Joseph’s Dilemma With Mary

Joseph played a key role in the Nativity story, much more than it may seem. His reactions to incomprehensible circumstances reveal truths about Mary’s pregnancy and a message from God.

Most likely Joseph knew Mary through community interactions in Nazareth such as during harvest or through their Synagogue.[1] He would have been familiar with her family’s reputation and had full confidence that she was a marriageable virgin, a very important factor in their conservative Jewish society.[2]

Betrothals typically lasted for a year during which time Joseph would be very busy.[3] As a bridegroom, in addition to paying the traditional bride-price, he had hold a job to meet other financial obligations such as preparing their new home and a 3-day wedding feast for the guests.[4]

Mary, on the other hand, had less commitment pressures to prepare for the wedding. A betrothed girl subject to Judaic Law was under strict supervision of her family and the watchful eye of the community. She was not allowed to be alone at any time with an adult male, not even a male family member.[5]

Gabriel, the angel, in his secret appearance to Mary informed her that Elizabeth, her cousin, was 6 months pregnant. It seemed to be a good opportunity at this point to visit Elizabeth who lived in a village days away near Jerusalem.[6] Mary would be gone for 3 months. No phones, texts or emails…keeping in touch with Joseph would be very limited.[7]

Joseph would not become aware of Mary’s pregnancy until sometime after her return to Nazareth. It is unclear exactly when he discovered that she was pregnant, but it is clear from Matthew‘s use of the Greek word heurisko meaning “to hit upon…to find (by chance)” that it was a big surprise when he did find out![8] Overwhelming emotions would be expected – hurt and anger to begin with, then resentment, embarrassment, doubt, uncertainty, temptations of vengefulness and other mixed feelings. Then the big question – what to do next?

What would be the expected natural reaction of a man who was absolutely certain that he was not the father of his pregnant betrothal’s child vs. the expected reaction of a man who might have reason to believe he was the father?

Moving forward with the marriage would be the expected behavior of a man who believed himself to be the father of his betrothal’s baby. Frowned upon by the Rabbis, accidental pregnancies during betrothals were a reality, even in those days. As such, these things were dealt with by allowing the couple to move up their wedding date and get on with life as a married couple.[9]

Not being the father of Mary’s baby was a whole different set of circumstances. Why would a bridegroom want to marry his bride-to-be who was carrying the child conceived by someone else? If Joseph stayed with his pregnant betrothal, their community of family, friends and neighbors would assume the pregnancy was a result of his own doing.

Knowing he was innocent, Joseph would have to pay the undeserving price of facing public scorn and humiliation while swallowing his pride and overcoming his personal feelings. It would take a big man. Few men would do it.

Indeed, Joseph was contemplating the divorce option, the expected reaction of a man who knew he was not the father of his betrothal’s child. It serves as the most telling evidence of a truth that Joseph was not the father of Mary’s child. 

Consequences of a divorce weighed heavily on Joseph. Not only would it taint her reputation and cause financial loss to Mary and her family, a public accusation of infidelity would carry a charge of adultery – stoning would not have been out of the question.[10]

Attesting to another truth was Joseph’s honorable character. Rising above any negative feelings, he sought to quietly settle the divorce which would, in effect, minimize embarrassment to Mary, her family and avoid the public charge of adultery.[11] 

Unexpectedly, Joseph suddenly changed his mind – he inexplicably decided to continue with his marriage. Why? What could have led to this sudden change of heart and willingness to pay the huge personal price of staying with Mary?

Matthew reports the game-changing moment came from a visit by “an angel of the Lord.” He delivered a message from God telling Joseph that Mary had conceived of the Holy Spirit and her child, a boy, was to be named Jesus.[12] 

Was Joseph really visited by an angel? The old adage that actions speak louder than words speaks volumes in this case. Something very unusual and significant happened. Joseph suddenly set aside all his negative emotions and feelings to honor his marriage commitment to Mary knowing he was not the father of her child while willingly accepting the consequences that would come with it.[13]

Do Joseph’s actions demonstrate he was not the biological father of Jesus; that he received a message from God confirming Matthew’s Gospel which says the virgin birth of Jesus was a fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14?

