1, 2. (a) What changes did Joseph and his family face? (b) What bad news did Joseph have to tell his wife?
JOSEPH swung another load onto the donkey’s back. Picture him looking around at the darkened village of Bethlehem and patting the flank of the sturdy beast of burden. He was surely thinking of the long trip ahead. Egypt! A foreign people, a foreign tongue, foreign customs—how would his little family adapt to so much change?
2 It was not easy to tell the bad news to his beloved wife, Mary, but Joseph braced himself and did it. He told her of the dream in which an angel delivered this message from God: The king, Herod, wanted their little son dead! They had to leave right away. (Read Matthew 2:13, 14.) Mary was deeply concerned. How could anyone want to kill her innocent, harmless child? Neither Mary nor Joseph could fathom it. But they trusted in Jehovah, so they readied themselves.
3. Describe the departure of Joseph and his family from Bethlehem. (See also the picture.)
3 Unaware of the unfolding drama, Bethlehem slept as Joseph, Mary, and Jesus slipped out of the village in the darkness. Heading southward, with the sky beginning to lighten in the east, Joseph likely wondered what lay ahead. How could a lowly carpenter protect his family against forces so powerful? Would he always be able to provide for his own? Would he manage to persevere in carrying out this heavy assignment that Jehovah God had given him, to care for and raise this unique child? Joseph faced daunting challenges. As we consider how he rose to meet each one, we will see why fathers today—and all of us—need to imitate the faith of Joseph.
Joseph Protected His Family
4, 5. (a) How did Joseph’s life change forever? (b) How did an angel encourage Joseph to take on a weighty assignment?
4 Months earlier, in his hometown of Nazareth, Joseph found that his life changed forever after his engagement to the daughter of Heli. Joseph knew Mary as an innocent, faithful young woman. But then he learned that she was pregnant! He intended to divorce her secretly to protect her from scandal.a However, an angel spoke to him in a dream, explaining that Mary was pregnant by means of Jehovah’s holy spirit. The angel added that the son she bore would “save his people from their sins.” He further reassured Joseph: “Do not be afraid to take Mary your wife home.”—Matt. 1:18-21.
5 Joseph, a righteous and obedient man, did just that. He took on the weightiest of assignments: raising and caring for a son who was not his own but who was most precious to God. Later, in obedience to an imperial decree, Joseph and his pregnant wife went to Bethlehem to register. It was there that the child was born.
6-8. (a) What events led to another change in the lives of Joseph and his little family? (b) What evidence suggests that Satan sent the “star”? (See also footnote.)
6 Joseph did not take the family back to Nazareth. Instead, they settled in Bethlehem, just a few miles (about 10 km) from Jerusalem. They were poor, but Joseph did all he could to protect Mary and Jesus from want or suffering. In a short time, they took up living in a humble home. Then, when Jesus was no longer a baby but a small child—perhaps over a year old—their lives suddenly changed again.
7 A group of men arrived, astrologers from the East, likely from faraway Babylon. They had followed a “star” to the home of Joseph and Mary and were looking for a child who was to become king of the Jews. The men were deeply respectful.
8 Whether they knew it or not, the astrologers had put little Jesus in great peril. The “star” they had seen led them first, not to Bethlehem, but to Jerusalem.b There they told wicked King Herod that they were looking for a child who was to become king of the Jews. Their report filled the man with jealous rage.
9-11. (a) In what ways were forces greater than Herod or Satan at work? (b) How did the journey to Egypt differ from what is described in apocryphal myths?
9 Happily, though, there were forces greater than Herod or Satan at work. How so? Well, when the visitors reached Jesus’ house and saw him with his mother, they brought out gifts, asking for nothing in return. How strange it must have been for Joseph and Mary to find themselves suddenly in possession of “gold and frankincense and myrrh”—valuable commodities! The astrologers intended to go back and tell King Herod just where they had found the child. However, Jehovah intervened. By means of a dream, he instructed the astrologers to return home by another route.—Read Matthew 2:1-12.
10 Shortly after the astrologers left, Joseph received this warning from Jehovah’s angel: “Get up, take the young child and its mother and flee into Egypt, and stay there until I give you word; for Herod is about to search for the young child to destroy it.” (Matt. 2:13) So, as we noted at the outset, Joseph obeyed swiftly. He put his child’s safety above all else and took his family to Egypt. Because those pagan astrologers had brought such costly gifts, Joseph now had assets that might help the family during their sojourn ahead.
11 Apocryphal myths and legends later romanticized the journey to Egypt, claiming that little Jesus miraculously shortened the trip, rendered bandits harmless, and even made date palms bend down to his mother to yield their fruit.c In truth, it was simply a long, arduous trek into the unknown.
