04.05.04 Mt. 2:19-23; Lk. 2:39-40 From Egypt to Nazareth
19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Get up! Take the child and His mother and go to the land of Israel, because those who sought the child’s life are dead.” 21 So he got up, took the child and His mother, and entered 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 being warned in a dream, he withdrew to the region of Galilee. 23 Then he went and settled in a town called Nazareth to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets, that He will be called a Nazarene.
Lk. 39 When they had completed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The boy grew up and became strong, filled with wisdom, and God’s grace was on Him.
“After Herod died.” No time frame was given as to how long it was after Herod’s death until an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in another dream. It may have been only a few days or even months because there were several small revolts throughout the land. Furthermore, it took months for Archelaus to receive his official position as ruler. Many messianic pretenders arose with their small groups of rebels and chaos and violence spread throughout the land until the strong arm of Roman might brought peace and order.
Since these revolutionaries had messianic aspirations, it is easy to understand why Jesus was frequently silent about His identity. He certainly did not want to be identified with any of them or their cause. Without the writings of Josephus, information of these nationalistic messianic pretenders would be lost in history.
“Go to the land of Israel.” The phrase meant the entire land of the twelve tribes, not just the ancient area of the ten northern tribes. It was also known as “Judaea” although it comprised the three Jewish provinces of Judea, Galilee and Perea, as well as Samaria and Idumea. However, the name “Judaea” at times also refers only to Judea, Samaria, and Idumea – the area governed by Archelaus and then by Pilate. The Bible refers to it in the Hebrew, Eretz-Israel, but never as Palestine. Yet this is the only place in the New Testament that refers to the Jewish land by the name “Israel,” whereas in other Scriptures the name is associated with “the people of Israel.”
“Because those who sought the child’s life are dead.” This statement was a reference to Herod the Great who died in 4 B.C. In Hebrew, a plural form is at times used to denote an indefinite number, or for one of many. The same is true in Greek. This phrase is one of several similarities between Moses and Jesus. In fact, Moses is seen as a prophetic picture of Jesus. In this case, the phrase nearly agrees verbatim with the first killing of the innocents in Exodus 4:19. The Jewish readers of Matthew’s gospel would have immediately connected the two events.
“Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod.” After Herod’s death his kingdom was divided by the Roman senate among three of his surviving sons and a fourth district was given to the governor of Damascus. Archelaus received Jerusalem and the district of Judea which included Bethlehem. He was a tyrant, worse than his father but with none of his father’s administrative skills. Life became so unbearable that the Jews rebelled. Archelaus, fearful that his government might fall, he…
… Sent out the whole army upon them (the Jews), and sent the horsemen to prevent those that had their tents without the temple, from assisting those that were within the temple, and to kill such as ran away from the footmen when they thought themselves out of danger; which the horsemen slew three thousand men, while the rest went to the neighboring mountains.
Josephus, Antiquities 17.9.3 (217b-218a)
While in Egypt, an angel warned Joseph in a dream not to return to Bethlehem. Unknown to Israel at this time was that Archelaus would be more of a tyrant that was his father. In fact, so much so, that after a decade of dictatorial rulership, the people rebelled in one of the most horrific revolts during the life of Jesus. This anarchy soon became too much for Rome and Archelaus was replaced by Coponius. In the meantime, the Holy Family was safe in Nazareth.
“To fulfill what was spoken through the prophets.” This portion of Scripture has been problematic, since the prophecy is not found anywhere in the Old Testament. However, note that Matthew used the word “was spoken” and not “written.” There are three possibilities to understanding this issue:
- He may have referred to a popular teaching within the Oral Law or tradition.
- He may have referred to a reader in the synagogue who read the prophecy publically.
- He could have referred to the general tenor of prophecy and not to a specific prophecy by a particular prophet.
Furthermore, at this time the Jews had both the Written Law and their Oral Law. When anyone was reading, it was aloud, since silent reading was an unknown skill at this time. Hence, the phrase “what was spoken” could have referred to either the Written Scripture or Oral laws.
04.05.04.Q1 How could the prophet Isaiah (11:1) identify Jesus as a “Nazarene” when there was no village by that name when the prophet lived?
This is an interesting question since Isaiah lived around 700 B.C., and Nazareth was established late in the Inter-Testamental period, meaning, there were about 500 to 600 years between the prophet and the establishment of the small farming village. Previously Matthew mentioned that the birth of Jesus was announced by a “rising” star (Mt. 2:1-2). The term “rising” (anatole) can also mean growth or shoot and in Isaiah 11:1 shoot and branch are parallels. At Qumran, the writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls called the Messiah the Branch of David, a term that precisely fits the wording of Matthew. Therefore, the phrase, “That He will be called a Nazarene,” is a play on words (mnemonic) that reflects upon the shoot of Jessie, referring to a prophecy given by Isaiah and explained below.
