Matthew 1:20
But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a dream, saying, Joseph, you son of David, fear not to take to you Mary your wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
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(20) While he thought on these things.—The words imply a conflict, a perplexity; and the words of the angel came as the solution of his doubts.

In a dream.—From the Jewish point of view, dreams were the received channels of divine communications to the aged, open visions in the state of ecstasy to the young (Joel 2:28). This, at least, falls in with what has been inferred as to Joseph’s age.

Joseph, thou son of David.—The latter words were, in the highest degree, significant. His character as the heir of Messianic hopes, which was indeed at the root of his fears, was fully recognised. That which he was bidden to do would not be inconsistent with that character, and would bring about the fulfilment of those hopes.

Thy wife.—Here again stress is laid on the fact that Mary was already entitled to that name, and had done nothing to forfeit it.

Conceived.—Better, perhaps, begotten.

Matthew 1:20. But while he thought on these things — While he was revolving them in his mind, in the night season, ignorant as he then was of the divine conception in Mary; while he was inclined to divorce her in this private way, but had not absolutely determined upon it; and while there was a conflict in his breast from opposite considerations; justice showing, on the one hand, what was due to himself; and on the other, what was due to one of Mary’s character; — while he was thus deliberating with himself, and in danger of innocently doing wrong, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him — Here we have a remarkable instance of the care which God takes of good men, both in keeping them from sin, and in affording them direction in time of need. Joseph had formed that determination which every prudent and wise man would have formed in similar circumstances; and yet, if he had executed his design, he would have greatly injured the holy virgin, in deserting her, and exposing her to censure and reproach. He kept the matter in his own breast, and discovered it to no living creature. But it was not concealed from God, who is privy to the most secret things, and who cannot suffer any that fear him, and look for his direction, to take any step that will be to the injury or loss of the innocent. So constantly does the divine providence superintend the affairs of men, and watch for the salvation of the righteous, even while they sleep. — An angel foretold to Mary, that she should be the mother of Christ; and an angel appointed Joseph to be the foster-father of the child, when born; angels ministered to Christ after his temptation; angels strengthened him in his agony; angels bore testimony, as to his nativity, so also to his resurrection, for it was proper that they should pay a peculiar respect to him by whom they had been created, and to whom they were, and were to be, subject.

In a dream — The angel appeared to Mary while awake, because faith and consent were required in her that she might conceive by the Holy Ghost; but he appeared to Joseph while sleeping, because that was sufficient in his case, and he was about to believe easily. For we more easily believe those things possible to have been done, which are done already by the divine power, and contrary to the law of nature, than the things which are yet to be done. Hence it was, that the matter was not signified to Joseph before the virgin had conceived, which, indeed, if it had been, might have left room for suspicion. In proportion as Joseph was the more and the longer perplexed with doubt, so much the stronger and more weighty is his testimony, after he is informed of the truth. Saying, Joseph, thou son of David — The angel reminds Joseph of the nobility of the stock from whence he sprung, that he might not think of any thing mean, but might raise his mind to the expectation of great things. He who made David, who was the son of a shepherd, a king, why should he not also give a carpenter a son that should be a king? Who promised David that the Messiah should arise from his posterity, He will certainly make his promise good, and will sooner change the whole order of nature than suffer what he hath foretold to fail of accomplishment. Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife — i.e, Who is betrothed to thee to be thy wife. For it is a mistake to interpret these words, as some have done, as if she had been already married to Joseph, and he had abstained from all conjugal intercourse with her, in consequence of some vow he had made. Dr. Waterland reads this clause, Scruple not the taking of Mary thy wife. It seems that Joseph had been induced, by a fear of offending God, to think of divorcing his wife, either because he thought she belonged to another man, or because he knew it was by no means lawful or honourable for him to cherish an adulteress. The angel’s words imply, Fear not to take her home to thee, and treat her kindly as a wife ought to be treated, according to the espousals that have passed between you, though there may seem to be some danger of bringing a reflection on thyself and family; for that which is conceived in her is of no human original, but produced by the miraculous and unexampled operation of the Holy Ghost. Thus, after Matthew has related how Christ was of royal descent, he now shows that he was also of much higher birth, and had a divine original. Now, although no example be extant of such a wonderful nativity, it nevertheless ought not to be rashly called in question by any especially by the Jews, since they believe that Abraham, the father of the nation, had a son by Sarah after she was past child-bearing; since they believe that Adam, the first man, was produced without father or mother; and that all the dead will be restored to life. That Joseph’s scruples about taking Mary did not proceed, as some of the fathers supposed, from veneration, appears from the reason here given by the angel why he should take her, which, in that case, would have been the only reason against taking her. And we may observe, too, that the angel’s terming her his wife, and encouraging him to take her, shows on what a flimsy foundation the belief of her perpetual virginity, entertained by the papists and others, is built.1:18-25 Let us look to the circumstances under which the Son of God entered into this lower world, till we learn to despise the vain honours of this world, when compared with piety and holiness. The mystery of Christ's becoming man is to be adored, not curiously inquired into. It was so ordered that Christ should partake of our nature, yet that he should be pure from the defilement of original sin, which has been communicated to all the race of Adam. Observe, it is the thoughtful, not the unthinking, whom God will guide. God's time to come with instruction to his people, is when they are at a loss. Divine comforts most delight the soul when under the pressure of perplexed thoughts. Joseph is told that Mary should bring forth the Saviour of the world. He was to call his name Jesus, a Saviour. Jesus is the same name with Joshua. And the reason of that name is clear, for those whom Christ saves, he saves from their sins; from the guilt of sin by the merit of his death, and from the power of sin by the Spirit of his grace. In saving them from sin, he saves them from wrath and the curse, and all misery, here and hereafter. Christ came to save his people, not in their sins, but from their sins; and so to redeem them from among men, to himself, who is separate from sinners. Joseph did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, speedily, without delay, and cheerfully, without dispute. By applying the general rules of the written word, we should in all the steps of our lives, particularly the great turns of them, take direction from God, and we shall find this safe and comfortable.He thought on these things - He did not act hastily. He did not take the course which the law would have permitted him to do, if he had been hasty, violent, or unjust. It was a case deeply affecting his happiness, his character, and the reputation and character of his chosen companion. God will guide the thoughtful and the anxious. And when we have looked patiently at a perplexed subject, and know not what to do, then God, as in the case of Joseph, will interpose to lead us and direct our way. Psalm 25:9.

