And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. (Matthew 1:19)
Today we get insight into Joseph, the adopting father of Jesus. In Matthew, the story of the origin of Jesus is told from the perspective of Joseph. Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father. Jesus didn’t have a human father; he was the Son of God. Joseph, though, still had a critical role in the life of Jesus as his adoptive father.
It’s important to clarify the first century engagement and marriage customs. Joseph and Mary, by our standards, were engaged but not yet married officially. In verse 24 we see that Joseph later took Mary as his wife. At this point they were not yet married, but engagement was as serious and as binding in that culture as marriage, requiring a kind of divorce to end the engagement.
We need to understand that Joseph kept the law. He obeyed the Old Testament law, which told him to do something more severe than mere divorce, but Roman law would not permit stoning. Joseph was a just man, he followed and kept what the law prescribed in the case of sexual immorality.
Yet, Joseph was unwilling to put Mary to shame. A public divorce, known to all, would embarrass, humiliate and shame Mary, and Joseph would not do such a thing to her. He loved and cared for her. Although he felt like he had to do what the law required, Joseph’s compassion led him to seek out another, more private option.
Joseph loved and obeyed God, yet he wasn’t a legalist. He understood that God did not delight in punishing his people, rather God wanted to give the people a path for obedience. Joseph wanted to patiently seek what was best to do in regard to Mary. He had no idea that an angel would speak to him in a dream, because he did not yet know the amazing role God had for him for such a time as this.
God let Joseph struggle with this decision before he spoke to him. What impact does your relationship with God have on your big and small decisions? God often lets us struggle with decisions before he reveals a better way. Wait, test your plans against God’s will, and honor God as Joseph did, even in uncertain times.