The prophets said He shall be called The Nazarene
Matthew 2:19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” 21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. 23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: “He shall be called a Nazarene.”
After Joseph, Mary, and Jesus lived in Egypt for some time, the one who tried to have Jesus murdered had died. Upon the death of King Herod, Joseph has another dream whereby the angel of the LORD appears to him. This is the third such dream that Matthew records giving us the clear impression that God is dealing with Joseph as the heir to the Davidic throne. In the second dream, the angel of the LORD told Joseph to remain in Egypt until an additional word came from God. Matthew 2:19 records that divine word telling Joseph that those who had tried to kill the child Jesus were now dead themselves. The command is for Joseph to take Mary and Jesus back to the land of Israel which he promptly did. Yet when Joseph arrives in Judea (he had departed from Bethlehem) he finds that Archelaus was reigning there and was quite cruel himself. Joseph has yet another dream from God (this is the fourth dream whereby he received divine knowledge) warning him most likely concerning Archelaus. Joseph then decides to settle in Galilee in a city called Nazareth. Luke records that this is where Mary and Joseph had lived before their journey to Bethlehem, see Luke 1:26, 2:4, 39, 51.
This sets the stage for Jesus being raised in Nazareth, Luke 4:16. This became quite a sore spot for those religious authorities in Jerusalem since it did not seem like any good thing could come out of Nazareth, see John 1:46. In fact, this was proof to them that Jesus could not be a prophet since he came out of the northern most portion of Israel called Galilee, see John 7:41-42, 52. They seemed to be ignorant of the passage in Isaiah 9:1-2 and its application directly to the Messiah; read the Tax Collector’s thoughts in Matthew 4:12-17. So Jesus received the designation Jesus the Nazarene by virtue of His hometown being Nazareth.
Matthew 2:23 constitutes for me the second most difficult quotation of prophecy in the entire gospel. Where did Matthew find in the prophets that Jesus would be called a Nazarene? Was it known beforehand that the Messiah would be from Nazareth? These questions have plagued me for most of my Christian walk. Yet now I feel as if I have an adequate answer to be able to give. At this point it becomes necessary to turn to two different Greek words that are used in reference to the city of Nazareth. The first word in the sentence is Nazareth which means the city. It is used primarily in reference to the city, living in the city, coming to the city, etc. The second word translated Nazarene is the Greek word nazoraios. This word means either two things. It can mean pertaining to the city of Nazareth, like being a Nazarene, or it can mean a separated one, as in, being a Nazarite. Matthew uses this same word later in his gospel in Matthew 26:71 as someone points out that Peter knows this Jesus nazoraios. Most translations word it “Jesus of Nazareth”, but really what is being said is either Jesus Nazarene, Jesus Nazarite, or Jesus Separated One. Besides these two instances, this word appears 11 times in the books of Luke, John, and Acts. The book of Acts documents how Peter used the term to describe our ascended LORD as Jesus the Nazarene in Acts 2:22, 3:6, and 4:10. In Acts 24:5 Tertullus levels accusations against Paul stating he is the leader of a sect termed “the Nazarenes”, really meaning the separated ones. So Luke documents what Matthew stated was a reality as he wrote his gospel, that reality being that Jesus was indeed commonly referred to as The Nazarene. Whether they were speaking complimentary or derogatory remains to be seen; but even as they spoke, the meaning behind this is that they were saying Jesus the Nazarite or Jesus the Separate One.
In the old testament, God designated a process by which someone could become separated to serve Him completely. This passage is in Numbers 6 and occupies the entire chapter save the last few verses which constitute the priestly blessings which Aaron and sons were commanded to bestow upon the nation of Israel. The one who would be completely separated to the LORD would be termed a Nazarite and had to follow a special code. Notably, during the days of their separation, they were not allowed to cut their hair, they were not allowed to drink any strong drink including wine, and they were not allowed to eat a couple of select foods (beside the list of unclean foods that all Israelites were to abstain from). The word naziyr is transliterated into Nazarite 12 times instead of being translated as one who is separated or consecrated. Of these references, six are in Numbers 6, three are in reference to Samson, and three are translated plural being located in the prophets. But these are not the only instances of the Hebrew word naziyr.
