Joseph – Faithful Obedience in a Difficult Situation
Upon asking the Lord for refreshed eyes and heart to understand the deeper truths of His divine conception, I am marveling at the Lord’s work in humble people. His direction this year in studying the Christmas story has highlighted the sacrifice and reward of being a follower of Jesus, no matter the cost.
This first takes you and me to the incredible story of Joseph, Mary’s betrothed, in Matthew 1.
“The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way: After his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant from the Holy Spirit. So her husband, Joseph,…” Matthew 1:18-19a (Underline added)
According to my Bible’s commentary, to be engaged to a man was to be married – much different than it is today. There was an official document called the Ketubah signed by the groom and two witnesses declaring his commitment in marriage to his bride. Though officially engaged/legally bound in relationship, they would not consummate the marriage until after the public wedding. Most often (if at all), the betrothed couple were not allowed to be alone together between the engagement and wedding. It showed the sacredness of the covenant of marriage and sexual intercourse. The only way to end an engagement was to get a certificate of divorce.
“So her husband, Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly.” Matthew 1:19
Joseph was not hasty in his thought to divorce Mary. There was no action on the whim of emotion or humiliation. He meditated, prayed, and waited until he had no reason left in his mind why he should not divorce Mary, though her character and that of the possible adultery didn’t align in his spirit. Out of his honour of God and Mary, showing the love and care he had for her, he chose to do so quietly.
This was not in line with the typical response according Jewish Law. Deuteronomy 22:23-24 says,
“If there is a young woman who is a virgin engaged to a man, and another man encounters her in the city and sleeps with her,take the two of them out to the gate of that city and stone them to death—the young woman because she did not cry out in the city and the man because he has violated his neighbor’s fiancée. You must purge the evil from you.”
The commentator of my Bible also said that in the case of infidelity, if a bride had committed adultery, “the only way to recover (the bride price and dowry) would be to prove her adultery in a public divorce trial. Nevertheless, to end the betrothal would mean drafting an official certificate of divorce, which required the certificate of two witnesses. Once in [the bride’s] hands, the bill of divorce was final; and because of the presumed infidelity, Joseph could not thereafter take her back as his wife.”
An interesting note, showing the true integrity of Joseph and the risk he was taking should he consider to remain betrothed and marry his bride comes in this insight:
“Jewish, Roman, and Greek law made it virtually impossible for a man to retain his honour and do anything other than divorce the betrothed wife. Not to do so raised suspicions that he had acted immorally by having slept with her himself before the wedding.” (Underline added)
“But after he had considered these things, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 1:20
Already a poor carpenter, God asked Joseph to risk his entire reputation (the only respect he received from his community) by taking Mary to be his wife. Though still seen as righteous in God’s eyes, society would now consider him immoral because it looked like he had premarital sex with Mary.
And yet, Joseph was obedient all because of the encounter he had with an angel in a dream. Remember, the Lord had been silent for 400 years! Suddenly, within a short time, Mary told Joseph she met with an angel. The same angel met with Zechariah to inform him that his wife, Elizabeth, in her senior years, would become pregnant with their son, John. Now Joseph has an encounter with an angel in a dream and risks his entire future to believe a humanly impossible event. Matthew 1:18 noted that Joseph was a, “righteous man.” Though people in his town would no longer believe this, it is already evident to all believers that he loved Yahweh, and Mary, and was willing to risk everything to prove it.
If God asked you to do something incredibly difficult that went against society’s standards or the typical way to do things, would you be willing to risk everything to obey Him?
“She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21
The angel instructed Joseph to name Mary’s Son, “Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”
Jesus is the Greek version of the Hebrew name, Joshua, which means, “The Lord/Yahweh saves.” Joshua in the Old Testament led God’s people who were coming out of slavery into the promised land. He led them through battles to conquer the land and began to divide the inheritance given to them. They learned under Joshua how to be a nation under Yahweh, based on the teachings and law received from Moses.
Now Jesus is about to enter the world, who was coming to, “set captives free;” (Luke 4:18) to lead sinners into freedom, to conquer our battle against our enemy, the Devil, and bring us into the eternal Kingdom with Him where we will take part in Jesus’ inheritance. (Romans 8:16-17, Ephesians 1:11) Amazing!
“Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
See, the virgin will become pregnant
and give birth to a son,
and they will name him Immanuel,
which is translated “God is with us.”
When Joseph woke up, he did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. He married her but did not have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. And he named him Jesus.” Matthew 1:22-25, (Bolded prophecy from Isaiah 7:14)
There are two important things to note here about Joseph from verses 24-25:
- Joseph married Mary, but waited to be sexually intimate with her until she gave birth to Jesus. He technically had the right as her official husband to be intimate, and I’m sure was extremely tempted while living with her. Yet, he honoured the Lord by waiting.
- Because he waited, the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 was fulfilled,
“See, the virgin will become pregnant
and give birth to a son,
and they will name him Immanuel.”
There could be no question – she was a virgin until after Jesus’ birth.
Had Joseph trusted only human understanding and the laws of his people, he would have divorced Mary. Had he given into rash emotion rather than logic, he may have even done so publicly, which could have led to her stoning. And yet, he waited. Matthew Henry’s commentary gives beautiful insight into this very difficult time for Joseph. It says,
“While he thought on these things and did not know what to decide, God graciously told him what to do and gave him peace. Those who want to have direction from God must think on things themselves; they must consider matters. It is the thoughtful, not the unthinking, whom God will guide. When he was at a loss and had taken the matter as far as he could in his own thoughts, then God came in with His advice.
…When we are at our quietest and most composed, we are in the best attitude to receive the announcements of God’s will.”
As you meditate on the Lord’s work through Joseph today, consider whether God has or is calling you to a difficult task/position. Is there an issue with which you have been perplexed and at loss for an answer? Come to the Lord. Sit at His feet and wait in the quietness for His answer.
“Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
Trust the Lord to provide His peace when you seek Him for an answer, and when you have it, He will equip you to do whatever He has asked, no matter the cost. He is our Good and Gracious God!