“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps" (Proverbs 16:9). As Jesus’ earthly father discovered, this is just another way of saying that when your plans are detoured and redirected, you find out who’s really charting the course.
Nazareth. It felt good to Joseph to be back home. The same old market and the same old merchants. The same old neighbors with the same old complaints. The same old synagogue and the same old rabbi.
Oddly, though, the normalcy felt a bit strange after the unexpected adventures of the past couple of years. What an odyssey this simple Galilean carpenter had been on.
It had all started with Mary’s world-shaking pregnancy announcement that took an angel to help him believe. He had hardly stopped reeling from that news when he was hit with the census decree from Rome.
Joseph recalled the anger he had felt. A vain emperor a world away was ordering people to their ancestral cities to register. God forbid that Augustus lose any possible tax revenue from peasants. For Joseph, as a descendent of King David, this meant a royal 100-mile walk to Bethlehem. It seemed outrageously unjust. Not only would this disrupt his business and incur travel expenses he could not afford, but Mary would be in advanced pregnancy!
He remembered venting his exasperation to a friend who had replied, “God! Please send the Messiah soon to deliver us from these tyrants!” And then to cheer Joseph had added, “Hey, maybe you’ll see the Messiah there! You know what the prophet said,
“‘But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,from you shall come forth for meone who is to be ruler in Israel,whose coming forth is from of old,from ancient days.’” (Micah 5:2)
His friend might as well have hit Joseph on the head with a plank. All at once he saw it! Augustus in all his imperial pomp was merely a tool in the hand of God to fulfill Scripture. His anger melted into awe-filled joy. Yes, Joseph most certainly would see the Messiah in Bethlehem.
In fact, after Jesus’ incredible birth, Joseph had fully expected to make Bethlehem their new permanent home. Surely that’s what Micah meant. And he had just started to get his business going when the angel of his dreams came again, shortly after the surprise visit by the Persian magi. “Flee to Egypt and remain there until I tell you.” Herod wanted to murder their baby!
Joseph had felt anger rise against Herod. And a wave of fear. The Egyptian border was another 100-mile foot journey for his wife and child, mostly through dessert.
But he quickly remembered. If Augustus was God’s tool, what was Herod? God had his reasons to send his Son to Egypt. So Joseph snuck his family out of town in the cover of night.
Egypt. That was one place Joseph had never expected to see, much less live in. He hadn’t had any idea how he would feed and house his family there. But he need not have worried. God provided for them like he had all along.
And then after a few months another dream and another commission: Herod had died and he was to take the child back to Israel. Joseph assumed this meant returning to Bethlehem.
But he soon learned that Herod’s son, Archelaus, was ruling over Judea. Archelaus was a sharp chip off the cruel block. If he got wind of a Messiah in Bethlehem, no doubt another assassination would be attempted. One more angelic dream visit and it was back to Nazareth.
And who knew how long that would last. . . .
One thing Joseph learned very quickly after God had drafted him to be the earthly father of Jesus was that his own plans were not a thing to be grasped. Whatever future he had originally imagined for himself and Mary evaporated in the heat of a reality determined by Another.
And as he followed the path of faith, he repeatedly found it taking unpredictable turns: A Roman census, a grueling trip during the hardest part of pregnancy, a birth in a barn, no steady income, an assassination attempt, two dessert-crossings on foot with an infant, living in a foreign country, and waiting on God for last-minute guidance and provision. This path was difficult, dangerous, expensive, time-consuming, and career delaying.
And it was all God’s will.
Like Joseph, the unplanned, inefficient detours of our lives are planned by God. God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8–9). They are frequently bewildering to us, but they are always better because God is orchestrating far more than we see or know in every unexpected event and delay.
So when you find yourself suddenly moving in a direction you had not planned, take heart; the Great Planner has something much better in mind for you and countless others.
The Joseph Trilogy (Part 1): A Painful Decision
The Joseph Trilogy (Part 2): A Stable of Desperation