Joseph sacrificed his own comfort for the sake of his family
12. Parents who are raising children in this perilous world can learn what from Joseph?
12 Parents can learn a lot from Joseph. He readily set aside his work and sacrificed his own comfort in order to protect his family from danger. Clearly, he viewed his family as a sacred trust from Jehovah. Parents today raise their children in a perilous world, a world full of forces that would endanger, corrupt, or even destroy young ones. How admirable it is when mothers and fathers act decisively, as Joseph did, working hard to protect their children from such influences!
Joseph Provided for His Family
13, 14. How did Joseph and Mary end up raising their family in Nazareth?
13 It seems that the family did not stay long in Egypt, for soon the angel informed Joseph that Herod was dead. Joseph brought his family back to their homeland. An ancient prophecy had foretold that Jehovah would call his Son “out of Egypt.” (Matt. 2:15) Joseph helped to fulfill that prophecy, but where would he lead his family now?
14 Joseph was cautious. He wisely feared Herod’s successor, Archelaus, who was likewise vicious and murderous. Divine guidance led Joseph to take his family up north, away from Jerusalem and all its intrigues, back to his hometown of Nazareth in Galilee. There he and Mary raised their family.—Read Matthew 2:19-23.
15, 16. What was Joseph’s work like, and what tools might he have used?
15 They led a simple life—but not an easy one. The Bible refers to Joseph as the carpenter, using a word that embraces many ways of working with wood, such as cutting down timber, hauling it, and seasoning it for use in building houses, boats, small bridges, carts, wheels, yokes, and all kinds of farm implements. (Matt. 13:55) It was hard physical work. A carpenter in Bible times often worked near the doorway of his modest house or in a shop adjacent to it.
16 Joseph used a wide range of tools, some likely handed down from his father. He may have used a square, a plummet, a chalk line, a hatchet, a saw, an adze, a hammer, a mallet, chisels, a drill that he worked by pulling a bow back and forth, various glues, and perhaps some nails, though they were costly.
17, 18. (a) What did Jesus learn from his adoptive father? (b) Why did Joseph have to work ever harder at his trade?
17 Imagine Jesus as a small boy watching his adoptive father at work. His eyes wide and intent on Joseph’s every movement, he no doubt admired the strength in those broad shoulders and sinewy arms, the skill of the hands, the intelligence in the eyes. Perhaps Joseph began showing his young son how to perform such simple tasks as using dried fish skin to smooth out rough spots on wood. He likely taught Jesus the differences between the varieties of wood that he used—the sycamore fig, oak, or olive, for example.
18 Jesus learned, too, that those strong hands that felled trees, hewed beams, and pounded joints together were also gentle hands that caressed and comforted him, his mother, and his siblings. Yes, Joseph and Mary had a growing family that eventually included at least six children in addition to Jesus. (Matt. 13:55, 56) Joseph had to work ever harder to care for and feed them all.
Joseph understood that caring for his family’s spiritual needs was paramount
19. How did Joseph care for his family’s spiritual needs?
19 Joseph, however, understood that caring for his family’s spiritual needs was paramount. So he spent time teaching his children about Jehovah God and His laws. He and Mary regularly took them to the local synagogue, where the Law was read aloud and explained. Perhaps Jesus was full of questions afterward, and Joseph tried hard to satisfy the boy’s spiritual hunger. Joseph also took his family to religious festivals in Jerusalem. For the annual Passover, Joseph may have needed two weeks to make the 75-mile journey (120 km), observe the occasion, and return home.
20. How can Christian family heads follow the pattern set by Joseph?
20 Christian family heads today follow a similar pattern. They give of themselves for their children, putting spiritual training above every other concern, including material comforts. They go to great lengths to conduct family worship at home and to take their children to Christian meetings both large and small. Like Joseph, they know that there is no better investment they can make for the sake of their children.
“In Mental Distress”
21. What was Passover time like for Joseph’s family, and when did Joseph and Mary notice that Jesus was missing?
21 When Jesus was 12 years old, Joseph took the family to Jerusalem as usual. It was Passover, a festive time, and large families traveled together in long caravans through the lush spring countryside. As they approached the starker landscapes near lofty Jerusalem, many would sing the familiar psalms of ascent. (Ps. 120-134) The city likely teemed with hundreds of thousands of people. Afterward, the families and their caravans began to head homeward. Joseph and Mary, perhaps with much to do, assumed that Jesus was traveling with others, maybe family members. Only after Jerusalem lay a full day behind them did they realize a terrifying truth—Jesus was missing!—Luke 2:41-44.
