The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: J

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Joseph a righteous man

What does a "righteous" man do when confronted with the "obvious" sin of another? Does he "righteously" rebuke, and punish the sinner? "To the full extent of the law!"; how often we hear that cry of righteous zeal, or its equivalent, today! A wise man once remarked: "Every man wants justice for others... and mercy for himself. Sometimes God tests our reactions. Are we too quick to pass judgment? Are we eager to stand up for our rights? Are we as eager to cover a sin? We have all known the brother (maybe we see him in the mirror every morning) who is quick to judge, who relishes the role of "the righteous arm of the Lord" in dispensing His judgment, but who is aghast at the suggestion that he can dispense His mercy. "God can forgive, but we do not have that prerogative." "We must make this sinner a public example, so others will be discouraged from doing likewise." "God may have mercy on her, but that is for Him to say, not me."

Joseph was not that sort of man; he was -- "righteous", with all the qualities of strength, decency, and mercy (but none of the harshness and arrogance) that that word implies.

This description seems an intended contrast with two of Joseph's ancestors who are listed in the preceding genealogy of Mat 1:

If the lessons of the genealogy might be pursued a bit further, Joseph was in fact much more like two other of his ancestors:

What options were available to Joseph? The law of Moses outlined three possible courses of action to a wronged husband in Joseph's position. All three are summarized in Deu 22:

Pursuing the first alternative was clearly out of the question. Joseph "did not want to expose her to public disgrace" (Mat 1:19). And so he considered, as the best course of action, a private bill of divorce, after the precedent of either Deu 22:26 or Deu 22:29. Such an action would need only two witnesses, and would bring the least possible reproach upon Mary. This solution would allow her either to bear her illegitimate child in private away from Nazareth, or to marry the father, if possible. Obviously Mary's future well-being was more important to Joseph than his own vindication.

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