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. (Matthew 2:23) [ESV]
In his book, Barney Kasdan states Matthew is using a midrash, which is "an interpretive act, seeking the answers to religious questions (both practical and theological) by plumbing the meaning of the words of the Torah."
In the context of Matthew and other similar verses, this would be more of a midrashic approach, a broad application derived from specific biblical statements. It is not that Matthew is ignorant of the fact there is no such verse that specifically mentions Natzeret. But in good Semitic fashion, he uses a sermonic application to many of the events recorded in the life of Yeshua. In this case, any educated Jew would understand the connection between the town of Natzeret and the Mashiach. The town's name is, in fact, derived from the Hebrew word for "branch," which would call to mind a common term for the Messiah himself (cf. Isaiah 11:1, Zechariah 6:12, as well as the synonym "tzemach" found in Jeremiah 23:5 and Tractate Berachot 2.5)
Matthew's midrash would be called an aggadah which interprets biblical narrative, exploring questions of ethics or theology, or creating homilies and parables based on the text."
What Matthew is pointing out is a good play on words that the Netzer (Branch) is now residing in the city called Natzeret (Branch). In his mind, this is a perfect midrashic fulfillment of this concept that is indeed mentioned by several writers of the Tanakh (note the plural "prophets" in verse 23). Instead of being a contradiction or mistake, this verse actually underscores the messianic qualifications of Yeshua in a manner that many first-century (and modern) Jews would appreciate.
Of the three passages cited, the direct linguistic connection to Nazareth is present only in Isaiah where "branch" is נֵצֶר, netser:
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. (ESV)
And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a blossom shall come up from root: (LXX)
"Branch" in Jeremiah and Zechariah is צֶמַח tsemach:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. (ESV)
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will raise up to David a righteous branch, and a king shall reign and understand, and shall execute judgment and righteousness on the earth. (LXX)
And say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall branch out from his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD. (ESV)
and thou shalt say to him, Thus saith the Lord Almighty; Behold the man whose name is The Branch; and he shall spring up from his stem, and build the house of the Lord. (LXX)
In order for Matthew's use of prophets (plural) to be accurate, the two Hebrew terms must be conflated as applied to Jesus. This is a valid interpretative, or aggadah as the passage in Isaiah and Jeremiah are considered messianic. Even if the messianic expectation at that time was for two Messiahs, Messiah ben David and Messiah ben Joseph, both Isaiah (root of Jesse) and Jeremiah (David, a righteous branch) point to the Davidic Messiah. Therefore, Matthew is correct in using prophets (plural).
In citing Scripture to show how Jesus met the qualifications of the Davidic Messiah, Matthew begins with the ancestry (Chapter 1) and then points to three physical locations:
- Bethlehem: birthplace was Jesse's city (2:5-6)
- Egypt: fled Bethlehem so He could be called out of Egypt (2:15)
- Nazareth: a branch from the root of Jesse (2:23)
The branch, "netser," is important to explain why the Davidic Messiah would be called a Nazarene, that is to say, Jesus of Nazareth and not, for example, Jesus of Bethlehem, the birthplace of the Messiah. Consider also how any questions or doubts raised by the genealogy in Chapter 1 are answered by identifying Jesus as both the nester of Jesse and and the tsemach of David. In other words, the locations, and particularly Nazareth, is proof Jesus is a descendant of Jesse.
John confirms no one expected the Branch to be from Nazareth:
Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” (John 1:46)
One of the qualifications of the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. Matthew's midrash addresses an overlooked qualification for the Messiah: to be called a נֵצֶר netser as Isaiah clearly states. So, after affirming His ancestry (Chapter 1), and birthplace, and coming out of Egypt, as predicted by the prophets, Matthew explains why the Davidic Messiah would not be called by either the town of His birth or His ancestry.
As a peripheral issue, Judaism does not recognize the passage in Zechariah as messianic. Commenting on Zechariah, Ehud Ben Zvi notes:
One would expect that the king would be crowned, but only the high priest Joshua is. Ibn Ezra, Radak, Rashi, and others consider Zerubbabel to be the Branch, and the person for who the other crown was meant. The Targum, however, reflects a different understanding: "And you shall take silver and gold and make a large crown and set it upon the head of Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. And you shall speak to him saying, 'Thus speaks the LORD of hosts, saying, behold the man whose name is Anointed will be revealed and he shall be raised up, and shall build the temple of the LORD.'"
Matthew, however, may have also seen this passage as predictive of the Messiah. The man whose name is Anointed (i.e. "Christ") shall be raised up and build the temple of the Lord; that is, His body:
18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. (John 2)
The Scripture John is referring to is in Zechariah.
1. My Jewish Learning
2. Barney Kasdan, Matthew Presents Yeshua, King Messiah, Lederer Books, 2011, p. 25
3. My Jewish Learning
4. Kasdan., p. 26
5. Ehud Ben Zvi, The Jewish Study Bible, Edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 1256