"Flight into Egypt" by Titian, ca. 1507
“He rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt” (Matthew 2:14).
The sequence of events goes like this:
- Joseph and Mary were in Nazareth when the conception of Jesus took place.
- They traveled to Bethlehem where Jesus was born.
- Herod the Great ordered all the baby boys under the age of two in Bethlehem to be slaughtered.
- An angel warned Joseph to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt for safety.
- They left by night, fled to Egypt, and stayed there until Herod died.
- Then they returned to Nazareth where Jesus was raised.
There are many mysteries about all this:
1) We don’t know how old Jesus was when they went to Egypt.
2) We don’t know where they stayed in Egypt.
3) We don’t know how long they stayed in Egypt.
4) We don’t know how old Jesus was when they returned to Nazareth.
Because Herod wanted the baby Jesus dead, he ordered the male babies of Bethlehem put to death. That’s why an angel warned Joseph who took Mary and Jesus during the night and fled to Egypt. After Herod died, an angel told them it was safe to return. But when he heard that Herod’s son was reigning in his father’s place, he took Mary and Jesus and returned to Nazareth.
Matthew 2:14 says Joseph and Mary took Jesus and left during the night, fleeing for Egypt because they feared what Herod might do to their baby. Given Herod’s slaughter of the baby boys of Bethlehem, that was a wise move. Whenever God does anything good in this world, the devil puts his demon spirits into overdrive, stirring up men like Herod to do their dastardly deeds.
The path of life takes many unexpected zigs and zags, and we all find ourselves fleeing to Egypt for safety from time to time. True greatness waits its time. It does not rush the Lord or complain when things happen slowly or when the plans of life suddenly are overturned. By faith we go down to Egypt in the middle of the night, knowing that one day by faith we will come “out of Egypt.” Both the going and the coming are part of God’s plan for us.
One writer on this passage spoke of the “cross-handed” providence of God. He means that the ways of God rarely make sense to us in a moment of crisis.
Though he was the Son of God, Jesus had to escape to Egypt in the middle of the night. As he was not exempt from the trials of this world, neither are we. But God will have the last word. Herod will die, Jesus will return home, and God’s will will be done.
Perhaps you feel as if you are in a dark place at this moment. Be encouraged, child of God. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.
Loving Lord, you ordain both the rising of the sun and the coming of the night. When my way seems dark, light my path so that I might follow you. Amen.
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