By: Dick Donovan
SERMON IN A SENTENCE: God redeems us from the Egypt’s of our lives — the places of exile — the unhappy places — and makes us whole.
SCRIPTURE: Matthew 2:13-23
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 men.
17 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.”
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.”
MATTHEW: FULFILLED PROPHECY
Matthew, the first book of the New Testament, is well placed, serving as a bridge between the Old and New Testaments. Matthew is Jewish, and writes for Jewish readers. He has an overwhelming interest in the fulfillment of prophecy, because he expects to persuade Jewish readers by it. This Gospel makes sixteen references to fulfilled prophecy (1:22; 2:5, 15, 17, 23; 3:3; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:14, 35; 21:4; 24:15; 26:54, 56 and 27:9), more than twice the number in the other three Gospels combined.
Matthew stretches far in his search for fulfilled prophecy. He refers to texts that were not originally intended to be messianic prophecies. In one case (2:23), he refers to a text not found in Hebrew scripture.
VERSES 13-23: AN OVERVIEW
Matthew’s Gospel includes a number of parallels between Jesus and Moses. We get a sense of Jesus as another Moses. This Gospel lesson includes several such parallels:
— The murder of baby boys by Herod parallels the murder of baby boys by Pharaoh (Exod 1:15-22).
— Jesus’ flight to Egypt to escape Herod parallels Moses being hidden in the bulrushes to escape Pharaoh, who schemed to murder infant Jewish boys to lessen Jewish power and the danger of a Jewish takeover (Exod 1-2:10). It also parallels Moses’ flight to Midian to escape prosecution for murder (Exod 2:11-22).
— Jesus’ return to Israel parallels Moses’ elevation to Pharaoh’s palace as an infant (2:1-10) and his return from exile after the death of the king of Egypt (Exod 3-4).
— “…for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead” (Matt 2:20) parallels “Go back to Egypt; for all those who were seeking your life are dead” (Exod 4:19).
— However, there is a significant twist in the New Testament account. When Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go, God killed the firstborn sons of the Egyptians. Moses then led the Israelites through the Red Sea, killing the Egyptian soldiers. God led by might. The story in Matthew is quite different. God does not kill Herod or his soldiers. Instead, Herod kills the infants and other men will, in a few years, kill Jesus. In the Old Testament, God leads by power. In the New Testament, God leads by vulnerability.
The places cited in this lesson are important. Jesus is born in Bethlehem, the city of David. His journey to Egypt is like that of Jacob’s family, who went to Egypt to escape famine; Farris says that Jesus is driven to Egypt by a famine of justice (Farris, 9). The events of this lesson show how Jesus happened to grow up in Nazareth rather than Bethlehem. In Galilee, he will grow up rubbing shoulders with Gentiles, which is appropriate to a Gospel that concludes with a mission to “all nations” (28:19).
VERSES 13-15: GET UP; FLEE TO EGYPT
Verse 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.’ ”
Imagine how Joseph must feel. Not long before, he was a middle-class, respected citizen, soon to be married. Now, a few weeks later, he is a fugitive from the king and his soldiers. In between, we have a wedding (1:24), the birth of a new baby, the visit of the wise men and their odd gifts (2:1-12), and the visit of an angel (2:13). Joseph must feel as if he has stepped onto a carnival ride.
Verse 14: “Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt…”
Joseph takes Mary and Jesus to Egypt, where they remain until Herod dies. It was not unusual for Israelites to seek refuge in Egypt when life became difficult elsewhere, and Egypt had a substantial Jewish population. Joseph and his family would not live in isolation.
As noted above, this trip echoes the story of Moses as an infant. It also echoes the story of the earlier Joseph, whose going into Egypt laid the foundation for the birth of the Israelite nation and the Exodus (Gen 37-50). That first Joseph was a dreamer and an interpreter of dreams. God also appears to this new Joseph in dreams (1:20; 2:13, 19).
A forced exile poses hardship, especially for poor people. Joseph and his family depart “by night,” presumably the same night of the angel’s appearance. They had been away from home when the angel appeared, and could not return home to settle affairs or pick up Joseph’s tools. In the meantime, they would have to pay for food and lodging along the way. The gold, frankincense and myrrh that the Magi had given to the baby Jesus (2:1-12) may have been God’s provision for the journey. These gifts were both valuable and portable. Joseph could take them on the journey and sell them as needed until he got
established. For the longer haul, as a carpenter, Joseph could surely find work in Egypt.
