18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
In Jewish custom, once the bride and groom were betrothed (or engaged) they were considered legally married. They had made a vow of marriage for some future date, and their word was binding. As was custom, the bride and groom would have a waiting period prior to them coming together as man and wife in which the groom would prepare a place for them to live after they were married. During this time it was the duty of the bride to prepare herself for marriage, and to keep herself pure.
Mary had received a vision and promise from the angel Gabriel that she would bear a child by the Holy Spirit (see Luke 1:26-38). After this she went and visited her cousin Elizabeth to discuss the news and also to congratulate Elizabeth on her pregnancy (see Luke 1:39-45). Mary stayed with Elizabeth for 3 months and afterward returned home. It is now that Joseph discovers her pregnancy. We are not told how he finds out, but the only people who knew about the miraculous conception were Mary, Elizabeth and her husband, and possibly Mary’s parents whom she lived with. Mary may have met with Joseph to explain what had happened. In any case, Joseph had a decision to make.
In verse 19 we read that Joseph was faithful to the law. He was a man who desired to uphold God’s decrees and he was as of yet not made assured that the Holy Spirit was actually involved. He must have loved Mary, or at least respected her, because he did not want to disgrace her in public. So as the law stated, Joseph decided to divorce her quietly (Deut. 22). Verse 20 says that Joseph ‘considered’ what he had planned to do. The word in the Greek means to revolve in the mind, or to ponder. He must have thought long and hard about what he was about to do, and it was after he had come to the best decision that the angel of the Lord appeared to him in his dream.
This messenger confirmed to Joseph what he had heard about the Holy Spirit, and indeed the child was miraculous. The angel tells him to not be afraid of taking Mary as his wife. Again, we learn that Joseph must have loved Mary and wanted to take her as his wife even despite her pregnancy, but he was faithful to the law and wanted to obey God over his love for her. He gets confirmation that this is God’s will and that he will be an integral part of raising this child. Joseph will have the honor of naming the child. In Jewish tradition the naming of a child would foretell some part of what that child would achieve or embody. There was, and still is, a significant meaning behind the name given to a person.
In Genesis 2:19 the first man, Adam, has the task of naming each animal, and he named them according to their purpose. The donkey, for example, is characterized by carrying heavy, physical burdens. So in Hebrew, the donkey is named chamor – from the same root as chomer, which means materialism. What a prophetic message Joseph received from the angel! The baby was to be named Jesus, a form of the name Joshua which means Yahweh is salvation. The Jews were scholars of the Tanakh (what we call the Old Testament), and would have been seeking the prophet who was to come and ‘save’ the people. Many did not understand that this prophet was not coming to save them from the rule of human oppressors, but to save them from the wrath of God. How amazing it is that the angel clarifies this during the presentation of the name to Joseph!
Matthew inserts in verses 22 & 23 a note about how prophecy was fulfilled by the naming of the child – remember Matthew is writing mainly to Jews to prove that Christ was the messiah. The reference to prophecy comes from Isaiah 7:14 “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son,and will call him Immanuel.” Notice that in the Isaiah passage the child’s name would be Immanuel, but here we see that his name will be Jesus. It takes both names to really understand the importance of who he will be. Immanuel means ‘God with us’ and Jesus means ‘Yahweh is salvation’. Yahweh is the name given by God himself to Moses in the burning bush when Moses asks who is speaking to him. God says, “I Am who I Am” – meaning I am something and have always been, never changing, always the same. So when the angel tells Joseph that his name is to be Yahweh, this would confirm that God will be with them, in the flesh . And not only that, but he will bring salvation (something that the Jews knew all to well that they could not achieve on their own).
As we have stated, Joseph was a man who desired to obey God, and upon awakening he did just that. He trusted the message from the angel of the Lord and continued with the betrothal taking Mary as his wife. However, he did not consummate the marriage until after the child was born and named that very special name.