Episode 29 - The Flight to Egypt

February 18, 2014

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Joseph wakes Mary and Jesus and they all depart Bethlehem for Egypt by night. It was not too long after their departure that Herod ordered the execution of the male children in Bethlehem in his attempt to kill the newly born Jewish king. In addition to looking at these details from Matthew 2, the last few minutes of this episode summarizes the steps of Mary and Joseph's journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census all the way to their journey out of Egypt to live in Nazareth.

This video is part of the Opening Up the Gospels series.

Hi I'm Josh Hawkins and this is episode 29 of Opening Up the Gospels. In the last episode we looked at the Magi in Matthew 2 and the three gifts they brought to Jesus. We also looked at how Mary, Joseph, and Jesus left Bethlehem by night after the Magi had departed because Joseph had received a dream from the Lord warning him that Herod was about to take Jesus' life. We're so overfamiliar with the story that we forget to stop and ponder the details we do know about. Ladies, imagine your husband waking up you and your little boy in the middle of the night and telling you that you had to leave town immediately. That's not my kind of fun, if you ask me. The distance from Bethlehem to Egypt was probably a couple hundred miles. Mary and Joseph at some point had probably met up with a caravan of others on the way to Egypt. Still, this was a grueling journey through arid, desolate, barren territory. Mary and Joseph had obeyed the Lord in everything we've seen up to this point, and I bet they weren't about to stop obeying here. After Herod had become king in Jerusalem, Egypt had become a refuge for Jews who were fleeing from him. Church tradition says that the family journeyed to a place near present-day Cairo, and that the treasures given to them by the Magi was their means of provision in their exile out of Israel. Just imagine if you were Mary or Joseph here. Just the day before your son was being showered with gifts from political dignitaries from the east, and now it's the middle of the night and you're on your way to Egypt in fear of your life. Unbelievable. This wasn't just fate or a bad case of luck for the family - this was God's doing... Well, we're going to go a few minutes longer than usual today so I can give you a summary of the events leading up this point. But I want to highlight a few little things before I do. Let's read in Matthew 2: And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”” (Matthew 2:12–15 ESV) Mary and Joseph remained in Egypt until the death of Herod, which is recorded by Josephus, the Jewish historian. Most scholars have come to the conclusion that Herod died in 4BC. So what does that mean about the birth of Jesus? Obviously it means that Jesus was born while Herod was still alive and kicking. Jesus was not born in the year 0. There's not even a year "0", the calendar goes from 1BC to 1AD. That means Jesus would have to be born in at least 4 if not 5 or 6BC. There's other evidence in the Gospels themselves to corroborate this date, but we'll get to that later on. But for the entire rest of this series, the date I'm going to use for the birth of Jesus is going to be around 5 or 4BC. Also in the passage we just looked at, Matthew quotes the prophet Hosea chapter 11 verse 1 which says: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” (Hosea 11:1 ESV) Matthew says that this verse was "fulfilled" through Jesus coming out of Egypt after the death of Herod. Now if you note that the Hosea passage really has nothing to do with predicting future events, how can Matthew say that it's been "fulfilled"? It's because this is an example of what some scholars call "typological fulfillment". To say it simply, the scriptures give us a divinely inspired pattern of events in the Biblical narrative, and fulfillment is found when the meaning of that pattern is expressed in another pattern of events. So, for example here in Matthew when he quotes Hosea. Hosea is speaking about the exodus, the time when Israel was led out of Egypt by the Lord through Moses. They crossed the Red Sea and went into the wilderness. But because of their disobedience, they stayed in the wilderness for 40 years. Now, Matthew is seeing this pattern and by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, applying it to Jesus. Jesus as God's son comes out of Egypt, passes through the waters of the Jordan River in his baptism, and then is immediately led into the wilderness for 40 days. Do you see the parallels here? This is what Matthew is drawing on when he says "this was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, 'Out of Egypt I called my son'". Let's keep going in Matthew 2: “Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”” (Matthew 2:16–18 ESV) So here he goes. Herod, in a fit of rage because he realized the Magi had not come back to tell him about the rightful king of Israel, decided to lash out against all of the children under two years old in Bethlehem. How would Herod have known to kill the children under two, and why is that age specifically mentioned by Matthew? Well I think the best way to see it is that Herod did the math, he ascertained from the Magi when they first saw the star, and said "Ok, so that means this supposed king is less than two. So if I just have the two year olds and under murdered, I should be good." We're not sure of the exact timing but Herod could have even been on his death bed when he gave this order. Now there are no historical documents to substantiate Matthew's words about this massacre, but that's probably just because Bethlehem and the surrounding region was so rural. There possibly may not have been any more than 20 or 30 children murdered in this incident, so it really was just a minor incident in comparison to all of Herod's other acts of cruelty. Still, these were real children, and their lives were taken by a power-hungry puppet king. And this was God's design. Let's look at Matthew again: “But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.” (Matthew 2:19–21 ESV) Scripture doesn't tell us how long the family stayed in Egypt, but based on the framework we've set forth so far, it seems like their sojourn there was fairly short, perhaps a number of months. There were some fairly large Jewish settlements in and around the areas we know as Cairo and Alexandria, so it doesn't seem untenable that they would have stayed there. It's not like they just go and try to find this random