Matthew has been showing us pictures of who the Savior will be and what his mission will be. Matthew 2 contains four prophecies that show the obscurity of the Christ. We looked at the first of these prophecies last week. The Christ was to be born in Bethlehem, a little town to be counted among the clans of Judah (Micah 5:2), will no longer be little in the eyes of people. The other three prophecies of Matthew 2 also highlight the obscurity of the king. But these pictures of obscurity are also going to present to us three more important pictures of Jesus that are to encourage our faith and help us see the nature of our Savior.
Rescue In Egypt (2:13-15)
The first shocking picture about Jesus is what happens in Matthew 2:13-15. Joseph is warned in a dream that he needs to take the child and the mother and escape to Egypt because Herod is looking to destroy the child. So Joseph obeys and takes his family to Egypt until the death of Herod. Matthew says that this fulfills a prophecy found in Hosea 11:1, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” There is much that we need to understand from this paragraph to help us properly grasp what Matthew is trying to show us about Jesus.
First, we need to be shocked at the reverse exodus imagery. Please consider that safety for the Savior is not in Israel, but in Egypt. Egypt is now the place of safety. This is surprising because Egypt is always pictured as the place of slavery except in one instance. That particular instance is found in Genesis 46 where Joseph brings his family (Jacob and his brothers) to Egypt for their deliverance. So Joseph in Genesis brings Israel to Egypt for their protection and deliverance from the famine. Now Joseph in Matthew brings Jesus to Egypt for his protection and deliverance from Herod. Hope and rescue is not in Israel but in Egypt. This connection is made even stronger by two facts. Both of their names are Joseph. It is unavoidable to see that Joseph in Matthew is doing what Joseph in Genesis. Further, both Joseph’s have dreams about this. The Joseph in Genesis has dreams revealing how he is going to rescue his family (Genesis 37:5-11). Now look again at Joseph in Matthew. Joseph has a dream in Matthew 2:13 and again in Matthew 2:19 and yet again in Matthew 2:22. Joseph in Genesis has dreams to rescue his family and Joseph in Matthew has dreams to rescue his family.
Second, this rescue sequences is telling us something important about Jesus. Joseph in Genesis saved Israel from death. Now Joseph in Matthew is saving Israel from death. Jesus is representing the new Israel. Now why would I say this? Look at Matthew 2:15. The quotation is from Hosea 11:1, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Now many scholars have a problem with this quotation because when you study Hosea 11 you will see that Hosea is not at all prophesying about the Christ. Hosea is clearly talking about Israel. Listen to the context as God speaks.
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols. (Hosea 11:1–2 ESV)
Notice that “the son” that God is speaking about in this text is not Jesus, but Israel. God had called Israel his son as he brought Israel out of Egypt. In Exodus 4:22 God calls Israel his firstborn son. But what was the problem in the prophecy? The problem is that though Israel was loved by God and called his son, Israel went away from God, going further and further into idolatry. So what is the picture? Why is Matthew applying this quotation to Jesus? The answer is that Jesus represents the new Israel. Remember that Israel’s mission was to be a light to the nations and bring salvation to the ends of the earth (cf. Isaiah 49:6). In Isaiah’s prophecy he says that God will bring his new servant who will be up to the task. Physical Israel failed because they rejected their calling to be God’s son choosing to sin. But the new Israel has come in Jesus. He will be a light to the nations and bring salvation to the ends of the earth. Jesus will not fail but will give us the hope we need. Jesus as the true Israel will fulfill the scriptures and be the son that God delights in.
Now notice the irony. Notice that the prophecy is not applied in Matthew 2:21 when Joseph brings his family out of Egypt. Rather, the prophecy is applied when Joseph brings his family into Egypt and out of Israel. Physical Israel has become so rebellious that God pictures them as if they were wicked Egypt and God must call his son out of Egypt. Joseph brings true Israel out of wicked Israel, if you will. Jesus will be faithful for faithless Israel. The point is that Jesus is the true rescuer who will set us free from the prison of sin.
Weeping In Ramah (2:16-18)
When Herod realizes that the wise men are not returning to him to tell him where the child is, Herod gives the order to kill all the boys in Bethlehem who were two years and younger. Now Matthew states that this event fulfills what Jeremiah said in Jeremiah 31:15. Now it is easy to wonder what this prophecy has to do with anything. Again, the context of a quoted prophecy is critical for proper understanding of what the New Testament authors are doing. On the surface the quotation sounds like it is all bad news. But the Jeremiah 31 prophecy is actually good news. Jeremiah 31:1 declares that the Lord will be the God of Israel again and that Israel will be his people again. Jeremiah 31 is a picture of the restoration of God’s people as God confirms his everlasting love and faithfulness (31:3). The people will be satisfied with the goodness of God (31:14). So with this context look at the prophecy of Jeremiah.
15 Thus says the LORD: “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.” 16 Thus says the LORD: “Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, declares the LORD, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. 17 There is hope for your future, declares the LORD, and your children shall come back to their own country. (Jeremiah 31:15–17 ESV)
Verse 15 is the bad news. There is weeping for the children of Israel because they are no more. Ramah was the place where Babylon was deporting the people into captivity. But notice what God says about this. God heard their weeping and tells them to not weep anymore because the people will return. Look at verse 17. There is hope for your future and you will return to your own land. The exiles will come back.
