Nazarene (Mat 2:23)
When the child-murderer Herod was dead, Joseph the
foster-father of Jesus was visited in Egypt by an angel. The glorious messenger
reassured him that it was now safe for the little family to return to Israel.
And so they came and would have taken up residence in Judea, probably again in
Bethlehem the city of Joseph's royal ancestor. Had Joseph and Mary decided that
Judea and Jerusalem would be the proper home for the "Son of the Highest"? Here
he could converse with noted rabbis and attend the best traditional schools.
Here he could celebrate all the feasts in the shadow of the Temple. Here he
could have the "best" opportunities and meet the "best" people.
It was the common feeling of the Pharisees of Judea -- among
others -- that Judea was the "holy place" while Galilee was at best the
"court of the Gentiles" -- an out-of-the-way, backward place of little
consequence, only marginally related to the divine worship. It was simply "the
wrong side of the tracks". And so it must have been with some surprise that
Joseph heard the divine command turning himself and his dependents toward
"And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled
which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene"
This is a passage of some difficulty, inasmuch as there is no
such direct statement in any prophetic Scripture. But it is unlikely that
Matthew would quote with authority any non-canonical source; so the answer must
be there, in the pages of the Bible!
Let us note two comparatively minor points first of all:
First, the stress on "which was spoken" (v 23) possibly suggests
something not written, perhaps a well-known (at the time) oral prophecy
given by Isaiah or some other prophet. (But we should expect that in the written
word we will find at least a general confirmation of this theme of the
"Nazarene" to explain why Matthew even mentioned it at all.) Secondly, "he shall
be called..." is really a Hebrew idiom signifying "he shall be..." "Nazarene"
was not to be the literal name of Jesus any more than was "Immanuel" (Isa 7:14),
"Wonderful Counsellor" (Isa 9:6), or "Branch" (Jer 23:6). All these "names", as
a matter of fact, are to be understood as divine descriptions, each one telling
us something more of the Messiah's
Not a "Nazarite"
Now, as to the major points: A Nazarene is not a
Nazarite! The two words are distinctly different in the Hebrew and the
Greek. Also, Christ drank wine (Mat 11:19; Luke 7:34; John 2:1-11) and touched
the dead (Mark 5:41; Luke 7:14). Holiness and separation he exemplified,
certainly, but it was of a different and a higher order than that of the legal
A champion of the poor
The name "Nazareth" is from the Hebrew "netzer", meaning
primarily "to preserve or protect". Certainly the child Jesus was providentially
protected from the wrath of Herod first, and indeed from all harm later
-- until the appointed time for his deliverance into the hands of wicked
As a noun, "netzer" means a new plant, or sucker, which
springs from an old root. The word is translated "branch" in Isa 11:1 -- a
branch sprung up from the old root of Jesse. (Jesse is mentioned here, and not
David, since at the time of the birth of Jesus the once-prominent house of David
had returned to relative obscurity and poverty, where it had been
before David's reign.)
In Isa 11 we read that this "netzer" was to receive the spirit
of wisdom, that he might judge the poor and the meek of the earth
(vv 2,4). He was in fact to be the champion of all the weak ones of
creation, causing the lamb and the calf and the baby to dwell at peace among
their natural predators (vv 6-8).' Furthermore, this "netzer", this root of
Jesse, was to be the ensign or rallying standard for the Gentiles (!) and
the outcasts (!) of Israel (vv 10,12). Apparently this fellow was not to
be the product nor the friend of the "privileged class", but instead a friend of
the friendless, a defender of the defenseless! Certainly not much like the
ordinary run of lords and kings'
Other Old Testament prophecies refer to Christ as the "branch"
(this is the different, though practically equivalent, word "tsemach"), with
much the same emphasis -- as the Saviour of the weak and oppressed, for he had
once been weak and oppressed himself:
Jer 23:5,6; 33:14-16: Here certain shepherds have persecuted and
scattered the defenseless flocks, but the good shepherd named the "Branch" will
gather the frail remnant and they shall fear no more.
"Despised and rejected"
Zec 3:8; 6:12: In these passages the priest Joshua, clothed with
filthy garments, an object of ridicule and rejection, is typically
cleansed and elevated -- and given the prophetic name "My servant the
Nazareth was a city of poor repute, a despised place. It was a
proverb in Israel: "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:46). For
that matter, all of Galilee was a poor and dirty place in the eyes of the
elite. It was a "dry ground" (Isa 53:2) from which no good "plant" could spring
"Shall the Messiah come out of Galilee?... Search, and look: for out of
Galilee ariseth no prophet" (John
Solomon cared little for Galilee; he gladly gave away twenty
cities thereof to Hiram of Tyre as wages. (Is this part of the reason for the
common name "Galilee of the Gentiles"? -- Isa 9:1,2.) Hiram promptly protested,
naming them "Cabul", or "dirty and displeasing" (1Ki 9:11-13). Apparently they
were of little value to him, for we read in a parallel passage that he soon
returned them to Solomon (2Ch 8:2). And so the despised cities of "Cabul" or
"Galilee" became a fitting symbol of the despised son of Galilee, passed
in chains from Jew to Gentile and back to Jew again. Truly he was a
Any Bible student will readily acknowledge this general theme
of the Scriptures -- the Messiah as a suffering servant, a man of sorrows,
despised and rejected, the embodiment of all that the Jews saw in Nazareth and
Galilee. Particularly is this evident in:
Psa 22:6,7: "A worm, and no man..."
In the fullest and most meaningful sense, he was a "Nazarene".
And we can only bow in wonder at the great love and wisdom of the Father who
provided for our salvation such a Son. Jesus came to the outcasts and the
Samaritans. He came to the sinners, bent double with their burdens of sorrow. He
came to the blind and the lame and the poor and the forgotten. And to each of
them... and to us... he says,
Psa 69:7,8: "A stranger or alien to my brethren"
Isa 53:2,3: "A root ('shoresh') out of a dry
'I know you; you are my brethren. Have I not been an outcast, a minority? Have I
not been a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief? Have I not been poor and
despised and slandered, and forgotten in a tomb of stone? Come unto me, all you
Nazarenes, you Galileans, and I will give you
And so it was best that God's Son grow up in lowly, despised
Nazareth, as the "son" of a poor carpenter, with the "shadow" of illegitimacy
hanging over him. The scenes of his childhood were remembered by Jesus, and
later incorporated into his teachings. They present a grim picture, of a family
living on the hard edge of poverty -- the mending of garments, the frantic
search for one lost coin, the poor widow pleading with the Judge.
The little that we know of Jesus' youth teaches us that no man
need ever be ashamed of where he comes from, how he makes a living (if it's
honest!), what accent he speaks with, what he wears, or where he lives. Neither
should he ever "glory" in such things!
"Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the
mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let
him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth Me, that I am
the Lord which exercise loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the
earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord" (Jer