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Matthew 2

Hello again, and apologies for the delay in adding a new post! They will be more frequent as we move through the chapters, hopefully a couple a week. So without any further delay, let’s open our minds and hearts to this passage:

Matthew 2

The Visit of the Wise Men

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

The Escape to Egypt

13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” 16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
    wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

The Return from Egypt

19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20 “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

In Matthew 2 the author continues with the story of the birth of Jesus and again ties it back to Old Testament prophecy in 2:6 (Micah 5:2) and 2:18 (Jeremiah 31:15). What is interesting about the first referenced prophecy from Micah is the hope of the Jewish people of a literal King and ruler who would drive out the hated Romans. This is a good lesson for modern times as well in our reading of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, because we often lose the true meaning and beauty of a passage because we have become a very literal people. When you read the Bible, think to yourself “was this phrase, chapter, or book meant to be taken literally or is it an elaboration or story provided to prove a larger or deeper point and provoke thought within the reader?”

You probably also noticed in Matthew 2:23 the Author makes a reference to prophecy, but what is this prophecy? I too was curious about this and while researching it I came across this very interesting piece on this question:

Matthew 2:23 says about Jesus, “He went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.” Where is this prophecy in the Old Testament?

Matthew is obviously not quoting a prophecy directly, as there is no Old Testament passage with the wording he uses. Three major options exist for interpreting this verse. First, it may be that Matthew is associating the word Nazarene with the Hebrew word netser (“branch or sprout”). The “Branch” was a common term for the Messiah, such as in Isaiah 11:1: “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” Hebrew was written with only consonants, and netser would have appeared as NZR—the same main consonants as Nazareth. In fact, in Aramaic, the common language of Jesus’ day, the word for “Nazareth” and the Hebrew word for “branch” sounded very much alike. Matthew’s point could be that Jesus was “sprouting up” from an obscure village in Galilee; Jesus was the Branch predicted by the prophets, and the name of the town He grew up in happens to sound just like the prophets’ word for “branch.”

A second option is that Matthew is citing a prophecy not found in the Old Testament but in another source. If so, Matthew referred to a prophecy known to his original audience yet unknown to us today. However, this is unlikely and an argument from silence.

A third option is that Matthew uses the word Nazarene in reference to a person who is “despised and rejected.” In the first century, Nazareth was a small town about 55 miles north of Jerusalem, and it had a negative reputation among the Jews. Galilee was generally looked down upon by Judeans, and Nazareth of Galilee was especially despised (see John 1:46). If this was Matthew’s emphasis, the prophecies Matthew had in mind could include these two passages concerning the Messiah:

“But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads” (Psalm 22:6–7). It’s true that Nazarenes were “scorned by everyone,” and so one could see this messianic prophecy as an allusion to Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth.

“He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem” (Isaiah 53:3). Again, in Jesus’ day, Nazarenes were “despised and rejected,” and so Isaiah’s prophecy could be viewed as an indirect reference to Jesus’ background as the supposed son of a carpenter from Nazareth.

If Psalm 22:6–7 and Isaiah 53:3 are the prophecies that Matthew had in mind, then the meaning of “He shall be called a Nazarene” is something akin to “He shall be despised and mocked by His own people.” Jesus not only identified with humanity by coming to our world; He also identified with the lowly of this world. His upbringing in an obscure and despised town served as an important part of His mission. Jesus identified Himself as “Jesus of Nazareth” during His encounter with Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts 22:7–8). After his conversion, Paul mentioned Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 26:9). One of the names of the early Christians was “Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5), and the term Nasara, meaning “Nazarene,” is still used today by Muslims to identify a Christian.”

Which of these options makes the most sense to you, which one speaks to you? For me it is the third option because I feel it falls more in line with the Jesus that we know and will learn more about in the Gospels, the Jesus who was rejected and crucified by his own people. The stone that was rejected by the builders… (Psalm 118:22, Matthew 21:42, Mark 12:10, Luke 20:17, Acts 4:11 and 1 Peter 2:7). Have we sometimes underestimated, judged, and rejected those that were different than us?

Additionally, I ask that you contemplate what it would have been like to be in the shoes of Joseph again, as he had to hastily flee his home and everything and everyone he knew so that he could protect his family from harm. Are there people in the world today who are fleeing their homes and making dangerous travels to other countries in order to save their families from harm or make a better life for them? Are not those people much like the family of Jesus? Do we have compassion for them?

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