He Shall be Called a Nazarene

2. The Fulfilment of the Prophecy. We gain the impression that, when Joseph returned from Egypt, his natural preference was to go back to Judaea, Matt. 2. 22. It appears that after the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary had settled down happily at Bethlehem in Judaea. Certainly, it was to Bethlehem (and not to Nazareth) that they initially returned after their visit to Jerusalem for the purification of Mary and the presentation of the Child. It was in a house at Bethlehem that the wise men from the east subsequently found them, 2.H.

Although Joseph’s preferred option may have been to return to Judaea, two considerations influenced him not to go there; namely, his fear of Archelaus and a divine warning, 2. 22. We will concentrate on the first of these.

We are indebted to Josephus, the Jewish historian, for giving us details of the relevant background and thereby helping us to appreciate a little of the sovereign providence of God which underlies the beginning of Matthew 2. 22. Archelaus had jurisdiction over Judaea, Samaria and Idumea. Josephus describes him as barbarous and tyrannical. He was by far the worst of the surviving sons of Herod the Great. In comparison, Herod Antipas was a relatively mild character, as yet but 17 years of age. Galilee, along with Perea, fell under his government; cf. Luke 3. 1. It was natural, therefore, that, when Joseph found the door into Judaea effectively closed to him, he should head for Galilee. And, if Galilee, where more likely that his former hometown of Nazareth? And so came about the fulfilment of that “which was spoken by the prophets"! Yet, humanly speaking, things nearly turned out very different.. Herod the Great had ten wives in all and at least 15 children by them. Caesar Augustus had given Herod the right to choose his successor(s) although he reserved to himself the power to confirm (or otherwise) Herod’s will, For a variety of reasons Herod changed his mind several times about who should succeed him.

At different times during his reign, Herod nominated the following sons as his heirs:

(i) Alexander and Aristobulus, sons of Mariamne I, descended from the Hasmonaean family (the Maccabees);
(ii) Andpater, son of Doris, Herod’s first wife;
(iii) Antipater, Alexander and Aristobulus as joint kings;
(iv) Antipater alone (Alexander and Aristobulus having been strangled on Herod’s instructions);
(v) Herod Antipas, his youngest son; and
(vi) Archelaus as king, with Herod Antipas and Philip as subordinate “tetrarchs”. Let us focus attention on the last two of Herod’s testaments. About a year before he died, Herod discovered that Antipater (his then intended successor) had been plotting against him. Antipater was cast into prison and the matter reported to Augustus. Herod made a new will. He appointed Antipas as sole heir, passing over his older sons Arche-taus and Philip because Antipater had earlier succeeded in poisoning his mind against them. Following Antipa-ter’s trial and with Augustus’ permission, Herod had Antipater executed- just five days before his own death.

It was during those last five days that Herod altered his will yet again. He decided to divide his kingdom between his three sons. Possibly he fett that Augustus would be unwilling to instal the young Antipas as sole ruler. We do not know. What matters is that he chose to bequeath Judaea to Archelaus and Galilee to Antipas!

When asked to confirm Herod’s will, Augustus made only one real change: he appointed Archelaus as ethnarch rather than king. The important thing for us was that he confirmed the territorial division proposed by Herod!

God overruled everything-even the details of Herod’s will and its ratification by Caesar. In His own mysterious way, He worked behind the scenes and used the wicked old king’s last testament (made within days of his death) to dissuade Joseph from returning to Judaea and to prompt him to head for Galilee, hence Nazareth. And hence it came to be “fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene"!

The detailed account of these events is given by Flavius Josephus in books XVI and XVII of kis “Antiquities of the Jews” and in the section which extends from Book I chapter 22 to Book II chapter 6 of his "Wars of the Jews".


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