13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”
19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” 21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. 23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.
I imagine Joseph arising from this sleep, mind buzzing with the angel’s message in the dream. Did he immediately bundle his wife and infant son out the door and on the road to Egypt? Was the urgency such that they had little time to prepare? I am sure the gold and other gifts of the wise men came in handy as they met unexpected expenses. It was a good thing they left when they did. How far behind were Herod’s murderous soldiers? Mary and Joseph probably fled to Alexandria in Egypt. At the time, the city had a population that was perhaps 40% Jewish. There would be people there, maybe even relatives, to welcome and shelter them and a sizeable community into which they could disappear for a while. Matthew wants us to see that the Old Testament narratives are about Jesus. Another way to think about it is to see that this event in Jesus’ life has cast a long and dark shadow on the past. Once before a cruel king was slaughtering Hebrew boys. There was a long trek to Egypt and a longer trek back home to the promised land. Jesus was not reliving those events in his own journey to Jerusalem. Those ancient events were pointing to Him and His time spent in Egypt. The real exodus was taking place of which that ancient event was a sort of shadow, imperfectly projected upon the world and its history. We can see the outline of Christ’s life in Moses, the Pharaoh’s cruel schemes, and the people’s return to the promised land in Joshua’s day. Those ancient Israelites were pointing ahead to Jesus’ own Egyptian sojourn.