- EASTERN WISE-MEN, OR MAGI, VISIT JESUS, THE NEW-BORN KING. (Jerusalem and Bethlehem, B.C. 4.) Matthew 2:1-12
- Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. It lies five miles south by west of Jerusalem, a little to the east of the road to Hebron. Itoccupies part of the summit and sides of a narrow limestone ridge whichshoots out eastward from the central chains of the Judean mountains,and breaks down abruptly into deep valleys on the north, south, andeast. Its old name, Ephrath, meant "the fruitful". Bethlehem means"house of bread". Its modern name, Beitlaham, means "house of meat". Itwas the home of Boaz and Ruth, of Jesse and David. The modern towncontains about five hundred houses, occupied by Greek-churchChristians. Over the rock-hewn cave which monks point out as the stablewhere Christ was born, there stands a church built by the EmpressHelena, A.D. 325-327, which is the oldest monument to Christ known tomen. Bethlehem was a suitable birthplace for a spiritual king; assuitable as Rome would have been a temporal king. We do not know whenthe town received its name, nor by whom the name was given, but as Godhad chosen it as the birthplace of Jesus for many centuries before theincarnation, he may have caused it to be named Bethlehem, or "house ofbread", with prophetic reference to Him who is the "Bread of Life".
- Of Judaea. Called thus to distinguish it from Bethlehem of Zebulon ( Joshua 19:15 ).
- In the days. It is difficult to determine the exact year of Christ's birth. Dionysus the Small, an abbot at Rome in A.D. 526,published an Easter cycle, in which he fixed the birth of Christ inthe year 754 of the city of Rome (A.U.C.). This date has been followedever since. But Jesus was born before the death of Herod, and Josephusand Dion Cassius fix the death of Herod in the year 750 A.U.C. Heroddied that year. just before the Passover, and shortly after an eclipseof the moon, which took place on the night between the 12th and 13thof March. Jesus was born several months previous to the death ofHerod, either toward the end of the year 749 A.U.C. (B.C. 5) or at thebeginning of the year 750 (B.C. 4).
- Of Herod. This man was born at Ascalon, B.C. 71, and died at Jericho, A.D. 4. His father was an Edomite, and his mother anIshmaelite. He was a man of fine executive ability and dauntlesscourage, but was full of suspicion and duplicity, and his reign wasstained by acts of inhuman cruelty. He enlarged and beautified thetemple at Jerusalem, and blessed his kingdom by many other importantpublic works. See Luke 1:5.
- The King. The life of Herod will be found in Josephus' Antiquities, Books 14-17. He was not an independent monarch, but a king subject tothe Roman Empire.
- Wise men. The word designates an order, or caste, of priests and philosophers (called magi), which existed in the countries east of theEuphrates, from a very remote period. We first find the word inScripture at Jeremiah 39:13 , in the name "rab-mag", which signifieschief magi. This class is frequently referred to in the Book of Daniel,where its members are called magicians, and it is probable that Danielhimself was a rab-mag ( Daniel 5:11 ). The order is believed to havearisen among the Chaldeans and to have come down through the Assyrian,Medean, and Persian kingdoms. The magi were, in many ways, the Levitesof the East; they performed all public religious rites, claimedexclusive mediatorship between God and man, were the authority on alldoctrinal points, constituted the supreme council of the realm, and hadcharge of the education of the royal family. The practiced divination,interpreted auguries and dreams, and professed to foretell thedestinies of men. They were particularly famous for their skill inastronomy, and had kept a record of the more important celestialphenomena, which dated back several centuries prior to the reign ofAlexander the Great. They were probably originally honest seekers aftertruth, but degenerated into mere impostors, as the Bible record shows( Acts 8:9-11 ; Acts 13:8 ). Nothing is said as to the number who came nor asto the country whence they came. The number and quality of the giftshave become the foundation for a tradition that they were three kingsfrom Arabia, and during the Middle Ages it was professed that theirbodies were found and removed to the cathedral at Cologne. Theirshrine is still shown there to credulous travelers, and their names aregiven as Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar.
