Joseph: Godly Character at Work

One of the great difficulties that may coincidently occur as life’s busyness gets the better of us is that we forget the many people who helped us to become our present selves. I know that not every person’s background is ripe with support or role models, but for many of us, we have become better people by such figures as teachers, coaches, friends, the parents of friends, pastors, and even Sunday school teachers. They may have extended mercy when we were not expecting it. They may have lovingly exacted justice when we most needed it. They may have extended kindness when no one else did. There are as many stories of personal investment as there are trees on the earth. The Bible knows of such an individual who is often forgotten, but whose impact would never be forgotten. Today, I want us to consider Joseph, the husband of Mary.

Joseph was the Lord Jesus’ earthly father. Scripture describes him as a just man, from the lineage of David. But what does it mean that he was a just man? We find Matthew’s Gospel to be most illuminative when trying to understand Joseph’s character. You learn the most about a person when they undergo some hardship. People show you who they are when they are uncomfortable, or sick, or hurting, or in immensely difficult circumstances. Such a situation occurs in the life of Joseph: he finds out that his betrothed wife Mary is with child, and that the baby is not his. In every other instance where such an event has occurred in human history, there has been only one cause: infidelity.

Joseph had every legal right to publicly humiliate this woman and utterly ruin her life. However, Scripture shows us a different story, one that would have been surprising to the characters of the Pharisees, given their treatment of another woman charged with adultery (John 7:53-8:11). The Gospel of Matthew records Joseph’s response to the news of his soon-to-be wife’s alleged infidelity: “And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.” (Matt. 1:19 ESV)

In Joseph, we find the union of truth and love. So often the two are pitted against one another. But here, Scripture frames the two together. In this instance, we find in Joseph the very same traits we’ll find later in his adopted son, Jesus. Joseph honors God’s law and its demand to undo his marriage contract. Here we observe what Matthew coined as Joseph being a “just” man which in Matthew typically points to those who honor God’s law. His law-keeping would not be cold, but merciful as Donald Hagner writes, “Joseph’s plan expresses simultaneously his righteousness and his charitable kindness.” 

The character of God was clearly displayed in Joseph. God spoke of Himself in this way, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6 ESV) Joseph was not quick to wrath, but merciful, even when he was wronged by what appeared to be an unfaithful spouse. He resolved to divorce her, which was righteous given his assumption, but to do so quietly, which was merciful. 

God allowed Joseph to be in this uncomfortable situation to showcase his character and demonstrate his heart for generations to come. God knew what Joseph would do, and could have informed him of the entire situation beforehand but waited until Joseph acted. 

We will never be a step-parent to the Messiah. We will never again have to field a virgin conception. But we will have opportunities to showcase whether or not we reflect God’s character. Are we slow to anger or are we rage-filled hurricanes hoping for someone to set us off? Are we abounding in steadfast-love or is our love fickle and as unstable as the sea? Do we know what it is to cover the shame of another when we’ve been wronged or do we broadcast it publicly through social media or more traditional means? God is watching each act we perform, every word we utter, and our thoughts that no one can hear. Let us therefore seek to reflect Christ our elder brother, who likewise was a just man, but even more than Joseph because He was perfectly righteous, without sin, and constantly seeks out our good and covers our shame.