 

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REFERENCES:

[1] Brayer, Menachem M. The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature. 1986. pp 68-69. <http://books.google.com/books?id=GhPxFOCdQj4C&pg=PA143&lpg=PA143&dq=sex+betrothal+jewish&source=web&ots=G4jLlub8y9&sig=gnkOuPI8xLKvYl57J9PR9VY3kVg#PPA143,M1>
[2] Brayer. The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature. pp 57, 59, 61. “Marriage Laws.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10435-marriage-laws>
[3] “Betrothal.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/3229-betrothal> Brayer.  The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature. p 62.  Edersheim.  The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 1883. Book II, Chapter 4.  https://philologos.org/__eb-lat/book204.htm> Thompson, James C.  Women in the Ancient World. July 2010.  “Women in Ancient Israel” > “Women and the Law in Ancient Israel.” <http://www.womenintheancientworld.com/women%20and%20the%20law%20in%20ancient%20israel.htm>
[4] Missler, Chuck. “The Wedding Model.” Koinonia House, Inc. 2018. <http://www.khouse.org/articles/2003/449/#notes>  Brayer. The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature. p 70.
[5] Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Kethuboth 12a, 12b, 13a, 13b. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/kethuboth/index.html> “Adultery.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/865-adultery> Brayer. The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature. pp 142-143.
[6] Luke 1.  “Map of Israel in the Time of Jesus.”  Bible History Online. n.d.<https://www.bible-history.com/maps/palestine_nt_times.html>
[7] Luke 1.
[8] Matthew 1:18. Net.bible.org. Greek text. “heurisko <2147>.” Lexicondorance.com. <http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/2147.html>
[9] Brayer. The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature. pp 143-144, 146-147.  Lamm, Maurice. The Jewish Way in Love & Marriage. 2018. Section “Celebrating the Marriage Covenant” > Chapter “Jewish Betrothal Blessing;” Section “The Structure of The Marriage Covenant” > Chapter “The Jewish Marriage Ceremony.”  <http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/465140/jewish/The-Jewish-Way-in-Love-Marriage.htm>   Edersheim. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Book II, Chapter 4, footnote #27.  “Ḳiddushin.”’ Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/9310-kiddushin>
[10] John 8:2-7.  “Adultery.” Jewish Encyclopedia.  “Marriage Laws.” Jewish Encyclopedia.  “Marriage Ceremonies.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10434-marriage-ceremonies> Josephus, Flavius. Against Apion. Book II, #25. Trans. and commentary William Whitson. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  Thompson,“Women in the Ancient World.”  Edersheim.  The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Book II, Chapter 4.  
[11] Matthew 1:19.  Schneerson; Menachem M. “The Betrothed.” Chabad org. 2018. <http://www.chabad.org/parshah/article_cdo/aid/296931/jewish/The-Betrothed.htm>  “Marriage Ceremonies” & “Adultery.” Jewish Encyclopedia.
[12] Matthew 1.
[13] Edersheim. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Book II, Chapter 4.

What Happens When God Names Someone?

When God names someone the few times in Hebrew history, it is associated with greatness and long-term blessings.[1] What does that say about Jesus of Nazareth?

As a 75-year old man, God told Abram to move with his family to the land of Canaan promising “…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”[2] Faithfully, Abram complied and eventually settled near the city of Salem and the mounts of Moriah.

Abram and his wife, Sarai, decided that due to their old age, the only way for him to have a son was to father a child with Sarai’s servant, an Egyptian named Hagar.[3] Once Hagar became pregnant, both women despised each other placing Hagar in difficult position. 

Sarai blamed Abram of creating the situation by making Hagar pregnant. Abram told Sarai that since Hagar was her servant, she could do with Hagar as she wished. Hagar was treated harshly to the point she ran away. God sent an angel to Hagar telling her to return and obey Saria, then she would be blessed through her son whom God named Ishmael:

Gen. 16:11-13 “And the Angel of the LORD said to her: ‘Behold, you are with child, And you shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, Because the LORD has heard your affliction…Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand… I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude.’”(NKJV) [4]

Hagar gave birth to Ishmael when Abram was 86 years old.[5] The boy lived with his mother as part of Abram’s family for more than 13 years until the time came for the next chapter in Abram’s life. Ishmael went on to get married to an Egyptian girl and was blessed with 12 sons who would become princes of their tribes.[6]

At the age of 99, God appeared to Abram confirming His promise 24 years earlier. Adding to the promise, the message from God was 3-fold:

Gen. 17:5-6 “No longer shall your name be called Abram, But your name shall be Abraham; For I will make you the father of a multitude of nations.  I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you.” (NASB)

Gen. 17: 15-16 “…As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”

Gen. 17:19 “…Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.”

Renamed by God, descendants of Abraham, Sarah and Isaac included the kingdom of the House of David from whom the Messiah would come according to several future prophecies.[7] God included the names of Abraham and Isaac in His introduction when he spoke to the Hebrew nation. Perhaps the greatest recognition of greatness came about 1300 years later when God called Abraham His friend in present tense:

Is 41:8 “But you, Israel, are My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, The descendants of Abraham My friend.” (NKJV)

Isaac would marry Rebekah to whom was born twins, Esau and Jacob. A famine came upon the land and God warned Isaac not to go to Egypt as his father had once done to escape a famine meanwhile assuring Isaac of His blessing:

Gen. 26:3 “Dwell in this land, and I will be with you and bless you; for to you and your descendants I give all these lands, and I will perform the oath which I swore to Abraham your father. And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.”

