“Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” (Matthew 1:19)
It is important to note the most significant characteristic of the people involved in the most important event in human history. Zechariah and Elizabeth were upright in the sight of God, Mary was highly favoured of God and Joseph was a righteous man. These were godly people who were blessed with the Lord’s favour. Little did they know what that favour would do to their lives and place in the community.
Zechariah and Elizabeth had lived with the shame of barrenness for years. Now in their old age they were to have a baby. Elizabeth kept it secret for 6 months. She had faced the scorn and the whispering for years. Now, that which they had prayed for had happened and she wasn’t about to let people mock God’s answer to their prayers. Zechariah had lost hope and so lacked faith when he met Gabriel. It seems almost severe to think God muted him for the entire pregnancy.
But our words are so powerful. “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Proverbs 18:1) Our words can produce life and hope or death and despair. Both Elizabeth and Zechariah had to listen to the words of well meaning but thoughtless family and friends for years. They probably defended themselves by saying God would honour them with a child for He hears our prayers. The word says children are a gift from God and surely He would not withhold any good thing to those who love Him. Now Zachariah was unable to say one word of unbelief to his wife. She wisely did not expose herself to anyone else’s words until the baby was well along. By this age both of them would be well aware of the power of others’ words and the full effect of them on spirit, soul and body. Their shame would be lifted but they would still be the source of much gossip and speculation.
Mary, as I said previously, would not have thought that Joseph would have been so hurt. Joseph made the only decision that seemed reasonable to him under the circumstances. He did not want Mary to suffer any more public disgrace if he divorced her. He wanted to spare her as much of the shame as possible. But his life and hers would be the fodder for many an after dinner discussion. God’s favour and plans for our life are sometimes contrary to the accepted wisdom and common sense of the world. People look at you like you are out of your mind when you are wholeheartedly following the Lord. These situations reveal what’s in our heart. Not to God as He already knows but to us.
The text tells us that after Joseph considered this an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. ‘Consider’ means to think carefully about something. It comes from a Latin root to examine. This gives us an idea that Joseph was contemplative, possibly analytical in his thinking. It also means he hadn’t yet talked to Mary or anyone else. It is true that God knows our thoughts. What Joseph was considering was radical enough for God to take significant action to prevent the divorce. He sent an angel who told Joseph that the baby truly was conceived of the Holy Spirit. He told Joseph that it was a boy and what his name was to be.
Joseph, then, took her to his home as his wife. His obedience fulfilled prophecy and showed how right his heart was before God. In fact throughout Jesus early years his father’s obedience was crucial for the preservation of Jesus’ life and the fulfilment of his destiny.
Joseph by his actions would have born the shame of Mary’s pregnancy as well. In the eyes of the people in Nazareth his righteousness would have been questionable. But he feared God more than man and took the shame for the sake of a greater purpose. Sometimes when you are serving the Lord you can’t explain to people what is happening. Obedience often creates an acceptable sacrifice that is only pleasing in our Lord’s nostrils.