Troublesome Topic: THE STRATEGIC USE OF NAMES IN MATTEW 2

Matthew 2:1

Translation

After JESUS was born in BETHLEHEM

of JUDEA

during the time

of HEROD

the king,

behold, wise men

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from the East

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arrived in

JERUSALEM,

Paraphrase

After THE ETERNAL AND PERSONAL GOD SAVES was born in THE HOUSE OF BREAD which was part of THE LAND OF THOSE HOT-HEADED, TROUBLESOME JEWS, during the time when THE SELF-PROCLAIMED HERO was ruling over them,

something surprising happened, wise men, known for their knowledge, wise counsel, and their expertise in astrology, came from the source of all things and arrived in THE PEACEFUL PLACE,

Matthew 2:5

Translation

Then they said to him, “In BETHLEHEM of JUDEA,

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for thus it was spoken of by the prophet,

Paraphrase

Then they said to him, “In THE HOUSE OF BREAD which belongs to the land that was originally a PLACE OF PRAISE AND CELEBRATION, for this is how his arrival was described by the prophet,

Matthew 2:6

Translation

‘and you, BETHLEHEM, land of JUDAH, are by no means least among the leaders of JUDAH,

for out of you will come one who will shepherd

my people

ISRAEL.’”

Paraphrase

‘You, HOUSE OF BREAD, in the land of PRAISE AND CELEBRATION, are by no means least among the leaders of PRAISE AND CELEBRATION, for out of you will come one who will be a gentle, protective guide to my people WHO ARE TENACIOUS AND PERSISTENT IN SHOWING GOD HOW SERIOUS THEY ARE ABOUT HOLDING ON TO GOD IN ORDER TO RECEIVE WHAT GOD HAS ALREADY PROMISED.’”

Matthew 2:13

Translation

After they left, behold, an angel of the LORD appeared in a dream to JOSEPH saying, “Rise up, take the child and His mother and flee to EGYPT

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and remain there until I tell you, for HEROD is ready to begin searching for the child to destroy Him.”

Paraphrase

After they left, another amazing thing happened, a messenger from THE SUPREME RULER appeared in a dream to THE ONE WHO IS INCREASING saying, “Get up and take the child and His mother and flee to THAT PLACE BESEIGED BY SIN, and remain there until I tell you to return, for THE SELF-PROCLAIMED HERO is intent on, and ready to begin searching for the child to kill Him.”

Matthew 2:15

Translation

and he remained there until the death of HEROD, in order to fulfill what the LORD spoke through the prophet saying, “Out of EGYPT I called my son.”

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Paraphrase

He remained there until the death of THE SELF-PROCLAIMED HERO, just as THE SUPREME RULER had spoken through the prophet saying, “Out of THAT PLACE THAT IS BESIEGED BY SIN I have called my son.”

Matthew 2:16

Translation

When HEROD saw that he had been mocked by the Magi, he was greatly enraged,

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and he sent forth [his troops] and he put to death all the boys that were in BETHLEHEM

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and its vicinity, who were two years old and younger, according to the time he had learned from the wise men.

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Paraphrase

When THE SELF-PROCLAIMED HERO learned that he had been played for a fool by the wise men he was insanely angry, furious beyond words, so he sent out his troops and killed all the boys that were in

THE HOUSE OF BREAD and its surrounding areas, boys who were two years old and younger, according to what he had learned from his interrogation of the wise men.

Matthew 2:17

Translation

Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by the prophet JEREMIAH,

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saying,

Paraphrase

Then the words were fulfilled which were spoken by the one who prophesied that THE ETERNAL AND PERSONAL GOD WILL LOOSEN WHAT HS BEEN BOUND UP, when he said,

Matthew 2:18

Translation

“A cry is heard in RAMAH,

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Weeping and great mourning,

RACHEL

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weeping for her children,

and not comforted, because they are no more.”

Paraphrase

“An outcry is heard in THE SPECIAL PLACE,

Weeping and great mourning are heard there, THE ONE WHO IS SOFT AND GENTLE LIKE A SHEEP, is weeping for her children,

refusing to be comforted, because they are gone forever.”

