Matthew 1:19. Joseph her husband, being a just [or righteous ] man That is, as many understand it, a strict observer of the law, and of the customs of his ancestors, and therefore not judging it right to retain her under these circumstances. But the following words, and not willing to make her a public example, seem manifestly to lead to another and even an opposite sense of the word here rendered just, or righteous. Hence some interpret the clause thus: Joseph, being a good-natured, merciful, and tender- hearted man, was unwilling to go to the utmost rigour of the law, but chose rather to treat her with as much lenity as the case allowed. But, Dr. Doddridge very well observes, it is without any good reason that δικαιος should be here rendered merciful or good-natured, because, “if we consider the information which Joseph might have received from persons of such an extraordinary character as Zachariah and Elizabeth, who would certainly think themselves obliged to interpose on such an occasion, and whose story so remarkably carried its own evidence along with it; besides the intimation the prophecy of Isaiah gave, and the satisfaction he undoubtedly had in the virtuous character of Mary herself; we must conclude that he would have acted a very severe and unrighteous part, had he proceeded to extremities without serious deliberation; and that putting her away privately would, in these circumstances, have been the hardest measure which justice would have suffered him to take. It seems the expression, παραδειγματισαι , here rendered to make her a public example, “may perhaps refer to that exemplary punishment which the law inflicted on those who had violated the faith of their espousals before the marriage was completed. See Deuteronomy 22:23-24, where it is expressly ordered that a betrothed virgin, if she lay with another man, should be stoned. We may suppose, however, that the infamy of a public divorce, though she had not been stoned, may also be expressed by the same word. But then there was besides a private kind of divorce, in which no reason was assigned, and the dowry was not forfeited as in the former case, and by this she would not have been so much defamed.” But it must be observed, that as their being betrothed to each other was a thing publicly known, he could not have put her away so privately, but there must have been witnesses of it, two at least, her parents, suppose, or some of her nearest relations.
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