Netzer - a shoot from an olive stumpAfter Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.”

Part I: Getting the Whole Story
Part II: The Time of Jesus’ Birth
Part III: Jesus’ Parents
Part IV: The Location of Jesus’ Birth
Part V: King Herod

As we move toward the end of this series, there are a number of “bit players” – people and places – which have a part to play in the Christmas story. In this article, we will look at a couple of places which figure into the story.

What’s in a Name?

As many biblical scholars and teachers have noted, throughout the Bible, names mean things. To Hebrew readers and listeners, the names of people and places often say as much about a person or a place as any prose that follows the name. For our purposes in this article, I am just looking at a couple of places.

Two cities, in particular, come to play in the story of Jesus’ birth: Bethlehem and Nazareth

The Bakery

Bethlehem, Beit Lehem in Hebrew, means “House of Bread”. In terms of prophecy, this was to be the place where the Messiah was born, per the prophecy in Micah 5:2

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. “

Additionally, as we discussed previously, only lambs raised in the flocks of Bethlehem were acceptable as sacrifices in the Temple during the first century – primarily because the Sadducees owned these flocks and they were a source of wealth for this religious party. And so it is that we have Jesus, the Bread of Life, born in the “House of Bread” – the Lamb of God, born in the flocks of Bethlehem, the only sheep allowed for sacrifice. Do you see the picture that is painted here?

Branch Davidians

In the book of Isaiah 11, we read

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him – the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD -

In the Hebrew, a “shoot” from an olive stump (see picture above) is called a netzer. The religious Jews of the first century saw this passage in Isaiah as a prediction of the coming Messiah – a “shoot” from the stump of Jesse. Because of this, it was believed that he would be called netzer in some fashion, as a symbol of this. This led to debate as to whether he would be from netzeret (Nazareth – “shoot-ville”), whether he would be nazir (a Nazarite), or – possibly – both.

As a result of this, the people from Nazareth, known to be fanatically religious, were convinced that the former possibility was true, and that their town would be the home of the future Messiah. The name by which these people called themselves would be translated into English as “Branch Davidians” (yes, you read that correctly), because the branch/shoot from the stump of Jesse (David) would come from their town. Because of this, the people in Nazareth were thought of as being “cultish” and suspect. We even read from one of Jesus’ disciples:

Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip.

And so it was that the coming of the Messiah was announced by John the Baptizer, a nazir, and this Messiah, Yeshua, was a netzer – a shoot – from netzeret. From the Matthew 2:

And he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.”

Nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures do we find this prophecy “He will be called a Nazarene”. However, it appears from several sources that this prophecy originated from Isaiah 11, and that Matthew chose the correct interpretation (Nazarene instead of Nazarite) that described Jesus.

And what happened years later in the synagogue at Nazareth?

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

The people were ecstatic! All of those years of being ridiculed for their Messianic beliefs, and finally the Messiah came and proved that they were right all along!

Unfortunately, though, for the people of Nazareth, their faith was in who they were and where they were from and in their ‘rightness’, and it was not in the Lord. And so, when Jesus took them to task for this, he was rejected and took his message elsewhere.

If only this was applicable to us today… or could we, too, be from Nazareth? Could we be so proud of being from the right church, with the right theology, with the right teachers that our own faith is in who we are and not in who He is?*

I would be completely remiss if I did not note that much of the information from this article and this series was provided in essays and lectures by Rev. Ray VanderLaan.

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