I just can’t get over how much of the Old Testament prophecies Matthew just hits you with right from the beginning. There’s so much to go back and double check and research.
The first thing we come to is the wise men coming into Judea to see the “he who has been born king of the Jews”. I always heard that the wise men had freaked out King Herod, but with an introduction like this, it’s no wonder. They just came into the kingdom, knowing that the star didn’t land on the castle or wherever Herod lived, and asking around where the new king was while not paying any mind to the currently reigning one who didn’t know anything about a new king to come. I say he didn’t know anything about it because the first thing Herod did was to gather his people and have them figure out what in the world they were talking about. They came back to him with this old prophecy out of Micah:
6“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
If you recall, this came from the fifth chapter of Micah, way back in the time of Hezekiah when Judea spent a lot of time under attack and was being scraped away a little at a time but hasn’t been through the exile yet. They had no idea how bad things were gonna get and just all these prophecies that probably seemed like empty threats at this point. But if you wanna go back and take a look, here is my post on Micah and here is the chapter itself at BibleHub.com.
After the priests find this prophecy, Herod calls the wise men to figure out how long ago the star appeared and does his calculations and decides to kill off all the male children who are two and under. I can’t even imagine. I know this happened before in Exodus, but still. First of all, this is an example of how, though God saves, He doesn’t always save everyone in the way that we literally take it. All those boys died. This is a time when pregnancy and giving birth was still life threatening everywhere, a time before all the fabulous medications that we have now. So this not-Jewish king has all the boys of Judea two and under killed because he’s concerned about these wise men backing another king who is still just an infant.
Remember too that these events don’t happen in a vacuum. There’s a lot going on in the world and kings like Herod have been usurped and assassinated and here are these wise men, prominent enough to gain his notice in the first place and asking around about the king of the Jews who has just been born. He got worried and did what kings of the time did. This is still a time when it was easier to kill off your siblings than squabble with them about who’s the rightful heir and even if you won that fight, their just as quick to kill you before you have any kids to counter their claim. So Herod takes this terrible and drastic measure after he doesn’t hear back from the wise men. He did politely ask them to return and tell him where the child was so that “I too may come worship him”. I’m sure it didn’t take a genius of the time to see through that sentiment, but they were also warned in a dream to leave town through other means.
Joseph was also warned to leave town and went to Egypt where it is said that another prophecy was able to be filled. For me, this one is a little thin as it refers back to Hosea 11 and isn’t exactly the way it went. Here is the original verse:
1When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
It sounds like it’s referring specifically to Exodus and Moses and all the people of Israel at the time. I had noticed originally in that chapter that it was odd for Israel to be referred to as a son rather than any kind of woman. A lot of the prophecies had called Israel a wife, a whore, or a prostitute, but rarely was Israel compared to a man or boy. Here it was. And not just a boy but a son. So yes, Israel was called out of Egypt back in Exodus, but there’s also more to it. The rest of that chapter had gone on about what was to come and how they were going to be taken over and all that, but it also ended with the sentiment that Judah was faithful to God while the other tribes were not, mentioning Ephraim more than once. So, is Hosea and Matthew using these more recognizable names to bring across the message that Jesus is faithful and will also come out of Egypt as the Israelites did so long ago? It does make sense in a poetic sort of way, especially after the mirror image of the toddler and baby boys all being killed on account of one person prophesied to come. There’s also Rabbinic writings that Matthew would have had that isn’t a part of our New Testament that he could be pulling from.
Getting back to the chapter we’re in, Joseph receives word in a dream and leaves to Egypt. When Herod kills all those babies, Matthew includes another prophecy:
15Thus says the LORD:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more.”
What I didn’t really realize while I was reading and blogging this chapter of Jeremiah (31) originally is that each time it says “thus says the Lord”, it’s a different prophecy and not tied to the rest of the chapter. I still hadn’t thought to tie this piece of prophecy when I originally read it to this moment, but it does make sense. I also hadn’t thought at the time to question why the voice was in Ramah, I just assumed that was where her children were dying. But after some research, I don’t think that’s the case and it really does fit in with what’s going on. Rachel died on the way to Bethlehem from Bethel and it’s possible that the location of her burial is in Ramah since it’s far from Bethel in the direction of Bethlehem. My only issue is that Judah was not directly one of Rachel’s children. Sure, they may have co-parented but Judah is Leah’s final son.
Joseph was visited twice more by angels in dreams at the end of this chapter. Once he was told that Herod had died and it was safe to return to Israel and then again to report who had become Herod’s successor and to not come into Herod’s domain after all. Instead, Joseph went to Galilee, which was ruled by Herod Antipas but still a part of Israel.
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