Matthew 2:19

Translation

After HEROD died

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an angel of the LORD appeared in a dream to JOSEPH

in EGYPT,

Paraphrase

After THE SELF-PROCLAIMED HERO died [an ignoble death] a messenger from THE SUPREME RULER appeared in a dream to THE ONE WHO IS INCREASING while he was in THAT PLACE BESIEGED BY SIN,

Matthew 2:20

Translation

saying, “Get up and take the child and His mother and go to the land of ISRAEL.

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for those who were seeking the life of the child have died.”

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Paraphrase

and said, “Get up and take the child and His mother and go to the land of THOSE WHO ARE TENACIOUS AND PERSISTENT IN SHOWING GOD HOW SERIOUS THEY ARE ABOUT HOLDING ON TO GOD IN ORDER TO RECEIVE WHAT GOD HAS ALREADY PROMISED, for those who were seeking to take the life of the child have died.”

Matthew 2:22

Translation

When he heard that ARCHELAUS

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reigned over JUDEA

in place of

his father HEROD, he was afraid to go there.

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After being instructed by God in a dream, he withdrew to the district of GALILEE.

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Paraphrase

But when he heard that THE RULER OF PEOPLE was ruling over THE LAND OF THOSE HOT-HEADED, TROUBLESOME JEWS in place of his father, THE SELF-PROCLAIMED HERO, he was afraid to go there.

After being instructed by God in a

dream, he withdrew to

THE HEATHEN CIRCLE.

Matthew 2:23

Translation

When he arrived there, he dwelled in the city called NAZARETH so that what the prophets said

would be fulfilled: “he will be called a NAZARENE.”

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Paraphrase

When he arrived there, he settled in, and lived in the city called, THE HOLY SPROUT, and thus fulfilled what was said by the prophets:

“he will be known as THE HOLY SPROUT THAT BRINGS HOPE.”

Footnotes

1: “wise men”

Some scholars (e.g. Abbot & Smith) say the “magi” were certain wise counselor-astronomers who were of the Magian or Median tribe, most of whom seem to have had a religion that was partially Median and partially Persian. Other scholars (like Thayer) say the term “magus” was a name given by Babylonians, Medes and Persians to any magicians, sorcerers, astrologers, priests, teachers, physicians, seers, soothsayers, interpreters of dreams, etc. in that part of the world irrespective of nationality. They gave this term to anyone the king or someone of power or wealth might call upon for knowledge, wisdom or counsel. The people of Jerusalem most likely knew the word “magus” as a general description for someone with specialized knowledge of any topic, not a term describing people from one tribe. Thus “wise men” fits quite well. We know their area of expertise was in astrology.

In English the term “Magi” is useless because we don’t know what it means apart from careful research into the origin of the word. To call them “kings” is very far off the mark as well. They could have been advisors to kings, but not kings themselves. Thus the general term “wise men” is probably best.  Notice we are not told how many there were.

2

The “east” was revered throughout the Ancient people of that region because that is where the sun comes up, the sun gives life, thus life itself comes from the East. In fact everything important and good was thought to come from the East. Their maps were oriented toward the East while ours are oriented toward the North. In Ezekiel’s vision of the temple, the glory of God departs toward the East (ch 10), and much later returns from the East (cg 43). The fact that these wise men came from the East got people’s attention and gave credence to their mission.

Much speculation has been made as to the country of origin for these sage/astronomers. Edersheim writes that the earliest written opinion on the matter says they hailed from Arabia, and in its favor is the fact that from about 120 B.C. until the sixth century A.D. the kings of Yemen professed the Jewish faith. But we cannot be sure of anything. If God wanted us to know He would have included it in the text, but since it is not stated we can assume that these foreigners were intended to represent all Gentiles. In order to represent people groups from all over the world, they would not need to come from different ethnic groups; coming from a distant place was enough to convey that idea.

3: “Bethlehem of Judea”

Here I revert back to the original idea behind the name Judea, that being the land of those from the tribe of Judah. This change in how I present the name Judea in the paraphrase column is due to the fact that this statement came directly from an Old Testament prophecy which uses the name Judah, and is quoted in the next verse.

