Matthew 2:13-23

I promised you last Lord’s Day that this sermon would have some more about Herod the Great, as he is known – that is, to historians other than Jewish ones.  And, as we are doing that, we’ve also got to see what information is available about his son Archelaus.  Both of these men are players in this passage before us this morning; and we have to say something about each of them.

The introductory sermons set the scene for the events surrounding the incarnation, and now we can use that as a starting place from which we can get more specific.  And I want to examine these two men before we come to the Scriptures, because they are archetypes of the former pagan captors and conquerors of Israel, and they are the measuring rod for all haters of God and his Kingdom.  Later on when we come to the suffering and trial of Jesus, we’ll see that same hatred come out in Herod’s second son, who was also named Herod, and also spot mentions of Herod’s third son Phillip.

But the beginning of the Jewish tragedy under Roman rule began when Herod’s father, Antipater, was made political advisor to the high priest in Jerusalem is 63 BC.  Antipater was servile to any Roman he thought might win in the battle to subdue Israel.  Every time there was a change in Roman rule, he would fawn all over the ones who had the inside track politically.  Antipater died in 43 BC, poisoned by loving family members while at a feast with all his concubines.  And he was succeeded by his son Herod.

Herod had learned well from his father, because he quickly made his way to Rome in order to ingratiate himself to Augustus Caesar, who appointed him king of the Jews.  But before he could get back to Israel, the Partians invaded, and it took him three years to defeat them and take back the capitol city of Jerusalem.  But in 37 BC he made his entry into that city for the first time as its king.

I made mention to you before, that Herod was an Idumean, a descendant of Esau (Edom), the rejected of God.  And the cosmic battle between the descendants of Esau and the descendants of Jacob can be very clearly seen in Herod’s attempts to destroy any sovereignty God has over his people, and to kill God’s Anointed King.

But upon his entry into the city, Herod had Antigonus, the high priest, and forty-five members of the Sanhedrin put to death.  He was the arch murderer of his time.  He ruled by intimidation and violence.  He subdued the people with assassinations.  He murdered his rivals.  He murdered his favorite wife and several of his sons.  He even imitated the Egyptian Pharaoh by ordering the murder of infants.

He died an old man wracked by disease in 4 BC, but the cosmic war for supremacy between the descendants of Esau and those of Jacob continued into the next generation, for the three sons of Herod by a Samaritan wife were made rulers of three different regions of the Jewish state.  And Archelaus was named tetrarch of Judea, which included Jerusalem.

And if there was ever anyone more despotic than Herod it was his son Archelaus.  And he didn’t have his father’s abilities.  He was a wild and frantic man who ruled as a tyrant for nine years before he was deposed by Rome and banished to what is now known as France.  He married he half-brother’s wife and gave special offense to Jewish law.  He removed and set up high priests for his own pleasure and for his own political ends, and generally had no regard for Jewish religious sensitivities.  And although we don’t have any record of the charges against him before the Roman court, they must have been awful, because the Romans, themselves, had very little regard for Jewish customs.

But the Herodian family, the descendants of Esau, played center stage in the attempt to depose God.  As Esau was the arch-rival of God and His Anointed Son.  The Herodian family was the standard-bearer and epitome of antichrist.  They didn’t just seek to kill the Messiah; the goal was to destroy – to abrogate – to replace.  The demonic possession of this nation was personified by the satanic characters of its leaders – the Herodian family. 

It was Herod the Great who sent the magi on their way to find the New-born King of the Jews, and instructed them to report back when they found him.  And the evil intent of his deception is seen in verse thirteen, as we look at the text for today.

“Now, when they had withdrawn,” that is, the magi, who had been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and who went back to their regions in the East by another way,

“Now, when they had withdrawn, lo, angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream, saying ‘Arise, take the child and its mother and escape into Egypt and stay there until I tell you, for Herod is seeking the child to destroy it.’”


There’s that word “destroy.”  It means to utterly destroy.  It’s the same word the Lord uses in chapter five when He said that He didn’t come to destroy, or abrogate, the Law but to fulfill it – or confirm it.  So the angel, probably Gabriel, since Matthew doesn’t use the article in referring to him – just “angel of the Lord” – the angel uses the right word to convey to Joseph, and to us, the true sense of what is occurring.  Herod’s true role, although he may not have known the extent of his own satanic character, his true role was to terminate the rule of God over His Own creation, and, as covenant head of the descendants of Esau, to establish himself as the earthly ruler of an entirely satanic order.

But, as we see, God is in complete control as His angel directs Joseph, Christ’s legal protector, to take the child and his mother into Egypt to avoid Herod’s wrath.  And in verse fourteen, we see that Joseph was awakened, and he did just what the angel told him.  And, from the way the sequence is established here, it was probably the same night the magi had come and gone.  So Joseph didn’t waste any time.  The angel had said to escape – or flee – into Egypt.  So Joseph, being awakened in the middle of the night, got up and put his belongings and his little family together and set out on a very long trip.

