|Biblical Egypt||by R. David Pogge|
Everyone who knows the Christmas story knows that Mary and Joseph took the baby Jesus to Egypt to escape from King Herod. The Wise Men had asked Herod where the new king was born. This made Herod jealous, and he wanted to kill the baby. Matthew tells us an angel warned Joseph, and they escaped to Egypt.
|So he [Joseph] got up, took the child [Jesus] and his mother [Mary] during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”1|
The prophet that Matthew quoted was Hosea.
“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more they were called, the more they went away from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images. It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them.
“Will they not return to Egypt and will not Assyria rule over them because they refuse to repent? 2
Biblical stories often have double meanings because God apparently likes to use parallel examples. For example, The spies explored the Promised Land for 40 days, and came to the conclusion that the inhabitants were too strong for God to defeat them. So, God punished them by making them wait 40 years in the wilderness before entering. Then, just as Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land, Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness before beginning His ministry (a day for a year). God just seems to enjoy doing things like this.
When Hosea said, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son,” Hosea was referring to the Exodus. “Israel” and “my son” meant all the descendants of Jacob (a.k.a. Israel). This is clear from the subsequent verses about idol worship and the Assyrian captivity.
Matthew understood, however, that Hosea’s words had a double meaning. They were also a veiled prophecy that the Messiah, just like the Israelites, would be forced to go to Egypt for a while. Jesus’ time in Egypt was intended as a reminder of Israel’s time in Egypt. Matthew understood that.
Matthew goes on to tell us.
After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”
So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene. 3
In the previous quote about Jesus being called out of Egypt, Matthew quotes Hosea, and calls him “the prophet.” In this quote about the Messiah being called a Nazarene, Matthew says this “was said through the prophets.” There were many more prophets than just those whose words were recorded in the Bible. Apparently, it was commonly known by the Jews of Matthew’s day that several prophets had said the Messiah would come from Nazareth, even though that particular prophecy does not appear in the Old Testament.
It is not surprising that Joseph took Mary and Jesus to Egypt to seek refuge. Hebrews had been doing that for years. We already mentioned Hadad in section 10.3. Josephus gives us another example.
Now as to Onias, the son of the high priest, … he fled to Ptolemy, king of Egypt; and when he found he was in great esteem with him, and with his wife Cleopatra, he desired and obtained a place in the Nomus of Heliopolis, wherein he built a temple like to that at Jerusalem; of which therefore we shall hereafter give an account, in a place more proper for it. 4
(There were lots of Cleopatras in Egypt in those days. This wasn’t the famous one.)
There were so many Jews living in Egypt just before the beginning of the Roman period that Onias built a temple for them.
Today there are many Cubans living in South Florida who escaped the Castro regime. When that regime ends, many of those Cubans will realize their dream of returning to Cuba. Many of the younger ones (who don’t remember Cuba as their home) may stay here. The older ones might not feel up to making the trip back.
The same thing happened during the Babylonian captivity. Daniel didn’t return to Jerusalem because he was too old to make the trip. Many younger Jews, who were born in Babylon, weren’t homesick for Jerusalem and stayed in Babylon.
In the same way, a significant Jewish population had established itself in northeastern Egypt, so it was a logical, welcoming place for Joseph to take his family.
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Footnotes:1 Matthew 2:14-15