Bible Dreams – St. Joseph of Nazareth

Bible Dreams – St. Joseph of Nazareth

Bible Dreams – St. Joseph of Nazareth.

“That night God came to king Abimelech in a dream…” (Genesis 20:3); “As Jacob slept, he dreamed of a stairway…” (Gen. 28:12); “In my dream, the Angel of the Lord said to me, ‘Jacob!” (Gen. 31:11); “One night, Joseph had a dream…” (Gen. 37:5); “The previous night, God had appeared to Laban the Aramean in a dream…” (Gen. 31:24); “Interpreting dreams is God’s business, so go ahead and tell me your dreams,’ said Joseph.”(Gen. 40:8); “Two years later, Pharaoh dreamed… (Gen. 41:1);“When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he bowed in worship before the Lord.” (Judges 7:15); “That night, Yahweh appeared to Solomon in a dream.” (1 Kings 3:5, and 9:2); “I have had a dream that deeply troubles me, and I must know what it means,’ said King Nebuchadnezzar. He sent for Daniel at once.” (Daniel 2:3, 14); “An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream…” (Matthew 1:20, also in 2:19 and 2:22); “God had warned the Magi in a dream.” (Matt. 2:12); “Pilate’s wife sent him a message, saying ‘Let that innocent man alone! I suffered through a terrible nightmare about Him last night!” (Matt. 27:19).

Why would God, who has every means of revelation at His disposal, choose dreams as a way to contact a person and convey vital guidance? Dreams tend to be unreliable, unpredictable, illogical, and poorly remembered if at all. Many if not most dreams don’t seem like a very trustworthy vehicle for divine communication. They can be mistranslated so easily, and sometimes are so bizarre it’s hard to take them seriously. And we know now that dreams can be affected by external things like room temperature, what we ate or drank before bedtime, the events of the day, or even if there are any lingering aromas in the house. And because dreamers are in an unconscious state, dreams are outside of our control as the unfettered imagination runs wild.

Nonetheless, God speaking through dreams didn’t seem to raise any eyebrows in Scripture. Everyone from pagan kings to heroic saints were not surprised by this strategy of God to reach them. We now realize that after decades of so-called dream science, the whole topic of dreams are just as mysterious now as in ancient times. Dreams remain a fascinating frontier when it comes to scientific research, and we still simply cannot confirm why we have this ability to mentally experience vivid pictures, stories and images while in an unconscious state. God in His wisdom knows when to approach someone with divine intervention while a person is in a dream state. He knows who is a likely prospect for His appearance in a dream. Perhaps some people are more receptive to God’s guidance when in an unconscious state, which says a lot about a person’s stubbornness when in a conscious state. Perhaps it is only during a dream that a person doesn’t have much of a choice of whether to listen or not, knowing that dreamers are captive audiences. Maybe God waits for when a certain person’s resistance is down. Perhaps a person’s imagination might be more picturesque and creative during a dream, able to manage an other-worldly, heavenly message. We just don’t know for sure the motivation of God in using dreams, of course, because His very presence is a mystery as He somehow travels back and forth between spiritual, material and imaginative realities. But we do know that God often chooses to work in mysterious ways and in this matter of dreams, He has chosen, and continues to choose, dreams to warn, instruct, guide, reveal His presence, and encourage us. God loves us so much that He will do whatever it takes to reach us whether awake, or asleep, or everything in between.

The man in the gospels known to us as Joseph, the foster father, the legal father, of Jesus, is a fascinating, mysterious, but vital presence that floats in and out of biblical narratives. There was never a critical word said of him, and the only character description we get regarding Joseph was that he was a “righteous” man (Matt. 1:19). The Greek term for righteous in this passage is “dikaios,” and means righteous, just, innocent, upright, approved by God, virtuous, one who conforms to God’s standards. In Jewish terms, Joseph was no doubt thought of as a highly esteemed “tzaddik.”

Yet we are never even given a hint as to his age, or when he died. There is a tradition that he was a widower when he was betrothed to Mary, and that he had children from his first marriage. But this is tradition and not proven in any way. He is the silent saint in the gospels, a man who did not say one word in Scripture. For all we know, St. Joseph may have been an outgoing, expressive man who enjoyed the company of others, but for some reason the authors of the gospels did not present him as such. St. Joseph seemed to fit perfectly the stereotype of the strong, silent type.

