Note on ‘Galilee of the Nations’

We’re studying Matthew in my church adult class, and this little tidbit came to me during the study, which seems to give some insight into why Jesus began His ministry in Galilee rather than Jerusalem.

Now when Jesus heard that John was delivered up to prison, He withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: The people who sat in darkness have seen a great Light, and upon those sitting in the region and shadow of death, Light has sprung up.

From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven has drawn near.

– Matthew 4:12-17

The context of Jesus’ message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near,” is closely related to the prophecy of “Galilee of the nations.”

Galilee was divided into two parts: upper and lower. The boundary dividing the two parts was roughly in an east-west line through the Sea of Galilee. The upper (northern) part was called “Galilee of the Nations” because this was where gentile invaders first entered Israel (see Jeremiah 1:13-15 for example), and gentile influence was felt strongly there. At the time of Christ, there were also Egyptians, Arabians, and Pheonecians living there. The gentiles influenced the Israelites in various way, including their speech (Matthew 26:73). As a result, Galileans were not held in high regard in Judea.

When Jesus preached His message, He was announcing a new invasion. He chose Galilee of the Nations because it was the appropriate place to begin this new invasion. His call to repent was a call for the people to cease their hostility against the new King and allow Him to rule.


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