Berean Bible Study

The Gospel of Matthew

The flight into Egypt and the killing of the innocents

Matthew 2:13 – 2:23

As I'm writing this on March 31, 2016, we have just passed the day when many Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. We know from the Bible that Jesus was crucified on Nisan 14, the same day the lambs were killed in the temple for Passover. (As a side note, the reason that the disciples could eat their Passover meal the evening before the crucifixion depends on a little, odd phrase from Exodus 12:6: And it shall be for you to keep until the fourteenth day of this month. And all the assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it between the evenings [beyn ha'arbayim]. You can find more on that here). Most years, Easter or Resurrection Sunday, coincides with Passover very closely. The years that it doesn't, like this year, is when there is a second month of Adar added to keep the Hebrew lunar calendar in line with the solar calendar. (Another side note – all the calendars of the world changed around 700 B.C., when apparently, there was something that caused the 360 day year to become a 356.25 day year. If you read my “signs in the heavens” study, you should be going “hmmm” right there). They add a second 12th month seven times in 19 years. Biblically, that doesn't go strictly by the calendar, but also, there must be enough ripe barley – or the lack of it – to add that Adar II. The presence of ripe barley would make the turning of the month Nisan, instead.

Easter, or the Resurrection Day that most Christians recognize is not tied to Passover any more, but instead, in 325CE the Council of Nicaea established that Easter would be held on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox. From that point forward, the Easter date depended on the ecclesiastical approximation of March 21 for the vernal equinox. (which doesn't change things most years from the true equinox). So, this year, that made “Easter” to be March 27, while Passover doesn't start until the Friday, April 22. Biblically, if the lambs were killed that afternoon (the afternoon of Nisan 14), then this year, Crucifixion day would be that same day, Friday, April 22. The next day, Nisan 15 is the start of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It is a special Sabbath, and this year, it coincides with the weekly Sabbath. The following day, Sunday, April 24, would be the Feast of First Fruits, and Biblically, would be when we'd celebrate Resurrection Day. It doesn't work out this year for that to be Nisan 17, which it was when Jesus was actually crucified. (Which also means, if you're paying attention, that it is pretty unlikely that Jesus actually died on a Friday, but this year, that's the day we'd recognize as His crucifixion day).

I'm not telling you this to make you feel weird for celebrating Resurrection Day on March 27, but if you choose, you may also wish to have some private reflection during the time that it happened according to the Bible. It would be all the more special in that there wouldn't be ANY commercial hoopla associated with it. Here is a 2016 English/Hebrew calendar for April, if you want to study it.

OK, back to Matthew. We are steaming right along here. Last time, the Magi had brought gifts and then left. This is very soon after, perhaps even that night:

The Flight into Egypt

Matthew 2:13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.”

14 When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, 15 and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt I called My Son.”

That's from here:

Hosea 11:1 When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.

Now, if you're familiar with the book of Hosea, you'll remember that Hosea was commanded to take a prostitute for his wife. She was a prostitute before they were married, and she didn't stop being one after they were married. This was a picture of Israel and God, Jehovah. Israel is portrayed throughout Scripture as the adulterous wife of Jehovah – one who played the harlot by worshiping other gods.

Since I began teaching Bible studies, I've been saying that God is consistent with His imagery. He doesn't use one symbol here to mean one thing and then have it mean something else somewhere else. Between books, between prophets, between centuries, between Old and New Testaments, He is consistent. So, having said that, if you believe me, you should be a little confused by the seeming contradiction. But – a contradiction means something to be discovered.

So, why, especially in Hosea, where the whole topic is the adulterous wife, the harlot, is Israel suddenly called God's son? That idea happens three times in the Old Testament (and once in the New Testament, in our Matthew passage):

Exodus 4:22

Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord:“Israel is My son, My firstborn.”

Hosea 11:1

When Israel was a child, I loved him, And out of Egypt I called My son.

Jeremiah 31:9 They shall come with weeping,
And with supplications I will lead them.
I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters,
In a straight way in which they shall not stumble;
For I am a Father to Israel,
And Ephraim is My firstborn.

