was his reputation in the town to consider, once the news got out – they had managed to keep a lid on it so far; but now, after she had returned after three months visiting her cousin down in Judea, it was beginning to be obvious she was carrying a child. No, he reasoned, she has clearly been unfaithful, I must do the right thing according to the law. But, not wishing to hurt her and expose her family to disgrace, he decided that instead of making the issue public and risking her being stoned, he would quietly give her a bill of divorce, breaking their betrothal.
With all these thoughts still racing through his mind he fell asleep. Suddenly there was an angel standing before him! With piercing eyes he looked directly at Yosef, then he spoke: “Yosef, son of David, do not fear to take Miriam as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Yeshua, for he will save his people from their sins.” Yosef awoke, feeling strangely calm and reassured. The words the angel had spoken to him were still echoing though his thoughts, and then in the back of his mind he recalled some words he had heard in the synagogue. It was something that had been read from the great scroll, from the writings of the prophet Isaiah. “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel – God with us”.
Could it really be true? Immanuel? He was still not sure he really understood, but this changed everything! He was no longer troubled in his spirit, but felt a new warmth toward his beloved Miriam and the child she was carrying. It was going to be tough, because he knew what people would think, and how they would be the object of their ridicule – maybe even hostility.
Then news came of the census requiring him to travel to Bethlehem to register at his ancestral town. That was quite a journey – he remembered Miriam excitedly recounting her adventures when she made a similar journey to visit her cousin Elisheva. As he thought about it, he concluded that the best course of action would be to go to Bethlehem; they would not want to leave it too long before making the journey: Miriam was fit to travel now, but if they left it too much longer she might not survive the journey. And they would be there for the feast of Tabernacles in a few months time. Bethlehem was only a few miles outside Jerusalem, they could go and register, then they would be there for the festival. It all made perfect sense.
And so they left Nazareth and travelled to Bethlehem. The bible just simply says: “And while they were there the time came for her to give birth”. We’ll look at that in a bit more detail tomorrow. But there is more to this part of the story. God’s guiding hand was to be seen again in a supernatural intervention. For some reason that the bible does not explain, they stayed in Bethlehem for some considerable time after the birth of Yeshua, almost certainly at the invitation of one of Yosef or Miriam’s relatives. It seems that they were intending to make their home there. After the visit of the Magi, Yosef had another dream where the angel came to him; this time he received a warning from the angel. He was told to take Miriam and the child and flee to Egypt because Herod was sending men to slaughter the child. The urgency in the angel’s voice gave Yosef wings, and with all haste that night they began their journey southwards to Egypt. Effectively they became refugees in a foreign land.
So they stayed in Egypt until Herod had died. Then Yosef had another visit from the angel, who told him that it was now safe to return to Israel as those who wanted to kill the child were now dead. So they set off back to Bethlehem; on the way Yosef had another dream, and another visit from the angel. It was not safe to go back to Bethlehem, because Herod’s brother was now reigning in Judea; so Yosef took the decision to go back to Galilee, to Nazareth, and make their home there.
Four angelic visits! Yosef and the angel must have been well acquainted by now. But each time, without question, we are told that Yosef did as he was directed by the angel. That tells us a lot about this man, who many people sideline as somehow being irrelevant. But he showed real strength of character throughout, and gave good strong leadership under the direction of the angel. He was clearly a man who was discerning spiritually, and walked in the fear of the Lord. We are not told much detail of his later life, but he was clearly a good teacher to his son, passing on many of his practical skills, and leading his family (by now he and Miriam had had other children) in the Jewish faith – they clearly went up to Jerusalem each year for the feasts. The last time we hear of Yosef was when Yeshua was 12 years old, when he stayed behind in Jerusalem after the feast of Pentecost. It seems likely that he had died by the time Yeshua began his ministry about 18 years later.
Although the Scriptures give us only a few glimpses of Yosef, they tell us he was a kind man and a loving father. Directed by his dreams, he is the watchman to whom God entrusts the son and his mother at a dangerous time. In every instance when he is mentioned in the scriptures, we see Yosef as a simple, holy man who trusted God, was sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, serving God without question and doing God’s work till the end: all in all a good role model for Yeshua to grow up with.