Matthew 2:13-23 — From Egypt to Nazareth (Week 4)
PLEASE READ: Matthew 2:13-23
Matthew’s gospel is repeatedly referencing the Old Covenant regarding the prophetic fulfillments surrounding Christ’s life. So far, we have seen the following:
1.) The fulfillment of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants in Christ’s lineage.
2.) The fulfillment of the virgin birth.
3.) The fulfillment of Christ’s birthplace being in Bethlehem of Judea.
4.) The fulfillment of the promise that He would be the Governor of His people, Israel.
All of these are significant points that any Jew reading would demand as proof that Christ is indeed the promised Messiah. Yet there is more. Much more. In fact, this prophetic pattern will continue throughout Matthew’s entire gospel account. Therefore, it behooves us as believers to make note of each reference he provides for the sake of those who may question the validity of Jesus Christ being the one true God and promised Messiah.
The Dreams of Joseph
Dreams have been frequent. The first dream was given to Joseph as a divine instruction to take Mary as his wife. The second was given to the Magi so they could avoid Herod, who plotted the death of our Messiah. As we progress through this story, we find that Joseph received his second dream in verse 13, instructing him to take the young child and his mother and flee into Egypt.
Out of Egypt Have I Called My Son (Hosea 11:1)
Now, for those of you who remember, Egypt was a place of bondage for Israel, which God promised they would never encounter again (see Exodus 14 & 15). I can only imagine the apprehension Joseph must have felt when given this command. Yet we see the heart of a man who did not question God, but fearfully obeyed Him — time after time after time. Joseph, no doubt, is a son of David, who repeatedly demonstrates an obedient heart after God’s very own.
Fleeing into Egypt by night was no simple task. Let’s consider the vast landscape Joseph had to traverse with his young son and wife.
Although this map is rendered in current times, the logistics are clear: we see several hundred miles of otherwise impassable terrain, which is characterized by desert and mountains — much of the same territory the Israelites encountered while wandering in the wilderness. A mistake? I don’t think so. What is the prophetic significance of this? Let’s remember, God did not tell Joseph to take the child out of Bethlehem. No, He told him to flee from Israel altogether. Does that seem a bit excessive? If we look at Herod’s plan, it would appear to be a bit over-the-top. But when we consider biblical prophecy and the inherent meaning within it, it was an obligate necessity ordained by Father God.
Why was Egypt chosen as a place of refuge, when in Israel’s history it was nothing more than a place of horrific bondage? What could this possibly mean? What is the spiritual inference? Is there an objective that precludes the Messiah’s immediate safety? I believe there are. There are several implications here that are worth noting:
1.) Israel was called out of Egypt, which God termed “the house of bondage”. The covenant God established with Israel was one of deliverance and ultimate liberty, which only Christ could bring and achieve. Moses spoke of this Deliverer to the people during their Exodus as One whom they would eventually follow. Israel’s physical deliverance was therefore a prophetic one, revealing what the Messiah would one day accomplish spiritually for all who believe on Him.
2.) Egypt will forever be an integral part of Israel’s history. From Hagar to Joseph; from Joseph to the Exodus; from the Exodus to Christ — Egypt will forever be tied to Israel. When God set Israel free from Egypt it was forever. He broke them. He rendered powerless the most powerful nation on earth. Egypt encountered the one true living God, experiencing His ten plagues and the curse of death upon all their firstborn — both of man and beast. It upended the entire nation, resulting in the release of Israel’s four-hundred year captivity. Now, Egypt becomes a place of refuge again, just as it was for Joseph and his brethren in Genesis. Joseph is a type of Christ, whose Egyptian name was “Savior”. If that is not prophetic of second chances, I don’t know what is. God has come back to Egypt with the Firstborn — His Messiah, the Savior of all mankind. Redemption has indeed visited this pagan nation again — this time with tenderness in the most peculiar way. God came to visit Egypt sweetly, silently, by night — with His own beloved Son.
