Now the birth of Jesus Christ – The circumstances attending his birth.
Was on this wise – In this manner.
Espoused – Betrothed, or engaged to be married. There was commonly an interval of ten or twevle months, among the Jews, between the contract of marriage and the celebration of the nuptials (see Gen_24:55; Jdg_14:8; Deu_20:7), yet such was the nature of this engagement, that unfaithfulness to each other was deemed adultery. See Deu_22:25, Deu_22:28.
With child by the Holy Ghost – See the note at Luk_1:35.
being a just man] i. e. one who observed the law, and, therefore, feeling bound to divorce Mary. But two courses were open to him. He could either summon her before the law-courts to be judicially condemned and punished, or he could put her away by a bill of divorcement before witnesses, but without assigning cause. This is meant by “putting her away privily,” the more merciful course which Joseph resolved to adopt.
He thought on these things – He did not act hastily. He did not take the course which the law would have permitted him to do, if he had been hasty, violent, or unjust. It was a case deeply affecting his happiness, his character, and the reputation and character of his chosen companion. God will guide the thoughtful and the anxious. And when we have looked patiently at a perplexed subject, and know not what to do, then God, as in the case of Joseph, will interpose to lead us and direct our way. Psa_25:9.
The angel of the Lord – The word “angel” literally means a messenger. It is applied chiefly in the Scriptures to those invisible holy beings who have not fallen into sin: who live in heaven (1Ti_5:21; compare Jud_1:6); and who are sent forth to minister to those who shall be heirs of salvation. See the Heb_1:13-14 notes, and Dan_9:21 note. The word is sometimes applied to men, as messengers Luk_7:24; Luk_9:52; Jam_2:25; to the winds Psa_104:4; to the pestilence Psa_78:49; or to whatever is appointed to make known or to execute the will of God. It is commonly applied, however, to the unfallen, happy spirits that are in heaven, whose dignity and pleasure it is to do the will of God. Various ways were employed by them in making known the will of God, by dreams, visions, assuming a human appearance, etc.
In a dream – This was a common way of making known the will of God to the ancient prophets and people of God, Gen_20:3; Gen_30:1, Gen_30:11, Gen_30:24; Gen_37:5; Gen_41:1; 1Ki_3:5; Dan_7:1; Job_4:13-15; compare my notes at Isaiah. In what way it was ascertained that these dreams were from God cannot now be ascertained, It is sufficient for us to know that in this way many of the prophecies were communicated, and to remark that there is no evidence that we are to put reliance on our dreams. Dreams are wild, irregular movements of the mind when it is unshackled by reason, and it is mere superstition to suppose that God now makes known His will in this way.
Son of David – Descendant of David. See Mat_1:1. The angel put him in mind of his relation to David perhaps to prepare him for the intelligence that Mary was to be the mother of the Messiah – the promised heir of David.
Fear not – Do not hesitate, or have any apprehensions about her virtue and purity. Do not fear that she will be unworthy of you, or will disgrace you.
To take unto thee Mary thy wife – To take her as thy wife; to recognize her as such, and to treat her as such.
For that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost – Is the direct creation of divine power. A body was thus prepared pure and holy, and free from the corruption of sin, in order that he might be qualified for his great work the offering of a pure sacrifice to God. As this was necessary in order to the great work which he came to perform, Joseph is directed by an angel to receive her as pure and virtuous, and as every way worthy of his love. Compare the notes at Heb_10:5.
Thus committing the office of a father to Joseph. The naming of the unborn Messiah would accord with popular notions. The Rabbis had a saying concerning the six whose names were given before their birth: “Isaac, Ishmael, Moses, Solomon, Josiah, and the name of the Messiah, whom may the Holy One, blessed be His name, bring quickly in our days.”
The Greek form of a Hebrew name, which had been borne by two illustrious individuals in former periods of the Jewish history – Joshua, the successor of Moses, and Jeshua, the high-priest, who with Zerubbabel took so active a part in the re-establishment of the civil and religious polity of the Jews on their return from Babylon. Its original and full form is Jehoshua, becoming by contraction Joshua or Jeshua. Joshua, the son of Nun, the successor of Moses, was originally named Hoshea (saving), which was altered by Moses into Jehoshua (Jehovah (our) Salvation) (Num_13:16). The meaning of the name, therefore, finds expression in the title Saviour, applied to our Lord (Luk_1:47; Luk_2:11; Joh_4:42).
