The Escape to Egypt
13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”
The Magi have just come to visit the child and worship him. Now Joseph receives a dream warning them to leave town to escape Herod. Often, we refer to our own worldly experiences as our ‘Egypt’, linking the strife the Israelites faced with our own wanderings and desires to be in a place where everything is offered and easy. However, Egypt is not always the ‘bad place’ in scripture. Abraham was not told to go to Egypt, though he went, and he suffered for it. For him it was a disregard to follow God wholeheartedly to the place where his descendants would inherit the land. It was an ‘easier path’ to find sustenance than blindly going where God told him. Abraham’s son Isaac was warned by God to not go to Egypt and he obeyed and was blessed by the Lord.
Joseph was sold into Egypt by his brothers where he was tempted over and over but remained strong in the Lord and was blessed to become the Prime Minister over all of Pharaoh’s land. The Israelites lived in Egypt for 430 years after coming there to get food from Joseph and then were given the best of all the land there to live in until the time of the Exodus led by Moses. At the time of the Exodus the Israelites were facing harsh oppression in the land of Egypt, so when they were freed it was demonstrated to them that it was God’s doing that freed them. All through the bible Egypt is used as a reminder that God is the one who brought His people out of that land, out of oppression and slavery, and into a land flowing with milk and honey. Many Christians see Egypt as our ‘pre-salvation’ state (or the world), and the land of milk and honey as our ‘inheritance of salvation’ state (or life with Christ), however, there were also good things that came from Egypt as we have seen.
Here in Matthew’s gospel Egypt is a place of refuge and Joseph willingly and obediently takes his family and leaves. We are not given any specifics about how life was for the small family while in Egypt, but we know that because of the hatred of Herod and the warning to flee prophecy was fulfilled. Hosea 11:1 says, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” Though this passage is actively speaking of the Israelites being called out of Egypt, it also speaks of Christ. Israel was God’s chosen nation to bring the history of salvation and the need for fulfillment of God’s law. Christ is God’s chosen son to bring fulfillment to the law by obeying it and paying the debt that the nation of Israel couldn’t. Both were brought out of Egypt figuratively and spiritually as Christ took on the past, present, and future sins of God’s people and was raised to new life.
As Herod realizes that the Magi are not going to return to him and tell him where the child was born, he decides to take care of the problem once and for all and kill any child that could possibly be the real ‘King of the Jews’. Again this is a fulfillment of prophecy found in Jeremiah 31:15 “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” Jeremiah is recording a dream about Israel returning to her God and to her homeland. He speaks of a savior and much rejoicing and then verse 15 turns it all to mourning. The same is happening here. The Savior is born and there is much rejoicing, but now the youngest of the inheritors of Bethlehem have been killed. Rachel was Jacob’s (we know him as Israel) beloved wife. Thought she did not take the place of honor that his first wife Leah had in burial, Rachel was the one who bore the sons to Jacob that he loved most, and therefor she is the one mentioned here that mourns for Jacob’s children.
As we accept Christ as our Savior and enter into that joyful praise we are also met with sorrow and weeping. There is a sudden realization that Heaven is real, but so is Hell. As Christ is born and enters this world it rejoices to know it’s Savior, but at the same time death is made a realization that not all will escape the wrath of the evil one – only those who are in Christ.
The Return to Nazareth
19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”
21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.
Luke 2:39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.
Now some time later, Herod has died and Joseph is told to return to Israel. He obeys and heads for Judea (the central hub of Israelite life), but then hears that Herod’s son is reigning there and goes farther north to his hometown of Nazareth, outside of the Judean governor in the land of Galilee. Again a prophecy is fulfilled from Isaiah 9:
Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—
2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
3 You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.
5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
Here is a map of how the area was divided by name during Jesus’ time:
After all the dedications and the flight to and from Egypt, the small family returns home. Luke records in 2:40 that Jesus grew and became strong, filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him. Though he was God, he lowered himself to be a human and live a life just like we do. Jesus grew up knowing the difference between right and wrong, but he always chose right. This is why in Romans 5 he is likened to Adam. He was born, and had a decision to make, just like Adam – my way or God’s way? He never sinned, but always chose to obey God and His commands.
For if, by the trespass of the one man [Adam], death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! – Romans 5:15
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. – Hebrews 3:14-18