Then a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.
A Lesson in First Century Hermeneutics:
04.05.04.X A Word Play Known As A Mnemonic
In every language there are word plays – two words that sound alike but have different, sometimes opposite, meanings. At times word plays create humor and other times they are ideal teaching tools. The words shoot, branch, and Nazareth, have the same root word (Netzer). The debate hinges on whether the Greek word for “Nazareth” derives from Hebrew netzer, or nezer, meaning branch, or nazar, meaning to consecrate. Those who claim there is a connection to netzer, base their opinions on the phrase “Netzer-shoot planted by God” found in the Dead Sea Scroll 1QH 6:15; 7:5, 8, 10. Since Netzer is the root word for Nazareth, what Matthew is saying is that Jesus is the Netzer or Branch that came out of the root of Jesse – the father of King David. This is clearly a play on words known as a mnemonic, that is, a word arrangement in such a manner that it is easily remembered by the listeners. This functioned,
- As a memory tool and
- Indicated that the matter was of Divine origin.
Jesus, as the Master Teacher and like a typical rabbi, used puns and plays on words. In this case, the memory tool of nazar and Netzer apparently had a divine origin.
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“They returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth” This passage in Luke 2:39 suggests that the holy family returned to Nazareth immediately following the completion of the Mosaic Law requirements, 41 days after the birth of Jesus. But this is hardly the case as indicated in the other gospels. Luke evidently felt that some details were not needed for his purpose. He did not mention the visit of the magi, the killing of the innocents and the escape of the holy family, their flight to Egypt, and their return to Nazareth. Luke 2:39 is not out of chronological order but simply does not have those details. There are two important considerations concerning the segment of history that was not recorded by Luke:
- In Jewish writings, it was not uncommon to skip large periods of time. Even though Luke said that his work was a chronological account that does not mean he could not skip periods of time or events.
- The other gospels offer additional light to the childhood years of Jesus. Therefore, readers know that between the time “Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord” and their arrival at Nazareth, they journeyed to Egypt.
Luke 2:39 reveals the importance that all four gospels must be read together as a single unit to attain an accurate understanding of the life and work of Jesus.
The question has been asked why Archelaus had an incredible hatred and bitterness toward his subjects. It is because after his father died the Jews sent an embassy of fifty men to Rome to appeal to Augustus not to have him as their king. But Augustus decreed that he would be their ruler, but without the title of “king” that he so passionately wanted. As a result, he spilled out his vengeance toward the people until Rome removed him from office. This event became the background for the parable in Luke 19:11-27.
“The boy grew up.” The Jewish people marked the development of their children in eight stages as follows:
- The birth of a child (Isa. 9:6)
- The nursing stage (Sa. 9:8)
- When the suckling child begins to ask for food (Lam. 4:4)
- When the child is weaned off its mother’s breast (Isa. 28:9)
- When the child clings to its mother’s side (Jer. 40:7)
- When the child becomes firm and strong (Isa. 7:14)
- Youthful years
- The ripened one or warrior (Isa. 31:8)
Parents observed their children carefully in their growing years. There can be little question that Mary and Joseph noticed a difference from other children, especially after the Passover event when Jesus was 12 years old.
. A partial listing of an estimated 60 messianic pretenders is found in Appendix 25 “False Prophets, Rebels, Significant Events, And Rebellions That Impacted The First Century Jewish World.”
. The name “Palestine” was not used until a century after Christ. It was instituted as a curse word by Emperor Hadrian in A.D.135.
. See Exodus 4:19, where the Lord said to Moses, “Go back to Egypt, for all the men who wanted to kill you are dead.” Scholars believe “all the men” is a reference to Pharaoh Thutmose III. See New International Version Study Bible footnotes; Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible. 532.
. Wallace, Greek Grammar. 404.
. See Appendix 2.
. Hagner, “Matthew 1-13.” 39.
. Parenthesis mine; See also Josephus, Wars 2.1.3.
. See Appendix 25 for a listing of false prophets who had messianic expectations and for a partial listing of revolts and social disturbances from 63 B.C. to A.D. 135.
. Tenney, New Testament Times. 143; Josephus, Wars. 2.8.1.
. See also Jer. 23:5; 33:15; Zech. 3:8; 6:2
. Dead Sea Scroll 4QpIsa; 4QPat. BI. 3.4; 4QFlor. 10; Cited by Smith, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: Matthew. 45.
. See “mnemonic” in Appendix 26.
. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:22; Bock, Jesus According to Scripture. 73.
. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible. 710.
. Barclay, “Matthew.” 1:13.