The angel of the Lord - The word "angel" literally means a messenger. It is applied chiefly in the Scriptures to those invisible holy beings who have not fallen into sin: who live in heaven (1 Timothy 5:21; compare Jde 1:6); and who are sent forth to minister to those who shall be heirs of salvation. See the Hebrews 1:13-14 notes, and Daniel 9:21 note. The word is sometimes applied to men, as messengers Luke 7:24; Luke 9:52; James 2:25; to the winds Psalm 104:4; to the pestilence Psalm 78:49; or to whatever is appointed to make known or to execute the will of God. It is commonly applied, however, to the unfallen, happy spirits that are in heaven, whose dignity and pleasure it is to do the will of God. Various ways were employed by them in making known the will of God, by dreams, visions, assuming a human appearance, etc.

In a dream - This was a common way of making known the will of God to the ancient prophets and people of God, Genesis 20:3; Genesis 30:1, Genesis 30:11, Genesis 30:24; Genesis 37:5; Genesis 41:1; 1 Kings 3:5; Daniel 7:1; Job 4:13-15; compare my notes at Isaiah. In what way it was ascertained that these dreams were from God cannot now be ascertained, It is sufficient for us to know that in this way many of the prophecies were communicated, and to remark that there is no evidence that we are to put reliance on our dreams. Dreams are wild, irregular movements of the mind when it is unshackled by reason, and it is mere superstition to suppose that God now makes known His will in this way.

Son of David - Descendant of David. See Matthew 1:1. The angel put him in mind of his relation to David perhaps to prepare him for the intelligence that Mary was to be the mother of the Messiah - the promised heir of David.

Fear not - Do not hesitate, or have any apprehensions about her virtue and purity. Do not fear that she will be unworthy of you, or will disgrace you.

To take unto thee Mary thy wife - To take her as thy wife; to recognize her as such, and to treat her as such.

For that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost - Is the direct creation of divine power. A body was thus prepared pure and holy, and free from the corruption of sin, in order that he might be qualified for his great work the offering of a pure sacrifice to God. As this was necessary in order to the great work which he came to perform, Joseph is directed by an angel to receive her as pure and virtuous, and as every way worthy of his love. Compare the notes at Hebrews 10:5.

