Joseph and Mary's
Prophetic Detour!

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Where did Joseph and Mary want to live after leaving Egypt to avoid Herod's prophetic wrath (Matthew 2:13 - 18)? What events took place that altered their plans and caused them to detour to Nazareth?

Fleeing Mass Murder

Joseph, in mid-October of 5 B.C., is miraculously warned in a dream to flee Bethlehem with Mary and Jesus (who is less than two months old) for Egypt. This hurriedly arranged trip is necessary in order to avoid Herod the Great's mass murder of all males two years old or younger living in and around Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16 - 18). Joseph is told to stay in Egypt until he is informed it is safe to return, an act which fulfills prophecy.

And he arose by night and took the little Child and His mother, and went into Egypt, 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 have called My Son." (Matthew 2:14 - 15, HBFV throughout).

Returning to Israel

Herod the Great, after his failed attempt to murder Jesus, dies during the week of February 11 to 17 in 4 B.C. An angel of the Lord, at an unknown time after Herod's death, then appears to Joseph in a dream to tell him he can go back to the land of Israel because "those who were seeking the life of the little Child have died." (Matthew 2:20).

Journeys of Mary and Joseph Map
Joseph and Mary's Prophetic Detour!

Joseph and Mary leave Egypt for Israel. Shortly after they enter Judea, however, Joseph learns something that stops him in his tracks.

And he arose and took the little Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of Herod his father, he was afraid to go there . . . (Matthew 2:21 - 22, HBFV).

Cause for Concern

Why was Joseph concerned about who ruled over Judea? It was almost certainly due to the fact that they wanted to return to Bethlehem, which was in Judea, in order to live and build a family. Nazareth, the placed they previously lived in (Luke 1:26 - 38), was in a different Roman governing region known as Galilee.

Where did Joseph learn about Archelaus' reign over Judea? It may have been in Beersheba which was considered the southern most major city of Judea (Israel, see 2Samuel 17:11). The city was likely the first major stop the family took in their planned journey north to Hebron and Bethlehem.

All this, of course, begs the biggest question. What was it about Herod Archelaus that caused Mary and Joseph to stop their journey to Bethlehem and wonder what to do next?

New Ruler, Old Tactics

Herod the Great's last will and testament, read publicly after his death but before his funeral (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 17, Chapter 8, Sections 1 and 2), named Herod Archelaus the new king over Samaria, Judea and Idumea. The terms of the will, however, had to first be reviewed by Roman Emperor Augustus before it officially went into effect (Antiquities 17.8.4).

Archelaus, as the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread approaches in 4 B.C. (April 11 to 18), becomes fearful that a group of violent Jews who oppose him will stir up others when they come to Jerusalem to keep the Feast. When the Feast begins, the armed men he sends to Jerusalem to quell any "seditious" behavior are assaulted, wounded and stoned! According to Jewish historian Josephus, He then decides to respond with full force.

"Now Archelaus thought there was no way to preserve the entire government but by cutting off those who made this attempt upon it; so he sent out the whole army upon them . . . which horsemen slew three thousand men . . ." (Antiquities 17.9.3).

Archelaus, after violently disposing of those deemed seditious, cancels Jerusalem's Feast celebrations and orders everyone to go home.

A Prophetic Detour

The news of Archelaus' bloody actions during the Passover season spreads quickly throughout Judea. It is not hard to imagine that such news, when it finally reaches Mary and Joseph, would have caused them to stop their journey and reassess their desire to live in Bethlehem. The couple would not have to wait long, however, to discover they needed to take a detour!

. . . and after being divinely instructed in a dream, he (Joseph) went into the parts of Galilee. And after arriving, he dwelt in a city called Nazareth . . . (Matthew 2:22 - 23).

Archelaus' character, like Herod the Great's, was manifested during Passover to be unstable, tyrannical and violent. His behavior ultimately led to Emperor Augustus making him an Ethnarch, not King, over Judea (Antiquities 17.11.4). Less than ten years later, in 6 A.D., the Romans depose Archelaus and banish him to Gaul (France).

As for Mary and Joseph, their detour to Nazareth meant they would be governed by Herod Antipas, yet another son of Herod the Great. This Herod, however, had a comparatively milder disposition than either his father or Archelaus. Their detour, other than allowing them to live a more peaceful existence, also fulfilled Bible prophecy!

. . . that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, "He shall be called a Nazarean." (Matthew 2:23).

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