Matthew 1:18-25

Setting and Overview
While Luke 1 tells the story of how Mary learned that she would give birth to Jesus, Matthew 1 tells the story of Joseph learned the news. In Luke 1:26-39, 56, we read how Mary went to stay with Elizabeth for the first three months of her pregnancy, and Matthew 1:18 is likely picking up and telling the story, from Joseph’s point of view, of what occurred when she returned, and Joseph and others learned that she was pregnant.
Joseph and Mary were engaged, which was a more formal and serious step than it is for us today. Jewish women typically got engaged around 13-15 years old, and Jewish men around 16-18. It was expected that the couple’s relationship would be chaste during this time, and if the wife-to-be was unfaithful, then it was adultery, just as it would be if they were already married. Although this was punishable by death under the law, by this time that was rarely actually carried out. We don’t know what, if anything Mary told Joseph when he learned that she was pregnant, but he certainly would have assumed either way that she had been unfaithful, which was understood at the time to negate the possibility of righteous marriage. Instead of pursuing a public divorce, which was the option often pursued to disgrace the wife as punishment, Joseph chooses the merciful route of a private divorce.
While Joseph is considering how to move forward, an angel appears to him in a dream. The angel addressing him as “son of David” reminds us and him of his place in the royal line and the significance of his role. The exhortation to “have no fear” likely refers to the punishment that he would have believed that he would be subject to if he married an unfaithful wife. He is given a simple instruction: move forward with the marriage because Mary has not been unfaithful, and instead will give birth to a son conceived by the Holy Spirit. Further, Joseph is to give him the name of Jesus (equivalent to Joshua or Jeshua.) While Mary is also given the command to give him that name (Luke 1:31), Joseph receiving the same command indicated that he was to raise the child as his son. The angel further gives him the reason for the name: Jesus will save His people from their sins. While Jesus was a popular name at the time since it meant “The LORD saves,” the fact that Jesus would save people from their sins, and not Rome, was a further surprise.
The angel also tells Joseph that the birth of Jesus will fulfill the prophecy given to Ahaz in Isaiah 7:14. Although the Hebrew in Isaiah 7:14 could be understood to be referring just to a young woman, because of the Messianic themes in Isaiah 9:6-7, the Septuagint translated it as “virgin,” which is the word used in Matthew. Taken along with the prophecy of Isaiah 9:6-7 and Matthew’s quote of Isaiah 9:1 in Matthew 4:15-16, as well as the focus on the exile in the genealogy, a Jewish person reading the early chapters of Matthew would like look back to Isaiah 7-9 and read those chapters with a new appreciation and understanding.
Despite the dramatic narrative here, Matthew brings the story to a conclusion with a remarkable simplicity: Joseph believes the angel and does what he is told. In doing so, even though he has no blood relation to Jesus, the royal line passes through him to Jesus, fulfilling what had been prophesied.
Examination and Application
Despite all of the history that he could have looked to in order to see the results of obeying and disobeying God, Ahaz rejected God’s clear instruction and allowed his fear of other nations to dictate his response. The prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 served as a confirming sign of his error: he was afraid of nations that would soon be wiped out, because God is sovereign over even the most powerful nations. Joseph provides us an example of one who was as faithfully obedient as Ahaz was disobedient, who had faith even he had no evidence other than the message from God. As Joseph learned of the fulfillment of the prophecy that proclaims “God with us” we are both offered comfort through that message and challenged to live accordingly. Ahaz feared man because he didn’t believe that God would defend him. Joseph recognized that God was with him and that if he acted in obedience to God, then he had no need to fear anything that man could do. We now bear the name of the one that he raised as his son, and we are expected to live, as Joseph did, as those who know that God is with us.
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