Living in exile for 20 years hiding from Esau who wanted to kill him for stealing his firstborn birthright blessing, Jacob decided to go back home. Before entering the land of Abraham, Jacob’s family camped at a place called Bethel.[8] That night, Jacob wrestled with a Man who, at the end of the night, said:

Gen. 32:28 “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.”(NKJV)[9]

At peace with Esau, Jacob settled and built a house in the land of Canaan. God later sent Jacob back to Bethel instructing him to build an altar. Returning home, he received another message from God:

Gen. 35: 10-12 “God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall you be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” … “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall spring from you. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.”(NRSV)

Gabriel, the archangel known in Biblical history as the messenger of God, appeared to Daniel to interpret visions. In both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Gabriel reappeared first to Mary, then to Joseph.[10]

Mary was informed she would miraculously conceive a baby by God to be named “Jesus” who would be the promised Messiah. Joseph, Mary’s betrothal, received a similar message from Gabriel telling him that Mary’s surprise pregnancy was by the hand of God and the baby was to be named “Jesus”:

LK 1:26-33 “Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ … ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God.’ And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.’” (NASB)

MT 1:20-21 “…behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (NASB)

In two independent appearances by Gabriel months apart, first to Mary, then to Joseph, neither knew about each other’s message from God. Circumstances of the separate announcements met the standard of Jewish Law requiring two witnesses to confirm a fact – God named Mary’s baby, “Jesus.”[11] What does this say about the fulfillment of God’s promises and the blessings to be associated with the babe God named Jesus?

 

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

[1] Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 1883. Book II, Chapter 4.  <http://philologos.org/__eb-lat/default.htm>
[2] Genesis 12 ; Genesis 12:3. NASB, NKJV, NRSV.
[3] Genesis 25.
[4] CR Genesis 17, 21.
[5] Genesis 16.
[6] Genesis 16, 25; I Chronicles 1. “The 12 Tribes of Ishmael.” Nabatea.net. n.d. <http://nabataea.net/12tribes.html>
[7] “Abraham.”  BBC | Religion. 2009. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/judaism/history/abraham_1.shtml>  “Analysis: Story of Abraham and His Relevance to Islam, Judaism and Christianity.” NPR. 2018. <https://www.npr.org/programs/totn/transcripts/2002/sep/020924.feiler.html>
[8] Genesis 35.
[9] CR Genesis 35. 
[10] Luke 1; Daniel 8, 9. “Uriel.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14606-uriel>  “Gabriel (Archangel).” New World Encyclopedia. 2017. <http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Gabriel_(Archangel)>
[11] Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15; Numbers 35:30. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Sanhedrin 9a. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_9.html> Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Sanhedrin 30a. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_30.html>

Jacob – Relevant to the Messiah?

Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, is far removed from Jesus of Nazareth having lived some 2000 years earlier. How then is Jacob relevant to the Messiah or the story of Jesus of Nazareth?

Knowing how God viewed Jacob is key. First clue are the words of the Voice coming from the burning bush when God introduced Himself to Moses: 

EX 3:6 “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” (NASB)

Moses was hesitant about being sent to confront Pharaoh and deliver the Hebrews from the bondage of Egypt. Moses ventured to ask the Voice what he should say if they asked, “‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”(NIV)  God’s resounding response:

EX 3:14-15I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.” God, furthermore, said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’”. (NASB)

God directly refers to Himself five times in Exodus as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” to whom He made a promise, a covenant which He affirmed to keep.[1] Jesus of Nazareth quoted these words of God saying “… Moses showed in the burning bush passage that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’”(NKJV)[2]

Promises made, promises not forgotten. Appearing first in Genesis and then referenced in the books of Exodus, Deuteronomy, I Chronicles, and Jeremiah, God made the same two-fold promise to each of the three patriarchs: [3]

Gen. 17:5-6 “And your name shall no longer be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. And I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings will emerge from you.” (CJB)

Gen. 26:2-4 The LORD appeared to Isaac and said… your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will fulfill the oath that I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven, and will give to your offspring all these lands; and all the nations of the earth shall gain blessing for themselves through your offspring… (NRSV)

Gen. 35:10-11 God said to him, “Your name is Jacob. Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” And He named him Israel. And God said to him, “I am the Almighty God; be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a multitude of nations shall come into existence from you, and kings shall come forth from your loins.(CJV)

Second big clue demonstrating the significance of Jacob is revealed when God gave him a new name – Jacob would be called Israel, in Hebrew, Yisra’el, meaning “God Prevails.”[4] Israel to this day 4000 years later is the name of the Hebrew nation. Israel’s sons would become known as the fathers of the 12 tribes Israel.[5]

