And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things… Matthew 1:19 – 20a.
We don’t know what the conversation was like; we don’t know what Mary said to Joseph about the visit by the angel Gabriel (Luke Chapter One) and we don’t know when Mary said whatever she said. We don’t know how Joseph responded. Of course we can imagine, we can put ourselves in their places, we can have some sense of the feelings, the emotions, the fears, the questions, the hurt; but we don’t really know.
I think that the description of Joseph considering the situation, considering what Mary said to him, her explanation of her pregnancy; I think his consideration of her character, of everything he knew about her, placed him in a conundrum. On the one hand, how was he to think about the idea of a virgin becoming pregnant; on the other hand everything he knew about Mary told him that she was not a liar, that she was righteous, that she feared and served the true and living God.
This reminds me of Peter and Susan and Lucy in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Peter and Susan could not believe that Lucy had actually gone through the wardrobe into another land. Finally they went to the Professor for counsel. What were they to think of Lucy and her claim? The Professor asked them to consider Lucy’s character. Had she ever lied? Was she deceitful? Was she trustworthy? Was she faithful? The Professor’s point was that if Lucy had always been truthful and trustworthy then it was likely she was still truthful and trustworthy no matter how outlandish her claim. I think Joseph may well have been engaged in the Professor’s logic regarding Mary.
Note that Joseph was unwilling to put her to shame. I think that even if Joseph thought that Mary had been unfaithful that he would have been unwilling to put her to shame, for such was the character of the man who was chosen to be the earthly father of the Son of God. This was not a clear-cut case, there were things here to be considered. And in the midst of Joseph’s consideration an angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream.
Now why didn’t the angel come to Joseph months before? Why didn’t an angel appear to Joseph simultaneously as Gabriel was appearing to Mary? Wouldn’t that have perhaps avoided angst, heartache, hurt, and questioning? Wouldn’t it have saved Joseph the soul-searching? Wouldn’t it have enabled Joseph to avoid his own character check, as well as his own gut check on Mary’s character? Wouldn’t an angelic visitation early on have smoothed the relational way for Joseph and Mary? Wouldn’t it have reduced the relational risk?
Well, I really don’t know the “whys” of my questions. I don’t understand the timing of these things. What I do know is that whatever happened above and beyond what we actually know from the Biblical text brought Joseph to the place where he was considering these things, and to the place where he could see and hear an angel of the Lord.