Family stories can take on lives of their own. Know what I mean? Every time your mom or grandma tells the story, it gets better than what you remembered. Many things are like that, and can be stretched away from the original setting. I was a little worried when I started looking up the context of the quoted passages in Matthew 2. If it wasn’t in the Bible, I might call it heresy. Matthew seems to take some verses from the Old Testament way out of their original context, but maybe there is a deeper meaning to that. I’ll take a stab at figuring out the four cases.
The first verse that is quoted is used by the chief priests and scribes to determine where the Messiah would be born:
“‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah;
For out of you shall come forth a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.’” (Matthew 2:6)
It comes from Micah 5:2.
Observation 1 – this would be a touchy political subject. Maybe that is why the Jewish leaders didn’t run to Bethlehem to see if it was true.
Observation 2 – they knew their Scripture, and where to find this verse!
Observation 3 – the context of this verse within Micah is coming after a call for Israel to change, and then a promise that God would restore her in the latter days. The nation had gone through a lot of hardship – they expected God to send Messiah soon.
Second verse – Matthew showed a prophesy that was fulfilled as God said:
“‘Out of Egypt I called My Son.'” (Matthew 2:15)
Israel is called God’s son when Moses tells Pharaoh to let them go. The quote comes from Hosea 11 – which shows how Israel kept wandering away from God. But Jesus did not – He followed the path of obeying God and showed a different scenario that could have played out in the timeline of Israel.
Third verse – Matthew cites Jeremiah as the prophet who penned this passage:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
Weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children;
And she refused to be comforted,
Because they were no more.” (Matthew 2:18)
In Jeremiah 31:15, the context is that of renewal and rejoicing! The children seem to have been stolen (verse 17), but will come back. That seems like rather an odd passage to use for this slaughter of innocent children! But what is really happening? Both contexts have evil in the present, but Matthew uses Jeremiah to point to the hope of God’s loving work to rebuild Israel.
Side note: Why does the text only mention Jeremiah by name? Why not the other prophets? Perhaps because they were part of the twelve minor prophets, and written in the same scroll rather than as separate books. Okay, back to Matthew.
Fourth verse –
“He shall be called a Nazarene.” (Matthew 2:23)
There are not actually any cross-references to this. Did Matthew goof? I scratched my head, bit my lip, and opened my browser to seek some help from Commentaries. Barnes has this interesting thought: maybe Matthew was referring to a common proverb of the day. Nazareth had a bad rap around Israel (John 1:46, 7:52), and the prophesies of the Old Testament point to the Messiah as of low birth, identifying with common people (Isaiah 53 for example). “He’s a Nazarene” might have been equal to saying someone came from the other side of the railroad tracks or the bad part of town.
As soon as a story begins to be told, it is easy to loose track of where it came from as pieces are told over and over. But in the Bible, God is telling one big story of the world, how it came into existence, fell apart, and how He is putting it back together again. He used Israel to show the world this story, and when the Savior, Jesus, was born, God referred back to what had already happened to remind people that He was consistently at work. It’s a good reminder for us today.
God, thank You that the Bible fits together, even when things do not seem to line up right away. Thank You for the beauty of the truth in Your Word, and the story You are writing for the world. Please help me to not jump to conclusions, but look back at the rest of the story to get a better idea of what is happening in the world right now. To Your glory, Amen.