“When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said…” (Matthew 2:13)
As I think about the second chapter of Matthew, my mind gravitates to the extraordinary things that are happening. Learned Magi following prophecy and the stellar call of God to find the new Messiah. Joseph having an angel tell him to leave…twice First Israel, then Egypt. God is speaking and asking some fairly drastic things. Yet without hesitation, it seems, the Magi and the family of Joseph respond affirmatively.
It isn’t just that they hear what God is asking them. They actually take the next step and act on it according to God’s plans. For the Magi this meant a mysterious travel. For Joseph and family this meant disruption and the great unknown of exile/return. They had the promise that all of this had to do with something good, but were still required to act on what they were told.
Herod’s story is similar, to a point. While an angel doesn’t appear to him, he does become aware of prophecy and believes it enough to act on it. Or at least believes its implications enough to act on it. Yet because it threatens him he doesn’t choose to go along with it or support the action of God in the world. Instead he tries his best to stop it. To end what is happening. To kill the newborn king. He tries to make his own way when God’s plan is moving in another direction.
For the Christian, it is important to know the will of God. While sometimes this can happen miraculously in moments of revelation, most of the time it comes through knowing God’s character as revealed in the Scripture and reflecting on it in the midst of the opportunities and difficulties posed by our existence.
A lot of times we know the righteous path, the healing path, the difficult path that God wants us to take. There’s no debate about that. It may save our lives (Joseph) or lead to a loss of our own power (Herod), but it is the will of God all the same. Choosing to follow it or fight against it? That’s the issue. While the wholesale slaughter of a village’s babies (i.e. Herod) may not be the result, our resistance to God can be born from the same impulse.
Knowing and listening to God is vital. But without then doing what God wants or going where God calls, having paid attention in the first place means very little.