Against the backdrop of the dramatic story of a midnight escape to safety, the murder of infants, and a maniacal king is the story of the sojourn of the true king whose journey as a child recapitulates the history of the nation of Israel. The only time Jesus travels outside of his home country of Israel during His earthly life is in this morning’s text and it was for a definite purpose. Matthew states three times that the events in this narrative occurred for the purpose of fulfilling the Old Testament Scriptures. In this passage Jesus retraces the steps in the history of the nation of Israel.
The history of Israel is the history of Christ. Jesus identity is forever linked with the nation of Israel. Had Israel remained in bondage in Egypt, Christ would not have come. If the Jewish race had been exterminated in Babylon, the promises of God to establish a descendent on the throne of David forever would have failed. Therefore, it is fitting that since the Messiah has come that He would identify in His early childhood with the nation of Israel.
Note the parallels between the events in Jesus’ life recorded in this passage and Israel’s experience in Egypt:
- A wicked ruler
- Murdered infants
- Sojourn in Egypt
- Departure from Egypt
D.A. Carson has perhaps stated it best when he noted:
In fact, Jesus is often presented in the New Testament as the antitype of Israel; that is, the true and perfect Israel who does not fail. If Israel is likened to a vine that produces disgusting fruit (Isa. 5), Jesus is the true vine who brings forth good fruit (John 15). If Israel wandered in the wilderness 40 years and was frequently disobedient in the course of many trials and temptations, Jesus was sorely tempted in the wilderness for 40 days, but was perfectly obedient (Matt. 4:1-11). Israel in the Old Testament is the Lord’s son (Exod. 4:22, 23; Jer. 31:9); but Jesus, Himself a son of Israel, indeed a son of David, was supremely the Son of God; and therefore He re-enacted or recapitulated something of the history of the “son” (the nation of Israel) whose very existence pointed forward to Him. (D.A. Carson, God With Us, 18)
In this morning’s text Matthew explains how three key Old Testament prophecies are fulfilled and how Jesus has forever identified Himself with the history of the nation through which He entered our world.
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” 14 When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, 15 and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.” 16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: 18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more.” 19 But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” 21 Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. 23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene.” Matthew 2:13 – 23
I. He Identifies with Israel’s Redemption, vv.14-15.
Shortly after the Wise Men had departed (maybe the same night), God spoke to Joseph in a dream warning him of Herod’s murderous intentions. Joseph, Jesus and Mary fled in the middle of the night to Egypt. This event occurred, according to Matthew, that the words of Hosea 11:1 might be fulfilled.
In Hosea 11:1 the LORD recalls His love for Israel by saying, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, And out of Egypt I called My son.” This was a reference to the Exodus when God delivered Israel with a mighty hand during the ten plagues and the crossing of the Red Sea. It was a mighty act of redemption and the central event in Israel’s history. Here Matthew states that the Christ Child retraced Israel’s steps in order to identify fully with the nation into which He was born. Just as the nation spent time in Egypt before returning to Canaan, so too Jesus sojourned in Egypt before returning to His native land. But ironically, this time there was safety in Egypt!
The language identifying the nation of Israel as God’s son is from Exodus 4:22 which states, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Israel is My son, My firstborn.’” This language which is repeated in Hosea 11:1 quoted by Matthew is ultimately fulfilled in the coming of the true Son of God: Jesus Christ!
Derek Kidner comments on Hosea 11:1:
Not surprisingly the infant Christ, who summed up in His person all that Israel was called to be, was likewise threatened and delivered; and although the details differed, the early pattern was re-enacted in its essentials, ending with God’s Son restored to God’s land to fulfil the task marked out for Him. (Derek Kidner, Hosea, 101-102)
When King Herod realized that the Wise Men were not returning as he had asked, he was filled with anger and ordered that all the male children in Bethlehem be killed, just as Joseph had been warned. Once again Satan tries to stop the coming of the Promised One who would crush his head. The same satanic power at work in Pharaoh when he ordered the death of all the male children in Egypt, is at work in Herod who does likewise. These historical events are described from their heavenly perspective in Revelation 12:1-5. There we see that all attempts to destroy the everlasting King were not successful. He is now enthroned at the right hand of the Father!
II. He Identifies with Israel’s Restoration, vv. 17-18.
Not knowing that Jesus had already escaped to Egypt, King Herod ordered the death of all the male children in Bethlehem and surrounding area aged two or younger. The result was much sorrow. Mothers were clearly crying for their children. They may also have been sorrow believing that the child who the Wise Men had come to worship had been killed. Many no doubt had seen this entourage of Eastern travelers and had heard the purpose of their mission: to worship the new king. Probably many people were excited about the possibility of someone arising to take the throne from Herod and his kin, but with this latest act of cruelty Herod had once again crushed a political rival to the throne, or so they thought. Meanwhile, Jesus was safely in Egypt with Joseph and Mary.
