Sunday, December 06, 2020

The Significance Of Jesus' Being Raised In Nazareth

I've written elsewhere about the importance of Jesus' choice as an adult to live in Nazareth for a while, then live in Capernaum, which aligns with Isaiah 9:1. Critics could object that Jesus was trying to make himself look like the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy, so that his alignment with the passage doesn't involve anything supernatural. That approach wouldn't resolve all of the problems Jesus' fulfillment of the passage poses for skeptics, though.

For example, they often object that the early accounts of Jesus' childhood are discontinuous with the early accounts of his adulthood. Supposedly, the accounts of his adulthood don't reflect the alleged events of his childhood the way we'd expect them to if those childhood events actually occurred. But even if Jesus set out to fulfill Isaiah 9 by normal means, without anything paranormal involved, his identifying himself as the figure of Isaiah 9 would be an example of substantial continuity between the accounts of his childhood and the accounts of his adulthood. So, objecting that Jesus lived in Nazareth and Capernaum as an adult to make himself look like the fulfillment of Isaiah 9 helps the critic avoid some conclusions that are favorable to Christianity, but still leaves him with other problems.

And notice the significance of the fact that Jesus didn't just choose to live in Nazareth for a while as an adult. He also grew up there, and he did so from an early age, from about the age of two. At that stage, he was far too young, by normal means, to have reasoned with his parents to persuade them to live in Nazareth in order to accommodate a claim of Messiahship he'd make later in life. So, Jesus was in the right place at the right time (in Nazareth, which is in the region of Zebulun, the first region mentioned in Isaiah 9:1) well before he was in a position to arrange being there by normal means. Jesus was in Nazareth, and was there both as an adult and as a child, even a child as young as about two years old, before moving to the region of Naphtali (Capernaum).

Isaiah and other Old Testament authors often refer to a Messianic branch or shoot who was to come. We could say that Jesus was planted in Nazareth by God's providence before he chose to live there for a while as an adult, followed by a move to Capernaum, in alignment with Isaiah 9.

But we should look even further back. Why are Zebulun and Naphtali mentioned in Isaiah 9 to begin with? The backdrop seems to be the Assyrian takeover of northern Israel in the eighth century B.C. However, Isaiah never refers to the northern kingdom as Zebulun and Naphtali anywhere else. He uses multiple other names (e.g., Ephraim in 7:5, Jacob and Israel in 9:8), but Zebulun and Naphtali aren't used elsewhere. Furthermore, there were other tribal territories in the north, not just Zebulun and Naphtali, that were affected by the Assyrian invasion. As H.G.M. Williamson explains:

"The detail is not important for the present verse, however, as these two tribes are probably mentioned only representatively of the northern part of the country; Asher and Dan, at least, must have been affected in a similar way to Zebulun and Naphtali. The same style of representative reporting affects the brief description of this self-same event in 2 Kgs 15.29, as there, alongside a list of towns, only Naphtali is mentioned of the tribal territories." (Isaiah 6-12 [New York, New York: Bloomsbury, 2018], 382)

As 2 Kings 15 illustrates, Zebulun and Naphtali wouldn't have to be singled out, much less mentioned in that order, if an author wanted to cite one or more tribal regions of northern Israel to represent the whole. So, the selection of Zebulun and Naphtali, in that order, in Isaiah 9 is significant accordingly.

There are many other aspects of Isaiah 9 that also line up well with Jesus' life. See here and here, for example.

No comments:

Post a Comment