Joseph was called a “carpenter” in the gospels (Matt. 13:55 and Mark 6:3), with the Greek term “tekton” being used. This is a general word from which we get our words “technical” and “technology.” It was generally accepted as pointing to a woodworking craftsman who often doubled as a brick or stone mason. Tekton referred to the blue-collar, working class laborer who was competent in the building industry as it was known then. Interestingly, in Rabbinic circles the carpenter was a metaphor for a very learned man, a scholar of the Torah. A carpenter in Jewish terms was a reference to someone who knew how to build faith in God, who was a skilled handler of the Word of God, and was practically rabbinic. Whenever there was biblical discussion in which the main point was somehow being missed, someone would inevitably yell out, “Get me a carpenter!” So there is a tradition that Jesus was raised in a highly literate home regarding Scripture, that Jesus was trained from the start in the Torah, and that Jesus was a carpenter’s son in more ways than one. 0

He was certainly a man of action, who had no hesitation in confidently obeying what was told him in his dreams. Pope Francis once meditated on the fact that, “Joseph the dreamer accepted God’s promises and carried them forward in silence and with strength. He brought them forward in order that God’s will be done. He is a hidden man who does not speak but who obeys.” Francis continued his meditation by remarking that Joseph “guaranteed the stability of God’s Kingdom, the paternity of God, our filiation as children of God. He was the guardian of God’s dream, the dream of our Father, the dream of redemption, and of our salvation.”

This extraordinary man named Joseph, the silent but decisive leader of the Holy Family, was certainly hand-picked by the Lord to help raise the Messiah Jesus, much like Mary was carefully singled out to be the mother of Jesus. Joseph had quite the burden to bear from his first dream onward… the man chosen to be the guardian and protector and household leader of the Savior of the world. As we look at each of the four dreams of St. Joseph, consider these words of Rev. John Grondelski… “Joseph is challenged to expand his love, not just to the woman he loves but also to the God he loves, the God who privileged him to raise a child who is the Messiah. Not only is Joseph betrothed and soon to be married, he is also to become a part of something much bigger than just him and Mary.”

We first find Joseph in his hometown of Nazareth, a largely disrespected town that is ridiculed as lower class, unlearned, a backwater town that is filled with residents of questionable race and heritage. As Nathaniel cynically pointed out when told of Jesus of Nazareth, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” The word Nazarene means branch (Matt. 2:23), and thus the humble town is a fulfillment of many prophecies in the Hebrew Bible regarding the Messiah being “the Branch of David” (eg, Isaiah 4:2-3 and 11:1-4; Jeremiah 23:5-6 and 33:15; Zechariah 3:8 and 6:12). Certainly the biblical scholars witnessing the crucifixion must have realized that Pilate’s sign on the cross, right there above Jesus’ head, proclaimed “Jesus the Branch, King of the Jews.” Yes indeed, something really good did come out of Nazareth.

Joseph was betrothed to a young village girl named Mary, who was probably around 16 years old or so. Betrothal was no light matter, the vital first stage in the two-stage Jewish marriage process.   In Jewish marriage, a couple becomes betrothed as they commit themselves to a future marriage. Betrothal was a very formal contract and could not be easily called off at any moment as in an engagement now. Betrothal was a binding commitment to a covenant relationship. This is called “kiddushin” in Hebrew, and requires a religious divorce (a “get“) in order to nullify the betrothal. The betrothed couple are not to live together during this time. Traditionally, only the husband has the option of a “get.” The primary responsibility of the groom during betrothal is to prepare the couple’s future house where they will live after the marriage. Most betrothals lasted one year, and unfaithfulness on the part of the bride during betrothal brought drastic consequences, even death. A pregnancy during betrothal would have been horribly scandalous and deeply shameful. Any act of adultery during the betrothal period was considered a more serious sin than adultery after marriage. Unless the baby’s father agreed to marry the woman, she would likely remain unmarried for her entire life. And if her father rejected her, she would be removed from her home and she would have to beg or prostitute herself to make a living. “When the bride is betrothed, all the sanctities of marriage are involved in those espousals. There may be a considerable interval before the bride is taken to her husband’s house. She dwells with her former household and has not yet forgotten her kindred and her father’s house, though she is espoused in truth and righteousness. Afterward, she is brought home on an appointed day, the day which we should call the actual marriage.” (Keith Thomas)

St. Joseph’s First Dream. (Matthew 1:18-21). While in his hometown of Nazareth, the angel came to Joseph in a dream and proclaimed what has often been called “The Annunciation to Joseph.” 18 “This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about[: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to Torah, and it was not consistent with his uprightness to expose his betrothed to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit! 21 She will give birth to a Son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” There he is, a highly respected member of the religious community, known for his righteousness, being asked to marry a pregnant woman! This was scandalous, but Joseph was unflappable and didn’t seem to mind in the least.

Amazingly, Joseph didn’t have the first inkling of doubt about this dream and its message. It is reported that Joseph awoke from the dream, and took Mary home to be his wife. Joseph and Mary then took their long journey to their descendant’s homeland, the town of Bethlehem, where Jesus was born. After Jesus was born, while still in Bethlehem, the Magi from the East arrived and asked to see the newborn King of the Jews. When the despicable Herod the Great found out about another king being born, he discovered Bethlehem was the place of this king’s birth, and Herod did the unspeakable… The Massacre of the Innocents. Every child less than two years old in Bethlehem was slaughtered. Herod thought this new king would be competition for his throne, so he committed Evil to the extreme. Before the slaughter began, though, Joseph had another significant dream.