Joshua, the son of Nun, is a type of Christ in his office of captain and deliverer of his people, in the military aspect of his saving work (Rev_19:11-16). As God’s revelation to Moses was in the character of a law-giver, his revelation to Joshua was in that of the Lord of Hosts (Jos_5:13, Jos_5:14). Under Joshua the enemies of Israel were conquered, and the people established in the Promised Land. So Jesus leads his people in the fight with sin and temptation. He is the leader of the faith which overcomes the world (Heb_12:2). Following him, we enter into rest.
The priestly office of Jesus is foreshadowed in the high-priest Jeshua, who appears in the vision of Zechariah (Zec_3:1-10; compare Ezr_2:2) in court before God, under accusation of Satan, and clad in filthy garments. Jeshua stands not only for himself, but as the representative of sinning and suffering Israel. Satan is defeated. The Lord rebukes him, and declares that he will redeem and restore this erring people; and in token thereof he commands that the accused priest be clad in clean robes and crowned with the priestly mitre.
Thus in this priestly Jeshua we have a type of our “Great High-Priest, touched with the feeling of our infirmities, and in all points tempted and tried like as we are;” confronting Satan in the wilderness; trying conclusions with him upon the victims of his malice – the sick, the sinful, and the demon-ridden. His royal robes are left behind. He counts not “equality with God a thing to be grasped at,” but “empties himself,” taking the “form of a servant,” humbling himself and becoming “obedient even unto death” (Phi_2:6, Phi_2:7, Rev.). He assumes the stained garments of our humanity. He who “knew no sin” is “made to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2Co_5:21). He is at once priest and victim. He pleads for sinful man before God’s throne. He will redeem him. He will rebuke the malice and cast down the power of Satan. He will behold him” as lightning fall from heaven” (Luk_10:18). He will raise and save and purify men of weak natures, rebellious wills, and furious passions – cowardly braggarts and deniers like Peter, persecutors like Saul of Tarsus, charred brands – and make them witnesses of his grace and preachers of his love and power. His kingdom shall be a kingdom of priests, and the song of his redeemed church shall be, “unto him that loveth us, and loosed us from our sins by his own blood, and made us to be a kingdom, to be priests unto his God and Father; to him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Rev_1:5, Rev_1:6, in Rev.).
It is no mere fancy which sees a suggestion and a foreshadowing of the prophetic work of Jesus in the economy of salvation, in a third name closely akin to the former. Hoshea, which we know in our English Bible as Hosea, was the original name of Joshua (compare Rom_9:25, Rev.) and means saving. He is, in a peculiar sense, the prophet of grace and salvation, placing his hope in God’s personal coming as the refuge and strength of humanity; in the purification of human life by its contact with the divine. The great truth which he has to teach is the love of Jehovah to Israel as expressed in the relation of husband, an idea which pervades his prophecy, and which is generated by his own sad domestic experience. He foreshadows Jesus in his pointed warnings against sin, his repeated offers of divine mercy, and his patient, forbearing love, as manifested in his dealing with an unfaithful and dissolute wife, whose soul he succeeded in rescuing from sin and death (Hosea 1-3). So long as he lived, he was one continual, living prophecy of the tenderness of God toward sinners; a picture of God’s love for us when alien from him, and with nothing in us to love. The faithfulness of the prophetic teacher thus blends in Hosea, as in our Lord, with the compassion and sympathy and sacrifice of the priest.
Emphatic; and so rightly in Rev., “For it is He that shall save his people.”
Their sins (ἁμαρτιῶν)
Akin to ἁμαρτάνω, to miss a mark; as a warrior who throws his spear and fails to strike his adversary, or as a traveller who misses his way. In this word, therefore, one of a large group which represent sin under different phases, sin is conceived as a failing and missing the true end and scope of our lives, which is God.
That it may be fulfilled (hina plērōthēi). Alford says that “it is impossible to interpret hina in any other sense than in order that.” That was the old notion, but modern grammarians recognize the non-final use of this particle in the Koiné and even the consecutive like the Latin ut. Some even argue for a causal use. If the context called for result, one need not hesitate to say so as in Mar_11:28; Joh_9:36; 1Jo_1:9; Rev_9:20; Rev_13:13. See discussion in my Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, pp. 997-9. All the same it is purpose here, God’s purpose, Matthew reports the angel as saying, spoken “by (hupo, immediate agent) the Lord through (dia, intermediate agent) the prophet.”
