I shall see him, but not now – Or, I shall see him, but he is not now. I shall behold him, but not nigh – I shall have a full view of him, but the time is yet distant. That is, The person of whom I am now prophesying does not at present exist among these Israelites, nor shall he appear in this generation. There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel – a person eminent for wisdom, and formidable for strength and power, shall arise as king among this people. He shall smite the corners of Moab – he shall bring the Moabites perfectly under subjection; (See 2Sa_8:2); and destroy all the children of Sheth. The original word קרקר karkar, from קרה karah, to meet, associate, join, blend, and the like, is variously translated; vastabit, he shall waste, Vulgate – προνομευσει, shall prey on, Sept – ישלוט yishlot, shall rule over, Targum – Shall shake, Arabic – barbend, shall put a yoke on, Pers – Shall unwall, Ainsworth, etc., etc.
The Targum of Onkelos translates the whole passage thus: “I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but he is not near. When a king shall arise from the house of Jacob, and the Messiah be anointed from the house of Israel, he shall slay the princes of Moab, and rule over all the children of men.”
The Jerusalem Targum is a little different: “A king shall arise from the house of Jacob, a redeemer and governor from the house of Israel, who shall slay the chiefs of the Moabites, and empty out and destroy all the children of the East.”
Rabbi Moses ben Maimon has, in my opinion, perfectly hit the meaning of the prophecy in the following paraphrase of the text:
“I shall see him, but not now. This is David – I shall behold him, but not nigh. This is the king Messiah – A Star shall come out of Jacob. This is David – And a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel. This is the king Messiah – And shall smite the corners of Moab. This is David, (as it is written, 2Sa_8:2 : And he smote Moab, casting them down to the ground) – And shall destroy all the children of Sheth. This is the king Messiah, of whom it is written, (Psa_72:8), He shall have dominion from sea to sea.”
I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh. Rather, “I see him, but not now: I behold him, but not near”.
WNrWva…Wnara exactly as in Num_23:9) Balaam does not mean to say that he expected himself to see at any future time the mysterious Being of whom he speaks, who is identical with the “Star” and the “Scepter” of the following clauses; he speaks wholly as a prophet, and means that his inner gaze is fixed upon such a one, with full assurance that he exists in the counsels of God, but with clear recognition of the fact that his actual coming is yet in the far future. There shall come a Star out of Jacob. Septuagint, anatelei astron . It may quite as well be rendered by the present; Balaam simply utters what passes before his inward vision. The star is a natural and common poetic symbol of an illustrious, or, as we say, “brilliant,” personage, and as such recurs many times in Scripture. (cf. Job_38:7 Isa_14:12 Dan_8:10 Mat_24:29 Php_2:15 Rev_1:20 Rev_2:28) The celebrated Jewish fanatic called himself Barcochab, “son of the Star,” in allusion to this prophecy. A Scepter shall rise out of Israel. This further defines the “star” as a ruler of men, for the scepter is Used in that sense in the dying prophecy of Jacob, (Gen_49:10) with which Balaam was evidently acquainted. Accordingly the Septuagint has here anasthsetai . Shall smite the corners of Moab. Rather, “the two corners” (dual), or “the two sides of Moab,” i.e., shall crush Moab on either side. And destroy all the children of Sheth. In Jer_48:45, where this prophecy is in a manner quoted, the word rqrq (qarqar, destroy) is altered into rqodq (quadqod, crown of the head). This raises a very curious and interesting question as to the use made by the prophets of the earlier Scriptures, but it gives no authority for an alteration of the text. The expression tveAyneB has been variously rendered. The Jewish commentators, followed by the Septuagint (pantav uiouy ) and the older versions, understand it to mean the sons of Seth, the son of Adam, i.e., all mankind. Many modern commentators, however, take tve as a contraction of tave, (Lam_3:47 and read “sons of confusion,” as equivalent to the unruly neighbours and relations of Israel. This, however, is extremely dubious in itself, for tve nowhere occurs in this sense, and derives no sup. port from Jer_48:45. It is true that tve yneB is there replaced by wOav yneB, “sons of tumult,” but then this very verse affords the clearest evidence that the prophet felt no hesitation in altering the text of Scripture to suit his own inspired purpose. If it be true that rqrq will not bear the meaning given to it in the Targums of “reign over,” still there is no insuperable difficulty in the common rendering. Jewish prophecy, from beginning to end, contemplated the Messiah as the Conqueror, the Subduer, and even the Destroyer of all the heathen, i.e., of all who were not Jews. It is only in the New Testament that the iron scepter with which he was to dash in pieces the heathen (Psa_2:9) becomes the pastoral staff wherewith he shepherds them. (Rev_2:27 poimanei after the Septuagint, which has here misread the text) The prophecy was that Messiah should destroy the heathen; the fulfillment that he destroyed not them, but their heathenism. (cf. e.g., Psa_149:6-9 with Jam_5:20)
16.Jesus, who is called Christ By the surname Christ, Anointed, Matthew points out his office, to inform the readers that this was not a private person, but one divinely anointed to perform the office of Redeemer. What that anointing was, and to what it referred, I shall not now illustrate at great length. As to the word itself, it is only necessary to say that, after the royal authority was abolished, it began to be applied exclusively to Him, from whom they were taught to expect a full recovery of the lost salvation. So long as any splendor of royalty continued in the family of David, the kings were wont to be called χριστοί, anointed. But that the fearful desolation which followed might not throw the minds of the godly into despair, it pleased God to appropriate the name of Messiah, Anointed, to the Redeemer alone: as is evident from Daniel, (Dan_9:25.) The evangelical history everywhere shows that this was an ordinary way of speaking, at the time when the Son of God was “manifested in the flesh,” (1Ti_3:16.)
ICC :W.C. Allen
16. And Jacob begat Joseph. Joseph, to whom was espoused Mary a virgin, begat Jesus, who is called Christ.] Thus ends the third division of the genealogy. The family now regained in the Christ, the anointed King, the sovereignty which it had won in David and lost at the Captivity. There is no sufficient ground for supposing that the genealogy ever existed apart from the Gospel. The references to Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, can only be explained as due to the editor of the Gospel, who saw in the life histories of these women a divine overruling of history from which a right understanding of Mary’s virginity might be drawn. Of course these references might have been inserted by the editor of the Gospel in a genealogy which he found ready made to his hand. But the artificial arrangement into three groups of fourteen names reminds us of the not infrequent predilection for arrangements in three which runs through the entire work. Cf. the following: three incidents of Christ’s childhood, ch. 2; three incidents prior to His ministry, 3-4:11; three temptations, 4:1-11; threefold interpretation of “do not commit murder,” v. 22; three illustrations of “righteousness,” 6:1-18; three prohibitions, 6:19-7:6; three injunctions, 7:7-27; three miracles of healing, 8:1-15; three miracles of power, 8:23-9:8; three complaints of His adversaries, 9:1-17; threefold answer to question about fasting, 9:14-17; three incidents illustrating the hostility of the Pharisees, 12; three parables of sowing, 13:1-32; three sayings about “little ones,” ch. 18; three parables of prophecy, 21:28-22:14; three parables of warning, 24:32-25:30. There is, further, no ground for the widespread belief that the genealogy is in itself a proof of a belief that Christ was the natural son of Joseph and Mary. This particular genealogy contains the condemnation of such a belief. The man who could compile it and place immediately after it 1:18-25, clearly did not believe that Christ was the son of Joseph. He inserted in the genealogy the references to the women and the relative clause “to whom was betrothed Mary a virgin,” in order to anticipate vv. 18-25. In other words, ἐγέννησε throughout the genealogy denotes legal, not physical descent. He had before him two traditional facts—(a) that Christ was born of a Virgin in a supernatural manner, (b) that He was the Messiah, i.e. the Son of David. How could a Jewish Christian, indeed how could anyone, reconcile these facts otherwise than by supposing that Mary’s husband was the legal father of Christ? So non-natural a sense of fatherhood may seem strange to us, but the fact of the supernatural birth which gave rise to it is stranger. Whatever we may think of it, this was the belief of the editor of the Gospel; so that there is no ground for the widespread opinion that the existence of a genealogy of Christ is proof of an underlying belief that He was the natural son of Joseph and Mary. If the editor simply tried to give expression to the two facts which had come down to him by tradition—the fact of Christ’s supernatural birth, and the fact that He was the Davidic Messiah, and did not attempt a logical synthesis of them, who shall blame him?