4

In Greek the name Egypt simply means the land of the Nile. But in Hebrew it meant “a siege enclosure, or a place fortified against a siege.” However, since the word “siege” was at the heart of the name, it also came to mean, “the besieged place.” Here is an example of a word which people took the meaning of and twisted to make it say the opposite. Egyptians thought of their land as the place that was secure against sieges, while others thought of Egypt as the “besieged place.”

But we also have the reputation to deal with. Egypt was usually presented in Scripture in a negative light as a place where foreign gods were worshipped and where sin abounded. In fact, in the Bible, Egypt was often a symbol for sin! In the paraphrase column I have added the reputation to the meaning of the word because that is how the people of Jesus’ day would have seen any reference to Egypt.

5: “Out of EGYPT I called my son.”

This is a reference to Hosea 11:1, where we read, “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and from Egypt I called my son.” Some scholars think the intent of the passage in Hosea is to indicate that from the time the people of Israel were slaves in Egypt God was already calling them His sons (which is proven true in Ex. 4:22-23). The parallelism of Hosea 11:1 seems to imply that this theory is true, “I loved Israel,” is synonymous with “I called him my son.” However, the Hebrew text says “from Egypt,” not “in Egypt,” implying that God called Israel to come out from that sinful place and come to Him. This latter interpretation is the most natural rendering of the text.

One thing is sure and that is the connection to the people of Israel and their history. Jesus was becoming like his countrymen by going to Egypt and returning. Did this mean he also became “sinful?” No. The beauty of this mental picture is that Jesus could come out from a sinful place while still remaining sinless by not personally committing any sin. Even from birth he could be surrounded by sin yet remain sinless. That is what God wants from us, He wants us to live above the influences that may surround us. This is obviously something we cannot do on our own but only with the empowering of the Holy Spirit.

But is there also an element of truth in saying that this means that even while young God called Jesus His Son? Yes, that would be true. I think it is not out of the question, and a Jewish mind might go that direction. So once again, something has two possibilities and both of them should be considered right because both of them would or could have been understood by the people of that day. However, my paraphrase column only expresses one of the meanings because trying to include both would make it too cumbersome.

6

Even without an adjective like “greatly,” this word means to be “incensed with anger, full (to the brim) of anger, crazy with anger.” The adjective “greatly” intensifies an already intense term.

Did Herod try to find and kill the wise men? We are not told but it would be reasonable to assume that he tried.

7: “all the boys that were in Bethlehem”

In this case the irony is a sad one. The “house of bread” was a place of God’s provision, thus God’s blessing. But in this case evil reached its hand into that good and wholesome place and wreaked havoc. It was a small town; some speculate it had a population of about 300 at that time, meaning that the number of boys that were killed was relatively small compared to other atrocities throughout history, but that does not diminish how horrible it was. To target babies for slaughter had never been heard of before. His name meant “hero,” right? Indeed, he could be a hero in no one’s mind except his own. Everyone else saw him for what he really was, a monster who turned the “house of bread” into the “house of slaughter.”

8: “he had learned from the wise men”

Why did Herod choose two years? We must recall that most reliable accounts indicate that the planets Jupiter, Saturn and Mars came together to form a very bright light in the sky two years before Jesus’ actual birth, just as it was foretold in one of the Midrashim. It appears that Herod believed the prophecy in general, he believed the place indicated by other prophecies, and he believed the story of the Magi regarding the time the star had appeared; the only thing he did not believe was that the star preceded the birth by approximately two years. In order to be absolutely sure he had eliminated this threat, he ordered the killing of all baby boys who might possibly fit this prophecy, even if the appearance of the star was not two years early, but coinciding with the actual time of birth. In Herod’s mind it made perfect sense to set the age at two years, just in case the wise men misunderstood the timing of the star and the child’s birth. The command to the soldiers would have sounded something like this: “Kill every male child in or near Bethlehem that looks like it might be about two years old or younger.” They could not and would not ask the parents how old the child was, nor were there formal birth certificates in those days, so the soldiers had to guess at the age of each child. The soldiers would not want to be punished for not doing their job right so if there were any doubt about the age of a child they would kill it just to be sure. So Herod said two years, but the soldiers probably added a few months to that to protect themselves from retaliation.