Joseph models unwavering obedience. As peculiar as his situation has become, Joseph obeys without complaint. He says not a word. We know little about him, but his prompt obedience is crucial to God’s plan. He knows nothing except the next step of the journey, but he takes that step. So also is our obedience
crucial to God’s plan. We cannot see the fullness of God’s plan for our lives any better than Joseph could see it for his life, but we can be assured that our faithfulness will lead to great things too. We will not always be aware of them. Sometimes a seed that we plant in one place will blossom, unseen by us, in another. In any event, God will not fail to bless our faithfulness.
Verse 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.'”
The verse is Hosea 11:1. The original reads, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” This was not a prophecy, but was simply a comment about God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. “We shall see, again and again, that this is typical of Matthew’s use of the Old Testament. He is prepared to use as a prophecy about Jesus any text at all which can be made verbally to it…” (Barclay, 27). “Undoubtedly Matthew would fully agree that in the first instance Hosea’s statement had this
meaning, but he would insist that the text could well have a second reference: it looked backward and forward” (Hare, 15).
VERSES 16-18: HEROD KILLED ALL THE CHILDREN
Verse 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 men.”
There is no record of this incident other than the account by Matthew, but the story is fully in keeping with Herod’s murderous ways. He killed anyone whom he thought to be a rival, including three of his sons. There is no reason to believe that this massacre of babies did not occur. Bethlehem was not a large city, so the male infants under two years of age would have been few. In a tyrannical time and place, the incident could escape notice except by those directly affected.
It would be hard to imagine such evil behavior if we had not seen it. The Oklahoma City bombing devastated a child-care center and killed many children, but Timothy McVeigh expressed no remorse. Murderous behavior by one tribe — or religion — against another is rampant. In some cases, men cut off a
child’s arm or leg out of sheer viciousness. Herod is alive and well — and not just in other people. There is a bit of Herod in all of us when we feel threatened — or feel that our loved ones are threatened.
It is worth noting that God did not stop the massacre. God allows us freedom to do good or evil.
Verses 17-18: “Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: ‘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.’ ”
Matthew quotes Jeremiah 31:15, which portrayed the grief of Rachel, Jacob’s wife, at the fate of her people as they were led into captivity. Rachel was dead, of course, and was reputed to be buried at Ramah — or perhaps in Bethlehem — on the route to Babylonia. Even in her grave, she wept at the fate of her children as they paraded by her in chains. Again, the verse from Jeremiah had nothing to do with the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem. Again, Matthew would probably admit that the original intent had nothing to do
with the innocents, but would argue that the verse looks forward as well as back.
In verse 15, Matthew says, “This was done (hina — in order to) to fulfill…,” suggesting that God had a hand in the fulfillment. In verse 17, he says, “Then (tote — at that time) was fulfilled…, ” suggesting that God was not behind the fulfillment.
Rachel refused to be consoled. Any mother who has lost a child can understand Rachel’s inconsolable grief. “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)…” (Morris, 46).
VERSES 19-21: WHEN HEROD DIED
“When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, ‘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.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.
Herod the Great died in 4 B.C. The angel, who was silent for some period of time, puts God’s plan back in motion. As noted above, the angel’s words echo God’s call to Moses (Exod 4:19). Again, Joseph obeys without complaint or comment.
VERSES 22-23: HE WILL BE CALLED A NAZOREAN
Verse 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.”
When Herod the Great died, his kingdom was divided among his sons. Archelaus became tetrarch (a lesser title than king) of Judea. His extreme violence caused so many problems that the Romans deposed him in 6 A.D., after which Judea was ruled by a Roman procurator except for the reign of Herod Agrippa I
(A.D. 41-44). Joseph knows Archelaus’ reputation and is afraid. Again, he receives his guidance in a dream, and again he obeys. Herod Antipas, Archelaus’ brother, reigns in Galilee, but is a much more enlightened ruler.
Verse 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.'”