And Jacob begat Joseph, the husband of Mary. St. Luke calls Joseph “the son of Heli.” There are two ways in which these differing statements may be made to accord. The two sons of Matthan were Jacob the elder, and Heli the younger. It may be that Mary was the only child of Jacob, and Joseph the son of Heli. Then by marriage with his cousin, Joseph would become Jacob”s son as well as Heli”s. Or it may be that Jacob died without children, and Heli, marrying his widow according to the Jewish usage, became by her the father of Joseph, who hence would be called Jacob”s son, that the elder brother”s line might not die out. The points noticed above in respect of these varying pedigrees seem to be all those on which anything needs to be said with the view of comparing them. Their variety stands as a constant evidence of the independence of the two evangelists. Had either of them been conscious of the existence of the other”s work. it is inconceivable that he would have made no effort to adjust the pedigree, for which he would possess means now lost for ever. They both design to give us the descent of Joseph from David, this being what a Sew would most regard. The descent of Mary from David is nowhere definitely mentioned in the Gospels, but that Jesus was sprung from David on the mother”s side too we are warranted in concluding from the words of the angel to Mary, (Luk_1:32) “his father David” (cf. also Delitzsch, “Hess. Proph.,” But though we ought not to spend vain labour in attempting to reconcile these two genealogies of Joseph, we can see, from what we know of Jewish customs, grounds enough for understanding how these variations came to exist. The same Jew, we find, was often known under two names; of this we have several examples in the lists of the twelve apostles. It is possible, therefore, that in these two pedigrees there may have been more points of union than we are able to detect. Then the rule, before alluded to, by which a man took the childless widow of his deceased brother for his wife and raised seed unto his brother, may also have led to much confusion of names, which we have now no means of unravelling. The evangelists drew each his own list from some authentic source, accessible to others beside themselves, and the record of which could be verified when the Gospels were set forth. This should satisfy us that those we have received were held by the Jews soon after Christ”s time to be truthful records, and that each established from a Jewish point of view the descent of the putative father of Jesus from King David. Of whom was born Jesus. This name, which, through Jeshua, is the Greek form of Joshua, (for which, indeed, it stands in the Authorized Version of Act_7:45 and Heb_4:8) signifies “Jehovah is help,” and was not an uncommon name among the Jews, though given with marked significance at this time (see ver. 21). We find, according to the best texts, that in Luk_3:29 this name occurs in the pedigree of Joseph (where the Authorized Version has Jose), and the Revised Version has adopted that reading. (Of the way in which the name was augmented when given to the famous successor of Moses, see Num_13:16) Who is called Christ. The evangelist here alludes merely to the well-known fact that Jesus was called by this name. The significance of the word, which is a translation of the Hebrew Messiah, is “anointed,” and in the Old Testament it is given to priests, (as Lev_4:3, Lev_4:5, Lev_4:16) to a king appointed by Jehovah, (1Sa_24:6, 10 2Sa_19:21) also to King Cyrus, (Isa_45:1) and to some unnamed representative of Jehovah. (1Sa_2:10) It was subsequently applied to Jesus both in the Greek form and in the Hebrew. (Joh_1:41 Joh_4:25) It must, however, be noticed (vide Bishop Westcott, Add. Note on 1Jn_5:1) that it was not a characteristic title of the promised Saviour in the Old Testament, and was not even specifically applied to him, unless, perhaps, in Dan_9:25, 26 a passage of which the interpretation is very doubtful.
Euseb., Hist. Eccles. i, 7:
For Matthan and Melchi at different periods had each a son by one and the same wife Jesca. Matthan, who traced through Solomon, first had her, and died leaving one son, Jacob by name. As the Law forbade not a widow, either dismissed from her husband, or after the death of her husband, to be married to another, so Melchi, who traced through Matthan, being of the same tribe but of another race, took this widow to his wife, and begat Heli his son.
Thus shall we find Jacob and Heli, though of a different race, yet by the same mother, to have been brethren. One of whom, namely Jacob, after Heli his brother was deceased without issue, married his wife, and begat on her the third, Joseph, by nature indeed and reason his own son. Whereupon also it is written, “And Jacob begat Joseph.” But by the Law, he was the son of Heli; for Jacob, being his brother, raised up seed to him.
Thus the genealogy, both as recited by Matthew, and by Luke, stands right and true; Matthew saying, “And Jacob begot Joseph;” Luke saying, “Which was the son, as it was supposed, (for he adds this withal,) of Joseph, which was the son of Heli, which was the son of Melchi.”
Nor could he have more significantly or properly expressed that way of generation according to the Law, which was made by a certain adoption that had respect to the dead, carefully leaving out the word “begetting” throughout even to the end.
Jerome: This passage is objected to us by the Emperor Julian in his Discrepancy of the Evangelists. Matthew calls Joseph the son of Jacob, Luke makes him the son of Heli. He did not know the Scripture manner, one was his father by nature, the other by law. For we know that God commanded by Moses, that if a brother or near kinsman died without children, another should take his wife, to raise up seed to his brother or kinsman. [Deut 25]
These verses contain the genealogy of Jesus. Luke also Luke 3 gives a genealogy of the Messiah. No two passages of Scripture have caused more difficulty than these, and various attempts have been made to explain them. There are two sources of difficulty in these catalogues.
1. Many names that are found in the Old Testament are here omitted; and,
2. The tables of Matthew and Luke appear in many points to be different.
From Adam to Abraham Matthew has mentioned no names, and Luke only has given the record. From Abraham to David the two tables are alike. Of course there is no difficulty in reconciling these two parts of the tables. The difficulty lies in that part of the genealogy from David to Christ. There they are entirely different. They are manifestly different lines. Not only are the names different, but Luke has mentioned, in this part of the genealogy, no less than 42 names, while Matthew has recorded only 27 names.
Various ways have been proposed to explain this difficulty, but it must be admitted that none of them is perfectly satisfactory. It does not comport with the design of these notes to enter minutely into an explanation of the perplexities of these passages. All that can be done is to suggest the various ways in which attempts have been made to explain them.
1. It is remarked that in nothing are mistakes more likely to occur than in such tables. From the similarity of names, and the different names by which the same person is often called, and from many other causes, errors would be more likely to creep into genealogical tables than in other writings. Some of the difficulties may have possibly occurred from this cause.
2. Most interpreters have supposed that Matthew gives the genealogy of Joseph, and Luke that of Mary. They were both descended from David, but in different lines. This solution derives some plausibility from the fact that the promise was made to David, and as Jesus was not the son of Joseph, it was important to show that Mary was also descended from him. But though this solution is plausible, and may be true, yet it wants evidence. It cannot, however, be proved that this was not the design of Luke.
3. It has been said also that Joseph was the legal son and heir of Heli, though the real son of Jacob, and that thus the two lines terminated in him. This was the explanation suggested by most of the Christian fathers, and on the whole is the most satisfactory. It was a law of the Jews that if a man died without children, his brother should marry his widow. Thus the two lines might have been intermingled, According to this solution, which was first proposed by Africanus, Matthan, descended from Solomon, married Estha, of whom was born Jacob. After Matthan’s death, Matthat being of the same tribe, but of another family, married his widow, and of this marriage Heli was born. Jacob and Heli were therefore children of the same mother. Heli dying without children, his brother Jacob married his widow, and begat Joseph, who was thus the legal son of Heli. This is agreeable to the account in the two evangelists. Matthew says that Jacob begat Joseph; Luke says that Joseph was the son of Heli, i. e., was his legal heir, or was reckoned in law to be his son. This can be seen by the plan on the next page, showing the nature of the connection.