3.) Christ Jesus was a Hebrew male. He was the Firstborn of God, being His one and only Beloved Son. He had to come out of Egypt like every other Israelite, representing the deliverance and freedom God had given from the ‘house of bondage’. As the Redeemer, who is the Son of Abraham and the Son of David, and as the promised Messiah — He had to make that journey for all of us.
So, was it necessary for Joseph to travel flood, field and plain into Egypt? In theory, no. Not if we strictly consider Herod’s plan, which targeted Bethlehem specifically. But prophetically, absolutely, yes. And let’s make note that God did not command Joseph to come back immediately once Herod had executed his plan. God made sure Joseph remained in Egypt until Herod’s death. The enemy had to be removed. When we consider the time of Herod’s death (4 B.C., which date is contested by some historians), Joseph had lived in Egypt for at least two years. That is a considerable amount of time. Joseph waited upon God as instructed. I cannot imagine the angst he must have experienced at times. All things considered, Joseph had to trust God blindly. He never witnessed any of the events which followed his exile. Yet he was obedient, living in Egypt for possibly two years, fulfilling this daunting and dangerous journey alone with his vulnerable child and new wife. We should stand amazed. Joseph, proves himself to be a true son of David, having a heart after God’s own.
And so we see the fifth prophetic fulfillment: that God would call His Son out of Egypt as the prophet Hosea had said. That is a very precious promised fulfilled, which holds enormous significance for every sinner who would ever come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Rachel Weeping for Her Children (Jeremiah 31:15)
Herod was incensed once he caught onto the Magi’s plan. Herod’s “Plan A” to worship the Messiah was entirely foiled. Now, we know two years has transpired. This is not difficult to imagine when we consider the journey of the Magi. So, at the time of Joseph’s departure, we can know that Christ was at least two years old. He was a cute little bubbling toddler. Not easy to handle, I imagine — especially for young new parents.
So, Herod kicks it up a notch with “Plan B” — and another prophecy is fulfilled. He commands that all the children two years old and younger, who are in Bethlehem and in the surrounding coastal regions be slain. Every time I ponder this, I weep. This was a very calculated evil that was brutally executed. I honestly cannot imagine the horror of this event. For any parent who has lost a child, there is no greater pain. And to think of losing a child in this manner… well, there are no words.
When considering the lineage of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, we see that Rachel only bore Joseph and Benjamin. So why is Rachel referenced, when the town of Bethlehem was of the house of Judah, whose mother was Leah? Good question.
God is a God of covenant. And there are several answers to this question, which we must consider:
#1. Rachel was the rightful covenant wife of Jacob — not Leah. Jacob obtained Leah by the deception of her father, Laban. Rachel was only obtained by hard labor, which was an injustice. However, we are told that Jacob joyfully paid her bride price because of the depth and intensity of his love for her. This injustice affected both Rachel and Leah, instigating a family feud of monstrous proportions. The outgrowth of this was a jealousy between these sisters, and a hatred between the siblings that divided the whole family. Rachel was loved by Jacob, but Leah was not. God had mercy upon Leah, giving her many sons. After all, she suffered from this injustice as well, and God took pity upon her. Yet Rachel was the one Jacob had chosen and professed to love, and regardless of the deceit surrounding her, she was covenant matriarch of the family, hence the favor Jacob showed to Joseph, who has her firstborn son. As such, Joseph became the redeemer of all Israel from famine and drought.
#2. Rachel bore only two children of the twelve: Joseph and Benjamin. Joseph was the favored son of Jacob — being the firstborn of Rachel. As such, he was exiled into Egypt by his brethren, who professed a vile hatred for him. Again, we see the outgrowth of this seeded jealousy within the family into future generations. Rachel also bore Benjamin, who was the youngest, dying in childbirth. So, let us be clear: Rachel has always been weeping for her children — the children she never had as well as those she lost. This is not new. She is the woman who was denied her rightful husband by the deceit of her father, watching her sister bear the children she alone longed to have with him. She was the one who lost Joseph to the fury of his brethren. She was the one who died at the birth of Benjamin. Rachel is one who weeps. And it’s not hard to understand why. I cannot imagine her grief. When Rachel weeps, she weeps hard. The sons of Jacob (all twelve) are therefore accredited by covenant to Rachel — not Leah, although she is their biological mother.
