This is a true story. You may already know about these two parents and child.
Many refugees have experienced these difficulties which, even today, occur in our world.
In the middle of the night they received a warning to leave their home at once.
The government’s forces were on their way to arrest and kill them.
The parents were frightened and immediately picked up and hugged their sleeping child. They quickly began packing for their escape.
As it turned out, they left town just in the nick of time.
There was enough light in the bright, starry-night sky to help them find their way out of the city.
The husband decided to use the back roads and paths through the countryside instead of the main roads. He figured the government’s troops soon would search the major trade routes looking for them.
The fact that they had done no wrong and broke no laws did not mean anything when the government’s dictator and his henchmen decided to kill their baby. Even though they were born there and were citizens, they had no rights in the authoritarian leader’s eyes.
They could expect no justice from judges in the government – which its tyrant appointed and totally controlled by using fear and military force.
So, this little family left home as fast as they could. The mother was scared as she held her dozing 18-month-old boy closely and walked swiftly next to her husband.
Soon, she gained courage from watching her child’s peacefulness. She suddenly realized this child was so special and admired by God that he would not allow the innocent boy to be harmed.
Their donkey hauled their meager food and few clothes which they had hastily loaded on its back.
Wrapped and hidden within those clothes were three valuable gifts which included some gold coins. Earlier that evening, one of the generous visitors from distant foreign lands had surprised them with this valuable gift.
Hopefully, their three precious gifts of gold, valuable frankincense, and myrrh resin now would help them to survive the long, dangerous road and days of travel ahead of them.
They had to leave everything behind now - their home, including furnishings, dishes and wood working tools. They had to go quickly.
After about an hour of travelling over rocky paths they stopped to drink some water from a jug loaded on the donkey’s back.
As they paused and looked back towards their town which was set on top of a hill, they were horrified. Several fires were burning against the darkened sky. They had hoped that their departure would spare townspeople from such terror and suffering.
Sadly, the government’s soldiers were aggressively inflicting punishment on the town and started burning homes of any resistance anyway.
Like most refugees, they had narrowly escaped death. Had Jesus, Mary and Joseph stayed in Bethlehem, their baby would have been murdered by the soldiers of the Roman-appointed tyrant, King Herod, who liked to be called “Herod The Great.”
In his anger and rage, he had ordered his troops to kill all boys two-years-old or younger on that night. He wanted to eliminate any political annoyance of a “Messiah” or religious “Savior” being born there.
Herod found out about the birth of this special child from the well-meaning Magi travelers who were searching for him. They had brought their gifts for the new-born King of the Jews.
Thinking that the current King would know about this religious prophecy, they told him about the star they had followed to Jerusalem.
First, Herod confirmed the prophecy in the scriptures, and then encouraged the Magi to search Bethlehem and let him know when the baby was found so he could also worship him.
When Herod found out the Magi had decided not to return to tell him they had found the child, Herod showed his true intentions – to murder the little boy and all who were his age to be sure to include him.
Today’s Biblical scholars estimate that his soldiers murdered more than 20 male children and anybody who tried to stop them. These children were innocent victims who died because they were born around the town.
The surviving older children and the adults would later suffer years of traumatic memories of that massacre. The concealed daggers and weapons of the townspeople who tried to defend their children were no match for Roman-made swords and spears.
This little family who had just escaped trembled with fear again as they looked back at Bethlehem – fear for themselves and for their former neighbors.
But what could they do now? If they did not successfully escape, the townspeople might be persecuted and suffer even more after their capture.
They figured that the soldiers would pursue them as well as the gift-bearing, Magi visitors who escaped using the eastern desert route.
They also realized that when the morning light appeared, the military’s cavalry would come galloping across the valley to capture any fleeing refugees. So, they had to continue onward to find a cave in which to hide before the breaking of the dawn.
Together, this husband and wife bowed their heads in prayer and quickly begged God for help for their neighbors and for their protection and for courage.
When finished, the husband turned and immediately led them southward as he was told by an angel in his dream.
Perhaps because of the rocky ground, their tracks and path of escape would not be found by the government’s scouts and spies in the morning.
They walked as quietly as they could, passing small herds of sheep in the fields. Amazingly neither the sheep nor their donkey made any vocal sounds – it was a quiet passage.
Meanwhile, shepherds and their normally vigilant sheep dogs continued their sleep in those silent, peaceful hours after midnight. No one saw them. Quite unusual.
