Our land is torn today. People are at odds with each other when they fervently proclaim what they think is right. Our unity in understanding what is right and wrong is losing ground rapidly. This study may have a bit more history than usual, but it displays where Jesus went to begin His preaching ministry. I find that where he went parallels our nation today and we can learn a great lesson from these few verses that are commonly overlooked. This study is a bit longer than usual, but stick with it. It’s worth your time.
In Matthew 4:12 and following we see that John the Baptist was arrested, and Jesus moved from Nazareth to Capernaum. The author makes special mention of this area’s history, and in order to fully understand let’s take a look. After the 1450 B.C. Great Exodus of Israel from Egyptian slavery the Nation of Israel conquered Canaan under God’s command. After this war, the tribes of Israel were given allotments of land, and the boundaries of the territories of Zebulon and Naphtali were issued by Joshua. This same land many, many years later is encompassed in Northern Capernaum, and this us where Jesus went to begin His preaching ministry.
Matthew still isn’t satisfied. He adds more to show the gravity of where Jesus is going to kick off His preaching. He quotes from Isaiah 9 and we read in Matthew 4:14-16: “So that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.’ ” This is the same chapter of Isaiah that contains the commonly known prophetic passage that we quote at Christmas. Isaiah 9:6: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
A great many things are missing in Matthew 4:12-17 unless you know the history that was known to the original readers of this book. I don’t believe that Jesus is fleeing the area where John the Baptist was arrested, I believe He was going to an area that was ripe for harvest, just as our nation is today. He was going where people were ready to hear the message, just as people have never heard it here in our world. He was going to a place that was once firmly rooted in the Law of God as the United States once was. However, this place is called in Jesus’ time “Galilee of the Gentiles.” They didn’t practice God’s Law just like we, as a nation, have chosen not to follow God’s Law. He was going to a place where people dwell in darkness to give them Himself as a great light. He was going to illuminate the place where death was so imminent its’ shadow was pressing upon them. This is where Matthew records the beginning of Jesus’ preaching ministry in 4:17 as He says: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
The problem with our world today is not rooted in racism. It is not rooted in police brutality. It is firmly rooted in problem of the human heart that is only solved in repentance in the presence of an Almighty God. We are daily releasing our former Biblical ethic societal bonds into anarchy. Our world’s, specifically our nation’s, moral standards are declining rapidly, and we are suffering the consequences as a people. As the people in the territories of Zebulon and Naphtali once held firm to God’s moral standards have fallen, we have fallen. We have the shadow of death creeping across our landscape of our beautiful land, and we find strikingly strong parallels with this Biblical example set so many years before us. We must remember that Jesus started preaching in this kind of environment for a reason. It was needed. He cared about this people enough to speak truth into their lives. Do we care less?
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Matthew 4:16 – “The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”