Way Down in Egypt’s Land
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Years ago I decided to preach in Matthew, Dad’s favorite book, and the one I ripped in his Bible when I was a toddler. I meant to preach through the Sermon on the Mount (MT 5-7) only, but once I finished it, I kept going, and finished chapter 21. In the meantime I had preached from MT 1:1-2:12 in various Christmas seasons. I have decided to preach from 2:13 to 4:25 to complete these early chapters of MT. After chapter 4, I will return to MT 22.
Matt. 2:13 Holman After they were gone, an angel of the Lord
suddenly appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Get up! Take
the child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell
you. For Herod is about to search for the child to destroy Him.”
Once Herod realized the wise men had snubbed him, he went ballistic. Fortunately, God knew Herod’s thoughts, and sent an angel to warn Joseph of pending doom. Mentioning “the child” before “the mother” reversed the usual order that was used to honor the elder. This reminds us Mary and Joseph were but humble servants. The child mattered most.
Jesus was not exempt from suffering. He was persecuted even from infancy. There was no room for Him in the inn; now no room in all Israel.
Whenever God brings forth good, evil rises up to oppose it. This is true in each life. Expect this. Troubles follow victories; valleys follow mountaintops; troughs follow waves. We often wish a time of triumph would last forever, that we could be spared from trouble this one time.
One mark of spiritual maturity is finally arriving at a place where we stop seeking to avoid the cross in given situations. Paul’s goal was “to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings” (PH 3:10). Wanting the power of Jesus’ resurrection, Paul knew it could be known only through fellowship with His suffering. The two are intertwined.
Matt. 2:14 So he got up, took the child and His mother during the
night, and escaped to Egypt.
“Night”—not only a time of day, but also the way everything was—dark and ominous. Luc Merson caught this pathos in his painting “Repose in Egypt”. I envy artists’ ability to capture on canvas life’s deep lessons. There is not an artistic bone in my body. The only school class I ever received less than a C in was art (D plus). I can’t do art, but do appreciate it.
In Merson’s picture, the child and Mary are asleep on the right paw of the Sphinx. The background is dark and barren, lit only by the halo light shining from the Christ-child. Amen. Jesus lights the whole dark world.
The painting also portrays the holy family as safe, at repose. Fleeing into Egypt was not ideal, but did save the family from something worse. God often (always?) lets us be in situations that keep us from even worse things. For instance, since suffering is infinitely preferable to sinning, the Lord may send us sorrow to keep us from evil (Spurgeon). He puts us in sad settings solely to keep us from sadder ones. We too often take this gift for granted.
God knew in advance this forced exile would happen. He also always knows in advance what is about to happen to us, and provides. Today’s dispensed grace will not suffice for tomorrow’s need, but tomorrow’s need will be cared for with grace God is preparing today to dispense tomorrow.
Some of God’s greatest miracles are not spectacular, but hide in the ordinary. No outward miracle rescued baby Jesus here. The Father used ordinary means. He usually does the same for us.
At Dothan Elisha saw the mountains filled with horses and chariots of fire (2 K 6:17). Stunning. We all rank this as a world-class miracle. Also at Dothan, Joseph (GN 37:28) cried in vain for pity from his brothers. Was the spectacular or the ordinary a bigger miracle? Neither. Both saved a nation.
To help a poor family survive in Egypt, God could have rained down money. He instead had wise men bring gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Egypt itself had been miraculously prepared in advance to be a safe haven for Jesus. It was safe because it was a Roman Province not under Herod’s jurisdiction. Through the centuries, Egypt has often proved to be a place of bondage and mistreatment for God’s people, yet at the same time has also served as an asylum to preserve life. Abraham and Jacob went there to survive famine. Joseph went there to escape being killed by his brothers. Israel survived there 400 years. The spoils of Egypt furnished and decorated the Tabernacle. Moses was trained there. Egypt could be tough, but it often allowed a place to avoid annihilation. (As a sidebar, the Coptic Christians have fared well in Egypt. Pray for them in these turbulent times.)
When God needed Egypt most, to save His Son, it was again ready. From Bethlehem to Egypt was 75 miles; another 100 miles in would have brought them to safety in populated areas. The holy family would have had no trouble finding refuge there. Jews lived in all the major cities of Egypt. Philo, Jewish philosopher in Jesus’ time, said a million Jews lived in Egypt.
Alexander the Great had honored the Jews by making Alexandria a sanctuary for them. He gave them their own portion of the city. In the third century BC the Septuagint was translated here. In 150 BC Onias IV built a temple for Jews in Heliopolis. Rome maintained this umbrella of protection for Jews in Egypt until the destruction of Jerusalem. When trouble came to God’s Son, Egypt was ready. No surprise here. God was not caught off guard. This was His plan from the first. God is planning for us also.
Matt. 2:15 He stayed there until Herod’s death, so that what was spoken
by The Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled: Out of
Egypt I called My Son.
How long was He there? Our best guess is, since He was born near the end of Herod’s life, and returned right after his death, a few months maybe.
Herod died. Everything opposed to Jesus eventually comes to naught. Only what is connected to Him is blessed forever.
Herod had an evil heart. He was not only fighting a rival heir, but also a Messiah. He was fighting God. He believed the wise men, saw the star, accepted the Bethlehem prediction. He threw Himself against Heaven, and it steamrolled over him. It always does.
Enemies of Jesus later said he brought sorcery and black magic back with him from Egypt. Quite a feat for a baby. His enemies never tried to deny His miracles. They were too many and too powerful to refute or deny. They at best hoped they could put a negative spin on their source.
Egypt was a land of sorcery–their enchanters were able to mimic some of Moses’ plagues–one opponent said Jesus had the magical formulas tattooed on his body so He would not forget them. The pagan philosopher, Celsus, used this attack. Origen met and defeated these accusations.
Jesus went to Egypt, not to gain magical powers, but to fulfill a prediction. Jesus was the ultimate embodiment of Israel, the ultimate reason it long existed. He was heart and soul of all Israel was to give the nations.
God sent word to Pharaoh, “Israel is My firstborn son” (EX 4:22). God brought the firstborn out of Egypt, and now brought out the chief Firstborn from among the firstborn nation. He was in essence saying, let’s try again. What Israel was meant to be for the nations when I called them out of Egypt, Jesus will become. He will carry the blessing of God to the world.
Jesus was the true Son nestled in the Son that came out of Egypt. The nation of Israel was the shell protecting its most valuable kernel. Within them was the seed that would become the Son of the Highest. They preserved it, protected it, kept it pure. He was the core, the essence of it all.