In all three, it is talking about Israel, the nation, but wrapped up in that is the idea that Israel itself is also (or should be) a type of Christ. The Jews likely would not recognize any of these as being also Messianic, but remember what Jesus Himself said,

John 5:39You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me

From Chuck Missler's Matthew Commentary notes:

Matthew showing context of verse has a double meaning, and even further the book of Hosea has a double meaning: Herod is an alien power and he is on the throne, he drives the Son into Egypt, and God calls the Son out of Egypt. The Son is called ‘the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world’ by John the Baptist. Very Jewish title, the Passover Lamb! Where was Passover instituted? Out of Egypt! Matthew is implying that there is a symbolic validity to the history of Christ in terms of the history of Israel. As Israel was driven into Egypt and then called out, and that concept is tied up with the Passover Lamb, likewise, Jesus Christ, as a babe, was sent to Egypt for a while is called out and then goes into the wilderness (like Israel). Jesus fasted 40 days in the wilderness; Israel was in the wilderness 40 years.

Is that a possibility? Something tells me there is something there to be grasped. Something to think on, especially when we read what Matthew says next:

Massacre of the Innocents

Matthew 2:16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children,
Refusing to be comforted,
Because they are no more.”[c]

We talked about Herod in the last lesson – how he wasn't a Jew, but was actually the son of an Idumean father and an Arabian mother. He had been appointed by Rome to rule Israel, and so was highly suspicious and upset when an entourage of Magi – the “Kingmakers” arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is he who is born King of the Jews?” Let's take just a minute to learn about this guy. There are a bunch of Herods in the Bible, and it's easy to get them mixed up. This one, the first Herod in Matthew, was known as “Herod the Great.” He was considered a lot of things – the greatest builder in Jewish history is maybe the kindest. He hugely expanded the Temple in Jerusalem, built a large harbor city at Caesarea Maritima. And built the fortresses of Masada and Herodium. And many other things.

Herod's Temple

The most ambitious of Herod's projects was the re-building of the Temple, which was almost certainly an attempt to gain popularity among his subjects who, he knew, held him in contempt and also to make amends for his cruelty toward the rabbis.

It took 10,000 men ten years just to build the retaining walls around the Temple Mount (on top of which the Muslim shrine, the Dome of the Rock, stands today). The Western Wall (formerly known as the Wailing Wall) is merely part of that 500-meter-long retaining wall that was designed to hold a huge man-made platform that could accommodate twenty four football fields. When it was completed, it was the world's largest functioning religious site and until today it remains the largest man-made platform in the world.

He was terribly cruel, and according to Josephus, was basically considered a mad man. He killed his mother-in-law, his wife, his brother-in-law, some of his children, most of the Jewish ruling council, hundreds of military leaders and, of course, the babies in and around Bethlehem.

Who are the Herods of the Bible?

The first of the Herods is often known as “Herod the Great” and is the one who sought to kill Jesus in Matthew 2 by slaughtering all the infant boys. This Herod also tried to enlist the wise men to reveal the whereabouts of the baby Jesus. According to Jewish historians, this first Herod, also called Herod the Ascalonite, was the son of Antipater, a friend and deputy of King Hyrcanus. He was made king in the room of Hyrcanus his master by the senate of Rome.

The son of Herod the Great was Herod Antipas (or Antipater), who was referred to as Herod the tetrarch (Matthew 14:1; Luke 3:1). The word
tetrarch signifies that one who governs a fourth part of a kingdom. His father Herod the Great divided his large kingdom into four parts and bequeathed them to his sons, an action confirmed by the Roman senate. This Herod Antipas was tetrarch of Galilee, the part of the kingdom assigned to him. He is the one Jesus was sent to during His trials and eventual crucifixion (Luke 23). This same Herod Antipas was the Herod who had John the Baptist murdered (Matthew 14).

Herod Agrippa I was the grandson of Herod the Great (Acts 12). It was he who persecuted the church in Jerusalem and had the apostle James, the brother of John and son of Zebedee, put to death by the sword. By the hand of Herod Agrippa I, James became the first apostle to be martyred. Two of Agrippa I’s daughters were Bernice and Drusilla, mentioned in Acts 24 and Acts 25.

Agrippa’s son, Herod Agrippa II, was instrumental in saving Paul from being tried and imprisoned in Jerusalem by the Jews who hated his testimony of Jesus as the Messiah. King Agrippa, out of consideration for Paul being a Roman citizen, allowed Paul to defend himself, thereby giving Paul the opportunity to preach the gospel to all who were assembled (Acts 25—26). Agrippa II was the last of the line of Herods. After him, the family fell out of favor with Rome.

Just one more note – when you look up Herod the Great, almost every source will say that he died in 4 B.C., even though nearly ALL the early church fathers reported that Jesus was born in 3/2 B.C. Recent scholarship since 1978 has proven over and over that Herod died in 1 B.C., not 4 B.C., but the 4 B.C. date remains in most of the web sites I checked. Here's more on that:

Did Herod the Great really die in 4 B.C?.