- From the east. Probably from Persia, the chief seat of the Median religion. Jews dwelling in Persian provinces among the Parthians,Medes, and Elamites ( Acts 2:9 ) may have so prepared the minds of themagi as to set them looking for the star of Bethlehem. But in additionto the knowledge carried by captive Israelites, the men of the East hadother light. The great Chinese sage, Confucius (B.C. 551-479), foretolda coming Teacher in the West, and Zoroaster, the founder of the Persianreligion, who is thought to have been a contemporary of Abraham, hadpredicted the coming of a great, supernaturally begotten Prophet. Tothese Balaam had added his prophecy ( Numbers 24:17 ). Moreover, theSeptuagint translation made at Alexandria about 280 B.C. had renderedthe Old Testament Scriptures into Greek, the language of commerce andhad carried the knowledge of Hebrew prophecy into all lands, and hadwakened a slight but world-wide expectation of a Messiah. The Romanwriters, Suetonius (70-123 A.D.) and Tacitus (75-125 A.D.) bear witnessto this expectation that a great world-ruling king would come out ofJudea. But all this put together cannot account for the visit of themagi. They were guided directly by God, and nothing else may have eveninfluenced them.
- Came to Jerusalem. They naturally sought for the ruler of the state at the state's capital. They came to Jerusalem after Jesus had beenpresented in the temple, and taken back to Bethlehem, and, therefore,when the infant Jesus was more than forty days old. They must havecome at least forty days before the death of Herod, for he spent thelast forty days of his life at Jericho and the baths of Callirrhoe;but the wise men found him still at Jerusalem. Jesus must, therefore,have been at least eighty days old when Herod died.
2:2 Where is he1 that is born King of the Jews2? for we saw3 his star4 in the east5, and are come6 to worship him7.
- Where is he. They seem to have expected to find all Jerusalem knowing and worshiping this new-born King. Their disappointment isshared by many modern converts from heathendom who visit so-calledChristian countries, and are filled with astonishment and sadness atthe ignorance and unbelief which they discover.
- That is born King of the Jews. These words were calculated to startle Herod, who was by birth neither king nor Jew. This title wasaccorded to Jesus by Pilate, who wrote it in his inscription, andcaused it to be placed over the head of Christ upon the cross. Nonehas borne the title since; so Jesus has stood before the world fornearly two thousand years as the last and only king of the Jews. Theking of the Jews was the prophetically announced ruler of all men.
- For we saw. Those in the pagan darkness of the East rejoiced in the star. It was as "a light that shineth in a dark place" ( 2 Peter 1:19 ).But those in Jerusalem appear not to have seen it, and certainlyignored it.
- His star. The great astronomer Kepler, ascertaining that there was a conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn in 747 A.U.C., towhich conjunction the planet Mars was also added in the year 748,suggested that this grouping of stars may have formed the so-calledstar of Bethlehem. But this theory is highly improbable; for theseplanets never appeared as one star, for they were never nearer to eachother than double the apparent diameter of the moon. Moreover, themagi used the word "aster" (star), not "astron" (a group of stars).Again, the action of the star of Bethlehem forbids us to think that itwas any one of the heavenly bodies. It was a specially preparedluminous orb moving toward Bethlehem as a guiding sign, and restingover the house of Joseph as an identifying index.
- In the east. The magi were in the east; the star was in the west.
- And are come. If the reign of Edomite Herod began to fulfill the first part of Jacob's prophecy by showing the departure of the scepterfrom Judah ( Genesis 49:10 ), the coming of the Gentile magi began thefulfillment of the second part by becoming the firstfruits of thegathering of the people.
- To worship him. Was their worship a religious service or a mere expression of reverence for an earthly king? More likely the former.If so, the boldness with which they declared their purpose to worshipproved them worthy of the benediction of Him who afterwards said, "Andblessed is [he], to whom I shall not give cause to stumble"( Luke 7:23 ).
2:3 And when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him2.
- When Herod the king had heard it. His evil heart, full of suspicions of all kinds, caused him to keep Jerusalem full of spies; so thatknowledge of the magi soon reached his ears.
- He was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Herod was troubled because his succession to the throne was threatened, and Jerusalem wastroubled because it dreaded a conflict between rival claimants for thethrone. A short time before this, certain Pharisees had predicted that"God had decreed that Herod's government should cease, and hisprosperity should be deprived of it". In consequence, six thousandPharisees had refused to take the oath of allegiance to Herod, and agreat commotion had ensued (Josephus 17:2,4). Herod was determined tomaintain his rule at any cost. To secure himself against the claims ofthe house of the Maccabees, he had slain five of its princes andprincesses, including his favored wife Mariamne, thus extirpating thatline of pretenders. Of course, prophecy predicted that Messiah shouldhave the kingdom; but Herod's sinful heart hoped that these prophecieswould not be fulfilled in his own time. Modern Herods know concerningChrist's second coming, but hope that it will be postponed till theirown career is finished. Modern Jerusalemites prefer their Herods withpeace to Messiah with revolution. Multitudes rest under the dominionof Satan, because they fear the revolutionary conflict and strugglenecessary to enthrone the Christ in his stead. Christ is the peace ofthe righteous, the trouble of the wicked. Imperfect knowledge of himtroubles, but perfect knowledge and love cast out fear ( 1 John 4:18 ).
