The Not-So-Last-Minute Escape: Matthew 2:1-23

Focus Passage: Matthew 2:1-23 (CEV)

When Jesus was born in the village of Bethlehem in Judea, Herod was king. During this time some wise men from the east came to Jerusalem and said, “Where is the child born to be king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard about this, he was worried, and so was everyone else in Jerusalem. Herod brought together the chief priests and the teachers of the Law of Moses and asked them, “Where will the Messiah be born?”

They told him, “He will be born in Bethlehem, just as the prophet wrote,

’Bethlehem in the land
    of Judea,
you are very important
    among the towns of Judea.
From your town
    will come a leader,
who will be like a shepherd
    for my people Israel.’”

Herod secretly called in the wise men and asked them when they had first seen the star. He told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, let me know. I want to go and worship him too.”

The wise men listened to what the king said and then left. And the star they had seen in the east went on ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 They were thrilled and excited to see the star.

11 When the men went into the house and saw the child with Mary, his mother, they knelt down and worshiped him. They took out their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh and gave them to him. 12 Later they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, and they went back home by another road.

13 After the wise men had gone, an angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Hurry and take the child and his mother to Egypt! Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is looking for the child and wants to kill him.”

14 That night, Joseph got up and took his wife and the child to Egypt, 15 where they stayed until Herod died. So the Lord’s promise came true, just as the prophet had said, “I called my son out of Egypt.”

16 When Herod found out that the wise men from the east had tricked him, he was very angry. He gave orders for his men to kill all the boys who lived in or near Bethlehem and were two years old and younger. This was based on what he had learned from the wise men.

17 So the Lord’s promise came true, just as the prophet Jeremiah had said,

18 “In Ramah a voice was heard
    crying and weeping loudly.
Rachel was mourning
    for her children,
and she refused
to be comforted,
    because they were dead.”

19 After King Herod died, an angel from the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph while he was still in Egypt. 20 The angel said, “Get up and take the child and his mother back to Israel. The people who wanted to kill him are now dead.”

21 Joseph got up and left with them for Israel. 22 But when he heard that Herod’s son Archelaus was now ruler of Judea, he was afraid to go there. Then in a dream he was told to go to Galilee, 23 and they went to live there in the town of Nazareth. So the Lord’s promise came true, just as the prophet had said, “He will be called a Nazarene.”

Read Matthew 2:1-23 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

At the end of every Christmas story that follows the wise men’s journey, we are presented with Joseph, Mary, and Jesus’ escape to Egypt. I’m not sure why my mind has created this picture, but I’ve often imagined the scene that the little family is leaving through the south gate of the city when the guards are arriving at the north gate to enter and kill the children.

But if we read closer at what Matthew describes in his gospel, I see a different scene taking place. If the wise men’s visit was during the day, then most likely, that same night both groups had their respective dreams. The wise men dreamed that they should not return to Herod and Joseph dreamed about the need to escape to Egypt. (v. 12-13)

Joseph didn’t waste any time. He packed up his family and they set out that night.

What Matthew does not mention is how much time passed before Herod realized the wise men had chosen to not return. “Later they [the wise men] were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, and they went back home by another road.” (v. 12)

When Herod found out that the wise men from the east had tricked him, he was very angry. He gave orders for his men to kill all the boys who lived in or near Bethlehem and were two years old and younger. This was based on what he had learned from the wise men.” (v. 16)

The time between the wise men taking the different road and that information reaching Herod may have been days or weeks. It is even possible that Joseph and the family were crossing the border into Egypt on the actual night the slaughter happened in Bethlehem.

But maybe, from what we know about Herod in this event, the king had sent spies to watch the wise men and report on their actions and their direction. It is even possible that if there were spies following the wise men, they learned the exact location where the family was living. However, as soon as the wise men took the road that didn’t lead back to Jerusalem, the spies realized they weren’t headed back to Herod and they left to give their report.

With this information, the escape most likely happened a day or two ahead of the slaughter if there were spies watching the wise men, or perhaps even a week or two if Herod was simply waiting for their return.

This detail in the Christmas story tells me that God has everything planned out in detail, and He is not surprised by what is going to happen. God knew Jesus’ life was in danger long before Herod even knew of Jesus’ existence and He made a way for the family to escape the slaughter. This means that nothing that happens in my own life is a surprise to God. While not everything that happens is good, God is able to take the bad and salvage it into something good if we let Him.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

Subscribe to this blog and never miss an insight.