We have here Christ’s flight into Egypt to avoid the cruelty of Herod, and this was the effect of the wise men’s enquiry after him; for, before that, the obscurity he lay in was his protection. It was but little respect (compared with what should have been) that was paid to Christ in his infancy: yet even that, instead of honouring him among his people, did but expose him.
Now here observe, 1. The command given to Joseph concerning it, Matt. 2:13. Joseph knew neither the danger the child was in, nor how to escape it; but God by an angel, tells him both in a dream, as before he directed him in like manner what to do, Matt. 1:20. Joseph, before his alliance to Christ, had not been wont to converse with angels as now. Note, those that are spiritually related to Christ by faith have that communion and correspondence with Heaven which before they were strangers to.
1. Joseph is here told what their danger was: Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. Note, God is acquainted with all the cruel projects and purposes of the enemies of his church. I know thy rage against me, saith God to Sennacherib, Isa. 37:28. How early was the blessed Jesus involved in trouble! Usually, even those whose riper years are attended with toils and perils have a peaceable and quiet infancy; but it was not so with the blessed Jesus: his life and sufferings began together; he was born a man striven with, as Jeremiah was (Jer. 15:10), who was sanctified from the womb, Jer. 1:5. Both Christ the head, and the church his body, agree in saying, Many a time have they afflicted me, from my youth up. Pharaoh’s cruelty fastens upon the Hebrews’ children, and a great red dragon stands ready to devour the man-child as soon as it should be born, Rev. 12:4.
2. He is directed what to do, to escape the danger; Take the young child, and flee into Egypt. Thus early must Christ give an example to his own rule (Matt. 10:23): When they persecute you in one city, flee to another. He that came to die for us, when his hour was not yet come, fled for his own safety. Self-preservation, being a branch of the law of nature, is eminently a part of the law of God. Flee; but why into Egypt? Egypt was infamous for idolatry, tyranny, and enmity to the people of God; it had been a house of bondage to Israel, and particularly cruel to the infants of Israel; in Egypt, as much as in Ramah, Rachel had been weeping for her children; yet that is appointed to be a place of refuge to the hold child Jesus. Note, God, when he pleases, can make the worst of places serve the best of purposes; for the earth is the Lord’s, he makes what use he pleases of it: sometimes the earth helps the woman Rev. 12:16. God, who made Moab a shelter to his outcasts, makes Egypt a refuge for his Son. This may be considered,
(1.) As a trial of faith of Joseph and Mary. They might be tempted to think, “If this child be the Son of God, as we are told he is, has he no other way to secure himself from a man that is a worm, than by such a mean and inglorious retreat as this? Cannot he summon legions of angels to be his life-guard, or cherubim with flaming swords to keep this tree of life? Cannot he strike Herod dead, or wither the hand that is stretched out against him, and so save us the trouble of this remove?” They had been lately told that he should be the glory of his people Israel; and is the land of Israel so soon become too hot for him? But we find not that they made any such objections; their faith, being tried, was found firm, they believe this is the Son of God, though they see no miracle wrought for his preservation; but they are put to the use of ordinary means. Joseph had great honour put upon him in being the husband of the blessed virgin; but that honour has trouble attending it, as all honours have in this world; Joseph must take the young child, and carry him into Egypt; and now it appeared how well God had provided for the young child and his mother, in appointing Joseph to stand in so near a relation to them; now the gold which the wise men brought would stand them in stead to bear their charges. God foresees his people’s distresses, and provides against them beforehand. God intimates the continuance of his care and guidance, when he saith, Be thou there until I bring thee word, so that he must expect to hear from God again, and not stir without fresh orders. Thus God will keep his people still in a dependence upon him.
(2.) As an instance of the humiliation of our Lord Jesus. As there was no room for him in the inn in Bethlehem, so there was no quiet room for him in the land of Judea. Thus was he banished from the earthly Canaan, that we, who for sin were banished from the heavenly Canaan, might not be for ever expelled. If we and our infants be at any time in straits, let us remember the straits Christ in his infancy was brought into, and be reconciled to them.
(3.) As a token of God’s displeasure against the Jews, who took so little notice of him; justly does he leave those who have slighted him. We have also here an earnest of his favour to the Gentiles, to whom the apostles were to bring the gospel when the Jews rejected it. If Egypt entertain Christ when he is forced out of Judea, it will not be long ere it be said, Blessed be Egypt my people, Isa. 19:25.
II. Joseph’s obedience to this command, Matt. 2:14. The journey would be inconvenient and perilous both to the young child and to his mother; they were but poorly provided for it, and were likely to meet with cold entertainment in Egypt: yet Joseph was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, made no objection, nor was dilatory in his disobedience. As soon as he had received his orders, he immediately arose, and went away by night, the same night, as it should seem, that he received the orders. Note, Those that would make sure work of their obedience must make quick work of it. Now Joseph went out, as his father Abraham did, with an implicit dependence upon God, not knowing whither he went, Heb. 11:8. Joseph and his wife, having little, had little to care of in this remove. An abundance encumbers a necessary flight. If rich people have the advantage of the poor while they possess what they have, the poor have the advantage of the rich when they are called to part with it.
Joseph took the young child and his mother. Some observe, that the young child is put first, as the principal person, and Mary is called, not the wife of Joseph, but, which was her great dignity, the mother of the young child. This was not the first Joseph that was driven from Canaan to Egypt for a shelter from the anger of his brethren; this Joseph ought to be welcome there for the sake of that.
If we may credit tradition, at their entrance into Egypt, happening to go into a temple, all the images of their gods were overthrown by an invisible power, and fell, like Dagon before the ark, according to that prophecy, The Lord shall come into Egypt, and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence, Isa. 19:1. They continued in Egypt till the death of Herod, which, some think, was seven years, others think, not so many months. There they were at a distance from the temple and the service of it, and in the midst of idolaters; but God sent them thither, and will have mercy, and not sacrifice. Though they were far from the temple of the Lord, they had with them the Lord of the temple. A forced absence from God’s ordinances, and a forced presence with wicked people, may be the lot, are not the sin, yet cannot but be the grief, of good people.
III. The fulfilling of the scripture in a this—that scripture (Hos. 11:1), Out of Egypt have I called my son. Of all the evangelists, Matthew takes most notice of the fulfilling of the scripture in what concerned Christ, because his gospel was first published among the Jews, with whom that would add much strength and lustre to it. Now this word of the prophet undoubtedly referred to the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt, in which God owned them for his son, his first-born (Exod. 4:22); but it is here applied, by way of analogy, to Christ, the Head of the church. Note, The scripture has many accomplishments, so full and copious is it, and so well ordered in all things. God is every day fulfilling the scripture. Scripture is not of private interpretation: we must give it its full latitude. “When Israel was a child, then I loved him; and, though I loved him, I suffered him to be a great while in Egypt; but, because I loved him, in due time I called him out of Egypt.” They that read this must, in their thoughts, not only look back, but look forward; that which has been shall be again (Eccl. 1:9); and the manner of expression intimates this; for it is not said, I called him, but I called my son, out of Egypt.Note, It is no new thing for God’s sons to be in Egypt, in a strange land, in a house of bondage; but they shall be fetched out. They may be hid in Egypt, but they shall not be left there. All the elect of God, being by nature children of wrath, are born in a spiritual Egypt, and in conversion are effectually called out. It might be objected against Christ that he had been in Egypt. Must the Sun of righteousness arise out of that land of darkness! But this shows that to be no strange thing; Israel was brought out of Egypt, to be advanced to the highest honours; and this is but doing the same thing.