“Minded to Put Her Away Privily”

Matthew 1:19

Then Joseph her husband, being a just man,
and not willing to make her a publick example,
was minded to put her away privily.

I’m still working on my Bibliology sermon series, but I preached Sunday on Joseph.  I thought I would quickly post one thought from that message today.

Joseph’s fiancée, Mary, though a virgin, was with child by a miracle of the Holy Spirit.  Joseph did not know how she had become pregnant, but he knew he was not the father of the child, and so he considered her to have been unfaithful to him.  He was going to break the betrothal, which under Jewish custom required a divorce.

There was no such thing as divorcing “privily” (secretly).  When it tells us that Joseph was considering divorcing Mary secretly, it means that he was going to keep the reason for the divorce secret.  Instead of bringing an accusation of immorality against her (which might have resulted in stoning, but probably just open denunciation, and humiliation for the rest of her life), he was going to give her a “no-fault” divorce, as per Deuteronomy 24.

The Bible tells us Joseph was thinking about this, so he would have thought through the ramifications.  Mary was with child, and that could not be hidden.  If Joseph brought no accusation, keeping the reason for the divorce secret, then everyone would assume he was the father of the child.  They would assume that he had behaved immorally twice over, first in being the father before the marriage was completed and second by abandoning her once she was pregnant.  If he wasn’t the father, people would say, surely he would have denounced her openly.  He would not be praised for his kindness to Mary, but condemned.

This verse tells us that Joseph was “a just man”, but that does not mean he was a hard man.  He was willing to take the heat, leaving himself open to many horrible accusations, to protect Mary, even though, as far as he knew, she had wronged him horribly.  He was a kind, compassionate, merciful man.

Undoubtedly grieving over Mary and how she had wronged him, he still wanted to shield her.  And in doing so, he was also jeopardising his entire future.  For what father, in future, would give his daughter to a man who had divorced his pregnant fiancée?

Our God did not choose poorly when He chose the man who would be tasked with caring for His only Son.  When He says Joseph was a just man, we should read that the way He means “just” — selfless, compassionate, and righteous.

Update: Another thought on Joseph

Update again: Eight More Thoughts on Joseph

About Jon Gleason

Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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4 Responses to “Minded to Put Her Away Privily”

  1. Patrick Heeney says:

    Good thoughts Brotherinlaw good thoughts. Always marvelled at Joseph.

  2. Xander says:

    Hi Pastor Jon,

    I must say I really enjoyed reading this – it really pushes the message of Eph 5:25 about husbands loving their wives and also Mark 10:5 – about divorce. In some sense one might see that Joseph thought he had every right to divorce Mary, however his heart clearly was not hardened towards her, which is a challenge to the Christian husband about the sort of attitude he should adopt with regards to his wife.

    Thanks for this

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Hi, Xander, thanks for the comment. I didn’t so much emphasise the challenge to husbands in what I wrote, so it’s a very good addition. Somewhat comparable to what we see in Hosea, isn’t it, where Hosea had “every right” to give up on his wife, but God’s heart is towards reconciliation.

      Jesus “took the heat” for our sin. If husbands are to love as Christ loved the church, they should be prepared to “take the heat” for their wives, too. Usually we want to be vindicated in the eyes of friends and family, instead. Joseph was quite a man.

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