One of the most amazing aspects of his act of atrocity was that Herod actually believed he could stop God’s plan. He believed the prophecy could be true, yet he also believed he was more powerful than the One who spoke the prophecy and was responsible for bringing it to fruition. Be careful my friend, and be cautious; guard your soul against arrogance, for arrogance will make you stupid.

9: “by the prophet Jeremiah”

The following quote is found in Jeremiah 31:15. Various other times in this story the text has simply said “the prophet” without naming him, and the reader is expected to know which prophet it was. But Isaiah and Jeremiah are mentioned by name; that is because their names fit well with the intent of the story. The name Jeremiah means “YHVH loosens.” It implies that the item being loosened has been bound up and needs to be loosened. This type of terminology was often used of a womb that has remained closed and has refused to “open.”

In this case the idea of “loosened” could be taken by the Jews of that era in a number of different directions. While Herod had “let loose” on Bethlehem a string of violence and death, God will some day let loose on Herod the punishment he deserves. God is also “letting loose” a series of desirable things that have been waiting, “bound up,” for a long time. God promised Abram that He would bless the world through Abram’s descendants; the fulfillment of that “word” will now commence. God has always shown mercy and grace to humankind, but the demonstrations of His grace and mercy are about to reach their climax, about to be “let loose” for real. God chose many small ways to reveal Himself to man in the past, and many of these are recorded in the Old Testament, but now God is going to really “cut loose,” and reveal Himself to man in a way that is “all out,” “wide open,” “no holds barred.” We read that God’s “word” was made flesh and set up His tent in the middle of our tents (Jn 1:14). In fact the way God was beginning to reveal Himself at this point in our collective stories was beyond what anyone could have imagined. For the Almighty God to take on human form, and start out as a helpless baby who was totally dependent on others for His daily needs, was too much for any human to have thought up ahead of time. God really was “cutting loose” on this one. Thus the name Jeremiah provides an important positive note to balance the deep pain and anger brought on by Herod’s unthinkable cruelty.

10

The name “Ramah” means “height, or high place.” A high place was a special place. The high place alone was neither a negative or a positive, but it was considered special. In this case I take it as a special place with a positive reputation, not a negative one. In ancient times many religious rituals took place on high places. That is why they became popular locations for idol worship throughout Israel’s history. But I doubt there is any reference in this name to idol worship; it is simply an indication of a special place.

Ramah is actually several miles North of Jerusalem, whereas Bethlehem sits several miles South of Jerusalem. Did someone get the wrong location? No. In the minds of the ancient peoples this prophetic statement fit perfectly, for it described the emotion and the sentiment with complete accuracy, even depicting its level of intensity. In fact, by choosing to use the name Ramah instead of Bethlehem, it places the emphasis on the meaning of the name rather than the actual location; it is a type of symbolism because one thing is standing in for another. The power of this name is that it shows how this terrible evil ruined a special place.

11

“Rachel” means “ewe, or sheep,” and also “soft and gentle,” and by implication, “innocent.” Here soft, gentle, innocent mothers had been bereft of their children, and were refusing any attempts to comfort them. They were inconsolable in their grief. The text does not mention anger, but that had to be there too.

12: “Herod died”

Josephus’s account of the death of Herod The Great indicates that Herod died being eaten from the inside out by worms. The record also indicates that, because of his disease, he had become intolerable to others and even to himself. This probably refers to a stench that emanated from him because of the worms that had taken over his body. This condition was also very painful.

This was the same fate suffered by Herod’s grandson, Herod Agrippa, because he allowed people to praise him as a god, and did not stop them or correct them. According to extra-biblical historians it was also the fate of Antiochus the IV, who changed his name to Antiochus Epiphanes Ho Theos Victor, which means “Antiochus is God manifest, the victorious one.” However, even during his reign some people called him “Antiochus Epimames,” which means “Antiochus the madman.” You may recall that this was the same Antiochus who sacrificed a pig on the altar of the temple in Jerusalem, an act that was referred to in the prophecy of Daniel as the “abomination of desolation.” It seems like the True God has reserved the punishment of being consumed from the inside out by worms for certain rulers who thumb their noses at Him.

