“Philip found Nathanael and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.
’‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ Nathanael asked.” (John 1:45-46)
Being the son of a migrant refugee (a “wog”), and having attended a fairly rough public high school in the Western Suburbs of Sydney, I experienced a mild but definite prejudice in my youth from many of those I met from the wealthier, more “pure bred,” parts of the city. Snobbery about where one lives and to which class one belongs is nothing new. In Jesus’ day, it was far better to have an address in southern Israel than in the northern region of Galilee. And although Jesus had been born in Bethlehem (in the south), he lived most of his life in the Galilean town of Nazareth (in the north). And in the view of Nathaniel and a good many others, that could not be a good thing.
Why was this the case? About 800 years before Jesus was born the northern tribes of Israel in the Galilee were taken into captivity by the Assyrians and dispersed throughout their Empire. These are the so-called 10 lost tribes of Israel. Israelite tribes like Zebulun and Naphtali vanished from history. After the Assyrian invasion and deportation, the despoiled population of Galilee that remained inter-married with other local peoples, and became a mongrel-breed known and despised by other Jews as, “Samaritans.” Even full-blooded Jews (like Jesus) who lived in the Galilee were considered racially and socially suspect.
The Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day shared these prejudices of the general population. “Look into it”, they argued to a supporter of Jesus, “and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee” (John 7:50). They were wrong. Their prejudice had blinded them to the fact that the prophet Jonah had come from Galilee (2 Kings 14:25). This was an important signpost to Jesus they were missing.
You see, all eyes looked for the Messiah to come from Bethlehem in southern Israel…respectable Israel, pure Israel…not the badlands of Galilee, the skid row of Israel, Israel’s “hood”. Bethlehem had been King David’s hometown in the reputable tribal lands of Judah.
But God had other plans and in an amazing piece of prophecy written hundreds of years earlier Isaiah 9 tells us:
“But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles.
The people who walk in darkness
Will see a great light:
Those who live in a dark land,
The light will shine on them.
…For unto us a child will be born
unto us a son is given;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”
Can anything good come from Nazareth? Why only the ‘Prince of Peace’ himself! And just as the earlier Galilean prophet, Jonah, was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish as a future signpost, so too Jesus was three days and three nights in the belly of the earth (Matthew 12:40).
For Prayer and Reflection: Meditate on the titles given to the Messiah in Isaiah 9 (above). Praise God for the wonder of His Word, and for giving us signposts and keeping His biblical promises.
For Further Reading: Isaiah 9