Now, there’s a lot we’d like to know about this.  And my curiosity, and everyone else’s, is very strong.  This is the Lord and Savior of the world, and these were his parents.  And the details of how they traveled, and what they ate, and how long it took, and how long they were in Egypt, and where they lived, and their emotions and hardships – we would love to know these things, but they’re just not here.

All the Scripture says is that Joseph took the child and its mother to Egypt and stayed there, verse fifteen, until Herod’s death.  And all of this was accomplished, according to Matthew, in order that the prophecy would be fulfilled.  The Lord had spoken through Hosea the prophet, “out of Egypt I called My Son.”

One of the things that I want us all to see here, is the formula that Matthew uses to refer to written prophecy:  “That which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet.”  This is a very important formula, and it will be referred to again when we come to verse twenty-three, and also in other chapters of this Gospel, such as five, six and seven.  But again, this is the Word of God.  It is spoken by Him.  And it is done so through the “prophet”.  The formula expresses the inspiration of Scripture in the true Biblical sense.

But the most important thing for us to see is the great importance of the prophecy itself.  It’s not nearly enough to just say that Jesus had to go to Egypt in order to fulfill this prophecy.  The issue is not just the fulfillment of the prophecy in the abstract, but the importance which God Himself places on the events as they took place.  You see, the angel could have told Joseph to take Jesus and Mary to Gaza – or to Arabia – or to Sinai – or to Cyprus – or to Babylon with the help of the magi, just as safe in any of these places.  But to the will and plan of God the Father, it was of vast importance that Jesus be called out of Egypt!

Why?  Egypt is death.  It is hell.  It is the whirlwind of pagan wilderness.  And that’s just the point.  The Scripture never portrays our Lord the Redeemer as being from Egypt, but only that He was called out of there.

As you remember, the twelve sons of Jacob, the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel, took refuge in Egypt.  And the language of Scripture represents Egypt during that four hundred years as like the grave of a dead man.  And when God drew Israel out of there, the Exodus is described as bringing His Son out of the abyss of the womb into the light of life.  The deliverance was the birth of the nation.  God openly called the new nation His Son.  And then He openly wrote letters of adoption.  At the writing of the Law, Israel was called “the Lord’s portion.”  A Royal Priesthood, a holy nation.  It was separated from all other nations.  And God set up His Tabernacle in the midst of them and dwelt among them.  The Scriptures indicate that God rescued the nation from the whirlpool of death and gave it life and light.  The Grace and Power of God became more glorious, and His wonderful purpose was more distinctly seen, when light came out of darkness, and life came out of the bonds of hell.

And Matthew’s reference to that great event, and his quote of this prophecy, serves to confirm our faith, that, as on the former occasion, so now again – the Church of God comes out of bondage in Egypt into the Light of the Glory of God.  But there is this distinction in the two cases.  The whole nation of Israel was formerly shut up in the captivity of pagan darkness; while in the second redemption it was Christ, the Head of the Church, alone, who was concealed there, and Who carried the salvation and life of the New Israel shut up in His Own Person.  Again, it is Christ alone Who is our salvation –  it is He alone Who bore our sins – it is He alone Who is our substitute, as He bears the burden as our Covenant Head.

The prophecy that Matthew quotes here in verse fifteen, which must be fulfilled, was fulfilled, as Christ was called out of Egypt with us in Him in Covenant solidarity.  We were called out of death and darkness in Him.  “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”

Verse sixteen takes us back to Herod again.  The Magi have gone home another way, and Joseph has stolen away, with his family, in the middle of the night.  And having perceived that he had been deceived, Herod became enraged – and the killing began.  Strangely enough, the language says that his killers took up all the children of Bethlehem and surrounding regions two and under.  Although it might be inferred that, since he was looking for a baby said to be born king of the Jews, that he had only boy babies killed.  But the term Matthew uses is neuter.  And going strictly by the language, it must be read as “children.”

As you can see, Matthew doesn’t attempt to describe in his own words the horror which took place as Herod’s rage reached its height against God’s Anointed Son.  He uses the prophecy formula discussed earlier, to introduce another event which is prophetic of the killing of these babies.  And he goes to Jeremiah thirty-one at verse fifteen – “The sound was heard in Rama, great weeping and wailing; Rachel weeping for her children.  And she was not willing to be comforted, because they are not.”

This passage, in its mournful, tragic tone, describes the aftermath of the invasion by Syria of the northern kingdom of Israel, when ten tribes of Israel were occupied by Syrian troops and then carried away never to be heard from again.  They are not.  Even though Rachel, the beloved of Jacob, was the mother of only three of the tribes, she stands, here in this passage, as the covenantal mother of the nation which lost these ten tribes in 701 BC.

But Matthew’s use of this passage from Jeremiah, in order to describe the loss of the children of Bethlehem, has to be seen in the light of the whole passage.  Even though Jeremiah is the lamenting prophet, his prophecy includes, in the same chapter we’re dealing with – chapter thirty-one – the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the institution of the New Covenant Church.

