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.”
James 3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.
This morning was a perfect object lesson for me. I spent 8 or 9 hours working on this title…Repentance of Gratitude…only to accidentally delete the whole thing as I tried to copy it. Despite my best efforts it was apparently meant just for me to practice what I preach. I hope this reconstruction is just what God had in mind for you to read.
Lent is fast coming to an end and I’m still learning about repentance. It’s easy to reduce it to it’s simplest definition, “being sorry.” Regret is certainly part of repentance but James has led me to another path of thought. What if there’s a another side to repentance that involves our ability to live a good life?
We work so hard in so many ways to live that “good life” that we can hardly escape our sense of entitlement that what we have, even our wisdom and understanding, comes through our own efforts. It’s the sacrifice of that entitlement that becomes the repentance of gratitude for all God has given. Those unplanned surprises and less-than-lovely tasks that happen daily are opportunities to practice “deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” That’s what the repentance of gratitude is all about. Those object lessons come every day and last longer than Lent.
“Who is wise and understanding among you?” Remember to practice the repentance of gratitude every day and “show it by [your] good life…”
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. Proverbs 9:10 NIV
I don’t really like the idea of “fear” when it comes to the Lord: an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat. I know him to be a loving, protective parent who’s goal is my good, not to scare me into behaving…but there’s that word “fear” in the same sentence with wisdom.
I went to the dictionary, a Hebrew lexicon and someone else’s explanation of that fear hoping I’d find something less harsh. Guess what? By the time you’ve run that gauntlet of options you discover this truth. Mostly it really is THAT kind of fear. This is God, he makes the rules and sets that boundary of fear to keep us from deliberate sin and like a really good parent he will keep his word…all of it!
I John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
It reminded me of when I was a teenager. I heard myself say “I can’t do that, my mother would kill me.” It’s that kind of fear. It’s not wanting to get into trouble because you know exactly what that trouble will bring. That really is the beginning of wisdom. Turns out Mother knew best, after all.
Psalm 119:97-104 מ Mem – Waves, Water
97 Oh, how I love your law!
I meditate on it all day long.
98 Your commands are always with me
and make me wiser than my enemies.
99 I have more insight than all my teachers,
for I meditate on your statutes.
100 I have more understanding than the elders,
for I obey your precepts.
101 I have kept my feet from every evil path
so that I might obey your word.
102 I have not departed from your laws,
for you yourself have taught me.
103 How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
104 I gain understanding from your precepts;
therefore I hate every wrong path.
I wondered whether the Psalmist was in his personal Red Sea period when I saw he’d chosen the title Mem [Waves, Water]. His life has been like the Israelites as they came up against that barrier of water that seemed like sure destruction with nowhere to go. He’s personally experienced God opening up a path for him like the parting of those waters to where he is now. This is his response. It reads like a man who’s survived the journey through the sea bed and made it to this lofty place of confidence on the mountain top.
I’m resisting “peeking” ahead to see how his own bottom line of faith, “for you yourself have taught me,” continues to change the focus of his wisdom, insight and understanding.