13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.”
14 When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt,
15 and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”
“Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”
Many of us look at Egypt today and see a land of ancient mysteries, a place steeped in folklore, a place of hidden treasures, the home of the mighty Nile River. And who can doubt that Egypt was once a great kingdom? Look at the pyramids, the mighty temples and the remains of cities! Some of those places were ancient when Joseph and his brothers first came to Egypt, built long before the Israelites ever went into slavery there. But in the Bible, Egypt is a place of paganism and idolatry, a place of evil sorcery, a place of plagues for disobedience to God. For the writers of God’s Word, Egypt is practically synonymous with being Satan’s playground, a place where the deceiver runs wild with temptations for our flesh and heart, a place where we become enslaved to sin. Despite all our modern fascination with that ancient land, for the faithful of God, Egypt has always been a dark place where we ought not to go.
And yet, when God so wills, Egypt can be a temporary place of refuge. For Jacob and his sons, Egypt was the place that had prepared for the famine that struck the world–prepared because one of God’s faithful servants, Joseph the son of Jacob, had interpreted a dream that urged Pharaoh to prepare during times of plenty for the times of want. (Genesis 41:1-36) And, as we see in today’s verses, for the baby Jesus and his earthly parents Mary and Joseph, Egypt was a place to escape the wrath of King Herod of Judea. But there is a difference between when the sons of Israel went to Egypt and when Jesus went there.
Joseph and his brothers settled in Egypt to escape the famine, but, rather than returning to the land that was promised to the forefathers, they stayed after the famine was over. They prospered and multiplied, and they became a people that even the later kings of Egypt feared. Those later pharaohs forgot the promises made to Joseph regarding the children of Israel, and so the pharaohs afflicted the Israelites and enslaved them. (Exodus 1:6-14) Yet even after the Israelites had been freed from bondage and escaped toward Canaan, they grumbled that they would rather have died in Egypt than be delivered by the Lord. (Exodus 14:12, Numbers 14:3) They had become so used to the plenty of that land of unbelievers that they were unwilling to enter their own land of plenty!
When Jesus went to Egypt, it was to flee Herod’s Massacre of the Innocents–the puppet king’s vain attempt to prevent a rightful Son of David ascending to the throne of Israel. And as soon as Herod was dead, Joseph, Mary, and the young Jesus came out of Egypt and settled in Galilee. Having been there just long enough to escape Herod’s paranoia, once he was gone there was no reason to remain there.
The fact that Joseph and Mary felt no temptation to stay there says a lot for their character and their dedication to serving the Lord their God. They might have remained there, justifying it by saying that Herod’s sons might not want the true Son of David around to take their thrones from them. They might have justified it by saying they had a good life, that the young Jesus was making friends there, that they had no need to move back to Canaan. After all, while they might have settled back in Bethlehem, they came out of Egypt and went a few days further north of their old home to Nazareth. But God had warned them that their sojourn in Egypt would be temporary, and that they would be called out of Egypt one day, and so they left Egypt and its many temptations and pleasures and returned whence God called them.
Even more important is that Jesus Himself came out of there. He returned from Egypt as sinless as when He entered. And coming out of Egypt, He went among God’s people to lead them to true freedom.
18 You have ascended on high,
You have led captivity captive;
You have received gifts among men,
Even from the rebellious,
That the LORD God might dwell there.
19 Blessed be the Lord,
Who daily loads us with benefits,
The God of our salvation! Selah
Our Lord Jesus was able to ascend because He first descended. (Ephesians 4:8-10) He came down among men, facing even the temptations of Egypt, and He yet remained true and obedient to His Father. He was sent to bring God’s people out of Egypt–out of the illusory land of plenty, out of the land of idolatry and fleshly indulgences, out of the place where we are complacent in our slavery to sin, out of the place where we are not meant to dwell. We are strangers and sojourners here, and out citizenship is in heaven. (1 Peter 2:11-12, Philippians 3:20-21) This Egypt is not our home! It was never meant to be. Jesus came to bring us out of this place, to guide us through God’s providence to God’s salvation, from impermanence and mortality to permanent blessing and immortality.
As fascinated as we may be with the land of Egypt–or any place or story of magic and mystery, any place of false blessings, any pleasure that seems too good to be true–we must remember that we are not to remain in Egypt. Yes, sometimes God will tell us to flee from one danger into another, but if we remain true to His Word, we will resist the temptations of Egypt and be able to return to the real blessing He has in store for us. In our obedience, we will stay only so long as He ordains, and then His Son will come to guide us into truth and life. Jesus has been to Egypt and He has returned as guiltless as when He entered. Jesus knows about Egypt, and He is willing to draw us out of Egypt and bring us to eternal life.
Heavenly Father, if there were ever any doubt that Your Son faced the same temptations as we do, I can see from Your Word that He does indeed know about Egypt and its like. He knows the trials that test my faith, knows the flesh that wars against my soul, knows the world that tries to drag me down with it. But I will rest in Your strength, Lord God, and know that You have sent Him to be my salvation, to break the chains that keep me in Egypt. I know and trust that with a strong hand, Jesus–He who alone is mighty to save–will lead me out of Egypt and into eternal life. Praise be to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! Amen.