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