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Matthew 2:13-23 by Robert Dean
Is human history "just one damn thing after another" as historian Arnold Toynbee noted? Or, is there a master plan at work behind the scenes? Listen to this lesson to learn how God put into action a plan with a glorious future that will be fulfilled to the smallest degree, taking into account man's free will. Find out the four categories of fulfillment of prophecies concerning this plan. See how God protected and preserved the infant Jesus and how He protects us through all the troubles in our lives.
Series:Matthew (2013)
Duration:50 mins 1 sec

The Protection of the King
Matthew 2:13-23
Matthew Lesson #008
October 20, 2013
www.deanbibleministries.org

In this series of events here we see a true death threat to the infant Lord Jesus, and we see in this chapter how God the Father protected and preserved Him even in the midst of that threat. There was a great calamity and it was a terrible thing that happened as Jesus' presence caused such a paranoid reaction from Herod as he called upon the slaughter of all of the infants in Bethlehem that were two years of age and under. As we have seen before, God was multitasking in the midst of that preservation because through this we see that not only is He preserving and protecting the Lord Jesus, but He was also providing evidence that the Lord Jesus is indeed the Messiah. We see four times in this passage a reference to fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.

As we look at this chapter one of the things we want to emphasize as a sub-theme is, how we receive comfort from the Scripture because we know they are true. God protects and preserves us no matter what we walk through in life, no matter how dark things may get, no matter how unstable things may seem, no matter how uncertain the next day or two or weeks might appear to us. They are not uncertain in God's thinking. He has given us everything we need to preserve us in the midst of those circumstances and situations, and we know that because we can trust His Word. We can trust what He has revealed to us is true; we can trust the promises that are there. And in the same way we see this evidence in this passage by the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy in the life of Jesus.

One of the things we have to learn as we read the Bible is how to read the Bible with understanding and intelligence. Bible study is really just understanding how to properly read and understand the Bible, and anyone can do this. We are not limited because we don't have a gift of pastor-teacher. Some people think that only someone with the gift of pastor-teacher can really understand the Bible. There is a major flaw there. The gift of pastor-teacher is a communication gift, not a study and understanding gift. So if they just take the time anybody can study the Word and come to understand it, they just have to know the basic principles of how to do that. There are clear guidelines for doing that and it is just a learning process and a growth process.

One of the things we need to learn is how to deal with these various passages in the New Testament that quote from the Old Testament. Often, as we find in this chapter, they are stated as fulfillments. But we tend to think very literally about what it means when the Scriptures says, "And thus so and so was fulfilled." We restrict that. There are four different ways in which that is used in this chapter.

The first way is the way we always think that means, an extremely restricted understanding of what it means. We read in the New Testament that, 'Thus an Old Testament passage was fulfilled.' The writers of the Scripture use that phraseology in four distinct ways and they are not all like the first one, even though the predominant way Matthew uses it is in this first way that we will look at. It is called a literal prophecy (because the quotation comes from a prophecy in the Old Testament) with literal fulfillment. Eleven times in Matthew he uses this type of quotation from the Old Testament. But of the four times he uses the fulfillment terminology in Matthew chapter two only the first fits this category.

The first time we see this is when the Magi appear in Jerusalem and they want to know where the King of the Jews has been born. We see depicted in Matthew and in this episode the kinds of response that will become much more evident in the remainder of the Gospel. We see that there is a lack of concern, even a lack of curiosity, in the religious leaders. Eventually this will harden into opposition. Then we also see the somewhat disguised hostility as displayed on the part of Herod the Great because he is jealous of his power and wants to disguise that so that those around him don't see that his real plan is to destroy this pretender. 

