When the King Came: Stories from the Four Gospels - George Hodges

The Carpenter's House

The good angel had promised Joseph that he would be sure to let him know when it was safe for him to come out of Egypt. So, one night, he appeared again in a dream and told him that Herod was dead. "Arise," he said, "and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel; for they are dead which sought the young child's life." Out of Egypt they came, then, very gladly, riding part of the way and walking part of the way,—the child walking, too,—past Bethlehem and then past Jerusalem, and so to their own town of Nazareth.

Nazareth is an inhabited place, even to this day. And not only are there still to be found both fathers and mothers and little children in it as there were then, but they are still living in much the same way; for life changes very slowly in the East. Nazareth is among the hills, which rise about it on all sides, like a sheltering wall. The streets run across the bases of the hills, probably on the old lines; for few things which men make last so long as a street. There is a town well, a clear spring of cold water, which is still the centre of the life of the place, as it was when our Lord was a lad there. Twice a day, all the women and girls go there with earthen pots on their heads, bringing them empty and carrying them away full; and every week they meet by the side of the stream which flows from the spring, and have a good, neighborly time doing their family washing.

So years went by, and the child Jesus grew, and there were other children. The house was full of them. There were James and Joses and Jude and Simon, our Lord's brothers; and, at least, two sisters. The house in which they lived was a white building, perhaps made of clay, having a flat roof. The roof was reached by an outside stairway. When the weather was good, the family all slept on the roof, each wrapped in a blanket, under the stars. One of the Psalms tells how the grass grew on the roof, and how the hot sun withered it. The house had no window in it; all the light and air came from the wide door. Once Jesus told about a woman who lost a piece of money, and she took a broom and a candle to find it; for the corners were dark even in the daytime. He had seen his mother looking for things with a candle and a broom. There was not much furniture in the house. Joseph may have had his carpenter's bench on one side, but he probably did most of his work out of doors, except when it rained. There would be a big chest on the other side, for rugs and blankets. The room had a stove in it; and a tall lamp made of earthen-ware, which was kept burning day and night. There was a mill in which Mary ground grain to make flour for bread, the little girls helping her. The little boys helped their father at his bench. For dinner they had large, round, flat loaves of bread, like crackers, with butter or cheese, and milk and honey; sometimes they had eggs, sometimes fish from the Lake of Galilee; with a dessert of grapes or figs. There was commonly a central dish of curds or porridge, in which all dipped their broken pieces of bread. Sometimes the children would gather locusts, and their mother would roast them, and grind them up with flour, and bake them into nice grasshopper cake.

The children played among themselves or with the children of the neighborhood before the doors and in the street. They had a game in which they pretended they were dancing at a wedding, and another in which they pretended they were crying at a funeral. And sometimes some of the children would be offended and say that they would not play. All this Jesus remembered, and spoke of it when he became a man.

Every little child was taught to say his prayers, and learned sentences of the Bible. The first words which Jesus, like all the others, learned by heart were these: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one Lord. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy might." As he grew older, he committed to memory eighteen other verses, and recited them at the beginning and the ending of every day, when he said his prayers. That was the custom in all good households. These verses he presently learned to read and then to write. Then his mother taught him the meaning of the words, and told him the beautiful stories of the old time which were written in the Bible, about the faith of Abraham, and the great deeds of Moses, and the courage of Joshua, and the exploits of Samson. There were other stories which would impress him still more, because he could see with his own eyes the places where they had happened. There was a high hill near Nazareth, and when one climbed it there was a wide view over all the country. To the east was Mt. Tabor, where Deborah and Barak fought in a wild storm of rain against Sisera; and Mt. Gilboa, where King Saul fell down slain in a great battle with the Philistines. To the west was Mt. Carmel, where Elijah contended with the priests of Baal, and called down fire from heaven. And the child knew that to the south, across the plain and beyond the mountains, lay Jerusalem, the holy city.

On the sabbath, there was a service in the synagogue, to which the child went with his parents. There he heard the Bible read and explained. The children stayed after service, and had lessons of their own. Even on weekdays, the school met in the church, and much of the teaching was religious. Thus our Lord was taught about the world in which he had come to live, learning arithmetic and geography and history; and about God who is in all the world and over it, and who wishes even the smallest children to tell the truth, to be good and gentle, and to obey their parents. And on holidays, he climbed the high hill to see the view, and there thought over all these things.

Sometimes, his brother James went with him, and the two boys climbed together, talking as they went; for James was a good lad, with a serious mind. But the difference between James and Jesus was like the difference between a statue and a tree; that is, James's goodness was rather stiff and formal and made by rule, while the goodness of Jesus was free and natural. They were so unlike that James was often shocked at the sayings of Jesus. I am guessing at this from what we know about them after they grew up. James could not understand him. Indeed, he perplexed the whole family. Many times, therefore, Jesus sought the height alone, thinking his own thoughts.