Vol. 3, No. 9
There are many Bible characters that we know much about. Such people are the subject of frequent studies and may even have whole books or chapters of books devoted to them and the lessons we can learn from them. There are other people mentioned in the Bible about whom we know very little. These people may only be mentioned in passing or are found in only one or two places in the Bible. Often times these people are overlooked, yet they appear in our Bibles for a reason.
John 20:30-31 tells us that Jesus did many things that were not recorded in the Bible. The things that were recorded are to strengthen our faith. Second Timothy 3:16-17 tells us that everything in the Bible is from God and is for our learning. With this in mind, there can be no doubt that these little known, “forgotten” men and women of the Bible can teach us valuable lessons today.
When most people think of the Joseph of the Bible, they probably think of the Joseph in the Old Testament. However, there are two other men in the Bible named Joseph. The first is the foster father of our Lord. The second provided a tomb for our Lord.
First, consider Joseph, the foster father of Jesus. This man is only mentioned a handful of times in the Bible. In Matthew 1:16-24 we can read about the circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus. This passage tells us that Joseph was espoused to Mary. This was a time of engagement before the actual marriage took place. The bride-to-be remained with her parents but in the eyes of the law, the couple was married (Deuteronomy 22:23-24); a divorce decree was required to break the engagement. It is during this time that Mary conceives Jesus by the Holy Spirit. Joseph, not knowing the true father of her baby, assumes she has been unfaithful. He cares enough for Mary to not want to see her made a public example. Unfaithfulness of a betrothed woman was subject to stoning (Deuteronomy 22:23-24). Joseph instead wishes to divorce her privately as allowed by law (Deuteronomy 24:1). God appears to Joseph in a dream and commands him to follow through with his marriage to Mary.
Matthew 2:13-15 and 2:19-23 recount our second and third references to Joseph. In both of these instances, God again appears to Joseph in a dream. The first dream tells Joseph to flee with his family to Egypt and the second tells him it is safe to return. Our next reference of importance is found in Luke 2:4-7. Here we find Joseph and Mary traveling to Bethlehem to be taxed at the decree of Augustus Caesar. It is while in Bethlehem that Jesus is born. Verse 16 of the same chapter mentions Joseph's presence when the shepherds come to visit the Savior. Luke 2:22-39 describes Joseph and Mary making the required presentations of the child and sacrifices at the temple (Leviticus 12:1-8). Again we read of Joseph in Luke 2:41-51 making his annual trip to Jerusalem for the Passover when Jesus was twelve. Joseph is only mentioned by name three other times in the New Testament (Luke 3:23; John 1:45, John 6:42). Each of these times is a reference to Jesus being the “son of Joseph."
Overall, not much is written about a man who played such an important role in God's plan for our salvation through Christ. Consider for a moment the lessons we can learn from this “forgotten” Joseph. Many people today remember Mary, the mother of Jesus. Emphasis is placed on how righteous she must have been to be chosen by God to be the mother of our Lord. Rarely do we realize the same should be said of Joseph. Just as it was an honor for Mary to be the mother, think also of the honor given to Joseph. Here is a man chosen by God to be the earthly father of Christ. As the father, Joseph taught Jesus what it meant to be faithful to God. We see from the Bible records that Joseph taught faithfulness by example. Joseph ensured his son was circumcised on the eighth day and that his wife made the proper sacrifices after his birth as required by the Law. In doing this, Joseph was being the spiritual leader of his home. He again demonstrates his faithfulness by his yearly trips to Jerusalem to observe the Passover. We like Joseph need to be faithful to God's commands. Husbands need to make sure they, like Joseph, are the spiritual leaders in their homes.
Also, like Joseph we should be readily obedient to God's commands. Three times God appeared to Joseph in a dream with a job for him. Each time, Joseph immediately accepted the command and obeyed. Joseph is also said to be a “just" man (Matthew 1:19). He was righteous and dealt fairly with everyone. It is this characteristic that moved him to desire a private and merciful punishment for Mary. He did not wish to bring about a punishment of death when her character was such that it was possible her child was the result not of her unfaithfulness but rape (Deuteronomy 22:25-27). As Christians, we also should be known for our righteousness and fair dealings with others. Like Joseph, we should be willing to forgive and be merciful to others.
While not much is recorded about the foster father of Jesus, even less is known about the third Joseph of the Bible -- the man who provided a tomb for our Lord. After the death of Jesus on the cross, one man sought the body for burial. This man, Joseph from the city of Arimathaea, is mentioned in only four places in the Bible (Matthew 27:57-60; Mark 15:43-46; Luke 23:50-53; John 19:38-42). Each of these passages is the account of the burial of our Lord. Joseph was a wealthy man. The tomb in which he buried our Lord was his and it was new (John 19:41; Matthew 27:60). The body of our Lord was wrapped with new, fine linen bought for that purpose by Joseph (Mark 15:46). Joseph sacrificed his money, time and property for the Lord. He did this before he really knew for sure that Jesus was God's Son and would rise from the dead. We should be willing to do the same, especially knowing that Christ is Lord and Savior.
Joseph was also a member of the Sanhedrin. This was a governing body of the Jews. It was this council that sought to put Christ to death and tried him for claiming to be the Messiah. Luke 23:51 records that although Joseph was a part of the Sanhedrin, he did not agree with the decision to murder Christ. In fact, he was one “who also himself waited for the kingdom of God" (Luke 23:51). Joseph believed the Old Testament promises of a coming Savior and Messiah. He let it be known he did not agree with the council concerning Jesus. Even though John 19:38 tells us that Joseph was a disciple of Jesus in secret because he feared the rest of the Jews, when no one else was around to take care of our Lord's body, Joseph stepped forward to do the job, no matter what it might cost him. We also must never forget to stand up for what is right.
Both of these “forgotten” Josephs of the Bible can teach us about our life for Christ. The foster father of Jesus and the provider of Christ's tomb are described as “just" men (Matthew 1:19; Luke 23:50). They sacrificed of themselves. The foster father sacrificed his reputation by marrying a woman considered unfaithful by many of her day. He also gave of his time and attention to a child that was not his. Joseph of Arimathaea sacrificed his time, money, property and potentially his position and life by caring for the body of Jesus. As Christians, we would do well to follow in the example of these “forgotten" men of the Bible.