So when the Magi come and want to know where the King of the Jews is born Herod calls in all of the scribes and the chief priests and asks them. And we note that they all respond the same way. They understood this. In fact, one of the problems in understanding and interpreting the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament is that there are a number of people today who teach that the writers of the New Testament really used a lot of strange hermeneutics. They usually come along and say, well they used some sort of Midrash or rabbinic form of interpretation. But what they are referring to is a form of interpretation that didn't exist in the first century. Some scholars have demonstrated that up until the destruction of the temple the predominant way in which the rabbis interpreted the Old Testament was that they tried to stay within context. They weren't using an allegorical or symbolic approach as they did in subsequent centuries. They were much more anchored to the text. Matthew exhibits some of the ways in which they interpreted and used the Old Testament. They all understood this particular prophecy from Micah chapter five to be a literal prophecy. 

Matthew 2:5 NASB "They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet." Three quotes we have here in Matthew chapter two which all says, "written by the prophet" – singular. The last one says "written by the prophets" – plural. That becomes significant. We have a significant quotation here related to a literal prophecy from Micah chapter five that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. 

Micah 5:2 NASB "But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, {Too} little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity." That last part is not part of the citation in Matthew 2:6 but it is important to go back to that original prophecy. It was present in the LXX and it uses two different Hebrew terms. "From of old" is miqedem and olam—both words that can at times refer to a long period of time within history, but they also have many passages where they refer to eternity past or eternity future. However, when they are used together they always indicate eternity past, as we see in passages such as Proverbs 8:22, 23 and Deuteronomy 33:27. 

Proverbs 8:22 NASB "The LORD possessed me [wisdom personified] at the beginning of His way [from eternity past], Before His works of old. [23] From everlasting I was established, From the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth." The first line in v. 23, "From everlasting" further clarifies it as synonymous with the phrase at the beginning, miqedem. The use of these two words together indicate eternity past.

Deuteronomy 33:27 does the same thing. "The eternal God is a dwelling place, And underneath are the everlasting arms …" So they speak of eternity, going all the way back to eternity past, a time in the timeless past. Micah 5:2 is a literal prophecy that will be fulfilled in the future.

The book of Micah is prophesying and predicting future judgment and calamity for Israel, but in between these announcements of future judgment he is also predicting a future time of hope, a time when the Messiah will come, a time of restoration of Israel to the land. And the principle here is that God, along with announcements of judgment always His future plan of hope. There is always that mixture of grace with judgment. A message that Micah has for Israel is that yes God will bring judgment upon the nation for disobedience but He will not permanently forget the nation; He will not go back on His promises; He will fulfill them in the future and there will be a future time when the nation is restored to the land under the rulership of a Davidic King.

And just as David was born in Bethlehem, so the future Davidic King, the Messiah, will come from Bethlehem (born in Bethlehem). So the verse in Micah is a verse that speaks of the origins of the King in terms of His Davidic background, but it is also a message of hope—that no matter how dark things may appear for Israel, no matter how terrible things may be for the Jewish people, there is a future hope. God will not forget or forsake them, and He will bring salvation and deliverance to the Jewish people.

When we come to the second category of prophecy we need to read on a little bit to see what takes place in terms of the reaction of Herod to the search of the Magi. Herod was a brilliant and brutal king. He was architecturally brilliant. As he grew older he became more and more mentally disturbed, deranged and paranoid to the point that he was always afraid that someone in his family was out to kill him in order to gain their inheritance.

When the Magi showed up wanting to know who the King of the Jews was Herod in his paranoia wants to destroy and wipe out any competition for his authority and his throne. The Magi were warned not to return and tell Herod where he could go to worship this King of the Jews and so they returned home by another route.

Matthew 2:13 NASB "Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, 'Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.'" Notice that an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph, not the angel of the Lord. The angel of the Lord always refers in the Old Testament to the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus Christ. Before the Lord Jesus came into the world as an infant He appeared many times in the Old Testament. It is the role of the second person of the Trinity to reveal God to the human race and so He would appear as the angel of the Lord in the Old Testament. But in the New Testament since He has already appeared in the incarnation the reference is simply to an angel sent from the Lord. 

Matthew 2:14 NASB "So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt."

So the primary purpose for this departure to Egypt is to protect and preserve the young child, the Messiah. But there is a second reason and that is expressed in the next verse.