Though these solutions may not seem to be entirely satisfactory, yet there are two additional considerations which should set the matter at rest, and lead to the conclusion that the narratives are not really inconsistent.
1. No difficulty was ever found, or alleged, in regard to them, by any of the early enemies of Christianity. There is no evidence that they ever adduced them as containing a contradiction. Many of those enemies were acute, learned, and able; and they show by their writings that they were not indisposed to detect all the errors that could possibly be found in the sacred narrative. Now it is to be remembered that the Jews were fully competent to show that these tables were incorrect, if they were really so; and it is clear that they were fully disposed, if possible, to do it. The fact, therefore, that it is not done, is clear evidence that they thought it to be correct. The same may be said of the acute pagans who wrote against Christianity. None of them have called in question the correctness of these tables. This is full proof that, in a time when it was easy to understand these tables, they were believed to be correct.
2. The evangelists are not responsible for the correctness of these tables. They are responsible only for what was their real and professed object to do. What was that object? It was to prove to the satisfaction of the Jews that Jesus was descended from David, and therefore that there was no argument from his ancestry that he was not the promised Messiah. Now to make this out, it was not necessary, nor would it have conduced to their argument, to have formed a new table of genealogy. All that could be done was to go to the family records – to the public tables, and copy them as they were actually kept, and show that, according to the records of the nation, Jesus was descended from David. This, among the Jews, would be full and decided testimony in the case. And this was doubtless done. In the same way, the records of a family among us, as they are kept by the family, are proof in courts of justice now of the birth, names, etc., of individuals. Nor is it necessary or proper for a court to call them in question or to attempt to correct them. So, the tables here are good evidence to the only point that the writers wished to establish: that is, to show to the Jews that Jesus of Nazareth was descended from David. The only inquiry which can now be fairly made is whether they copied those tables correctly. It is clear that no man can prove that they did not so copy them, and therefore that no one can adduce them as an argument against the correctness of the New Testament.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away — or migration.
into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon — the migration of Babylon.
unto Christ are fourteen generations — that is, the whole may be conveniently divided into three fourteens, each embracing one marked era, and each ending with a notable event, in the Israelitish annals. Such artificial aids to memory were familiar to the Jews, and much larger gaps than those here are found in some of the Old Testament genealogies. In Ezr_7:1-5 no fewer than six generations of the priesthood are omitted, as will appear by comparing it with 1Ch_6:3-15. It will be observed that the last of the three divisions of fourteen appears to contain only thirteen distinct names, including Jesus as the last. Lange thinks that this was meant as a tacit hint that Mary was to be supplied, as the thirteenth link of the last chain, as it is impossible to conceive that the Evangelist could have made any mistake in the matter. But there is a simpler way of accounting for it. As the Evangelist himself (Mat_1:17) reckons David twice – as the last of the first fourteen and the first of the second – so, if we reckon the second fourteen to end with Josiah, who was coeval with the “carrying away into captivity” (Mat_1:11), and third to begin with Jeconiah, it will be found that the last division, as well as the other two, embraces fourteen names, including that of our Lord.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Having enumerated the generations from Abraham to Christ, he divides them into three divisions of fourteen generations, because three times at the end of fourteen generations the state of the people of the Jews was changed. From Abraham to David they were under Judges; from David to the carrying away into Babylon under Kings; from the carrying away to Christ under the High Priests.
Ambrose: Again, from Jeconiah to Joseph are computed twelve generations; yet he afterwards calls these also fourteen. But if you look attentively, you will be able to discover the method by which fourteen are reckoned here. Twelve are reckoned including Joseph, and Christ is the thirteenth; and history declares that there were two Joakims, that is two Jeconiahs, father and son. The Evangelist has not passed over either of these, but has named them both. Thus, adding the younger Jeconiah, fourteen generations are computed.
Expositor’s Greek NT
Ver. 17. The evangelist pauses to point out the structure of his genealogy: three parts with fourteen members each; symmetrical, memorable; πᾶσαι does not imply, as Meyer and Weiss think, that in the opinion of the evangelist no links are omitted. He speaks simply of what lies under the eye. There they are, fourteen in each, count and satisfy yourself. But the counting turns out not to be so easy, and has given rise to great divergence of opinion. The division naturally suggested by the words of the text is: from Abraham to David, terminating first series, 14; from David, heading second series, to the captivity as limit, i.e., to Josiah, 14; from the captivity represented by Jeconiah to Christ, included as final term, 14. So Bengel and De Wette. If objection be taken to counting David twice, the brethren of Jeconiah, that is, his uncles, may be taken as representing the concluding term of series 2, and Jeconiah himself as the first member of series 3 (Weiss-Meyer). The identical number in the three parts is of no importance in itself. It is a numerical symbol uniting three periods, and suggesting comparison in other respects, e.g., as to different forms of government—judges, kings, priests (Euthy. Zig.), theocracy, monarchy, hierarchy (Schanz), all summed up in Christ; or as to Israel’s fortunes: growth, decline, ruin—redemption urgently needed.
18.Now the birth of Jesus Christ Matthew does not as yet relate the place or manner of Christ’s birth, but the way in which his heavenly generation was made known to Joseph. First, he says that Mary was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit Not that this secret work of God was generally known: but the historian mixes up, with the knowledge of men, the power of the Spirit, which was still unknown. He points out the time: When she was espoused to Joseph, and before they came together So far as respects conjugal fidelity, from the time that a young woman was betrothed to a man, she was regarded by the Jews as his lawful wife. When a “damsel betrothed to an husband” was convicted of being unchaste, the law condemned both of the guilty parties as adulterers: “the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbor’s wife,” (Deu_22:23.)
The phrase employed by the Evangelist, before they came together, is either a modest appellation for conjugal intercourse, or simply means, “before they came to dwell together as husband and wife, and to make one home and family.” The meaning will thus be, that the virgin had not yet been delivered by her parents into the hands of her husband, but still remained under their roof.
19.As he was a just man Some commentators explain this to mean, that Joseph, because he was a just man, determined to spare his wife: taking justice to be only another name for humanity, or, a gentle and merciful disposition. But others more correctly read the two clauses as contrasted with each other: that Joseph was a just man, but yet that he was anxious about the reputation of his wife. That justice, on which a commendation is here bestowed, consisted in hatred and abhorrence of crime. Suspecting his wife of adultery, and even convinced that she was an adulterer, he was unwilling to hold out the encouragement of lenity to such a crime. And certainly he is but a pander to his wife, who connives at her unchastity. Not only is such wickedness regarded with abhorrence by good and honorable minds, but that winking at crime which I have mentioned is marked by the laws with infamy.
Joseph, therefore, moved by an ardent love of justice, condemned the crime of which he supposed his wife to have been guilty; while the gentleness of his disposition prevented him from going to the utmost rigor of law. It was a moderate and calmer method to depart privately, and remove to a distant place. Hence we infer, that he was not of so soft and effeminate a disposition, as to screen and promote uncleanness under the pretense of merciful dealing: he only made some abatement from stern justice, so as not to expose his wife to evil report. Nor ought we to have any hesitation in believing, that his mind was restrained by a secret inspiration of the Spirit. We know how weak jealousy is, and to what violence it hurries its possessor. Though Joseph did not proceed to rash and headlong conduct, yet he was wonderfully preserved from many imminent dangers, which would have sprung out of his resolution to depart.
The same remark is applicable to Mary’s silence. Granting that modest reserve prevented her from venturing to tell her husband, that she was with child by the Holy Spirit, it was not so much by her own choice, as by the providence of God that she was restrained. Let us suppose her to have spoken. The nature of the case made it little short of incredible. Joseph would have thought himself ridiculed, and everybody would have treated the matter as a laughing-stock: after which the Divine announcement, if it had followed, would have been of less importance. The Lord permitted his servant Joseph to be betrayed by ignorance into an erroneous conclusion, that, by his own voice, he might bring him back to the right path.