Joseph and his family settle in Nazareth. Matthew attributes this to the fulfillment of the prophecy, “He will be called a Nazorean.” There is a problem here, because none of the words, Nazareth, Nazarean, or Nazorean, appear anywhere in the Old Testament. This may be a play on words. The word, Nazareth, sounds much like two Old Testament words, nazarite and neser. A nazarite is a person set apart as holy (Num 6), which is also true of Jesus. Neser appears in Isaiah 11:1, a messianic text: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch (neser) shall grow out his roots.” Jesus is clearly the branch to grow out of those roots.
Bruner makes an interesting point. He notes that: (1) People took their identify from their town and (2) Nazareth was so obscure that Josephus, in his list of towns, failed to mention it. Therefore ” ‘He shall be called a Nazorean,’ …may mean at least this: ‘he shall be considered a nobody.’ It is the Great God’s way to work exactly with nobodies in order, in Paul’s words, ‘to bring to naught the somebodies’ (1 Cor 1: cf. Judg 6-7 and Gideon)” (Bruner, 61).
Stop and think for a moment how you would have felt had you been Joseph. Joseph was a fine man — a clean-living, decent man who tried to do the right thing. He was a hard-working craftsman — a carpenter — a man with his own little business — a man who fit nicely into his hometown. Joseph had a good reputation. People liked him. They respected him. He was engaged to be married, and his marriage would further establish him as a solid citizen.
But then everything unraveled. In just a few weeks, Joseph went from respected citizen to laughing-stock — from solid citizen to fugitive — from busy craftsman to a man on the lam. He had discovered that his fiance was pregnant. He knew the baby was not his. As you might expect from a decent sort, he decided to divorce Mary quietly — no need to make her even more miserable — no need for revenge against the baby’s father.
Then an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, telling him to go ahead with the wedding — and so he did. They had to plan the wedding quickly, which telegraphed to the community that there was a problem. Joseph, accustomed to seeing respect in men’s faces, now saw something else — quick glances — averted eyes. He heard men laughing behind his back. But the angel told him to get married, so he did.
Then the angel appeared to him again. This time the message was simple but urgent — move quickly — run — get away as fast as you can. The king wants to kill the baby. Just stop and think for a moment how Joseph must have felt. The king wanted to kill the baby. The king and all his soldiers were looking for the baby. How could a simple man like Joseph save the baby from the king and all his soldiers?
But Joseph didn’t protest — nor did he grovel in despair. Instead, he woke up his wife, bundled up the baby, and left town. He went to Egypt, as the angel had commanded, and stayed there until Herod’s death some years later. Matthew explains, “This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the
prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’ ”
“Out of Egypt I have called my son.” Egypt was a place with many meanings. It was the place where the nation Israel was born, but it was also the place where they were forced into slavery. It was a place of refuge, but it was also a place of suffering.
“Out of Egypt I have called my son.” This was a reminder to the Jewish people that God had redeemed them from slavery in Egypt. They had been required to make bricks without straw. Egyptian taskmasters had lashed their backs when they moved too slowly. But God had not forgotten them. God brought them out of those grim circumstances and led them into the Promised Land. The journey was not easy. It didn’t happen quickly. But God redeemed them from a hopeless situation.
“Out of Egypt I have called my son.” Joseph and Mary had to flee in the middle of the night — had to flee for their lives — had to take the baby and run. They went to Egypt to escape the evil king and his soldiers. But Egypt was not the end, but the beginning. God would bring them back. God would save them. Jesus would grow up in Nazareth — not Alexandria. He would come home again.
“Out of Egypt I have called my son.” This is a reminder that God redeems us, too, from the grim realities of our lives. That is Good News!
At this time of year, we don’t like to remember that life is sometimes grim — that we sometimes find ourselves in far-off Egypt, wondering what went wrong. We make grand plans for the future, but the stock market crashes — or terrorists disrupt our lives — or our marriage unravels — or the doctor gives us bad news. Those are facts of life, and none of us is immune.
This is a particularly hard time to face those kinds of facts. This is supposed to be a happy season. Everyone else seems to be having fun. But the fact is that all of us have problems, and we all need to hear these words, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” It is God’s promise that, even when things seem hopeless, God can and will redeem our lives.
