Joseph was a righteous man. That is what Matthew 1:19 says about the earthly father of Jesus. But what is righteousness and what do righteous men do? Oh, I know all the definitions of righteousness, but what does righteousness look like, how do righteous people act?
Joseph, engaged to a young teenage girl in Nazareth, was probably busily building their future home imagining the day when he would wed her and take her to their new home as his wife; when she broke the news to him. She was pregnant. The news shocked him. All of his thoughts of a future, a family, a life dashed upon the rocks of this news. Her explanation was outlandish, she claimed she was pregnant by God’s Holy Spirit and the child she would bear would be the Son of God! This may not be the first time a young girl in Nazareth has come up pregnant, but it is the first for such a contrived story as this.
The consequences for such blatant sin would be stoning to death and Joseph would lead this execution of God’s justice. But Joseph is a righteous man. He not only contains within him a deep sense of reverence for God and His law, but also a compassionate heart for mercy. So the scriptures state that Joseph intended to divorce Mary quietly in order to avoid the wrath of execution because he loved her and deeply desired to show her compassion.
This is where righteous people live…between an abiding respect for God’s justice and a heart filled with God’s love and compassion. Righteousness is living within these two poles, in the tension of justice and mercy. Righteous people desperately crave God’s wisdom and discernment while remembering as James says in 2:13, “Mercy triumphs over judgment!”
So Joseph shows us the path of righteousness and in the end enjoys the privilege of providing for and raising God’s one and only son. What a privilege God gives His righteous ones!