“Ever just the same, ever a surprise. Ever as before, and ever just as sure, as the sun will rise. Tale as old as time, tune as old as song. Bittersweet and strange, finding you can change, learning you were wrong. Certain as the sun, rising in the east. Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme. Beauty and the Beast.”

Having a daughter now, and becoming all the more familiar with Disney princesses, especially the songs, these words from Beauty and the Beast stood out to me recently about the Christmas season. The truth of the incarnation might seem to be ‘ever just the same’ and ‘ever as before.’ We feel that right? It’s ok to admit it. But let’s also admit that each time we linger on and study the incarnation the more we come to see it’s ‘ever a surprise’ and ‘ever just as sure as the sun will rise.’

May we see this anew and afresh today as we finish Matthew 2 this morning.

Let’s pray and ask for God’s help…

v13-23 easily divides into three sections, each making their own point, each ending with a quotation from the OT, and each contributing in their own way to the overall thrust of the passage. See first…

New Israel / New Exodus (v13-15)

“Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, 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.” And he rose and took the child and His mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”

v13 doesn’t skip a beat in Matthew 2. It comes directly after the exit of the wise men in v12. Remember the wise men had every intention to go back to Herod and bring him news of Jesus’ birth, but they didn’t. They left Joseph and Mary’s house to go back home taking a different route after being warned about Herod in a dream. And then in v13, after they leave, another dream comes to Joseph which also warns him about Herod. One brief takeaway right here is that God clearly knows all about Herod’s vile intentions and wicked plans, and He Himself ensures the safety of Jesus by warning both the wise men and Joseph about Herod by angels via dreams. In Joseph’s dream he is told to flee Bethlehem and head southwest to Egypt, and more, that they should stay there until the angel tells them to come home. Why do they have to leave? v13b gives the reason, “…Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy Him.” So in v14, rather than waiting for the morning to obey what God has directed him to do, we see Joseph immediately get the family together and leave for Egypt in the middle of the night.

Now, why Egypt? Well while Egypt has at times been very hostile toward the Jews, there have been little seasons of time where Jews did thrive there and built up small refugee like communities there.[1] Perhaps the largest one of these seasons was at the end of Genesis, where Joseph (not this one here in Matthew) and all Israel lived and dwelt securely in the land of Goshen. There were a few other moments in Israel’s history when they fled to Egypt for safety. One of these we see right here. In the first century Egypt was a good place to be for the Jews, so many went there for safety and security. This is likely why the angel told Joseph to go there, not to flee from Herod to go hide among the Egyptians, but to seek refuge with their own people in Egypt.

So the picture we get here is that in the same night all these folks went to bed thinking they’d rest through the night and wake refreshed in the morning. But the wise men left to back to their homes in the east, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus left to go to Egypt. Both woken by and warned about Herod in dreams. And that’s that. v15a fast forwards a bit, telling us Joseph and family stayed in Egypt until Herod died.

But then we read more. The rest of v15 says this, “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.” This is Matthew’s own comment on what’s going on in these events in the larger/grander picture of God governing all of history. What I mean by this is that Matthew sees in these events, more than just these events. Matthew sees not just a similarity to something that’s happened before, but a fully intended pattern repeating itself here.[2] And to show us this, Matthew quotes Hosea 11:1 saying the events of v13-15a are the fulfillment of what Hosea spoke about.

So should we return to Hosea to see what this is all about? Of course we should! In Hosea 11, God is reminding His people of His great covenant love for them, even despite their own sin and filth. This is the main theme of Hosea, God’s loving pursuit of His wayward people. To drive this point home to Israel in that day, God through the prophet Hosea speaks of the Exodus, saying in Hosea 11:1, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son.” Here we see the reason God called His people (referred to here as His son) out of Egypt back in the Exodus was because of His great love. That’s Hosea 11:1.

