“and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.” (Matthew 2:23)
When Herod the Great died there was great confusion about what should happen because he had drafted several wills, many of which were in conflict with one another. It was not until the conflicted family members appeared in Rome that Caesar divided Herod the Great’s rule amongst three of his children.
Archelaus was the son of Herod the Great and Malthace the Samaritan, who received the largest portion and highest title within the realm of Judea. Archelaus ruled as ethnarch of Samaria, Judea, and Idumea (biblical Edom). His two brothers, Antipas and Philip were given less desirable portions of the territory and lower titles as tetrarchs. After roughly nine years, in response to Jewish unrest under Archelaus’ cruelty and also as a means of bringing the province of Judea directly under Roman rule, Archelaus was deposed by Roman Emperor Augustus.
Joseph and Mary avoid Archelaus by heading far north into the area known as the Galilee to a town called Nazareth. The region of Galilee was governed by Archelaus’ brother, Herod Antipas, who also controlled the Transjordan territory of Perea. Antipas, or Antipater, is the Herod we hear about later in the gospels, who arrests John the Baptist and later has John executed at the request of his wife, Herodias.
Nazareth was a small town of only about 500 people during Jesus’ day. Its obscurity only increased as Antipas rebuilt Sepphoris, another city only four miles away, as the capital of Galilee. Its growth in size and Gentile influence made it a very different place than little, old Nazareth.
Matthew tells us all of this to explain how it could be that the Messiah of the Jewish people could arise from Galilee of all places. Matthew mentions that this serves to fulfill “what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.” This obscure statement is not clearly pulled from any one Scripture, but is most likely a combination of two different portions of Scripture.
The first of those is from the prophet Isaiah:
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. (Isaiah 11:1)
The Hebrew word for ‘branch’ here is nēser. Quite probably, Matthew is referencing this Messianic branch that would spring up from the stump of Jesse, something echoed in other portions of Isaiah, such as 4:2-3.
The second of the Scriptures woven in here is likely Judges 16:17, where Samson speaks of his dedication unto the Lord at birth:
“No razor has ever been used on my head,” he said, “because I have been a Nazirite dedicated to God from my mother’s womb.” (Judges 16:17)
Thus, in a bit of wordplay, Matthew brings together imagery of the Nazirite dedicated to the Lord with the Branch springing up from Jesse’s stump, and connects that with the geographical location of Nazareth. All of this serves to basically say, “This Jesus is dedicated to the Lord but it shouldn’t surprise you that He came from nowhere-Nazareth to bring salvation…God is doing a new thing in bringing life where it seems as if no life could ever be. And it will exceed your wildest imaginations.”
Jesus is a refugee Messiah who springs from nowhere to bring salvation, blessing, and deliverance.