by Al Maxey

Issue #81 ------- October 31, 2003
As the family goes, so goes the nation, and
so goes the whole world in which we live.

--- Pope John Paul II (b. 1920)


Joseph Contemplates Divorce
Righteous Responses to Ruined Relationships

In any survey and study of the Gospel records, one soon encounters a young couple named Joseph and Mary. These two were betrothed to one another, or "pledged to be married" [Matthew 1:18]. Although some have equated this state of betrothal with the more modern period of engagement, the two are actually quite dissimilar. To the mind of the ancient Jew, a betrothal was perceived as being far more binding than the engagements of our present day and age.

In the presence of witnesses, the contractual terms of the marriage were jointly accepted. God's blessing was formally pronounced upon the union. From that moment forward, the two were regarded as husband and wife, although they would not yet live together, nor would the marriage be consummated through sexual union. A covenant had been entered into between the man and woman, nevertheless certain privileges and responsibilities associated with that covenant were reserved for future fulfillment.

During the betrothal, sexual infidelity constituted a far more serious offense than a mere act of fornication by one who was single. It was a violation of a sacred covenant between a man and woman. In the presence of God they had vowed to one another to remain pure and chaste until the time of the wedding festivities. A breach of promise carried with it severe consequences for the faithless party, up to and including death. Termination of a state of betrothal, regardless of the cause, was regarded as equivalent to a divorce.

The church, which is the bride of Christ, is presently in the betrothal phase of her relationship with the Bridegroom, awaiting the great eternal wedding feast that will one day occur when the Lord returns to claim His bride and take her home to live with Him. As His betrothed, we have an obligation to keep ourselves pure and chaste [Ephesians 5:25-27]. The apostle Paul wrote, "I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to Him" [2 Corinthians 11:2]. In the next verse, Paul shared one of his greatest concerns: That the betrothed of Christ, His church, might at some point be seduced away from the purity and sincerity of her devotion to the Bridegroom. Should the bride of Christ defile herself with worldly lovers during this time of preparation for the wedding festivities, the result could well be an eternal separation from the Groom.

With this background information in mind, Joseph and Mary are presented in Scripture as betrothed to be married, "but before they came together (i.e., before they had sexual relations with one another), she was found to be with child" [Matthew 1:18]. Although the passage goes on to explain she was with child "through the Holy Spirit," Joseph did not immediately possess this information. Initially, his assessment of the situation was very basic and incontrovertible: Mary was pregnant and he was not the father. What other possible conclusion could be drawn than his beloved had been unfaithful to her vows, to him, and to her God? One can only imagine the hurt and confusion this situation must have generated within the heart of Joseph.

Being a righteous man, it would not have been proper for him to marry a woman impregnated by another man during their betrothal. Therefore, Joseph "had in mind to divorce her quietly" [Matthew 1:19]. Decades later the apostle Paul would write, "what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness?" [2 Corinthians 6:14]. Undoubtedly, Joseph, like Paul, understood that those desiring to live righteously before their God could not be yoked together with those who willfully transgressed His Law. Mary's unexpected pregnancy certainly seemed to indicate that she did not share Joseph's righteous resolve. Therefore, the latter deemed it necessary to dissolve the union.

Joseph, being a righteous man, faced this distressing situation in a most admirable manner. It was his determination to "divorce her quietly." Had Joseph's character been less godly, he could easily have publicly shamed and defamed his seemingly faithless bride-to-be. After all, he might well reason, had she not brought shame and disgrace upon him by her sexual infidelity and her subsequent pregnancy? Why should he not display the same lack of concern for her that she had seemingly displayed for him? It was even within Joseph's legal right to demand that Mary be stoned to death for her sin against him [Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22; John 8:3-5].

Instead of exacting vengeance, or returning hurt for hurt, Joseph determined to simply end the relationship quickly and quietly. According to one translation, his resolve was to "put her away secretly" [NASB]. Why was Joseph so intent upon keeping this matter private? Because "he did not want to expose her to public disgrace" [Matthew 1:19]. He could have ruined her; he could have destroyed her; left her with nothing ... but he was too godly to behave in such a manner, even though she was perceived to be an adulteress. This insight into the heart of Joseph comes from the Greek word deigmatizo, a word used only here and in Colossians 2:15, which means "to make a public example or spectacle of." Even though Mary had seemingly violated their covenant and betrayed his faith in her, Joseph was simply unwilling to inflict a harsh retribution upon her in return. Such was the abundant nature of his love for her! How utterly different from so many today, who will seek to destroy their partner with a vengeance, "taking them to the cleaners," and leaving them destitute and in the depths of despair. Such attitudes and actions find their source in Satan, not in God. Those who give in to such behavior will pay dearly for it on the day of final judgment before the throne of God.

Joseph realized Mary's apparent unfaithfulness made it impossible for him, being a righteous man, to proceed with the upcoming wedding festivities. The betrothal would have to be terminated; a divorce would have to be sought. Nevertheless, his deep devotion to her made cruel, harsh, retributive actions inconceivable on his part. He would divorce her, but he would NOT destroy her! This attitude of heart speaks volumes about this great man of faith; a man who would soon become a godly example to the young Jesus during His early, formative years. God had certainly chosen the earthly father-figure for His Son well, for in this humble carpenter we truly catch a glimpse of a heart focused upon the divine IDEAL in interpersonal relationships, even when those relationships are strained ... or even severed.

