Guest Author - T. Lynn Adams
If you couldn’t be there, who would you entrust to raise your child? God knew and He chose Joseph, the carpenter. Already espoused to Mary when the Angel visited the young virgin, Joseph's presence was not happenstance. He was known by God, just as was Mary. So, just who was Joseph?
The scriptures tell us that Joseph was 'a just man' (Matt. 1:19). So rare is that description that it is used for only a few righteous men in scripture, including the Savior! Did Matthew, a close friend and disciple of the Lord Jesus, know Joseph personally? Or did he only know the humble, 'just' carpenter from descriptions Christ gave of the man who raised the Son of God? Either way, Joseph's reputation for being just was so strong that Matthew could not separate the quality from the man and permanently recorded the trait in scripture!
Chosen by Mary and Her Family
Anciently, as well as today, the Jews saw marriage as the joining of two families. For this reason, both sets of parents were involved in approving spousal companions. Remember Abraham sending away for a bride for Isaac? Yet the parents did not 'control' the situation. In fact, Jewish law insisted that parents could not force their children to wed! That decision belonged to the young couple, with the final say falling on the woman! (Remember, Rebekah was asked her desire in Gen. 24:57-58.) Mary was not forced to marry Joseph. She chose to marry him!
Seeker of Mercy
At some point Joseph ‘found’ Mary to be pregnant. How he ‘found’ out we do not know but this he did know: the woman he planned to marry was pregnant and he was not the father!
The law said Joseph could end their engagement by calling Mary before a court consisting of three religious judges. A scribe would be called to record the proceeding and at least two impartial parties would be present to ensure a just and balanced outcome. Two or more witnesses would be called forth for each side. Mary and Joseph would each be interviewed by the judges to ascertain the reasons for ending their betrothal. If the charges were serious enough, then the court would also pass sentencing with all punishments carried out immediately...usually in that self-same day.
In Mary's case, the punishment was fixed. In the eyes of the world, she was pregnant out of wedlock. According to the law, that constituted adultery. She would be stoned (Lev. 20) and the unborn child would die with her.
A bitter, spiteful or vengeful man may have forced Mary before the courts thereby forcing her to pay the ultimate price. Yet this was not Joseph’s nature. In fact, it was this death by stoning--preceded by its mandatory and revealing trial–-that was the 'publick example' Joseph wanted to avoid. (Matt. 1:19). Despite the situation, Joseph was still concerned about her!
Seeker of Compassion
"Then Joseph her husband...was minded to put her away privily." (Matt.1:19)
Another way of ending their engagement included having Mary renounce and leave her faith before the pregnancy became public knowledge. Then she would not be held accountable to Jewish laws and punishments. It also meant she would be stripped of all sacred blessings and rights. In serious cases she could be cut off from all contact with family and friends: a lone woman spoken to by no one, cast out and outcast. She would live life alone, raising the child in ignominy. The child would have no father, no patriarchal heritage. He would learn no trade and have no birthright. The child, too, would live an illaudable life.
Another choice would be to send Mary away and have her sever all communication. Then, after several years, the courts could declare her legally dead or missing, the engagement would be dissolved, and her physical life would be spared. But again, this would involve all the travails of being a lone woman in a strange land raising a child without help.
Whatever choices and personal hurt Joseph struggled with, we do know he was concerned for Mary and her baby. Even though the law was on his side, he wanted to avoid making her a 'publick example'. He loved her enough to seek a compassionate resolution.
Now, remember that Jesus CHrist knew who His true Father was. He also knew the divine circumstances surrounding His birth. As a student of the scriptures (which contained the law) Christ knew Joseph's legal right when he 'found' Mary to be pregnant. He knew what the carpenter could have chosen. More importantly, the Savior knew what Joseph did choose! Christ lived and grew in a home where compassion overruled personal agony; where being just and kind were hallmarks of life. Joseph, the carpenter, set the example. Though not perfect, Joseph was the perfect choice.
What tender compassion Christ must have felt for Joseph–this gentle man who raised him and loved His mother enough to protect her! How he must have truly and deeply loved Joseph! He may even have been reflecting on Joseph's touching example when, in his opening Sermon on the Mount, he urged us to go beyond the law and show kindness.
"Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye; and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you...whosever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have they cloak also." (Matt. 5:38-40)
Joseph, the carpenter, whose hands were calloused when he held the newborn Son of God, was not a man whose heart was likewise calloused. What an example he set for all of us! No wonder God the Father trusted him to raise His Only Begotten Son. He didn't just choose Joseph for Christ, but for all of us.