He Will be Called a Nazarene

Matthew 2:19-23 and Luke 2:39

DIG: What relocation options did Joseph face? How did God use prophecy, dreams, faith and circumstances to guide him? What was Luke trying to show believers today?

REFLECT: How long would it take you to say, “Yes,” if God asked you to move on with Him? Would there be any delay? Why or why not?

Although Jesus would face more persecution in His adult years, Herod’s death granted Him a time of relative reprieve until His public ministry began. While Matthew mentions Herod’s murder of the children once, he notes Herod’s death three times – indicating the LORD alone holds the ultimate power of life and death. To oppressed believers, whether persecuted for their faith (Matthew 10:22; First Peter 4:13-14) or repressed for other unjust reasons (Mt 5:39-41; James 5:1-7), this reminder of the oppressors’ mortality is a reminder that all trials are temporary and that their loving Father is in total control of the time and place of their passing (Matthew 10:28-31; 1 Peter 5:10).180

After Herod died, an angel of ADONAI once again appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said: Get up, take the Child and his mother and go to the land of Isra'el (Mattityahu 2:19-20a). What does the B’rit Chadashah call the Holy Land? Not Palestine but Eretz-Israel, or the Land of Israel. Similarly, the regions north and south of Jerusalem are not called the West Bank but Y’hudah and Shomron, for Judah and Samaria (Acts 1:8). The New Covenant, like the Israelis of today, uses the names the Hebrew Bible uses, not those employed by the Romans or other conquerors.181

For those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead (Matthew 2:20b). The angelic direction to return to Eretz-Isra’el would clearly point to the exodus. Now ADONAI said to Moshe in Midian, “Go back to Egypt, for all those who wanted to kill you are dead” (Exodus 4:19). Any Jew remotely familiar with the story of Moses’ story would have recognized the reference; like Moses, Jesus had outlived His persecutor and would lead His people to salvation (Mattityahu 1:21; Acts 7:35). Herod was probably nearing the end of his life when Joseph and Miryam fled with their Child to Egypt, but we have no way of knowing how long they stayed there. Estimates range from a couple of weeks to a couple of years. So any guess would be mere speculation.

But we do know Herod died a horrible death. He had sought relief for a little while in the mineral baths of Callirhoe. There he attempted suicide but was prevented. Josephus reported that Herod’s colon was ulcerated, and a transparent fluid had settled itself about his feet and at the bottom of his belly, which was putrefied and filled with maggots. When he sat upright, he had difficulty breathing and also had convulsions in all parts of his body (Josephus, Antiquities, ch 17 6. 5). An appropriate end, I suppose, for one who caused so much misery to others during his lifetime. Not so appropriate, however, was the funeral that his eldest son and successor, Archelaus, arranged in his honor – seeing that just five days beforehand, Herod, by permission from Rome, murdered another son, Antipater, because of a supposed plot against his father. Needless to say, they had issues.

When Yosef and his family fled to Egypt they left from Bethlehem, the town were they apparently had chosen to settle in after Yeshua was born, perhaps keeping in mind the prophecy of Micah 5:2. While Micah 5:2 did prophesy that the Messiah would be born in Beit-Lechem, it never prophesied that He would also be raised there. When Jesus was two years old He was taken to Egypt and lived there for an unknown period of time.

When the young Jesus returned to the Land, He was brought to Nazareth. The people were generous, impulsive, simple in manners, full of intense nationalism, free, and independent of the traditionalism of Judea. The rabbinic circles of Jerusalem held the Galileans in contempt, because of their manner of speech, colloquialisms, and lack of a certain type of culture characteristic of those who lived in the Holy City. The Galileans were accused of neglecting the traditions of the elders (see Lw – The Oral Law), while Judea claimed to be the proud storeroom of orthodoxy and defender of Jewish institutions. The contempt with which the Judeans looked upon the Galileans was unjust due in a large part to envy, since their own barren land could not be compared to the fruitful and beautiful country of Galilee. It was in the midst of this vigorous, rustic, liberty-loving Galilean people that Jesus was born.182

When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Torah of ADONAI, [they] took the child and returned to Galilee to their own town of Natzeret (Matthew 2:21; Luke 2:39a). Luke portrayed Joseph and Miryam as models for his readers. They, like Zechariah and Elizabeth (Luke 1:6), kept the Torah faithfully. This was not a simple historical antidote that had no value to his readers. Rather, Luke sought to show that this was how Theophilus (Acts 1:1-2) and other believers should live.183

This is the last time we hear of Joseph in the Gospels. He is really the forgotten man in the story of Jesus. We know he was a common man who did not add much excitement to the scene, but he is a silent hero. He was a devout man of simple faith in, and obedience to, ADONAI. Scripture does not record a single word from his mouth; however, our legacy of Joseph is not what he said, but in what he did. How did Yosef’s children turn out? Two of them, James and Jude, wrote books of the Bible, and they committed their lives to service for their human brother and spiritual Lord, Jesus. What a testimony to a faithful father.