Yet it is proper for us to know, that this was done more on our account than for his personal advantage: for every necessary method was adopted by God, to prevent unfavorable suspicion from falling on the heavenly message. When the angel approaches Joseph, who is still unacquainted with the whole matter, wicked men have no reason to charge him with being influenced by prejudice to listen to the voice of God. He was not overcome by the insinuating address of his wife. His previously formed opinion was not shaken by entreaties. He was not induced by human arguments to take the opposite side. But, while the groundless accusation of his wife was still rankling in his mind, God interposed between them, that we might regard Joseph as a more competent witness, and possessing greater authority, as a messenger sent to us from heaven. We see how God chose to employ an angel in informing his servant Joseph, that to others he might be a heavenly herald, and that the intelligence which he conveyed might not be borrowed from his wife, or from any mortal.
The reason why this mystery was not immediately made known to a greater number of persons appears to be this. It was proper that this inestimable treasure should remain concealed, and that the knowledge of it should be imparted to none but the children of God. Nor is it absurd to say, that the Lord intended, as he frequently does, to put the faith and obedience of his own people to the trial. Most certainly, if any man shall maliciously refuse to believe and obey God in this matter, he will have abundant reason to be satisfied with the proofs by which this article of our faith is supported. For the same reason, the Lord permitted Mary to enter into the married state, that under the veil of marriage, till the full time for revealing it, the heavenly conception of the virgin might be concealed. Meanwhile, the knowledge of it was withheld from unbelievers, as their ingratitude and malice deserved.
Then Joseph her husband, being a just man; and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.
[But Joseph, being a just man, etc.] there is no need to rack the word just; to fetch out thence the sense of gentleness or mercy; which many do; for, construing the clauses of the verse separately, the sense will appear clear and soft enough, Joseph, being a just man; could not, would not, endure an adulteress: but yet not willing to make her a public example; being a merciful man, and loving his wife, was minded to put her away privily.
[To make her a public example.] This doth not imply death, but rather public disgrace, to make her public. For it may, not without reason, be inquired, whether she would have been brought to capital punishment, if it had been true that she had conceived by adultery. For although there was a law promulged of punishing adultery with death, Lev_10:10; Deu_22:22; and, in this case, she that was espoused, would be dealt withal after the same manner as it was with her who was become a wife; yet so far was that law modified, that I say not weakened, by the law of giving a bill of divorce, Deu_24:1; etc., that the husband might not only pardon his adulterous wife, and not compel her to appear before the Sanhedrim, but scarcely could, if he would, put her to death. For why otherwise was the bill of divorce indulged?
Joseph, therefore, endeavours to do nothing here, but what he might, with the full consent both of the law and nation. The adulteress might be put away; she that was espoused could not be put away without a bill of divorce; concerning which thus the Jewish laws: “A woman is espoused three ways; by money, or by a writing, or by being lain with. And being thus espoused, though she were not yet married, nor conducted into the man’s house, yet she is his wife. And if any shall lie with her beside him, he is to be punished with death by the Sanhedrim. And if he himself will put her away, he must have a bill of divorce.”
[Put her away privily.] Let the Talmudic tract ‘Gittin’ be looked upon, where they are treating of the manner of delivering a bill of divorce to a wife to be put away: among other things, it might be given privately, if the husband so pleased, either into the woman’s hand or bosom, two witnesses only present.
Her husband – The word in the original does not imply that they were married. It means here the man to whom she was espoused.
A just man – Justice consists in rendering to every man his own. Yet this is evidently not the character intended to be given here of Joseph. The meaning is that he was kind, tender, merciful; that he was so attached to Mary that he was not willing that she should be exposed to public shame. He sought, therefore, secretly to dissolve the connection, and to restore her to her friends without the punishment commonly inflicted on adultery. The word just has not unfrequently this meaning of mildness, or mercy. See 1Jo_1:9; compare Cicero, De Fin. 5, 23.
A public example – To expose her to public shame or infamy. Adultery has always been considered a crime of a very heinous nature. In Egypt, it was punished by cutting off the nose of the adulteress; in Persia, the nose and ears were cut off; in Judea, the punishment was death by stoning, Lev_20:10; Eze_16:38, Eze_16:40; Joh_8:5. This punishment was also inflicted where the person was not married, but betrothed, Deu_21:23-24. In this case, therefore, the regular punishment would have been death in this painful and ignominious manner.
Yet Joseph was a religious man – mild and tender; and he was not willing to complain of her to the magistrate, and expose her to death, but sought to avoid the shame, and to put her away privately.
Put her away privily – The law of Moses gave the husband the power of divorce, Deu_24:1. It was customary in a bill of divorce to specify the causes for which the divorce was made, and witnesses were also present to testify to the divorce. But in this case, it seems, Joseph resolved to put her away without specifying the cause; for he was not willing to make her a public example. This is the meaning here of “privily.” Both to Joseph and Mary this must have been a great trial. Joseph was ardently attached to her, but her character was likely to be ruined, and he deemed it proper to separate her from him. Mary was innocent, but Joseph was not yet satisfied of her innocence. We may learn from this to put our trust in God. He will defend the innocent. Mary was in danger of being exposed to shame. Had she been connected with a cruel, passionate, and violent man, she would have died in disgrace. But God had so ordered it that she was betrothed to a man mild, amiable, and tender: and in due time Joseph was apprised of the truth in the case, and took his faithful and beloved wife to his bosom. Thus, our only aim should be to preserve a conscience void of offence, and God will guard our reputation. We may be assailed by slander; circumstances may be against us; but in due time God will take care to vindicate our character and save us from ruin. See Psa_37:5-6.
20.And while he was considering these things We see here how seasonably, and, as we would say, at the very point, the Lord usually aids his people. Hence too we infer that, when he appears not to observe our cares and distresses, we are still under his eye. He may, indeed, hide himself, and remain silent; but, when our patience has been subjected to the trial, he will aid us at the time which his own wisdom has selected. How slow or late soever his assistance may be thought to be, it is for our advantage that it is thus delayed.
The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream This is one of two ordinary kinds of revelations mentioned in the book of Numbers, where the Lord thus speaks: “If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speechess,”
But we must understand that dreams of this sort differ widely from natural dreams; for they have a character of certainty engraven on them, and are impressed with a divine seal, so that there is not the slightest doubt of their truth. The dreams which men commonly have, arise either from the thoughts of the day, or from their natural temperament, or from bodily indisposition, or from similar causes: while the dreams which come from God are accompanied by the testimony of the Spirit, which puts beyond a doubt that it is God who speaks.
Son of David, fear not This exhortation shows, that Joseph was perplexed with the fear of sharing in the criminality of his wife, by enduring her adultery. The angel removes his suspicion of guilt, with the view of enabling him to dwell with his wife with a safe conscience. The appellation, Son of David, was employed on the present occasion, in order to elevate his mind to that lofty mystery; for he belonged to that family, and was one of the surviving few, from whom the salvation promised to the world could proceed. When he heard the name of David, from whom he was descended, Joseph ought to have remembered that remarkable promise of God which related to the establishment of the kingdom, so as to acknowledge that there was nothing new in what was now told him. The predictions of the prophets were, in effect, brought forward by the angel, to prepare the mind of Joseph for receiving the present favor.
21.And thou shalt call his name JESUS. I have already explained briefly, but as far as was necessary, the meaning of that word. At present I shall only add, that the words of the angel set aside the dream of those who derive it from the essential name of God, Jehovah; for the angel expresses the reason why the Son of God is so called, Because he shall SAVE his people; which suggests quite a different etymology from what they have contrived. It is justly and appropriately added, they tell us, that Christ will be the author of salvation, because he is the Eternal God. But in vain do they attempt to escape by this subterfuge; for the nature of the blessing which God bestows upon us is not all that is here stated. This office was conferred upon his Son from the fact, from the command which had been given to him by the Father, from the office with which he was invested when he came down to us from heaven. Besides, the two words ᾿Ιησοῦς and יהוה , Jesus and Jehovah, agree but in two letters, and differ in all the rest; which makes it exceedingly absurd to allege any affinity whatever between them, as if they were but one name. Such mixtures I leave to the alchymists, or to those who closely resemble them, the Cabalists who contrive for us those trifling and affected refinements.
