PLEASE READ: Matthew 1:18-25
In this passage we are introduced to two exceptional human beings, both of whom are chosen to fulfill the prophecy of the Messiah in Isaiah 7:14. Enter, Mary and Joseph; the parents of Jesus. For years Joseph has taken a back seat to Mary. However, Matthew gives him the honor due him as the patriarch of the family, the earthly father of Jesus, and the head of the home. And although Mary is mentioned with respect to the prophecy, we find Matthew writing from the perspective of Joseph, from whom Jesus’ lineage stems.
Matthew takes great care to note the prophecies fulfilled in his gospel account. This entire passage centers upon the specific prophecy given by Isaiah regarding the virgin birth:
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel,” (Isaiah 7:14, KJV).
Understanding the Betrothal of Mary and Joseph
This passage, as we will find, reveals the strength and sanctity of the marriage covenant.
First, we find that they are “espoused”. The Greek word used here is “mnēsteuō”, which means “betrothed”. It is important to note this betrothal is not the same as an engagement found in western culture, to which we are so accustomed. Joseph is termed her “husband”, and Mary is termed his “wife”. These terms are accurate, because Mary and Joseph had entered into “kiddushin”, which is the first of two parts of marriage in the Jewish culture. Kiddushin is legally binding, and cannot be broken except by death or divorce. This is the period wherein the couple remain apart, yet are bound to one another legally before God through mutual vows. There are no sexual relations. Kiddushin traditionally lasts for approximately one year. During this time the husband prepares a home for his wife while she awaits his coming, at which time they enter into “nisuin”, which is the second and final part of marriage when consummation is achieved.
Therefore, when Joseph found that Mary was pregnant, his options were slim:
1.) He could divorce her. But to do so before God required proof that she had been unfaithful. This would have put Mary at risk for public shame. According to the Law of Moses Jews had to prove this by administering a test, which could only be done by the priests. They would have her drink a special concoction, and if she was guilty her abdomen would swell. If the test proved her to be guilty of such a sin, she could be stoned to death.
2.) He could take Mary as his wife and assume full responsibility for the child. Although this was not looked upon favorably in Jewish culture, it was not unlawful according to the Law of Moses.
Interestingly, Matthew does not elaborate upon the virgin conception, other than to reveal it and its prophetic significance. The text here surrounding that detail in his gospel is brief, but poignant. The question one may ask is this, Why did God choose to have Mary conceive during kiddushin, rather than nisuin?
The obvious answer would be that she had to be a virgin to fulfill the prophecy. Once nisuin is achieved, there is consummation of the husband and wife. The answer that is not so obvious is that establishing a marriage covenant, according to the Law of Moses, only required the private vows and consummation of two mutually consenting individuals before God. It did not require a rabbi or officiate. Although this was not commonly practiced, it was lawful, being legally binding before God. Individuals who chose this manner of marriage understood the Law as well as their obligations to it, and did so with full knowledge, will and intent. To consummate a marriage in private — this was honored by God who bears witness in heaven. But man? It easily bred questions, because that witness was lacking. Therefore, those who engaged in sexual relations without the intent of marriage were guilty of sexual immorality, which deserved stoning. With that said, God gave Mary divine conception by the Holy Spirit during their kiddushin, meaning Joseph could indeed take Mary as his wife apart from any officiate. And that is precisely what the angel of the Lord told him to do.
However, this left Joseph’s reputation on the line — not before God — but in the public eye. The stigma associated with this option, although unfavorable in Jewish society, was permitted according to the Law of Moses. In doing so, Joseph would accept that Jesus was his son, despite the fact that He was not his natural child, but a promised one. The prophetic promise of God carries more weight than any natural conception. Joseph did as the angel of the Lord instructed him, knowing fully that this child was his only by promise — just as it was Mary’s, being the fulfillment of the long-awaited prophecy. There is no doubt that Joseph’s obedience to this holy command aroused questions in the public eye. He would assume full responsibility for Mary’s pregnancy and the birth of Jesus Christ, making him the Son of David — which we see fully outlined by Matthew in the opening of his gospel account.
The manner in which God chose to bring forth the Messiah reveals the sacred bond of the marriage covenant, which is wholly sanctified before Him — both in the kiddushin and the nisuin.
Make no mistake — Joseph is a key player in fulfilling this prophecy, which justifies Matthew’s focus upon him.
It is fair to ask about Mary’s lineage. I’ve received questions since the first post that I’d like to address here. Although the Jews are not a matriarchal society, but a patriarchal one, it is natural to wonder.
We can only speculate. The scriptures do not reveal this. Therefore, we are forced to look to Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, whose husband Zecharaiah was a Levitical priest (see Luke 1-3). Did that mean Mary was a Levite as well? It is possible. If so, she would have come from the line of priests. We know that Jesus Christ is both a King and Priest unto God. However, His priesthood is not a Levitical one (being ordered by the Law). His priesthood, we are told, is of the order of Melchisedec, which was prior to the Law, making it one established by grace and faith (see Hebrews 7).
It is also quite possible that Mary was of the line of Judah, even as Joseph. It was common for the tribes to marry within, so long as they were no closer than second cousins.
The heart of Joseph mirrors that of his ancestor, King David.
We find here that God speaks to Joseph in a dream by an angel. This is the first of several consecutive dreams he receives throughout Christ’s early years. These dreams were not prophetic. Instead, they were instructive. God gave Joseph words of knowledge and divine instruction that would preserve His divine plan.
We find Joseph to have a heart after God’s own. In Joseph, we see a godly man of exceptional character, faith, and humble obedience, who was worthy of an enormous stewardship entrusted to him by God. He was obviously a kind man, who had no intention of putting Mary to shame. He was tender-hearted, being able to receive the word of the Lord without quarrel or questioning. Despite his fear, he obeyed without hesitation. We find that Joseph is a man very worthy of this promise God would entrust to his care. Joseph was a man of extraordinary faith and character who accepted an enormous responsibility and assignment from the Lord. He is equally a part of Christ’s prophetic fulfillment as Mary. We should never think the less of him.
And so we see that the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled. Matthew establishes the groundwork for the entire gospel account progressing from Christ’s lineage, clearly revealing the marital relations between Mary and Joseph — alleviating any questions. It would have sufficed to reveal the prophecy through Mary’s conception. But Matthew offers us much more, disclosing the heart of his earthy father.
What we are about to find is that this story is just beginning. Joseph and Mary have a great adventure awaiting them as they follow and obey God. The covenant they have with Him is one of great promise. The stakes were high. Again, this stewardship required a sacred trust that was granted to both of them, and each played their respective part in perfect obedience to God. Apart from either of them, the prophecy could not have been fulfilled. But through their marriage covenant God was able to establish His word and bring it to pass — on earth as it was in heaven.
The promised Messiah came forth.
How do you respond to God’s instruction? Are you obedient and tender-hearted? What has God promised you? Are you willing to follow Him as Joseph did, even when it costs you your reputation and you are afraid?
May you be found a worthy and obedient steward. As such, may all of God’s promises come to pass in your life!
I look forward to seeing you here next week!
Cheers & Shalom,
⇒ READ AHEAD: Matthew 2:1-12
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