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.
When Jesus was born – See the full account of his birth in Luke 2:1-20.
In Bethlehem of Judea – Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ, was a small town about six miles south of Jerusalem. The word “Bethlehem” denotes “house of bread” – perhaps given to the place on account of its great fertility. It was also called Ephrata, a word supposed likewise to signify fertility, Gen_35:19; Rth_4:11; Psa_132:6. It was called the city of David Luk_2:4, because it was the city of his nativity, 1Sa_16:1, 1Sa_16:18. It was called Bethlehem of Judea, to distinguish it from a town of the same name in Galilee, Jos_19:15. The soil of Bethlehem was noted for its fertility. Ancient travelers frequently spoke of its productions. The town is situated on an eminence, in the midst of hills and vales. At present (circa 1880’s) it contains about 200 houses, inhabited chiefly by Christians and Muslims, who live together in peace. About 200 paces east of Bethlehem the place is still shown where our Saviour is supposed to have been born. There is a church and a convent there; and beneath the church a subterranean chapel, which is lighted by 32 lamps, which is said to be the place where was the stable in which Jesus was born, though no certain reliance is to be placed on the tradition which makes this the birthplace of the Saviour.
Herod the king – Judea, where our Saviour was born, was a province of the Roman Empire. It was taken about 63 years before his birth by Pompey, and placed under tribute. Herod received his appointment from the Romans, and had reigned at the time of the birth of Jesus for 34 years. Though he was permitted to be called king, yet he was, in all respects, dependent on the Roman emperor. He was commonly called “Herod the Great” because he had distinguished himself in the wars with Antigonus and his other enemies, and because he had evinced great talents in governing and defending his country, in repairing the temple, and in building and ornamenting the cities of his kingdom. He was, however, as much distinguished for his cruelty and his crimes as he was for his greatness. At this time Augustus was Emperor of Rome. The world was at peace. A large part of the known nations of the earth was united under the Roman emperor. Contact between different nations was easy and safe. Similar laws prevailed. The use of the Greek language was general throughout the world. All these circumstances combined to render this a favorable time to introduce the gospel, and to spread it through the earth; and the providence of God was remarkable in preparing the nations in this manner for the easy and rapid spread of the Christian religion.
Wise men – The original word here is μάγοι magoi, from which comes our word magician, now used in a bad sense, but not so in the original. The persons here denoted were philosophers, priests, or astronomers. They lived chiefly in Persia and Arabia. They were the learned men of the Eastern nations. devoted to astronomy, to religion, and to medicine. They were held in high esteem by the Persian court, were admitted as counsellors, and followed the camps in war to give advice.
From the east – It is not known whether they came from Persia or Arabia. Both countries might be denoted by the word East that is, east from Judea.
Jerusalem – The capital of Judea. As there is frequent reference in the New Testament to Jerusalem; as it was the place of the public worship of God; as it was the place where many important transactions in the life of the Saviour occurred, and where he died; and as no Sunday school teacher can intelligently explain the New Testament without some knowledge of that city, it seems desirable to present, a brief description of it. A more full description may be seen in Calmet’s Dictionary, and in the common works on Jewish antiquities. Jerusalem was the capital of the kingdom of Judah, and was built on the line dividing that tribe from the tribe of Benjamin. It was once called “Salem” Gen_14:18; Psa_76:2, and in the days of Abraham was the home of Melchizedek. When the Israelites took possession of the promised land, they found this stronghold in the possession of the Jebusites, by whom it was called Jebus or Jebusi, Jos_18:28.
The name “Jerusalem” was probably compounded of the two by changing a single letter, and calling it, for the sake of the sound, “Jerusalem” instead of “Jebusalem.” The ancient Salem was probably built on Mount Moriah or Acra – the eastern and western mountains on which Jerusalem was subsequently built. When the Jebusites became masters of the place, they erected a fortress in the southern quarter of the city, which was subsequently called Mount Zion, but which they called “Jebus”; and although the Israelites took possession of the adjacent territory Jos_18:28, the Jebusites still held this fortress or upper town until the time of David, who wrested it from them 2Sa_5:7-9, and then removed his court from Hebron to Jerusalem, which was thenceforward known as the city of David, 2Sa_6:10, 2Sa_6:12; 1Ki_8:1. Jerusalem was built on several hills Mount Zion on the south, Mount Moriah on the east, upon which the temple was subsequently built (see the notes at Mat_21:12), Mount Acra on the west, and Mount Bezetha on the north.
Mount Moriah and Mount Zion were separated by a valley, called by Josephus the Valley of Cheesemongers, over which there was a bridge or raised way leading from the one to the other. On the southeast of Mount Moriah, and between that and Mount Zion, there was a bluff or high rock capable of strong fortification, called Ophel. The city was encompassed by hills. On the west there were hills which overlooked the city; on the south was the valley of Jehoshaphat, or the valley of Hinnom (see the notes at Mat_5:22), separating it from what is called the Mount of Corruption; on the east was the valley or the brook Kedron, dividing the city from the Mount of Olives. On the north the country was more level, though it was a broken or rolling country. On the southeast the valleys of the Kedron and Jehoshaphat united, and the waters flowed through the broken mountains in a southeasterly direction to the Dead Sea, some 15 miles distant.
