Jesus as Israel: Pursued & Hiding from Herod the Great

Anne Frank in school 1940

Anne Frank is known for her diary, ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’, which she wrote while hiding from the Nazi regime during the Second World War.  Her flight from pursuit had begun years before she hid behind a bookcase with her family in Amsterdam.  She was originally born in 1929 to a Jewish family in Germany. Her father, Otto Frank, decided it was best to flee the country when the Nazis came to power in 1933. Consequently, Anne grew up as a foreigner in the Netherlands.

However, in 1940, the Nazis overran the Netherlands, making it also no longer safe.  When the Nazis ordered Anne’s sister to report to their work camp in 1942, the family went into hiding.  They remained hidden behind a bookcase until their discovery in 1944.  During this period of hiding, Anne wrote in her diary.  Tragically, all the members of the Frank family except for Anne’s father died in the Nazi camps. But her diary remained hidden and her father published it after the war.

Other Jewish Holocaust Diarists

Other Jews also penned diaries while pursued and hiding from the Nazis.  Keep in mind that the following stories are emotionally disturbing.

  • Etty Hillesum (1914 – 1943) kept a diary describing her perilous life as a Dutch Jew under Nazi rule.  She died in Auschwitz.
  • Miriam Chaszczewacki  (1924–1942) was a 15-year-old Jewish Holocaust victim, who in 1939, began writing a personal diary about her life in the Radomsko ghetto; ending just before her death in 1942.
  • Rutka Laskier (1929–1943) was a Jewish Polish diarist chronicling the three months of her life during the Holocaust in Poland. The Nazis murdered her in Auschwitz at the age of fourteen.
  • Věra Kohnová (1929 – 1942), a young Czechoslovakian Jew, wrote a diary about her feelings and events during the Nazi occupation before her deportation and murder in the Nazi extermination camps.

Pursued – an Historic Jewish Reality

Having to flee pursuers who seek to harm was not just experienced during the holocaust, but has been a part of the Jewish experience throughout history. It began in the earliest days of the nation when Jacob fled from Esau who threatened to take his life. Over the following centuries, fleeing from pursuers was an ever imminent reality for Jacob’s descendants.

Jesus’ Childhood: Pursued & Hiding

In this regard, it is not surprising to find that in the Gospels, shortly after his birth, Jesus had to flee to another country just as Anne Frank’s family did. 

Matthew records how the Magi from the East had visited Jesus and created consternation for Herod the Great.

12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

The Escape to Egypt

13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.

16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,
    weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.”

The Return to Nazareth

19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 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, 23 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 2:12-23

Matthew records how King Herod, feeling threatened by Jesus and furious that the Magi had outwitted him, orchestrated the killing of all baby boys in Bethlehem. He hoped to kill Jesus in the bloodbath.  But Jesus’ parents had fled in the middle of the night and lived in hiding in a foreign country, like Anne Frank, to escape a murderous threat. 

… From Herod the Great

Herod the Great, the brilliant, but ruthless king of Judea, ruled under the Roman Emperor from 37 – 4 BCE.  Herod’s father, Antiper, had seized the initiative when the Romans conquered Jerusalem in 63 BCE, earning Roman favour and becoming the vassal king over Judea.  Herod inherited the throne from his father and shrewdly navigated many intrigues to strengthen his position.  He sponsored magnificent building projects, many of which are now among the ruins of great tourist attractions in Israel today.  Masada and Caesarea are examples of two popular Israeli tourist attractions that survived as historical landmarks of his building activities. But, his most grandiose project was the re-building of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. He built it to rival all structures across the Roman Empire.  Whenever the New Testament mentions a ‘Temple’, it refers to this temple built by Herod.

Herod’s ruthlessness was well documented by the historian Josephus, included the murder of several of his wives and children when he suspected their disloyalty, and he never hesitated to spill the blood of his subjects.  So though Matthew, of all who recorded Herod’s atrocities, is the only one who mentions his murder of infants in Bethlehem, these actions are entirely consistent from what we know of him.

The Audacious Hypothesis: Jesus as Israel

Herod the Great was an Edomite, a descendant of Esau; the brother of Jacob/Israel.  Thus, Matthew records an Edomite threat against Jesus’ life.