Matthew 2:15 NASB "He remained there until the death of Herod..." That was probably not a very long period of time, less than a year, we don't know exactly. The departure was also a part of a pattern of fulfillment. "… {This was} to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "OUT OF EGYPT I CALLED MY SON." Notice prophet is singular, talking about one individual prophet saying this in the Old Testament. This is a significant prophecy and we have to understand that this is not a prophecy from the Old Testament. In fact, if we go back to the original citation in Hosea 11:1, Hosea is not talking about a prophecy and is not making a prophecy. In chapter 11 he is talking about something that happened historically in Israel. He is referring back to the exodus. He is rehearsing fore his listeners the fact that just as God protected Israel in the past at the time of the exodus and brought them out of slavery in Egypt, so God will protect them in the future. So Hosea 11:1 in context is not talking about something in the future but something in the past.

Hosea 11:1 NASB "When Israel {was} a youth I loved him, And out of Egypt I called My son." This references back to Exodus 4:22, 23 which talks about the fact that God has called out Israel as His firstborn son. There is the emphasis on Israel as a nation but being identified as a son. But there is a little more to this than what we find in many passages. For example, there is an extended section in Numbers 22-24 which includes three different prophetic oracles from Balaam. Balaam had been hired by the king of Moab to curse Israel. Three times he attempts to curse Israel but instead because of God's authority he has to bless Israel instead and gives these prophesies. In the second oracle he says three things about Israel. He refers to Israel corporately and he uses a third person plural pronoun—that God will bring them out of Egypt, that God is for them like the horns of an ox (the horns of an ox are designed for protection), and that Israel is like a lion.

In the third oracle he says three things about the Messiah, the coming King. He says first of all, that God will bring Him out of Egypt. He says God is for Him, a third person singular pronoun in each case. God is for Him like the horns of an ox, and that the King is like a lion.

What we learn from comparing these two oracles is that it is embedded in Old Testament revelation and thought, and that Israel's history as a nation in some ways is designed to picture or portray elements about the Messiah. We call this typology.

So what we have in this quotation is that Matthew is using Hosea 11:1 as a typological reference to the Messiah. This isn't something he is just making up. It is clearly done under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit but it is part of the pattern that we see established in the Old Testament. Moses clearly shows in Numbers 23 & 24 that the nation is a type of the Messiah in these two particular oracles. So when Hosea talks about this he doesn't go back to Numbers. And he is not simply talking about the fact that the Messiah is travelling out of Egypt. What he wants to emphasize is that the one who is coming out of Egypt is God's Son. Rather than quote from Numbers 24 Matthew is going to literally translate and interpret Hosea 11 from the Hebrew. His other quotations here are out of the LXX, but the LXX is not always identical to what we know of as the Masoretic Text. The difference doesn't affect the meaning or the accuracy of the meaning in terms of how God the Holy Spirit uses it. It is still accurate and so under inspiration and without error. But what happens here is that instead of quoting the LXX (which reads, "Out of Egypt I will call my children" – so the Greek of the LXX is not correct) Matthew goes back to the Hebrew and says, "Out of Egypt I have called my son," because he is emphasizing the Sonship of Jesus as the Messiah.

So the second example is one of taking a literal historical event that is designed as a type or a picture to portray something in the life of the Messiah.

Matthew 2:16 NASB "Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi." Herod absolutely lost his temper and went ballistic. He sent his hit squad to go through Bethlehem kill every male infant under the age of two. Does that means that it has been two years since the star had appeared to the Magi? That is uncertain. It may be two years but did the star appear to the Magi at the time of Jesus' birth or sometime before to allow for travel? We don't know. But Herod is going to hedge his bets here and he figures that if he kills every infant under the age of two he will get this one.

Matthew says this, too, is a fulfillment of prophecy.

Then there is a third usage that comes up in Matthew 2:17: NASB "Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: [18] "A VOICE WAS HEARD IN RAMAH, WEEPING AND GREAT MOURNING, RACHEL WEEPING FOR HER CHILDREN; AND SHE REFUSED TO BE COMFORTED, BECAUSE THEY WERE NO MORE."