The first instance of the word naziyr is in Genesis 49:26 in reference to Joseph as Israel is prophetically (49:1) blessing his sons just prior to his death. Genesis 49:22-26 should be read in light of what has transpired in the narrative of Joseph’s life. Joseph was given supernatural dreams as a boy. These dreams marked him, separated him for something extraordinary. Even though his brothers tried to wound him, he prevailed. Israel now proclaims that God’s blessings shall be upon Joseph because (literally now) he was and is a Nazarite separated from the rest of his brothers. In looking back over the story, it is obvious that Joseph was separated to God for His purposes. He maintained faith in God during his entire trial and brought salvation to all the household of Israel. God sent Joseph ahead to preserve the lives of His chosen nation. This is the first example of a Nazarite. While Israel foretells that Judah will have the kingship, Genesis 49:10, Joseph is the Separated One. Skipping ahead to Deuteronomy, Moses also gives prophetic blessings to the twelve tribes of Israel. In Deuteronomy 33:16 he pronounces blessing upon Joseph as a tribe stating [as Israel did] that he was separated (Nazarite) from his brothers.
The next instance occurs in Leviticus 25:5. The context is in reference to the seventh year in a cycle which should be termed a Sabbath year for the fields and vineyards in the land of Israel. Just as a Nazarite is not to cut their hair during the days of their separation, so the land during the days of rest should remain undressed, or uncut. This denotes being separated unto the LORD as well. With the seven year cycle, seven sevens equals 49 then comes the year of jubilee in the fiftieth year. This also is a Sabbath of rest for the crops which should be termed as separated, undressed, or Nazarite, see Leviticus 25:11.
Samson seems to be the example of a Nazarite that we remember the most. In Judges 13:5 the angel proclaimed to Manoah’s wife that her child would be a Nazarite unto God (separated unto God) from the womb. She came to her husband and relayed the message to him that the angel had said the child would be a Nazarite, Judges 13:7. She was commanded to never cut his hair; and during her pregnancy could not drink wine or eat the foods that were forbidden to Nazarites. We see this played out in Samson’s life. God gave him strength like no other. Never was there a warrior who could fight with the sheer physical power that Samson fought with. On one occasion alone he was tied with ropes and had no weapon. The Spirit of the LORD came upon him allowing the ropes to become like melted wax. He grabbed a jawbone of a donkey and killed a thousand warriors who were prepared to do battle, see Judges 15:9-16. That’s just one man, one Nazarite. Later, Samson confesses the secret of his strength to Delilah. He reveals that he has been a Nazarite from his mother’s womb, Judges 16:17. When the sign of his separation was gone, so was his strength. When the sign of his separation returned, so did his strength, Judges 16:22, 28-30.
The prophets reveal a sad development in the role of those that would be separated unto the LORD. In Amos 2:10-12 God explains His past favor to the nation of Israel, part of which had been blessing them with prophets and Nazarites. Yet what did those in Israel do in response to this? They gave wine to the Nazarites who were supposed to be separated from wine. The prophets who were supposed to proclaim God’s messages to the Israelites were told, “Don’t prophesy.” The contempt for the prophets and Nazarites are placed here on equal terms. In Lamentations 4:7-8 we read of the transformation of the Nazarites which occurred as the city of Jerusalem was brought to ashes and ruin. Before this, the Nazarites were pure and separated unto the LORD. Now they are just like everyone else, sickly and dying.
This has been a brief but comprehensive look at the word naziyr in the old testament. There is another word we should look at before continuing. Nazar is the root word for the aforementioned and it means to dedicate, consecrate, or separate. The first instance of this word is in Leviticus 15:31 as a summary for how the children of Israel are to deal with uncleanness among them. They were to separate the uncleanness from among them so they would not be defiled or defile the tabernacle. The second instance is in Leviticus 22:2 in reference to the priesthood being separated from the holy things of the tabernacle whenever an instance of uncleanness is found among them. The next instances are in Numbers 6 in reference to how Nazarites are to be separated unto the LORD. There are different words in the passage which are translated as a verb meaning to separate, so going back to the Hebrew can be helpful. Numbers 6:2, 3, 5, 6, 12 contain this word all referring to the time period of a Nazarite’s separation.
