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Bible Commentaries

Contending for the Faith

Matthew 2

Verse 1

The Reception of the King

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

Matthew omits many details supplied by his synoptic counterpart. Luke 2:1-39 records the taxation by Caesar Augustus, Joseph’s trip to Bethlehem with Mary, the manger scene, the shepherd’s hillside vigil, the angel’s chorus, the circumcision of Jesus, and his presentation at the temple.

It is impossible to know the exact sequence of events in relation to Jesus’ birth. Matthew 2:11 indicates that by this time the family is no longer in the stable but is in a house. Thus, it is quite possible some months have already passed. The following facts, however, are worthy of consideration.

1. Luke records that the parents bring the child to the temple for His circumcision and for Mary’s purification. The mother of a child is unclean for forty days after the birth of a son and eighty days after the birth of a daughter. The time for a son is forty days from his birth or thirty-three days after the circumcision."

2. One may only conjecture as to the financial status of this young family; but because Mary offers "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons" (Luke 2:2-27), we infer the family is poor. Had Mary’s offering occurred after the Magi’s visit, the value of their gifts would surely have dictated a lamb offering (Leviticus 12:6). We must not forget, however, that although she is unable in substance to offer a lamb she does in essence offer "The Lamb." Surely this is by no coincidence.

3. We conclude the Magi do not arrive until at least forty days have passed. Fowler asserts at least eighty days have passed (53). This time frame also accords with the Magi’s necessary travel time after seeing the star. Matthew’s interest is not to give his readers a detailed account but rather to show the Kingship of Jesus. With the mention of the Magi and King Herod, we are subtly reminded that earthly wisdom and earthly power pale in comparison to the true King and Sage.

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea: Bethlehem is a small farming town some six miles to the south of Jerusalem. In Hebrew its name means "house of bread," an appropriate birth place for "The Bread of Life." In ancient days it is known as Bethlehem Ephratah, or Bethlehem Judah, to distinguish it from another Bethlehem not far from Nazareth in the area of Zabulon (Broadus 15). Thus, Micah has correctly and minutely prophesied Jesus’ birth (Micah 5:2). Bethlehem is known as the city of David, for it is his birth place. It is no coincidence that He who sits on David’s throne also finds His earthly beginning in the birthplace of David (cf. 1 Samuel 16). A picture of Bethlehem’s richness is found in the book of Ruth where Ruth gleaned in its grain fields. Bethlehem is also Rachel’s burial place (Genesis 48:7).

in the days of Herod the king: The "Herod" here is "Herod the Great." Several of this ruling family is mentioned in scripture. Julius Caesar has appointed Herod’s father, Antipater, as governor of Judea under the Roman occupation. Antipater, however, subsequently manages to have Herod appointed prefect of Galilee. Later, in 40 B.C. he is declared to be king of the Jews by Octavian, Antony, and the Roman senate. He rules Judea, Samaria, Galilee, and Perea, east of the Jordan as well as Idumea.

In truth Herod is not Jewish but Idumean (Edomite); and his marriage to Mariamne, heiress to the Jewish Hasmonian house, is politically motivated to boost credibility with the Jews (McArthur 25). In reality Herod hates the Jews and seeks every opportunity to destroy them. His many murders include the respected Hyrcanus, Mariamne’s grandfather.

Herod’s accomplishments are many. He begins the reconstruction of the temple in 19 B.C.; reconstructs various cities such as Tyre, Sidon and Damascus; and builds the colossal Masada. His accomplishments, however, are overshadowed by his cruelty and wickedness, not the least of which is the slaughter of innocent children (Matthew 2:16). Josephus records that his jealousy leads him to kill his two sons and his best-loved wife because of their favor with the people (Josephus Ant. xvi. 11, 7). Knowing that none would mourn his death, he imprisons the most distinguished citizens of Jerusalem with orders that they be executed the moment he dies to assure mourning in Jerusalem. His reign extends from 37 B.C. to 4 B.C.

