In the book of Matthew we read an account of Jesus’ early days that says,
So (Joseph) got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he
heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go
there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 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 2:21-23 NIV
Unfortunately, this passage written by Matthew where he says that “it will be fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that the Messiah would be called a Nazarene” is somewhat problematic because there is no prophecy in the Old Testament that states specifically that Jesus would be called a Nazarene.
In fact, there is no way such a prophecy could exist. The reason is because the village of Nazareth didn’t exist until around a hundred years before the birth of Christ. So, is it possible that Matthew is just getting it wrong? Not at all. This is so awesome-
While very little is known regarding the founding of the village of Nazareth. today it’s one of the
most visited cities in northern Israel. But at time of the Gospels, it was an insignificant village
with a few hundred people living there. All that is really known about it is that several different families that traced their lineage back to King David had gathered in the Galilee to establish a new community. There is some indication that by the time of Jesus’ ministry a few messianic pretenders had arisen from the region. But beyond that, the only thing we can truly know is that the village had a reputation for trouble. (John 1:46)
But Matthew’s prophecy makes sense when we understand the origin of the word, “Nazareth.”
The Hebrew word for Nazareth is “nezer.” It’s the word for “shoot” or “stump.” And not just any
random shoot. It’s most commonly associated with the olive tree.
And there is a curious phenomenon that occurs with the olive tree. Often, the tree will seem to
die. The life will dissapear. It becomes a dead stump. But then, hundreds of feet away, a tiny sprout
will rise up from the ground and grow. What appears to be a completely different tree will form, yet under the surface, the root from the original tree has spread and finds a way to spring up and
bring new life.
It’s like in Isaiah where it says,
A shoot (nezer) will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. – Isaiah 11:1-3 NIV
The Hebrew word used by Isaiah in this prophecy pointing to the Messiah is the word, “nezer.”
Nazareth, a tiny village hundreds of miles from Bethlehem – the City of David. Made up of
several families descended from King David. The place where the prophesied Son of David
grew to become the promised Messiah of Israel who would fulfill not only Isaiah’s prophecy but
all of the prophecies of the Hebrew sages. A shoot sprung up in Nazareth.
Out of the stump of Daivd’s family will grow a shoot- yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root.
New life emerging from something that had been cut down. – Isaiah 11:11 NLT
This Christmas may you remember that the story is bigger and more astonishing than you realize, and that even when the tree looks dead, there is life stirring under the surface.
Daily Reading: Isaiah 11