Character Sketches: Joseph

Matthew 1v18

Now this is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph.

Luke 2v1-4

At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire (this was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home.

Joseph is the man entrusted by God to raise His son on Earth.

This causes me to ask some questions and want to know about this man. 

If God pinpointed this individual, I am curious as to why.

What do we know about him?

A. Historically, Joseph is from Nazareth and is referred to as a carpenter.

Matthew 13v55

He’s just a carpenter’s son, and we know Mary, his mother, and his brother’s—James, Joseph, Simon and Judas…

“Tekton,” is the word used to describe his trade.  This word is commonly translated as, “carpenter,” in historical teaching. That is a possibility, but more than likely, a very important translative error that occurred some centuries ago.


Joseph is reported to be from Nazareth. The majority of architecture in Israel, whether residential or commercial, was not built from wood. Wood, in fact, was scarce in this part of the world. A carpenter, truly making their living from only wood working, would not live in this region. There would not be enough work to support the job.

“Tekton,” is more accurately translated as, “artisan builder.”

Nazareth was located just 3 miles from the ancient town of Zippori.

Under the rule of Herod Antipas, Zippori was undergoing a massive expansion & beautification project. This massive beautification project, which would result in this city later to be known as, “the jewel of Galilee,” would have required the help and labor force of every available, “artisan builder,” in the region.

In addition to this, halfway between Nazareth and Zippori was the major rock quarry of that area. This would have positioned Joseph in a perfect location to derive a good wage and have stable work, for an extended period of time.

According to one scholar of ancient Jewish culture, James W. Fleming,  “Jesus and Joseph would have formed 9 out of 10 projects from stone either by chiseling or carving or stacking blocks.”

There is another strong clue to the building practices of this region. Peter, in his gospel, will refer to Jesus as, “the stone the builder’s rejected, and the chief cornerstone.” This language, the construction terminology Peter is using to describe Jesus,  gives a nod to helps us understand the common building practice was stone, in favor of wood.

Stonemasonry is an incredibly demanding job. Stonemasons worked very hard, and had a shorter life expectancy than other professions.

B. We know that he was engaged to be married.

What did this mean in this culture?

In Jewish culture, the range of marriage for men was anywhere from about 17 and up. However, many would generally develop their careers first, due to the socio-economic pressures.  There is no mention of Joseph in connection with his father’s house which may give us insight to his age being that of a man already established on his own. 

It was highly common for marriage to happen in the mid to late 30’s for a man meaning that he was established in his profession and he had found a young bride to begin his life.

Based upon these clues, this would be my guess for Joseph, mid thirties. While we can’t know for sure, we can know that either way, this moment was significant in his life.

It meant he was ready to settle down and begin having a family. Like any man, he would be excited for, and very much looking forward to his marriage.

C. Is there any significance to how engagement was handled in this culture?

Jewish culture believe that marriage was a legal covenant involving three parties. The Groom, the Bride, and Yahweh, their God. Therefore, the contracts were drawn up using covenant language linking all three together.

Jewish marriages had two specific legal portions of the event.

The first, called ‘Erusin,’ was a betrothal. In the betrothing process, there was an exchanging of something of value, and and agreement to terms. Once this process had begun, the Bride would continue living with her parents while the groom prepared the home. 

The rules for adultery applied in this time. She would not live with the groom for up to a year later. She was to live, “set apart,” for the Groom, thus revealing her character and trustworthiness.

This is the legal status we find Joseph in. He was betrothed to Mary, in the Erusin stage of marriage.

Matthew 1v18

But while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit.

There are several implications in this moment.

1. She was no longer a virgin, therefore creating a legal right for Joseph to apply for a divorce. 

2. She was now legally guilty of sexual intercourse outside of marriage. She was an adulteress, and by Jewish law, now a candidate to be stoned to death to atone for the shame she had brought on her house.

3. Her condition brought into question, not only her ability to honor covenant, but her earthly father’s ability to keep covenant. She was under his care while this happened. He would now be in a legally vulnerable position.

The stating of this simple idea, “but while she was a virgin, she became pregnant,” is interesting.

Additional idea:

It is worth noting this simple confirmation of Divine Order. From God’s perspective, sexual intimacy is to be shared within the confines of marriage between a husband and wife, male and female. That is the divine norm.  I think we can safely say, that He desires family order in the Earth.

Matthew 1v19-25

Joseph, her fiancé, being a just man, decided to break the engagement quietly, so as not to disgrace her publicly. 

As he considered this, he fell asleep, and an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to go ahead with your marriage to Mary. For the child within her has been conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All of this happened to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:

Look! the virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and he will be called Immanuel, (meaning God is with us)

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord commanded. He brought Mary home to be his wife, but she remained a virgin until her son was born.

Luke 2v4-7

He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was obviously pregnant by this time.

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. she gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no room them them in the village inn.

Matthew 1v26

And Joseph named him Jesus.

There are several moments in this passage of the text where the uniqueness of Joseph’s person comes into view.

1. “Being a just man,” is an interesting statement. It means Joseph was black and white. She was wrong, and he wanted out.  It helps us understand his opinion about her pregnancy. He wanted a pure and right marriage.

The second aspect of this verse is what is revealed about his heart. There was a gentleness in him that saw her condition as a mistake. He had no vengeance, although He was legally entitled to stand her up in public and denounce her shameful behavior, causing her to suffer absolute disgrace in public view.

He chose not to do this. This gives us an indication of who Joseph was. He was a man of mercy. He understood that true leadership covers, even at the expense of self. For Joseph to divorce her quietly he was leaving the rumor mill to circulate that, perhaps he, was guilty of impregnating her.

2. “As he considered,” shows us something about his process. He was slow to make decisions. Careful to consider and process all the information. 

3. “He did what the angel of the Lord commanded,” is perhaps the most telling aspect of Joseph’s character. He was a man submitted to the leadership of heaven. How do we know that? He was INSTANTLY obedient. This is the definitive mark of submission to the Lordship of heaven.

My instant obedience reveals my surrendered heart.

4. “But she remained a virgin” is a phrase that reveals Joseph as a man under control of his passions.  Mary was his legal wife. There is nothing shared by the Angel of the Lord that declared him to not have relations with her. Yet, in this verse we realize who this man is. He is not driven by his passions. He is driven by integrity.

“Why was Joseph chosen to raise God’s son?”

I believe we have a unique view on why God chose Joseph. What all of these micro-moments reveal is Joseph as a man of character.

I believe we can safely consider that God chose Joseph because of the character within this man. I believe it is safe to conclude that Joseph’s character attracted God.


Gifts and unique abilities are given by heaven, but Character is developed and shaped by obedience to the Word and Voice of God.  Character is developed as we endure the educational process of God.

Educational process? Yes…our daily lives are the arena He is teaching us in. The Scriptures are the tutorial. His Voice is the guide.

When I learn how to face my everyday life through the lens of the Scriptures and with the leadership of His Voice, I begin to grow in my maturity and I see my character develop.

The developing of Kingdom Character is an intentional and proprietary decision.

We can say it this way: My Character is my choice.

From Joseph’s life we see an important principle:

It is in my everyday life that God will use circumstances to reveal the character I have developed.

It is through what I face in my everyday life that God will give me the opportunity to grow my character.

The discipline of living into Kingdom principles, living with grace and mercy will grow my character. 

God is looking for people of character to elevate and to release divine destiny into.