However, what Jeremiah said, again was not a prophecy. It was a description of a historical event that occurred at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. This is a quote from Jeremiah 31:15. This is describing the grief expressed by the mothers of Israel. They are identified as Rachel. Rachel was the wife of Jacob, and this is using Rachel as a representation of all of the mothers in Israel.

What we should note is that this is taking place in a village called Ramah. It is located north of Jerusalem in the area of modern Ramallah. Bethlehem is south of Jerusalem. Another thing we should note is that the circumstances of this are when the sons of Israel, the young men who had been fighting against Nebuchadnezzar, had now been conquered and taken as prisoners of war. They are alive and are being marched off to Babylon. Their mothers are weeping because they will never see them again. But they are alive. In contrast, the mothers who are weeping in Bethlehem are weeping because their sons have been killed and they will never see them again. 

The third thing we should observe is that with reference to these two historical events, in 586 BC the mothers of Israel are weeping for their adult sons who are being marched off as captives whereas the application in Matthew chapter two is referring to the death of infants. In one sense there is little that happens in Jeremiah 31 that is exact of what is happening in Matthew 2. What they do have is one point of commonality. That is, the grief expressed by the mothers who will not see their children again. That is the point that Matthew is making. He is saying what has happened here in Bethlehem is like what happened in Ramah in 586. In that sense it fulfills that as an application of that passages.

There are a number of times in Scripture, in the New Testament, where Old Testament passages are applied in that way to a New Testament event.

The fourth way that we see in this passage in which there is a fulfillment comes at the last part of it. 

Matthew 2:19 NASB "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.'" Notice that at this point the angel just says to go back to the land of Israel. No specific directions are given. [21] "So Joseph got up, took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel."

Matthew 2:22 NASB "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 …" One of the reasons he does this is because Archelaus, of all of Herod's sons, was the worst. He may have been even worse than Herod. When he first was elevated to the position he was not given the title "The King of the Jews," he was given the title of an ethnarch, which is a smaller rulership. And because of that and because there was a reaction of the people against him, on the day that he became ethnarch he has 3000 Jews executed. He was at least as bad as his father Herod and so God directs Joseph to go to a small village in Galilee called Nazareth rather than to stay in the south.

But Matthew sees this as a fulfillment. "… {This was} to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: 'He shall be called a Nazarene.'" It is not literal prophetic fulfillment like we normally think of. This is the most unusual of the four. Notice, this is prophets (plural). There is no place in the Old Testament where it is said that the Messiah would be called a Nazarene. But Matthew is not citing a singular prophet; he is summarizing a message from all of the prophets in relation to the Messiah. 

There are some who have said that when the Messiah comes He is from the root of Jesse. And the word there is nezer, which means root. And they have tied this to Nazareth and made a connection that way and thus this is teaching that Jesus is from the root of Jesse. But that is not what is going on here.

What is going on here is that Nazareth was a place where there was little honor in Israel. Cf. John 1:46. Nazareth was looked down on.

What we see in Scripture in prophesies related to the Messiah is that He bears the reproach of His people. Ezekiel 36:30; Isaiah 53:1, 2. This summarizes the fact that throughout the different Old Testament prophesies there is this representation of the Messiah as someone who will be rejected and despised by His people. The idiom by the time of the first century is that someone who is rejected and despised by his people is a reproach and is a Nazarene. This is how Matthew uses this.

What we see in this chapter is a provision by God to protect the Messiah, to get Him out of the way of Herod's attempt to destroy all of the infants and then to provide a place of refuge for Him to return, in Nazareth where He is out of the way, and where He can grow up and mature and achieve His position in His adulthood to present Himself as the Messiah, the deliverer, the savior of His people.

In the same way we know that God provides for us. No matter what circumstances we might face God has a plan for our life, and God is going to protect and preserve us. One of the ways He does that is through His Word. And as we see in the life of Jesus the fulfillment of God's Word we can trust God's Word to be accurate and true. We can depend upon it and we can lean upon it in times of adversity, hardship and times when even our life is threatened. As Jesus is our savior, the literal Word of God is represented in the living Word of God who is the one who came to save us from our sins.