And so we see the sixth prophecy fulfilled, which deserves quoting:
In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not,” (Matthew 2:18, KJV).
He Shall Be Called a Nazarene (Judges 13:5, Isaiah 11:1 and Isaiah 53:2)
Finally, Herod is dead, and it’s time for Joseph to return home. As God promised, He sent him word — by way of another dream. This would be Joseph’s third of four consecutive dreams, marking his long journey back to Israel. As we will find, Joseph naturally plans to return to Bethlehem. It only makes sense. But his journey takes a different turn that is again, very unexpected, requiring an unwavering trust in God.
Upon coming home he received word that Herod’s son, Archelaus, had taken his father’s seat of power. That’s when fear struck. Joseph became afraid to return to Bethlehem, and who can blame him? Bethlehem was only a stone’s throw away from Jerusalem, where Archelaus reigned, being a mere five miles. That’s far too close for comfort. Any one of us would be in the very least apprehensive. It’s far too conspicuous. However, there is a slight inference that Joseph was entirely willing to settle there, even against his better judgment, being eager to obey God on every detail surrounding the promised Messiah. But God was faithful, revealing to Joseph by a fourth dream that he should instead go into Galilee. Galilee is not a town, however. It’s a region. Nazareth, which was not specified in the dream, alludes to the the possibility that Joseph came to Nazareth by choice instead of command.
What caused him to settle in Nazareth? What is it about Nazareth that makes it significant?
1.) The first clue is rather obvious. In Luke 1:26 & 27 we are told that Nazareth was the home of Mary, being the place she initially received the word from Gabriel announcing her conception of God’s Son. After being away from family in Egypt for two years, I can only imagine they needed the support of family near them.
2.) The second clue is profound. The word “Nazareth” comes from the Hebrew word for branch or shoot, which is “nasir”. However, Nazareth was a contested place historically. Some claim it was not a literal city or township, but rather an inference to Christ’s Nazarite vow, which is also biblically obscure. Therefore, the prophecy about Christ being a Nazarene is historically contested. In the Greek this would stand true. However, Matthew writes his gospel from a Hebrew perspective. And that is where the prophecy is revealed. Not only do we find the prophecy in Judges, but the best and finest clue is found in Isaiah 53:2 where the word “shoot” is actually a form of the word ‘nasir’, from which the word Nazarite is derived. The word for “branch” in Isaiah 11:1 speaks to the same. The literal Hebrew word ‘nasir’ means “consecrated” or “separated”. Therefore, according to the Hebrew, Matthew’s prophetic reference definitely holds true. Christ was a Nazarite in every sense of the word according to the verses found in Judges and Isaiah. And as if one were not enough, we have three.
3.) The third clue is by inference. Nazareth, although a poor and reputedly insignificant village, would be entirely appropriate for this nomadic young family. This, no doubt, meant humble beginnings for our Messiah. And with it being a place so unworthy of attention, Nazareth made the perfect settlement for a family raising Him. Archelaus would not be inclined to look for the Messiah in Nazareth, especially after the Bethlehem slaughter. I doubt Archelaus truly believed the Messiah had even survived, provided that his father had commanded such carnage. Secondly, the Jews are a patriarchal society. No trace of the Messiah would be readily found there by Archelaus, as no records were traditionally kept of the mother’s side. Therefore, Mary’s hometown of Nazareth provided the obscurity needed in raising the King of kings. A wise choice on the part of Joseph.
This is the seventh prophecy fulfilled in Matthew’s gospel — all within the first 2 chapters.
As we can see, the early years of Christ’s life provide a trail of prophecies fulfilled within a short period of time that would satisfy most cynics. These prophecies, as we can see, are not readily discovered within scripture, except by those who are literate in the Old Covenant prophetic books. Many times these prophecies are lines sandwiched within large passages that are not otherwise readily apparent to the novice.
As we will see, this prophetic pattern in Matthew’s gospel does not slow down. In fact, it accelerates. I look forward to seeing you here next week as we follow Christ.
Cheers & Shalom,