It happens so frequently. Someone or something captures the public imagination and for a short time they are the talk of the town. But, no sooner than they become a household name, they disappear from view. Just two months ago, Joseph was the subject of every nativity play in the country. Now, in the middle of February, people can barely recall what the fuss was about. In this post, I’d like to tell you the next part of his story.
Following the miraculous events of Christmas night Joseph, Mary and Jesus were visited by some wise men. Their search for a king predicted by the stars they so carefully studied led them to Bethlehem but via Jerusalem and the court of Herod the king. Their amazing gifts now presented, the magi left and headed back home. Following a dream from God, they did not return via Herod’s palace, despite his request to the contrary. Matthew 2:13-23 details the unsettling events which happened next.
We have already seen Joseph spoken to by God in a dream (1:20) at the point where he heard about Mary being pregnant. He was considering divorcing Mary but following the dream he married her and became the father of Jesus.
After the wise men visited he had another dream: an angel appeared to him and told him to, ‘Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him’ (v13). This was no nightmare, no product of an over-active imagination or a result of too much cheese for supper. This was a warning bell, a claxon ringing out and ordering immediate action. Joseph took God at his word. He got up during the night, woke his family, gathered a few belongings and immediately fled the country.
The faith of Joseph is incredible. There was no expectation that God would speak. God had not spoken to His people since the end of the Old Testament; 400 years of the people of God not hearing from Him. As the years passed by and each generation was succeeded by the next, they thought that God had stopped speaking and would never speak again. So the fact that God speaks at all as the Gospel accounts begin is eye-popping, paradigm-changing news. And the fact that Joseph, an ordinary carpenter from a small town hears God speak and obeys is doubly startling.
What he is asked to do in his first dream is life-changing. What he is asked to do now in his second dream is life-saving.
And this is not the end of his dreaming! Later on, having been told to remain in Egypt until told by God to go back, an angel appears in a dream and says, ‘Get up, take the Child and His mother and, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child’s life are dead’ (v20). Joseph again did as instructed but upon his return to Israel heard that Herod’s son was reigning in Judea. God then warned him in a fourth dream about the situation and so he took the family to Galilee (v22).
Four acts of obedience.
Four life-altering decisions.
Four faith-filled responses.
Joseph was not just a dreamer. He was a man who took God at His word when He spoke.
Joseph’s decision to flee to Egypt was immediate but it was not easy. To turn your family into refugees and to flee for your lives must be scary. To leave everything that is familiar, to leave friends and family, to leave your livelihood and home must leave you feeling so alone and vulnerable.
And yet that is what Joseph did.
On the basis of a dream.
He could never have anticipated this when he decided to take Mary as his wife. Not in his wildest imaginings could he have anticipated being a refugee in another nation. This Child was truly someone special but He turned Joseph’s life upside down in ways he could never have thought.
We sometimes find ourselves numbed to the horror of the experiences of refugees. Seeing images so regularly on our televisions means that it is somehow normalised. We easily ignore the pain and suffering because it is dramatised in the news bulletin and given equal footing with our local weather forecast. But each and every life seen in a tented refugee camp, or a desperate queue waiting for food, or a long trudging company tells a story of suffering, hopelessness and desperation. Each face depicts a person who has lost pretty much everything this world has to offer.
And Joseph, Mary and Jesus were one of those families: no home, no safety, no wealth, no security, no certainty.
Herod was furious. Clearly paranoid at the news of a genuine king of the Jews, he did everything he could to eliminate the threat. His bloody massacre, targeting all boys aged under two in Bethlehem was simply a vicious attack on innocent children in a vain attempt to secure up his power. Words cannot do justice to the evil of this act.
But by the time he had actioned His deadly plan God had spoken, Joseph had dreamed and the family had fled. Joseph was now the protector and he did everything in his power to get Jesus to safety even though it meant fleeing to another country.
God’s choice of Joseph was no accident. He knew the heart of the man. God’s salvation plan for the whole world had swung into action and He used the faithful and righteous Joseph to bring it to fruition.
Joseph: dreamer, refugee, protector. And the faithful earthly father of our Lord Jesus Christ.