18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
The relationship of Mary and Joseph is confusing. “Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph”…”Joseph her husband was faithful”…”he had in mind to divorce her”… but…“When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” Were they “pledged” or were they married? Why was divorce involved? Here’s what I found.
Marriage was considered far too important to be left to a matter of the heart. A pledge of marriage was made by family arrangements in the name of the couple. It was only a promise at this point but the next step really mattered. The promised couple must confirm their agreement with that family arrangement at some future point in time. Their agreement turned that promise into a binding contract that only another legal action could break. Legally they were now recognized as husband and wife but there was one more step that must happen. That’s where Mary and Joseph were at this point. It was the wedding celebration ahead that was meant to unite promise, contract and their relationship into the one flesh God promised in Genesis but there were those disturbing circumstances.
I can pass on facts I discovered about the culture of relationships of the time but I cannot explain why God would use these circumstances in Joseph’s life to fulfill his promise to all of creation. They were hard circumstances. Joseph could declare Mary unfaithful and possibly condemn her to death by stoning. He could stay in the relationship and deal with his own conflict with the law he was faithful to…or he could accept his dream and the words from the angel of the Lord as a truth and a blessing on their life together. God bless circumstances. Joseph’s circumstances and his response became a blessing for all of us that celebrate the Big Event. Wisdom and the Word still work to help the believer navigate circumstances today. Matthew Henry’s commentary on this scripture says it perfectly.
“Observe, it is the thoughtful, not the unthinking, whom God will guide. God’s time to come with instruction to his people, is when they are at a loss. Divine comforts most delight the soul when under the pressure of perplexed thoughts.”