Between a Rock and a Hard Place


Matt. 1:18-25

     Poor Joseph. He was between a rock and a hard place. Think about it. We speed through this part of the story because the main focus is on the amazing revelation of God being conceived in the womb of a young girl. God coming to earth to be seen in the flesh – how can you take your eyes off that?

Baby Jesus with Mary and Joseph     And so Joseph and his dilemma get a lot less notice. Joseph finds himself caught between a rock and a hard place. He is engaged to be married, ‘betrothed’ to Mary.  The Jewish encyclopedia explains that a betrothal was a negotiated arrangement of a marriage by two families, which usually required the consent of the prospective bride.

     When the agreement was made, it was definite and binding upon both groom and bride, who were considered as man and wife in all legal and religious aspects, except living together and consummating the marriage. The bride-to-be was called one’s wife. A betrothal began with a formal ceremony and lasted a year before a formal wedding, after which the couple lived together.[1] Since the betrothal was the same as a marriage, it could only be dissolved by a formal divorce.

     So look at this event from Joseph’s point of view. Mary is his legal wife. They were not to have marital relations yet. He’s probably looking forward, like all engage couples, to having a family and building a small house for them to live in. He must be anticipating is his future. 

     Except one day, his wife comes up to him and says, “Joseph, there’s something I’ve got to tell you. I’m pregnant.” And Joseph says, “ You’re what? Who’s the father?”  Mary replies, “Well, you’re not going to believe this……but an angel came to me in a dream and said the Holy Spirit would cause me to conceive and give birth to the Son of God. So God is the Father.”

     Would you believe an explanation like that? Neither did Joseph. He planned to quietly divorce her.

     His future was falling apart. He was nursing whatever feelings about his wife being unfaithful to him, yet the Bible says he was a good man and did not want to make a public example out of Mary for her questionable physical condition. Joseph was between a rock and a hard place. There didn’t appear to be anything good that could come from this.

     Have you ever been caught between a rock and a hard place? 

     Have you ever had to make a decision because of upsetting life circumstances that no matter what choice you made, every consequence looked bad? If only we had angels to come and tell us what to do, like Joseph, right?

     The Greek word angelos means ‘messenger’ – not necessarily a cherubim or seraphim with wings. A messenger from God came to Joseph in a dream and told him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. Something good would come from this.

     So Joseph made the decision to heed the advice of the messenger and follow through with the marriage, not waiting the full length of the betrothal so that the pregnancy would not be an issue.  Folks would just say, “Kids! They just can’t follow tradition these days.” 

     Sometimes, when we are caught between a rock and a hard place, when there doesn’t seem to be a good solution, we make the best decision we can, often after having sought the advice of others, and we move forward. Sometimes we don’t even think that God has been a part of the process.  Except in retrospect – when we can look back at the whole scheme of things and how they turned out, then we see God was present and how a Divine hand directed the way using special messengers.

     One morning found me reading in the book of Exodus (33:17-23).  It was a story about God and Moses. Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” God said, “I will show you my goodness…but you cannot see my face for anyone who sees Me will not live.”  God said, “I will put you in the crevice of a rock [between a rock and a hard place], and I will cover you with my hand while I pass by. Then I will remove my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”    

     Maybe this story tells us that we won’t see the awesome goodness of God in advance of life’s difficulties, not even as God is walking at our side as we trudge through life’s trials.  Only after He has passed will we be able to look back and see God’s goodness and compassion, divine messengers, and how God was with us all the time.

     And isn’t that what the whole Christmas story is about? Looking back in time and seeing the goodness and compassion God has shown in Jesus Christ? All of humanity is caught between a rock and a hard place. God said He would bless His chosen people if they would simply follow the commandments.  His commandments were given to bless us with peace and harmony, but because of our selfish natures, to follow them was impossible, and still is.  We are unable to love others like we love ourselves.

     We were between a rock and a hard place when we lived under that first covenant: Either follow the law perfectly (which is impossible) or receive the ultimate punishment. Now God has removed the Divine hand by letting us see His goodness in Jesus Christ. Even Jesus’ disciples did not understand God was with them when He walked with them. It was fifty days after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, that the Holy Spirit took His hand away from their understanding, and they realized Jesus was the Son of God sent to save the world from its sins.

     The prophet said He would also be called ‘Immanuel,’ which means God with us. Now that we can look back, Jesus is the evidence that God is with us in the midst of our trials and difficulties in life. Joseph did not know how God was present in his marital dilemma, but he did what he believed was the right thing to do. Only after the storm of challenging circumstances had passed could he have seen how God would bring goodness through it. Only after the storm of Jesus’ death and resurrection could Jesus’s disciples have seen and understood that God Himself was with them through it all. Only after overwhelming events of our lives pass can we look back, and see the goodness of God was present with us.

     The next time you’re between a rock and a hard place, get through it the best you can. Keep your eyes open for divine messengers. When some time has past, look back and think it over. My guess is that you’ll see the goodness of God in it.


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