DIVINE PROTECTION IN RELOCATING THE MESSIAH FULFILS OT PROPHECY
Analogy of a chess strategist. God moves people around on the chessboard of life like pawns accomplishing his long-term strategy and His short-term tactics. Uses His messenger angel to command the movements of Joseph and Mary and the infant child.
D. A. Carson: The point is that God took sovereign action to preserve his Messiah, his Son—something well understood by Jesus himself, and a major theme in the gospel of John. Egypt was a natural place to which to flee. It was nearby, a well-ordered Roman province outside Herod’s jurisdiction, and, according to Philo (writing ca. AD 40), its population included about a million Jews. Earlier generations of Israelites fleeing their homeland (1Ki 11:40; Jer 26:21–23; 43:7) had sought refuge in Egypt. But if Matthew was thinking of any particular OT parallel, probably Jacob and his family (Ge 46) fleeing the famine in Canaan was in his mind, since that is the trip that set the stage for the exodus (cf. v.15).
Grant Osborne: This episode concludes the infancy narratives on a note of treachery and the attempts of God’s enemies to defeat his will. It also contains features from 2:1–12, such as the evil attempt of Herod to eliminate his rival and the divine intervention of God, who sends two more dream-revelations to Joseph, telling him when to leave and when to return. At the same time, this is all material unique to Matthew.
There are two major, intertwined themes: the divine sovereignty in salvation history and the continual frustration of the forces of evil as they attempt to disrupt God’s will. These are both primary themes in Matthew’s gospel as a whole.
Donald Hagner: This pericope is unique to Matthew and is probably drawn from his special source. Two structural features of the pericope are striking.
- First, the passage divides readily into three separate frames, each ending with an OT quotation:
(1) vv 13–15, the dream warning and flight to Egypt (Hos 11:1);
(2) vv 16–18, the slaughter of the innocents (Jer 31:15);
(3) vv 19–23, the return to Israel and settlement in Nazareth (Isa 11:1?).
- Second, there is a remarkable parallelism in the opening of the first and third frames. Apart from the genitive absolutes that begin both frames, we have nearly verbatim agreement in
(1) the account of the revelation;
(2) the initial imperatives of the angel; and
(3) the obedient response of Joseph (which, in each instance, mirrors the angelic commands of the same frame).
John Nolland: The remainder of the chapter, bringing Matthew’s Infancy Narrative to its conclusion, offers a sequence of scenes which are united by their concern with the threat represented by Herod’s hostility in the face of news of the birth of a messianic claimant to the throne. The threat substantially subsides by the end of the chapter, but there remains some residual sense that Judea represents a place of danger for Jesus.
S. Lewis Johnson: so the impression is given by these claims that Scriptures are fulfilled in each aspect of the narrative, and by special attention being directed to the angel of the Lord, that what we have here is an account that is constructed with great care and with a definite purpose. He is the Messiah, and prophecy speaks of him.
That does seem to be the aim of the evangelist as he unfolds the accounts of the birth and early life of our Lord Jesus Christ. But there is also another level of truth here that I want to stress this morning as we look at the section that is before us. And that other level of truth is the Providence of God in prophecy and in history. If there is one thing that Matthew seems to be saying to us, it is on this level that God is no omniscient spectator, but he is the supreme mover at all of the events of redemption. And even in the incidental events of the Messiah, one can see that Scripture itself is fulfilled. . .
One of our most prominent, contemporary systematic theologians has said that Providence may be defined as that continuous exercise of the divine energy, whereby the Creator preserves all his creatures, is operative in all that comes to pass in the world, and directs all things to their appointed end.
Now that definition indicates that there are three things that are prominent in God’s Providence. First of all, there is the element of preservation. He preserves all things and all his creatures. And second, concurrence or cooperation; he works or is operative in everything that comes to pass in the world. He is not surprised by anything, not surprised by any of the events that take place, and not surprised by any of the thoughts of your heart. And finally, government; he directs all things to their appointed end. . .
