Title: Joseph’s Story
Text: Matthew 1:18-25
Joseph was betrothed to Mary, which in that place and time was a process of about a year in length. During that time, the couple was legally married, but their union could not be consummated. During this time, the woman would normally continue living with her parents, and after the appropriate time had expired, she would move to her husband’s house to begin their lives as husband and wife and consummate their marriage.
Since they were legally married, even though they were not living together, the only way this betrothal could be broken was by the death of one of the parties, or by a legal divorce. When our story picks up, Joseph has just found out that Mary is pregnant. Joseph does not know who the father of her child is, but he does know who the father is not. OK, so you are Joseph: What would you do?
Being a righteous man, Joseph recognizes that his betrothed has committed adultery, and that the Law prescribes what must come next. Being a compassionate man, he doesn’t want to initiate formal proceedings and bring Mary to disgrace, so he resolves to present her with a bill of divorce quietly, in front of two witnesses, rather than have formal proceedings, which technically would have her facing a capital crime.
With this all bouncing around in his mind, God steps in.
A messenger of God comes to Joseph and explains the situation (vv. 20-21) telling him that the child has come from the Holy Spirit of God. All of this takes place in a dream and then Joseph awakens. Verses 24 and 25 tell us that Joseph believed this and did as he was instructed, taking Mary into his house, and when the son was born, naming him Jesus; we are also told that Joseph and Mary did not consummate their marriage until after Jesus was born. It’s all well and good for us to read this and accept it without much more thought, but we also know how the story of Jesus ends, so the news that He was the Son of God is already a given in our minds, but what about Joseph? Every December we hear sermons and stories about the great faith of Mary, while Joseph is only mentioned in passing. Clearly, Mary’s faith was amazing, but it always strikes me that Joseph’s was even greater. Maybe it is because I’m a man, but Joseph was still faced with a rather significant choice here; what if that was just a regular old dream and not an angel coming to deliver a message?
Remember: Mary knew she was still a virgin; Joseph only knew he wasn’t the father of her child.
Whatever thoughts and lingering doubts may have been in his mind, Joseph did as he was instructed, and Jesus was of the royal line of David by adoption.
Some might be thinking here that Mary was also of David’s line as seen in Luke’s genealogy, and that would appear to be true. However, Mary was a descendant of David through David’s son Nathan, while Joseph was of David’s line through King Solomon, and the throne was passed down to and through Solomon, not Nathan, thus any claim Jesus would have had to the throne of David, would have been through His adoption by Joseph which, by the way, would be perfectly legal.
Much more important than any claim to the throne at that time, was the fact that Jesus’ actual father was God, and His unique status as royal heir and Son of God will continue to play a major part in his early years that are discussed in the next chapter.
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
As a Christian reading this verse as translated in the NIV, and then seeing Matthew’s reference to it in Matthew 1:22-23, it is very easy to say that this is really cool, and then just keep on going. If we do that, we miss something that is both problematic and fascinating. Here is Matthew’s statement:
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
This is the first time Matthew cites the fulfillment by Jesus of an Old Testament prophecy, but scholars have struggled with it for centuries because the original Hebrew of Isaiah doesn’t exactly say what we have just read. In fact, there really isn’t any record of a messianic interpretation of this verse prior to Matthew. There are two reasons for this: First, as I mentioned, the Hebrew doesn’t quite say anything about a virgin, for the Hebrew word Isaiah used was “’almah” which means a young woman of marriageable age; she may or may not still be a virgin. This ambiguity is important to us because Mary’s virginity is the point of the exercise in our Matthew passage.
The second problem for scholars is the fact that this verse falls within the larger context set in Isaiah 7:1-2:
When Ahaz son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it.
Now the house of David was told, “Aram has allied itself with Ephraim”; so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.
Here’s what happens in Isaiah 7: The kings of Syria and Israel (Northern Kingdom) join in league together to oppose the Assyrians. They ask King Ahaz of Judah (Southern Kingdom) to join with them, but he refuses, so they march on Jerusalem to dethrone him and put a favorable king on the throne (Is. 7:6). God dispatches Isaiah to Jerusalem to tell Ahaz that the two kings will fail if Ahaz will believe God (Is. 73-9). Ahaz doesn’t take Isaiah’s advice, and even considers an alliance with the Assyrians (cf. 2 Kings 16:5, 7; Is. 7:17). The Lord sends Isaiah to Ahaz a second time, this time offering to give Ahaz a sign so that he will believe God, and once again Ahaz refuses (Is. 7:10-12). In 7:14, God, who through Isaiah, gives him a sign anyway.
The sign God gave Ahaz in 7:14 that Matthew quotes is explained further in Isaiah 7:16:
for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.
The prophet goes on to explain that their lands will be laid waste by the king of Assyria, which is what happened, and Ahaz and his kingdom were saved from the threat. Thus, it probably never occurred to Isaiah, or anyone else for that matter, that the son of 7:14 was the future Messiah at all; that is until Matthew got it.
What Matthew saw was a broader meaning that applied to the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises; consider the larger context of Isaiah 7-11: It is full of the theme of exile (7:18-25; 8:1-10, 19-22) right beside the theme of God’s presence (Immanuel, 8:8, 10) and the clear promise of a great son of David (9:6-7; 11:1). What Matthew understood was that there may well have been a fulfillment in Isaiah’s time of certain prophetic promises, and that those early fulfillments might very well foreshadow an ultimate fulfillment by the Person of Jesus Christ, which is an important concept for us to keep in mind as we go forward in his Gospel.
This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham: (1:1)
Matthew begins with this verse full of content and contextual implications. It would seem that Matthew is intent on linking the story of Jesus to the larger context of Israel’s history. Notice his reference to “the genealogy of” in language which in the original Greek parallels that of the Septuagint in Gen. 2:4 and 5:1, alongside the names of David and Abraham, two of Israel’s most illustrious heroes. That Matthew uses the terms “Jesus the Messiah” (or Jesus Christ) makes it quite clear that this son of David is special (cf. 2:4; 16:16, 20; 22:42; 24:5, 23; 26:63, 68). In putting the personal name together with the messianic concept, Matthew is referring back to the hopes of an entire Nation.
With the reference “son of David” our author is hearkening back to the glory days of his people and God’s covenant promises concerning the Davidic royal house, David may well be considered the pivotal name in the genealogy for it is mentioned 5 times, and is the only name associated with the title of “king” (v. 6), singling him out of all other royal references as the greatest. Many scholars also point out the presence of the numerical value associated with the Hebrew numeric consonants. For the name David the numerics look like this: d (4) w (6) d (4) or 4 + 6 + 4 = 14. The number 14 is the number of David to be sure, but here it appears that, as some suggest, it has more meaning than that, for it is also arrived at by multiplying 2 X 7. Seven, as we saw in our study of Revelation, is the number of completeness or perfection. Jesus is the second Person of the godhead. Thus, some suggest that 14 is the number of Messiah, and when you compare that to David, and recall that the Messiah would be the son of David, these scholars conclude their case.
As for me personally, I don’t know who is right or wrong about the numbers, but in noticing how often the number 14 appears here, and remembering how the ancient Jews felt about numbers, it appears to me that at the least, Matthew is trying in every way possible to make sure that his readers get “son of David” and “Messiah” out of this discussion.
For our study right now, ask yourself a question: Since Jesus became heir to the throne of David by the adoption of Joseph, how might things have turned out differently had Joseph not obeyed the instruction he received from the angel of the Lord in that dream of his?