Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 31: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
19. But when Herod was dead, lo, the angel of the Lord appeareth, by a dream, to Joseph in Egypt, 20. Saying, Arise, and take the child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead who sought the life 218 , of the child. 21. And he rose and took 219 the child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22. But when he had heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: but, warned by a heavenly communication through a dream, he withdrew into the parts of Galilee. 23. Having come there, he dwelt in the city 220 which is called Nazareth, that what had been spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, He shall be called a Nazarene.
19. But when Herod was dead These words show the perseverance of Joseph’s faith. He kept his feet firm in Egypt, till he was recalled to his native country by a command of God. We see, at the same time, that the Lord never disappoints his own people, but renders them seasonable aid. It is probable that Joseph returned from Egypt immediately after the death of Herod, before Augustus Caesar had issued his decree, appointing Archelaus to be governor of Judea. Having been declared by his father’s will to be successor to the throne, he undertook the whole charge of the government, but abstained from taking the title of king, saying that this depended on the will and pleasure of Caesar. He afterwards went to Rome, and obtained confirmation; only the name of king was refused, until he had merited it by his actions. The governor of Galilee was Philip, a man of gentle disposition, and almost like a private individual. Joseph complied with the suggestion of the angel, because, under a prince who had no delight in shedding blood, and who treated his subjects with mildness, there was less danger.
We must always bear in mind the purpose of God, in training his Son, from the commencement, under the discipline of the cross, because this was the way in which he was to redeem his Church. He bore our infirmities, and was exposed to dangers and to fears, that he might deliver his Church from them by his divine power, and might bestow upon it everlasting peace. His danger was our safety: his fear was our confidence. Not that he ever in his life felt alarm; but as he was surrounded, on every hand, by the fear of Joseph and Mary, he may be justly said to have taken upon him our fears, that he might procure for us assured confidence.
23. He shall be called a Nazarene Matthew does not derive Nazarene from Nazareth, as if this were its strict and proper etymology, but only makes an allusion. The word נזיר, or Nazarite, signifies holy and devoted to God, and is derived from נזר, to separate. The noun נזר, indeed, signifies a flower: 221 but Matthew refers, beyond all doubt, to the former meaning. For we nowhere read that Nazarites meant blooming or flourishing, but persons who were consecrated to God, according to the directions given by the Law, (Nu 6:1-21) The meaning is: though it was by fear that Joseph was driven into a corner of Galilee, yet God had a higher design, and appointed the city of Nazareth as the place of Christ’s residence, that he might justly be called a Nazarite But it is asked, who are the prophets that gave this name to Christ? for there is no passage to be found that answers to the quotation. Some think it a sufficient answer, that Scripture frequently calls him Holy: but that is a very poor explanation. For Matthew, as we perceive, makes an express reference to the very word, and to the ancient Nazarites, whose holiness was of a peculiar character. He tells us, that what was then shadowed out in the Nazarites, who were, in some sense, selected as the first-fruits to God, must have been fulfilled in the person of Christ.
But it remains to be seen, in what part of Scripture the prophets have stated that this name would be given to Christ. Chrysostom, finding himself unable to loose the knot, cuts it by saying, that many books of the prophets have perished. But this answer has no probability: for, though the Lord, in order to punish the indifference of his ancient people, deprived them of some part of Scripture, or left out what was less necessary, yet, since the coming of Christ, no part of it has been lost. In support of that view, a strange blunder has been made, by quoting a passage of Josephus, in which he states that Ezekiel left two books: for Ezekiel’s prophecy of a new temple and kingdom is manifestly distinct from his other predictions, and may be said to form a new work. But if all the books of Scripture which were extant in the time of Matthew, remain entire to the present day, we must find somewhere the passage quoted from the prophets.
Bucer 222 has explained it, I think, more correctly than any other writer. He thinks that the reference is to a passage in the Book of Judges: The child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb, (Jud 13:5.) These words, no doubt, were spoken with regard to Samson. But Samson is called the “Redeemer” or “Deliverer” 223 of the people, only because he was a figure of Christ, and because the salvation, which was accomplished by his instrumentality, was a sort of prelude of the full salvation, which was at length exhibited to the world by the Son of God. 224 All that Scripture predicts, in a favorable manner, about Samson, may justly be applied to Christ. To express it more clearly, Christ is the original model: Samson is the inferior antitype. 225 When he assumed the character of a Redeemer, 226 we ought to understand, that none of the titles bestowed on that illustrious and truly divine office apply so strictly to himself as to Christ: for the fathers did but taste the grace of redemption, which we have been permitted to receive fully in Christ.
Matthew uses the word prophets in the plural number. This may easily be excused: for the Book of Judges was composed by many prophets. But I think that what is here said about the prophets has a still wider reference. For Joseph, who was a temporal Savior of the Church, and was, in many respects, a figure, or rather a lively image of Christ, is called a Nazarite of his brethren, 227 (Ge 49:26; De 33:16.) God determined that the distinguished honor, of which he had given a specimen in Joseph, should shine again in Samson, and gave him the name of Nazarite, that believers, having received those early instructions, might look more earnestly at the Redeemer who was to come, who was to be separated from all,
“That he might be the first-born among many brethren,”
“Qui demandoyent l’ame, ou la vie, du petit enfant;” — “who demanded the soul, or the life, of the little child.”
“Surgens assumpsit;” — “rising took.” — “Joseph donc esveille print;” — “Joseph then awakened took.”
It would have been more correct to say that the noun נזר signifies a crown than a flower. “Thou shalt put the holy crown,” את נזר הקדש, (Ex 29:6.) “Thou hast profaned his crown,” נזרו, (Ps 89:39.) It is satisfactory to have the support of so eminent a critic as Dr Tholuck, who, in his very correct edition of Calvin's Commentary on the New Testament, after the word florem, flower, places in brackets an emendation similar to what we have suggested: “vel potius, diadematis insigne,” —”or rather, the emblem of a crown.” — Ed.
A contemporary of our author, who was greatly admired, not only for the extent of his learning in a very learned age, but for the soundness of his judgment. He is hardly ever mentioned but with deep respect. — Ed.
The remaining words of the passage (Jud 13:5) are: and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hands of the Philistines; which our author interprets as having a prophetic reference to Christ. — Ed.
“Le salut qu'a receu le peuple par son moyen, a este comme une representation ayant quelques traces du vray et parfait salut, lequel finalement le Fils de Dieu a apporte et presente au monde.” — “The salvation which the people received by his agency was, as it were, a representation, having some traces of the true and perfect salvation, which the Son of God finally brought and presented to the world.”
“Pour le dire plus clairement en deux mots, Christ est le vray patron accompli en perfection, mais Samson est un pourtrait legerement tire et trac, dessus.” — “To state it more clearly in two words, Christ is the true Defender fulfilled in perfection: but Samson is a portrait lightly traced and drawn below.”
In both of the passages quoted above, the words נזיר אחיו are rendered, in the English version, separated from his brethren. This brings out pretty faithfully the meaning of נזיר, separated, but does not suggest the allusion, which Calvin supposes to be made to the peculiar acceptation given by the ceremonial law to נזיר, from which our word Nazarite is derived. Hebrew scholars must judge for themselves as to the probability of the allusion. Without entering into that inquiry, which would occupy more space than we could easily spare, we have thought it due to our Author to hint, that the two passages which he quotes, and which at first sight appear to have no bearing on his argument, contain the very word in questlon. — Ed.