Safe in Egypt
by Jesse Lyman Hurlbut
ON THE night after their visit to Mary and her child, the Wise Men had a dream. In their dream they heard the voice of God saying to them:
"Do not go to meet King Herod again. He is no friend to this princely child. Return to your own land by some other way, and do not let Herod know it."
The Wise Men obeyed the voice of the Lord. They left Bethlehem very quietly, telling no one the road that they were taking; and without going through Herod's city, went back to their own land, far-distant Parthia.
As soon as the Wise Men had left, on that night Joseph also had a dream. He saw an angel by his bed, who said to Joseph:
"Rise up at once; take the little child and his mother, and go as quickly as you can down to the land of Egypt, stay in that country until I tell you to leave it, for very soon King Herod will try to kill this child."
Without waiting a moment, Joseph awaked Mary from her sleep, and in the night they left the house, taking the sleeping baby with them. They passed silently through the dark streets of Bethlehem and found the road that would lead them to Egypt. At times Mary rode upon an ass, holding her precious child; at others she walked while Joseph guided the animal which carried their possessions. It was a journey of more than a hundred miles to Egypt, but they went in safety, unknown to King Herod.
In Egypt they could dwell safely, for that land was not a part of Herod's kingdom. Many Jews were dwelling there, and among them Joseph would live by his trade, for he was a skilful worker in wood. How long they stayed in Egypt we do not know. It may have been either a few months or a few years.
Herod waited for some time to see the Wise Men again, and to find where the child-king was living. But as the days passed and he heard nothing from them, and finally learned that they had left for their home-land without obeying his command to come and see him, he was very angry. But he was resolved to kill this child, who if he should live might take the kingdom from him or from his family.
Herod planned and carried out a fearfully wicked deed, but not more wicked than many deeds that he had already done. He sent a troop of his soldiers to Bethlehem, with orders to go into every house in the village, to find every child that was two years old or under that age, and to kill them all. This terrible thing the soldiers did, and a great cry went up to heaven from the mothers and fathers whose little ones had been slain by the wicked king's command.
But Herod's slaughter of the little children was all in vain, as must be every attempt to fight against God. Herod thought that surely this royal child must be among those little dead bodies in Bethlehem, and that his throne was safe. But by that time the little Jesus was in Egypt, sleeping under one of its palm trees beside the river Nile, or looking with wide-open baby eyes upon the pyramids and the Sphinx, the wonderful works of ancient time, carved in stone.
Herod did not live long after this. He died full of years, full of wickedness, and suffering great pain. Then Joseph in Egypt dreamed again. The angel whom he had seen so many times before came once more and said to him:
"Joseph, you may now take the young child and his mother and go back to the land of the Jews, for those who sought to kill the child are dead and can do him no harm."
Then Joseph as before fastened a saddle on the ass and placed their possessions upon its back. The little family then set out upon its journey back to the land of Judea. The purpose of Joseph and Mary was to go back to Bethlehem, David's city, and there bring up this child whom they expected one day to sit on David's throne as King of Israel. But on the way they met other travelers and asked them:
"Who is now the King in Judea, since Herod is dead?" They said to Joseph:
"The king over Jerusalem and Judea is now Archelaus, the son of the old King Herod, and he is as wicked and as cruel as his father was before him."
This news made Joseph and Mary afraid to go to Bethlehem. They thought, "Perhaps King Archelaus may have heard of the child Jesus, and is watching for the chance to kill him."
They made up their mind not to go near Bethlehem or Jerusalem, but keeping away from the land ruled by Archelaus, to return to Nazareth, where both had lived before their marriage. So it came to pass that Jesus who was born in Bethlehem of Judea was brought up in Nazareth of Galilee.