The city of Jerusalem stands in 31 degrees 50 minutes north latitude, and 35 degrees 20 minutes east longitude from Greenwich. It is 34 miles southeasterly from Jaffa – the ancient Joppa which is its seaport, and 120 miles southwesterly from Damascus. The best view of the city of Jerusalem is from Mount Olivet on the east (compare the notes at Mat_21:1), the mountains in the east being somewhat higher than those on the west. The city was anciently enclosed within walls, a part of which are still standing. The position of the walls has been at various times changed, as the city has been larger or smaller, or as it has extended in different directions. The wall on the south formerly included the whole of Mount Zion, though the modern wall runs over the summit, including about half of the mountain. In the time of the Saviour the northern wall enclosed only Mounts Acra and Moriah north, though after his death Agrippa extended the wall so as to include Mount Bezetha on the north.
About half of that is included in the present wall. The limits of the city on the east and the west, being more determined by the nature of the place, have been more fixed and permanent. The city was watered in part by the fountain of Siloam on the east for a description of which, see the Luk_13:4 note, and Isa_7:3 note), and in part by the fountain of Gihon on the west of the city, which flowed into the vale of Jehoshaphat; and in the time of Solomon by an aqueduct, part of which is still remaining, by which water was brought from the vicinity of Bethlehem. The “pools of Solomon,” three in number, one rising above another, and adapted to hold a large quantity of water, are still remaining in the vicinity of Bethlehem. The fountain of Siloam still flows freely (see the note at Isa_7:3)}, though the fountain of Gihon is commonly dry. A reservoir or tank, however, remains at Gihon. Jerusalem had, probably, its highest degree of splendor in the time of Solomon. About 400 hundred years after, it was entirely destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. It lay utterly desolate during the 70 years of the Jewish captivity.
Then it was rebuilt, and restored to some degree of its former magnificence, and remained about 600 years, when it was utterly destroyed by Titus in 70 a.d. In the reign of Adrian the city was partly rebuilt under the name of AElia. The monuments of Pagan idolatry were erected in it, and it remained under Pagan jurisdiction until Helena, the mother of Constantine, overthrew the memorials of idolatry, and erected a magnificent church over the spot which was supposed to be the place of the Redeemer’s sufferings and bruial. Julian, the apostate, with the design to destroy the credit of the prophecy of the Saviour that the temple should remain in ruins Matt. 24, endeavored to rebuild the temple. His own historian, Ammianus Marcellinus (see Warburton’s Divine Legation of Moses), says that the workmen were impeded by balls of fire coming from the earth, and that he was compelled to abandon the undertaking.
Jerusalem continued in the power of the Eastern emperors until the reign of the Caliph Omar, the third in succession from Mohammed, who reduced it under his control about the year 640. The Saracens continued masters of Jerusalem until the year 1099, when it was taken by the Crusaders under Godfrey of Bouillon. They founded a new kingdom, of which Jerusalem was the capital, which continued eighty-eight years under nine kings. At last this kingdom was utterly ruined by Saladin; and though the Christians once more obtained possession of the city, yet they were obliged again to relinquish it. In 1217 the Saracens were expelled by the Turks, who have continued in possession of it ever since .
Jerusalem has been taken and pillaged 17 times, and millions of people have been slaughtered within its walls. At present there is a splendid mosque – the mosque of Omar – on the site of the temple . The present population of Jerusalem (circa 1880’s) is variously estimated at from 15,000 to 30,000 Turner estimates it at 26,000; Richard son, 20,000; Jowett, 15,000; Dr. Robinson at 11,000, namely, Muslims 4,500; Jews 3,000, Christians 3,500. – Biblical Researches, vol. ii. p. 83, 84.
The Jews have a number of synagogues. The Roman Catholics have a convent, and have the control of the church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Greeks have twelve convents; the Armenians have three convents on Mount Zion and one in the city; the Copts, Syrians, and Abyssinians have each of them one convent. The streets are narrow, and the houses are of stone, most of them low and irregular, with flat roofs or terraces, and with small windows only toward the street, usually protected by iron grates. The above description has been obtained from a great variety of sources, and it would be useless to refer to the works where the facts have been obtained.
Saying. The inquiry was on their lips at the moment of their appearance. Where is? Not “whether there is.” The Magi show no signs of doubt. He that is born King of the Jews; i.e. he that is born to be King of the Jews. Whether he is king from the very moment of his birth is not stated. The rendering of the Revised Version margin, “Where is the King of the Jews that is born?” would imply this. With either form the bystanders could hardly help contrasting him with their then ruler, who had acquired the kingship after years of conflict, and who was of foreign extraction. King of the Jews. Notice:
(1) This was, perhaps, Herod’s exact title (Mat_2:1, note).
(2) They do not say king of the world. They accept the facts that the Jews alone expected this king, and that according to the more literal interpretation of the Jewish prophecies the homage of the world would be rendered to him as the Head of the Jewish nation.
(3) The title is not used of our Lord again until the Passion, where it is only used by heathen. The Magi and the Roman, learning and administration, East and West, acknowledge, at least in form, the King of the Jews.
(4) The Jews themselves preferred the term, “King of Israel”. The term “Jews” made them only one of the nations of the earth; “Israel” reminded them of their theocratic privileges. For. They state the reason of their certainty. We have seen (we saw, Revised Version); at home. His star. In the way of their ordinary pursuits they learned of Christ. The observation of nature led them to nature’s Bond (Col_1:17). What this star really was has been the subject of much consideration without any very satisfactory result. The principal theories are:
(1) It was the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, which took place in May to July and again in September, b.c. 7.
(2) It was the rising of Sirius on the same day in the fifth, fourth, third, and second years b.c.
(3) It was some strange evanescent star such as Kepler saw in 1603-4.
(4) Astronomy can suggest nothing which satisfies all the conditions, and the appearance must have been strictly miraculous.
