He Shall Be Called a Nazarene (1)
Malcolm Horlock, Cardiff, Wales
Two interesting issues arise from the quotation, "He shall be called a Nazarene", Matt 2. 23. The first concerns the O.T. source of the quotation and the second concerns the way in which it received its fulfilment.
1. The Source of the Quotation.
Note that there should be a "thar" (Greek, hoti) between "the prophets" and "he shall be called". This indicates that the clause represents the content and substance of the prophecy rather than its exact wording; cf. 26. 54.
Views differ as to the precise origin of the quotation but the most likely source is found in Isaiah 11. 1. There we read, "And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots". The word translated "Branch" is "net-ser", meaning a fresh green shoot or sprout of a tree; cf. its use in 60:21 and Dan. 11. 7.
Isaiah envisaged a time when the kingly line of David would apparently have ceased. Yet, by means of a vivid picture, he foretold a future glory for One of David's descendants. He likened David's dynasty to the stump of a tree which had been hewn down. From the seemingly dead stump would spring a fresh shoot which would become a great tree. (In one of his speeches, Job described how this comes about in the natural realm, Job 14. 7-9.)
The prophet foresaw that, at a time when David's family would have sunk into obscurity, the Messiah would arise from his line, Isa. II. 1-10. The very mention of Jesse, rather than David, confirms the idea of obscurity, because it directs us back to the condition of David's family before David rose to prominence and power.
In the context, the illustration gains point from the contrast made with the fate of Assyria, the dominant world power of the day, 10. 33-34. The great Gentile power would be humbled at a time when it was most exalted; the house of David would be exalted at a time when it was most humbled!
This graphic picture of the revived tree was developed by later prophets. Although they employed a different Hebrew word (tsemack), its meaning was more or less identical with that used by Isaiah. See Jer. 23. 5; 35. 15; Zech. 3. 8; 6. 12.
It seems that Matthew has Isaiah 11. 1 chiefly in mind because the verse provides not only an indication of Messiah's lowliness but a specific title for Messiah (netser) which forms the basis of the name of the place where He grew up. "From which word (net-set) it appears that the name Nazareth is probably derived", Alford. Most likely the town of Nazareth received its name on account of its relative small-ness and insignificance compared to the other towns around. It was but a "shoot" among the stately trees; cf. John 1. 46.
What more appropriate than that the Messiah (one of whose titles emphasized His humble and lowly derivation according to the flesh) should come from "the place of the netser" (the name of which indicated its humble and lowly status)? For Matthew, the connection between Messiah's title and the name of the town from which He came represented a clear case of prophecy and fulfilment. Every time men referred to Him as "Jesus of Nazareth", unwittingly they bore witness to the fulfilment of the scripture which afforded Him the title of the "neiser"; see e.g. Matt. 26. 71.
But why, some may wonder, does Matthew refer to "the prophets? The explanation probably lies in the Rabbinical rule of interpretation; Al-tiqri) which allowed one word to be replaced by another of the same meaning. According to this rule Mathew would be entitled to claim that, as a result of Joseph settling in Nazareth (the place of the netser), the prophecies of the O.T. which spoke of Messiah both as the miser and the tsemach (see above) were fulfilled.
(To be Concluded)