There is beauty and power in the manner in which the Bible makes the simplest reference to events like this. The reader was expected to know about that death of Herod, so it was unnecessary to repeat those details. Indeed, everyone in those days did know all there was to know about the death of Herod for it was talked about by everyone. We are far removed from that time and place, yet God expects us to do our homework and learn as much as we can about the context and background of the things mentioned in the Bible. God expects Gentiles to learn Jewish history well enough to catch the many references to historical events that were specific to the Jews. God does not spoon feed us every bite, rather He gives us the hunger and gives us the tools we need to satiate that hunger. We are blessed to live in a day when such tools for research are more available than ever before. However, we must be careful because one cannot believe everything that is posted on the internet.

God saw how Herod thought he could out-muscle God regarding the prophecy of the birth of the Messiah, and He saw Herod’s wanton cruelty and his unmitigated evil, and He, the true potentate, did not allow Herod to leave this world in a normal fashion. Instead God orchestrated things so that Herod would carry around a well-deserved torture-chamber within his own body. The Jews would forever speak of the death of Herod as a direct act of vengeance from God. The people remembered the long list of his cruelties, and they were pleased by God’s demonstration that He too remembered them all. Herod’s earlier attempts to win the hearts of the people by building them a larger temple and extending its courtyard were unsuccessful because of his unmatched cruelty. God saw Herod’s pride and cruelty and caused him to die a torturous, disgusting, ignoble death, totally unfitting for someone who considered himself to be noble, majestic, even godlike. During his life Herod tried to convince others that he was a HERO, but in the end God proved Herod was only a worm of a man. (No one can tell a story like God can!)

13: “go to the land of Israel”

You don’t belong in THIS PLACE BESEIGED BY SIN; this is not your permanent residence; your citizenship is among those WHO REFUSE TO LET GO OF GOD. All of us have lived for a time in THAT PLACE BESEIGED BY SIN, but if we are repentant, loyal followers of Jesus, that is no longer where we belong, we’re just a pass’n through.

14: “have died”

It is thought by most Bible scholars that this sojourn in Egypt only lasted a few months for Herod’s death came relatively soon after the incident involving the killing of the babies of Bethlehem. The traditional timing puts Herod’s death in the year 4 B.C. This would mean that Jesus was actually born earlier in the year 4 B.C.  or in the year 5 B.C. The 4 B.C. date is based on the fact that Josephus said in his historical record called Antiquities (17.6.4) that Herod died shortly after a lunar eclipse during a time that was bracketed by a fast and by the Passover. To come up with 4 B.C. historians have looked at several factors: how long Herod’s reign is said to have been, the date of when Herod was made a king by Caesar, when he took control of Judea, when his son became king in his place, when there were lunar eclipses, and how the eclipse coincided with the Passover and a special fast. There are those who argue that Herod died in the year 1 B.C. in which there was a full lunar eclipse (while the eclipse of 4 B.C. was partial.) The years of the reigns of these kings can be reconsidered by using different counting methods, because we are not absolutely sure how they counted partial years. Most early church fathers thought the birth of Jesus was in 3 B.C., which would have been impossible if Herod died in 4 B.C. Was the fast in question that of Purim or Yom Kippur? We will likely never know. Only four lunar eclipses occurred in the likely time frame: September 15, 5 B.C., March 12–13, 4 B.C., January 10, 1 B.C. and December 29, 1 B.C. Each of the theories has strengths and weaknesses. (The following websites have good articles on this topic:

Biblicalarcheologyreview.org; the-hope-of-Israel.org; and strangenotions.com)

In what year did the Saturn, Jupiter and Mars come together to make a bright light in the sky? It appears that Saturn and Jupiter came together in 7 B.C, and Mars Joined them in 6 B.C. Therefore, the year 6 B.C. for the bright light, and 4 B.C. for the birth of Jesus seem to be the most trustworthy in my opinion.