Since Professor Pritchard’s article in the ‘Dictionary of the Bible,’ this last has been generally accepted in England. A further question is—How came they to identify the star as “his”? i.e. What made the Magi connect the coming of the King of the Jews with a star? and what made them consider that this particular appearance was the one they expected? The latter part of the question can hardly be answered, except on the supposition that the star that they saw was in itself so extraordinary as to convince them that no greater star could be looked for. To the former part various answers have been given.
(1) Balaam’s prophecy (Num_24:17) was understood literally, and the knowledge of it, with its misinterpretation, had spread to the Magi. For this literal interpretation, cf. the ‘Pesikta Zutarta’ (‘Lekah Tob’) on Num_24:17, where it says that in the fifth year of the heptad before Messiah “the star” shall shine forth from the east,, and this is the star of the Messiah (cf. also Edersheim, ‘Life,’ etc., 1.212). Similarly we find the false Messiah of the second century applying the term to himself—”Barcochab.”
(2) They had learned, by intercourse with Jews (cf. the influence of the Jewish Sibylline oracles on the fourth eclogue), that these latter expected a great King, and they had applied to his coming, as to all events, the science that they themselves practised. They believed fully in astrology, and the Divine ordering that a star should appear to them was a condescension to the then state of human knowledge.
In the East (ἐν τῇ ἀνατολῇ). Ellicott points out that to translate this “at its rising” seems to be at needless variance with the use of the same words in Num_24:9, where they seem to stand in a kind of local antithesis to “where the young Child was.” For the phrase as referring to the Eastern part of the earth, cf. Clem. Romans, § 5. It is more definite than the plural of verse 1.
And are come. “We saw … and came” (εἴδομεν … ἤλθομεν) without delay. To Worship him. Not as God, but as Lord and King (Mat_4:9, note). The prostration of themselves bodily before him (προσκυνῆσαι; cf. also verse 11) was not a Greek or Roman, but an Eastern, and it is said especially a Persian, form of homage.
Where is he … – There was at that time a prevalent expectation that some remarkable personage was about to appear in Judea. The Jews were anxiously looking for the coming of the Messiah. By computing the time mentioned by Daniel Dan_9:25-27, they knew that the period was approaching when he would appear. This personage, they supposed would be a temporal prince, and they were expecting that he would deliver them from Roman bondage. It was natural that this expectation should spread into other countries. Many Jews at that time lived in Egypt, in Rome, and in Greece; many, also, had gone to Eastern countries, and in every place they carried their sacred writings, and diffused the expectation that some remarkable person was about to appear. Suetonius, a Roman historian, speaking of this rumor. says: “An ancient and settled persuasion prevailed throughout the East that the Fates had decreed some one to proceed from Judea who should attain universal empire.” Tacitus, another Roman historian, says: “Many were persuaded that it was contained in the ancient books of their priests, that at that very time the East should prevail, and that some one should proceed from Judea and possess the dominion.” Josephus also, and Philo, two Jewish historians, make mention of the same expectation. The fact that such a person was expected is clearly attested. Under this expectation these wise men came to do him homage, and inquired anxiously where he was born?
His star – Among the ancients the appearance of a new star or comet was regarded as an omen of some remarkable event. Many such appearances are recorded by the Roman historians at the birth or death of distinguished men. Thus they say that at the death of Julius Caesar a comet appeared in the heavens and shone seven days. These wise men also considered this as an evidence that the long-expected Prince was born. It is possible that they had been led to this belief by the prophecy of Balaam, Num_24:17, “There shall come a star out of Jacob,” etc. What this star was is not known. There have been many conjectures respecting it, but nothing is revealed concerning it. We are not to suppose that it was what we commonly mean by a star. The stars are vast bodies fixed in the heavens, and it is absurd to suppose that one of them was sent to guide the wise men. It is most probable that it was a luminous appearance, or meteor, such as we now see sometimes shoot from the sky, which the wise men saw, and which directed them to Jerusalem. It is possible that the same thing is meant which is mentioned by Luk_2:9; “The glory of the Lord shone round about them;” i. e., (see the note on this place), a great light appeared shining around them. That light might have been visible from afar, and might have been seen by the wise men in the East.
In the East – This does not mean that they had seen the star to the east of themselves, but that, when they were in the East, they had seen this star. As this star was in the direction of Jerusalem. it must have been west of them. It might be translated, “We, being in the East, have seen his star.” It is called his star, because they supposed it to be intended to indicate the time and place of his birth.
To worship him – This does not mean that they had come to pay him religious homage, or to adore him They regarded him as the King of the Jews, but there is no evidence that they supposed that he was divine. They came to honor him as a Prince, or a king, not as God. The original word implies no more than this. It means to prostrate oneself before another; to fall down and pay homage to another. This was the mode in which homage was paid to earthly kings, and this they wished to pay to the new-born King of the Jews. See the same meaning of the word in Mat_20:20; Mat_18:26; Act_10:25; Luk_14:10. The English word “worship” also meant formerly “to respect, to honor, to treat with civil reverence’” (Webster).
When; and when, Revised Version. There is a contrast (δέ) between the eager question of the Magi and the feelings of Herod. Herod the king. In the true text the emphasis is not on the person (as in Mat_2:1, where the date was all-important), but on the office as then exercised. Tile king visibly regnant is contrasted with him who was born to be King. Heard. Through some of his many sources of information, for “there were spies set everywhere” (Josephus, ‘Ant.,’ 15.10. 4).