This opens the door for Matthew to reveal how he understood these events. He does so by setting forth the framework, or lens he uses to make sense of Jesus.  We see this in his brief quote (underlined above) of the prophet Hosea (700 BCE).  The complete quote from Hosea is:

“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Hosea 11:1

Hosea wrote this sentence to recall the Exodus of the young nation Israel that came out of Egypt under Moses.  He pictured Israel as God’s ‘child’ and ‘son’ since the Exodus occurred early in the nation’s history.  But Matthew sees fit to apply this to Jesus, when he likewise came out of Egypt.  In doing so, Matthew sets forth an audacious hypothesis that Jesus in some way embodies the entire nation of Israel.  In Matthew’s view Jesus is the archetype, master blueprint, fulfillment, or completion of Israel.  Jesus forms the pattern which molds the nation of Israel’s experiences.

An Exhibit Supporting the Hypothesis

Matthew exhibits Jesus’ coming out of Egypt in his youth as evidence of this since it correlates with Israel’s national exodus out of Egypt in the youth of its nationhood.  And the ever-present Jewish experience through history of having to flee and hide, exemplified in Anne Frank’s story, equates to Jesus’ experience of flight and hiding.

The correlation goes deeper – back to the dawn of the nation.  Jacob, also called Israel, became the first of Abraham’s seed forced to flee and hide (from his brother Esau).  Jesus had to flee from Herod the Great, an Edomite or descendant of Esau.  As Israel fled from Esau, so his Descendant had to flee Esau’s descendant.  From the point-of-view offered up by Matthew both Israels fled from Esau.

Historical Timeline

We saw that Jesus’ miraculous birth paralleled Isaac’s miraculous birth.  Here his fleeing Herod parallels Jacob’s fleeing from Esau, and his return from Egypt to the land of Israel parallels the Exodus under Moses to the Promised Land.

Assessing Matthew’s Claim

Is Matthew on to something? The entire project known as Israel began with God’s promise to Abraham that

all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you

Genesis 12:3

Since this offers you and me God’s blessing and since Jesus did come through Abraham, investigating further along this line of thought could be fruitful. We continue going through Jesus’ life with this in mind, looking next at the one who prepared the way before him – John the Baptist – through the lens of the Jewish revolutionary Simon Bar Kochba. We conclude our investigation here.

Flashback to Isaac’s Birth: Symmetry with Jesus’ birth

Isaac’s birth is one of the most anticipated and drawn out events in the Bible.  God promised Abraham, then 75 years old, a ‘great nation’ in Genesis 12.  Obeying God’s promise, Abraham left Mesopotamia for Canaan, the Promised Land, arriving a few months later.

But before Abraham could father ‘a great nation,’ he needed a son – yet the promised son had not arrived.  Abraham waited 10 years without siring any son or heir.  However, God reassured him with a binding oath; by trusting God, Abraham was ‘credited’ righteousness.  Abraham did get Ishmael as a son, through a surrogate-like arrangement, but God declared that Ishmael was not that promised son. 

Years passed as Abraham and Sarah continued to wait, with fading prospects of bearing a child the more they aged.  Hope seemed lost until Abraham had a unique encounter at the age of ninety-nine years old.

The Lord appears to Abraham

The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.”

“Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.”

Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.

God’s Promise for a son

“Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him.

“There, in the tent,” he said.

10 Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”

Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”

13 Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

15 Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”

But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

Genesis 18:1-15

Can we blame Sarah for laughing?  Having a child when the father is 99 and the mother is 90 is sheer impossibility.  We would also have laughed.

The Birth of Isaac

Nevertheless, in the following year, we find that:

Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him. When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.

Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” And she added, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”

Genesis 21:1-7

Ultimately, Abraham and Sarah now had their promised son – Isaac.  Their dreams were rekindled.  Even so, the overall account raised an important question.

Why the drawn out wait for Isaac’s birth?

Why does God wait 25 years (Genesis 21) to bring about the promised birth of Isaac (Genesis 12)? If God has the power to do anything at any given time, why not bring about Isaac right away?  Would that not better show His power?  Or, was there some special foresight to God’s roundabout way of doing things?

From later outcomes we can deduce several reasons for the wait. 

