Matthew’s Infancy Narrative – Egypt

Tonight we are concluding our study of Matthew’s infancy narrative, and we will be reading about that period immediately subsequent to Jesus’ birth as recorded in  Matthew 2.


The Magi see the star rising in the East heralding the birth of the new king of the Jews. (As an aside, only two people call Jesus “King of the Jews” – the Magi and Pilate (Matt 27:11).) They travel to the palace in Jerusalem where the present king, Herod the Great (73BC-4BC), resides. Herod’s father, Antipater, was an Edomite Arab that had converted to Judaism. Antipater supported Pompey’s invasion of Palestine in 63 BC which gave him political power, and Julius Caesar granted Antipater Roman citizenship and made him governor of Judea. Herod succeeded to his father’s position and Caesar Augustus confirmed Herod as King of Judea.

Herod, being a convert to Judaism, was not descended from David. One of his wives, Mariamne, was from a powerful priestly Jewish family, however. One of his great accomplishments was to complete the rebuilding of the Second Temple. In his old age, Herod became more paranoid about holding onto power. By the end of his reign, he had murdered Mariamne, her two sons, most of her immediate family, and his first-born son because of the supposed threat they posed to his reign. These murders had already taken place by the time of the Magi.

When the Magi meet Herod, he appears to be enthusiastic about finding this newly born threat to his power. He requests the Magi report back to him as to the location of the child so that he too may worship. The Magi, being wise men and having been warned in a dream, return from Bethlehem to their home by another route that avoids Herod and Jerusalem.

Herod’s response to the Magi’s actions sets up the conclusion of Matthew’s infancy narrative and leads directly to Matthew’s comparison of Jesus with Moses which culminates in the Sermon on the Mount.

Prophecy Fulfillment

In quick succession, Matthew gives us three prophesies in the Hebrew Scriptures that are fulfilled in the infancy of Jesus. In the story, Herod seeks to eliminate this new threat to his power, and so he orders the death of all male children under two years of age in Bethlehem. Before the order is carried out, Joseph and his family flee to Egypt. Once Herod the Great dies, they want to return to their home in Bethlehem, but instead end up in Nazareth because Nazareth is beyond the jurisdiction of Herod’s successor, Archelaus.

The first two prophecies, “Out of Egypt I have called my son” (Hosea 11:1b) and “Rachel weeping for her children” (Jer. 31:15) are direct quotes from the respective prophet. The final prophecy “He shall be called a Nazarene” is of a more uncertain origin. There is no prophecy that the Messiah would come from Nazareth. As Nathaniel will comment, “nothing good comes out of Nazareth.” John 1:46.

With this final prophecy of the Messiah being a Nazarene, Matthew is making the final part of a Messianic trilogy from Isaiah. Matthew has previously referenced Isaiah’s prophesies that a virgin shall conceive and unto us a child is given. Isa.7:14, Isa. 9:6, Matt. 1:23. Later Isaiah will say that when the Lord gathers up his people, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” Isa. 11:1. Isaiah is speaking of a new beginning that will come from the line of Jesse, David’s father. In Hebrew, the word for “branch” is “nazer”, and in Greek the word for Nazarene is Nazoraios. It is this play on words that fulfills the prophecy.

Mosaic Typology

One of the great themes in Matthew is how Jesus is the new Israel or the new Moses. Just as God made a covenant with the old Israel or old Moses as related in Torah, so now does not God make a new covenant (testament) with the new Israel (the Church) through the new Moses (Jesus). Therefore, Matthew will structure his story of Jesus to mirror that of the story of Moses. Innocent children die as a result of a decree by the sovereign issued at his birth (Matt. 2:15-16; Ex. 1:16-15), God calls him out of Egypt (Matt 2:20, Ex. 3:10), he crosses the River over which the Ru’ah of God descends (Matt 3:16, Ex. 14:21), he then is immediately tempted in the desert with hunger (Matt. 4:3, Ex. 16:3), and finally, he ascends the mountain to receive/teach the word of  God (Matt 5-7; Ex. 19-20). This theme of Jesus as the new Moses with a new covenant starts in the Christmas story.

Comparison with Luke:

One issue we touched on last week, was the comparison of Matthew’s infancy narrative with Luke’s. In the essentials, Matthew and Luke agree: Mary, Joseph, angels, virgin birth, David’s descendant, and Bethlehem. But the two accounts are irreconcilable on the details and how it is that Jesus was born in Bethlehem but grew-up in Nazareth. In Luke, Joseph and Mary are only temporarily in Bethlehem, and stay in the same place as the animals, because of the census. Luke 2:1-7. In Matthew’s account, however, Joseph is living in a house in Bethlehem when the Magi visit 6-18 months after Jesus’ birth, and he only relocates to “a city called Nazareth” when he returns from Egypt because the angel tells him that Bethlehem is unsafe. vv.11, 21.

Another difference between the two Gospel accounts is that Archelaus was removed at the time of the Census of Quirinius. This census took place approximately ten years after the death of Herod the Great. In other words, the census that Luke says caused Jesus to be born in Bethlehem occurred after the time period that Matthew says that Jesus had already returned from Egypt. In this issue, Matthew and Luke are chronologically unreconcilable. 

Dinner is at 6:30. The menu is pork chops with skillet apples. Discussion about 7:15. Please let us know if you plan to join us.

This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt have I called my son.”

Matthew 2:15

1 thought on “Matthew’s Infancy Narrative – Egypt”

  1. Pingback: Epiphany – The Visitation of the Magi – Matt. 2:1-12, pt.2 – Ancient Anglican

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