Today we finished Matthew chapter 2 by looking at the three events that span a total of 10 verses, but are literally a Bible-full of wealth and truth. These events involve Christ and His family fleeing to Egypt, Herod killing the babies in Bethlehem and their return from Egypt to Nazareth. Is Matthew simply just giving us some quick detail to help span from Christ’s birth to his baptism in chapter 3? Matthew certainly wants to keep the story going, however, these events are important to him because of what they mean, scripturally speaking. And, to enjoy the journey of truth Matthew has us on, we needed to examine a Jewish method of approaching the scriptures. I mentioned in our previous lessons in Matthew that an Eastern author/teacher teaches in a different manner than we are used to (and even expect) from a modern, Western teacher. The Eastern teacher wants the student to enjoy the benefits of truth’s discovery rather than simply spoon-feeding the student with all of the bullet points. We’ve already seen some of this at work in chapter 1, but Matthew isn’t done and as you begin to understand this, you’ll find the New Testament opening up to you like never before.
This method of approaching the scriptures is known by an acronym of PaRDeS. Hebrew words are made with consonant roots and the vowels are pronunciation marks. PRDS is a Hebrew root for garden or orchard. And it is very fitting that we will see that this approach to the scriptures is just that – a gleaning from the garden – a garden full of the crops of God’s word. Each letter of this acronym stands for a facet of this scripture approach and is rendered thusly,
P – P’shat – The P’shat reading of a text is simply the surface meaning – what it says. Most believers are accustomed to the P’shat approach as we attempt to find context in the immediate scripture we are reading/studying.
R – Remez – This is a hint or a clue – it is a hyperlink to something outside of itself.
D – Drash – This is the context that the Remez was pointing to and is often therefore understood as a metaphor to the P’shat reading. This isn’t a different meaning nor something that negates the surface meaning at all, but simply shows what was on the author’s mind as he recorded what he did, the way he did. (This will become clearer shortly).
S – Sod – This is understanding that comes directly from God – it isn’t something that is taught by man, but given by God Himself. Think of Christ’s declaration to Peter in Matthew 16 that “flesh and blood hath not revealed this unto thee but my Father in heaven.” Or, in Galatians 1, where Paul says he was taught not by man but by revelation of Jesus Christ. Think of this as this is the inter-working of God in your life through the text.
It is important to point out that this isn’t some Bible code or anything of the like. It is simply a means to keep you constantly spiraling on the text. If you could look at a spiral from above, it would look like a circle, yet pan down to look at it from the side and you see a 3D structure. This is what PRDS does – it keeps you spiraling on the text. You might begin to think – but wait, if I spend so much time on a particular text, how can I keep my Bible reading schedule up? There is a tendency to achieve a reading of 3 chapters a day or for 30 minutes a day and the study of the scriptures either rarely happens or only in infrequent, short spurts. Today, we looked at 10 verses for 40 minutes and we really needed another 40. Is reading the Bible bad? No, not at all, however, if I’m reading for the sake of reading then we are squandering a great opportunity. You could literally study on the Gospel of John for an entire year and never finish. The question then arises – what profited you more? Worrying about a reading schedule for the sake of saying, “I read the Bible through in a year!” Or, living and chewing on the text for a year and seeing all that God is not only teaching you through the text but is equipping you to teach others? It may sound like I’m against casual reading and I’m not – God’s scriptures can do marvelous things even when consumed as if they were a passing comment, yet, as believers, we ought to yearn and hunger for the text – and certainly not feel guilty when you answer the call of that hunger! Dive in and dine!
This PRDS method is also not a path that leads to private interpretations of the scriptures. To the contrary, this simply unveils the network of truth that supports the surface level reading all the while giving the surface level reading an incredible flavor. Ok, let’s turn our attention back to Matthew and see this PRDS method in action. We’ll focus on the PRD as again, the Sod is something God does with you. The PRD facets are within the text themselves.
Matthew 2:13 And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. 2:14 When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: 2:15 And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.