22, 23. What did Joseph and Mary do about their missing boy, and what did Mary say when they finally found him?
22 Frantically, they retraced their steps all the way to Jerusalem. Imagine how empty and strange the city seemed to them now as they paced the streets, calling out their son’s name. Where could the boy be? By the third day of searching, did Joseph begin to wonder if he had failed terribly in this sacred trust from Jehovah? Finally, they went to the temple. There they searched until they came upon a chamber where many learned men, versed in the Law, were gathered—with young Jesus sitting among them! Imagine the relief Joseph and Mary felt!—Luke 2:45, 46.
23 Jesus was listening to the learned men and eagerly asking questions. The men were amazed at the child’s understanding and his answers. Mary and Joseph, though, were astounded. In the Bible record, Joseph is silent. But Mary’s words speak eloquently for both of them: “Child, why did you treat us this way? Here your father and I in mental distress have been looking for you.”—Luke 2:47, 48.
24. How does the Bible paint a realistic picture of parenthood?
24 Thus in a few deft strokes, God’s Word paints a realistic picture of parenthood. It can be stressful—even when the child is perfect! Parenting in today’s dangerous world can bring untold “mental distress,” but fathers and mothers can take comfort in knowing that the Bible acknowledges the challenge they face.
25, 26. How did Jesus answer his parents, and how might Joseph have felt about his son’s words?
25 Jesus had stayed in the one place in the world where he felt the closest to his heavenly Father, Jehovah, eagerly soaking up anything he could learn. He answered his parents in simple sincerity: “Why did you have to go looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in the house of my Father?”—Luke 2:49.
26 Joseph surely thought about those words many times. Perhaps he came to beam with pride over them. After all, he had worked diligently to teach his adopted son to feel that way about Jehovah God. By that time in his life as a boy, Jesus already had warm feelings about the word “father”—feelings shaped largely by his years with Joseph.
27. As a father, how are you privileged, and why should you remember Joseph’s example?
27 If you are a father, do you realize how privileged you are to help your children to form a concept of what a loving, protective father is? Likewise, if you have stepchildren or adopted children, remember Joseph’s example and treat each child as unique and precious. Help those children to draw closer to their heavenly Father, Jehovah God.—Read Ephesians 6:4.
Joseph Persevered Faithfully
28, 29. (a) What do the words recorded at Luke 2:51, 52 reveal about Joseph? (b) Joseph played what role in helping his son progress in wisdom?
28 The Bible discloses only a few more traces of Joseph’s life, but they are worth considering carefully. We read that Jesus “continued subject to them”—his parents. We also find that “Jesus went on progressing in wisdom and in physical growth and in favor with God and men.” (Read Luke 2:51, 52.) What do those words reveal about Joseph? Several things. We learn that Joseph continued taking the lead in his household, for his perfect son respected his father’s authority and remained in subjection to it.
29 We further learn that Jesus continued to grow in wisdom. Joseph surely had much to do with his son’s progress in that regard. In those days, there was a time-honored proverb among the Jews. It can still be found and read today. The saying asserts that only men of leisure can become truly wise, whereas tradesmen, such as carpenters, farmers, and blacksmiths, “cannot declare justice and judgment; and they shall not be found where parables are spoken.” Later, Jesus exposed the emptiness of that proverb. As a boy, how often he had heard his adoptive father, humble carpenter though he was, teach effectively about Jehovah’s “justice and judgment”! No doubt, there were countless occasions.
30. How did Joseph set an example for family heads today?
30 We can also see evidence of Joseph’s influence in Jesus’ physical growth. A well-cared-for boy, Jesus grew into a strong, healthy man. Further, Joseph trained his son to be skilled at his physical work. Jesus was known not only as the carpenter’s son but also as “the carpenter.” (Mark 6:3) So Joseph’s training was successful. Family heads wisely imitate Joseph, caring for the practical well-being of their children and ensuring that they can support themselves.
31. (a) What does evidence suggest regarding the end of Joseph’s life? (Include the box.) (b) What example did Joseph leave for us to imitate?
31 Once we reach the point in the Bible record where Jesus is baptized at about the age of 30, we find that Joseph is no longer part of the story. Evidence suggests that Mary was a widow by the time Jesus began his ministry. (See the box “When Did Joseph Die?”) Yet, Joseph left a clear mark—a shining example of a father who protected his family, provided for them, and persevered faithfully to the end. Any father, any family head, or any other Christian would do well to imitate the faith of Joseph.
a In those days, engagement was viewed in almost the same light as marriage.
b This “star” was no natural astronomical phenomenon; nor was it sent by God. Clearly, Satan used that supernatural manifestation as part of his wicked design to destroy Jesus.