2:4 And gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people1, he inquired of them2 where the Christ3 should be born4.
- All the chief priests and scribes of the people. This is one of several expressions which designate the whole of or a portion of theSanhedrin or Jewish court. This body consisted of 71 or 72 members,divided into three classes; namely, chief priest, scribes, or lawyers,and elders, or men of age and reputation among the people. TheSanhedrin was probably formed in imitation of the body of eldersappointed to assist Moses ( Numbers 11:16 ). It is thought to have beeninstituted after the Babylonian captivity. As the scribes transcribedthe Scriptures, they were familiar with their contents, and wellskilled in their interpretation.
- He inquired of them. Herod shows that common but strange mixture of regard and contempt for the Word of God which makes men anxious toknow its predictions, that they may form their plans to defeat him.The first inquirers for Jesus were shepherds, the second were wisemen, the third was a king, the fourth were scribes and priests. Hewakens inquiry among all classes; but each uses a different means ofresearch. The shepherds are directed by angels; the wise men by astar; the scribes by Scriptures; the king by counselors.
- Where the Christ. The fact that these foreigners came thus wondrously guided, coupled with the fact that the King they sought wasone by birth (David's line having been so long apparently extinct),led Herod to the conclusion that this coming King could be none otherthan the Messiah.
- Should be born. Thus by light from different sources, king and priests and people were informed of the fact that Messiah was newlyborn into the world, and the very time and place of his birth werebrought to notice. God gave them the fact, and left them to make suchuse of it as they would.
2:5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem1 of Judaea: for thus it is written through the prophet,
- In Bethlehem. It was generally known that Christ should be born in Bethlehem ( John 7:42 ). The very body or court which officiallyannounced the birthplace of Jesus subsequently condemned him to deathas an impostor.
2:6 And thou Bethlehem1, land of Judah, art in no wise least among the princes of Judah: for out of thee shall come forth a governor, who shall be shepherd of my people Israel.
- And thou Bethlehem, etc. The quotation is taken from Micah 5:2-4 , but freely translated. The translation sets the words of Micah in thelanguage of the times of Herod, and therefore resembles some of ourmodern attempts at Biblical revision. The use which the scribes made ofthis prophecy is very important, for it shows that the Jews originallyregarded this passage of Scripture as fixing the birthplace of Messiah,and condemns as a fruit of bigotry and prejudice the modern effort ofcertain rabbis to explain away this natural interpretation.
2:7 Then Herod privily called the Wise-men1, and learned of them exactly2 what time the star appeared.
- Then Herod privily called the Wise-men. Herod did not wish to give the infant claimant the honor and prestige of an open and avowedconcern about him. Moreover, had he openly professed a desire toworship the new King, all Jerusalem would have been conscious of hishypocrisy, and some would have found it hard to keep silent.
- And learned of them exactly. Though Herod sought Christ from improper motives, yet he used the best methods. He asked aid of thoseversed in the Scriptures, and also of those proficient in science.
- What time the star had appeared. That he might ascertain, if possible, exactly on what night Christ had been born.
2:8 And he sent them to Bethlehem1, and said, Go and search out exactly concerning the young child; and when ye have found [him,] bring me word, that I also may come and worship him2.
- And he sent them to Bethlehem. Thus answering their question asked in Matthew 2:2 .
- That I also may come and worship him. His meaning was, That I may come with my Judas kiss to betray and to destroy. Duplicity was a well-known characteristic of Herod. He had Astribulus, the high priest,drowned by his companions while bathing, though they seemed to be onlyducking him in sport. In this case Herod concealed fraud beneath anappearance of piety. Religion is one of the favorite masks of the devil( 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 ). It is as hard for the ambitious to avoid hypocrisyas it is for the rich to shun avarice.
2:9 And they, having heard the king, went their way1; and lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them2, till it came and stood3 over where the young child was4.