From a P’shat perspective, we see that the Lord, through a dream, told Joseph to take his family and get down to Egypt because Herod will seek to destroy the Christ child. Joseph took his family under the cover of night and remained in Egypt until the death of Herod (the Great). This is fairly straight forward, however, we have an overt Remez here – Matthew quotes the prophet Hosea and says that Jesus needed to go in to Egypt so that the prophet’s words would be fulfilled. (As a side note, there is at least one covert Remez here (covert meaning, it isn’t a direct quote from a Prophet) – notice this man named Joseph is a dreamer and ends up in Egypt – what does that remind you of?) But, for this passage, we see that Hosea’s words are about Jesus Christ. Except one problem – if you go back to Hosea, the context of this verse is about the nation of Israel, not the Messiah. There are skeptics out there who would point to this as an error in Matthew’s understanding of the Old Testament. However, Matthew knows exactly what he’s doing. Let’s go back and understand the Remez to Hosea.
Hosea 11:1 When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt. 11:2 As they called them, so they went from them: they sacrificed unto Baalim, and burned incense to graven images.
Hosea is a prophet that is to mirror God Himself and Hosea takes a wife who is a harlot and this is to mimic Israel. Her name is Gomer and Hosea and Gomer’s relationship shows what God is going through with Israel. Yet the prophet comes towards the close of his prophecy by describing how much God loves Israel and even though He will not overlook their failure, He desperately pleads with them to repent and return to the Lord. In chapter 11, we see Hosea describe Israel as the son of God who was called out of Egypt yet, they began to sacrifice unto other gods and make idols. This is clearly not about the Messiah – Jesus has never sacrificed unto Baalim nor made any graven images of these other gods. Yet, Matthew, with a working knowledge of his scriptures, finds it very fitting to say that Christ is connected to Hosea 11:1. Remember that when God was talking with Moses about His plans to use Moses to deliver Israel out of Egypt, in Exodus 4:22, we find that God tells Moses that Israel is “[his] firstborn son.” Their time in Egypt being likened unto a pregnancy and their exodus as the birth of God’s son. (Hosea is likewise doing a bit of Remezing for us by hyperlinking us back to the Exodus.) Matthew’s audience would have known Hosea pictures a loving God pleading with His unfaithful wife to return back to Him. It is God’s love that is going to rescue His wife from the shackles she’s put herself in. These are self-imposed shackles because of the choices of her lifestyle. Israel, during the dividing kingdom period, was unfaithful to God and was sacrificing to other gods. Israel was very much back in the bondage of Egypt, metaphorically speaking. The birth of Jesus Christ would ring the message of Hosea loud and clear – God is bringing His Son out of Egypt. Deliverance from bondage is in Jesus Christ. The TRUE Exodus Israel needed, from their sin, has just been born in Bethlehem. This is exactly what Matthew is tracking on–using something about the nation of Israel to describe something true about Christ. This isn’t foreign at all to the New Testament writers. In Luke’s gospel, he records of a man named Simeon who was in the temple who when he had laid eyes on the Christ child, Simeon makes a declaration that includes a quotation from Isaiah 49.
Luke 2:25 And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. 2:26 And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 2:27 And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, 2:28 Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, 2:29 Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: 2:30 For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, 2:31 Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; 2:32 A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.
Did you notice Simeon had a bit of Sod happening (verse 26)? But, Simeon quotes Isaiah in verses 31 and 32 and it is easy to say – see, more prophecy being fulfilled and simply moving on, yet, if we go back to the chapter that Isaiah is being quoted from, we find a very similar thing where it isn’t about a Messiah, but about Israel. In Isaiah 40 through 54ish, we find the large section of Isaiah’s prophecy that deals with what is known as the Suffering Servant and without question, this servant is Israel/Jacob. Israel was to be the servant of God to the world. In Isaiah 49, from which Simeon is quoting, is likewise about Israel, yet Simeon sees Christ as the supreme Servant of God, come to show Israel what being a servant of God is supposed to look like but not just Israel was Christ is likewise a light unto the Gentiles.
Isaiah 49:3 And said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified. 49:4 Then I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain: yet surely my judgment is with the LORD, and my work with my God. 49:5 And now, saith the LORD that formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob again to him, Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the LORD, and my God shall be my strength. 49:6 And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth. 49:7 Thus saith the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel, and his Holy One, to him whom man despiseth, to him whom the nation abhorreth, to a servant of rulers, Kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship, because of the LORD that is faithful, and the Holy One of Israel, and he shall choose thee.