20. But while he thought on these things—Who would not feel for him after receiving such intelligence, and before receiving any light from above? As he brooded over the matter alone, in the stillness of the night, his domestic prospects darkened and his happiness blasted for life, his mind slowly making itself up to the painful step, yet planning how to do it in the way least offensive—at the last extremity the Lord Himself interposes.

behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, Joseph thou son of David—This style of address was doubtless advisedly chosen to remind him of what all the families of David's line so early coveted, and thus it would prepare him for the marvellous announcement which was to follow.

fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost—Though a dark cloud now overhangs this relationship, it is unsullied still.

What we have in this verse assures us, that Joseph was not only inclined, by the kindness and benignity of his own natural temper, and by his charity, to that moderate resolution he had taken up, but also more immediately influenced by God, who was now sending a messenger to him to tell him what he would have him to do in this case. Whether this angel was the angel Gabriel, who Luke tells us, Luke 1:26, was sent to Mary, to tell her that the power of the Most High should overshadow her, or some other angel, none can assert; an angel it was. He appeareth to Joseph while he was asleep, and in and by a dream. By dreams was one way by which God revealed his mind to people formerly, Hebrews 1:1; one of those ways by which God made himself known to prophets, Numbers 12:6; and not to prophets only, but to pagan princes sometimes, as appeareth by the instances we have in Scripture of the dreams which Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar both had. Dreams are either natural, or supernatural, or preternatural. How to distinguish the former from the two latter is not my work in this place, and possibly a difficult task, especially in our times, when God, having spoken to us by his Son, and given us his word as a perfect rule, hath left off ordinary speaking to his prophets by dreams and visions, though not limited himself but that he may sometimes so speak. We are assured of the truth of a Divine revelation to Joseph by this way of dreams, while his head was full of thoughts what he was to do in this case. God thinks of us when we sleep, and one way or other will not be wanting to our inquisition in sincerity to know his will, in the difficult cases of our lives. The angel saith unto Joseph,

Joseph, thou son of David; by which compellation he lets him know he was to be the supposed and legal, though not the natural, father of the Messias, who was by the confession of all men to be the Son of David.

Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife; she that is thy betrothed wife, and so thy wife in my sight; thou hast espoused her, and called me to witness that thou wilt consummate this marriage with her in a due time, and take her to thine house. I see what hath happened which troubleth thy thoughts; possibly thou art afraid lest thou shouldest offend me, marrying one who appeareth unto thee to be defiled; or thou art afraid of bringing a blot upon thyself if thou shouldest consummate this marriage; but do not fear any of these things, but go on, and consummate thy marriage. She is not, as you supposeth, or mayest fear, defiled by man,

for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. That holy thing, ( as Luke speaks), that human body which is in her womb, is created in her, and is of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost, by his almighty creating power, hath supplied what is wanting from the help of the creature, as to ordinary productions of this nature. But while he thought on these things,.... While he was revolving them in his mind, considering what was most fit and proper to be done, whether to dismiss her publicly or privately; while he was consulting within himself the glory of God, the peace of his own conscience, and the credit of Mary,

behold the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream; probably the same Angel which appeared to Zacharias, and brought him tidings that his wife should have a son, and who also appeared to Mary, and acquainted her that she should conceive, and bring forth the Messiah, Whose name was Gabriel, Luke 1:11. If we will believe the Jews, this Angel must be Gabriel, since he is the Angel who they say (d) "is appointed over dreams"; for he appeared to

Joseph in a dream, which is one of the ways and methods in which the Lord, or an Angel of his, has appeared to the saints formerly, and has answered them, see Genesis 31:11 and is reckoned by the Jews (e) one of the degrees or kinds of prophecy: and so the Angel here not only encourages Joseph to take to him his wife,

saying Joseph, thou son of David; which is said partly to attest his being of the house and lineage of David, and partly to raise his expectations and confirm his faith, that his wife should bring forth the promised son of David; and chiefly to engage his attention to what he was about to say,

fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife; do not be afraid either that thou shalt offend the Lord, or bring any reproach or scandal upon thyself as if thou didst connive at an adulteress; but as she is thine espoused wife, solemnly betrothed to thee, take her home to thyself, live with her as thy wife, and openly avow her as such. To which he is encouraged by the following reason or argument,

for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost; she has not been guilty of any criminal conversation with men; this conception of her's is of the Holy Ghost, and entirely owing to his coming upon her, and overshadowing her in a wonderful and miraculous manner. I say, the Angel not only encourages Joseph after this manner, but delivers something to him by way of prophecy, in the following verse.