- And they, having heard the king, went their way. No scribes were with them. The scribes were content with the "theory" as to the placeof Christ's birth, but desired no practical knowledge of the Babehimself.
- And lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them. Guiding them.
- Till it came and stood. Thus stopping them.
- Over where the young child was. A real or ordinary star would have stood indiscriminately over every house in Bethlehem, and would havebeen no aid whatever toward finding the right child. For planets tostand over any place, they must be in the zenith and have an altitudeof 90 degrees. This star, therefore, could not have been a conjunctionof planets, for their altitude at Bethlehem is 57 degrees, and seenthat this angle they would have led the magi on down into Africa. Themagi were undoubtedly favored with a special revelation as to the Babeand the star. It was probably given in a dream similar to that spokenof in Matthew 2:12 . The star, as one of the temporary incidentals ofChristianity, faded away; but the Sun of righteousness which took itsplace in the spiritual firmament shines on, and shall shine onforever.
2:10 And when they saw the star, they rejoiced1 with exceeding great joy2.
- And when they saw the star, they rejoiced. A comfort restored is a comfort multiplied.
- With exceeding great joy. The return of the star assured them that God would lead them safely and surely to the object of theirdesires. Their joy was such as comes to those who come from seasons ofdark doubt to the glories of light and faith. The star enabled themto find Jesus without asking questions, and bringing such publicattention to him as would aid Herod in preventing his escape. Sincethe magi were guided by a star, they were forced to enter Bethlehem bynight, and this contributed to the privacy of their coming and thesafety of Jesus.
2:11 And they came into the house 1and saw the young child with Mary his mother2; and they fell down3 and worshipped him4; and opening their treasures they offered unto him gifts5, gold and frankincense6 and myrrh7.
- And they came into the house. The humble house of the carpenter might have shook their faith in the royalty of the son, but themiraculous honors accorded him in the star and the Scripture raised himin their estimation above all the humiliation of externalcircumstances.
- And saw the young child with Mary his mother. She was the only attendant in this King's retinue--the retinue of him who became poorthat we, out of his poverty, might be made rich.
- And they fell down. The usual Oriental method of showing either reverence or worship.
- And worshipped him. It is safe to think that the manner in which they had been led to Jesus caused them to worship him as divine. Theirlong journey and their exuberant joy at its success indicate that theysought more than the great king of a foreign nation. The God who ledthem by a star would hardly deny them full knowledge as to the objectof their quest. Had their worship been mere reverence, Mary would, nodoubt, have been included in it. We should note their faith. They hadknown Christ but one day; he had performed no miracles; he had noneother to do him homage; he was but a helpless Babe, yet they fell downand worshiped him. Their faith is told for a memorial of them. Theyworshiped him not as one who must win his honors; but as one alreadyinvested with them. When we come to Christ, let us come to worship, notto patronize, not to employ him for sectarian uses, not to use him asan axiom on which to base some vapid theological speculation.
- And opening their treasures they offered unto him gifts. Oriental custom requires that an inferior shall approach his superior with agift. These gifts probably contributed to the sustenance of the parentsand the child while in Egypt.
- Frankincense. A white resin or gum obtained by slitting the bark of the Arbor thuris. The best is said to come from Persia. It is alsoa product of Arabia. It is very fragrant when burned.
- Myrrh. It is also obtained from a tree in the same manner as frankincense. The tree is similar to the acacia. It grows from eightto ten feet high, and is thorny. It is found in Egypt, Arabia, andAbyssinia. "Myrrh" means bitterness. The gum was chiefly used inembalming dead bodies, as it prevented putrefaction. It was also usedin ointments, and for perfume; and as an anodyne [a medicine thatrelieves pain] it was sometimes added to wine.
2:12 And being warned [of God] in a dream that they should not return to Herod,1 they departed into their own country another way2.
- And being warned [of God] in a dream that they should not return to Herod. This suggests that as they came by night, so they were arousedand caused to depart by night, that their coming and going might, in noway, betray the whereabouts of the infant King.
- They departed into their own country another way. They took the road from Bethlehem to Jericho, and this passed eastward withoutreturning to Jerusalem.
2:13 Now when they were departed1, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt3, and be thou there until I tell thee: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him4.