St. Joseph’s Second Dream. (Matthew 2:13) 13 “When the Magi had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you to leave, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” 14 So Joseph got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

So the Holy Family flees to Egypt from Bethlehem in the middle of the night, with father Joseph leading the way, obeying the angel in the dream, fulfilling his role as guardian of Mary and Jesus. No one knows how long they were in Egypt. No doubt Joseph needed to make ends meet by plying his trade, even in a foreign land. God provides.

St. Joseph’s Third Dream. (Matthew 2:19-20).  19 “After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.” 21 So Joseph got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.” 

While in their homeland of Israel, though, their heaven-directed travels were not over. Joseph’s last recorded dream was yet another warning of danger and the subsequent need to move to a particular place in Israel.

St. Joseph’s Fourth Dream. (Matthew 2:22-23). “But when Joseph heard that Archelaus had succeeded his father Herod and was ruling over Judea, he was afraid to go back there. Warned in a dream, Joseph and his family departed for the region of Galilee and settled in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that He will be called a Nazarene.”

The biblical travelogue of Joseph’s early life with Jesus and Mary was no mystery, they were led from one place to another by Joseph’s dreams. The family finally settled by coming back full-circle to their original hometown, Nazareth. Here we find the Branch of David being raised in the town called Branch.

The Last We See of Joseph. The last mention of father Joseph is in Luke 2:41-51, when Jesus was twelve years old. The family was celebrating Passover in Jerusalem, as was their family and faith tradition.

Joseph and Mary were faithful believers as to how they raised their son. The Mosaic Law was very clear: Parents were the child’s first and primary teachers and pastors. And so, for God’s chosen people, faith was largely a home-schooling affair. God’s discipling program wasn’t limited to baby dedications and Passover in Jerusalem. God’s law from Sinai was straightforward as explained in Deuteronomy: Parents were to teach their children the truthful and righteous words of Scripture, and the benchmark events of God in history. They were to constantly, intentionally, practically remind their kids of God’s presence and power. They were to read aloud and instruct God’s Word, beginning officially with the Shema of Dt. 6:4-5: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” This was recited in the home every morning and every night, Lesson One for the Jewish parent, the word that Jesus later called the “first and greatest commandment.”

Moses followed the Shema with directives regarding the teaching of the faith to children in the home… “Impress these commands that I give you today on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.” (Dt.6:7-9). Yes, parents are a child’s first teachers, but they are also a child’s first pastors. Moses underscored this on the day before he died: “Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of the law. They are not just idle words for you – they are your life.” (Dt. 32:45-47).

So, to say that Mary and Joseph were doing “everything required by the Law of the Lord” (v. 39) is really quite a mouthful. That means they re-enacted faith events in the home through scripted ceremonies, including the weekly Sabbath; they made visual items around the house for reminders; they had roundtable discussions and regular readings of the Word; they celebrated feasts and endured fasts together; they played and sang and learned and worshipped in and around the home. The Faith was not just an intellectual exercise, it was life. The mind and heart and body of each family member were connected, and they were all engaged in their God-centered life together. There is no doubt that Jesus was raised in just such a home, led by Joseph and Mary. Their role was a sacred trust, and they no doubt kept the Faith of Yahweh as the centerpiece of the home, the organizing principle of daily life.

So here in busy and bustling Jerusalem, the boy Jesus, raised by faithful parents, was on the verge of manhood according to traditional Judaism. No extended adolescence here, adulthood beckons. Jesus gets so wrapped up in discussing Scripture with the Temple scholars that he totally forgets other concerns, including his parents.

While boy Jesus is totally absorbed, the parents move on without him, assuming he is with cousins and neighbors in the big traveling party. After a day of travel, they start looking for him. By now, they’re understandably concerned. “I thought you had him… but I thought you had him!” Think of this responsibility… They both know that Mary was pregnant by the Holy Spirit 12 years ago, that He is indeed the long-awaited Messiah, that they had to escape to Egypt to save his life, etc., etc. I’m sure all this is going through their minds as they frantically return to Jerusalem to find Him. It only gets worse. They scour the city for two more days with no luck. Imagine their panic at this point! We can forgive them if in a weak moment they say, “God help us! We lost the Messiah!”

And when they finally find Jesus at the Temple, Mary is your good standard mom. Her first words were, “Why do you treat us like this?” And father Joseph is stewing somewhere in the background. Sure enough, the calm and measured boy Jesus replies, “What are you so worried about? Just relax, mom, I was concerning myself with my Father’s business! I was only doing what you and dad have trained me to do at home these 12 years.” It is reported in Luke 2:50 that Joseph and Mary didn’t understand what Jesus said to them. But Jesus returned home with His parents, obeyed them, and He “grew both in wisdom and stature, gaining favor both with other people and with God.’ (v. 52). Joseph must have died within the next few years, because it’s clear he was not present once Jesus began His public ministry at thirty years of age.