Galilee of the Gentiles – Monday after Epiphany – Matthew 4:12-17, 23-25

The text of today is preceded by the temptation of Christ in the wilderness. Here we are at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He leaves Nazareth and settles in Capernaum, a busy fishing and trading centre on the Sea of Galilee. Zebulun and Naphtali are northern provinces (once tribes) and Capernaum is in Naphtali while Nazareth is in Zebulun. These provinces fell to the Assyrian KingTiglath-pileser III in 732 B.C., a full decade before the fall of the other provinces. Some might accuse Jesus of withdrawing to Galilee lest he share John’s fate, but Galilee is ruled by the same Herod Antipas who arrested John, so Jesus cannot escape danger there. Matthew makes it clear that Jesus goes to Galilee as a fulfilment of prophecy (v. 14).

Galilee was small geographically but had a large population; approximately 204 towns with populations of 15,000 or more people according to the historian Josephus. This provides opportunity for many people to hear Jesus’ message. Most of Jesus’ ministry will take place in Galilee.  Almost all of his teaching and healing ministries will take place in Galilee.  

One might wonder why Galilee is referred to as “Galilee of the Gentiles”. Galilee was considered by some as a contemptuous place especially by the religious elite of Jerusalem in the south. The scrupulous people of Judea held Galileans in disdain. When Nathanael asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46), his question reflected a general low opinion of Galilee and Galileans, half pagan in cult, and bilingual and the people spoke Greek as well as Aramaic.

When the Israelites first settled in Canaan, God said, “When you cross over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, destroy all their figured stones, destroy all their cast images, and demolish all their high places” (Numbers 33:51-52). However, Naphtali, Asher, and Zebulun (three of the five tribes that settled Galilee) failed to drive out the Gentiles, but instead dwelled in their midst (Judges 1:30-33).

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