Egyptian house to stay in for a few months. But just imagine all that Mary and Joseph have gone through the past several years. This was God's plan for the birth of His son, the messiah, the rightful king of Israel who would one day sit on David's throne in Jerusalem and rule all of the nations. And this is the story of God in the flesh, the glorious LORD from everlasting, the one who made all things and sustains all things moment by moment. I would encourage you to really take some time and ponder these scenes. They speak volumes to us about what God is like, and they are a treasure for us to cherish and hold very dear to our heart. Alright, so in the last part of this episode, I want to chronologically walk through all of the events that we've looked at starting from the journey for the census all the way up to the return to Israel from Egypt. If it's helpful for you to pause the video as we go along for you to make some notes or look up things in your Bible, I'd encourage you to do that if it will help you to get this more clearly. Alright, so first we see Mary and Joseph leaving Nazareth for Bethlehem for the census. This is Luke 2 verses 3 through 5, and we looked at this in Episode 17. Second, after their perhaps week-long trek, Mary and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem and at some point after their arrival, Mary delivers Jesus. This is Luke 2 verse 7, and we looked at this in Episodes 18, 19, 20, 21, and 22. Third, eight days later, Mary's child is named Jesus and is circumcised in Bethlehem. This is Luke 2 verse 21 and Episode 23. Fourth, 40 days after Jesus' birth, it's time for Mary's purification and Jesus' presentation. They head to Jerusalem, specifically the temple, and this is where they meet Simeon and Anna. This is Luke 2 verses 22 through 38, and we looked at this in Episodes 24, 25, and 26. Now, here's where it gets interesting, and here's where the Gospel of Matthew begins to pick up the story. But before I keep going let's quickly look back at Luke 2 and the two verses following Mary and Joseph's visit to the temple: “And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.” (Luke 2:39–40 ESV) Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph returned to Nazareth following their visit to the Temple. So if this is somewhere around 40 days after Jesus was born, what about everything with the Magi, the slaughtering of the children in Bethlehem, and the trip to Egypt all recorded in Matthew 2? Where do those events fit if Luke says they returned to Nazareth after the visit to Jerusalem? I don't think there's a contradiction or wrong information that Luke or Matthew is giving us here. I think there are two possibilities. First, Luke could be offering a general summary of Jesus' life and the fact that He grew up in Nazareth. And of course this is true. But the other possibility is that they actually did go to Nazareth after their time in the Temple. So the question is, where do we fit this entire timeline of the events of Matthew 2? Can it fit in the 40 days before the presentation in the Temple? As you can see, it certainly can't, because Matthew 2:13 says that Mary and Joseph left Bethlehem for Egypt in the middle of the night, and were gone until Herod had died. So, if the Magi had visited sometime in that 40-day period, they would have left Bethlehem for Egypt, and would never have gone to the Temple in Jerusalem. Do you see that? Does that make sense? So, this is why I think there has to be another possibility of understanding Luke 2:39. Remember, just as I talked about back in the introductory episodes to each of the four Gospels, the authors are only giving us broad overviews and sweeping summaries of these events. If they're trying to give us a detailed biography of Jesus, they're doing a poor job. There's so much information we don't know. So as we move forward I want to always make it clear what the Bible says and what is my own idea. This is one of those occasions. Perhaps Mary and Joseph did leave for Nazareth following their time in the Temple, but not with the intention of staying and settling there but for relocating to Bethlehem. Remember, Nazareth was not so nice of a place because of the scandal that we looked at back in episode 15. They probably wouldn't have chosen to live in Bethlehem permanently, but perhaps in going there for the census and after being there for at least 40 days, they might have said "hey, it's kind of nice here!" They were away from the scandal back home. But remember, they probably had belongings back in Nazareth that they didn't bring with them when they were heading south for the census. Joseph was a tradesman and perhaps needed things related to his work. So maybe they did leave the Temple to go to Nazareth to pick up their things, to say goodbye, and to move to Bethlehem. So here's where we can now pick up in Matthew 2. Mary and Joseph are in Bethlehem again, and they're actually living there, not just staying there for the census and Jesus' birth. Remember what we looked at in the last episode, where the Magi come into a house? This makes much more sense now with the idea that the family was living in Bethlehem. So let's finish up our timeline. We left off with Mary and Joseph in the temple. So now we see, fifth, that they leave the Temple and head to Nazareth to perhaps pick up their belongings and relocate to Bethlehem to begin living there. This comes from what we just talked about and how Matthew 2 seems to imply this point. And now, sixth, the Magi visit Jerusalem, speak with Herod, and then visit Bethlehem to pay homage to Jesus and give Him gifts. This is Matthew 2 verses 1 through 12 and Episode 27 and 28. And seventh, the Magi leave, Joseph receives a dream, the family flees to Egypt by night, and they stay there until the death of Herod. This is Matthew 2 verses 14 and 15. Well, that does it for this section of Jesus' life from the Gospels. Next time, we'll begin an entirely new segment on the silent years of Jesus - the 30 years of His life before He begins His ministry. There are not many verses in the Gospels that tell us about what He did between being a toddler and starting His ministry at 30 years old, but there's definitely so many things to ponder and to cause our friendship with Him to grow. Be sure to check out all the other episodes on my website, www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. And tag your posts on social media with the hash tag #gospels so we can all together see what we've been pondering. God bless.

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