These things; it, Revised Version. Nothing is expressed in the original. He was troubled; perplexed, agitated (ἐταράχθη). Fully in accordance with his jealous and suspicious character. For he had already slain, as actual or possible candidates for the throne, five of the Maccabean princes and princesses, including his favourite wife Mariamne (thus extirpating the direct line) and also his two sons by Mariamne. Josephus (‘Ant.,’ 17.2. 4; cf. Holtzmann) mentions a prediction of the Pharisees towards the end of Herod’s life, that “God had decreed that Herod’s government should cease, and his posterity should be deprived of it.” This seems to have a Messianic reference, though used at the time for an intrigue in favour of Pheroras, Herod’s brother.
And all Jerusalem. The feminine (here only, πᾶσα Ἰεροσόλυμα) points to a Hebrew source. The reason for the inhabitants of Jerusalem feeling troubled is generally explained, by their fear, which was in fact only too well justified by experience, that the news would excite Herod to fresh crimes. It is also possible that many would shrink from the changes which the coming of Messiah could not but bring. Present ease, though only comparative, is with the unbelieving preferable to possibilities of the highest blessedness. Mat_21:10 affords both a parallel and a contrast. With him. In this respect Jerusalem was one with Herod (Joh_1:11).
He was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him (etarachthē kai pāsa Ierosoluma met’ autou). Those familiar with the story of Herod the Great in Josephus can well understand the meaning of these words. Herod in his rage over his family rivalries and jealousies put to death the two sons of Mariamne (Aristobulus and Alexander), Mariamne herself, and Antipater, another son and once his heir, besides the brother and mother of Mariamne (Aristobulus, Alexandra) and her grandfather John Hyrcanus. He had made will after will and was now in a fatal illness and fury over the question of the Magi. He showed his excitement and the whole city was upset because the people knew only too well what he could do when in a rage over the disturbance of his plans. “The foreigner and usurper feared a rival, and the tyrant feared the rival would be welcome” (Bruce). Herod was a hated Idumaean.
The chief priests – Not only the high priest for the time being, called כהן הראש cohen ha-rosh, 2Ki_25:18, and his deputy, called כהן משנה cohen mishneh, with those who had formerly borne the high priest’s office; but also, the chiefs or heads of the twenty four sacerdotal families, which David distributed into so many courses, 1 Chronicles 24. These latter are styled סרי הכהנים sarey ha-cohanim, chief of the priests, 2Ch_36:14; Ezr_8:24; and ראשי הכהנים roshey ha-cohanim, heads of the priests, Neh_12:7. Josephus calls them by the same name as the writers of the New Testament. In his Life, sect. 8, he mentions πολλους – των Αρχιερεων, Many of the chief priests. The word is used in the singular in this last sense, for a chief of the priests, Act_19:14.
Scribes – The word Γραμματευς, in the Septuagint, is used for a political officer, whose business it was to assist kings and civil magistrates, and to keep an account in writing of public acts and occurrences. Such an officer is called in Hebrew ספר המלך seper hamelech, ὁ γραμματευς του βασιλεως, the king’s scribe, or secretary. See Lxx. 2Ki_12:10.
The word is often used by the Lxx. for a man of learning, especially for one skilled in the Mosaic law: and, in the same sense, it is used by the New Testament writers. Γραμματευς is therefore to be understood as always implying a man of letters, or learning, capable of instructing the people. The derivation of the names proves this to be the genuine meaning of the word γραμμα: a letter, or character, in writing: or γραμματα, letters, learning, erudition, and especially that gained from books. The Hebrew ספר or סופר sopher, from saphar, to tell, count, cypher, signifies both a book, volume, roll, etc., and a notary, recorder, or historian; and always signifies a man of learning. We often term such a person a man of letters.
The word is used Act_19:35, for a civil magistrate at Ephesus, probably such a one as we would term recorder. It appears that Herod at this time gathered the whole Sanhedrin, in order to get the fullest information on a subject by which all his jealous fears had been alarmed.
And when he had gathered … together (καὶ συναγαγών). The Revised Version, and gathering together, suggests that there was no delay.
All the chief priests and scribes of the people (πάντας τοὺς ἀρχιερεῖς καὶ γραμματεῖς τοῦ λαοῦ). In the absence of the article before γραμματεῖς we must take the words, “of the people,” as belonging to both terms. The addition helped to bring out the evangelist’s thought that the representatives of the chosen people (1Pe_2:10) were fully informed of the coming of Christ. The chief priests (cf. also Mat_16:21, note) represented the ecclesiastical and Sadducean part, the scribes the more literary and probably the Pharisaic part, of the nation. The width of the term “all,” and the double classification, seem to point to this not being a meeting of the Sanhedrin as such. Herod called an informal and perhaps the more comprehensive meeting of those who could assist him.
He demanded of them; Revised Version, inquired, for “demand” is, in modern English, too strong for ἐπυνθάνετο The tyrant could be courteous when it served his purpose. Does the imperfect mark his putting the question to one after another (cf. Act_1:6; and contrast Joh_4:52)?
Where Christ (the Christ, Revised Version) should be born (γεννᾶται). In Mat_2:2 (ὁτεχθείς) the stress lay on his birth as an accomplished fact. Here on his birth as connected with his origin The present is chosen, not the future, because Herod is stating a theological question without reference to time. Observe, in Herod’s inquiry and subsequent action, the combination of superstition and irreligion. He was willing to accept the witness of stars and of prophecies, but not willing to allow himself to be morally influenced by it. His attempt to kill this Child was the expression of a desire to destroy the Jewish nationality so far as this was severed from himself, and perhaps with it to uproot at the same time a fundamental part of the Jewish religion.
