Summary: 10/11ths of Jesus’ earthly sojourn was spent in obscurity in Nazareth. What do we learn from this?
“But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, and said, 20 “Get up, take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child’s life are dead.” 21 So Joseph got up, took the Child and His mother, and came into 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. Then after being warned by God in a dream, he left for the regions of Galilee, 23 and came and lived in a city called Nazareth. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: “He shall be called a Nazarene.”
The world Jesus was born into was a world filled with dangers and insecurity. In saying that I am not referring to the common problems of animals in the wilderness or the robbers that were ever present to waylay weary travellers, relieving them of their material possessions and often even their lives.
I am talking about the citizenry of an entire nation living under the oppressive hand of Rome on one side, and on the other the treacherous rule of a family of Herods ready and willing to shed blood on the slightest whim, and having to live on a daily basis under a corrupt and legalistic religious system imposed by rich and powerful men who had turned the Law of God into something with which to burden and impoverish the people.
It was especially dangerous for Jesus in that His coming and presence would alternately be a threat, first to the ruling class in Israel, then to the religious elite, deeply ensconced in the comfort and security of their power and position, and then Rome who would perceive Him as just enough of a threat to get rid of as an annoyance if not a potential insurrectionist.
It was especially dangerous for Jesus because behind all of these forces was all the power and wile of the evil one; the prince of the power of the air and the one who throughout history had used every means at his disposal to thwart the coming of God’s Messiah.
We see one of Satan’s most heinous attempts at this through the man called Herod the Great, in the verses immediately preceeding our text verses. In chapter 2 verses 16-18 of Matthew we’re given the account of the evil puppet king’s order that all the male children in Bethlehem be slaughtered because he had heard that a king had been born there and he felt threatened.
This event was a fulfillment of prophecy, and Jeremiah 31:15 is quoted by the Apostle in verse 18.
“Thus says the LORD, “A voice is heard in Ramah, Lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; She refuses to be comforted for her children, Because they are no more.”
The satanic involvement in this murderous act is confirmed to us in the symbolism of Revelation 12:4 which refers to the dragon and says;
“And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child.”
And we know this is a reference to Christ by the wording of verse 5 which follows.
Let me give you just a sampling of some of the information we have about Herod the Great; and I want to tell you something of his son Archelaus also, since it was he who ruled in Judea at the time Joseph brought Mary and the Child back up from Egypt. Our text says Joseph was warned by God to avoid Judea and go to Galilee because of this man, and I think it would be helpful to us to know why.
HEROD AND SON
I saw an article in a secular publication not too long ago, extolling the engineering genius of Herod the Great and all his achievements to improve the nation during his reign. The article made brief mention of the ‘rumor’ of his order of the Bethlehem massacre, but since the only place that event is recorded is in the Bible, the authors of this article dismissed it as anti-Herod sentiment and political bashing.
In truth, Herod was an evil, cruel, wretched man who had two of his sons and one of his wives executed just because he suspected them of plotting against him.
Now as I indicated earlier, I don’t really want to get into a long history of these people, but I do want to read to you a portion of what historian Josephus wrote concerning the death of Herod the Great (Antiquities, 17.6.5)