Updated: February 2, 2023
by Louis Templeman
In Matthew 2: 10-12 we read the story of the visit of wealthy religious men, magi, from the east.Joseph received these magi into the house where he was renting space. He is not mentioned. He is silent. Yet, he is in charge. Mary is young. Had recently given birth. Was busy with an infant boy.
He listens to the magi’s story. They were alerted by a star and probably by knowledge of prophetic texts and their understanding of astrology. Astrology was the science of astronomy with vast attachments of superstition and religious practice.
Joseph was certainly puzzled. These were foreigners, uncircumcised practitioners/priests of a foreign cult doing homage to his son. Men outside the covenant and promises and salvation of God were in awe of Israel’s promised Messiah and were leaving impressive gifts.
They let him know that they had been to see the king. King Herod, so he said, was happily awaiting news of their findings. They had discussed his son with Herod before they even saw him. Now they would return and give the king Joseph’s address.
With all this on his mind, Joseph went to sleep only to awaken to find the magi had changed their plans. They had been warned in a dream not to go back to the king. They spoke of a sense of danger. Was this some sort of cosmic comedy? Gentiles, of a strange, foreign religion, no less, tell this Son of David and follower of Moses his son is the newborn king of the Jews and this is now news in the palace in Jerusalem. “Wait until we tell King Herod.” Then a day later it’s, “No better not. Danger! Danger!” And they are gone.
As the magi left Joseph must have been thinking over the chronology of recent events. First he finds a lovely young wife. Beautiful. Holy. He is in love. Then he fears he’s been fooled by a Run-around Sue. Then he’s visited by an angel. Mary is pregnant by God. He is to raise the son. Call him “Yahweh Saves,” because he will be the Messiah. Then he is forced to travel to Bethlehem at his own expense to pay tax. He can’t find lodging. His wife labors in a barn. His son is born on the ground, where only a few layers of clothing separate him from the spot where animals have defecated for years.
The memory of it is painful. He feels responsible. He failed them. But he did his best. The angels send visitors to that humble circumstance. The secret of his shame would be spread everywhere. The shepherds would announce the infant Messiah was asleep in a feeding trough.
Later in the Temple he hears prophetic exclamation from an old man and an old woman. Later he is visited by foreign priests who were led to him by the heavens. They have expensive gifts and tell him they will probably go visit the king in his palace. Then after sleeping on it they change their story – “No wait! Not a good idea.” Then they head south.
With this on his mind Joseph sleeps. He is visited in his dream by an angel, “Rise and take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt and stay there until I tell you.” Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” The angel tells not Mary, but Joseph. He has the vocation. He is on duty.
Joseph is prompt to obey. What faithfulness. What faith. The same faith that received Mary when known to be pregnant/ that named the child in the smelly barn; in spite of the wonder and perplexity obeyed now. It was germane to his character. Prompt obedience.
Matthew 2: 14 “Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt.” The angel said, “. . . until I tell you.” Scripture says, “he stayed there.” Joseph the good son, good father, good husband was also the ideal soldier. He must have been very comforted by his new found wealth. It would underwrite their exile. Joseph was experiencing the contradiction of a divine vocation. His child was born in a barn. Yet, his exile to Egypt is well-financed.