When the Son of God came to us clothed in flesh, he received from the Father a name which plainly told for what purpose he came, what was his power, and what we had a right to expect from him. for the name Jesus is derived from the Hebrew verb, in the Hiphil conjugation, הושיע, which signifies to save In Hebrew it is pronounced differently, Jehoshua; but the Evangelists, who wrote in Greek, followed the customary mode of pronunciation; for in the writings of Moses, and in the other books of the Old Testament, the Hebrew word יהושוע, Jehoshua, or Joshua, is rendered by the Greek translators ᾿Ιησοῦς, Jesus But I must mention another instance of the ignorance of those who derive — or, I would rather say, who forcibly tear — the name Jesus from Jehovah They hold it to be in the highest degree improper that any mortal man should share this name in common with the Son of God, and make a strange outcry that Christ would never allow his name to be so profaned. As if the reply were not at hand, that the name Jesus was quite as commonly used in those days as the name Joshua Now, as it is sufficiently clear that the name Jesus presents to us the Son of God as the Author of salvation, let us examine more closely the words of the angel.
He shall save his people from their sins The first truth taught us by these words is, that those whom Christ is sent to save are in themselves lost. But he is expressly called the Savior of the Church. If those whom God admits to fellowship with himself were sunk in death and ruin till they were restored to life by Christ, what shall we say of “strangers” (Eph_2:12) who have never been illuminated by the hope of life? When salvation is declared to be shut up in Christ, it clearly implies that the whole human race is devoted to destruction. The cause of this destruction ought also to be observed; for it is not unjustly, or without good reason, that the Heavenly Judge pronounces us to be accursed. The angel declares that we have perished, and are overwhelmed by an awful condemnation, because we stand excluded from life by our sins. Thus we obtain a view of our corruption and depravity; for if any man lived a perfectly holy life, he might do without Christ as a Redeemer. But all to a man need his grace; and, therefore, it follows that they are the slaves of sin, and are destitute of true righteousness.
Hence, too, we learn in what way or manner Christ saves; he delivers us from sins This deliverance consists of two parts. Having made a complete atonement, he brings us a free pardon, which delivers us from condemnation to death, and reconciles us to God. Again, by the sanctifying influences of his Spirit, he frees us from the tyranny of Satan, that we may live “unto righteousness,” (1Pe_2:24.) Christ is not truly acknowledged as a Savior, till, on the one hand, we learn to receive a free pardon of our sins, and know that we are accounted righteous before God, because we are free from guilt; and till, on the other hand, we ask from him the Spirit of righteousness and holiness, having no confidence whatever in our own works or power. By Christ’s people the angel unquestionably means the Jews, to whom he was appointed as Head and King; but as the Gentiles were shortly afterwards to be ingrafted into the stock of Abraham, (Rom_11:17,) this promise of salvation is extended indiscriminately to all who are incorporated by faith in the “one body” (1Co_12:20) of the Church.
1.Now when Jesus had been born How it came about that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Matthew does not say. The Spirit of God, who had appointed the Evangelists to be his clerks, (177) appears purposely to have regulated their style in such a manner, that they all wrote one and the same history, with the most perfect agreement, but in different ways. It was intended, that the truth of God should more clearly and strikingly appear, when it was manifest that his witnesses did not speak by a preconcerted plan, but that each of them separately, without paying any attention to another, wrote freely and honestly what the Holy Spirit dictated.
This is a very remarkable narrative. God brought Magi from Chaldea, to come to the land of Judea, for the purpose of adoring Christ, in the stable where he lay, amidst the tokens, not of honor, but of contempt. It was a truly wonderful purpose of God, that he caused the entrance of his Son into the world to be attended by deep meanness, and yet bestowed upon him illustrious ornaments, both of commendation and of other outward signs, that our faith might be supplied with everything necessary to prove his Divine Majesty.
A beautiful instance of real harmony, amidst apparent contradiction, is here exhibited. A star from heaven announces that he is a king, to whom a manger, intended for cattle, serves for a throne, because he is refused admittance among the lowest of the people. His majesty shines in the East, while in Judea it is so far from being acknowledged, that it is visited by many marks of dishonor. Why is this? The heavenly Father chose to appoint the star and the Magi as our guides, to lead directly to his Son: while he stripped him of all earthly splendor, for the purpose of informing us that his kingdom is spiritual. This history conveys profitable instruction, not only because God brought the Magi to his Son, as the first-fruits of the Gentiles, but also because he appointed the kingdom of his Son to receive their commendation, and that of the star, for the confirmation of our faith; that the wicked and malignant contempt of his nation might not render him less estimable in our eyes.
Magi is well known to be the name given by the Persians and Chaldees to astrologers and philosophers: and hence it may readily be conjectured that those men came from Persia. As the Evangelist does not state what was their number, it is better to be ignorant of it, than to affirm as certain what is doubtful. Papists have been led into a childish error, of supposing that they were three in number: because Matthew says, that they brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh, (Mat_2:11.) But the historian does not say, that each of them separately presented his own gift. He rather says, that those three gifts were presented by them in common. That ancient author, whoever he may be, whose imperfect Commentary on Matthew bears the name of Chrysostom, and is reckoned among Chrysostom’s works, says that they were fourteen. This carries as little probability as the other. It may have come from a tradition of the Fathers, but has no solid foundation. But the most ridiculous contrivance of the Papists on this subject is, that those men were kings, because they found in another passage a prediction, that “the kings of Tarshish, and of the Isles, and of Sheba, would offer gifts to the Lord,” (Psa_72:10.)
Ingenious workmen, truly, who, in order to present those men in a new shape, have begun with turning the world from one side to another: for they have changed the south and west into the east! Beyond all doubt, they have been stupified by a righteous judgment of God, that all might laugh at the gross ignorance of those who have not scrupled to adulterate “and, change the truth of God into a lie,” (Rom_1:25.)
The first inquiry here is: Was this star one of those which the Lord created in the beginning (Gen_1:1) to “garnish the heavens?” (Job_26:13.)
Secondly, Were the magi led by their acquaintance with astrology to conclude that it pointed out the birth of Christ?
On these points, there is no necessity for angry disputation: but it may be inferred from the words of Matthew, that it was not a natural, but an extraordinary star. It was not agreeable to the order of nature, that it should disappear for a certain period, and afterwards should suddenly become bright; nor that it should pursue a straight course towards Bethlehem, and at length remain stationary above the house where Christ was. Not one of these things belongs to natural stars. It is more probable that it resembled a comet, and was seen, not in the heaven, but in the air. Yet there is no impropriety in Matthew, who uses popular language, calling it incorrectly a star.
This almost decides likewise the second question: for since astrology is undoubtedly confined within the limits of nature, its guidance alone could not have conducted the Magi to Christ; so that they must have been aided by a secret revelation of the Spirit. I do not go so far as to say, that they derived no assistance whatever from the art: but I affirm, that this would have been of no practical advantage, if they had not been aided by a new and extraordinary revelation.
Bethlehem of Judea – This city is mentioned in Jdg_17:7, and must be distinguished from another of the same name in the tribe of Zebulon, Jos_19:15. It is likewise called Ephrath, Gen_48:7, or Ephratah, Mic_5:2, and its inhabitants Ephrathites, Rth_1:2; 1Sa_17:12. It is situated on the declivity of a hill, about six miles from Jerusalem. בית לחם Beth-lechem, in Hebrew, signifies the house of bread. And the name may be considered as very properly applied to that place where Jesus, the Messiah, the true bread that came down from heaven, was manifested, to give life to the world. But לחם lehem also signifies flesh, and is applied to that part of the sacrifice which was burnt upon the altar. See Lev_3:11-16; Lev_21:6. The word is also used to signify a carcass, Zep_1:17. The Arabic version has Beet lehem, and the Persic Beet allehem: but lehem, in Arabic, never signifies bread, but always means flesh. Hence it is more proper to consider the name as signifying the house of flesh, or, as some might suppose, the house of the incarnation, i.e. the place where God was manifested in the flesh for the salvation of a lost world.
