Matthew 2:7-12, 19-23
The people of God arise from faith in the promises of God. God’s promises are certain. They are also tenuous, thin, fragile, and delicate. Like a thread connecting two things, the connection is a thin as it is real. As God’s promises are, so also are His People. The whole of Matthew chapters 1 and 2 advance these two polar ideas of the certain and tenuous promises and people of God.
The Magi have a dream from God and are re-routed away from Herod to save the Baby. Joseph has a dream and heads to Egypt to save the Baby. When Herod died, Joseph by a dream returns to Judah. Then hearing that Archelaus is ruling, Joseph heads to Nazareth to hide the Child. On those three occasions, the World’s hope hung in the balance and was a single poor night’s sleep away from being crushed or killed.
The oddity of Messiah being brought to Nazareth would warrant some serious explanation. There are prophecies that would underscore this detail for the doubtful who might say, “has anything good ever come out of Nazareth?” If I were Matthew, I would flip to Isaiah 9:1-7 and make my point with gusto. Or perhaps I would squeeze my point out of a slightly less direct passage like Isaiah 51:4-8. Coastlands might be more the region of Tyre but it gets the idea of the light from up north. Instead, Matthew cites a prophecy that no one has been able to identify, “He shall be called a Nazarene”. Why would Matthew cite the obscure and the untraceable to substantiate this situation? Perhaps because it is the obscure and untraceable part of Jesus’ life.
Recent and ancient writers have made much of Jesus’ time in Egypt. He was there for about 2 months, during the time He was 4 and 5 months old (See my essay on the date of the Nativity for details). If He studied Egyptian magic at this time, it would be as much a miracle as the miracles that He would actually perform. His time in Egypt was not a time shrouded in mystery. It was better known than His time in the most obscure of places- Nazareth.
Perhaps Matthew cited this obscure phrase because Matthews’ citation captures the essence of the moment and the message of the first two chapters of his account. The word, or one like “Nazerene” occurs in Isaiah 11, a clearly messianic passage. The word “Nezer” is the tiny, tender shoot that emerges from the root of Jesse. In the Middle Eastern dry heat a spout was not apt to survive. It was tender enough to be tenuous. In fact, the shoots appearance was surprising enough to be dubious.
That middle 14 generations, from David to deportation in Matthew 1:6-11 would be the mighty tree of the Davidic Kingship. As God had warned it would be cut down, and for 14 years more, hidden in obscurity. Then from the roots beneath the tree, long considered dead, new life would occur. The shoot would come from the root, not of David, but of Jesse. To come from the tree of David would emphasis Jesus’ royalty. To come from the root of Jesse emphasized Jesus’ humility. To come from the David would be to emphasize his Kingship, to come from Jesse would his shepherd-hood.
The King, the Kingdom, and their Citizens would not come in power, domination, and dominion. Rather, all three would move on the margins. We are a tentative people with a tenuous life. We live by a thread. Like our King, our very survival is evidence that we are of God. And when we defy all the odds, or when we face impossible odds, we are reminded that yes, the destiny of God’s people hangs by a thread. But it is God’s thread. It may be thin. But it is unbreakably strong.