The Birth of The King
Vs. 18 – Matthew begins to describe how Jesus birth took place. He makes it clear that Mary and Joseph’s relationship was in the betrothal phase and that this was prior to any sexual activity (i.e. “before they came together”). Betrothal was similar to what we would consider “engaged” in our country, though, it was much more legally complex under Rabbinical Law (see verse 19 below). Matthew states that she was found to be with child and then explains that the child was “of the Holy Spirit.” Luke tells us that an angel appeared to Mary and explained to her, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). We ought not to think of Mary’s conception as something carnal as taught by the Mormons. On the contrary, her conception was miraculously accomplished by the power of God.
Vs. 19 – No doubt it was a bit of a shock for Joseph to find this out. Mary, being the innocent woman that she was, would not have been expected by Joseph to behave in the normal way in which pregnancy generally results. But one could hardly argue with such evidence and so he proceeded to divorce her. We don’t know much regarding the conversation that took place between Joseph and Mary. One could imagine Joseph’s incredulity upon hearing Mary’s claim that this was God’s doing, but the scriptures don’t speak regarding those details. He evidently assumed the worse.
Matthew calls Jospeph Mary’s “husband” in lieu of the betrothal. In betrothal, one was considered legally bound to one’s future mate and a formal declaration of divorce had to be obtained to dissolve the relationship. Such could be obtained publicly to the shame and embarrassment of the one being put away; however, Joseph chose not to do that, but instead, he was minded to handle the matter privately, indicating his respect for Mary and her family, and also a godly attitude. It showed that Joseph did love her (Proverbs 17:9) and that he was indeed a “just” man.
Vs. 20 – Joseph was evidently preoccupied with the whole affair because Matthew tells us that he gave it some deliberation, i.e. he thought about it. I’m not sure that any fiance wouldn’t have thought about it, but Joseph evidently gave it much consideration. It was while he was so engaged in considering it that the angel appeared to him “in a dream.” The word for “dream” in this verse is used exclusively by Matthew in the New Testament. Verse twenty-four tells us he was sleeping. Was this a nap or did it come to him in the night? I’m not sure we can tell. The natural thing would be to assume it was a dream during the course of the night. One often finds relief in sleep during difficult periods in one’s life. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch of the imagination to suggest that Joseph, being distressed by this situation, sought temporary solace in this manner. The bed of a young man with such troubles often softens such boisterous thoughts. Thus, having thought on these things he slept and dreamed.
The word “angel” literally means “messenger,” but has been transliterated by our translators to distinguish a heavenly sent messenger from an earthly one. There are occasions where the word is transliterated in the New Testament when perhaps it should not be, but usually the word is used to refer to heavenly messengers. It is clear in this text that this was a heavenly messenger being described as an “angel of the Lord.” The message of this messenger follows.
The messenger reminds Joseph that he is a son of David; he is in the royal lineage. This reminder opens Joseph’s mind to the possibility that God indeed was telling him something as it was not unheard of in Israel for God to so communicate with royalty. Moreover, many were in expectation of the coming of the Messiah at this time and Joseph, no doubt, would have known of such discussions. Reminding him of his lineage reminds him of God’s promise that the Messiah would indeed come through David and this was wholly acknowledged in his day (Matthew 22:42-45).
Joseph was not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. Why would he have had reason to fear? One has much to fear from an unchaste woman: disease, infidelity, psychological problems, and in Joseph’s day, the stigma of shame that one might receive from one’s family should such a thing be known. Joseph may also have been concerned about the potential presumption that he, Joseph, may have been the offending party. But happily, such fears were unwarranted in this case.
At the end of verse twenty, the angel here reiterates what Matthew has already told us. See comments on vs. 18 above.
Vs. 21- The message also contained the promise of Mary’s Son’s birth and the name by which He was to be called, “Jesus.” In Hebrew the name is “Joshua.” It means, “God saves.” The messenger also tells us the thing from which the people would be saved, namely, their sins and so He did (Matthew 26:28, 1 Corinthians 15:3, Galatians 1:4, Ephesians 5:2, 1 Peter 2:24).
The “people” that are referred to in this particular verse are the Jewish people, that is, “His people.” But we know that it was God’s plan to save not only the Jews, but also the Gentiles (Romans 1:16). Matthew’s mentioning salvation for Jesus’ people testifies as to the unique Jewish character of the account.
Vs. 22 – We need not suppose that the angel’s message continues here as Matthew interposes some editorial comments at this point. He explains to us that this was done to fulfill prophecy. Matthew, more than any other accountant of the gospel story, tells us of more prophecies fulfilled by Jesus. Another sign that the flavor of his account was to engage the Jewish mind. The prophecies that Matthew cites are convincing proof that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. Isaiah is, of course, the prophet under consideration now through which the Lord spoke. Matthew confirms what Peter explicitly states that it was God who moved through these prophets to speak the things that they uttered (2 Peter 2:20, 21). The word “prophet” is another word that has been transliterated from the Greek language. It literally means one who speaks forth or a foreteller. The Hebrew equivalent means “to bubble forth.” While we normally consider “prophecy” to be related to events of the future, the word may encompass anything spoken by God’s authority whether it relates to the future, past, or present. In this case, of course, the prophet spoke of future events.
Vs. 23 – Matthew quotes from Isaiah 7:14. This is perhaps one of the great controversies in the religious world. Many suggest that the Hebrew “Almah” simply means young woman and thus deny the force of the prophecy. Matthew, however, clearly understands Isaiah to be speaking regarding a virgin (Greek: “parthenos”). Matthew, himself being a Hebrew, would be in a position to know what the Hebrew word “Almah” meant and he makes his understanding clear. The Septuagint (LXX), a translation composed prior to and independently of the New Testament writers, confirms Matthew’s understanding of the word by using the Greek word “parthenos” in Isaiah 7:14. There is no reason to translate “Almah” as “young woman” in Isaiah 7:14 except to prejudicially deny what Matthew affirms. Indeed, a virgin, Mary, did conceive, by power of the Holy Spirit; a Son was born, Jesus, and He was, in fact, God in human form (Isaiah 9:6, Titus 2:13).
Matthew, in a parenthetical statement, explains to the Greek reader what the Hebrew word “Immanuel” means, “God with us.” It is not sufficient to believe that Jesus was anything less than God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. John affirms such in John 1:1. Jesus himself affirmed, “Before Abraham was born, ‘I AM'” (John 8:58). Paul also states clearly that Jesus is God the creator (Colossians 1:15-17). Peter too, in 2 Peter 1:1, states that Jesus is “God and our Savior.” The divinity of Christ is one of the central tenets of Christianity; those who deny it, deny the gospel.
Vs. 24 – Joseph was no fool. Now that he realized the truth of Mary’s circumstance, he obeyed the heavenly message and took Mary as his wife; he forewent the divorce and finalized the betrothal by marrying her.
The expression “took his wife” we must understand to mean as they married one another. It is interesting to note here that this passage makes it clear that one does not need to “consummate” a marriage in order to be married. Joseph and Mary were 100% married though Joseph did not know Mary (sexually) until after Jesus birth.
Vs. 25 – Joseph respected the situation. While the two were married, they did not have carnal knowledge of one another until after Jesus was born. The word “until” signifies that he did know her in this way after Jesus’ birth. This is a clear refutation of the Catholic doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity. Again we find Joseph obedient to the heavenly messenger. He named Mary’s (and God’s) Son, Jesus as commanded.
In chapter we will see how Matthew answers the question of how Jesus fulfilled all prophecies concerning his locative origins and came to be of Nazareth.