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The Secret Codes in Matthew: Examining Israel’s Messiah, Part 2, by Kevin M. Williams

The penalty for breaking a betrothal covenant by adultery was death.  Looking at outside circumstances, any thinking human being would come to one of two conclusions: either Miriam had been impregnated by another man or Joseph had not waited until the wedding day. In Israeli society, either option was scandalous.

Joseph knew the truth—at least part of the truth. He had no part in the pregnancy, which left him with one earthly conclusion. But his conclusion meant death for Miriam and the child within her.

According to Talmud, “A man who has intercourse with a betrothed girl is subject to the same penalty as one who has intercourse with his mother, namely, stoning.” (Sanhedrin 7:4).

Yet we see a glimpse of Joseph’s compassion, by virtue of the fact that he wished to send her way secretly. This syntax, “to send her away” is legal vocabulary insinuating divorce. It is the same syntax Pharaoh uses in Exodus 12:31 “Then he called for Moses and Aaron by night, and said, “Rise, go out from among my people, both you and the children of Israel. And go, serve the Lord as you have said.” This is the syntax used to give a letter of divorce. In doing so, the whole matter could be handled discretely, Joseph’s reputation might remain untainted and Miriam’s life—and the life of the child—would be spared.

Then comes another miracle:

But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Miriam as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.” And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Miriam as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus. (Matthew 1:20-25).

The angel does not address Joseph as “son of Jacob,” as our genealogy reads (v. 16). Rather he is addressed as “son of David.” The angel’s use of the royal lineage, instead of the patrimonial, is a strong message potentially meant to get Joseph’s spiritual attention. This angel does not see Joseph as merely a common man, but the one through whom the Messiah was promised. Joseph may have been struck with the noble weight with which he was regarded.

The angel then begins quoting prophecies from Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 9:6, 7; and Isaiah 8:10. Unlike Miriam, who quizzed the angel about how this pregnancy could be (Luke 1:34), the angel’s assertions and use of Scripture fully satisfy Joseph. Could this imply that Joseph was a learned man, and not some simple carpenter from Nazareth? Was he familiar enough with the prophet (read regularly in the synagogues at that time), to comprehend the impact of the angel’s words? Miriam saw a literal manifestation, and still needed to be convinced (as does Zechariah in Luke 1). Joseph had a dream, and it was sufficient. It is this author’s opinion that Joseph was learned, and a man of immense, undoubting faith.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Pneuma Review, Summer 2001

About the Author: Kevin M. Williams, Litt.D., H.L.D. has served in Messianic ministries since 1987 and has written numerous articles and been a featured speaker at regional and international conferences on Messianic Judaism.

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