First, Abraham learned valuable lessons about trusting God during this long wait. In doing so, he became a example for all people who desire to trust in God.  Those who would know God must follow Abraham’s path.

Second, instead of diminishing God’s power, the account magnifies it.  It is remarkable perhaps, but not miraculous, for a middle-aged couple to have a child.  Unlikely events do occur naturally. Should Abraham and Sarah have had Isaac early on, we could interpret the account in that way.  However, a couple bearing a child at the age of 100 years is either a fabricated story or miraculous.  There is no other explanation or middle ground.  Either the events of Isaac’s birth did not happen as recorded or there was a miracle.  If miraculous, then the whole project, known as Israel, continuing even to this day, sits on the foundation of God’s miraculous power and His utterly trustworthy promises.  In the birth of Isaac, all Jews through history are established on a miracle.  And if the foundation is miraculous then so is the structure built on it.

Isaac’s miraculous birth compared to Jesus’ miraculous birth

To grasp the third reason for Isaac’s delayed birth, we must recognize a remarkable pattern.  Consider that Abraham had only one other descendant with an equally promised, anticipated and miraculous birth – Jesus of Nazareth. 

For preceding centuries, different prophets in various ways had promised in God’s name that the Messiah would come. The Gospels then present Jesus as this promised Messiah. His being born from a virgin is equally, if not more, miraculous than Isaac’s birth.  Exactly as with Isaac’s birth account, we can only interpret the virgin birth of Jesus as either fabricated story or the miraculous.  There is no other explanation, no middle ground.  A little reflection brings plainly into sight this symmetry between the births of Jesus and Isaac.  

Jesus as the Archetype of Israel

Here is one in a series of instances that paints an overall portrait of Jesus as the archetype of Israel.  As an archetype, he represents, fulfills and is the fulfillment of God’s purposes that were first uttered to Abraham 4000 years ago. To be an archetype Jesus’ birth had to pattern that of Isaac, the first of the nation.  Otherwise Jesus’ claim to be Israel is proved false right from the start.  But since the miraculous nature of both their births match, then Jesus’ claim to be Israel remains intact and, at the very least, an open question worth investigating. 

Abraham & Jesus are separated by centuries of history

Comparing their births from this historical perspective, we can observe that Isaac’s birth foresaw that of Jesus’ who came much later. To coordinate events with foresight like this, that spans across an immense time period in human history, supports the claim that Jesus’ is the cornerstone of a Divine project.  God invites us all to understand this project so that we can be beneficiaries of that original promise that was given to Abraham so long ago.

… all peoples on earth will be blessed through you

Genesis 12:3

We continue looking at Jesus from this vantage point by examining how his flight from Herod just after birth mirrored the flight of Israel from Isaac’s son. We conclude our investigation here.

Christmas – The Jesus Birth Story

Christmas is distinguished as a primary global festival, celebrated by nations around the world. Christmas celebrations are replete with music, food, decorations and gifts – while the exact way of celebrating varies from nation to nation. But at its historic core, Christmas celebrates the birth of a poor Jewish boy born just over 2000 years ago.

The unique essence of Christmas becomes ironic when we realize that the one people bypassing the Christmas celebrations are Jewish; the very people from whom this Jewish boy was born, who birthed the tradition. This intrigue alone makes the Christmas story worth exploring, which is what we will be doing here.

The Jewish Birth Story: Better than Santa

Jesus’ Birth Story is rich with imagery

Almost all the characters who make up the drama surrounding this boy’s birth were Jewish.  One of the two historians to have documented the story was also Jewish.

The intrigue, the suspense and the celebration surrounding the birth of this Jewish baby, recorded by a Jewish Levite, paints the later Christmas add-ons like Santa Claus, the North Pole, and the elves in Santa’s workshop, pale in comparison.

Levi, also known as Matthew, wanted us to know for certain that the baby boy he wrote about was Jewish.  So, he began his account with this sentence – the first sentence in his gospel and in the New Testament.

“This is an account of the origin of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham.”

Matthew 1:1
Timeline of Jesus, Abraham and David in history
Jesus, David & Abraham in historical timeline. Jesus born 4 BCE since Gospels record that Herod lives at his birth.