(d) Zohar in Gen. fol. 103. 3.((e) Zohar in Gen. fol. 103. 3. & Maimon. Yesode Hattorah. c. 7. l. 13.

but while he pondered on these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, Joseph, son of David, fear not to {f} take to thee Mary, thy {g} wife, for that which is {h} begotten in her is of the Holy Spirit.

(f) Receive her from her parents and kinsfolks hands.

(g) Who was promised, and made sure to you to be your wife.

(h) Of the mother's substance by the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 1:20. Ἰδού] as in Hebrew and in Greek writers, directs attention quickly to an object brought into view. Very frequent in Matthew.

κατʼ ὄναρ] in somnis, Vulg., Virg. Aen. ii. 270; ἐν ὀνείροις, Niceph. Schol. in Synes. p. 442. Frequent in later Greek, but not in the LXX. and Apocrypha; rejected by Photius, p. 149. 25, as βάρβαρον; amongst the old writers, commonly only ὄναρ. See Phrynichus, ed. Lobeck, p. 423 f.; κατά serves to designate the manner and way, and yields the adverbial meaning, in a dream, ὄψις ὀνείρου ἐν τῷ ὕπνῳ, Herod. i. 38. The appearance of the angel was an appearance in a dream; see Kühner, II. 1, p. 413. It might denote the time, if, as in Joseph. Antiq. xi. 9. 3, κατὰ τοὺς ὕπνους, or καθʼ ὕπνον (Genesis 20:6), had been employed. Express visions in dreams in the N. T. are related only by Matthew. Comp. besides, Acts 2:17.

υἱὸς Δ.] The reason of this address (nominative, see Kühner, II. 1, p. 43) is not difficult to see (de Wette); it is highly natural in the case of the angel, because he has to bring news of the Messiah. B.-Crusius says too little: Joseph is so addressed as one favoured by God, or, as he for whom something miraculous was quite appropriate. Fritzsche says too much: “ut ad Mariam ducendam promtiorem redderet.” The former neglects the special connection, the latter imports a meaning.

τὴν γυναῖκά σου] apposition to Μαριάμ: the Mary, who is thy wife: in which proleptic designation there lies an element stating the cause. This view (in answer to Fritzsche, who explains: Mary, as thy wife) is required by Matthew 1:24.

ἐν αὐτῇ) not for ἐξ αὐτῆς, but also not to be translated, with Fritzsche: per eam, as ἐν with persons is never merely instrumental, and as the context (Matthew 1:18 : ἐν γαστρὶ ἔχουσα ἐκ. πν. ἁγ.) demands a different rendering; but, quite literally, in utero Mariae, that which has been begotten in her.

The neuter places the embryo still under the impersonal, material point of view. Comp., first, Matthew 1:21 : τέξεται δὲ υἱόν. See Wetstein, and on Luke 1:35.