Matthew quotes from Jeremiah 31:15 to describe the tragic events occurring in Bethlehem. He obviously recognizes in the weeping of the mothers in Bethlehem a parallel with the weeping that occurred at the Babylonian Captivity as recorded by the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 31. There, in the context, we see not only sorrow but hope for the future.
For thus says the LORD: “Sing with gladness for Jacob, And shout among the chief of the nations; Proclaim, give praise, and say, ‘O LORD, save Your people, The remnant of Israel!’ 8 Behold, I will bring them from the north country, And gather them from the ends of the earth, Among them the blind and the lame, The woman with child And the one who labors with child, together; A great throng shall return there. 9 They shall come with weeping, And with supplications I will lead them. I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters, In a straight way in which they shall not stumble; For I am a Father to Israel, And Ephraim is My firstborn. 10 ” Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, And declare it in the isles afar off, and say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him, And keep him as a shepherd does his flock.’ 11 For the LORD has redeemed Jacob, And ransomed him from the hand of one stronger than he. 12 Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, Streaming to the goodness of the LORD — For wheat and new wine and oil, For the young of the flock and the herd; Their souls shall be like a well-watered garden, And they shall sorrow no more at all. 13 “Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, And the young men and the old, together; For I will turn their mourning to joy, Will comfort them, And make them rejoice rather than sorrow. 14 I will satiate the soul of the priests with abundance, And My people shall be satisfied with My goodness, says the LORD.” 15 Thus says the LORD: “A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted for her children, Because they are no more.” 16 Thus says the LORD: “Refrain your voice from weeping, And your eyes from tears; For your work shall be rewarded, says the LORD, And they shall come back from the land of the enemy. 17 There is hope in your future, says the LORD, That your children shall come back to their own border (vv. 7-17).
“Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah — 32 “not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. 33 “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 “No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more (vv. 31-34).
When studying texts in the New Testament which include citations from the Old Testament. It is almost always important to observe the context in which the original quotation occurred. This is because citations of a section of the Old Testament not only was meant to remind one’s audience of that particular section, but often of the entire surrounding context. At a time when there was no such thing as a “chapter and verse” (those divisions were added much later. A short citation could function as a Biblical reference bringing to the extremely Biblically literate first-century Hebrew’s mind an entire “chapter” of Scripture, along with its common rabbinic interpretation.
By seeing the context of the entirety of Jeremiah 31 it is easy to see that Matthew has in mind more than just the one verse which he cites. He means to bring to his reader’s/hearer’s minds the hope of the coming New Covenant which is promised in this text. With the coming of Christ, the New Covenant age is about to be inaugurated. Here Matthew is not only identifying Jesus with the promised future restoration following the captivity, but also the ultimate restoration that is brought about by the New Covenant which was purchased for all believers by the blood of the cross! (see Luke 22:20).
III. He Identifies with Israel’s Rejection, v. 23.
The sentence “He shall be called a Nazarene.” does not appear in the Old Testament. Obviously then Matthew is not seeking to directly quote a specific passage but to summarize the essential message of the prophets. That is that the Messiah would be one who would be despised and rejected by men. This was the connotation of the term “Nazarene” in Matthew’s day. It was one of the worse insults that could have been given. It was the equivalent of someone from the North calling us Tennesseans “hillbillies.” It don’t bother me, but for them it is a huge insult. One we can better identify with is the term “Yankee.” When you call someone a “Yankee” you’re not paying them a compliment. It is spoken with derision. This is what the term “Nazarene” meant in Jesus day. Jesus was known as “Jesus of Nazareth”, not “Jesus of Bethlehem” (which would have carried esteem).
Even though Jesus was born in Bethlehem to fulfill the ancient prophecy of Micah 5:2, he was raised in Nazareth. Because of this He was largely unrecognized as the Christ, the Davidic King. Instead He endured the insult of being “called a Nazarene.” When Nathaniel was told about Jesus he asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). The question was rhetorical. He assumed the negative response: “Of course not!” But Philip merely said, “Come and see!” Later when crowds began to recognize Jesus as the Christ they convinced themselves otherwise by asking, “Will the Christ come out of Galilee?” (John 7:41).
I think that when Matthew says that Jesus’ living in Nazareth fulfilled the prophets, he had in mind passages like Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 which highlight the rejection and suffering which Jesus experienced. Ironically, it was by being a “Nazarene” (i.e., despised, rejected, and eventually murdered) that Jesus was ultimately able to fulfill all the Old Testament prophecies. Jesus not only traveled to and from Egypt, but by His sacrifice on the cross he accomplished real deliverance from the slavery of sin and death. Jesus not only identified with Israel’s restoration from the Babylonian Captivity, but by His blood He inaugurated the New Covenant to which Jeremiah looked forward.
Conclusion: Jesus is the true Israel. The events of His early childhood clearly identified Him with Israel’s history and as Israel’s Messiah. They also pointed forward to what His death would accomplish. Today you can experience the benefits of that death through faith in Him!