Although the future looked bleak for this young couple, Scripture records a much brighter outcome than at first seemed inevitable. The divorce, of course, never occurred, for "an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.' When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave Him the name Jesus" [Matthew 1:20-21, 24-25].

Several great lessons are taught in the account of the relationship between Joseph and Mary. Clearly conveyed is the truth that God desires His people to live lives of righteousness, and for anyone to contemplate a life-long union with one not devoted to the pursuit of such a lifestyle would be to invite disaster. In the case before us, Mary was not actually guilty of the indiscretion of which Joseph suspected her. Had she been, however, he would have been entirely justified in terminating the relationship. Although God takes no pleasure in divorce, He takes even less delight in His people joining themselves together with those whose hearts are committed to the world and whose actions are characterized by carnality. When a man finds he is married to a whore, as determined by her actions and attitudes, he is entirely justified before his God in putting this faithless wretch away. In today's godless society, however, it is often the faithless whore who prospers at the expense of the husband she victimized when she violated her vows. Too frequently such unfaithfulness is rewarded, through the maneuverings of a perverted "justice" system, by reducing the husband, against whom she played the harlot, to absolute destitution. Had God and faithless Israel appeared before the courts of our nation today, Israel would likely have taken God "to the cleaners" and forced Him to give her half His kingdom!!! Ahhhhh, the "wisdom" of this world!! What a mockery!! What a travesty of justice!!

We also learn from this historical event that even should a divorce prove necessary, the offended party is not thereby given license to act cruelly and vindictively toward the guilty party. Joseph certainly appeared to be the innocent, injured party in this situation, but he refused to display anything other than a charitable, merciful spirit. To inflict injury upon another, simply because one has been injured by them, to reduce one's former partner to perpetual destitution and despair out of sheer spitefulness, falls far short of the example and nature of our God. Joseph reflected the heart of the Lord in his proposed resolution of his relationship difficulties with Mary, even though she was perceived as having committed adultery. In so doing, Joseph serves as a shining beacon to all of mankind. Those with the heart of the Lord will not seek to destroy their former partner, even if that partner was faithless. Rather, even when wronged, they will display mercy and fairness. This is how Christians behave!! You won't get this kind of advice from a team of lawyers, but you WILL get this kind of advice from God's Word!! Which advice you follow will speak volumes about who you are .... and whose you are!

What a beautiful example we find in Joseph. Oh how desperately men and women need to heed that godly example today in their dealings with one another. What misery and destruction could be avoided if only men and women would display the heart of Christ. Heaven and Hell are weighed in the balance in our dealings with one another; life and death are in our hands. How tragic it will be to witness precious persons cast into the lake of fire simply because they chose to follow the prince of this world in their effort to destroy another person, and "take them to the cleaners." Yes, one may gain the whole world, but at what price? If in gaining the world you forfeit your life, you have truly gained nothing!

Those of you who may be going through the trauma of failing covenants of marriage, I urge you ... I plead with you ... to consider this one admonition: Remember Joseph! Your life may well depend upon it.

Reflections from Readers

From a Reader in Tennessee:

When I get to work in the morning, I like to see if you have any new Reflections on your site! Your article on "Samuel, Saul and the Witch" was great. I agree with you on this subject. I do not believe that the "soul" of Samuel came forth and appeared unto Saul. I believe that it was a lying spirit or a demonic force. I think what we have is a situation similar to the one found in 1 Kings 22:20-23. God sent a lying spirit (lying angel) to deceive Ahab. Did God send a lying spirit to speak to the witch of Endor? Maybe, maybe not. But it definitely was NOT the "soul" of Samuel!! Thanks so much for your efforts, Al! Have a great day, brother!!

From a Reader in Washington:

Al, Thanks for the ministry you do. I am so sorry that folks are now using "Apostate Al" as if it were your legal name. I just pray that folks will start to realize that what we do for 2 hours on a Sunday morning shouldn't define us as Christ's people, but rather the other hundred or so hours during the week where we have to be around people that aren't Christians ... that's where our true faith is shown. I seriously doubt that when some of our legalistic brethren are driving behind a slow person on the highway they are being calm and yelling "Jesus Loves You!" out their windows.

From a Reader in Australia:

One cannot have a concept of immediate continuing life after death except one believes Satan's lying promise to Eve: "Thou shalt not surely die." A dangerous position, I would think. In the creation, man had conditional immortality provided he ate of the tree of life. This immortality would cease the moment he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. "Dying thou shalt die." By eating of this tree, man lost his conditional immortality. He would die and remain dead forever except the redemption price be paid and a subsequent resurrection be put in place. It is this resurrection we are to look forward to, not death, in order to go and live forever with Christ (1 Cor. 15).

From a Reader in Michigan:

Your study on the witch of Endor is one of the most insightful studies I have ever seen on the subject. Sometimes I learn more from your questions than I do anything else! You really know how to make your readers think, and for that I am so grateful.

From a Reader in (Unknown):

Your web site is interesting and your articles stimulating for deeper Bible study. Very encouraging in this age of biblical ignorance and neglect. Keep uplifting Jesus Christ!

From a Reader in Arkansas:

I would like to receive the weekly Reflections writings. A Christian brother of mine told me about them and how he enjoyed them. Grace and Peace from our Lord.

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