That promise hinges on our walk in faith. Joseph obeyed God and went to Egypt. He stayed there until God called him to return home. What would have happened if Joseph had disobeyed? I don’t know, but I believe that it would have made quite a difference. God can and will redeem our lives, but that redemption
takes place in the context of faith and faithfulness. When life is at its worst, we need to hang on and to believe God’s promises.
Henri Nouwen, in his book, Gracias, tells the story of Rodolfo Quiroga. Rodolfo was born in a mining town in Peru. His family was poor. Several of their children died in infancy. Then, when Rodolfo was eight years old, a teenager killed his older brother. Rodolfo’s father went nearly crazy with grief. There was some question whether the father might do something to make things even worse.
Then something remarkable happened. Always a fervent atheist — a fervent atheist — the father’s grief broke him, and in his brokenness he turned to God. As God walked with this man through the valley of the shadow of his son’s death, the father became a different man — a man of prayer — a man who reached out to others in need — a man who took his family to church. They were baptized. Their lives took on a new and happy character. Nouwen concludes his telling of this story by saying, “The house of this simple family
became a place of faith and hope.” From fervent atheism to faith and hope! That is quite a journey! It is a journey from Egypt to the Promised Land!
“Out of Egypt I have called my son.” Sometimes it is only in our brokenness that we will turn our lives over to God. Sometimes it is only when we are hopelessly lost that we will let God take the rudder. Sometimes, life must convince us that we need saving before we can be saved. Sometimes it is only in our brokenness that God can mend us and make us whole.
“Out of Egypt I have called my son.” Egypt, in this verse, symbolizes a kind of exile — a home away from home. Sometimes exile is truly terrible, as it was for those first Israelites who became slaves in Egypt. Sometimes exile is simply a home away from home, as it was for Joseph, Mary and the baby — not terrible, but not home either.
But the exile was not forever. Joseph would eventually take his little family home again. Jesus would grow up in Nazareth — not Alexandria.
“Out of Egypt I have called my son.” Today, if your life is not what you want it to be, remember this verse, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” It means that the God who saved the baby Jesus from the evil king can save you too. It means that the place of exile in which you find yourself at the moment need not be the place where you spend the rest of your life.
“Out of Egypt I have called my son.” This is the story of God redeeming his people. Believe it! Walk with God through the darkness, and let God lead you into the light.
A few years ago (March 15, 1990), Newsweek mentioned Bill Lindsey, a man whom God called to ministry in mid-life. After making some significant sacrifices to go back and study for the ministry, Bill found himself called to work in an Alabama prison for people dying of AIDS. I don’t know about you, but that
would have been a difficult calling for me. I have done a little prison ministry and found it difficult. I have ministered to the dying, and found that difficult too.
If God had called me to Bill Lindsey’s ministry, I would truly feel that I was in Egypt, but that didn’t seem to be the way that Bill Lindsey felt about it. He had a good line. He said, “God is a second-chance God.”
Ah! happy they whose hearts can break
And peace of pardon win!
How else may man make straight his plan
And cleanse his soul from Sin?
How else but through a broken Heart
May Lord Christ enter in?
— Oscar Wilde, The Ballad of Reading Gaol
* * * * * * * * * *
Perhaps the deepest mystery of redemption and divine love is precisely that we can be redeemed not only from our squalors but, in a sense, in our squalors.
— Gerald Vann, The Water and the Fire
* * * * * * * * * *
I laid at Christ’s feet a self of which I was shamed, couldn’t control, and couldn’t live with; and to my glad astonishment he took that self, remade it, consecrated it to Kingdom purposes, and gave it back to me, a self I can now live with gladly and joyously and comfortably.
— E. Stanley Jones
* * * * * * * * * *
Every day God makes silk purses out of sow’s ears.
* * * * * * * * * *
Frederick Buechner is a Christian author who has published a number of excellent books. In his book, The Sacred Journey, he tells of his strange compulsion to make a pilgrimage to a monastery. He writes:
“I felt I needed to be cleansed of the too-muchness and too-littleness of my life, to be cleansed as much as anything, I suppose, of myself.”
What he is describing is a need to spend time in Egypt, a place of exile, where God could prepare him for the rest of his journey.
* * * * * * * * * *
THE ABOVE MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES