19 “But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 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.” 21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. 23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene” (Matthew 2:19–23 ESV).
We do not know how long Joseph, Mary and Jesus remained in Egypt following King Herod’s slaughter of the boy children in Bethlehem and the surrounding area. We do know that it was around 4 B.C. because that is historically when Herod the Great died.
When Herod died, an angel of the Lord again appeared to Joseph in a dream. The purpose was for God’s messenger to give Joseph new revelation in light of the king’s death.
The angel said to Joseph, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” 21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.” The young family’s sojourn was over.
However, when Joseph heard that Herod’s son, Archelaus, was reigning over Judea he was afraid to go there and settle. Perhaps this was because Archelaus was as evil as his father.
“Archelaus was Herod’s son by Malthace, a Samaritan woman. He was educated along with his brother Antipas at Rome. He inherited from his father a third part of his kingdom viz., Idumea, Judea, and Samaria, and hence is called “king” (Matt. 2:22). It was for fear of him that Joseph and Mary turned aside on their way back from Egypt. Till a few days before his death Herod had named Antipas as his successor, but in his last moments he named Archelaus,” explains one commentator.
Once again, God warns Joseph in a dream not to dwell in Judea but rather settle in the district of Galilee. Joseph, Mary and Jesus settled in a small town called Nazareth. God the Father’s providence is evident because settling in Nazareth would fulfill the Old Testament prophecy from Isaiah 53:1-3 which describes the Messiah as despised and rejected. Most people from Nazareth were despised and rejected. See John 1:43-51.
“Nazareth, an obscure town 70 miles north of Jerusalem, was a place of lowly reputation, and nowhere mentioned in the OT. Some have suggested that “Nazarene” is a reference to the Hebrew word for branch in Isa. 11:1. Others point out that Matthew’s statement that “prophets” had made this prediction may be a reference to verbal prophecies nowhere recorded in the OT. A still more likely explanation is that Matthew is using “Nazarene” as a synonym for someone who is despised or detestable— for that was how people from the region were often characterized (cf. John 1:46). If that is the case, the prophecies Matthew has in mind would include Ps. 22:6–8; Isa. 49:7; 53:3,” Dr. John MacArthur writes,
Dr. R. C. Sproul writes, “Note how the evangelist (Matthew) has taught us about God’s providence. First, we should see that Herod’s hatred of Jesus and slaughter of the young boys in Bethlehem (vv. 16–18) parallel Pharaoh’s attempt to kill Moses (Ex. 1:8–2:10). Moses was the mediator of the old covenant, and in ordaining the circumstances of the birth of Christ to be so similar to Moses’ birth, our Father has prepared His people to receive Jesus as a new and greater Moses, the mediator of a new and better covenant (Heb. 7:22).”
“Secondly, the dreams of warning that Joseph and the magi experience (Matt. 2:12–13, 19–20, 22) show that God has sovereignly overruled man’s attempt to destroy His Son. Herod’s attempt to kill Jesus has been unsuccessful. In fact, it is Herod who dies (in 4 B.C., dating the Savior’s birth therefore between 6 and 4 B.C.), enabling Joseph and his family to return to Palestine (v. 21). After learning that Archelaus is ruling in Judea, Joseph takes Jesus and Mary to Nazareth in Galilee (v. 22). This is wise, for Archelaus can be as ruthless as his father Herod and might very well be a threat to Jesus.”
As we have seen, God the Father was in complete control of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth and early childhood. He is also in complete control of our own lives. May each of us rest in God’s sovereign providence.
May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.
Soli deo Gloria!