It is usually believed that our Lord is born in the year that Herod died (c. 4 B.C.). Today, however, we calculate our year from 1 A.D. (anno domini—year of our Lord). Fowler says,

"The four year miscalculation in our modern calendar was made by Dionysius the Small, an abbot in Rome about 526, who apparently ignored the date of Herod’s death and the relation of Jesus’s birth to it. The four-year miscalculation could possibly be greater as the time is not known from the birth of Jesus until the death of Herod (Matthew 2:1; Matthew 2:15)" (54).

behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem: The wise men (Magi) from the east have been the subject of much discussion. Scholars generally believe the term refers to a Persian or Babylonian class then recognized as experts in religion, science, astrology, and astronomy (Broadus 16). These men may be among the same class as Daniel was during the Babylonian Captivity (Daniel 2:28).

While the term Magi is sometimes used in a negative way (cf. Acts 8:9 and Acts 13:8), there is no indication this is the case here. God always condemns false knowledge and those who divine the future by means of natural phenomenon (cf. Deuteronomy 18:9-14; 2 Kings 17:16; Acts 7:42). Although it is well within the scope of God’s providence to use pagan men to accomplish His will, it is an assumption to say that in this case the Magi’s knowledge of Jesus comes through pagan astrology. It seems just as possible that these highly educated men have knowledge of the Messianic prophecies (Micah 5:2) and thus have some expectation of His appearance. By the time of Jesus birth, Jews are scattered all over the known world as seen from Acts 2:9-11. We also remember that Jews are carried to the "east" during Israel’s two captivities and inevitably take portions of the Torah with them. Thus, these men may know the Old Testament and may be aware of the Jewish expectation.

The tradition that these are kings has no scriptural basis at all. The idea that the wise men numbered three is also conjecture, perhaps based on the fact that three gifts are presented (gold, frankincense, myrrh). Likewise the legend that these three represent the three great races of the sons of Noah, and are named Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar are apocryphal additions.

It is unlikely that just three wise men appear by themselves. It is more likely that many men, some have supposed hundreds, with camels, supplies, and an entire entourage accompanies them. It would have been an impressive sight indeed. Jerusalem, being the chief city of Palestine and having a world renowned temple, is the logical place for these men to come to obtain information about this special birth.

The season of our Lord’s birth is impossible to ascertain with accuracy. The mention of shepherds and flocks in the open field indicates spring rather than winter. It is doubtful Jesus is born in the season now celebrated. December 25 is not kept by the early church but is adopted at the time of Chrysostom, and rests on the tradition of the Roman Church. Ellicott suggests the time is chosen as a Christian substitute for the license of the Saturnalia kept at that season by pagans (11).

Verse 2

Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews?: The saying, "Wise men still seek him" is still as true today as it was then. These Magi have traveled many hazardous miles to witness the King of kings. Unlike Herod, their expressed desire to worship the Messiah is sincere.

for we have seen his star in the east: Many theorize that the star here mentioned is a natural phenomenon, brought forth by a meteor, super-nova, or the planetary conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter. If so, its movement is quite unnatural. The star goes before them south from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and, therefore, does not continue the westward movement of normal stars (Fowler 56). It also identifies the specific house that shelters the infant. No natural star has ever so moved. If it can be said that a natural star miraculously travels, then why may we not assume that the star itself is God’s special creation? If the virgin birth is believable, it seems strange that so many go to such lengths to naturalize the star phenomenon. Today God does not guide us by the stars but by the "Bright and Morning Star, Jesus" (Hebrews 1:1).

Verse 3

When Herod the king had heard [these things], he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

When Herod the king had heard [these things], he was troubled: Here we find an accurate indication of Herod’s greed and lust for power. The news that reaches his ears from the Magi causes no small stir. McGarvey records that Herod is so paranoid of being overthrown that he keeps Jerusalem full of spies so that he might know all that is done in the land (Fourfold 44). The eventuality of a new king, even as an infant, is viewed as an immediate threat.

It is interesting to note that Herod here acts as if he will live and reign forever. This sentiment has been manifest over and over in political history. The adage that "power corrupts" is true with Herod, and his paranoia eventually leads to the slaughter of many innocent young lives.

