Matthew 4:12-17 (CEB)
Move to Galilee
Now when Jesus heard that John was arrested, he went to Galilee. He left Nazareth and settled in Capernaum, which lies alongside the sea in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali. This fulfilled what Isaiah the prophet said:
Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, alongside the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who lived in the dark have seen a great light, and a light has come upon those who lived in the region and in shadow of death.
From that time Jesus began to announce, “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!”
The interwebnet is full of wise quotations, often attributed to famous people. Too often the attribution is entirely false, and I still struggle to understand why it is that people do it. The originator must usually know that it is a lie even if the many millions of subsequent sharers and likers may do so unwittingly. Are the words somehow wiser or more worthy of attention because a famous person’s name is attached to them?
Worryingly, the same could be said of Matthew when you check out his gospel. True enough, Isaiah does say that bit in italics – in Isaiah chapter 9:1-2, but Isaiah does not say that Jesus (or the Messiah) would be going to live there, so the fact of Jesus going to live there does not really fulfil what Isaiah said, except in the most general sense that Jesus brings light into the world.
Maybe I am being picky – it does happen! – but this certainly isn’t the only occasion that Matthew could be said to be playing a bit fast a loose in his attempts to connect things Jesus did with Old Testament prophecies. Of course, he is writing for a Jewish audience and you can see WHY he does this – but it does leave me feeling a bit dis-satisfied.
This approach has inspired generations of eager “proof-texters” who will quote bits of the bible at you out of context in order to prove an opinion of theirs that has nothing to do with the verse they are quoting in its proper context. This is simply dishonest and should be called out when it happens.
Matthew is writing in a world very different to ours. Don’t get me wrong, they understood just as we do what happened and what didn’t happen, but they were immersed in literary techniques that are not part of our 21st Century Western culture. Matthew was writing to an audience who were thoroughly versed in what Isaiah said – many of them would have known Isaiah’s words off by heart – they would have spotted discrepancies and liberties FAR quicker than you or I might. They were used to the rabbis’ technique of “midrash” and “Pesher” – an approach to Biblical interpretation found most notably in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Pesher is based on reading scriptural prophecies as allegorically referring to one’s present situation. For example, the Dead Sea Scrolls interpreted biblical prophesies addressing the Babylonians to actually refer to the Romans, since for the community which wrote them, the Romans were a real and present source of oppression, the Babylonians distant and irrelevant to their lives.
Taken this way, Matthew’s Gospel is part “this is what happened, what Jesus said and did” AND ALSO “this is what we think it means” – which (if you think about it) is “preaching”.
I’m OK with that! As you were, Matthew! 🙂