- FLIGHT INTO EGYPT AND SLAUGHTER OF THE BETHLEHEM CHILDREN. (Bethlehem and Road thence to Egypt, B.C. 4.) Matthew 2:13-18
- Now when they were departed. The text favors the idea that the arrival and departure of the magi and the departure of Joseph forEgypt, all occurred in one night. If so, the people of Bethlehem knewnothing of these matters.
- Arise . . . and flee. This command calls for immediate departure.
- Into Egypt. This land was ever the refuge of Israel when fleeing from famine and oppression. One hundred miles in a direct linefrom Bethlehem would carry Joseph well over the border of Egypt. Twohundred miles would bring him to the river Nile. In Egypt he wouldfind friends, possibly acquaintances. There were at that time aboutone million Jews in the Nile valley. In Alexandria, a city of 300,000,from one-fifth to two-fifths of the population were Jews, two of thefive wards being given over to them; and the Talmud describes how, inits great synagogue, all the men of like craft or trade sat together.Thus Joseph might there find fellow-craftsmen, as did Paul in Corinth( Acts 18:3 ).
- For Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. Thus joy at the honor of the magi's visit and worship gives place to terror at thewrath of Herod. The quiet days at Bethlehem are followed by a night offear and flight. The parents of Jesus were experiencing thoseconflicting joys and sorrows which characterize the lives of all whohave to do with Christ ( Mark 10:30 ; 2 Timothy 3:12 ).
2:14 And he arose and took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt1;
- And departed into Egypt. What a criticism upon Israel when Egypt, the house of bondage, the seat of tyranny, the land of the immemorialenemies of God's people, was regarded as a place of refuge from itsruler. Jesus was saved by flight. God invariably prefers the ordinaryto the extraordinary means.
2:15 and was there until the death of Herod1: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord2 through the prophet3, saying, Out of Egypt did I call my son4.
- And was there until the death of Herod. As Herod died soon after the flight to Egypt, the sojourn of the family of Jesus in that landmust have been brief, for they returned after his death.
- Which was spoken by the Lord. The message is the Lord's, the words and voice are the prophets.
- Through the prophet. See Hosea 11:1 .
- Out of Egypt did I call my son. This prophecy, no doubt, had a primary reference to the Exodus, and was an echo of the words of Mosesat Exodus 4:22 Exodus 4:23 . In their type and antitype relationship the Old andNew Testaments may be likened to the shell and kernel of a nut. Israelwas Israel, and God's Son, because it included in itself the yetunformed and unborn body which was later to be inhabited by the spiritof the Word or Son of God. The seed of Abraham was called out of Egypt,that the promised seed enveloped within it might have a body and natureprepared in the land of liberty, and not in that of bondage. Israel wasthe outer shell, and Christ the kernel, hence the double significanceof the prophecy--the twice repeated movement of the nation and the Man.
2:16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the Wise-men1, was exceeding wroth2, and sent forth3, and slew4 all the male children that were in Bethlehem5, and in all the borders thereof6, from two years old and under7, according to the time which he had exactly learned of the Wise-men8.
- Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the Wise-men. The magi, no doubt, intended to return to Herod, and would have done so butfor the dream, but when they failed to return, they seemed to Herod tohave taken pleasure in deceiving him, and the very honesty of theirconduct passed for the lowest depth of cunning.
- Was exceeding wroth. Angry at being made sport of, and doubly angry because of the serious matter as to which they presumed to jest.
- And sent forth. Murderers, suddenly.
- And slew. Thus early did persecution attend those associated with Christ ( Matthew 10:24 Matthew 10:25 ). This brutality was in keeping with Herod'scharacter. Jealousy as to his authority led him to murder two highpriests, his uncle Joseph, his wife, and three of his own sons,besides many other innocent persons. Fearing lest the people shouldrejoice at his departure, he summoned the leading citizens of all thecities of his realm, and, shutting them up in the circus grounds atJericho, ordered his sister Salome and her husband to have them allput to death at the moment when he died, that the land might mourn athis death.
- All the male children that were in Bethlehem. As Bethlehem was not a large place, the number of martyrs could not have been large. It isvariously estimated that from twelve to fifty were slain. Had theparents of Bethlehem known that Jesus was on the way to Egypt, theymight have saved their own children by giving information as to thewhereabouts of the right child; that is, if we may assume that theywere being butchered.
- And in all the borders thereof. Adjacent places; settlements or houses around Bethlehem. The present population of the town is fullyfive thousand; it was probably even larger in Christ's time.
