From Egypt to Nazareth

"Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, 'Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child's life are dead'" (Matt. 2:19,20).

History records that Herod was buried in Bethlehem after suffering greatly with burning fevers, ulcerated entrails, foul discharges, convulsions, etc. This is the third recorded time an angel appears to Joseph in a dream.

"Those" who sought Jesus' life may have included Herod and his oldest son, Antipater. Antipater was of the same, wicked disposition as his father. Antipater had complained that his father's life was dragging on so long that he would be an old man by the time he became king (what a son!). When he mistakenly thought that Herod had died, he expressed great joy. When the ailing Herod learned of his son's rejoicing, he immediately had him killed (what a father!). Herod himself died five days later.

"Then he [Joseph] arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, 'He shall be called a Nazarene'" (Matt. 2:21-23).

Joseph is a good example of prompt obedience to God under all circumstances. After the death of Herod, his kingdom was divided among his three sons by Augustus Caesar. Archelaus was given Judea, Edom, and Samaria; Herod Antipas obtained Galilee and Perea; and Philip received the remaining areas. Apparently, Joseph had intended to return to Bethlehem of Judea, but he is turned aside from doing this by means of another dream from God.

Instead he returned to Nazareth in Galilee. Archelaus had no authority over Galilee. Herod Antipas was the ruler over this region, and he was much different than his brother (he governed with more kindness than Archelaus did). Because of this, it would be more favorable for Joseph and his family to live in Galilee.

Notice that the word "prophets" (plural) is used here although there is no record of any prophet speaking of the Messiah dwelling in Nazareth. It is likely that Matthew quotes the general sense of the prophets; that is, he is giving the equivalent of their language and not their exact language. Many of the prophets had predicted the humble life of Jesus. This is expressed in the statement that he should be "called a Nazarene." This is a term of contempt (cf. John 1:46; 7:52). The very name of Nazareth suggests insignificance. In the Hebrew it means: a "branch" or a "sprout." This name was prophetically given to the Messiah in Isaiah 11:1.