So what is Matthew trying to show us about Jesus? First, what looks like bad news because Herod is killing the boys in Bethlehem is setting the stage for the good news. Reversal is coming. For the moment things look bad. But this event is triggering future hope. God’s people will be restored. God’s people will see God’s love and faithfulness. There is hope and Israel will return to his own land. Please consider that the next paragraph in Matthew 2 shows Jesus coming back to the land. This is the new Israel returning to the land in the person of Jesus. But more than this, the point is that Jesus is the beginning of light in a hopeless time. Things look hopeless and dark. But Jesus is the new Moses who will lead the new exodus to bring his people back to God through a new covenant. Please consider the rest of Jeremiah 31 which speaks about the new covenant that is going to come where the Lord will forgive the people’s sin and never remember their sins again (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Jesus is the redeemer who brings restoration through his new covenant. Through Jesus the exiles come back.
He Will Be Called A Nazarene (2:19-23)
When Herod dies, Joseph is told in a dream that it is safe to return to Israel. Verse 22 indicates that the family was going to live in Judea, perhaps in Jerusalem or back in Bethlehem. But there is a problem. Herod’s son is reigning in Judea and Joseph does not think that this will be safe for the child either. In fact, Joseph is warned in yet another dream that Judea is not the safe place for Jesus. Rather, they need to go to Galilee (2:22). So they go to a town called Nazareth which fulfills what the prophets said, “He shall be called a Nazarene.” Now this quotation drives scholars crazy because there is not a prophecy in the Hebrew Scriptures that the Christ will be called a Nazarene. But Matthew knows this because you will notice that he does not say that this was spoken by the prophet like he did with the other prophecies in Matthew 2. No, Matthew says that this was spoken by the prophets, plural. Matthew knows this is not a particular quotation that you can look up. But this title is important because the scriptures, particularly the book of Acts, repeatedly calls Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth or Jesus the Nazarene.
So what is the message? Some argue that this is a word play on the Hebrew word to show Jesus to be prophesied branch (cf. Isaiah 4:2; Jeremiah 23:5; Zechariah 3:6; 6:12). Some think it refers to the Nazarites in Numbers 16 who were pictured as set apart and holy. Maybe these are pieces that we are to consider about Jesus. But I do not think these answers would have been obvious in Jesus’ day or to the readers of the gospel. Let’s just take the quotation in a straightforward way. What did it mean to be from Nazareth? What did it mean to be from Galilee? The scriptures tell us.
Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” (John 1:45–46 ESV)
And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?” (Acts 2:7–8 ESV)
A little later some of the other bystanders came over to Peter and said, “You must be one of them; we can tell by your Galilean accent.” (Matthew 26:73 NLT)
To be from the region of Galilee and from the town of Nazareth was something contemptible, not worthy of praise. Nathanael cannot believe that the savior of the world could possibly come out of Nazareth. The people of Jerusalem cannot believe that the apostles who are Galileans could be educated to speak different languages. It must have been a miracle because Galileans are not educated in world languages. During Peter’s denials, one thing that gives him away is his Galilean accent. We sometimes just think of Israel as a singular society without distinction. But this would be just as wrong as thinking that because we are all Americans that we all have the same culture, way of reasoning, and way of speaking. California is very different from New York which is very different from Alabama which is very different from Nebraska, which is very different from Texas. We see this even within our own state. The panhandle of Florida is far more southern in its culture where as the Florida Keys are far more relax, retire, and be laid back. Cultures shift by geography which in our own nation and our own state. To be a Nazarene means that Jesus will be from nowhere, be a nobody, and be contemptible in the eyes of religious and cultured. It is like how high urbanized people look down on farmers and those who live in the middle of nowhere.
Now are there prophecies in the scriptures that say this? Absolutely! We are told in many places even in Isaiah’s prophecies that Jesus would be contemptible and come from obscurity (cf. Isaiah 49:7; 53:2-3). Jesus will be deeply despised. Jesus will be rejected. Jesus will not look like anything or be from anywhere such that people would think highly of him.
What is the point? Jesus will represent the insignificant. Jesus will not be out of touch with the common people but will know their condition, experience life like them, and be their rescuer. Jesus is not the savior for the Jerusalem type of people. Jesus is the savior of the Nazarene type of people. Jesus does his work in Galilee and is from Galilee because he has come from the lowly, the outcast, the downtrodden, and rejected.
Matthew wants you to see this Jesus. Matthew does not want you just see that Jesus fulfills prophecy. While certainly true, this is not the point of chapter 2. The point is to have a deeper understanding of Jesus. Jesus is pictured as the new Moses leading those who belong to him out of their slavery. Jesus has come to reverse your life condition, bringing you from darkness to light. But this offer to radically change your life, give you future hope, draw you into relationship with him, and to enjoy his blessings are not merely to powerful or successful. This offer is not merely to rich. In fact, Jesus even said that the rich and powerful would reject his offer. This offer is truly for the nobodies. This offer is for the hurting. This offer is for those who are considered contemptible and worthy of being ignored and rejected. This offer is not for the popular or for the mainstream. The offer is for the Galileans, that is, those that the powerful, rich, and successful reject from their circles. The obscurity of the king: born in Bethlehem, escaping to Egypt, and growing up in Galilee, reveals that Jesus has come for the obscure. Jesus has come for the unknown and unwelcome. Jesus has come for the disregarded and discarded. He represents you before God, standing on your behalf so that you can be free to love him and serve him. Your hope has come.