He inquired of them where the Christ should be born (epunthaneto par’ autōn pou ho Christos gennātai). The prophetic present (gennātai) is given, the very words of Herod retained by Matthew’s report. The imperfect tense (epunthaneto) suggests that Herod inquired repeatedly, probably of one and another of the leaders gathered together, both Sadducees (chief priests) and Pharisees (scribes). McNeile doubts, like Holtzmann, if Herod actually called together all the Sanhedrin and probably “he could easily ask the question of a single scribe,” because he had begun his reign with a massacre of the Sanhedrin (Josephus, Ant. XIV. ix. 4). But that was thirty years ago and Herod was desperately in earnest to learn what the Jews really expected about the coming of “the Messiah.” Still Herod probably got together not the Sanhedrin since “elders” are not mentioned, but leaders among the chief priests and scribes, not a formal meeting but a free assembly for conference. He had evidently heard of this expected king and he would swallow plenty of pride to be able to compass the defeat of these hopes.
And they said unto him (hoi de eipan autōi). Whether the ecclesiastics had to search their scriptures or not, they give the answer that is in accord with the common Jewish opinion that the Messiah was to come from Bethlehem and of the seed of David (Joh_7:42). So they quote Mic_5:2, “a free paraphrase” Alford calls it, for it is not precisely like the Hebrew text or like the Septuagint. It may have come from a collection of testimonia with which J. Rendel Harris has made the world familiar. He had consulted the experts and now he has their answer.
Bethlehem of Judah is the place. The use of the perfect passive indicative (gegraptai) is the common form in quoting scripture. It stands written.
Shall be shepherd (poimanei). The Authorized Version had “shall rule,” but “shepherd” is correct. “Homer calls kings ‘the shepherds of the people’”(Vincent). In Heb_13:20 Jesus is called “the great shepherd of the sheep.” Jesus calls himself “the good shepherd” (Joh_10:11). Peter calls Christ “the chief shepherd” (1Pe_2:25). “The Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall be their shepherd” (Rev_7:17). Jesus told Peter to “shepherd” the lambs (Joh_21:16). Our word pastor means shepherd.
And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Jude, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel; and thou Bethlehem, land of Judah, art in no wise least among the princes of Judah: For out of thee shall come forth a governor, which shall be shepherd of my people Israel (Revised Version). In this quotation from Mic_5:2 notice the following Variations from the Hebrew, and practically from the LXX.:
(1) “Land of Judah” for “Ephratah”; an unimportant change in the terms of definition.
(2) “Art in no wise least” for “which art little to be “; a verbal contradiction probably, but also unimportant, as the thought of the context in Micah is of Bethlehem’s greatness.
(3) “Princes” for “thousands.” This may be due
(a) to a different pointing of the Hebrew, יפֵלֻאַבְּ for יפֵלְאַבְּ (cf. the rabbinic commentary, ‘Metzud. Zion.’), or
(b) to understanding יפֵלְאַבְּ as “families”, and then concentrating the family in its head.
(4) “For out of thee shall come forth a governor, which shall be shepherd of my people Israel” for “out of thee shall one come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel.” This is a paraphrase, with a paraphrastic addition from 2Sa_5:2 (2Sa_7:7), in order to distinctly identify the ruler with Messiah.
Nothing is commoner in Jewish authors than the silent conjunction of quotations from separate contexts. In this case the thought of the shepherd in Mic_5:4 made the addition from Samuel the more easy. It must also be noticed that the reference of the passage in Micah to Christ is fully borne out by Jewish writers. Though they generally explain the rest of the verse as referring to the long lapse of time from David himself, they understand the ruler to be Messiah. But it is not usual with Jewish interpreters to understand the reference to Bethlehem as implying the place of Messiah’s own birth. They generally take it as referring to the home of David, Messiah’s ancestor. And this is the more natural meaning of the prophecy. The quotation, however, from the Jerusalem Talmud already given on verse 1, and the Targum of Jonathan on Gen_35:21 (“the tower of Edar—the place whence King Messiah is about to be revealed in the end of the days”), endorse the thoroughly Jewish character of the reply given to Herod (cf. also Joh_7:42). If it be asked why St. Matthew does not give an exact and verbal rendering of the Hebrew, the answer may be made that he probably gives the current form of its exposition. The high priests and scribes would have doubtless quoted it accurately in the process of weighing Micah’s statement, but when, as here, they were only reproducing the result that they had arrived at, they would care for only the substance of the prophet’s teaching (cf. the paraphrastic rendering of the Targum). In the land of Judah; Revised Version omits in (Βηθλεὲμ γῆ Ἰούδα). “Bethlehem-Judah” would have presented no difficulty, for a town was often distinguished by the apposition of the name of the district in which it was situated; e.g. Ramoth-Gilead, Kedesh-Naphtali. It seems best to explain the γῆ as a mere expansion of “Judah” (cf. 1 Macc. 5:68, ἄζωτον γῆν ἀλλοφυλῶν, where probably the thought was Ashdod-Philistia). It is, however, possible that γῆ is here used in the sense of “the town and its surrounding district, over which district, it is to be observed, Herod extended his massacre (verse 16)” (Humphrey, in loc.).
Then Herod, when he had privily called the Wise Men. Secrecy was doubly necessary. He would not publicly commit himself to acknowledging the rights of the new King, and he would give no opportunity for others to warn the Child’s parents of the dangerous interest that Herod was taking in him. Duplicity was very characteristic of Herod; cf. his assassination of Aristobulus the high priest (Josephus, ‘Ant.,’ 15.3. 3), and his alluring his son Antipater home to death (ibid., 17.5. 1).