In the days of Herod the king – This was Herod, improperly denominated the Great, the son of Antipater, an Idumean: he reigned 37 years in Judea, reckoning from the – time he was created – king of that country by the Romans. Our blessed Lord was born in the last year of his reign; and, at this time, the scepter had literally departed from Judah, a foreigner being now upon the throne.
As there are several princes of this name mentioned in the New Testament, it may be well to give a list of them here, together with their genealogy.
Herod, the Great, married ten wives, by whom he had several children, Euseb. l. i. c. 9. p. 27. The first was Doris, thought to be an Idumean, whom he married when but a private individual; by her he had Antipater, the eldest of all his sons, whom he caused to be executed five days before his own death.
His second wife was Mariamne, daughter to Hircanus, the sole surviving person of the Asmonean, or Maccabean, race. Herod put her to death. She was the mother of Alexander and Aristobulus, whom Herod had executed at Sebastia, (Joseph. Antiq. l. xvi. c. 13. – De Bello, l. i. c. 17), on an accusation of having entered into a conspiracy against him. Aristobulus left three children, whom I shall notice hereafter.
His third wife was Mariamne, the daughter of Simon, a person of some note in Jerusalem, whom Herod made high priest, in order to obtain his daughter. She was the mother of Herod Philippus, or Herod Philip, and Salome. Herod or Philip married Herodias, mother to Salome, the famous dancer, who demanded the head of John the Baptist, Mar_6:22. Salome had been placed, in the will of Herod the Great, as second heir after Antipater; but her name was erased, when it was discovered that Mariamne, her mother, was an accomplice in the crimes of Antipater, son of Herod the Great. Joseph de Bello, lib. i. c. 18,19,20.
His fourth wife was Malthake, a Samaritan, whose sons were Archelaus and Philip. The first enjoyed half his father’s kingdom under the name of tetrarch, viz. Idumea, Judea, and Samaria: Joseph. Antiq. l. xvii. c. 11. He reigned nine years; but, being accused and arraigned before the Emperor Augustus, he was banished to Vienna, where he died: Joseph. Antiq. l. xvii. c. 15. This is the Archelaus mentioned in Mat_2:22.
His brother Philip married Salome, the famous dancer, the daughter of Herodias; he died without children, and she was afterwards married to Aristobulus.
The fifth wife of Herod the Great was Cleopatra of Jerusalem. She was the mother of Herod surnamed Antipas, who married Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, while he was still living. Being reproved for this act by John the Baptist, Mat_14:3; Mar_6:17; Luk_3:19, and having imprisoned this holy man, he caused him to be beheaded, agreeable to the promise he had rashly made to the daughter of his wife Herodias, who had pleased him with her dancing. He attempted to seize the person of Jesus Christ, and to put him to death. It was to this prince that Pilate sent our Lord, Luk_13:31, Luk_13:32. He was banished to Lyons, and then to Spain, where both he and his wife Herodias died. Joseph. Antiq. l. xv. c. 14. – De Bello, l. ii. c. 8.
The sixth wife of Herod the Great was Pallas, by whom he had Phasaelus: his history is no ways connected with the New Testament.
The seventh was named Phoedra, the mother of Roxana, who married the son of Pheroras.
The eighth was Elpida, mother of Salome, who married another son of Pheroras.
With the names of two other wives of Herod we are not acquainted; but they are not connected with our history, any more than are Pallas, Phoedra, and Elpida, whose names I merely notice to avoid the accusation of inaccuracy.
Aristobulus, the son of Herod the Great by Mariamne, a descendant of the Asmoneans, left two sons and a daughter, viz. Agrippa, Herod, and Herodias, so famous for her incestuous marriage with Antipas, in the life-time of his brother Philip.
Agrippa, otherwise named Herod, who was imprisoned by Tiberius for something he had inconsiderately said against him, was released from prison by Caligula, who made him king of Judea: Joseph. Antiq. l. xviii. c. 8. It was this prince who put St. James to death, and imprisoned Peter, as mentioned in 12. of Acts. He died at Caesarea, in the way mentioned in the Acts, as well as by Josephus, Antiq. l. xix. c.7. He left a son named Agrippa, who is mentioned below.
Herod, the second son of Aristobulus, was king of Chalcis, and, after the death of his brother, obtained permission of the emperor to keep the ornaments belonging to the high priest, and to nominate whom he pleased to that office: Joseph. Antiq. l. xx. c. 1. He had a son named Aristobulus, to whom Nero gave Armenia the lesser, and who married Salome, the famous dancer, daughter to Herodias.
Agrippa, son of Herod Agrippa, king of Judea, and grandson to Aristobulus and Mariamne; he was at first king of Chalcis, and afterwards tetrarch of Galilee, in the room of his uncle Philip: Joseph. Antiq. l. xx. c. 5. It was before him, his sister Berenice, and Felix, who had married Drusilla, Agrippa’s second daughter, that St. Paul pleaded his cause, as mentioned Acts 26.
Herodias, the daughter of Mariamne and Aristobulus, is the person of whom we have already spoken, who married successively the two brothers Philip and Antipas, her uncles, and who occasioned the death of John the Baptist. By her first husband she had Salome, the dancer, who was married to Philip, tetrarch of the Trachonitis, the son of Herod the Great. Salome having had no children by him, she was married to Aristobulus, her cousin-german, son of Herod, king of Chalcis, and brother to Agrippa and Herodias: she had by this husband several children.
This is nearly all that is necessary to be known relative to the race of the Herods, in order to distinguish the particular persons of this family mentioned in the New Testament. See Basnage, Calmet, and Josephus.
There came wise men from the east – Or, Magi came from the eastern countries. “The Jews believed that there were prophets in the kingdom of Saba and Arabia, who were of the posterity of Abraham by Keturah; and that they taught in the name of God, what they had received in tradition from the mouth of Abraham.” – Whitby. That many Jews were mixed with this people there is little doubt; and that these eastern magi, or philosophers, astrologers, or whatever else they were, might have been originally of that class, there is room to believe. These, knowing the promise of the Messiah, were now, probably, like other believing Jews, waiting for the consolation of Israel. The Persic translator renders the Greek Μαγοι by mejooseean, which properly signifies a worshipper of fire; and from which we have our word magician. It is very probable that the ancient Persians, who were considered as worshippers of fire, only honored it as the symbolical representation of the Deity; and, seeing this unusual appearance, might consider it as a sign that the God they worshipped was about to manifest himself among men. Therefore they say, We have seen his star – and are come to worship him; but it is most likely that the Greeks made their Μαγοι magi, which we translate wise men, from the Persian mogh, and moghan, which the Kushuf ul Loghat, a very eminent Persian lexicon, explains by atush perest, a worshipper of fire; which the Persians suppose all the inhabitants of Ur in Chaldea were, among whom the Prophet Abraham was brought up. The Mohammedans apply this title by way of derision to Christian monks in their associate capacity; and by a yet stronger catachresis, they apply it to a tavern, and the people that frequent it. Also, to ridicule in the most forcible manner the Christian priesthood, they call the tavern-keeper, peeri Mughan, the priest, or chief of the idolaters. It is very probable that the persons mentioned by the evangelist were a sort of astrologers, probably of Jewish extraction, that they lived in Arabia-Felix, and, for the reasons above given, came to worship their new-born sovereign. It is worthy of remark, that the Anglo-saxon translates the word Μαγοι by astrologers, from a star or planet, and to know or understand.
Now when Jesus was born (tou de Iēsou gennēthentos). The fact of the birth of Jesus is stated by the genitive absolute construction (first aorist passive participle of the same verb gennaō used twice already of the birth of Jesus, Mat_1:16, Mat_1:20, and used in the genealogy, Mat_1:2-16). Matthew does not propose to give biographic details of the supernatural birth of Jesus, wonderful as it was and disbelieved as it is by some today who actually deny that Jesus was born at all or ever lived, men who talk of the Jesus Myth, the Christ Myth, etc. “The main purpose is to show the reception given by the world to the new-born Messianic King. Homage from afar, hostility at home; foreshadowing the fortunes of the new faith: reception by the Gentiles, rejection by the Jews” (Bruce).