After they successfully passed through the grazing grass of the valley, both took a deep breath and continued towards Egypt.
Just before dawn, they found a cave in a hill which would allow them to hide should the Roman soldiers of King Herod come searching for them. The cave also allowed them to get some much-needed sleep – they were exhausted from the arduous over-night escape.
When they awoke later, a new concern came to mind which they nervously whispered to each other. If they made it through this journey, would the country over the border, Egypt, allow them entry?
After all, they were refugees. They could speak very little of the language of that country, and their religious beliefs were entirely different from those of the majority.
They could learn the new language, but knew they would never consider changing their religion. Their Jewish Faith was handed down to them by generations of their ancestors before them who had suffered greatly because of their belief in their One God and their prayers and practices.
They fearfully looked at each other and instantly knew each other’s thoughts. They fell to their knees again and silently prayed for God’s help, courage and guidance.
Now, their child started to awake. Mary gently rocked the young Jesus, hoping to keep her child quiet. Joseph gave some water to the donkey from their water jug.
They left the cave the next night when they were sure no soldiers were near-by.
As they made their way south, they bought food and water from local farmers during the daytime. However, they ate and stayed overnight in the fields. They avoided questions about their journey or origin.
This little family walked more than 250 miles over the following weeks before they finally came to the border between Palestine’s Idumean province and Egypt.
The daytime border guards there usually required an entry payment, even from dust-covered peasants.
Luckily, news spread slowly in that era, and there was no military order to detain one small family.
Anyway, the tax collectors and soldiers on the borders were focused on extracting customs money from rich traders passing through with their goods. The few coins they would collect from this family would go to the border guards’ personal use to supplement their poor pay.
Before arriving at the border outpost, Joseph quietly took out a few gold coins from one of the gift boxes they had received from their Magi visitors.
He then negotiated a while with the guards; otherwise, the guards and tax collectors might become suspicious of how much gold they carried with them and try to rob them. Finally, these humble, courteous travelers received permission to pass onward to the Egyptian border town.
As soon as they bought some food and water, they left town to eat later.
They were apprehensive and did not want to draw attention from the Egyptians in town. Some people felt contempt for refugees who might take their jobs – but did like when they spent their money there. Yet, some other friendly Egyptians welcomed and received refugees openly.
At the edge of town, they me
The food they had purchased was expensive but smelled fresh and tasted good. Mary prepared their meal with care and in their tradition. It was their first Sabbath meal inside a house since they began their flight to Egypt.
They had faith, and although house-less, they were not home-less. Their true home always was the presence of each other and their God. Home was where they were and where they travelled.
This Sabbath meal energized them for the remainder of their trip. This was a day of true rest, joy and celebration as they prayed their thanksgiving prayers to God.
Not knowing anyone else in Egypt, they continued to wander from town to town. Finally, they found a city with a large Jewish enclave where they could be at ease among their own people, speak their own language and observe their Sabbaths and prayers together. They were ecstatic and amazed when at last they experienced such religious freedom.
Joseph was a carpenter and builder; he knew there would always be a need for a good craftsman. This city needed his skills and in a short time his family mingled with its citizens to become productive visitors in this new land.
Just as he had done in Nazareth and Bethlehem, Joseph worked hard. The carpenter’s shop he opened became a successful small business serving the needs of the Egyptian townspeople and the area farmers. His business grew and finally he could hire and train local people to help with the work.
Mary took good care of their home and baby boy under difficult circumstances. But like all refugees she just focused on survival.
Political and religious refugees who had to flee to Egypt were grateful that the country accepted them and provided them with some freedoms.
The Jewish immigrants added to the economy because most worked hard and long hours at little wages that just paid for their housing, food, and supplies.
They enjoyed the limited freedoms they had now in Egypt. This continued to surprise them whenever they considered in awe that over 1,500 years before, God helped their Jewish ancestors, through Moses, to exodus from their slavery and submission to the early pharaohs.
Like the history of Israel, Egypt was later conquered by the Greeks and then the Romans.
Joseph and Mary trusted God that someday, they would return to Israel, a land they believed God promised to their ancestors. They yearned to return to their quiet town of Nazareth where they first met and were betrothed to become husband and wife.
They had experienced the high of being parents, and the low of being refugees.
The Bible tells us that the child Jesus grew in wisdom and strength.
Indeed, this little refugee boy did that, and more ….
Reference: Biblical account of The Massacre of the Innocents is found at Matthew Chapter 2
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