“All this has happened” (touto de holon gegonen, present perfect indicative), stands on record as historical fact. But the Virgin Birth of Jesus is not due to this interpretation of Isa_7:14. It is not necessary to maintain (Broadus) that Isaiah himself saw anything more in his prophecy than that a woman then a virgin, would bear a son and that in the course of a few years Ahaz would be delivered from the king of Syria and Israel by the coming of the Assyrians. This historical illustration finds its richest fulfilment in the birth of Jesus from Mary. “Words of themselves are empty. They are useful only as vessels to convey things from mind to mind” (Morison). The Hebrew word for young woman is translated by virgin (parthenos), but it is not necessary to conclude that Isaiah himself contemplated the supernatural birth of Jesus. We do not have to say that the idea of the Virgin Birth of Jesus came from Jewish sources. Certainly it did not come from the pagan myths so foreign to this environment, atmosphere and spirit. It is far simpler to admit the supernatural fact than try to explain the invention of the idea as a myth to justify the deification of Jesus. The birth, life, and death of Jesus throw a flood of light on the Old Testament narrative and prophecies for the early Christians. In Matthew and John in particular we often see “that the events of Christ’s life were divinely ordered for the express purpose of fulfilling the Old Testament” (McNeile). See note on Mat_2:15, Mat_2:23; Mat_4:14-17; Mat_8:17; Mat_12:17-21; Mat_13:35; Mat_21:4.; Joh_12:38.; Joh_13:18; Joh_19:24, Joh_19:28, Joh_19:36.
Now all this was done – The prophecy here quoted is recorded in Isa_7:14. See the notes at that passage. The prophecy was delivered about 740 years before Christ, in the reign of Ahaz, king of Judah. The land of Judea was threatened with an invasion by the united armies of Syria and Israel, under the command of Rezin and Pekah. Ahaz was alarmed, and seems to have contemplated calling in aid from Assyria to defend him. Isaiah was directed, in his consternation, to go to Ahaz, and tell him to ask a sign from God Isa_7:10-11; that is, to look to God rather than to Assyria for aid. This he refused to do. He had not confidence in God, but feared that the land would be overrun by the armies of Syria Mat_1:12, and relied only on the aid which he hoped to receive from Assyria. Isaiah answered that, in these circumstances, the Lord would himself give a sign, or a pledge, that the land should be delivered. The sign was, that a virgin should have a son, and that before that son would arrive to years of discretion, the land would be forsaken by these hostile kings. The prophecy was therefore designed originally to signify to Ahaz that the land would certainly be delivered from its calamities and dangers, and that the deliverance would not be long delayed. The land of Syria and Israel, united now in confederation, would be deprived of both their kings, and thus the land of Judah would be freed from the threatening danger. This appears to be the literal fulfillment of the passage in Isaiah.
Might be fulfilled – It is more difficult to know in what sense this could be said to be fulfilled in the birth of Christ. To understand this, it may be remarked that the word “fulfilled” is used in the Scriptures and in other writings in many senses, of which the following are some:
1. When a thing is clearly predicted, and comes to pass, as the destruction of Babylon, foretold in Isa_13:19-22; and of Jerusalem, in Matt. 24.
2. When one thing is typified or shadowed forth by another, and when the event occurs, the type is said to be fulfilled. This was the case in regard to the types and sacrifices in the Old Testament, which were fulfilled by the coming of Christ. See Heb. 9.
3. When prophecies of future events are expressed in language more elevated and full than the particular thing, at first denoted, demands. Or, in other words, when the language, though it may express one event, is also so full and rich as appropriately to express other events in similar circumstances and of similar import, they may be said to be fulfilled. Thus, for example, the last chapters of Isaiah, from Isa. 40 onward, foretell the return of the Jews into Babylon, and every circumstance mentioned occurred in their return. But the language is more expanded and sublime than was necessary to express their return. It will also express appropriately a much more important and magnificent deliverance that of the redeemed under the Messiah; and the return of the people of God to him, and the universal spread of the gospel: and therefore it may be said to be fulfilled in the coming of Jesus and the spread of the gospel. So, if there were any other magnificent and glorious events, still, in similar circumstances, and of like character, it might be said also that these prophecies were fulfilled in all of them. The language is so full and rich, and the promises are so grand, that they may appropriately express all these deliverances. This may be the sense in which the prophecy now under consideration may be said to have been fulfilled.
