Matthew 2:19–22 (ESV) — 19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” 21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee.
I like the habitual and the familiar. I like formulas. Uniformity. Especially in life, I like to know how things work. I like the predictable. But life isn’t always like that, and this is also true in our life with Christ.
If you are anything like me, you may want to have God and His ways kind of figured out too. In each situation, God will do X, and I can live in the comfort that “this is how it works.” Except when it doesn’t. And a good case in point is from this interesting part of the narrative of the early life of Jesus.
We all know the basic facts of this part of the account. When the Wise men from the East appeared seeking the one who was born “King of the Jews” they went first to King Herod. Herod, who never missing an opportunity to suspect that others wanted his power and position, tried to trick the Wise men into coming back to tell him who and where this newborn King was. But God warned them in a dream. And hightailing it out of town by another route, Herod’s plan to eliminate his possible opponent was foiled. So he tried again. This time more brutally. He had all the boys under the age of 2 born within a certain region killed, figuring he’d eliminate all possible contenders. He was wrong.
Once again, God stepped in and warned Joseph by an angel in a dream to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt. And they remained there until once again – by angelic direction – Joseph was told he should return to Israel. That is, until he heard that Herod’s son now sat in his father’s former throne. At this point Joseph was scared. And the plan was modified.
Now I went through all that to say this: The first warning to flee came from an angel without anything prior on Joseph’s part. But this warning appears to come on the heels of Joseph’s concern over Herod’s son now being in power.
Here’s the point: Though there are times when God intervenes without our being aware of the danger ourselves, there are also times when our concerns are the trip wire to God’s intervention. I would guess that Joseph’s concern was probably expressed in prayer, and that the angel was sent in response. The point being, we cannot reduce our walk with Him to formulaic expectations. Our walk with God is dynamic, fluid, and meant to be lived out – not mechanically, but in a living way. Sometimes God just acts. Sometimes He acts in direct response to prayer. Because He acts sovereignly at times is no reason to neglect prayer, and because He responds to prayer is no reason to doubt His watchful care at all times. Both are realities we wondrously live in the light of.
He is a good God, but a living one – one who acts and interacts with us in real time. Trust Him, and seek Him. We need to do both.