Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Land of Zebulun and Naphtali See a Great Light - Matthew 4:12-16 Bible Commentary

Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
"The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people dwelling in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
on them a light has dawned."
(Matthew 4:12-16)
With Jesus' departure to Capernaum, we see that His very steps were prophesied long beforehand. Indeed, this is true for many of our Saviour's travels. Matthew has already told us of the prophecy of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:5-6), His flight to Egypt (Matthew 2:15), and His return to Nazareth (Matthew 2:23).

Jesus, having been baptized and having stood against Satan's temptations, now begins His ministry. Interestingly, He does not launch His ministry in the great city of Jerusalem, but instead in Capernaum— in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali.

These lands were among the first to be taken in the Assyrian invasions of Israel (compare 2 Kings 15:29 to 17:6). This would explain why they are referred to as "Galilee of the Gentiles". Darkness had lain over these lands longer than any other in Israel. Doubtless, these northern regions of Galilee were home to many non-Jews. Yet, by God's grace, those who were the first to face the Assyrian invasion were also among the first to see light again.

The prophecy Matthew quotes comes from Isaiah 9, a chapter which contains many such Messianic prophecies. Many of these prophecies have yet to be fulfilled, such as that "the government shall be upon his shoulder" (Isaiah 9:6). And, while it may be true that the Jews in lands of Zebulun and Naphtail saw the light with their eyes, sadly, their hearts were not enlightened.

In Matthew 11, Jesus singles out three towns in Naphtali for rejecting the light: Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. Even though most of Jesus mighty works were done in these areas, the people within them generally did not repent (Matthew 11:20). They rejected their Messiah. Jesus specifically said concerning Capernaum, "And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day" (Matthew 11:23).

Let this be a lesson for us. Let us never be content to merely see the Light with our eyes. We must not be content to merely look with interest upon Jesus Christ. We must make sure that our hearts are penetrated by His truth. If our hearts are not transformed by it, we are no better than those residents of Capernaum who saw the Light, but then hardened their hearts in their blindness.

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