It was found she was with child, possibly herself or some of her friends told it to Joseph her espoused husband; it is plain from this text he came to the knowledge of it, for upon it, the evangelist saith, he
was minded to put her away privily. Had Joseph at this time heard and believed that the Holy Ghost had come upon her, and the power of the Most High overshadowed her, being a good man, he would not have entertained thoughts of putting her away. But though she had before received this revelation, and might possibly have communicated it to some of her friends, yet it is manifest that her husband Joseph had not heard it, or at least was not easy to believe a thing of so unusual and extraordinary a nature. That she was with child was evident, how she came to be so was as yet hidden from him in nature, and so incredible a thing, as it had argued too much of easiness of belief for him to have believed, had not Joseph had (as afterward he had) a Divine revelation for it: he therefore receiving such a report, and finding it to be true, resolves to put her away in the most private manner he could, rather than to expose her to a public shame, or to be made a public example. Their being betrothed was a thing publicly taken notice of, and he could not put her away so privately but there must be witnesses of it; the meaning therefore must be, as privately as the nature of the thing would bear. Joseph in this case had the choice of three things:
1. He might, notwithstanding this, have taken her to his house as his wife, for the law of divorce, or putting away, was but a law giving a liberty in case of a discerned uncleanness to put away the wife, it did not lay any under an obligation so to do.
2. He might give her a bill of divorce, and leave her with her friends. Now those skilled in the Jewish writings tell us this might be done, either more privately before two or three witnesses, putting a writing of that import into her bosom; or more openly and publicly before the magistrate.
3. He might, according to the law, Deu_22:23,24, &c., have brought her forth to be examined, whether she had only suffered a rape, or had herself consented. If it was done with her consent, she was by the law to be stoned.
Of these Joseph, in his first thoughts upon the matter, and before he rightly did understand the thing, chooseth the second and the milder part, and resolves to put her away, but in the most private manner the law would in that case allow him. He did this (saith the evangelist) because he was
a just man, where the term dikaiov signifieth equitable, in opposition to severity and rigour; nor ought any to say Joseph in this showed himself an unjust man, because by the law she ought to have been stoned to death; for that is a mistake. Supposing she had been with child by man, yet if she had been forced the man only was to die, Deu_22:25,26; or she might have been with child before her betrothing, in which case she was only obliged to marry him that had so abused her. A kind and equitable man always presumes the best, especially in a case where life is concerned; besides that, no doubt Mary had by this time told Joseph the truth, and what the angel had said to her, to which (it being so incredible a thing as not to be believed but upon a Divine revelation) though Joseph was not obliged, having as yet no such revelation, to give a present easy faith, yet he might reasonably give so much credit as to resolve upon the mildest course he could take, though he was willing also to avoid the blot upon himself by taking her to him for his wife according to his contract. God will not leave so good a man long unresolved what to do.