John Wesley used to like to say, “I read the newspaper to see how God is governing the world.” And I think it would do us good to read it in the same spirit, for we are not reading things that are surprising to God. He does not take the Dallas Morning News and, at his breakfast table, after reading the headlines decide that certain activities are appropriate for this particular time. But he is well aware of everything that is taking place, and is actually moving it all to one great common goal when all things are gathered together in our Lord Jesus Christ.
I. (:13-15) CALLED OUT OF EGYPT (Hos. 11:1) –
SURPRISING BUT PROPHECIED
A. (:13) Urgent Warning
“Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, ‘Arise and take the Child and His mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.’”
D. A. Carson: The focus on God’s protection of “the child” is unmistakable. Herod was going to try to kill him (v.13), and Joseph took “the child and his mother” (v.14—not the normal order) to Egypt.
Grant Osborne: Herod’s evil intentions are a controlling factor in this chapter, and he is the archetypal anti-hero. Jesus brings life and freedom, he death and bondage. Jesus gives of himself completely; Herod lives for himself completely. Several have noted here a Moses typology, with the divine protection of the baby as Pharaoh/Herod slaughter the children; the LXX uses the verb “flee” (ἀναχωρέω, as used in Matt 2:14) for the first time when Moses flees Pharaoh in Egypt and becomes a refugee in Midian.
Craig Blomberg: Egypt afforded a natural haven for first-century Jews. A large Jewish community had lived there for several centuries, and even from Old Testament times Egypt had often provided a refuge when danger threatened Israel (e.g., 1 Kgs 11:40; 2 Kgs 25:26; Zech 10:10).
B. (:14) Immediate Evacuation
“And he arose and took the Child and His mother by night, and departed for Egypt;”
Charles Swindoll: As the adage goes, “Where the Lord guides, He provides!” So, gathering their limited belongings and packing the treasures securely, Joseph obeyed the angel’s instruction instantly. Matthew indicates in 2:14 that they left “while it was still night.” Joseph didn’t call a family meeting to weigh the angel’s words, didn’t begin a week of planning and packing, and didn’t go ahead to find suitable lodging in Egypt for his family. He fled immediately because the angel had warned him that Herod would soon be searching for the child to destroy Him (2:13). Because of the dangerous prospect of a pursuit, Joseph and his family no doubt left Bethlehem in a manner similar to the magi —quietly and secretly, without a word to anyone. They left without a trace.
R. E. Nixon: There is irony in the fact that Egypt, the place of bondage (Ex. 20:2), is now the place of safety.
C. (:15) Enduring Obedience in Fulfilment of OT Prophecy
“and was there until the death of Herod, that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, ‘Out of Egypt did I call My Son.’”
D. A. Carson: The “son” language is part of this messianic matrix (cf. Willis J. Beecher, The Prophets and the Promise [New York: Crowell, 1905], 331–35); insofar as that matrix points to Jesus the Messiah and insofar as Israel’s history looks forward to one who sums it up, then so far also does Hosea 11:1 look forward. To ask whether Hosea thought of Messiah is to ask the wrong question, akin to using a hacksaw when a scalpel is needed. It is better to say that Hosea, building on existing revelation, grasped the messianic nuances of the “son” language already applied to Israel and David’s promised heir in previous revelation so that had he been able to see Matthew’s use of 11:1, he would not have disapproved, even if messianic nuances were not in his mind when he wrote that verse. He provided one small part of the revelation unfolded during salvation history; but that part he himself understood to be a pictorial representative of divine, redeeming love.
Leon Morris: This is the first time that Matthew speaks of Jesus as “Son” with reference to God. That Jesus is the Son of God is a very important concept for Matthew, and it is interesting that it makes its appearance so early.
Charles Swindoll: In light of the various ways plēroō can be used, what does Matthew mean when he says an event or circumstance in the life of Christ “fulfilled” an Old Testament Scripture? In a broad sense, the “thing that is lacking” in the Old Testament text that is “fulfilled” by the New Testament event is first and foremost a more complete revelation in Jesus Christ. A type of Christ may lack its antitype in the life of Christ; an illustration may lack its referent; a prophecy may lack its accomplishment; a promise may lack its fulfillment; a series of events may lack its ultimate climax. The New Testament authors saw in the person and work of Jesus Christ the ultimate revelation of God (see, e.g., Luke 24:27; John 5:39; Heb. 1:1-2). In other words, the body of revelation contained in the Old Testament Scriptures was lacking the further revelation that comes through Christ, similar to the way a question may have an incomplete answer.