So Matthew’s focus is not only the mournful lamentations over the loss of the nation of Israel and all its sons, but his focus is also the fulfillment of the prophecies of the New Covenant.  And that New Covenant was to be established in Christ Jesus, Whom Herod was attempting to destroy.  And the children of this now-rejected nation are no more.

Now, it is assumed that Joseph and his family were in Egypt for at least two or three years.  Anyway, Herod died in 4 BC according to reliable history; and sometime after his death, Gods’ angel showed himself to Joseph in a dream and told him to go back to Israel, verses nineteen and twenty.  And verse twenty-one says he did that.

But upon his entry back into Israel, Joseph heard that Herod’s son Archelaus was now ruling, and that he was worse than his father.  And he became fearful.  So God warned him in another dream; and Joseph went back into the areas of Galilee, finally settling into the town where he lived before – Nazareth.

The Scriptures don’t record what happened to make Joseph fearful of returning to the Bethlehem area, but Josephus’ history does.  Josephus says that Archelaus, during Passover that year, found some people who were venerating some of the Jewish martyrs who died while attempting to win back Jewish independence.  And he called the soldiers to surround the temple.  And what ensued was the slaying of three thousand people at Passover.  Josephus says that the rest fled to the mountains, and everybody abandoned the Passover.  So that was the news that greeted Joseph and his little family as they re-entered Israel’s land, and it filled him with dread.

Now, from Luke we learn that, at first, Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth in Galilee, and also how it came about that they moved to Bethlehem.  And Matthew writes as though they intended to stay in Bethlehem indefinitely and were driven away only by Herod’s plot to destroy the Messiah.  And now that Herod was dead, all the implications of Matthew’s narrative are to the effect that Joseph would like to have settled again in Bethlehem.

And I don’t think coming up with a reason for that would be too blatant a speculation.  Galilee was despised by Judeans as “Galilee of the Gentiles.”  And it had been that way since those ten tribes were taken away by Syria in 701 BC, as we mentioned earlier.  There was a mixed population in the northern kingdom.  Only what was done in Jerusalem was done to the world, on the Jewish world stage.  Everything done in Galilee was done is secret.  In Jerusalem was the temple standing on the temple mount.  And Jerusalem was the vital center of the Theocracy.  Galilee was the nations – a term of terrible derision.

So, more than likely, Joseph’s thought process was that the Messiah ought to grow up near the Holy City rather than in the mixed population of Galilee.  But, apparently, Joseph found the risks too great in Bethlehem, or anywhere in Judea.  And, having received Divine direction, he changed his plans and moved back to his home town.  In Nazareth.  In Galilee.  Galilee of the Gentiles.  Where everything is done in secret, or darkness.

And all was eventually done in order – according to the plan of God.  As Matthew says in verse twenty-three, “…in order that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, for He would be called Nazarene.”

Now, as we look at this last verse in the light of what was just said about how the Jews felt about Galilee, let me just ask you to observe the difference between this verse and verse fifteen, where Matthew’s formula for prophecy was first given.  Because commentators have had a terrible problem with twenty-three due to the fact that the established rules of interpretation, hermeneutics, haven’t been observed.

In verse fifteen Matthew’s formula is:  “spoken Word of God” – through the prophet – and then the quote itself.  And it related somehow to the event in the incarnation of Christ.

But in verse twenty-three we don’t have the quote, although it appears that way in King James Version (KJV), spoken by God through the prophet.  Instead, we see Matthew referring to something the prophets have said which he thinks is generally known.  And I bring this up because, not only is it terribly important, but also to help put an end to the confusion of misinterpretation.  Theologians have spent countless hours trying to find prophets who have made allusion to Christ’s being a Nazarene.  Some have said there must be lost books of the Old Testament and have gone off trying to find them.  Others have chased Hebrew words with similarities to the word “Nazareth” only to end up with volumes of work that don’t mean anything.

But, as we look at verse twenty-three, just think with me about what it is about Christ that is universally spoken by the prophets – all of them – as it related to His being called Nazarene – from Nazareth of Galilee – Galilee of the Gentiles.

You see, there’s no quote here.  Nobody in the Old Testament prophesied His being from Nazareth.  What was said was spoken by the prophets, plural, according to Matthew.  All of them.  And it relates to His being called Nazarene.

Matthew is counting on the ordinary intelligence of his readers, who will certainly know that the enemies of Jesus branded Him “the Nazarene,” that this is the name that marked His Jewish rejection.  The Jews put into that name all the hatred and disgrace possible, extending it even to his followers.  All of them were known as “the sect of the Nazarene”.  And this is what was spoken through the prophets.  One and all told how the Jews would despise the Messiah – in every prophecy of the suffering Messiah, and in every reference to those who would not hear Him.  He is to be hated among the Jews.


“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and we hid, as it were, our faces from him; He was despised, and we esteemed him not.”  (Isaiah fifty-three)


“But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.”  (Psalm twenty-two)


God let Him grow up in Nazareth in order to furnish the title of reproach to the Jews which was spoken by the prophets, for He would be called Nazarene.