Now, there’s pattern being repeated here that Matthew wants us to see. Just as God in love brought the nation of Israel (or His son) out of Egypt in the Exodus to establish His covenant with them, so now God in love has not only brought His Son, the Lord Jesus, into the world, but is bringing His Son out of Egypt to establish the New Covenant.[3] See the pattern being repeated? Was this a coincidence? Not at all Church. God intends us to see this. To see that Jesus is being spoken of here as the true Son of God, or the new and greater Israel of God, who is going to bring about a new and greater Exodus through His saving work.[4]

Matthew does this a lot throughout his gospel.[5] Here in v13-15 Jesus stands forth as the New Israel, bringing about the New Exodus. Later on in Matthew Jesus will show Himself to be the New Israel again as He goes through the waters of baptism and obeys God during His testing in the wilderness, unlike Israel who failed their testing in the wilderness. And later on in Matthew Jesus shows Himself to be the true Temple, the true Bread of life (think Manna), the Living Water (think water from the rock), and He even shows Himself to be the true and better Passover in His sacrificial death. 

Church, in all of this, God is showing us that in the person of His Son Jesus God is fulfilling, completing, and finishing all the work He began in the nation of Israel.[6] That’s why Matthew quotes Hosea 11 here in v15. To show us what God is up to in these events.

Now, there is more of this to see. So move ahead with me to our second heading…

New Rachel’s / New Moses (v16-18)

“Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”

On one hand words fail to express the horror and cruelty and tragic nature of this event. But on the other hand, even here in such darkness there is gospel light to behold and cheer the soul.

v16 picks up where the narrative ended at v12. After the wise men didn’t return to him Herod became furious. He had likely waited for a time, looking for them to return, but when they didn’t show he knew something else was going on. Notice how v16 puts it? Herod interprets the wise men not returning to him as if they had intentionally tricked him. Which, we know isn’t true at all, yet that’s the conclusion he arrives at. This isn’t rare for Herod though. We mentioned last week how Herod was known for his cruelty and murderous heart. If anyone seemed like a threat to him, he killed them regardless if they were family or friend. So, it’s really not surprising to see him react like this. But, what does he do in his fury? He gives the order for all the boys two and under in Bethlehem and the surrounding region to be killed. Why? Because Jesus, even as a toddler, was a threat to him. So he thinks by killing all the boys around his age that Jesus will surely be killed as well.

That’s what v16 tells us, but Matthew once again tells us more about these events. And as he went back and quoted the OT before in v15, he does so again in v17-18. We find that the massacre in v16 fulfilled something in the OT, something said by the prophet Jeremiah, specifically Jeremiah 31:15, which says, “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”

What’s going on here?[7] Well, back in Jeremiah 31 the context is that the mothers in Israel are deeply grieving as they watch their sons being led off into exile. And Jeremiah himself goes back further in OT history and uses language from the book of Genesis to describe the despair of these mothers. He calls them ‘Rachel’s’ who are weeping for their children, refusing to be comforted, ‘because they are no more.’ Jeremiah got those words from Genesis 42 as Rachel wept and despaired as she watched her own sons be carried off to Egypt. See the pattern here? A very sad event happened in Genesis 42, Rachel crying over her sons. Much later on Jeremiah uses the same language to describe another sad event in Jeremiah 31, where a new set of Rachel’s cry over their sons. And much much later on Matthews, here in v17-18, uses the exact same language to describe this sad event, where the mothers of this area turn into new Rachel’s as they weep over the death of their sons, who are no more.

That is the dark and tragic part of our text today. But it’s not all dark. There is light to see here. Anyone remember when another wicked ruler killed a large group of newborn boys? In Exodus 1-2 Pharaoh is feeling threatened by the Jews, so he commands that any Hebrew son born is to be tossed into the Nile. He did this. Yet, God so worked in this dark time that Moses wasn’t killed but preserved from death. Why? So that many years later God, through Moses, could lead His people out of slavery. Back to our passage. As we see darkness in this passage in these new Rachel’s weeping over their sons, we also see hope in the one son who is not killed, but preserved from death by God’s care. It seems that Matthew wants to see Jesus as a new kind of Moses.[8] After all, why was the boy Jesus saved from Herod? Because many years later God, through Him, would lead His people out of a greater slavery once and for all.

