Welcome to the first encounter most people have with Jesus’ birth narrative: Matthew 1: 18-25.
While Joseph and Mary were betrothed, she got pregnant. Betrothal was a pretty serious deal back then. So serious, in fact, that in order to cancel the betrothal, one had to have divorce documents signed, and if it so happened that one member of the couple died, the other would get the widow/widower status. In common understanding, they were basically legally married but hadn’t yet consummated the marriage. It’s also important to keep in mind that this was not some marriage of love, at least not yet. They probably didn’t even know each other outside of a couple meetings surrounded by family. Thus, when Joseph finds out about the pregnancy, he’s sad and disappointed, but he’s a good guy so he decides to end it quietly so the whole village doesn’t come out wielding the stones if you know what I mean.
So, that’s Joseph’s plan until he dreams that an angel says it’s God’s fault she got pregnant. It’s interesting to note that the story doesn’t actually say she didn’t have sex, but that the ‘child was conceived in her from the Holy Spirit’. Now, it’s clear from verse 23 that the implication was that she didn’t have sex, but if that type of language were used today, it could easily be interpreted to mean that she made a mistake, but God could still use it for good.
Matthew, as a devout Jew, and who just previously pronounced the great perfection of the Messiah, steps out of the gate with a story that confirms one of the believed prophecies of the Messiah, that he would be born of a virgin, and that his name would be Emmanuel… wait… his name would be what now?
Jesus is the Hebrew Yeshua and it means ‘Yahweh saves’, which makes sense in light of what the angel says next about Jesus’ saving people from their sins. However, Jesus is not Emmanuel, which means ‘God with us’. Not Yahweh with us, but ‘El’ or the Most High, not always the same thing in Hebraic history. So, we kind of glean over this inconsistency and most people today just assume that Emmanuel is one of Jesus’ many names, but it’s literally not. That’s not how prophecy works, right? The prophecy says the guy’s name would be Bill, and your name is Larry, but we’ll just say your name is also Bill so it fits. Nothing wrong with that right? Seems fishy.
Anyway, the story ends with Joseph listening to his dream angel and staying married to Mary. He didn’t even have sex with her until after the birth, and probably a little while after that. Not sure why, but there it is.
So, what is Matthew’s purpose in telling us this story? Why, to present us with the second confirmation of Jesus’ fitting the prophecy of the Messiah, of course. Not only is he descended from David, but he was born of a virgin! (Let’s not talk about the name thing). I hope his other proofs are a bit more spot on than this one, am I right? Either way, it seems pretty clear that so far, Matthew is pretty obsessed with showing his Jewish readers that Jesus fits the known prophecies of the Messiah.
Grace and Peace to you all.