The Holy Family had remained in Egypt until word came of Herod's death. This was to fulfill what the Lord had declared through the prophet: "I called my son out of Egypt."
For at this time, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said to him, "Rise up and take the child and his mother, and go with them to the land of Israel. For the men who threatened the child's life are dead." So he rose, took mother and child with him, and came to the land of Israel. Hearing, however, that Archelaus had succeeded his father Herod as king of Judea, he withdrew to the region of Galilee and there settled in the town of Nazareth, where he and Mary had been betrothed. This was to fulfill the words spoken through the prophets, "He shall be called a Nazarene."
Traveling north from Jerusalem, one must first pass through Samaria in order to reach Galilee. It is approximately 88 miles from Jerusalem to the small town of Nazareth which is situated about 15 miles west of the Sea of Galilee, and 20 miles east of the Mediterranean in Northern Palestine.
Nazareth is perched on the southern slope of the Mountains of Galilee, with a wide view over the Esdraelon Valley. Many different translations have been made of the name "Nazareth," but one writer declares the correct meaning was "guard place," due to its location on a hill. Another favors the meaning "shoot" such as a sprout of Jesse from the old prophecy. Other meanings mentioned are "watchtower," "flower," and "diadem." It seems to have been a name of unusual origin.
The present-day population of Nazareth is 25,000, much larger than it was in Biblical times, due mainly to the influx of pilgrims visiting shrines to the Holy Family. For many centuries after Jesus' time, Nazareth was passed from hand to foreign hand, until in 1620 the Franciscan Order gained permission to establish themselves in Palestine as guardians of the holy places. Can there be any significance that in this same year the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock? Shrines and churches have since been built, but the only one in Nazareth of certain authenticity is Mary's Well, also called the Fountain of Mary, or the Virgin's Fountain.
The town was too obscure to be mentioned in any of the Jewish writings of the times, the first notice of it being found in 200 A.D. In Jesus' time it was not much to boast of, as indicated by Philip's remark, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Its moderate, though subtropical climate with rainy winters and dry summers was favorable to vegetation, but the town had only one spring which had to be supplemented by cisterns. Green in spring, this plain became dry in summer, and was the threshing floor where the people of Nazareth tread out wheat and barley under the feet of their oxen, and winnowed grain in the evening breeze.
In present times it has been depleted by over-production and removal of trees during foreign occupation. But in former days olives, figs, pomegranates, almond and lemon trees intermingled with black cypresses in this fertile and flourishing valley. Women and girls would troop the path which leads to the well carrying pottery jars on their shoulders. Gray houses, square with flat roofs, spread out on the slope of the hills, up which the steep main street of Nazareth climbs. There were the workshops, the market, and the synagogue.
It was strictly a Jewish village, settled long before by the priestly family of Jappiziz, who had fled from Jerusalem upon the destruction of the Temple. The insignificance of the locality made it safe for Jesus to grow up there, helping about the shop where Joseph worked as a carpenter, till the time was ripe for his public work, and it is seen that the spiritual forces were at work for one hundred years preparing the town for his coming.
The New Testament does not give much information about Jesus from the time of his infancy to the beginning of his public ministry. Luke does report that "the child grew and became strong, full of wisdom; and the grace of God was upon him" (2:40) and shortly afterward he repeats that at the age of twelve Jesus was advancing "in wisdom and age and grace with God and men." (2:52)
The town of Nazareth was probably just a few miles off the trade route running north and south, though no definite historical record mentions this. The town commands one of the finest prospects in Palestine. Built on a height, it overlooks a vast region -- to the northward the verdant plain of Esdraelon with the white houses of Safed and Cana, the silver gleam of the Lake of Galilee, and the distant stretches of the Jordan. On the east the plains of Peraea form a continuous line broken by the far-off snow-capped mountain of Hermon. On the south is a clear view of the hills of Samaria, and the dome of Mt. Tabor with the dreary and parched Judean land beyond. On the west, the fine outline of Mt. Carmel with a gap giving a clear view of the Mediterranean.
How Jesus as a young boy must have sat on the Nazareth hills and gazed afar at all those gleaming prospects of distant adventure, though it is just as likely that he merely slipped out of his vehicle (body) and went to investigate. At any rate, he could watch the camel caravans winding their way toward Jerusalem. Many of them must have turned aside to Nazareth to drink from the well, or to rest for the night before going on their way, exchanging wondrous tales of the "outside world."
Life was simple for the majority of the population in those days, though less so for those who lived in the cities. Furniture was basic, with a crude bed which was ordinarily used as a couch during the day.
Dress was simple too, consisting of a pair of sandals, a long flowing gown, sometimes sleeveless, with a girdle worn during work or travel, a cloth for the head was sometimes held in place by a circlet, and an outer garment was often a blanket-like rectangular piece of cloth or cloak thrown over one shoulder and exposing the other. The clothing of the rich was usually highly ornamented, with fringes and tassels to remind the wearer of the Law as suggested in the Scripture, and with little tinkling bells.
Joseph was a fine-looking man, strong and casual, very much to be respected, wearing a dark beard, and clothing open at the throat. He would stand at a stone wheel, head back, sharpening his tools, as Mary came forth to draw water, she throwing first a scarf around the back of her head and over one shoulder. Such homely tasks of caring for the child and each other forged a warmth between them, and each regarding the other with profound affection.
Her husband stood as guard and bulwark between Mary and the harsher life outside, that she might retain great purity of heart and demeanor. His kindness and worldly experience acted as a buffer. While Mary drew water, the young Jesus sought to help her, taking a bright interest in her surroundings. Mary and Joseph would exchange proud glances at his advanced approach in everything -- proud, yet humble too, for in all things they deferred to God.
Mary did beautiful work with cloth, having learned it in the Temple where she had helped sew vestments for the priests, and had developed a keen eye for harmony of line and fit. She did fine work for a priest who lived in Nazareth, quietly bearing her goods along the quaint streets with overhead arches, to the stone house with its courtyard where she dwelt.
In return, she received, along with some remittance, a blessing for her family, which to her was even more precious.
The life of Mary is a perfect type-pattern for all women in the world whether their station be high or low. Mary was the perfect householder as she was also the supreme Initiate among women. Never idle, she was scrupulous in all her menial duties and when these were finished she prepared wool and linen garments for the poor. During these hours of strenuous outer activity her mind was constantly centered upon God and His glory, and on prayers for others. Because both Joseph and Mary had aspired to remain Temple Initiates, all the purity and sanctity of Temple life was incorporated in the sanctuary-home which they established in Nazareth.
There was a white fire of spirit burning within Mary as there was within Jesus. But she was sent to give birth to him, not to preach openly. He was Adam, and she was Eve. He had died many times and had come again to die once and for all for every- one, to free man from his error; and she also had agreed to this.