Herod goes ballistic when the Magi fail to return. The Bible doesn't say how long he waited before sending his soldiers to slaughter the babies and toddlers. Bethlehem and its surrounding area was not that big. While there are huge numbers given in some writings (The Martyrdom of Matthew states that 3,000 babies were slaughtered. The Byzantine liturgy says 14,000 and the Syrian tradition says 64,000 innocent children were killed), Professor William F. Albright, the dean of American archaeology in the Holy Land, reports that the entire population of Bethlehem was probably only 300 people, making boys under the age of two probably less than 10. Christians know this story of Herod the best, but it was so minor among Herod's other atrocities that it's no wonder it went mostly unnoticed in secular history.

Then, Matthew adds this kind of odd note:

Matthew 2:17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children,
Refusing to be comforted,
Because they are no more.”[c]

You've probably read that a dozen times and made little note of it. If you go and read Jeremiah 31, you probably skimmed it, said, “Hmmm” and let it go at that. I know I did. This time, I decided to dig into it a little more. First, what is “Ramah” anyway? Turns out that Ramah is a small town about 11 miles north of Bethlehem. Did they kill the babies there, too? Probably not, actually, because if you look between Ramah and Bethelem, you'll see Jerusalem, and if Herod had killed the boys in Jerusalem, Matthew certainly would have recorded it.

So, what does Ramah have to do with anything? And why is Rachel weeping about babies in Ramah? Jacob/Israel's beloved wife, Rachel, the one he loved, is used symbolically here to mean Israel, and specifically, mother Israel. But, why is she weeping at Ramah? You remember the story of Rachel, right? You can review it in Genesis 29. While you do, think about the verse we just talked about, where Israel is also a type of Messiah. Do you see some possibilities there?

You remember that Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin:

Death of Rachel

Genesis 35:16 Then they journeyed from Bethel. And when there was but a little distance to go to Ephrath, Rachel labored in childbirth, and she had hard labor. 17 Now it came to pass, when she was in hard labor, that the midwife said to her, “Do not fear; you will have this son also.” 18 And so it was, as her soul was departing (for she died), that she called his name Ben-Oni; (Literally Son of My Sorrow) but his father called him Benjamin.(Literally Son of the Right Hand)19 So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). 20 And Jacob set a pillar on her grave, which is the pillar of Rachel’s grave to this day.

21 Then Israel journeyed and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder.

So, the first time Rachel is sorrowful is when she gives birth. She died and was buried on the way to Bethlehem (the one in Judea, not up north) This is where studying a map is helpful. By tradition, Rachel's tomb is located near Bethlehem in Judea (Bethlehem Ephrathah as in Micah 2). However, that placement was pretty arbitrary, and the Bible places it north of there:

1 Samuel 10:2 When you have departed from me today, you will find two men by Rachel’s tomb in the territory of Benjamin at Zelzah;

Jacob and his family had been in Shechem in Genesis 33 – 34 (that's where the whole Dinah incident took place) when God told him to move on to Bethel. Then, you see in Genesis 35:16 that they are on their way to Bethlehem when Rachel goes into labor. When you add in the reference in Jeremiah, it would appear that Rachel's tomb is really at Ramah, which is on the main road. In Jeremiah 31, the chapter is about the return of the exiles from Babylon. Verse 15, the one quoted in Matthew, is from when the exiles were being taken from Israel. You don't get to Babylon going due East across the desert. You first go north, along the main road, right past Rachel's tomb. So, at this verse:

Jeremiah 31:15 Thus says the Lord:

A voice was heard in Ramah,
Lamentation and bitter weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children,
Refusing to be comforted for her children,
Because they are no more.”

Rachel, symbolizing the nation of Israel, is weeping from her tomb as the exiles go past. In the next verses, God is saying, don't weep – they'll be back:

Jeremiah 31:16 Thus says the Lord:

Refrain your voice from weeping,
And your eyes from tears;
For your work shall be rewarded, says the Lord,
And they shall come back from the land of the enemy.
17 There is hope in your future, says the Lord,
That your children shall come back to their own border.

