There are three “Josephs” in the Bible who directly connect with the life of Jesus, the Christ, and each Joseph does his part to prepare the way for Jesus’s coming.
Joseph #1, the Son of Jacob
Joseph #1, the son of Jacob the patriarch, is found in the book of Genesis, and his life’s story covers the last twenty chapters, close to half of the book. Father Jacob blesses this son in Genesis 49:24 with words that project out to the coming Savior: “Mighty One of Jacob,” “the Shepherd,” and “the Rock of Israel” (NIV). Joseph’s life is a profound example for the ages, one that typifies the life of Jesus, who will come about 1,500 years later. Joseph endures unjust suffering and anguish from belligerent brothers who are jealous of their father’s love for this eleventh son, and Joseph’s amazing response is unwavering, unconditional love. His brothers seek to kill young Joseph but settle for selling him to Egyptian slave traders. They concoct a story for their father, telling him Joseph was killed by wild animals, and they offer his blood-stained robe of many colors as proof. Over fifteen years later, Joseph harbors no ill will toward his brothers and names his two sons with meanings that define his uncompromising grace and forgiveness. The first is Manasseh: “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household” (Gen. 41:51, NIV); and the second, Ephraim: “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering” (Gen. 41:52, NIV). Joseph #1 forgives and loves! After the death of their father, Joseph comforts his brothers, who once hated him, and says, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20, NIV). Jesus went from cradle to cross, and Satan intended to do harm; but God intended it for good for the saving of many lives. Perhaps the Christmas oracle of Balaam projects both ways; back to the life of Joseph #1 and forward to the birth of Jesus: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel” (Num. 24:17, NIV).
Joseph #2, the Betrothed of Mary
The story of Joseph #2 is found in the first two chapters of Matthew and Luke. This Joseph is also the son of a Jacob, just like Joseph #1, and, in similar fashion, Joseph #2 is “a just man” (Matt. 1:19, KJV-BRG). He could have taken a legal approach when he learned his wife-to-be was with child, but he did not. Instead, he chose not to disgrace Mary, showing a compassionate heart for what his friends and family must have considered an unexplainable event. The angel Gabriel visits Joseph in his dream and twice communicates what he should do. It should be noted that Gabriel has spoken only to three men in the Ancient Words—to Daniel, to Zechariah, and to Joseph. Joseph is a favored, honorable man just like Daniel! Joseph takes Mary for his wife yet abstains from any union with her until after the child is born. Then he travels to Egypt and remains in a transient status with his young family of three until instructed again to leave for their home in Nazareth after the death of Herod. This Joseph makes choices which fulfill the Ancient Words: “Out of Egypt I called my son” (Hos. 11:1; Matt. 2:15, NIV). Joseph and Mary would have other sons and daughters once settled back in Nazareth (Matt. 13:55). Two of these sons, James and Judas, would later give us the books of James and Jude in the New Testament. Joseph #2 was a believer, a man of faith, who trusted God and believed that which could not be proved. Because of his actions of faith, we have the beautiful Christmas story: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”; Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:23, NIV). “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel” (Matt. 2:6; Mic. 5:2, NIV). “He would be called a Nazarene” (Matt. 2:23; Judg. 13:5, NIV).
Joseph #3, of Arimathea
The account of Joseph #3 is found in all four gospels. From the story of the death of Jesus, we learn that Joseph #3 was from Arimathea. He was a good and upright man, a rich man, a prominent member of the Sanhedrin or Council, a secret disciple of Jesus who was waiting for the kingdom of God and who refused to give consent to the decision and action to crucify Jesus. He stood against the status quo and boldly went before Pilate and pleaded for the body of Jesus. Joseph (and Nicodemus) carefully take Jesus down from the cross, prepare his body, and lay Jesus in the tomb hewn by Joseph #3. In the face of known opposition, he acts with courage and bravery and tender compassion. The apostles have fled, but two from the Council of evil respond not again as secret disciples but as bold disciples ready to risk their own lives as well, and they are part of the powerful resurrection story. Many trace the derivation of the word “Arimathea” to “Ramah” and identify it with Ramah-Benjamin. Joseph #3 could have been from Ramah, and Ramah is spoken of in Matthew in the fulfillment of prophecy concerning the killing of the innocent boys, two years old and under, by Herod as he tried to kill the baby Jesus (Matt. 2:18; Jer. 31:15). Bethlehem is in Ramah-Benjamin, and thus God completes Jesus’s time on earth by calling Joseph #3, a possible surviving son of Herod’s order, to physically lay our Lord to rest and tenderly administer the myrrh once brought to the manger on Christmas Day by kings from distant shores.
All three Josephs prepare for Jesus in some way: Joseph #1 lives a life of forgiveness and love and joy—so that the Christmas Star out of Jacob could point to the way we should live; Joseph #2 lives a life of trust and belief and truth so strongly that Christmas Day and a manger birth become defined for the ages; and Joseph #3 secretly follows Christ but steps up bravely to offer his tomb for the crucified One so that three days later, the Christmas proclamation by angels would be complete: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11, NIV). All three Josephs defied rejection by man to prepare for Jesus. All three Josephs stood for Jesus regardless of the cost. Our Christmas should be filled with examples of Josephs as told in the Ancient Words!