By Zac Poonen
In Matthew 1:19 we read that when Joseph heard about Mary being pregnant, and not knowing that this was a supernatural work of God in her womb, it says that since he was a righteous man, he did not want to disgrace her but wanted to cover what he thought was her sin.
There is something we can all learn here about righteousness. The message of the gospel is essentially how an unrighteous man can become righteous. The first person to be called a righteous man in the New Testament is Joseph. And his righteousness is mentioned in connection with wanting to cover another person’s sin and not shame that person. This is the spirit of a truly righteous man.
When you hear that somebody has sinned, what is your immediate reaction? If you are a righteous man, you will want to cover it. If you are an unrighteous man, you will talk about it to others. There we see that Joseph, who did not have the Holy Spirit and was not under the new covenant, was far more righteous than millions of believers who claim to be born again. With the standards of the old covenant, Joseph decided to cover what he thought was sin. Thank God he never scandalised Mary. For if he had, can you imagine the regret and remorse he would have had, when he discovered the truth – that she was 100% pure and innocent!!
These things are written for our instruction. How can you take back stories that you have circulated about others if you later discover them to be false? For the one you told them to would have circulated it further to perhaps ten other people who in turn would have spread it even further. So, here is a warning and an example for us from the very first chapter of the New Testament. Cover the sins of others. Learn from Joseph’s example.
Shem and Japheth:
In Genesis 9: 20-27 we read that Noah got drunk one day and lay naked in his tent. His son Ham saw him and reported this to his brothers. Because Ham dishonoured his father thus, a curse came upon him. Shem and Japheth however walked backwards and covered their father’s nakedness. Therefore, they were blessed. There is an important message here for us. This is the first place in Scripture where we read of God punishing a son and his seed for dishonouring his father.
It is a serious matter before God, when we disrespect authority. When you see a weakness in your father or in a man of God, don’t expose his nakedness to others, as Ham did, unless you want to get a curse upon yourself. Be like Shem and Japheth and cover it. “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter4:8; Proverbs 10:12).
Noah blessed Shem and Japheth with the blessing of fellowship saying, “May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem” (Genesis 9:27). We too must build fellowship with those who live together and cover each other’s sins. Only such believers can build the church of Jesus Christ.