This kind of notion of the Old Testament —through its use of pattern, type, illustration, or anticipation —being “fulfilled” in the New Testament would have been familiar to Matthew’s Jewish readers. This approach invites readers to mull over passages of Scripture, thinking more carefully about what Matthew is doing in each individual “fulfillment” passage.
Craig Blomberg: As before, the fulfillment quotation does not contradict the events of history, but neither does it fit them so closely as to substantiate charges that the narrative was created out of the quotation. The historical events described focus on the flight of Jesus and family; the quotation described their return. In its original context the Old Testament text cited (Hos 11:1) is not predictive prophecy but a recollection of God’s love for his people Israel at the time of the exodus. Attempts to find a messianic title in Hosea’s use of “son” seem contrived and unconvincing. Most simply attribute Matthew’s hermeneutic to some form of Jewish exegesis (e.g., midrash or pesher) which many today would recognize as illegitimate.
Better than either of these approaches is that which recognizes the exegesis as typological (and even more specifically that of analogical correspondence). Matthew sees striking parallels in the patterns of God’s activities in history in ways he cannot attribute to coincidence. Just as God brought the nation of Israel out of Egypt to inaugurate his original covenant with them, so again God is bringing the Messiah, who fulfills the hopes of Israel, out of Egypt as he is about to inaugurate his new covenant. This is the first of several instances in Matthew in which Jesus recapitulates the role of Israel as a whole. The language of Jesus’ son-ship foreshadows Jesus’ role as Son of God (or Immanuel) and recalls Old Testament texts that link Messiah with “the Son” (e.g., Pss 2:7; 89:26-27; 2 Sam 7:14; cf. Num 24:7-8, LXX, in which God himself brings the Messiah out of Egypt).
S. Lewis Johnson: Augustine wrote, many years ago, that in the Old Testament the New Testament lies concealed. And that in the New, the Old lies revealed. And so what we have here in this New Testament is a revelation of the fullness of meaning that existed in the Old Testament. And the essential thing that we must remember when we think about the types of the word of God is the word, correspondence – the events, the persons, the institutions of the Old Testament, by divine intention, by the exercise of his divine providence – are intended to correspond to the events of the New Testament revelations.
In other words, we find in the Old Testament events that are designed to correspond to the events of the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus. For example, the Passover account and the Passover service; that particular institution is designed to correspond to certain aspects of the ministry of the Lord Jesus, for he is the true lamb of God. It’s not surprising, then, that the Apostle Paul should write about Jesus Christ our Passover who has been sacrificed for us. So the Apostle saw in the rite of the Passover, in the Old Testament, a clear adumbration of the Lord Jesus himself. So the term that is important for us is, correspondence – the events, the institutions, the Tabernacle, the services (such as the services of the Levitical cultus), and individuals such as Joseph and Moses and others who look forward to Christ – correspond to things that are found in the New Testament.
Well in what way do we have a correspondence between Israel and the Lord Jesus? Well, Israel is called in the Old Testament, “God’s son.” In fact, Israel is called his first born. And furthermore, Israel is called the servant of the Lord. Now if there is one person who is God’s unique Son, and who is the servant of the Lord, it is the Lord Jesus. And so what we have, then, is a recapitulating in our Lord Jesus’ experiences of the experience of Israel which pointed forward to him.
So that when they went down to Egypt and were called out of Egypt, their experiences corresponded to that which would happen in the Messianic experiences of the Lord Jesus. He is the seed, he is the representative Israelite through whom God does everything for them.
(:16-18) ASIDE: WAILING OVER HEROD’S MASSACRE OF INFANTS AROUND BETHLEHEM (Jer. 31:15) –
SURPRISING BUT PROPHECIED
A. (:16) Slaughter of Male Infants
“Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its environs, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the magi.”