Inquired of them diligently; learned of them carefully (Revised Version); “lerned of hem bisili” (Wickliffe); ἠκρίβωσεν παρ αὐτῶν. The stress is not upon Herod’s careful questioning, but on the exact information that he obtained. What time the star appeared. Although this is not the literal translation, it may, perhaps, represent the sense of the original (τὸν χρόνον τοῦ φαινομένου ἀστέρος) , the participle characterizing the star in its most important relation—its appearance, and the words being treated as a compound expression (cf. Joh_12:9, Joh_12:12). Herod supposed that the birth of the Babe was synchronous with the first appearance of the star. The translation, however, of the Revised Version margin, “the time of the star that appeared,” better suits the exact wording (χρόνον, not καιρόν;φαινομένου, not φανέντος) , the phrase thus including both the first appearance and also the period of continuance (cf. Grotius, “non initium, sed continuitas”). But it is difficult to see What Herod would have learned from this latter particular. Some even think that the star was still visible (Plumptre; Weiss, ‘Matthew’), but in this case the joy of the Magi in Mat_2:10 is not satisfactorily explained.
Then Herod privily called the wise men (tote Hērōidēs lathrai kalesas tous magous). He had manifestly not told members of the Sanhedrin why he was concerned about the Messiah. So he conceals his motives to the Magi. And yet he “learned of them carefully” (ekribōsen), “learned exactly” or “accurately.” He was anxious to see if the Jewish prophecy of the birthplace of the Messiah agreed with the indications of the star to the Magi. He kept to himself his purpose. The time of the appearing star (ton chronon tou phainomenou asteros) is not “the time when the star appeared,” but the age of the star’s appearance.
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.
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 (ἐπορεύθησαν) 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 (Mat_2:10) implies that it had not continued visible (Mat_2:7, note). They had fully used all means; now they receive fresh Divine guidance.
In the East (Mat_2:2, note). Went before them. Continuously (τροῆγεν); “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.
Till it came and stood over where the young Child was. Does the true reading (ἐστάθη) 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—”took its stand” (cf. σταθείς, Luk_18:11, Luk_18:40; Luk_19:8; Act_2:14, et al.; cf. also Rev_8:3; 12:18)?
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.
Expositor’s Greek NT
Mat_2:11. The Magi enter and do homage.
—καὶ ε. ε. τ. οἰκίαν: the house. In Luke the shepherds find the holy family in a stable, and the holy child lying in a manger; reconcilable by assuming that the Magi arrived after they had found refuge in a friend’s house (Epiphan. Theophy.).
—εἶδον τ. π.… αὐτοῦ: εἶδον better than εὗρον, which seems to have been introduced by the copyists as not only in itself suitable to the situation, but relieving the monotony caused by too frequent use of εἶδον (Mat_2:9-10). The child with His mother, Joseph not mentioned, not intentionally, that no wrong suspicions might occur to the Gentiles (Rabanus in Aquin. Cat. Aur.).
—καὶ πεσόντες … σμύρναν. They come, eastern fashion, with full hands, as befits those who enter into the presence of a king. They open the boxes or sacks (θησαυροὺς, some ancient copies seem to have read πήρας = sacculos, which Grotius, with probability, regards as an interpretative gloss that had found its way into the text, vide Epiphanius Adv. Haer. Alogi., c. 8), and bring forth gold, frankincense and myrrh, the two latter being aromatic gums distilled from trees.
—λίβανον: in classic Greek, the tree, in later Greek and N. T., the gum, τὸ θυμιώμενον = λιβανωτός, vide Phryn. ed. Lobeck, p. 187. The gifts were of three kinds, hence the inference that the Magi were three in number. That they were kings was deduced from texts in Psalms and Prophecies (e.g., Psa_72:10, Isa_60:3), predicting that kings would come doing homage and bringing gifts to Messiah. The legend of the three kings dates as far back as Origen, and is beautiful but baseless. It grew with time; by-and-by the kings were furnished with names. The legendary spirit loves definiteness.
The gifts would be products of the givers’ country, or in high esteem and costly there. Hence the inference drawn by some that the Magi were from Arabia. Thus Grotius: “Myrrha nonnisi in Arabia nascitur, nec thus nisi apud Jabaeos Arabum portionem: sed et aurifera est felix Arabia”. Gold and incense (λίβανος) are mentioned in Isa_60:6 among the gifts to be brought to Israel in the good time coming. The fathers delighted in assigning to these gifts of the Magi mystic meanings: gold as to a king, incense as to God, myrrh as to one destined to die (ὡς μέλλοντι γεύσασθαι θανάτου). Grotius struck into a new line: gold = works of mercy; incense = prayer; myrrh = purity—to the disgust of Fritzsche, who thought such mystic interpretations beneath so great a scholar.
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.
Being warned (χρηματισθέντες)
The verb means to give a response to one who asks or consults: hence, in the passive, as here, to receive an answer. The word therefore implies that the wise men had sought counsel of God; and so Wycliffe, “And answer taken in sleep.”
Mat_2:13. Departed, withdrawn, same word as in Mat_2:12, Mat_2:14, Mat_2:22. It is also employed in describing another rapid series of withdrawals, Mat_14:13; Mat_15:21.
—The—rather an—angel, the Greek having here no article. Appeareth in a dream, see on “Mat_1:20”.
—Take, more exactly, take along, take with you, as in Mat_26:37.
