4 Important Things We Learn from Joseph and His Dream in Matthew 1
- Jessica Brodie Award-winning Christian Novelist and Journalist
- 2021 10 Dec
It’s a familiar story many of us hear again and again at Christmas: How God, through the Holy Spirit, chose to impregnate a young virgin, Mary, with the Christ child, who was eventually born in a lowly manger in the town of Bethlehem one holy night.
But the story is rife with drama—for Mary is already engaged to be married to a man named Joseph when she becomes pregnant, and Joseph is not the father. God is the father, only no one knows this yet except Mary and the angel who delivered the controversial news.
Joseph planned to extricate himself from the situation, but thanks to a divine dream, he changed his mind and went on to become the most famous stepfather in history.
What was this dream that came to Joseph, and what can it teach us?
Here are four things we can learn from Joseph and his dream in Matthew 1.
What Was Joseph’s Dream?
In the Gospel of Matthew, we’re told that Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she became pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Joseph was a righteous man of faith, but he didn’t want to disgrace his betrothed, so he decided to divorce her quietly.
“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. 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’” (Matthew 1:20-21).
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel told him to do and took Mary home as his wife. When the baby was born, Joseph named him Jesus (v. 24-25).
Lesson One: Joseph Was Kind
Joseph was a good and righteous man. The lineage listed at the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew tells us Joseph came from a long line of Jews beginning with Abraham, the father of Isaac, and including Boaz (who married Ruth), King David, and King Solomon. Joseph would have been raised in the full knowledge of Jewish law, which decreed in Leviticus 20:10 that the sin for adultery is death for both the adulterer and the adulteress.
Deuteronomy 22:23-24 goes into greater detail, noting, “If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the young woman because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. You must purge the evil from among you.”
But Joseph, who knew these punishments well, clearly had kindness in his heart. Even though he knew he had nothing to do with Mary’s pregnancy, he didn’t wish to stone her or disgrace her per the Law.
Instead, he considered the matter and decided he’d break their union without the shameful and painful public execution.
He wanted to do the right thing without hurting Mary.
In this story, he models kindness and mercy—a significant lesson on how we can choose to be compassionately righteous even when brokenhearted.
Lesson Two: Joseph Was Faithful
Joseph also models what it looks like to make a decision in faith even when we don’t know exactly what to do. Sometimes we can be paralyzed by indecision, especially when a matter is weighty and carries numerous consequences. In this situation, he would have been legally justified to vilify and stone Mary, but he didn’t want to do that—yet he didn’t want to be married to an unfaithful woman, either.
Instead of doing nothing, he considered the matter and decided to divorce her quietly. The fact that he made a decision after careful consideration reflects his thoughtful faith. It doesn’t matter that it was the wrong decision—it was a decision. And he stepped out in faith to make that decision, trusting God would provide.
Lesson Three: God Steers Us Back on Track
We know Joseph did make the wrong decision—that is, a decision not in line with God’s plan—because that night, after he fell asleep, God sent an angel to him in his dream. The angel told him exactly what to do: Don’t be afraid, take Mary home, and name the baby Jesus.
That’s an important lesson here. Many times in life we hesitate to make any decision because we don’t know what to do. We don’t understand God’s plan, and we don’t see the whole picture. We have certain tools that guide us—for Joseph, he had Jewish Law and a host of well-meaning Bible experts he could have asked, while today we also have the Bible and perhaps a pastor or some strong Christian friends—but the right thing to do isn’t always clear. Perhaps we ask God to send us a sign or give us a word to push us in the direction to take, but we get no answer.
In times like this, we can trust that whatever we decide, if it’s wrong, then God will steer us back on track. He did it with Joseph, and God will do it for us, too.
Lesson Four: Joseph Was Obedient
Joseph could have been stubborn and stuck to his own plan, but he didn’t. When the angel visited him that night, Joseph listened—and followed directions.
As Scripture tells us, “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus” (Matthew 1:24-25).
If this isn’t example enough, we see Joseph’s obedience again after Jesus is born, when the Magi had just visited the new family with gifts. The Bible tells us Joseph had another dream where an angel spoke to him yet again: “‘Get up,’ (the angel) said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’ So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt” (Matthew 2:13-14).
Joseph was clearly a good man, and while Scripture tells us little else about him, we can infer he was likely a good stepfather to the Messiah. We can also reflect on Joseph and his actions as we make similar difficult decisions today. We won’t always make the right decision, but when God reveals His true plan to us, we see from Joseph’s life what to do: treat others with compassion, contemplate our actions with a faithful heart, and obey God’s commands. Always.
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Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Boonyachoat
Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at jessicabrodie.com. She has a weekly YouTube devotional, too. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and more. She’s also produced a free eBook, A God-Centered Life: 10 Faith-Based Practices When You’re Feeling Anxious, Grumpy, or Stressed.