Bruce Hurt: Enraged (thumuoo) is used only here but we get a vivid picture of the meaning from the root word thumos which in turn is from thúo which means to move impetuously, particularly as the air or wind, a violent motion or passion of the mind; move violently, rush along. And so thumos describes passion (as if breathing hard) and speaks of an agitated, “heated” anger that rushes along (impulse toward a thing). It is a tumultuous welling up of the whole spirit produced by a mighty emotion which seizes and moves the whole inner person. Thumos especially when accompanied by breathing hard pictures a “panting rage”. We can picture Herod exploding with a sudden outburst of passion. When someone is this anger you can often see their nasal passages widening to take in more air in the heat of their passion!
R. T. France: Estimates of the total population of Bethlehem in the first century are generally under 1,000, which would mean that the number of male14 children up to two years old at any one time could hardly be more than 20, even allowing for “all its district.”
William Barclay: Here is a terrible illustration of what some people will do to get rid of Jesus Christ. If they are set on their own course, if they see in Christ someone who is liable to interfere with their ambitions and rebuke their ways, their one desire is to eliminate Christ; and then they are driven to the most terrible things, for if they do not break others physically, they will break their hearts.
Warren Wiersbe: Matthew introduced here the theme of hostility, which he focused on throughout his book. Satan is a liar and a murderer (John 8:44), as was King Herod. He lied to the magi and he murdered the babies. But even this horrendous crime of murder was the fulfillment of prophecy found in Jeremiah 31:15.
John Butler: Abortion makes Herod’s act look like a Sunday School picnic. We kill millions and millions of babies every year and the news media yawns and turns the other way. What we need to learn is that there is a relationship between our lack of affection for Christ and our abortion acts. In fact much evil in our land goes back to our bad attitude for Jesus Christ. The politicians do not understand this for they are part of the problem and they pass laws to allow evil which they cannot control. Those who defend abortion are not friends of Christ. They have more in common with Herod than with Christ.
Louis A. Barbieri Jr.: This slaughter of the male children is mentioned only here in the biblical record. Even the Jewish historian Josephus (A.D. 37-?100) did not mention this dastardly deed of putting to death innocent babies and young children. But it is not surprising that he and other secular historians overlooked the death of a few Hebrew children in an insignificant village, for Herod’s infamous crimes were many.
B. (:17-18) Weeping and Great Mourning
“Then that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled, saying,
18 ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, Weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; And she refused to be comforted, Because they were no more.’”
Craig Blomberg: Ramah originally was located approximately five miles north of Jerusalem and would have been one of the first cities the exiles passed by as they headed north on their way out of Israel. First Samuel 10:2-3 associates Rachel’s tomb with the same general area on the border of Judah and Benjamin.
D. A. Carson: The exile sent Israel into captivity and thereby called forth tears. But here the tears are not for him who goes into “exile” but because of the children who stay behind and are slaughtered. Why, then, refer to the exile at all? Help comes from observing the broader context of both Jeremiah and Matthew. Jeremiah 31:9, 20 refer to Israel = Ephraim as God’s dear son and also introduce the new covenant (31:31–34) the Lord will make with his people. Therefore the tears associated with exile (31:15) will end. Matthew has already made the exile a turning point in his thought (1:11–12), for at that time the Davidic line was dethroned. The tears of the exile are now being “fulfilled”—i.e., the tears begun in Jeremiah’s day are climaxed and ended by the tears of the mothers of Bethlehem. The heir to David’s throne has come, the exile is over, the true Son of God has arrived—and he will introduce the new covenant (26:28) promised by Jeremiah.
Leon Morris: Matthew relates Rachel’s grief to the situation in Bethlehem after Herod’s men were through. Neither the prophet nor Matthew says whose voice was heard: the emphasis is on the mourning, not the mourners, and the language stresses the depths of the grief. It is this sort of bitter grief that Matthew sees in Bethlehem. Her children in a passage like this means “descendants,” and Rachel’s grief is such that she will not be comforted. The reason? Because they are no more. Nothing can alter the fact of the exile and nothing can alter the fact of the killings at Bethlehem. Thus the grief remains. Yet we should add that Jeremiah’s prophecy goes on to the note of hope (Jer. 31:17) and to the making of a new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34); further, the Israelites did in time return from their exile. All this points to the fact that the child Jesus would in due course come back from his exile in Egypt.