- From two years old and under. According to Jewish reckoning this would mean all children from birth up to between twelve and thirteenmonths old, all past one year old being counted as two years old.
- According to the time which he had exactly learned of the Wise-men. That is, he used their date as a basis for his calculations. It islikely that six months had elapsed since the star appeared, and thatHerod doubled the months to make doubly sure of destroying the rivalclaimant. Not knowing whether the child was born before or after theappearing of the star, he included all the children of that full yearin which the star came.
2:17 Then was fulfilled1 that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet2, saying,
- Then was fulfilled. The verses Matthew 2:6 Matthew 2:15 Matthew 2:18 give us three different kinds of prophecy. The first is direct, and relates whollyto an event which was yet future; the second is a case where an "act"described is symbolic of another later and larger act; the last is acase where WORDS describing another later act, though the actsthemselves may bear small resemblance. See Matthew 2:23. Matthewdoes not mean that Jeremiah predicted the slaughter at Bethlehem; butthat his words, though spoken as to another occasion, were so chosen ofthe Spirit that they might be fitly applied to this latter occasion.
- That which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet. See
2:18 A voice was heard in Ramah1, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children2; And she would not be comforted, because they are not3.
- In Ramah. This word means "highland" or "hill". The town lies six miles north of Jerusalem. It was the birthplace and burial place ofthe prophet Samuel. It is also supposed to be the Arimathea of the NewTestament. See Matthew 27:57 .
- Weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children. Why these tearful mothers in Bethlehem? Because that which Christ escapedremained for his brethren, their children, to suffer. If he wouldescape death, all his brethren must die. But he died that all hisbrethren might live.
- And she would not be comforted, because they are not. The words here quoted were originally written concerning the Babylonian captivity( Jeremiah 31:15 ). Ramah was a town of Benjamin ( Joshua 18:25 ).Jeremiah was carried thither in chains with the other captives, but wasthere released by the order of Nebuchadnezzar ( Jeremiah 40:1 ; Jeremiah 39:11 Jeremiah 39:12 ).Here he saw the captives depart for Babylon, and heard the weeping ofthe poor who were left in the land ( Jeremiah 39:10 ). Hence the mentionof Ramah as the place of lamentation. He represents Rachel weeping,because the Benjaminites were descendants of Rachel, and, perhaps,because the tomb of Rachel was "in the border of Benjamin", and not faraway ( 1 Samuel 10:2 ). The image of the ancient mother of the tribe,rising from her tomb to weep, and refusing to be comforted because herchildren were not around her, is inimitably beautiful; and this imageso strikingly portrayed the weeping in Bethlehem that Matthew adoptsthe words of the prophet, and says that they were here fulfilled. Itwas the fulfillment, not of a prediction, properly speaking, but ofcertain "words" spoken by the prophet.
2:19 But when Herod was dead1, behold, an angel of the Lord2 appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt3, saying,
- THE CHILD JESUS BROUGHT FROM EGYPT TO NAZARETH. (Egypt and Nazareth, B.C. 4.) Matthew 2:19-23 ; Luke 2:39
- But when Herod was dead. He died in the thirty-seventh year of his reign and the seventieth of his life. A frightful inward burningconsumed him, and the stench of his sickness was such that hisattendants could not stay near him. So horrible was his condition thathe even endeavored to end it by suicide.
- Behold, an angel of the Lord. Word did not come by the infant Jesus; he was "make like [his] brethren" ( Hebrews 2:17 ), and being a child, he"spoke as a child" ( 1 Corinthians 13:11 ), and not as an oracle.
- Appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt. Joseph had obeyed the command given at Matthew 2:13 , and God kept the promise contained therein.God ever keeps covenant with the obedient.
2:20 Arise and take the young child and his mother1, and go into the land of Israel2: for they3 are dead that sought the young child's life4.
- Arise and take the young child and his mother. Happy Joseph! His path was ordered of God. Let us also seek such ordering. See Proverbs 3:6 .
- Go into the land of Israel. The phrase "land of Israel" originally meant all Palestine, but during the period of the kingdom of the tentribes it was restricted to their portion of the country. After thecaptivities and the return of Judah from Babylon the phrase resumed itsoriginal meaning, and hence it is here used to include all Palestine.As Jesus was "not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel"( Matthew 15:24 ), it was fitting that he return thither from Egypt.
- For they. "They" is doubtless the plural of majesty; though it may include others unknown to us, who were employed by him or advised him.