In Bethlehem of Judea (en Bēthleem tēs Ioudaias). There was a Bethlehem in Galilee seven miles northwest of Nazareth (Josephus, Antiquities XIX. 15). This Bethlehem (house of bread, the name means) of Judah was the scene of Ruth’s life with Boaz (Rth_1:1.; Mat_1:5) and the home of David, descendant of Ruth and ancestor of Jesus (Mat_1:5). David was born here and anointed king by Samuel (1Sa_17:12). The town came to be called the city of David (Luk_2:11). Jesus, who was born in this House of Bread called himself the Bread of Life (Joh_6:35), the true Manna from heaven. Matthew assumes the knowledge of the details of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem which are given in Luk_2:1-7 or did not consider them germane to his purpose. Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem from Nazareth because it was the original family home for both of them. The first enrolment by the Emperor Augustus as the papyri show was by families (kat’ oikian). Possibly Joseph had delayed the journey for some reason till now it approached the time for the birth of the child.
In the days of Herod the King (en hēmerais Hērōidou tou Basileōs). This is the only date for the birth of Christ given by Matthew. Luke gives a more precise date in his Gospel (Luk_2:1-3), the time of the first enrolment by Augustus and while Cyrenius was ruler of Syria. More will be said of Luke’s date when we come to his Gospel. We know from Matthew that Jesus was born while Herod was king, the Herod sometimes called Herod the Great. Josephus makes it plain that Herod died b.c. 4. He was first Governor of Galilee, but had been king of Judaea since b.c. 40 (by Antony and Octavius). I call him “Herod the Great Pervert” in Some Minor Characters in the New Testament. He was great in sin and in cruelty and had won the favour of the Emperor. The story in Josephus is a tragedy. It is not made plain by Matthew how long before the death of Herod Jesus was born. Our traditional date a.d. 1, is certainly wrong as Matthew shows. It seems plain that the birth of Jesus cannot be put later than b.c. 5. The data supplied by Luke probably call for b.c. 6 or 7.
Wise men from the east (magoi apo anatolōn). The etymology of Magi is quite uncertain. It may come from the same Indo-European root as (megas) magnus, though some find it of Babylonian origin. Herodotus speaks of a tribe of Magi among the Medians. Among the Persians there was a priestly caste of Magi like the Chaldeans in Babylon (Dan_1:4). Daniel was head of such an order (Dan_2:48). It is the same word as our “magician” and it sometimes carried that idea as in the case of Simon Magus (Act_8:9, Act_8:11) and of Elymas Barjesus (Act_13:6, Act_13:8). But here in Matthew the idea seems to be rather that of astrologers. Babylon was the home of astrology, but we only know that the men were from the east whether Arabia, Babylon, Persia, or elsewhere. The notion that they were kings arose from an interpretation of Isa_60:3; Rev_21:24. The idea that they were three in number is due to the mention of three kinds of gifts (gold, frankincense, myrrh), but that is no proof at all. Legend has added to the story that the names were Caspar, Balthasar, and Melchior as in Ben Hur and also that they represent Shem, Ham, and Japhet. A casket in the Cologne Cathedral actually is supposed to contain the skulls of these three Magi. The word for east (apo anatolōn) means “from the risings” of the sun.
7.Then Herod, having secretly called the Magi The tyrant did not dare to avow his fear and uneasiness, lest he might give fresh courage to a people, by whom he knew that he was hated. In public, therefore, he pretends that this matter does not concern him, but inquires secretly, in order to meet immediate danger. Though a bad conscience made him timid, there can be no doubt that God struck his mind with an unusual fear, which for a time made him incapable of reflection, and almost deprived him of the use of reason. For nothing was more easy than to send one of his courtiers as an escort, under the pretense of courtesy, who would investigate the whole matter, and immediately return. Herod certainly was a man of no ordinary address, and of great courage. It is the more surprising that, in a case of extremity, and when the remedy is at hand, he remains in a state of amazement, and almost dead. Let us learn, that a miracle was effected, in rescuing the Son of God from the jaws of the lion. Not less at the present day does God infatuate his enemies, so that a thousand schemes of injuring and ruining his Church do not occur to their minds, and even the opportunities which are at hand are not embraced. The trick which Herod practiced on the Magi, by pretending that he also would come for the purpose of worshipping Christ, was avoided by the Lord, as we shall see, in another way. But as Herod’s dread of arousing the people against him deprived him of the use of his reason, so again he is driven by such madness, that he does not hesitate or shudder at the thought of provoking God. For he knew that, if a King were born, it was ordained by God, that he should raise up the throne “of David, which was fallen,” (Amo_9:11.) He does not therefore attack men, but furiously dares to fight with God. Two things claim our attention. He was seized with a spirit of giddiness, to attack God; and, on the other hand, his manner of acting was childish: for his design was frustrated, so that he was like a “blind man groping in darkness.”
Privily – Secretly, privately. He did this to ascertain the time when Jesus was born.
Diligently – Accurately, exactly. He took pains to learn the precise time when the star appeared. He did this because he naturally concluded that the star appeared just at the time of his birth, and he wished to know precisely how old the child was.
Go, and search diligently … – Herod took all possible means to obtain accurate information respecting the child, that he might be sure of destroying him. He not only ascertained the probable time of his birth, and the place where he would be born, but he sent the wise men that they might actually see him, and bring him word. All this might have looked suspicious if he had not clothed it with the appearance of religion. He said to them, therefore, that he did it that he might go and worship him also. From this we may learn,
1. That wicked people often cloak their evil designs under the appearance of religion. They attempt to deceive those who are really good, and to make them suppose that they have the same design.
2. Wicked people often attempt to make use of the pious to advance their evil purposes. Men like Herod will stop at nothing if they can carry out their ends. They endeavor to deceive the simple, to allure the unsuspecting, and to beguile the weak, in order to accomplish their own purposes of wickedness.
3. The plans of wicked people are often well laid. Those plans occupy a long time. Such people make diligent inquiry, and all of it has the appearance of religion. But God sees through the design; and though people are deceived, yet God cannot be fooled, Pro_15:3.
9.But they, having heard the King, departed It is truly an instance of base sluggishness, that not one of the Jews offers himself as an escort to those foreigners, to go and see the King who had been promised to their own nation. The scribes show them the way, and point out the place where he was born; but they allow them to depart alone: not one moves a step. They were afraid, perhaps, of Herod’s cruelty: but it displayed wicked ingratitude that, for the sake of the salvation which had been offered to them, they were unwilling to undergo any risk, and cared less about the grace of God than about the frown of a tyrant. The whole nation, I have lately showed, was so degenerate, that they chose rather to be oppressed with the yoke of tyranny, than to submit to any inconvenience arising from a change. If God had not fortified the minds of the Magi by his Spirit, they might have been discouraged by this state of things. But the ardor of their zeal is unabated; they set out without a guide. And yet the means of confirming their faith are not wanting; for they hear that the King, who had been pointed out to them by a star, was long ago described, in glowing language, by divine predictions. It would seem that the star, which hitherto guided them in the way, had lately disappeared. The reason may easily be conjectured. It was, that they might make inquiry in Jerusalem about the new King, and might thus take away all excuse from the Jews, who, after having been instructed about the Redeemer who was sent to them, knowingly and willingly despise him.
