Just last week I had a woman come up to me with a question about the step father of Jesus, Joseph. She asked
“When Joseph found out Mary was pregnant, why didn’t they just high tail it out of there?”
Luke chapter 1 records both the pregnancy of Elizabeth and Mary. Mary and Joseph are married when Gabriel appears to her (Luke 1:27). Upon hearing the news, as well as that of little baby John that will be born soon, Mary leaves in a hurry to go visit Elizabeth and Zachariah (Luke 1:39). At this point nobody knows Mary is pregnant.
After spending three months, she returns home. Mary has developed a stomach that clearly has a child inside. To anyone else there is no doubt about it. Either Mary and Joseph has overstepped the custom to remain pure for at least a year according to Jewish customs (in order to test the couples fidelity) or Mary is guilty of being unfaithful to her husband and has slept with another man. Joseph sees this and knows he clearly has not touched her. That leaves only one other possibility. Mary was unfaithful to Joseph.
Why didn’t they just leave?
This brings us up to our question. Why didn’t they just avoid the drama and high tail it out? Joseph was just like any other man. When he saw the woman he loved was unfaithful he must have been heart broken. What did I do to deserve this? Does she not love me? Have I not been a good husband to her? Many of thoughts must have crossed his mind as he would decide what actions to take.
Joseph has every right to follow through with stoning Mary for her infidelity. Legally he very well could have and it would not be considered sinful to do such. (Duet. 22:23-24) but there is also an important element to consider. Joseph was also a just or righteous man (Matthew 1:19). He wasn’t just a man of good character. Joseph was a man who understood and carefully obeyed the law, he knew what it meant to show compassion, he understood that the Lord desires mercy over sacrifice (Hosea 6:6). By all standards, Joseph was a man of God, a “pre-Christian” if you will.
Do I stone her as the law prescribes or should I quietly divorce her?
I think it is safe to think that this was not an easy decision for Joseph to make, I don’t think there is anyone on earth that could safely say they understand the struggle Joseph is going through right now. There is a third option that Joseph didn’t even consider. There is nothing in the books of the Law that could help him reach such a conclusion. It was so problematic that he needed to hear from God for the right answer.
20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). – Matthew 1:20-23
Joseph was a man of God who wanted to make the right decision. He wanted to best honor God in what he would do. This can sometimes take time and biblical council for us to figure out the best course of action in any situation.
I think the more we learn of Gods word, the more difficult it came become. While on one hand we may be permitted to throw a stone (metaphorically), we are also to show mercy because we have received mercy. Another hard choice to make is should we leave the problem, or stay and work through it? All of these are questions we as Christians deal with when it comes to making the righteous decision to best glorify the Lord.