It is of little consequence that the birth of Jesus does not perfectly coincide with the transition from B.C. to A.D. and it should not become a stumbling block for anyone. However, out of simple curiosity you may be wondering why the birth of Jesus does not coincide with the transition point. This was decided in the year 525 by a monk named Dionysius Exiguus, who was asked by Pope John I to extend the tables of Easter dates another 95 years. This Dionysius did, and in the process he also sought to establish a unified system of dating, for before this there had been no unified system that everyone agreed on. It took a long time for his system to be adopted by everyone, but in the end it was and now we all follow it. He called the two major eras B.C. and A.D. (Before Christ and Anno Domini, or in the Year of our Lord). He took as anchoring points for his calculations the year of the founding of Rome, the first year of the reign of Emperor Diocletian, and the year of the birth of Jesus. He had several purposes, one of which was to place the transition between BC and AD in the year of the arrival of Jesus to this earth. However, it appears that he miscalculated by a little bit. There can be several reasons for his miscalculation and we won’t go into those details. His intent was good but his methodology was flawed so it did not turn out quite as he had hoped. There is much discussion about this topic on the internet; the most helpful site I have found has been

http://www.encyclopedia.com/people/history/historians-europeanbiographies/dionysius-exiguus

Despite his miscalculation by as little as one year, or as much as 4 or 5 years, he accomplished his goal because everyone knows that the universally accepted dating system for the history of the world hinges on the coming of this one called Jesus the Christ. Changing the acronym from B.C./A.D. to B.C.E/C.E (Before Common Era and Common Era) does not change the fact that history still hinges on the arrival of Jesus, for nothing else of note happened at approximately that time to which one can point and say, “That is why we mark history the way we do.”

The text uses a plural “those seeking the life of the child have died.” Even though everyone knows it was Herod who was behind it, to those in Bethlehem when the soldiers came in like a swarm it was definitely many people looking for and killing their babies. In this case either a singular or a plural would be correct.

15: The name Archelaus

Here was a man who, according to the meaning of his name, was born to be a king, for his name means “ruler of people.” He was the son of a king, he was expected to inherit a kingship and he did. But all that pales compared to this other child who was born to be a “king” of another kind. Archelaus made a negligible mark on human history, and is known only as another king that held that position for a short period of time. Nothing about his reign or even his existence is noteworthy. In fact, most people would not even know his name if it weren’t for this other baby who was also born to reign. In contrast the impact of Jesus has been immeasurable, and His reign will last forever.

16: “afraid to go there”

The territory over which Herod the great ruled was divided upon his death into four sections and given to three of his sons and one of his daughters. Of these four, only two of them have relevance to our story; Herod Archelaus was made ruler over Judea, and Herod Antipas was given control over Galilee. When Joseph heard this news he was afraid to return to Judea, and chose rather to return to the place where he and Mary had suffered much ridicule. I think he was afraid to return to Judea because Archelaus had been given authority to rule alongside his father (we call that coregency). That would imply that Archelaus was his father’s favorite, and that his style of leadership resembled that of his father more closely than that of his siblings.

17: “Galilee”

When it came to perils caused by man, there was no safe place to go. However, Joseph felt better being surrounded by pagans than being close to a jealous and unpredictable ruler who wielded the power of the sword. Herod was gone, but it was quite possible that his son, Archelaus, shared his father’s sensitivity about any possible threat to his throne. Joseph was wise to be concerned and consider moving back to Nazareth. Then the angel came in answer to his prayer or as a confirmation of what he had already decided to do.

18: “called a Nazarene”

There is no place in the Old Testament where such a thing is actually said. Therefore, many scholars think it is a reference to Isaiah 11:1 where we read, “There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.” Thus it is not a quote, but the use of the term “sprout or shoot” that is in view here. Jesus was the sprout and he grew up in a town called the sprout. Jesus fulfilled the meaning of the name of the place where He grew up, thus it sounds like a prophecy fulfilled.

The concept of a sprout or shoot found in the Hebrew prophets conveyed a picture of a tree that had been cut down leaving behind only a stump. But then a shoot appeared providing hope that a new tree would again stand in that place. Thus a sprout or shoot was similar to the concept of a remnant, and was a symbol of hope, of restoration, of renewal. JESUS, the HOLY SPROUT, is our source of HOPE. Thus the story of the birth of Jesus ends with a word picture for Hope.