Where Simeon’s comments provide a Remez back to Isaiah’s words, Matthew is likewise doing the same with Hosea. What we are supposed to be diving into is not simply finding where the quotation is from, but understanding the quotation in its context and then meditate upon why the New Testament author would be drawing our attention to that Old Testament passage. Jesus being taken down to Egypt wasn’t simply just to keep Him safe from Herod, but served as an opportunity to highlight what deliverance from bondage looks like – it looks like Jesus Christ coming out of Egypt.
Let’s continue on in Matthew 2,
Matthew 2:16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men. 2:17 Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, 2:18 In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.
Our P’shat tells us that Herod is pretty ticked off he’s been duped by these Babylonian astrologers and as he was a very insecure guy as it was, he puts out a decree to have all those in Bethlehem, 2 years of age and younger, to be killed. It was the killing of these children that Matthew tells us fulfills what Jeremiah wrote about concerning Israel and Rachel. Our Remez takes us back to Jeremiah 31 (where Jeremiah is clearing Remezing on Genesis 30-35). Remember, a Remez is a hyperlink to somewhere else in the text that is in the mind of the author and as the author is making connections, so too would he expect his reading audience to discover these connections as well. Matthew quotes directly from Jeremiah 31:15 – Thus saith the LORD; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not. From Genesis, we read of Rachel mourning over the fact that she was barren but more than that, Rachel seems to have her own personal demons in her life, as it were. (Perhaps from the influence of her pagan upbringing). Rachel gives birth to Benjamin and dies. Benjamin was initially named Benoni, which means “son of my sorrow”. Jacob isn’t going to keep calling his son a name that reminds them of sorrow, but changes his name to Benjamin, which means, “son of my right hand.” In other words, Jacob turned something that was centered around mourning and turned into something to rejoice about. Jeremiah, seeing Israel in the throws of being exiled, writes of the time of Rachel’s mourning and likens it unto what Israel is going through. They were barren and in despair, but Jeremiah doesn’t see a never-ending sorrow, for even Jacob turned something of sorrow into rejoicing. Notice this from Jeremiah,
Jeremiah 31:1 At the same time, saith the LORD, will I be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people. 31:2 Thus saith the LORD, The people which were left of the sword found grace in the wilderness; even Israel, when I went to cause him to rest. 31:3 The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee. 31:4 Again I will build thee, and thou shalt be built, O virgin of Israel: thou shalt again be adorned with thy tabrets, and shalt go forth in the dances of them that make merry.
Jeremiah 31:10 Hear the word of the LORD, O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock. 31:11 For the LORD hath redeemed Jacob, and ransomed him from the hand of him that was stronger than he. 31:12 Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, and shall flow together to the goodness of the LORD, for wheat, and for wine, and for oil, and for the young of the flock and of the herd: and their soul shall be as a watered garden; and they shall not sorrow any more at all.
Jeremiah 31:15 Thus saith the LORD; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not. 31:16 Thus saith the LORD; Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the LORD; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy. 31:17 And there is hope in thine end, saith the LORD, that thy children shall come again to their own border.
Jeremiah 31:21 Set thee up waymarks, make thee high heaps: set thine heart toward the highway, even the way which thou wentest: turn again, O virgin of Israel, turn again to these thy cities. 31:22 How long wilt thou go about, O thou backsliding daughter? for the LORD hath created a new thing in the earth, A woman shall compass a man. 31:23 Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; As yet they shall use this speech in the land of Judah and in the cities thereof, when I shall bring again their captivity; The LORD bless thee, O habitation of justice, and mountain of holiness.
Jeremiah 31:24 And there shall dwell in Judah itself, and in all the cities thereof together, husbandmen, and they that go forth with flocks. 31:25 For I have satiated the weary soul, and I have replenished every sorrowful soul. 31:26 Upon this I awaked, and beheld; and my sleep was sweet unto me.
Jeremiah is fixated upon the fact that is going to exchange Israel’s mourning for joy. Matthew picks up on this and despite the mourning of Bethlehem for the decree of Herod, yet because Christ was born and protected, the catalyst of turning mourning into joy would still prevail! In other words, what Jeremiah saw was centralized in the person of Jesus Christ. The days that Jeremiah longed for were at hand in Matthew’s day.
To finish Matthew 2, let’s consider the remaining verses:
Matthew 2:19 But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 2:20 Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life. 2:21 And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. 2:22 But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: 2:23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.
