His fingers slid around the iron handle of the dagger beneath his cloak and he squared his shoulders, standing between his family and the men in the doorway
They were obviously foreigners, but, from their diverse appearances, they looked to be each from a different place.
Who were they?
The clothes that they wore were no pauper’s rags. They looked to be exceedingly wealthy, but that would beg the question, why were they here?
Had they heard the rumors about Mary and come to execute her as an immoral woman? How would they find out? Maybe his father had hired them. He wouldn’t put it past him. But would men this obviously wealthy work as hired killers? Or were they merely wearing the clothes as some disguise? But why so many of them? There had to be at least a dozen.
Maybe they’d come after the baby. Maybe they’d heard that he was to be the king of the Jews and had come to put an end to it.
Either way, he wasn’t about to let anything happen to his wife or child. He’d fight to the death before he let harm come to them. And likely he would die protecting them if these men had come meaning harm. He could kill a few of them possibly before he died, but one man against twelve were hardly good odds. His only fear was of what would happen to Mary and the baby after they killed him.
What could he do? How could keep them safe?
Not on his own.
He sent up a silent prayer to heaven. “Lord, are you with me?”
The tallest of the men stepped forward, a thin, dark-bearded man with a red turban on his head.
Joseph tightened his grip around the dagger and stared the man down.
He spoke in Arabic. “My name is Balthazar. I and my friends have come because of the child. We saw his star in the east and followed it here to Bethlehem. We wished to see for ourselves the one born, King of the Jews. We have come to worship him and to present him with these, our offerings, as gifts to him and to his mother.”
Two of the other men stepped forward and bowed before Mary, one with frankincense and the other with myrrh.
Balthazar turned and motioned more men to come forward. They came, each bearing one side of a small chest. They set it down upon the floor and Balthazar opened the lid, revealing stacks of gold bars and innumerable gold coins.
Mary gasped and Joseph’s mouth dropped open.
He loosened his grip on the dagger and bent over the chest. He pulled out one of the coins to see if it was genuine. The solid metal that resisted his fingers told him that it was.
He glanced back at the foreigners and found them all on their knees before Mary and the baby.
Joseph stood up and watched in wonder.
He met Mary’s gaze and saw that it confused her just as much as it did him.
The men began speaking, asking Mary about the angel’s appearance and what she’d been told. They spoke of the prophecies they’d studied and the star that they’d followed.
Joseph finally began to feel himself relax as he became more comfortable with the men and could see that they meant no harm.
Then Balthazar came to stand before Joseph and gripped his arm. “We must go, but listen to me. You cannot remain here. Herod, the king means harm to the child. You must take your wife and the child away from here. Somewhere Herod cannot find you.”
Joseph felt that burning of fear and protectiveness re-emerge in his heart. “Where? Does he know where we are now?”
“No, but you must leave soon. Do not fear. The Lord is with you. Just go where He leads you and He will keep you safe.”
Joseph met the man’s gaze and nodded. “Thank you.”
Balthazar gave a nod and turned to go along with the other men.
Joseph watched as they walked down the dusty road into the growing darkness of the evening.
The sun was just hovering at the edge of the horizon, reaching out across the city with a vibrant, dying orange glow.
Joseph turned to Mary and spoke with her about all the things that had just happened and what Balthazar had told him.
“We must inquire of the Lord and seek His direction,” Mary said, cradling the baby close against her chest.
He prayed all night—seeking, asking, pleading and no answers came. He grew desperate as the night dragged on. His head began to ache and his heart felt leaden within him.
Finally sleep drew him into its clutches and gave him rest.
As he slept, a dream came to him, more vivid and real than any earthly occurrence, and he knew it was heaven-sent.
The angel of the Lord was before him and spoke. “‘Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.’”
Joseph’s eyes flew open and were met by the darkness of the night.
He felt a strange feeling of peace come over him and yet also a strong sense of determination and urgency.
He reached over and gently shook Mary by the shoulder.
She opened her eyes and looked up at him in concern.
“We have to go…tonight.”
“Tonight?” she asked in alarm. “Did the Lord speak to you?”
“Yes. We must go to Egypt and we must go now.”
He saw the fear in her eyes and tenderly brushed his hand across her silken cheek.
“Don’t worry,” he whispered. “The Lord is with us.”
© Whitney L. Schwartz