Perhaps the biggest clue that Jacob played a key role in the story of the Messiah are the prophecies themselves. Before Jacob died, he blessed each of his sons and foretold their future.[6] Judah’s blessing was two-fold:

Gen. 49:8-10 Judah, [as for] you, your brothers will acknowledge you. Your hand will be at the nape of your enemies, [and] your father’s sons will prostrate themselves to you. A cub [and] a grown lion is Judah. From the prey, my son, you withdrew. He crouched, rested like a lion, and like a lion, who will rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the student of the law from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him will be a gathering of peoples. (CJV)

Rabbi Rashi, one of Judaism’s most revered scriptural interpreters, identified Shiloh as the “King Messiah, to whom the kingdom belongs” and “the scepter” refers to the royal lineage of “David and thereafter.” [7] According to Rashi, the prophetic blessing of Judah was a pretext to the establishment of the kingdom of David.

“The scepter” reappears over 400 years later in another prophecy tied to Jacob. Moab King Balak, an enemy of Israel, sought to have a curse placed on them by the prophet Balaam. Instead, the response from God through Balaam was the prophecy linked to Jacob, a Star and the Scepter:

Num 24:17 “”I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; a Star shall come out of Jacob; a Scepter shall rise out of Israel, and batter the brow of Moab, and destroy all the sons of tumult.” (NKJV)

Rashi interpreted “the scepter” or “the staff” as referring to King David. “The Star” shooting forth from Jacob he interpreted to mean “As the Targum [Onkelos] renders, an expression similar to ‘He has bent his bow’ (Lam. 2:4), for a star shoots out like an arrow; in old French, destent, as if to say, his good fortune shall rise [prosper].”[8]

Promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were initially fulfilled when Israel conquered the land of Canaan and established a kingdom ruled by King David from the tribe of Judah. [9] The prophet Nathan prophesied to David that his kingdom would become the throne for the kingdom of God forever:

2 Sam 7:12-13  “When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” [10]

Hebrew prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, Ezekiel, Micah and Malachi would add more specific details about the One who would come forth from Jacob.[11] They would include characteristics of the Messiah and predict the circumstances of his birth, life and death.

One more prophecy brought together the promises and predictions made about the house of Jacob. It came from God’s own heavenly messenger, the archangel Gabriel, who announced to Mary:

LK 1:31-33 “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”

Gabriel proclaimed that the promise made to Jacob and the prophecies from the prophets would be fulfilled when Mary would give birth to the Son of God who would be given the throne of David to reign over the house of Jacob forever.

Jacob’s name is woven into the story of the Messiah from start to finish. Where would the promise of the Messiah be without Jacob?

 

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Translations:

NASB: New American Standard Bible
NET: NetBible
NIV: New International Version
NLT: New Living Translation
NKJV: New King James Version
NRSV: New Revised Standard Version

REFERENCES:

[1] Exodus 3:6, 14-16; 4:5; 33:1. NET, NIV, NASB, NLT, NRSV, NKJV.
[2] Matthew 22; Mark 12; Luke 20. CR Matthew 8; Luke 13.
[3] Genesis 50; Exodus 33; Deuteronomy 1, 9, 30; I Chronicles 16; Jeremiah 33.
[4] NetBible.org. Hebrew text. Yisra’el <03478> Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible. n.d <http://lexiconcordance.com/hebrew/3478.html>  CR Isaiah 43, 45.
[5] 2 Kings 17.  “Twelve Tribes of Israel.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/topic/Twelve-Tribes-of-Israel>  Posner, Yecheskel. “12 Tribes of Israel: The Shevatim.” n.d. <https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/3798842/jewish/12-Tribes-of-Israel-The-Shevatim.htm>  “Ancient Jewish History: The Twelve Tribes of Israel.” Jewish Virtual Library. 2018. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-twelve-tribes-of-israel>
[6] Genesis 49.
[7] Gensis 49:10. Rashi commentary. The Compete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/8244#showrashi=true> Mindel, Nissan. “Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki).” <http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/111831/jewish/Rabbi-Shlomo-Yitzchaki-Rashi.htm>  
[8] Numbers 24:17 Rashi commentary. Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/9952#showrashi=true>
[9] 2 Samuel 5; 1 Chronicles 11.  Josephus. Antiquites of the Jews. Book VII, Chapter III.2.  
[10] NASB.  CR I Chronicles 17.
[11] Isaiah 2, 9, 10, 11, 20, 44, 46, 49, 58, 59, 60. Jeremiah 23, 30, 31, 33; Zechariah 3, 6, 12. Ezekiel 39. Micah 5. Malachi 3.