So, now, this is the second weeping of Rachel, when her children are taken captive into Babylon. Why is Matthew saying that the slaughter of the babies is a fulfillment of the verse, then? The first time, Rachel is weeping for her child. The child does not die, but Rachel does, so death separates them. Jacob renames the baby “Benjamin”, which means “son of my right hand.” Who, in the Bible, is the son of God's right hand? Jesus. So, Benjamin, there, is a type of the baby that lives, later – Jesus. The second time, Rachel (the nation) weeps because her children are going into exile. God says, “Don't weep. They're coming back.” The third time that Rachel (the nation, again) weeps is in Matthew, with the babies who died, because death has separated them again. However, just as Jeremiah 31:17 says, “Refrain from weeping...they shall come back”, Jesus comes back to Israel. There is hope, and God's promises of future restoration continue. It's kind of convoluted, admittedly, but it does seem to tie into the idea that Israel, the nation, and Jesus are tied in their histories.

Why is Rachel Weeping at Ramah?

In Genesis, Rachel dies giving birth while on the road to Bethlehem. In the midst of her suffering, the midwife tries to comfort her with the news that she is having another son. In this way, her child is both her cause of weeping and her hope for the future.

In Jeremiah's day, Rachel weeps over her children once more, this time because they are being led into captivity and exile near the very spot where she is buried. She is then comforted with the promise that her children will return. Once again, her offspring are both her cause of weeping and her hope for the future.

In Matthew's day, Rachel weeps yet again: this time over the slaughter of the children at Bethlehem. No words of comfort are given her in Matthew, but the very next verse speaks of Herod's death and the return of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus to the land of Israel. Just as in Jeremiah's day, the situation seems bleak, but the hope of salvation lives on.

There are, of course, additional historical parallels in this passage. When the wicked king Herod orders the slaughter of innocent children to protect his rule, we naturally think of the Egyptian pharaoh who ordered the slaughter of Hebrew children. One child, Moses, escaped the slaughter and went on to deliver his people from captivity and exile. In the same way, Jesus escapes the slaughter of the innocents—ironically, by going into exile in Egypt. Like the Israelites, he is led into Egypt by a man named Joseph, a man whom God speaks to in dreams. Like the Jews for whom Rachel wept in Jeremiah's day, this child knows the experience of living in exile, and like the Israelites of Moses' day, he goes through his own exodus from Egypt. Just as Rachel was comforted with the promise that her children would be restored, and just as Moses' birth was a sign that the Israelites' deliverance was near, so Matthew's readers are meant to understand that the long-awaited Messiah has been born and the hope of salvation is close at hand.

Obviously, there's a lot more going on in Matthew's infancy narrative than most modern readers realize

From the Garden of Eden on, Satan has been trying to undo God's plans. God says that the savior would come from the seed of the woman, so Abel is killed. When it becomes apparent that the Savior would come from Israel's sons, Pharoah tries to kill all the babies. When it is prophesied that the savior will come through the line of David, again and again the children are killed – but there's always one who is hidden and escapes. Killing the babies in Bethlehem was just more of the same – Satan's attempt to stop the plan of God. When stopping the Messiah didn't work, Satan switched to the Jews in general again, because Jesus will return when they finally call on Him.

The Home in Nazareth

Matthew 2:19 Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 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.” 21 Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel.

22 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. 23 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.”

Now, you can look, but you won't find that phrase in the Old Testament. But, the name of the town appears to come from the word for branch, Netser or Netzer. It's the little branch that comes up from the dead stump – an apparently worthless, little branch.

John 1:46 And Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

The following verse doesn't use “netser”, but it's the same idea:

Isaiah 53:2 For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant,
And as a root out of dry ground.
He has no form or comeliness;
And when we see Him,
There is no beauty that we should desire Him.
3 He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

It's used here:

Isaiah 11:1 There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse,
And a Branch shall grow out of his roots.

Now, that branch idea is repeated several places, but now it's a different Hebrew word, tsemach (zhe mack) Still the same idea, though – a sprout. The difference is that the netser is always figurative, while the tsemach is also used of literal shoots.

Jeremiah 33:15 ‘In those days and at that time
I will cause to grow up to David
A Branch of righteousness;
He shall execute judgment and righteousness in the earth.

Zechariah 6:12 Then speak to him, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, saying:

“Behold, the Man whose name is the BRANCH!
From His place He shall branch out,
And He shall build the temple of the Lord;

Just a quick note before we end the chapter. Here, Joseph has now had a third dream. In every case, Joseph acts immediately on the dream. There are two main Josephs in the Bible, and it's interesting that both had dreams. Not sure what you make of that, but I thought it was interesting!

The Berean Bible Study of the Gospel of Matthew


Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. - Acts 17:11

© 2016 This study was written by Jacqui Komschlies and last updated 3/31/16. If you have questions, comments, corrections or concerns, please write me.

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