Look – another instance of this dreamer Joseph in Egypt – where again have we read about this? But, now that Herod the Great was dead, it was safe to go back home. Joseph takes his family sets up their abode in the small village in Galilee called, Nazareth. Matthew says that this fulfills the prophets in that Jesus would be called a Nazarene. There’s our P’shat, but what about the Remez? It is clear that Matthew is once again overtly hyperlinking back to the Prophets, but this time it’s a little different. In the previous two quotations from the Prophets, Hosea and Jeremiah, we see Matthew quoting directly from them (and, tipping off the reader by inserting the word, “saying” right before the quote). Yet, here, we just have a statement about the Prophets and it seems like a direct quote, however, no such quotation exists in the Prophets. Has Matthew lost it? Why would he be quoting things that don’t exist? No, Matthew hasn’t lost it but the flight his mind is on is simply pulling up in altitude and rather than making a ground-level connection, Matthew is making an observation of COLLECTIVE FULFILLMENT of the Prophets. In other words, Matthew sees the town of Nazareth as no surprise because of what the Prophets have said about the Messiah in their writings. Matthew is weaving these realities together and terminating it at Nazareth and declares that the message of the Prophets absolutely identify Christ as a Nazarene. How so?
Recall that Nazareth was a despised and dejected type of village. It was settled after the exile in the Galilee region, but was never looked at as anything special. You may have a city or village around you that brings certain ideas to your mind when you hear it. When folks heard of Nazareth, it didn’t conjure up positive thoughts. In fact, in John 1, we see that when some of the initial disciples go and tell Nathanael that they had found He whom Moses spoke about and He’s in Nazareth, Nathanael responds,
John 1:46 And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.
I love it! Nathanael has his mind already made up about if something good were to come from anywhere, let alone the very Messiah, it certainly wouldn’t be from Nazareth. Now, do we have evidence from the Prophets that the Messiah would be despised and rejected? What about Isaiah 53:3,
Isaiah 53:3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
How about the Psalmist in Psalm 22, who ends up writing words that will end up describing the very crucifixion of Israel’s Messiah,
Psalm 22:6 But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.
But, it goes a little deeper than even this. Nazareth (Nazeret in Hebrew) is made up of the same root as natzer, which is the Hebrew word for branch. Back in Isaiah, we find something else prophesied about this Messiah,
Isaiah 11:1 And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: 11:2 And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD;
Nazareth is not some randomly chosen city, but indeed speaks of some themes from the Prophets, that like the name of the village, the Messiah would be despised and rejected of men, but despite this rejection, He would still grow out of the rubble of Israel’s chaos as a Branch of righteousness, in whom the spirit of the LORD rests upon. Indeed Matthew, the Prophets do declare that He would be called as Nazarene! This becomes His epithet – Pilot had no idea the truth of what he was having inscribed on the sign that hung on Jesus’ cross, ¡John 19:19 And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS.
Matthew describes these three events and Remezes us back to the Old Testament to unveil this marvelous picture of Jesus Christ. Matthew wants us connected, deeply, with the Old Testament. As modern Christians, we often get wrapped up in the New Testament, but fail to recognize that the New Testament writers lived and breathed the Old Testament scriptures and they were indeed the foundation for their truthful teachings and doctrine. The apostle Paul, for example, quotes the Old Testament roughly 265x and if we remove the quotations of Paul from the book of Acts and just focus on his letters (Romans through Philemon) and count the words, Paul is quoting the Old Testament every 7.6 verses. I know we often want to skip the Old Testament due to its length, detail and even difficulty because we find the New Testament easier, yet, the irony of this is that the New Testament is woven upon the Old Testament – and not only upon, but has it coursing through its veins!
Matthew sees these events to draw our attention to Christ – the true exodus from bondage; the source of turning mourning into joy; and indeed the Despised of men, yet to be exalted as King. These aren’t just historical narratives to fill space but a purposeful move by Matthew to get his readers to understand a larger picture of Christ. Don’t simply read through this – wrap yourself in the text and in turn, allow the text to wrap around you.
Next week, we’ll look at John the Baptist – himself a Remez to someone else in the Old Testament. (I’ll let you think about whom, but think of fiery prophet who likewise had camel’s hair for his clothes.) Our story continues…