ἐκ πν. ἐστιν ἁγίου] proceeds from the Holy Ghost as author, by whom, accordingly, your suspicions are removed. Observe the emphatic position, which lays the determining emphasis upon πνεύματος, in opposition to sexual intercourse. Upon the distinction between ἐνθυμεῖσθαι with the genitive (rationem habere alic. rei) and the accusative (“when he had considered this”), see Kühner, ad Xen. Memorabilia, i. 1. 17; Krüger on Thucyd. i. 42. 1.Matthew 1:20-21. Joseph delivered from his perplexity by angelic interposition. How much painful, distressing, distracting thought he had about the matter day and night can be imagined. Relief came at last in a dream, of which Mary was the subject.—ταῦταἐνθυμηθέντος: the genitive absolute indicates the time of the vision, and the verb the state of mind: revolving the matter in thought without clear perception of outlet. ταῦτα, the accusative, not the genitive with περί: ἐνθ. περί τινος = Cogitare de re, ἐνθ. τι = aliauid secum reputare. Kühner, § 417, 9.—ἰδού: often in Mt after genitive absolute; vivid introduction of the angelic appearance (Weiss Meyer).—κατʼ ὄναρ (late Greek condemned by Phrynichus. vide Lobeck Phryn., p. 423. ὄναρ, without preposition, the classic equivalent), during a dream reflecting present distractions.—υἱὸς Δαβίδ: the angel addresses Joseph as son of David to awaken the heroic mood. The title confirms the view that the genealogy is that of Joseph.—μὴ φοβηθῇς: he is summoned to a supreme act of faith similar to those performed by the moral heroes of the Bible, who by faith made their lives sublime.—τὴν γυναῖκά σου: to take Mary, as thy wife, so in Matthew 1:24.—τὸἁγίου: negativing the other alternative by which he was tormented. The choice lies between two extremes: most unholy, or the holiest possible. What a crisis!Matthew 1:20. ἰδοῦ, behold) He was not left long in doubt.[56]—κατʼ ὄναρ, in a dream) Dreams are mentioned also in Acts 2:17, in a quotation from the Old Testament. With this exception, St Matthew is the only writer of the New Testament who has recorded dreams; viz., one of Pilate’s wife, ch. Matthew 27:19; one of the Magi, ch. Matthew 2:12; one of Joseph, in this passage; a second in ch. Matthew 2:13; a third in ch. Matthew 2:19; and a fourth in Matthew 2:22. This mode of instruction was suitable to those early times of the New Dispensation.[57]—αὐτῷ, to him) In the first instance, Gabriel was sent to Mary, afterwards the remaining particulars were revealed to Joseph. Thus all things were made sure to both of them.—Ἰωσὴφ, Joseph) In visions, those to whom they are vouchsafed are generally addressed by name, as if already well known [to the speaker].—See Acts 9:4; Acts 9:10; Acts 10:3; Acts 10:13.—παραλαβεῖν, to take unto thee) sc. to the companionship of life and board, under the name of wedlock: on which ground the angel adds the words, τὴν γυναῖκά σου (thy wife).—Μαριὰμ, Mary) This termination was more usual in early times (from the example of the Hebrew and the LXX.) than the Greek form Μαρία, which soon, however, prevailed. St Matthew, therefore, uses Μαριὰμ here, in the angel’s address, for the name of our Lord’s mother; but Μαρίας [the genitive case of the Greek form Μαρία] when speaking of her (Matthew 1:16; Matthew 1:18) in his own person; and in like manner, he employs the Greek form when mentioning other women of the same name. And St Luke does mostly the same. Miriam, according to Hiller, signifies Rebellion, sc. of the Israelites in Egypt. Scripture teaches us to look to the etymology of the name, not of Mary, but of JESUS.—τὸ γὰρ ἐν αὐτῇ γεννηθὲν, for that which is conceived in her) The foetus, as yet unborn, is usually spoken of in the neuter gender.—Cf. note on Luke 1:35.

[56] Thus God guides His own, and teaches them at the right time, what they have to do.—B. G. V.

[57] Shortly after men prophesied concerning Christ; as also Christ Himself acted the part of an interpreter of their prophecies.—Vers. Germ.Verse 20. - But while he thought on these things; when (Revised Version); ταῦτα δὲ αὐτοῦ ἐνθυμηθέντος. The tense lays stress, not on the continuance of his meditation (contrast Acts 10:19), but on the fact that the determination to which he had already come (vide supra) was already in his mind at the time when the following event happened. "These things;" his determination and its causes. Behold; unexpectedly. Though common in St. Matthew, it never lacks the connotation of surprise. The angel of the Lord; an angel of the Lord (Revised Version). In Mary's case it was the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:26); but here not defined (so in Matthew 2:13, 19; Luke 1:11; Luke 2:9). (On angels, of especially Dorner, 'System.,' 2:96.) Appeared unto him in a dream. Joseph received his communications by dream (Matthew 2:13, 19, 22); to Mary, doubtless the more holy person, the vision was vouchsafed to her bodily eyes. If Joseph, as seems probable, was old, we here have a beginning of the fulfilment of the promise concerning Messianic times, "Your old men shall dream dreams" (Joel 2:28). Saying, Joseph, thou son of David. In reminding Joseph of the greatness of his ancestry, the angel probably desired

(1) to accept Joseph's resolution as right in so far as Joseph knew the circumstances, because with the promise of 2 Samuel 7:12-16 there was special need to keep the line pure;

(2) but, under the true circumstances, to urge him to take Mary, that so the promise might be fully carried out in his family and no other. Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife (ver. 15, note). For that which if conceived in her ("borun," Wickliffe; quod natum est, Vulgate); "Gr. begotten" (Revised Version margin), for γεννηθέν generally refers to the father rather than the mother (yet see Matthew 11:11), and here lays special stress on the Divine origin. Is of the Holy Ghost. "Of Spirit (not flesh), and that the Holy Spirit (ἐκ Πνεύματός ἐστιν Ἁγίου)" (ver. 18, note).
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