Ezekiel 14:7 contains a negative instance of this word. Some Israelites had separated themselves from God instead of to God. Condemnation is announced for those that separate themselves away from God setting up idols instead. Hosea 9:10 gives another negative example. Hosea points back to a past failure of the nation of Israel in the wilderness. Instead of separating themselves unto God, they separated themselves unto baal at peor and committed sexual sin and idolatry, Numbers 25:1-3. The last instance occurs in Zechariah 7:3 in reference to the ritual fasting that had been practiced by Israelites during the Babylonian exile. The Israelites separated themselves in the fifth month because the temple had been burned and destroyed by Nebuzar-adan in the fifth month, Jeremiah 52:12-14. The LORD speaks to them quite sharply in Zechariah 7:5-6 stating that their fasting for the past 70 years was really not unto God at all, but only for themselves.
Nezer is another derivative of nazar meaning a separation or consecration and appears 22 times in the OT, 10 of those being in Numbers 6 in reference to the separation of the Nazarite. But it can also mean crown as in Exodus 29:6, 39:30, Leviticus 8:9, 21:12, II Samuel 1:10, II Kings 11:12, II Chronicles 23:11, Psalm 89:39, 132:18, Proverbs 27:24, and Zechariah 9:16. The majority of these references refers to a holy crown separated for the LORD’s purposes, such as a crown of anointing oil, or the crown of the lineage of David with special emphasis on the Davidic covenant. This is a good springboard to turn to the question of how the Messiah was prophesied to be a Nazarite.
The Messiah as a Nazarite
Throughout the old testament, we are given different pictures of the Christ, the Messiah, who would come and deliver mankind out from the bondage of sin. Because of a failure to have Genesis 3:15 as the foundation for all prophecies concerning Christ, some scholars have concluded from an old testament point of view that it seemed as if the Davidic Messiah, the Son of Man, the suffering servant of Isaiah, and the prophet after the order of Moses would all be different. They believe it was only with the introduction of Jesus into the world that it was revealed that these would all be fulfilled in the same person. However, if we start at the beginning realizing that the promise was right there in the garden of Eden as mankind initially fell into sin, we conclude that God promised a deliverer for mankind and many pictures of that same deliverer would ensue. The first was that of Abel being the promised seed but slain by his wicked brother because his own works were evil and his brother’s were righteous, I John 3:12. Abel’s voice cried out to God after his death through the blood that had been shed, Genesis 4:10. Many other pictures would be given by means of a vision, a prophecy, or a person being devoted to God in some way with their life being a metaphor for the coming one. An example of a vision would include the Son of Man in Daniel 7. An example of a prophecy would be the suffering servant of Isaiah, see most notably Isaiah 52:13-53:12. Examples of a life-metaphor would be Aaron as high priest, Melchizedek as a king-priest, Moses as a prophet, and David as king. Each of these would be a picture (which pictures are always inadequate at representing the reality) of the coming one who would deliver mankind out from his pitiful state. Even though these pictures are inadequate, they contain some of the truths necessary to convey what the Messiah will do and who He will be.
Joshua also is a picture of the coming Savior Deliverer. He led God’s people into the promised land to give them the promised rest. Yet this was incomplete as Psalm 95:7-11 with Hebrews 4:6-9 explains. The word Joshua is made up of two words in the Hebrew, one being Yahweh or Jehovah, the other being yasha’ which means to deliver or deliverer. So the meaning of Joshua’s name is Yahweh delivers. It is interesting to see how the blessing that Israel bestowed upon Joseph (more specifically upon Ephraim in blessing him as the firstborn of Joseph, see Genesis 48:13-19) was fulfilled through the lineage of Ephraim. Ephraim experienced great tragedy and mourned the loss of his sons at the hands of the men of Gath. After mourning for many days he went back into his wife and she bore yet another son which he named Tragedy. Through this tragedy came a lineage that traced down to a man we know as Joshua, the deliverer of Israel, see I Chronicles 7:20-27. So while the Messiah came through the lineage of Judah, Joseph through Ephraim also brought forth a great deliverer. Now as we look at the book of Judges we see after the death of the contemporaries of Joshua that the nation of Israel fell into idolatry and sin, Joshua 24:31, Judges 2:7-13. The writer of the book of Judges preliminarily explains that throughout this period of time God raised up deliverers, using the word yasha’ to describe them, Judges 2:16-19. Again and again throughout the book of Judges we are given incomplete pictures of the ultimate deliverer who would one day rise up to deliver mankind in its entirety out of its sinful condition. Four of the most notable deliverers from the book of Judges are mentioned in Hebrews 11:32.