—Egypt was at this time a well-governed Roman province, and beyond the jurisdiction of Herod. A journey of some seventy-five miles southwest, would bring Joseph to the border, towards the isthmus, and a hundred miles more would take him into the heart of the country. Besides being thus easy of access, and having in earlier days been a place of refuge for fugitives from Judea, (1Ki_11:40 Jer_43:7) Egypt was now thronged with Jewish residents. Alexander the Great, in laying out his new city of Alexandria, assigned a place to the Jews, granting them equal privileges with the Macedonians. The early Ptolemies pursued a similar course, transferring some from Palestine by force, and encouraging the immigration of others. In Egypt was made the greater part, probably the whole, of the famous translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Greek, commonly called the Septuagint. About 150 B. C., a separate temple was built for the Jews in Egypt, at once evincing and tending to increase their importance. Somewhat earlier began the succession of Jewish Alexandrine philosophers, the most remarkable of whom, Philo, was now twenty to thirty years old. In a treatise written about A. D. 40, he says the Jews in Egypt numbered near a million. These facts afford reasons for Joseph’s being directed to flee into Egypt. At the same time all was providentially arranged with a view to the fulfilment of prophecy (Mat_2:15). A late tradition names the village of Matarea, near Leontopolis, the site of the Jewish temple, as the residence of the “holy family.” Late apocryphal writings have many marvellous stories of the flight and sojourn, and of the infancy of Jesus in general, which have passed freely into Christian art, but are otherwise unimportant. We may conjecture that the gifts of the Magi aided in the support of the refugees; a carpenter dwelling as a foreigner in a crowded country, was not likely at once to find adequate employment.
13.And when they had departed How many days elapsed from the departure of the Magi, till Joseph was ordered to flee into Egypt, is not known, nor is it of much importance to inquire: only it is probable that the Lord spared Mary, till she was so far recovered from childbirth as to be able to perform the journey. It was a wonderful purpose of God, that he chose to preserve his Son by flight. The mind of Joseph must have been harassed by dangerous temptations, when he came to see that there was no hope but in flight: for in flight there was no appearance of divine protection. Besides, it was very difficult to reconcile the statement, that he who was to be the Savior of all, could not be preserved without the exertion of a mortal man. But, in preserving the life of his Son, God maintained such reserve, as to give some indications of his heavenly power, and yet not to make it so manifest as to prevent it from being concealed under the appearance of weakness: for the full time of glorifying Christ openly was not yet come. The angel predicts an event which was hidden, and unknown to men. That is an evident proof of divine guidance. But the angel orders him to defend the life of the child by flight and exile. This belongs to the weakness of flesh, to which Christ was subjected.
We are here taught, that God has more than one way of preserving his own people. Sometimes he makes astonishing displays of his power; while at other times he employs dark coverings or shadows, from which feeble rays of it escape. This wonderful method of preserving the Son of God under the cross teaches us, that they act improperly who prescribe to God a fixed plan of action. Let us permit him to advance our salvation by a diversity of methods; and let us not refuse to be humbled, that he may more abundantly display his glory. Above all, let us never avoid the cross, by which the Son of God himself was trained from his earliest infancy. This flight is a part of the foolishness of the cross, but it surpasses all the wisdom of the world. That he may appear at his own time as the Savior of Judea, he is compelled to flee from it, and is nourished by Egypt, from which nothing but what was destructive to the Church of God had ever proceeded. Who would not have regarded with amazement such an unexpected work of God?
Joseph immediately complies with the injunction of the Angel. This is another proof of the certainty of the dream: for such promptitude of obedience plainly shows, that he had no doubt whatever, that it was God who had enjoined him to take flight. This eager haste may wear somewhat of the aspect of distrust: for the flight by night had some appearance of alarm. But it is not difficult to frame an excuse. He saw that God had appointed a method of safety which was low and mean: and he concludes that he is at liberty to take flight in such a state of alarm as is commonly produced by extreme danger. Our fear ought always to be regulated by the divine intimations. If it agrees with them, it will not be opposed to faith.
Be thou there until I have told thee By these words the Angel declares, that the life of the child will, even in future, be the object of the divine care. Joseph needed to be thus strengthened, so as to conclude with certainty, that God would not only conduct him in the journey, but that, during his banishment, God would be his constant protector. And in this way God was pleased to allay many anxieties, with which the heart of the good man must have been perplexed, so that he enjoyed serenity of mind during his sojourn in Egypt. But for this, not a moment would have passed without numerous temptations, when he saw himself excluded not only from the inheritance promised by God to all his saints, — but from the temple, from sacrifices, from a public profession of his faiths, — and was living among the worst enemies of God, and in a deep gulf of superstitions. He carried with him, indeed, in the person of the child, all the blessings which the Fathers had hoped to enjoy, or which the Lord had promised to them: but as he had not yet made such proficiency in faith, and in the knowledge of Christ, he needed to be restrained by this injunction, Be thou there until I have told thee, that he might not be displeased at languishing in banishment from his country among the Egyptians.
When he arose, he took; Revised Version, and he arose and took. The ἐγερθείς here, as in Mat_2:13, precludes delay. The young Child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt. As St. Paul in after years was able to connect himself with fellow-craftsmen, and thus maintain himself (Act_18:3), so might Joseph reasonably expect to be able to do in Egypt, and the more so since the connexion there between those who worked at the same trade seems to have been even closer than elsewhere, for in tile great synagogue at Alexandria they sat together, “so that if a stranger came he could join himself to his fellow-craftsmen and, through their means, obtain his livelihood”. Jewish reference to our Lord’s stay in Egypt are to be found in the blasphemous tables of his having brought thence his knowledge of magic.
Mat_2:15. That it might be fulfilled… of the Lord by, On ‘of’ and ‘by,’ see on “Mat_1:22”.
