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Matthew 2:13-23 – Escape to Egypt and Return

Summary

Joseph is warned in a dream to flee with the infant Jesus and his mother to Egypt in order to escape Herod's continuing plots to destroy him. After Herod's death, Joseph, once again in obedience to a dream and in fulfillment of prophecy, goes to reside in Nazareth of Galilee.

Analysis

A number of key themes mark this final portion of Matthew's story of Jesus' birth. As throughout the story, the motif of dreams marks the purposive and ever-present hand of God in the story of salvation. At each of its three movements-the flight into Egypt, the massacre of the innocent children, and the return from Egypt-the narrative reminds us that all is happening according to and in fulfillment of scriptural promise and the word of the Lord. Like Moses this child escapes. Again Joseph stands as a model of discipleship in his unquestioning and obedient response to God's leading. As such he contrasts Herod's viciously cruel and calculated response in which Matthew invites the reader to ponder what Bethlehem and shepherds and the weakness of innocents can do against the Jerusalems and powerful ruling authorities of this world. The flight into Egypt and return is a reminder of the story of God's people and the recollection of God's presence with them in the delivery from slavery and bondage. At the same time Matthew's unique inclusion of the story of the massacre is a reminder that God's promises are always at risk. Joseph initially intends to divorce Mary. Herod intends to destroy the child. But God's promises are sure. Joseph is obedient. Herod dies, but the child does not.

Matthew's community hears in this story that sin and suffering do not suddenly disappear from this world. Evil still abounds and even God's son needs protection. Under the cover of darkness God comes in dreams that both overturn Joseph's plans and protect him from unseen dangers. The power of God comes not with armies but in weakness and suffering. In often unseen ways God's promises will prevail when joined to faithful discipleship and the hearing and doing of obedient response to God's word of promise.

Matthew 2:13-23

The Escape to Egypt

13 Now after they had left, 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 about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ 14Then Joseph* got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’

The Massacre of the Infants

16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men,* he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.* 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
18 ‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
   wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
   she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’

The Return from Egypt

19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.’ 21Then Joseph* got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He will be called a Nazorean.’

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10 February 2011

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