Samson is one of these deliverers which points us to Christ. It is his identification as a Nazarite that shows us how the Messiah would be separated unto God even from his birth. Even before the conception of the child he was called a Nazarite, see Judges 13:5. The duration of his separation would be expanded upon from the description in Numbers 6. Instead of having a period of time during his life when he would be a Nazarite, his entire life would be that of a Nazarite, from conception to the day of his death, Judges 13:7. Instead of having his head shaved to mark the end of his separation, Numbers 6:18, his death was supposed to mark the end of his separation. Joseph also seems to have a lifelong designation as Nazarite there being no beginning or ending point of his separation to God. Joseph also is a life picture of Christ, rejected by his own brothers then afterward exalted to glory. But the idea of being separated as a Nazarite is most pointedly explained in the life of Samson above all other examples. So when the angel states that this child would be called a Nazarite from the womb and deliver Israel, we see in this a clear picture of the Ultimate Deliverer, the Messiah. We can safely conclude that it was possible to study the principle of the Nazarite and the life of Samson and come to the conclusion that the Messiah would somehow be called a Nazarite, as in, completely separated unto God from conception to death. [Although it must be conceded that this would be a very deep study of God’s word.] Some may object to Samson being a picture of Christ because of his sinfulness and failure. Yet we cannot deny that Aaron, Moses, and David are pictures of Christ and they had sins and failures of their own. The pictures come not in how they did not measure up, but in God’s purposing to prophesy or foretell what the ultimate deliverer would be like through advance knowledge. They are considered types, metaphors, and shadows because while they do not measure up to the true substance, they can give us a picture of what the true substance will be even before His appearing.
Turning back to the pages of the new testament, Matthew the Tax Collector keenly notes that it is through the association with the city of Nazareth that Jesus receives the title of Jesus nazoraios. Proclaiming what would happen in the last days, Israel and Moses as prophets preached that Joseph (a type of Christ) was a Nazarite. Note that Joseph did not have to abide by the ordinances in the law of Moses to be a Nazarite since this predated the law (as does Christ), so it was not necessary for Christ to fulfill the legal aspects of Numbers 6 to be a true Nazarite. The angel spoke to Manoah’s wife proclaiming that her child would be a Nazarite from the time of conception in the womb to the time of his death and would also be a deliverer. The writer of the book of Judges (most likely Samuel the prophet) had this written for the purpose of pointing us to the true Messiah. Going even deeper, the ultimate Nazarite would have the nezer upon Him, that is, the holy crown of anointing oil reserved for the high priest and the kingly crown of David. It is Matthew alone who gives us this insight into the prophecies concerning the identity of the Messiah as a Nazarite by virtue of his being a Nazarene. In The Tax Collector’s Guide to Fulfilled Prophecy Matthew sees that before His conception, Jesus was marked and separated completely unto God for His purposes by angelic announcement. He sees the parallel with the life of Samson and draws his conclusion. It was foretold that the Messiah would be the Ultimate Nazarite. Further, the angel said that the child would be named Joshua, which means Yahweh delivers, only we know the Greek version of this word, Jesus. This has caused some confusion in translating Acts 7:45 and Hebrews 4:8 where it is obvious that Joshua is referred to even though the Greek word for Jesus is used. The Messiah, Jesus, would be the Ultimate Deliverer as well as being the Ultimate Nazarite. Most likely it was derogatory as they termed this prophet “the Nazarene”, but even in their scorn they were proclaiming the subtle truth that Jesus was the One completely separated unto God.
So, was it foreknown that the Messiah would be from Nazareth? No. Was it foreknown that the Messiah would be a Nazarite? It could have been to those that studied the Word of God in depth. Did Matthew bring out a deeper meaning of the prophetic texts? No, Matthew demonstrated how the original texts were fulfilled by virtue of Jesus being from Nazareth, which fact could not have been known until its fulfillment. I always try to complete my studies independent from commentaries as I don’t want to be swayed by anything but the word of God. After coming to the above conclusions, I checked with Matthew Henry’s commentary and he lists this idea as a very prominent possibility. This outcast of a tax collector has already taken us on several journeys into the prophetic scriptures and we are still reading about the childhood of the Messiah. These insights are deep but refreshing. Just imagine what awaits us as we get into the ministry, miracles, and teachings of Jesus the Nazarene (Nazarite).
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
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