Not only was he a son of Abraham as all Jews are, but he was also a descendant of the renowned King David!  What other theme could evoke greater expectancy?  Certainly not Santa.

Jesus’ Birth Recounted

What were the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth?  Matthew tells us in striking detail.

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

Isaiah 7:14

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. 

Matthew 1:18-25

The Virgin Birth

Matthew quickly brings us right into deep controversy, for he tells us with certainty that Mary was a virgin when she gave birth.  Luke, another Gospel writer, provides further details on the event.

God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”

Luke 1: 26-35

Surprisingly, rabbinical Jewish sources reveal their belief in the virgin birth.  The theme of the Virgin birth goes back as far as Adam & Eve, its miraculous nature foreshadowed in Isaac’s birth.

Luke’s Details of Jesus’ Birth

Humble shepherds come to see the King

Luke continues the events of Jesus’ birth:

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

Shepherds at Jesus’ birth

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. 

Luke 2:1-20

The Wise Men Visit Bethlehem

The visit of the Wise Men is usually included in the Nativity Story. Matthew writes:

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

(Micah 5:2)

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

Wise Men find baby Jesus

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Matthew 2:1-11
The Magi from afar come to see the King

The non-Jewish Magi comes from afar to encounter the ‘King of the Jews’. Meanwhile the ruling Jewish establishment, led by Herod the Great, becomes ‘disturbed’ by the news of the birth of their King. This foresees a pattern that has been intact for the last 2000 years.

Jesus’ Coming Through a Jewish Lens

In fact, Jesus’ Christmas birth account continues the narrative that depicts him as the archetype Jew who would bless all peoples – including me and you.  Two thousand years before, beginning with the story of Abraham (at 2000 BCE), God had promised

… all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you (Abraham).

Genesis 12:3

That set Abraham on a pilgrimage to the Promised Land in his old age.  However, many years ensued before his son Isaac was born.  Isaac’s birth during Abraham’s hundredth year was just as miraculous as Jesus’ virgin birth.  Jesus’ birth mirrors Isaac’s in order to stress this archetype Jewish role.

Re-iterated through Jewish Prophets

The hope for a future blessing for all peoples took a defining turn centuries later when God, through the prophet Isaiah (700 BC), called on all nations to:

Jesus, Isaiah & David in a historical timeline

hear this, you distant nations:

Isaiah 49:1

God then introduced his coming ‘servant’ as Israel, the archetype or embodiment of the Jewish nation.

He said to me, “You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.”

Isaiah 49:3

To bring this blessing on all nations (Gentiles)

I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

Isaiah 49:6

But simultaneously, this servant would remain strangely abhorrent to his own nation.

This is what the Lord says — the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel — to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation,

Isaiah 49:7

Christmas reveals the double fulfillment of this ‘blessing’ as nations worldwide celebrate Christmas while Jesus’ own people do not acknowledge him.

What’s more, many of us in the nations no longer understand the significance of Jesus or his mission.  We might remember him at Christmas, but otherwise, he simply remains a cultural remnant of the European pre-scientific era.

Exploring Jesus Through his Jewish Lens

Perhaps a part of the problem relates to the nations within Christendom who no longer perceive Jesus from a Jewish perspective. As Matthew & Luke began the account of his birth, the four gospels proceeded in this entirely Jewish portrayal of Jesus.

In doing so, the gospels propose an audacious hypothesis that Jesus embodies the entire nation of Israel. From their perspective, Jesus is the archetype, master blueprint, fulfillment, or completion of Israel.

Although, can this hypothesis find support?

What difference does it make to us?

Exploring Jesus through this Jewish lens makes his person and mission vivid, real and personally relevant, rather than faded and remote like it seems to be for many of us.  Jesus stands out in the context of a Divine Plan. We can thus engage with him in a way that makes him large and life-like as he was to his contemporaries – allowing us to comprehend what his promised ‘blessing’ and ‘light for the nations’ means.

So we continue exploring Jesus through this Jewish lens. We review the link between his birth and that of the first Israelite – Isaac, suggesting Jesus’ role with his nation. Then we continue with his childhood flight for survival, illustrated in the story of Anne Frank, further advancing his role to bless all people.