“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.” Mt 1:18, 19 (ESV)
Joseph was betrothed to Mary. What that means is that in all matters concerning the law, He and Mary were what we would call married. Many obligations had been met and gifts had been exchanged between the bride, her family, and the bride-groom, Joseph. Now it was only a matter of time, having made all final arrangements, for Joseph to ceremonially show up with his entourage one night to claim his wife and enjoy the wedding feast and celebration for a week or two.
Yet Matthew, in furthering his apologetic about the legitimacy of the Messianic advent, drops a bomb that we may not fully appreciate.
You see, we as members of the front-lines of history have an increasingly more difficult time relating with the past; especially if the past is really long ago. 1490 was a long time ago to us, but not for those in 1501. And the more we walk into the future, the more etic we become.
To be etic, as far as linguistics or culture is concerned, means that one is an outsider. As such, one will never have an indigenous or emic understanding of a culture or language. My approach will always be, in one way or another, scientific and objective, but not relational. For instance, I can collect data and study the history of the Native Americans during the colonization period of our nation’s history; I may write a paper or dissertation about them; I may produce a movie, but I’ll NEVER know what it means to be a Native American from the inside. (Incidentally, this is a reasonable basis for humility even between siblings!)
Now, consider how far you are today from these events in Matthew. Consider, in humility, that you have not (and may not) fully appreciated the reality of the breath, sweat, work, pains, mysteries, systems, and lives of the people of Scripture. Consider that you may have never thought Mary a real woman, or Joseph a real man. Consider that your etic approach to such events and people in Scripture may have unwittingly taught you to regard them as mythical.
“before they came together
she was found
to be with child…”
Mt 1:18 (ESV)
Oh, by the way….
If you missed it…
That was the bomb.
“If there is a betrothed virgin,
and a man meets her in the city and lies with her,
then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city,
and you shall stone them
the young woman because she did not cry for help
though she was in the city…”
Deut 22:23 (ESV)
You see silence, at least in many cases of moral obligation, can be mistaken for acceptance.
This passage from Deuteronomy condemns both man an woman: the man for his volitional act of adultery, and the woman for receiving the act without contest. After all, being in the city would have made it easy for the betrothed woman to scream and be heard. But if the woman remains silent, well,it seems she is okay with the incident and thusly accused of the same crime as that of the man. It takes two to make a thing go right.
Now consider Joseph, “being a just man.”
Be careful not to run to his attribute of being merciful for not wanting to bring Mary to the gate for public divorce (the Romans would not have allowed the Jews to stone her). Joseph is not “being just” because of his mercy, but because he knew the law as was known to follow it. This is why he,
“resolved to divorce her…”
Think about it.
Did Mary scream for help?
Was Mary accosted in the wilderness by a rapist, where her screams would have been unheard?
If she had, Deut 22:25-27 makes allowance for any pregnancy that may follow and dismisses any disgrace she might incur otherwise.
Did Mary scream?
“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord;
let it be to me
according to your word.”
Lk 4:38 (ESV, emphasis mine)
Think how difficult it was for Joseph.
Think what he saw.
Think what he heard.
Think of the utter nonsense that came into his reasoning.
It was so difficult to believe that it required angelic intervention.
No! No! Joseph! No!
Stay with Mary………..God is at work.
God is with us.
Can I hazard a suggestion?
I suggest that we make faith in God too simplistic.
Think of Joseph.
Think of Ahaz.
For this event in Matthew demands of Joseph the same faith that Ahaz needed in Isaiah 7, the passage from which Mt 1:22, 23 is derived.
The faith that, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, takes God simply at His word.
Joseph, I know what this looks like…
And you are just in resolving to do away with Mary in any other circumstance…
“if anyone comes to me…
(Notice the emphasis on the word “me.”)
“and does not hate
his own father, and mother
and wife and children
brothers and sisters,
and even his own life,
he cannot be my disciple.”
Lk 14:26 (ESV)
I tell myself that the good news of the Messiah is simple.
But Joseph tells me that it is deep.
Joseph tells me its a mystery.
Joseph tells me it is bigger than I know.
Joseph tells me that my rationale only gets me so far.
Joseph tells me that I am near the Supernatural.
Joseph tells me….take a seat….consider the Wonder,
Joseph, in weakness, whispers to me…
“Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy,
and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread…”
(Now clearing his throat!)
“But the LORD of hosts!
Him you shall honor as Holy!
Let Him be your fear!
And let Him be your dread.”
For, says Joseph to me, He is,
“doing a work in your days
that you would not believe if told.”
Hab 1:5 (ESV)
Oh, Immanuel! (Isa 8:8)