Summary: When it comes to dreaming, many readers think Matthew is the dreamer by the way he uses Old Testament Scripture to back up his story. Is Matthew too anxious to justify his story that he twists Scripture to suit his purpose?
Matthew 2:19-23 Joseph’s Dreams
12/22/02 D. Marion Clark
Do you sometimes wake up tired because of vivid dreams? I imagine Joseph had that problem. Matthew records four dreams through which an angel of the Lord spoke to him. The first dream was to assure him that he could take Mary as his wife and that the child she bore was the Messiah Immanuel – God with us. The second dream warned him of Herod’s intent to destroy the child and to flee to Egypt. The third dream lets him know it is time to return to Palestine, and the fourth gives specific directions where to go. When an important decision needed to be made, Mary did not question her husband when he said, “Let me sleep on it”!
But when it comes to dreaming, many readers think Matthew is the dreamer by the way he uses Old Testament Scripture to back up his story. Joseph dreams four times; Matthew refers to prophecy five times, all of the references seeming somewhat suspect. Is Matthew too anxious to justify his story that he twists Scripture to suit his purpose? Let’s continue with the story and then we will check his references.
But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 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.”
Dream three: “Herod is dead; you can return home.” Herod the Great is dead. The unpopular king, who ruled over Palestine for thirty-three years through his wits and unflinching will to do whatever is necessary, such as slaughtering children, is dead. God lives on and continues to carry out his purposes. As the prophets say, “Why fear man who is here today and gone tomorrow?” Man is not only mortal, but his days are numbered by the Lord.
21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 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.
It is evident that Joseph intended to return to Bethlehem. Apparently Mary and he had begun to settle down in the community before their sudden journey to Egypt. He heard, however, that Archelaus is reigning over that territory.
Here is what happened. Herod had reign over all Palestine, which included both Judea (where Bethlehem was) and Galilee in the north. After his death, his realm was broken into three areas: Archelaus’ area included Judea, another brother Antipas has Galilee, and yet another brother, Philip, had other territory. The worse of the three was Archelaus and one of the reasons the realm was broken into three areas was his violent beginnings. Archelaus possessed his father’s willingness to crush rebellion, but not his judgment and craftiness. He would last ten years before being deposed by Rome, which then placed its own governors over the territory. Antipas had a long reign in Galilee and is the “Herod” we read about during John the Baptist’s ministry and Jesus’.
For Joseph and Mary, Nazareth was the logical second choice. That was their hometown and was far away from Archelaus’ clutches. Thus, as Matthew records, 23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: “He shall be called a Nazarene.”
The Old Testament and Christ
If Matthew had cut out that last line, he would have avoided a lot of criticism that would follow, especially in the last hundred years. The line is that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: “He shall be called a Nazarene.” What’s wrong with this comment? There is no prophecy that says, “He shall be called a Nazarene.
Matthew’s critics think this is but one example of his off-the-wall proof-texting. Do you know what proof-texting is? It is finding Scripture texts to support a doctrine. This is proper to do. A Christian should not profess a theological belief that cannot be backed up by Scripture. A problem is that we can twist Scripture to say what it doesn’t really say, if we are not careful. It seems that if I followed Matthew’s example, I could prove that I am the Messiah who fulfills the prophecies. How so? My hometown is Kingstree, I am from the “King’s Tree,” which fulfills what the prophets say, “that a branch will spring forth from the stump of Jesse.” My first name is David, and we all know that the prophets referred to the Messiah as another David to come. Somehow, I have a feeling that I am not going to convince anyone, which means I fulfill another prophecy, “that a prophet is not honored by his own people.” Before I get out of hand, let’s explore together how he and his fellow New Testament writers interpreted the Old Testament to come up with Jesus rather than me as the Messiah.