II. (:19-23) CALLED A NAZARENE – OUT OF GALILEE (Is. 11:1; Ps. 22:6-8; Is. 49:7; 53:3) –
SURPRISING BUT PROPHECIED
A. (:19-20) Revelation that the Coast is Clear
“But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, 20 ‘Arise and take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child’s life are dead.’”
Grant Osborne: Again there is a parallel with Moses, as the language echoes Exod 4:19, where the Lord tells Moses in Midian, “Go back to Egypt, for all those who wanted to kill you are dead.” At nearly every point of the plot in chs. 1–2, this Moses typology is evident. Matthew bathes every aspect in typology and the fulfillment of Scripture. The point is the sovereign hand of God behind every detail of Jesus’ birth and childhood.
B. (:21) Return to Israel
“And he arose and took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel.”
C. (:22-23) Relocation to Nazareth
- (:22a) Danger in Judea
“But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there.”
Michael Wilkins: After remaking his will at least seven times, Herod finally settled on dividing the kingdom between three of his remaining sons, Archelaus, Herod Antipas (14:1ff.), and Herod Philip (16:13). Archelaus, a nineteen-year-old son by Malthace, was appointed successor to Herod’s throne with power over Judea (including Samaria and Idumaea). Archelaus quickly displayed the same kind of cruelty that marked his father’s reign. He overreacted to an uprising in the temple at Passover after his father’s death, sending in troops and a cavalry who killed about three thousand pilgrims. He was notorious for his cruel treatment of both Jews and Samaritans, continually using oppressive measures to quell uprisings of the people. Augustus feared a revolution from the people, so he deposed Archelaus from office and banished him to Gaul in A.D. 6. The rule over Judea was thereafter passed to Roman prefects.
- (:22b-23a) Departure for Nazareth in Galilee
“And being warned by God in a dream, he departed for the regions of Galilee,
23 and came and resided in a city called Nazareth,”
Michael Wilkins: Joseph led the family to the region of Galilee, which was not under the jurisdiction of Archelaus. Galilee was governed by another of Herod the Great’s sons, Herod Antipas, who did not yet have the same bloodthirsty reputation as did his older brother.
Craig Blomberg: Many commentators find a contradiction in these verses with Luke because Matthew seems to know nothing of Mary’s and Joseph’s original residence in Nazareth. But Matthew narrates only that which is relevant to his fulfillment quotations. He certainly says nothing that would exclude a previous residence in Galilee. Probably Mary and Joseph had intended to resettle in Bethlehem in their ancestral homeland and now have to change their plans and go north once again.
R. T. France: The “new Moses” can now return to the place in which his work of deliverance will be launched. But that place is not Bethlehem. Judea has become an unsafe place for the new Moses, even after the death of the “Pharaoh” whose murderous jealousy initially caused his exile. As the story unfolds we shall be reminded repeatedly that the Jerusalem which shared Herod’s alarm in v. 3 will remain hostile territory for the new king of the Jews, and Bethlehem is too close to Jerusalem for comfort. Political wisdom thus dictates Joseph’s relocation to the now independent state of Galilee to the north, but his move is directed not simply by prudence but also by divine guidance (another dream, v. 22), which will ensure that the Davidic Messiah born in Bethlehem will start his public career not as a Judean but as “Jesus of (Galilean) Nazareth.”
Grant Osborne: Nazareth was a fairly small village of fifty to sixty acres with about 480 population and thus not significant in and of itself.
William Barclay: Nazareth lay in a hollow in the hills in the south of Galilee. But a young boy had only to climb the hills for half the world to be at his door. He could look west and the waters of the Mediterranean, blue in the distance, would meet his eyes; and he would see the ships going out to the ends of the earth. He had only to look at the plain which skirted the coast, and he would see, slipping round the foot of the very hill on which he stood, the road from Damascus to Egypt, the land bridge to Africa. It was one of the greatest caravan routes in the world.