Herod the Great was dead. A few days before his death, Archelaus, his son by a Samaritan wife (Josephus Antiquities 17:20), was named ruler. But his son Archelaus, a man even more brutal and erratic than his father, reigned in Judea. Joseph was afraid to go back to Bethlehem, having been warned not to in a dream. So he withdrew his family to the district of Galilee and settled in a forgotten little town called Nazareth (Matthew 2:22-23a; Luke 2:39b). Natzareth was about 55 miles north of Jerusalem, in the district of Galilee, where the Holy Spirit told him to go. It was an elevated basin, about one and a half miles across. Because it had an excellent view of the Valley of Jezreel and was easily defensible, it was a Roman outpost. The Roman soldiers were crude and violent, and the people of Nazareth followed their lead. Consequently, the term Nazarene became a term of contempt used to portray anyone who was low class, rough and rude.

As hard as it is to comprehend, Archelaus was worse than his father Herod. He possessed all of his father’s vices but none of his few redeeming qualities. He was so bad that eventually Rome banished him to Vienna in Gaul (Josephus Antiquities 17:342:44). When Jesus returned from Egypt, however, Archelaus was in charge of Judea. He was known for his tyranny, murder and instability. Hated by the Jews, as soon as he came to power, he slaughtered 3,000 Jews in the Temple at the Passover. More than likely he was insane as a result of close family intermarriages.184 Therefore, in order to avoid problems with him (who may have had the same paranoia as his father), Joseph was faithful to the messenger in his dream and moved his family to Galilee because it was outside the jurisdiction of Archelaus. Galilee was under the jurisdiction of Herod Antipas, who was also a son of Herod the Great, but at least he wasn’t as paranoid as his father.

The settlement in the town of Nazareth in Galilee would create a stigma for the rest of His life. The rabbis said that if you wanted to get rich go north, but if you want to be wise go south. To go north meant north to Galilee, and to go south meant south to Judea. The rabbis thought that those who were only interested in materialism would go live in Galilee, but those who were really spiritual and interested in divine wisdom would go south to Judea where all the rabbinical schools and academies were found.

In fact, one day a fellow Pharisee told Nicodemus: Look into it, and you will find that no prophets come out of Galilee (John 7:52). Of course that was not true because there were prophets who came out of Galilee such as Jonah, Hosea and Elijah. But not only did Judeans look down on Galileans, fellow Galileans looked down on those from Nazareth. Even a fellow Galilean would one day say: Nazareth! Can anything good come out of Nazareth (Yochanan 1:46)? While it was true that Natzeret was politically insignificant, it certainly was divinely significant.

There are four ways that the New Covenant quotes the TaNaKh and the fourth way is a literal prophecy and the fulfillment as a summary statement: So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that Yeshua would be called a Nazarene (Matthew 2:23b). The way you spot the fulfillment as a summary statement is by the use of the plural word prophets. The first three quotes were singular (Mattityahu 2:6, 2:15 and 2:18), yet here the word prophets is in the plural.185

But the specific quote that He will be called a Nazarene is absent from the TaNaKh, or any other contemporary literature. So where could such an idea of Messiah be found by the prophets? It was found in the prophecies depicting Christ as being despised and rejected by men (Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalms 22:6-8 and 69:20-21). Indeed, the Gospel writers make it quite clear that He was scorned and hated (Matthew 27:21-23; Mark 3:22; Luke 23:4-5; Jn 5:18, 6:66, 9:22 and 29).

Matthew was not ignorant of the fact that there was no such verse that specifically mentioned Nazareth. Nevertheless, any educated Jew would understand the connection between the town of Natzeret and the Messiah. The town’s name is, in fact, derived from the Hebrew word for branch, which would call to mind a common term for the Savior Himself. A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from His root a Branch will bear fruit (Isaiah 11:1), and tell him, the LORD of heavens angelic armies says: Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and He will branch out from His place and build the Temple of ADONAI (Zechariah 6:12), and Jeremiah 23:12, “The days are coming,” says ADONAI, “When I will raise a righteous Branch for David. He will reign as king and succeed, He will do what is just and right in the Land. In His days Judah will be saved, Isra’el will live in safety, and the name given to Him will be ADONAI our righteousness.”

What Matthew is pointing out is a good play on words that the Netzer (Branch) is now residing in the city called Natzeret (Branch). In his mind, this is the perfect fulfillment of this concept that is indeed mentioned by several writers in the TaNaKh (note the plural through the prophets in verse 23). Instead of being an oversight that there is no specific verse mentioned in the TaNaKh, it actually underscores the messianic qualifications of Yeshua in a manner that many first-century (and modern) Jews would appreciate. In Matthew’s mind, Yeshua is perfectly qualified to be Israel’s King Messiah, and he no doubt hoped that his readers would continue to explore that possibility.186

Therefore, the prophecy that He will be called a Nazarene represents an expectation that the Messiah would appear from nowhere and would, as a result, be misunderstood and rejected. Of course, the prophets could not speak specifically of Nazareth, which did not exist when they wrote. But the suggestion of the despised term Nazarene as applied to Jesus captured just what the prophets had predicted – a Messiah who came from the wrong place, who did not conform to the expectations of Jewish tradition, and who, as a result, would not be accepted by His people. So even the embarrassment of living in a place like Nazareth was helpful to Mattityahu in constructing a picture of Jesus as being despised and rejected by men. So this prophecy was fulfilled as a summary statement.187

It was, therefore, at lowly and despised Natzeret that the royal Son of God, along with His righteous parents, made their home for the next thirty some years.188


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