Have I called, Did I call, is a literal translation of the Greek, and certainly better suits the statement of a remote event. The prediction quoted is from Hos_11:1. In form it follows the Hebrew exactly, while the Septuagint is here quite erroneous. Hosea clearly refers to the calling of Israel out of Egypt, the nation being elsewhere spoken of as God’s ‘son.’ (Exo_4:22 Jer_31:9; compare Wis_18:13.) But there is an evident typical relation between Israel and Messiah. Thus in Isaiah 42-53, the ‘servant of Jehovah’ is primarily the nation, but the predictions have been more completely fulfilled in Christ, who embodied and consummated the mission of Israel. (See below, at the beginning of Matthew 24, and compare Edersheim, ch. 5). In like manner here. As Israel in the childhood of the nation was called out of Egypt, so Jesus. We may even find resemblance in minute details: his temptation of forty days in the desert, resembles Israel’ s temptation of forty years in the desert, which itself corresponded to the forty days spent by the spies. (Num_14:34) Thus we see how Hosea’s historical statement concerning Israel may have been also a prediction concerning Messiah, as the Evangelist declares it was. It is not necessary to suppose that this was present to the prophet’s consciousness. Exalted by inspiration, a prophet may well have said things having deeper meanings than he was distinctly aware of, and which only a later inspiration, coming when the occasion arose, could fully unfold.
And was there until the death of Herod. The Revised Version rightly joins this with the preceding, not with the following, clause. That it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying (Mat_1:22, notes), Out of Egypt have I called (Revised Version, did I call) my Son (Hos_11:1, “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt”). Observe here:
(1) The quotation is not from the LXX. (“Out of Egypt I summoned his children”), but from the Hebrew, which Aquila also follows.
(2) The expression in Hosea is based on Exo_4:22, “Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son, my firstborn;” of. also Wis. 18:13. “They acknowledged this people to be the son of God (ὡμολόγησαν Θεοῦ υἱὸν λαὸνεἶναι).”
(3) The quotation is, by the context, evidently adduced, not to prove the sonship of Jesus, but to enlarge upon the treatment that he received. The fundamental thought is that the experience of Messiah was parallel to the experience of the nation.
(4) The application of the term “my Son” to Messiah is justified by Jewish thought. In Exo_4:22 the nation was so called; in Psa_2:7 the head of the nation, the theocratic king, received the same title; much more could the great theocratic King, the Messiah, be so spoken of. That, indeed, the name, “the Son of God,” was used as a title of Messiahship by the Jews lacks direct evidence, but is surely to be deduced from Mat_26:63 (Mat_16:16); of. also the application of Psa_2:7 to Messiah in Talm. Bab.,’ Succah,’ 52 a, in the late Midrash ‘Tillim,’ in loc., which traces” the decree” there spoken of through the Law (Exo_4:22), the prophets (e.g.. Isa_52:13), and the Hagiographa. It is hardly too much to say that no Jew could consistently, either in the early days of the Church or now, find any difficulty in St. Matthew’s reference of the term “my Son” to Christ.
(5) Seeing that St. Matthew’s reference of tile term “my Son” is justified by Jewish thought, and that the passage in Hosea is adduced to show that the experience of Messiah was parallel to that of the nation, there seems no real need to look for further reasons for the application. St. Matthew may hays held that Messiah was the Flower of Israel, so that what was predicated of Israel could be essentially explained of Messiah; he may have considered that Messiah was so organically connected with Israel that even when the nation was in Egypt Messiah was there also (cf. Heb_7:10; Heb_11:26); he may have thought that the pro-incarnate Son of God was always with his Church, and therefore with it even in Egypt; but of none of these theories have we any hint. The application of Hos_11:1 to the early life of Christ belongs, we do not doubt, to the very earliest stage of Jewish Christian thought, and to defend it by modem subtleties of interpretation seems quite out of place. Messiah was in some sense, as all Jews granted, the Son of God; Messiah, like the nation, went down into Egypt; what was predicated of the one was, clearly in this case, true of the other, and the prophet’s words received a “fulfilment.” The fulfilment was, indeed, what we should call a coincidence (of. verse 23, note), but to the pious mind, and especially to the pious mind of a Jew, coincidences are not chances, they are signs of the Divine Governor.
The death of Herod – Herod died in the thirty-seventh year of his reign. It is not certainly known in what year he began his reign, and hence it is impossible to determine the time that Joseph remained in Egypt. The best chronologers have supposed that he died somewhere between two and four years after the birth of Christ, but at what particular time cannot now be determined. Nor can it be ascertained at what age Jesus was taken into Egypt. It seems probable that he was supposed to be a year old (see Mat_2:16), and of course the time that he remained in Egypt was not long. Herod died of a most painful and loathsome disease in Jericho. See the notes at Mat_2:16; also Josephus, Ant. xvii. 6. 5.
That it might be fulfilled … – This language is recorded in Hos_11:1. It there evidently speaks of God’s calling His people out of Egypt, under Moses. See Exo_4:22-23. It might be said to be fulfilled in his calling Jesus from Egypt, because the words in Hosea aptly expressed this also. The same love which led him to deliver His people Israel from the land of Egypt, now led him also to deliver His Son from that place. The words used by Hosea would express both events. See the notes at Mat_1:22. Perhaps, also, the place in Hosea became a proverb, to express any great deliverance from danger; and thus it could be said to be fulfilled in Christ, as other proverbs are in cases to Which they are applicable. It cannot be supposed that the passage in Hosea was a prophecy of the Messiah. It is evidently used by Matthew only because the language is appropriate to express the event.