Purpose: To consider how we can respond appropriately to life’s divine interruptions.
Divorce was required to break the betrothal or engagement commitment. (See note for question 1 in study 3.) Because Joseph knew he was not the father of Mary’s child, the only conclusion he could draw was that she had been unfaithful to him. In order to preserve his own reputation for righteousness, he knew he had to put her away. His love for Mary
determined how he would do that.
The righteous standard of the law demanded that a woman who was unfaithful during the engagement period was to be stoned along with her male counterpart (Deut 22:23-24). Jewish tradition allowed an engaged husband to divorce his promised wife. In a public divorce, the man would charge the woman openly before a religious tribunal. The woman was shamed and disgraced in front of everyone. The alternative was a private
divorce carried out before two or three witnesses. Joseph wrestled with the alternatives and finally decided that he would not publicly disgrace the woman he loved so much.
God often allows us to come to the end of our wisdom and resources before he intervenes. Just when we think we have a situation all worked out or just when we are about to collapse, God acts to prove himself compassionate and wise. This testing of our faith produces patience—the willingness to trust God fully the next time we face a difficult situation. We are to think through hard decisions, but only after we have asked God to give us his wisdom (Jas 1:2-6).
Several factors converge to demonstrate that this was a genuine message from God through an angel. First, Joseph had already settled on a decision to divorce Mary. He wasn’t seeking some accommodation. Second, the angel’s message confirmed Mary’s account that the child was supernaturally conceived. Third, the angel’s message was verified by an appeal to the prophetic Scriptures (vv. 22-23). Isaiah had predicted a miraculous conception of the Messiah.
Mary had no way of defending her purity before Joseph. Mary’s character was defended to Joseph by God’s declaration through an angel; her character is defended before us by the reliable record of Scripture. If Jesus was born of an immoral relationship with another man or out of an unlawful relationship with Joseph, he was not God in human flesh, and the
Bible (at least at this point) is a lie. The virgin conception of Jesus is not a biblical truth that can simply be ignored; it is part of the core of the Christian faith.
Every major strand of biblical truth about Jesus is touched by the angelic message. Jesus would be supernaturally conceived (a unique being); he would carry out a saving work; and he would be the visible presence of the invisible God – God with us.
Not much more is said in Scripture about Joseph outside this passage. Sometimes a righteous person lives his or her whole life in relative obscurity. Joseph’s quiet contribution to this marriage and home, however, laid a strong foundation for Jesus’ spiritual and emotional development. We may be quietly used of God to help someone else do great things for God.