Joseph the Carpenter: From Anguish to Euphoria

Posted on December 22, 2021


By David Ettinger

Note: This an excerpt from a fictionalized published account I wrote almost 30 years ago for Zion’s Fire magazine. This portion of the story reflects Joseph’s anguish just after Mary told him she was pregnant. I refer to Mary by her Hebrew name of Miriam.

JOSEPH HAD ALWAYS loved these hills which, topping at 1,150 feet, allowed for a glorious view of the lush plain of Esdralon. A glance westward yielded a breathtaking vision of the Mediterranean Sea and Mount Carmel, and a 180-degree twirl of the head would offer Mount Tabor to the east. A northward glance from there would reveal Mount Hermon, its snowcapped peaks in winter indeed majestic to behold.

Yorgo Voyagis as Joseph in the classic TV film “Jesus of Nazareth”

However, sightseeing was far from Joseph’s mind at this moment as a multitude of agonizing thoughts and emotions consumed his tortured mind as he strove to make sense of Miriam’s impossible revelation. Yet, in the midst of his misery, a light of logic broke through and it was all very clear to him what had happened. Miriam, he reasoned, is among the most beautiful women in Nazareth and has drawn the attention of every man who lives here. With one of them, Miriam has succumbed to her fleshly desires and …

Joseph refused to languish on the details, instead turning his attention to his betrothed’s fanciful story. That Miriam had sinned greatly was a painful truth to bear, but explainable. However, he could not explain why she would concoct such a fable to cover her iniquity. What was all this about the coming of the Messiah and her being His mother?

AS JOSEPH CONTINUED plodding through the hills, his mind turned to Israel’s Holy Scriptures. The writings of the prophet Isaiah came to him, but he could not quite bear them out. “Ah,” he chastised himself. “Concentrate! concentrate! What is that passage? Concentrate!”

Joseph fought against the bitter pain, willing his mind and memory to win out. It worked.

“Ah yes! I remember!”

He stopped, closed his eyes, and recited: “Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign; Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”[1]

Knowing how Miriam had esteemed – as did he – the Holy Scriptures, Joseph now realized from where his beloved had derived her story, and such was the source for the sickening sensation that now came over him. Her actions were woeful of themselves, but to cloak them in the guise of Holy Scripture was to Joseph a far greater sin.

And in his own quiet way, Joseph wondered how it all could have happened. He had spent his years of bachelorhood in pious devotion to God’s Word and humble commitment to his work. God had given him a skill for building and shaping with wood, and Joseph worked at his craft in a way which would bring glory to his Creator.

But at night, when he was on his own, Joseph would often – with the rabbi’s permission – gain entry into the synagogue and study the Holy Scriptures. He devoured passages concerning Israel’s promised Messiah and lived in the glorious hope of His coming.

It was this hope that strengthened and encouraged Joseph throughout the lonely years of his singleness. And when at last it was determined that he and Miriam were to be wed, he was convinced the Lord had rewarded his faithfulness by giving to him a wife of beauty, dignity, and godliness.

“Ah, Lord,” Joseph cried out, falling to his knees. “You knew what this woman would do. Why then would You give her to me? What have I done to warrant such punishment?”

AFTER POURING OUT his pain to the Lord and unloading his oppressive burden, Joseph slowly rose and began to descend the hills. It was now time for clear thinking. He had already concluded that the betrothal must be severed quickly. He would go to the rabbi and tell him …

Tell him what? That Miriam had committed adultery? The Mosaic Law required she be stoned to death, but Joseph knew of several cases of adultery over the years, none of them resulting in stoning. This was not the sort of thing Israelites of his day did.

Though Joseph knew Miriam would not be executed for her transgression, he was concerned over her standing in Nazareth. Once word had circulated that she was pregnant out of wedlock – and NOT by Joseph – she would be a scorned and condemned woman, a thought Joseph could not bear. He could never expose her to public shame. Therefore, Joseph sought to simply divorce Miriam quietly, privately, and be done with the matter.

And yet, Joseph loved Miriam – as much as ever. Therefore, before he acted, he would pray, trusting God to counsel him.

He would not have to wait long for the Lord’s instruction.

Olivia Hussey as Mary in “Jesus of Nazareth”

AS JOSEPH PREPARED for bed that night, he had no idea how we would ever find sleep, such was the gloom and despair that had taken control of him.

Yet at the same time, he had never been more emotionally drained and spiritually overcome than he was at this moment. Despite his doubts, Joseph no sooner lie on his mat and pulled the blankets up to his shoulders when he was suddenly plunged into a deep and consuming slumber.

And no sooner had sleep been achieved then he began to dream – and what a dream it was!

An angel of the Lord – frightening in stature, terrifying in appearance – came to him and spoke: “Joseph, son of David, fear not to take Miriam as your wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she shall bring forth a son, and you shall call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.”[2]

With that, the angel vanished, and Joseph awoke. His bed was drenched with perspiration and his heart pounded. His body quivered with an awesome fear. But more than anything, the Lord had answered him in a way he never could have fathomed, one in which assured him there would never be any more doubts.

Wonder and jubilation engulfed his grateful soul until he was saturated with it! His beloved Miriam had been telling the truth! She had not been unfaithful! His worst fears had been divinely allayed; his every misgiving banished.

He was free to make Miriam his wife!

Unable to contain himself, Joseph fidgeted around his small house until the sun came up. At its introductory strands, Joseph burst out the door and rushed over to be with his beloved.

When he reached her, he shared with her the miracle of the night before and vowed to Miriam he would care for and love her with all his heart and strength. Miriam but smiled, having never doubted for a moment that Joseph would come to a realization of the truth.

As Joseph poured out his great relief to Miriam, he suddenly stopped. He could no longer go on, for there were no more words he could employ to express the jubilation he now felt.

The Messiah was coming!

[1] Isaiah 7:14

[2] Matthew 1:20-21