Which, to bring it back to Jeremiah 31, is exactly what God promises to do. Matthew quoted Jeremiah 31:15 earlier, but do you know what the rest of Jeremiah 31 speaks of? God tells His people to have hope in their darkness. Why? Because He says He will remember their sons, that His heart yearns for their sons, and that He will surely have mercy on them (Jer. 31:16-20).

Be encouraged Church. It might look like the world is out of control, and it may be! But we rest well because God’s reign over all things is never in question, His plans never fail, and His purposes always come to pass in the exact way He desires them to. Wicked rulers come and go…but we praise God that in their wickedness they shall prove to be God’s instruments in the devising of things more wonderful than they could ever imagine.[9]

A New Home (v19-23)

“But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and His mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” And he rose and took the child and His mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that He would be called a Nazarene.”

We now see the rest of the story. Joseph and family are still faithfully dwelling in Egypt where God told them to go, and another dream comes telling Joseph Herod had died, and that he should go back to Israel. And as before, Joseph obeys, and off they go. But then another threat appears in Herod’s son Archelaus who’s now reigning over Judea in his place. Not all of Herod’s son were like him, but Archelaus was, very much so. This then, understandably, concerned Joseph. It says in v22 he was afraid of returning there. But his worries are soon relieved because another dream comes instructing him to go live in district of Galilee. They go and settle down in the city of Nazareth.

And just as before, Matthew, for the third time, tells us more about these events. He did this in v15 about the move to Egypt, he did it in v17-18 about the slaughter in Bethlehem, and now he does it again in v23 about Nazareth. But, while Matthew points us to specific passages in the OT for these first two quotes, he doesn’t do that with this third quote in v23. In fact, if you look for an OT passage that says the Messiah will be called a Nazarene you won’t find one. The obvious question then is: what is Matthew referring to? There are a few options we could go with here. One option is that there is a play on words here. The Hebrew word nezer meaning branch often appears in the OT to describe how the Messiah will be a King from David’s line as is famously found in Isaiah 11. The word play is that nezer kind of sounds like Nazarene here in v23. That could be what’s going on here. Another option is that the OT prophets generally stated many times that the Messiah would be One who is despised and rejected, scorned and mocked. Well, it just so happens that the whole region of Galilee was scorned for being such a ‘podunk’ ‘backwoods’ kind of town. So, that Jesus is going to be called a Nazarene, some think, fulfills this OT theme.

Those are good options, I think. But I remain unsure of what Matthew means here in v23. Though it might be foggy for us, we can be sure that Matthew knew what he was talking about, and so did his readers back then.

Conclusion:

This is one of those passages we read and almost immediately distance ourselves from the bad guys and identify with the good guys.[10] ‘Herod is bad, clearly, I’m not like that. Joseph is good, following the lead of the Lord faithfully through a dangerous world, that’s who I am.’ The reality is that if we’re honest, we’re far more like and aligned with Herod than we think. We don’t surrender to the true King but view ourselves as the king and final authority of our own life. We fear how Jesus will rule over us as King. We don’t trust Jesus will rule and guide well, or as we see fit. And so, we fight against him. Just like Herod. 

Church, there’s bad and good news is this. The bad news in this, is that this is us! This is that this is what it means to be a sinner. But the good news in this, is that sinners are precisely the group of people Jesus came to save.


[1] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (Holman Reference, 1992), 66.

[2] Ibid., 67.

[3] Ibid.

[4] R.T. France, Matthew – NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2007) 81.

[5] R. C. Sproul, Matthew – Saint Andrew’s Expositional Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2013), 37.

[6] T.L. Howard, quoted in Blomberg, pg. 67, footnote 35.

[7] Blomberg, Matthew, 68.

[8] [8] France, Matthew, 82.

[9] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion.

[10] David Platt, Exalting Jesus in Matthew – Christ Centered Exposition (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman & Holman, 2013), 46.

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