It was the road by which, centuries before, Joseph had been sold down into Egypt as a slave. It was the road that, 300 years before, Alexander the Great and his legions had followed. It was the road by which, centuries later, Napoleon was to march. It was the road which, in the twentieth century, General Sir Edmund Allenby was to take. Sometimes it was called the Way of the South, and sometimes the Road of the Sea. On it, Jesus would see all kinds of travellers from all kinds of nations on all kinds of errands, coming and going from the ends of the earth.
But there was another road. There was the road which left the sea coast at Acre or Ptolemais and went out to the east. It was the Road of the East. It went out to the eastern bounds and frontiers of the Roman Empire. Once again, the cavalcade of the caravans and their silks and spices would be continually on it; and on it also the Roman legions clanked out to the frontiers.
Nazareth indeed was no backwater. Jesus was brought up in a town where the ends of the earth passed the foot of the hilltop. From his boyhood days, he was confronted with scenes which must have spoken to him of a world for God.
Homer Kent: From Matthew one would suppose that Bethlehem was the original residence. Luke supplements by showing Nazareth to be the former home. Joseph apparently intended to dwell permanently in Bethlehem until his plans were divinely altered.
Louis A. Barbieri Jr.: Nazareth was the town which housed the Roman garrison for the northern regions of Galilee. Therefore most Jews would not have any associations with that city. In fact those who lived in Nazareth were thought of as compromisers who consorted with the enemy, the Romans. Therefore to call one “a Nazarene” was to use a term of contempt.
- (:23b) Despised Reputation of Nazareth
“that what was spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled,
‘He shall be called a Nazarene.’”
D. A. Carson: Nazareth was a despised place (Jn 7:42, 52), even to other Galileans (cf. Jn 1:46). Here Jesus grew up, not as “Jesus the Bethlehemite,” with its Davidic overtones, but as “Jesus the Nazarene,” with all the opprobrium of the sneer. When Christians were referred to in Acts as the “Nazarene sect” (24:5), the expression was meant to hurt. First-century Christian readers of Matthew, who had tasted their share of scorn, would have quickly caught Matthew’s point. He is not saying that a particular OT prophet foretold that the Messiah would live in Nazareth; he is saying that the OT prophets foretold that the Messiah would be despised (cf. Pss 22:6–8, 13; 69:8, 20–21; Isa 11:1; 49:7; 53:2–3, 8; Da 9:26). The theme is repeatedly picked up by Matthew (e.g., 8:20; 11:16–19; 15:7–8; see Turner). In other words Matthew gives us the substance of several OT passages, not a direct quotation (so also Ezr 9:10–12; cf. Str-B, 1:92–93).
It is possible that at the same time there is a discreet allusion to the nēṣer (“branch”) of Isaiah 11:1, which received a messianic interpretation in the Targums, rabbinic literature, and Dead Sea Scrolls (cf. Gundry, Use of the Old Testament, 104), for here, too, it is affirmed that David’s son would emerge from humble obscurity and low state. Jesus is King Messiah, Son of God, Son of David; but he was a branch from a royal line hacked down to a stump and reared in surroundings guaranteed to win him scorn. Jesus the Messiah, Matthew is telling us, did not introduce his kingdom with outward show or present himself with the pomp of an earthly monarch. In accord with prophecy, he came as the despised Servant of the Lord.
Leon Morris: Had he been known as “Jesus of Bethlehem” he would have had the aura of one who came from the royal city; there would have been overtones of messianic majesty. But “Jesus the Nazarene” carried with it overtones of contempt. We are to understand the prophets as pointing to one who would be despised and rejected, and Jesus as fulfilling this by his connection with obscure Nazareth.
Warren Wiersbe: Who ever heard of a king being born in a humble village and growing up in a despised city? The humility of the King is certainly something to admire and imitate (Phil. 2:1–13).