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Saturday, May 19, 2012

The fifth Messianic prophecy

Some time ago, I posted on the first four prophecies mentioned as being fulfilled in the gospel of Matthew. I was amazed to find that it would have been difficult to understand those prophecies, as given originally, mostly because of the context.

I recently looked at the fifth such prophecy, which is this:

Matthew 2:19 But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, 20 “Arise and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel, for those who sought the young child’s life are dead.”
21 He arose and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in the place of his father, Herod, he was afraid to go there. Being warned in a dream, he withdrew into the region of Galilee, 23 and came and lived in a city called Nazareth; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.” (World English Bible, public domain)

OK. The prophecy seems clear enough. Some one or more prophets said that someone would be called a Nazarene. The prophecy means that Jesus would live in Nazareth. But there's a problem. I discovered that there is no record of Nazareth or Nazarene, in the entire Old Testament. Here's what the public domain commentary from Jamieson, Fausset and Brown had to say about this:

The best explanation of the origin of this name appears to be that which traces it to the word netzer in Isa 11:1 --the small twig, sprout, or sucker, which the prophet there says, "shall come forth from the stem (or rather, 'stump') of Jesse, the branch which should fructify from his roots." The little town of Nazareth, mentioned neither in the Old Testament nor in JOSEPHUS, was probably so called from its insignificance: a weak twig in contrast to a stately tree; and a special contempt seemed to rest upon it--"Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" (Joh 1:46) --over and above the general contempt in which all Galilee was held, from the number of Gentiles that settled in the upper territories of it, and, in the estimation of the Jews, debased it. Thus, in the providential arrangement by which our Lord was brought up at the insignificant and opprobrious town called Nazareth, there was involved, first, a local humiliation; next, an allusion to Isaiah's prediction of His lowly, twig-like upspringing from the branchless, dried-up stump of Jesse; and yet further, a standing memorial of that humiliation which "the prophets," in a number of the most striking predictions, had attached to the Messiah.

So, this commentator believes that the prophets meant either that Jesus would be the fulfillment of the prophecy about the Branch (which seems to be correct) or that he would be "despised and rejected by men," or both. Matthew Henry adds another possible meaning:

In this is said to be fulfilled what was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene. Which may be looked upon, (1.) As a man of honour and dignity, though primarily it signifies no more than a man of Nazareth; there is an allusion or mystery in speaking it, speaking Christ to be, [1.] The Man, the Branch, spoken of, Isa. xi. 1. The word there is Netzar, which signifies either a branch, or the city of Nazareth; in being denominated from that city, he is declared to be that Branch. [2.] It speaks him to be the great Nazarite; of whom the legal Nazarites were a type and figure (especially Samson, Judg. xiii. 5), and Joseph, who is called a Nazarite among his brethren (Gen. xlix. 26), and to whom that which was prescribed concerning the Nazarites, has reference, Num. vi. 2, &c. Not that Christ was, strictly, a Nazarite, for he drank wine, and touched dead bodies; but he was eminently so, both as he was singularly holy, and as he was by a solemn designation and dedication set apart to the honour of God in the work of our redemption, as Samson was to save Israel. And it is a name we have all reason to rejoice in, and to know him by. Or, (2.) As a name of reproach and contempt. To be called a Nazarene, was to be called a despicable man, a man from whom no good was to be expected, and to whom no respect was to be paid. The devil first fastened this name upon Christ, to render him mean, and prejudice people against him, and it stuck as a nickname to him and his followers. Now this was not particularly foretold by any one prophet, but, in general, it was spoken by the prophets, that he should be despised and rejected of men (Isa. liii. 2, 3), a Worm, and no man (Ps. xxii. 6, 7), that he should be an Alien to his brethren Ps. lxix. 7, 8. Let no name of reproach for religion's sake seem hard to us, when our Master was himself called a Nazarene.

Note that Henry does not point out that we can't find the prophecy Matthew refers to in the Old Testament.

John Calvin also concludes that the prophecy is that Jesus would be a Nazarite. He argues that the prophets were whoever wrote the book of Judges.

So, a seemingly simple prophecy, that Jesus would live in Nazareth, seems to be something else entirely. Amazing. If this prophecy, already fulfilled, is so obscure, then we need to be most careful in thinking we understand prophecies which haven't been fulfilled yet.

Thanks for reading.



atlibertytosay said...

Also take into account that MUCH of Jesus's life, history, etc etc was erased from history books by Nero and possibly Caligula.

It has been summarized that maybe even Pilate and The Saducces and Pharisees expunged some records over embarrassment.

So, even if there was such a place or mention of it, it could have been erased from existence to discredit the life of Jesus.

I believe this also the case of Sodom & Gomorrah. I'm not sure these places exist on paper or record today - but they did exist and because of the content and meaning of the story in terms of homosexuality - the cities were erased from the history books to discredit the story.

At least according to some archaeologists … these twin cities have been found.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, atlibertytosay. I hadn't heard that.

It seems to me that God would have protected any essential teaching from being erased. I'm not sure that this prophecy, or whatever it was, was essential.