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.