19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.
What a situation Joseph finds himself in. Engaged (betrothed) to Mary a young woman from Nazareth a town in which Joseph also lived. It was not a big city, yet it had a reputation as a wild town. It was sufficiently far enough away from Judea and Jerusalem, that it did not draw the attention of the priests and rulers. It was a town that had originally belong to the one of the 10 tribes of Israel that had been captured by Assyria.
Many of the people had a mixed religion in that it was made up in paganism and Judaism. Nazareth did have a synagogue and Jesus did stand up to read scripture in that synagogue during His ministry. (see Luke 4:16) Despite the reputation Nazareth had Matthew 1:19 says that Joseph was a just man.
The Greek word used means he was strict in his observance of the law. Yet what an example Joseph is. Being strict in the observance of the law yet toward Mary he shows mercy. Mary his betrothed who has become pregnant and Joseph knows it is not his baby.
Joseph could have made a very public scene and publically disgraced this poor woman by placing her on place Mary on trial. Joseph determined to do what was right and quietly divorce her. Jewish law allowed for him to quietly divorce her by declaring she did not please him. This would have allowed Mary to slip away to another community and quietly have the baby without bringing further embarrassment upon herself.
You see, in the eyes of those around Mary would have been considered an adulteress. Being a sin against Joseph he could have publically disgraced Mary. But, Joseph tempered his sense of justice with mercy. (see Matthew 19:3, 8; Mark 10:4 for examples of divorce)
When Adam and Eve sinned, the pre-incarnate Christ could have publically done away with planet earth. Or, He could have divorced himself of planet earth and left it to its own devises. Yet, he tempered his sense of justice with mercy.
Romans 3:23 says. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” And Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus out Lord.” Yet Christ who knew no sin came down and took on the likeness of sinful man. Took sin and mankind’s sinful nature upon himself and suffered and died upon a tree that you and I may be shown Mercy. Mercy that we are not deserving.
Mary being with child out of wedlock broke the law. Joseph, being a just man sought to do what was right. He thought to keep her from further embarrassment and just divorce her, but while he thought of these things verse 20 says, “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream.”