Saturday, December 16, 2006

Christmas Dreams: Arise, Flee to Egypt

Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” (Matthew 2:13)
What? Flee to Egypt? How can this be? Was not that which was conceived in Mary indeed of the Holy Spirit? Was not the young Child named Jesus, because He would save His people from their sins? Had the plan of God now fallen apart? Had the purpose of God come undone now because of the anger of Herod?

The Magi, following the Star, came to Jerusalem, to Herod, asking, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2). Now, Herod had been placed by the Romans as king over Jerusalem, but here was news of the rightful king whose coming had long been prophesied. Herod would not yield quietly to that.

Even the Star itself had been prophesied and was an indicator of the time of the Great King (Numbers 24:17). That is why the wise men came from the east — they had seen the Star. In the prophesy, this Great King would have dominion over all the enemies of God’s people, including Edom and Seir (Number 24:18). Herod was of Edom.

So Herod called together the chief priests and scribes and asked where this Messiah was to be born. They knew the prophecies, yet they were as troubled about it as Herod was. They answered that it would be in Bethlehem of Judea, according to Micah 5:2.

Herod met with the wise men again, this time in secret, for he was setting up a ruse. When he learned from them when the Star had first appeared, he sent them on their way, asking them to return when they found the infant King, so he could go and worship, too.

The wise men followed the Star on to Bethlehem, and found Jesus, now a young child, dwelling there in a house, along with His mother. They opened their treasures and presented Him with rich gifts befitting royalty. “Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way” (Matthew 2:12).

It was when they departed that the angel of the Lord came to Joseph in a dream a second time: “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” Joseph quickly obeyed.
When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son. (Matthew 2:14-15)
Ah, so this did not catch God by surprise after all. He had even indicated it long before through the prophets. Matthew quotes Hosea 11:1, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My Son.”

Hosea was talking about the exodus, when the children of Israel were delivered from Egyptian bondage. But Matthew sees a parallel here: Just as Israel experienced a time of exile in Egypt, so did Israel’s Messiah. And just as Israel’s bondage in Egypt did not mean the end of God’s plan, neither did Jesus’ exile in Egypt. In fact, it offered Him an important point of identification with the history of God’s people, whom He came to save.

Joseph’s second angelic dream did not signal that the first dream had failed. It had succeeded wonderfully, just as God said. It was so successful, in fact, that it had aroused the anger of the enemy.
Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet saying:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children,
Refused to be comforted,
Because they are no more.”
(Matthew 2:16-18)
Matthew finds a parallel between Herod’s “slaughter of the innocents” and an earlier time in Israel’s history, a time of exile and destruction. We find the prophet’s words in Jeremiah 31:15. Ramah was a territory apportioned to the tribe of Benjamin; Rachel was the mother of Benjamin who died giving him birth and was buried in Bethlehem. So Jeremiah uses the tears of Rachel as a symbol of the inconsolable weeping heard in the desolate land when Israel was carried off into Babylonian captivity. But there was also an expectation of hope, found in the next verse:
Refrain your voice from weeping,
And your eyes from tears;
For your work shall be rewarded, says the LORD,
And they shall come back from the land of the enemy,
There is hope in your future, says the LORD,
That your children shall come back to their own border.
(Jeremiahs 31:16)
In the same way, the rage of Herod, which had destroyed the future of so many Hebrew children and sent the young Messiah into exile, could not undo the plan of God. The message of Joseph’s second angelic dream, “Flee to Egypt,” was not a capitulation to the enemy. It did not signal the failure of the first dream, but the protection of it. And it bore this important expectation: “Stay there until I bring you word.”

Exile does not mean the end of divine dreams and callings. It is often where they are protected, and even shaped.

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

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Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

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