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Righteous and Merciful?by Duane Mabee on December 14, 2017
What do you think of when you think of a “righteous” person, (righteous meaning morally upright, not “excellent” as in today’s common usage)? I would venture to say that many would think of someone who is stern and unbending when it comes to the application of rules. A strict disciplinarian might also come to mind; someone who would apply punishment to the full extent allowed by law. Few, if any, would use the word “merciful” in their description, but the Bible does. At least it does in the picture it painted of a man it also calls righteous.
In Matthew 1:18-25, the Bible describes Joseph, the man who would become the adoptive father of Jesus. During the period in which he was betrothed to Mary – a period meant to prove Mary’s purity – it was discovered that Mary was pregnant. Joseph knew that he wasn’t the father and he had limited options available to him as to what he could believe about Mary. This was a relationship ending discovery. It also had severe – potentially lethal – ramifications for Mary. If the full extent of the law was applied, Mary would be stoned to death.
We don’t generally associate justice with this kind of mercy, but we should. Christian, as you pursue righteousness don’t forget that being a righteous person should also include mercy.
Here’s how the Bible describes Joseph, though. “Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly,” Matt. 1:19 NIV. Now there is an interesting view of righteousness. Joseph had to be hurting. It appeared that the woman who was to be his wife had been unfaithful to him. It seemed his plans had all been shattered. He would be humiliated and single. In a scenario like this, most would expect a “righteous” man to push for the maximum discipline allowed by the law. It would be expected that a “righteous” man would demand that the sin be exposed. That would be what the sinner “deserved”. That would also exonerate the righteous man. But, that’s not the picture of righteousness the Bible paints here.
Being righteous, Joseph could not simply ignore what he perceived to be sin. He had to deal with it appropriately. But, righteousness didn’t preclude showing mercy. Joseph would do what he had to do, but he would do it quietly, with as little unnecessary harm to Mary as possible. He would show mercy. Righteousness includes mercy.
By the way, that’s also why Mary was pregnant – because God’s righteousness includes mercy. We all deserve to die for our sins. That would be righteousness applied to the full extent of the law. But, because God’s righteousness includes mercy, He was sending His Own Son to be born of Mary. His Son would take the punishment for our sins so that God could show us mercy. God’s righteousness includes mercy.