Providence in Prophecy and History
Matthew 2:19-23
But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appears in a dream to Joseph in Egypt,…

Matthew, perhaps more constantly than any other New Testament writer, notes fulfilment of prophecy in events of history. His Gospel, which was the first written, was primarily intended for the Jews, who were familiar with this class of evidence, and would naturally look for it. The evidence is intrinsically very important, amongst other things evincing a Providence all-wise and all-powerful.


1. Vague utterances are outside this argument. Such are those which may be interpreted either way. Such were those of the heathen oracles. Such are not those of Scripture prophecy.

2. Guesses also are out of the question.

(1) These may occasionally come true, viz. when they concern things of usual occurrence.

(2) That they should constantly come true is incredible. The ratio of probabilities is mathematically determinable.

(3) That guesses should constantly come true when hazarded in relation to things extraordinary and supernatural is next thing to impossible. But the subjects of Scripture prophecy are these very things.


1. Those concerning Messiah answer this description.

(1) Never before his appearance was there any person to compare with him. Never since. He was unique in all points.

(2) Yet was he very fully described in prophecy. As the stream of time flowed on since the first utterance (Genesis 3:15), feature became added to feature by successive seers, until the collective testimony presents a proto-biography wonderfully complete.

2. Witness the sample respecting his infancy here given.

(1) His incarnation by a virgin mother of the family of David (cf. Matthew 1:22-24 with Isaiah 7:13, 14).

(2) The occurrence of this stupendous event in the town of Bethlehem of Judah (cf. vers. 5, 6 with Micah 5:2).

(3) The appearance of a star by which the Magi were guided in accordance with Balaam's parable (see Numbers 24:15-19).

(4) The slaughter of the innocents (cf. vers. 16-18 with Jeremiah 31:15-17).

(5) The deliverance of Jesus from that slaughter, which prophecy required, as he had to fulfil many predictions there written (see Luke 24:44-48).

(6) The flight into Egypt (cf. vers. 13-15, 19-21, with Exodus 4:22, 23; Hosea 11:1).

(7) The residence in Nazareth of Galilee, in connection with which he came to be called a Nazarene. Wonderful, is the credulity of that unbelief which can see nothing in such a tissue of evidence.

3. But where in prophecy is he described as a Nazarene?

(1) We may find this in the law of the Nazarite taken as a prophecy.

(2) Therefore also in those Nazarites, such as Samson, who must be viewed as typical persons (see Judges 13:5-7; Judges 16:17). Note: Jesus was in spirit, not in the letter, a Nazarite (see Matthew 11:18, 19).

(3) We may also find it in those prophecies which set forth the humiliation and odium to which Messiah was to be subjected. For the name "Nazarene" became a term of reproach (cf. John 1:14; see also Psalm 22:6; Psalm 69:6-10; Isaiah 53:3, 12).

(4) If "Nazarene" be derived from נזר, this word signifies not only "to separate," but also "to crown. When Pilate in scorn set over Jesus the inscription, Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews," Jesus was then in derision also crowned, viz. with thorns. God makes the very derision of his enemies to praise him.


1. The knowledge of things foretold implies a foreknowledge also of things to be historically interwoven with them.

(1) Thus a foreknowledge of the slaughter of the innocents implies a foreknowledge also of Herod, his character, and resources.

(2) The time of Herod's death also must have been foreknown, since the return of Jesus from Egypt, a thing foretold, was historically made contingent upon it.

(3) The succession of Archelaus to the throne of Herod must likewise have been foreknown, for the retirement of Jesus into Nazareth of Galilee, a thing foretold, was historically made contingent upon this. Archelaus, as Ethnarch (by courtesy called King) of Judaea, would be likely to inherit his father's jealousy and caution, as he was well known to have inherited his cruelty and tyranny (see Josephus, 'Ant.,' 17. c. 10).

2. Thus the foreknowledge of things interwoven with things foretold implies a corresponding foreknowledge of things interwoven with these.

(1) This follows by the same rule. So in turn of things interwoven with these. Thus a perfect knowledge of anything must involve a perfect knowledge of everything.

(2) Such, therefore, is the intelligence of Divine providence as witnessed in the evidence of prophecy. Such intelligence may be implicitly trusted for guidance. Such guidance should be earnestly sought.


1. God is not simply an Omniscient Spectator.

(1) He was more than a Spectator when he inspired his prophets.

(2) He is also a Worker in history.

2. Instances of his direct interference with the factors of history are here recorded. He interfered:

(1) To prevent the Magi from returning to Herod.

(2) To prompt Joseph to fly into Egypt.

(3) To direct the return of the holy family from Egypt.

(4) To instruct their retirement into Galilee.

(5) To provide, viz. in the gifts of the Magi, for their subsistence.

3. This intervention was necessary to the fulfilment of prophecy.

(1) The same Being who inspired the predictions wrought in their accomplishment. He let none of the words of his prophets fall to the ground (cf. 1 Samuel 3:19; 1 Samuel 9:6).

(2) If prophecy reveals the providence of knowledge, history no less truly reveals the providence of power.


1. Since God works in events necessary to the fulfilment of prophecy, he must work in all events.

(1) For what events are there that are not tending to the fulfilment of prophecy? The subjects of prophecy are race-wide in their range, and extend along the whole course of time.

(2) The central line of events, more prominently delineated in prophecy, are historically interwoven with other events, these with others, and so forth. So if the interference of a providential Worker is required in respect to the central line, his working will be required from the centre outwards to the very bounds of action. Hence:

2. There is a supernatural energy in the commonest events. The case may be stated thus:

(1) The universe is dual, consisting of matter and spirit.

(2) These complements act and react upon each other.

(3) The whole is under one supreme control, infinitely intelligent, possessing illimitable resources of wisdom and efficiency. As Omniscience surveys all things, Omnipotence works in all things.

(4) In some things it pleases God to show his knowledge, as in prophecy; in some, his power, as in converting prophecy into history. Where he does this we call the event supernatural and miraculous.

(5) But in truth there is as much of the supernatural, i.e. as much of the presence and working of God, where he does not show it in deviations from the usual, as where he does so deviate. Therefore we may:

(1) Rejoice evermore.

(2) Pray without ceasing.

(3) In everything give thanks. - J.A.M.

Parallel Verses
KJV: But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt,

WEB: But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying,

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