This is part of an on-going series around the first four chapters of Matthew’s gospel. You can read the previous post here.
It is practically cliche among Christians to say that God has a plan for everything. I would say, based on the Bible, that it’s true, but it’s also easy to take for granted. It’s one of those tenets of faith that you know but never think about. Even early on in the life of Jesus the preciseness of God’s planning is on display. In the opening chapters of the gospel of Matthew, every event is connected to an Old Testament prophecy. Something like the announcement of His birth to Joseph or the location of His birth to the wise men makes sense. Those are big moments, so of course they are part of the plan. But a look at Matthew 2:13-23 shows that even the “smaller” events were planned centuries prior.
We see this in…
- A Midnight Ride (v.13-15): After the wise men depart (without revisiting King Herod in Jerusalem), Joseph gets forewarned in a dream of coming trouble. He is then told to flee to Egypt, which he promptly accomplishes. This, Matthew notes, is a fulfillment of Hosea 11:1 where God is said to be calling His son out of Egypt. In the original passage, the “son” is metaphorically Israel. Jesus, however, is the ultimate fulfillment.
- Midnight Ruin (v.16-18): When Herod realizes the wise men aren’t coming back, he sends out soldiers to kill all the baby boys under the age of two in Bethlehem and the surrounding region. This horrific act is prophesied in Jeremiah 31:15, where it’s in context of mourning over what the nation has lost in exile. The greater context of that passage is God extending comfort to His people. Sadly, the text finds fulfillment in the wails that undoubtedly went up that night.
- A Midnight Return (v. 19-23): Eventually Herod dies and Joseph is given the go-ahead to return to their native land. He’s still not easy about living in the Judean region, so he’s told to settle at Nazareth instead. Even in this tiny detail Matthew sees fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. Curiously, he doesn’t specify which passage in particular but seems to be drawing from multiple locations to make his claim.
In each of these events (roughly three paragraphs of text), we see the minute planning of God. No detail goes unnoticed, no moment is without purpose. Though these events are specific to Jesus or His time, I think we today can learn something from God’s planning. I would not begin to presume that Old Testament prophecies were written with me in mind, but there are principles to be seen here. Specifically we see how God plans…
- Our Movements: I decided to move from Kentucky to Missouri when I was 23, but I didn’t make that decision in a vaccuum. God had a purpose (or multiple purposes) for that. If I uproot my family and move back to Kentucky (or anywhere else), God has planned that out as well. Even beyond major moves, God has a plan for everything I do. There is something to learn, a person to impact, a thing to experience. I can only hope that no matter what happens I am as quick in my obedience as Joseph was.
- Our Suffering: Is it cruel that the heartbreak of all those families whose children were murdered was foreknown by God? That it was all a part of His plan? We tend to wish that God doesn’t foresee our suffering and act like that would be more comforting. I dare say that it’s more assuring that God did have a plan for that night. He wasn’t shocked at Herod’s actions like, say, Greek gods are surprised by things humans do. What purpose could such an event have? One interpretation would be to point out how terrible Israel’s ruler was. Herod was not a just king or a good shepherd for his people. But Jesus is. He will be the comfort to our weeping where human leadership can only compound suffering.
- Our Lives: It was no mistake that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus wound up in the small town of Nazareth. God had a certain life in mind for the Messiah. Our lives also are ordered by God. Why did you grow up the way you did? God had a plan for that. Perhaps you can see some reasons why now, maybe you’ll see more later. Regardless, it’s comforting to know that our lives do have purpose and fall somewhere in God’s greater plan.
Atheists and agnostics tend to rankle under the idea of God planning everything that happens (also called Sovereignty). They view it as an oppressive doctrine and long to throw off the idea entirely. Christians roll their eyes at atheists and simply embrace the concept without really considering it. A closer examination reveals a very comforting idea. No one really wants a god who is surprised by how human events play out. If there is divinity out there, we want it to know what’s happening. God is aware of what goes on here, and is not only aware but planning every step of the way. This may bring up hard questions, but if we tackle the topic honestly and as objectively as possible, I think we will find God’s planning to be more comforting than disconcerting.