4. Language is said to be fulfilled when, though it was used to express one event, it may be used also to express another. Thus, a fable may be said to be fulfilled when an event occurs similar to the one concerning which it was first spoken. A parable has its fulfillment in all the cases to which it is applicable; and the same remark applies to a proverb, or to a declaration respecting human nature. The statement that “there is none that doeth good” Psa_14:3 was at first spoken of a particular race of wicked men.” Yet it is applicable to others, and in this sense may be said to have been fulfilled. See Rom_3:10. In this use of the word fulfilled, it means, not that the passage was at first intended to apply to this particular thing, but that the words aptly or appropriately express the thing spoken of, and way be applied to it. We may say the same of this which was said of another thing, and thus the words express both, or are fulfilled. The writers of the New Testament seem occasionally to have used the word in this sense.
Behold, a virgin shall be with child – Matthew clearly understands this as applying literally to a virgin. Compare Luk_1:34. It thus implies that the conception of Christ was miraculous, or that the body of the Messiah was created directly by the power of God, agreeably to the declaration in Heb_10:5; “Wherefore, when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me.”
And they shall call his name Emmanuel – That is, his name shall be so called. See the notes at Isa_7:14. The word “Immanuel” is a Hebrew word, צמנוּאל ‛immânû’êl; cf. Ἐμμανουήλ Emmanouēl, and literally means “God with us.” Matthew doubtless understands it as denoting that the Messiah was really “God with us,” or that the divine nature was united with the human. He does not affirm that this was its meaning when used in reference to the child to whom it was first applied, but this is its signification as applicable to the Messiah. It was suitably expressive of his character; and in this sense it was fulfilled. When first used by Isaiah, it denoted simply that the birth of the child was a sign that God was with the Jews to deliver them. The Hebrews often incorporated the name of Yahweh, or God, into their proper names. Thus, Isaiah means “the salvation of Yah;” Eleazer, “help of God:” Eli, “my God,” etc. But Matthew evidently intends more than was denoted by the simple use of such names. He had just given an account of the miraculous conception of Jesus: of his being begotten by the Holy Spirit. God was therefore his Father. He was divine as well as human. His appropriate name, therefore, was “God with us.” And though the mere use of such a name would not prove that he had a divine nature, yet as Matthew uses it, and meant evidently to apply it, it does prove that Jesus was more than a man; that he was God as well as man. And it is this which gives glory to the plan of redemption. It is this which is the wonder of angels. It is this which makes the plan so vast, so grand, so full of instruction and comfort to Christians. See Phi_2:6-8. It is this which sheds such peace and joy into the sinner’s heart; which gives him such security of salvation, and which renders the condescension of God in the work of redemption so great and his character so lovely.
Being raised from sleep – Having fully awoke.
Did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him – That is, he took Mary to wife. Probably this was done immediately, since he was now convinced of her innocence, and, by delay, he would not leave any ground of suspicion that he had not confidence in her.
Mat_1:25. Knew her not. A Hebrew form for conjugal cohabitation; comp. Luk_1:36.
A son. The words answering to ‘her ‘and ‘first-born ‘are omitted by some of the best authorities. They may, however, have been left out to support the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary. In Luk_2:7, the phrase is genuine beyond a doubt. It does not of itself prove that Mary had other children, nor does till of necessity imply this. Yet Matthew, with the whole history of Christ before him, would scarcely have used the expression, had he held the Roman Catholic notion of the perpetual virginity. It would have been easy to assert that by saying: he never knew her. Many Protestant commentators suppose that the genealogy of David found its end in Christ, and that Mary could not have given birth to children after having become the mother of the Saviour of the world. But this is a matter of sentiment rather than a conviction based on evidence. ‘The brethren of our Lord’ are frequently mentioned (four by name, besides sisters), in close connection with Mary, and apparently as members of her household. They are nowhere called his cousins, as some claim them to have been. They were probably either the children of Joseph by a former wife (the view of some Greek fathers), or the children of Joseph and Mary (as now held by many Protestant commentators). To the first view the genealogy of Joseph seems an insuperable objection; for the oldest son by the former marriage would have been his legal heir, and the genealogy out of place. The question, however, is complicated with other exegetical difficulties and doctrinal prejudices. The virginity of Mary up to the birth of Jesus is here the main point. The whole subject is fully discussed by Lange and Schaff in the English edition of Lange’s Commentary, Matthew, pp. 255-260.