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The Secret Codes in Matthew: Examining Israel’s Messiah, Part 3, by Kevin M. Williams

In the Scriptures (Isaiah 9:6-7; 49:6, Prov 20:4), as well as ancient Hebrew commentaries (Pesikta Rabbati 161-162, Zohar 2:212a), we would find the Son being equal to the son (e.g. the Messiah is Israel). This precedent of Messianic interpretation in not in question among Christian or Jewish scholars.

Our author, Matthew, sees in the “Son,” the very goal Hosea saw in the “son,” whom God called out of Egypt.

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From here, Joseph receives two more angelic dreams, one to return to Israel, and the other to settle in Nazareth. Joseph, the ever faithful, found God’s provision and protection time and again.

Matthew 2:23
. . . And came and lived in a city called Nazareth. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

Here we find a unique quote by Matthew, since there is no singular biblical reference, but multiple possibilities. Dr. David H. Stern explains it thusly:

What I consider most probable is that Mattittyahu [Matthew’s Hebrew name] is combining . . . alternatives by means of wordplay, a technique very common in Jewish writing, including the Bible. Yeshua is both netzer and Natzrati. (Jewish New Testament Commentary, Jewish New Testament Publications, 1995, p. 14)

On the one hand, a Natzrati is someone from Nazareth, in the region of the Galilee. Matthew is giving readers insight as to how others might perceive Yeshua. As written in the gospel of John 1:46, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” That region was not known for biblical scholarship, moral integrity, or pure lineage. In fact, as we will discover in later chapters, history records no fewer than five rebellions against Rome originating in that region of Israel.2 In short, Galileans were considered by many as little more than poorly educated troublemakers.

Similarly, it was somewhat common for Jewish families suffering persecution at the hands of Herod the Great, to flee into the region of Galilee.

Herod … sought to murder all the regal descendants of the throne of King David. Many of them fled the land of Judea—some to the Golan and others to the Galilee. Why do you suppose that Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth rather than their native Bethlehem?3

While this satisfies the concept of Yeshua being a Natzrati, Dr. Stern also alludes to another possibility in the word play, as Matthew interpretably quotes Isaiah 11:1:

Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.

To an English reading audience, Isaiah 11:1 has little relevance to what Matthew is saying in his 23rd verse of chapter 2. Yet the Hebrew word for “shoot”—or “Branch” in some translations—is netzer (רצנ) which uses the same root word as Natzrati, or Nazareth.

We must remember, Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience, making the very bold claim that Yeshua, whom we call Jesus, was the Messiah of Israel. As we go through our study, we find Matthew’s handiwork going to wonderful extremes to drive this point home, using many literary forms common to the scholars and theologians of his day. These are only a few of the “secrets” buried within this gospel of the good news.

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Which brings us to the appearance of Yochanan Ha Matbeel—John the Immerser, commonly referred to as John the Baptists—in the 3rd chapter of Matthew.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Fall 2001, Pneuma Review

About the Author: Kevin M. Williams, Litt.D., H.L.D. has served in Messianic ministries since 1987 and has written numerous articles and been a featured speaker at regional and international conferences on Messianic Judaism.

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