When they had heard the king. There is a slight contrast in the Greek, but they for their part having heard the King. They departed; went their way (Revised Version). Took their journey (eporeuyhsan). And lo, the star, which they saw in the East. They would, in accordance with Eastern custom, probably travel by night. Observe that the joy they felt at seeing the star (ver. 10) implies that it had not continued visible (ver. 7, note). They had fully used all means; now they receive fresh Divine guidance. In the East (ver. 2, note). Went before them. Continuously (trohgen); “taking them by the hand and drawing them on” (Chrysostom). Not to show them the way to Bethlehem, for the road was easy, but to assure them of guidance to the Babe, over whose temporary home it stayed. The road to Bethlehem is, and from the nature of the valley must always have been, so nearly straight (until the last half-mile, when there is a sudden turn up the hill) that the star need have moved but slightly. Bethlehem itself is seen soon after passing Mar Elias, a monastery rather more than half-way from Jerusalem (Socin”s “Baedeker,” p. 242). Till it came and stood over where the young Child was. Does the true reading (estayh) suggest the unseen hand by which this star was itself guided and stationed? (Mat_27:11) or is it used with a kind of reflexive force, indicating that it was by no chance that it stood still there its stand”? (cf. stayeiv , Luk_18:11, 40 19:8 Act_2:14, et al. ; cf. also Rev_8:3 Rev_12:1-8)
The star … went before them – From this it appears that the star was a luminous meteor, perhaps at no great distance from the ground. It is not unlikely that they lost sight of it after they had commenced their journey from the East. It is probable that it appeared to them first in the direction of Jerusalem. They concluded that the expected King had been born, and immediately commenced their journey to Jerusalem. When they arrived there, it was important that they should be directed to the very place where he was, and the star again appeared. It was for this reason that they rejoiced. They felt assured that they were under a heavenly guidance, and would be conducted to the new-born King of the Jews. And this shows:
1. That the birth of Jesus was an event of great moment, worthy of the divine interposition in directing these men to find the place of his nativity.
2. God will guide those who are disposed to find the Saviour. Even if for a time the light should be withdrawn, yet it will again appear, and direct us in the way to the Redeemer.
3. Our being led to Christ should fill us with joy. He is the way, the truth, and the life; the Saviour, the friend, the all in all; there is no other way of life, and there is no peace to the soul until he is found. When we are guided to him, therefore, our hearts should overflow with joy and praise; and we should humbly and thankfully follow every direction that leads to the Son of God, Joh_12:35-36.
11.They found the young child So revolting a sight might naturally have created an additional prejudice; for Christ was so far from having aught of royalty surrounding him, that he was in a meaner and more despised condition than any peasant child. But they are convinced that he is divinely appointed to be a King. This thought alone, deeply rooted in their minds, procures their reverence. They contemplate in the purpose of God his exalted rank, which is still concealed from outward view. Holding it for certain, that he will one day be different from what he now appears, they are not at all ashamed to render to him the honors of royalty.
Their presents show whence they came: for there can be no doubt that they brought them as the choicest productions of their country. We are not to understand, that each of them presented his own offering, but that the three offerings, which are mentioned by Matthew, were presented by all of them in common. Almost all the commentators indulge in speculations about those gifts, as denoting the kingdom, priesthood, and burial of Christ. They make gold the symbol of his kingdom, — frankincense, of his priesthoods, — and myrrh, of his burial. I see no solid ground for such an opinion. It was customary, we know, among the Persians, when they offered homage to their kings, to bring a present in their hands. The Magi select those three for the produce of which Eastern countries are celebrated; just as Jacob sent into Egypt the choicest and most esteemed productions of the soil.
“Take of the best fruits in the land in your vessels, and carry down the man a present, a little balm, and a little honey, spices and myrrh, nuts and almonds,” (Gen_43:11.)
Again, in rendering homage, according to the custom of Persia, to him whom they still regarded as an earthly King, they offered the productions of the soil. Our duty is, to adore him in a spiritual manner: for the lawful and reasonable worship which he demands is, that we consecrate first ourselves, and then all that we have, to his service.
Opening their treasures (anoixantes tous thēsaurous autōn). Here “treasures” means “caskets” from the verb (tithēmi), receptacle for valuables. In the ancient writers it meant “treasury” as in 1 Maccabees 3:29. So a “storehouse” as in Mat_13:52. Then it means the things laid up in store, treasure in heaven (Mat_6:20), in Christ (Col_2:3). In their “caskets” the Magi had gold, frankincense, and myrrh, all found at that time in Arabia, though gold was found in Babylon and elsewhere.
11. μετὰ Μαρίας] No stress must be laid on the omission of Joseph here. In the parallel account as regarded the shepherds, in Luk_2:16, he is mentioned. I would rather regard the omission here as indicating a simple matter of fact, and contributing to shew the truthfulness of the narrative:—that Joseph happened not to be present at the time. If the meaning of τὴν οἰκίαν is to be pressed (as in a matter of detail I think it should), it will confirm the idea that Joseph and Mary, probably under the idea that the child was to be brought up at Bethlehem, dwelt there some time after the Nativity. Epiphanius supposes that Mary was at this time on a visit to her kindred at Bethlehem (possibly at a passover) as much as two years after our Lord’s birth. (Hærr. xx. xxx. 29, Lev_8, vol. i. pp. 48, 154, 430.) But if Mary had kindred at Bethlehem, how could she be so ill-provided with lodging, and have (as is implied in Luk_2:7) sought accommodation at an inn? And the supposition of two years having elapsed, derived probably from the διετοῦς of ver. 16, will involve us in considerable difficulty. There seems to be no reason why the magi may not have come within the forty days before the Purification, which itself may have taken place in the interval between their departure and Herod’s discovery that they had mocked him. No objection can be raised to this view from the ἀπὸ διετοῦς of ver. 16: see note there. The general idea is, that the Purification was previous to the visit of the magi. Being persuaded of the historic reality of these narratives of Matt. and Luke, we shall find no difficulty in also believing that, were we acquainted with all the events as they happened, their reconcilement would be an easy matter; whereas now the two independent accounts, from not being aware of, seem to exclude one another. This will often be the case in ordinary life; e.g. in the giving of evidence. And nothing can more satisfactorily shew the veracity and independence of the narrators, where their testimony to the main facts, as in the present case, is consentient.
The house – The place where he was born, or the place where they lived at that time.
Fell down – This was the usual way of showing respect or homage among the Jews, Est_8:3; Job_1:20; Dan_3:7; Psa_72:11; Isa_46:6.
Worshipped him – Did him homage as King of the Jews. See the notes at Mat_2:2.
Had opened their treasures – The treasures which they had brought, or the boxes, etc., in which they had brought their gold, etc.
They presented unto him gifts – These were presented to him as King of the Jews, because they supposed he was to be a distinguished prince and conqueror. It was customary in the East to show respect for persons of distinction by making presents or offerings of this kind. See Gen_32:14; Gen_43:11; 1Sa_10:27; 1Ki_10:2; Psa_72:10-15. This custom is still common in the East, and it is everywhere there unusual to approach a person of distinguished rank without a valuable present.
Frankincense – Frankincense is a white resin or gum. It is obtained from a tree by making incisions in the bark, and suffering the gum to flow out. It is highly odoriferous or fragrant when burned, and was therefore used in worship, where it was burned as a pleasant offering to God. See Exo_30:8; Lev_16:12. It is found in the East Indies, but chiefly in Arabia; and hence it has been supposed probable that the wise men came from Arabia.
Myrrh – This was also a production of Arabia, and was obtained from a tree in the same manner as frankincense. The name denotes bitterness, and was given to it on account of its great bitterness. It was used chiefly in embalming the dead, because it had the property of preserving dead bodies from putrefaction. Compare Joh_19:39, it was much used in Egypt and in Judea. It was obtained from a thorny tree, which grows 8 or 9 feet high. It was at an early period an article of commerce Gen_37:25, and was an ingredient of the holy ointment, Exo_30:23. It was also used as an agreeable perfume, Est_2:12; Psa_45:8; Pro_7:17. It was also sometimes mingled with wine to form an article of drink. Such a drink was given to our Saviour, when about to be crucified, as a stupefying potion, Mar_15:23; compare Mat_27:34. The offerings here referred to were made because they were the most valuable which the country of the Magi or wise men produced. They were tokens of respect and homage which they paid to the new-born King of the Jews. They evinced their high regard for him, and their belief that he was to be an illustrious prince; and the fact that their deed is recorded with approbation shows us that we should offer our most valuable possessions, our all, to the Lord Jesus Christ. Wise men came from far to do him homage, and bowed down, and presented their best gifts and offerings. It is right that we give to him also our hearts, our property, our all.