- Are dead that sought the young child's life. How prophetic the words! Christ's enemies die, but he lives on. How innumerable this hostof opposers! Persecutors, oppressors, infidels, critics, literatures,organizations, principalities, and powers, a vast and motley array offorces, have sought the life of Jesus, have made a great noise in theworld, and died away in silence. Pharoahs, Neros, Diocletians, many aCharles, Torquemada, and Bloody Mary have come up and gone down, butthe king of Israel lives on.
2:21 And he arose and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel1.
- And came into the land of Israel. The length of his sojourn in Egypt is uncertain. It is variously estimated at from two weeks tomore than seven months.
2:22 But when he heard1 that Archelaus was reigning over Judaea2 in the room of his father Herod3, he was afraid to go thither4; and being warned [of God] in a dream5, he withdrew6 into the parts of Galilee7,
- But when he heard. Joseph heard this on entering Palestine. As he knew of Herod's death by revelation, and hence before any one else inEgypt, there was no one there to tell him who succeeded Herod.
- That Archelaus was reigning over Judaea. By his last will and testament Herod divided his kingdom among three of his sons, andAugustus Caesar consented to the provision of this will. Archelaus,under the title of Ethnarch, received Judea, Idumea, and Samaria;Antipas, under the title of Tetrarch, received Galilee and Perea; andPhilip, under the title of Tetrarch, received Trachonitis (withIturea), Batanea, and Auranitis. Each of these sons bore the name ofHerod, like their father. Augustus withheld from Archelaus the titleof king, promising it to him "if he governed that part virtuously". Butin the very beginning of his reign he massacred three thousand Jews atonce, in the temple, at the time of the Passover, because they calledfor justice upon the agents who performed the barbarities of hisfather's reign. Not long after this a solemn embassy of the Jews wentto Rome, and petitioned Augustus to remove Archelaus, and make hiskingdom a Roman province. After a reign of nine years, Archelaus wasbanished to Vienne, in Gaul, where he died in A.D. 6. After him Judeahad no more native kings, and the scepter was clean departed fromJudah. The land became a Roman province, and its governors weresuccessively Quirinius, Coponius, Ambivius, Annius Rufus, ValeriusGratus, and Pontius Pilate.
- In the room of his father Herod. These words sound like an echo of those employed by the embassy just referred to, for it said to Augustusconcerning this man, "He seemed to be so afraid lest he should not bedeemed Herod's own son, that he took special care to prove it".
- He was afraid to go thither. As Matthew has spoken of Joseph residing at Bethlehem (and he did reside there for quite a while afterthe birth of Jesus), the use of word "there" implies that Josephplanned to return to that town. Mary had kindred somewhere in theneighborhood ( Luke 1:36 Luke 1:39 Luke 1:40 ), and doubtless both parents thoughtthat David's city was the most fitting place for the nurture ofDavid's heir.
- And being warned [of God] in a dream. God permitted Joseph to follow the bent of his fear. Joseph's obedience shows him a fit person for themomentous charge entrusted to him.
- He withdrew. From the territory of Archelaus to that of Antipas, who was a man of much milder disposition. As the brothers were on nogood terms, Joseph felt sure that in no case would Antipas deliver himand his to Archelaus.
- Into the parts of Galilee. It means "circuit". It is the northern of the three divisions of the Holy Land. Its population was very dense,and was a mixture of Jews and Gentiles. Hence all Galileans weredespised by the purer Jews of Judea.
2:23 and came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth1; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophets2, that he should be called a Nazarene3.
- Nazareth. See Luke 2:39.
- The prophets. Matthew uses the plural "prophets" because this prophecy is not the actual words of any prophet, but is the generalsense of many of them. We have noted three kinds of prophecy; this isthe fourth kind, viz.: one where the very trend or general scope ofScripture is itself a prophecy. See Matthew 2:17.
- That he should be called a Nazarene. The Hebrew word "netzer" means "branch" or "sprout". It is used figuratively for that which is lowlyor despised ( Isaiah 17:9 ; Ezekiel 15:1-6 ; Malachi 4:1 ). See also John 15:6 Romans 11:21 . Now, Nazareth, if derived from "netzer", answered toits name, and was a despised place ( John 1:45 John 1:46 ), and Jesus, thoughin truth a Bethlehemite, bore the name Nazarene because it fitlyexpressed the contempt of those who despised and rejected him.