Herod has spent his entire career seizing and holding his throne. To be undone by a new king is far from his intentions. In reality Herod is nothing more than a vassal of Rome. His power is not his own. As noted in verse 1, he is an Edomite and is in reality neither a true Jew nor a true king. Consequently, the Magi’s message cuts deep into his wicked heart.

and all Jerusalem with him: There is no indication that Jerusalem’s uneasiness stems from a deep affection for Herod. Without doubt, many will welcome new political blood. It is because Herod is known for his cruelty and bloody suppression of rival power that all Jerusalem is troubled. Rage knows no temperance, and innocent citizens dread a conflict between two claimants for the throne (McGarvey 27). The citizens of Jerusalem know that if Herod chooses there may be a blood bath, and they may be caught in the middle. Thus, they are greatly troubled.

Verse 4

And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Jesus should be born.

And when he had gathered all the chief priests: The chief priests are of the tribe of Levi and are descendants of Aaron, who is the first high priest. They include the "high priest" as well as the other chiefs of the courses into which David has divided them (1 Chronicles 24:1-19). According to scripture, there is to be only one high priest at a time. By the time of Jesus, however, the office has become subject to political favoritism and can even be purchased. Herod sets up and deposes high priests at his political fancy. The group here mentioned probably includes those previously deposed men who retained some of their influence and title.

and scribes of the people: The scribes, composed primarily of Pharisees, are experts in the Law of Moses. They are highly esteemed among the Jews, are called rabbi, and hold to a conservative viewpoint. The Sadducees of this group are fewer in number but are more liberal. Both, however, oppose Jesus.

he demanded of them where Jesus should be born: The term "demanded" (epunthaneto) is in the imperfect tense and indicates a constant asking by Herod (Robertson 16). At all cost, even that of innocent lives, Herod is intent on finding and destroying the new king. Like Herod, many political rulers today feign interest in God, not for salvation’s sake but for selfish interests.

Verses 5-6

And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judea: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, [in] the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

The response is a paraphrase of Micah 5:2. Though little among the thousands of cities of Judah, Bethlehem Ephratah will produce Israel’s ruler. This fact is apparently common knowledge (cf. John 7:40-52). Herod may be aware of it, but he wants authoritative word on the issue. By the use of the terms "Governor" (hegemon—to govern) and "rule" (poimaino—to shepherd), Matthew shows the nature of the Messiah. Poimaino denotes guiding, guarding, folding, and feeding of sheep (Vincent 20). Jesus, the good shepherd, fulfills this mission.

Verse 7

Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.

Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men: We seem to get a glimpse into Herod’s treachery as he secretly summons the Magi and then later dispatches them to do his footwork. Under the guise of sincerity, he uses these honest seekers of Jesus. Today evil men resort to similar tactics.

enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared: By discovering when the star appeared, Herod could know the age of the One he fears. Ellicott indicates the star is still visible and Herod wants to ascertain the limits of his danger (14). Some commentators believe the star is apparent to only the wise men. The truth of this belief and the precise nature of the star cannot be determined with certainty. Herod has already received the information about where the King is to be born, and now he receives the information about when he is born. These two pieces of the puzzle, when coupled with the exact location (verse 8), are all that remain in planning the blood-bath.

Verse 8

And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found [him], bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

Here again we see the dishonesty and the calculated evil of Herod. This is truly a "first degree murder" in process. Under the guise of worship, he instructs the Magi to investigate accurately the exact location of the child, ascertain His identity, and report back to him. Herod seeks to use the piety of the Magi in his demonic endeavor. It is obvious from verse 12 that the Magi at this point, being foreigners, do not comprehend the evil of the ruler with whom they converse.

Matthew has thus far depicted three attitudes toward the new born Messiah. The Chief rulers are informed but passive about the Messiah. Herod is informed and is actively hostile toward the Messiah. The Magi, however, after becoming informed, sincerely seek to worship, praise, and adore the King.

Sincere hearts will never meet the Savior with complacency or hostility. Knowledge of the Christ demands obedience. The sincere Magi stand in stark contrast to the wicked rulers of Jerusalem. Herod and the chief priests feel their earthly power threatened by Jesus. Hence, they reject Him. The Magi, on the other hand, feel no such threat but seize the opportunity to worship One greater than themselves.

Verse 9

When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

By the time the wise men arrive at Bethlehem, the crowds from the census have dispersed; and Joseph no longer houses his family in the manger (see 2:1). The Magi are guided the six miles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem by the miraculous star. Matthew indicates the wise men are in no need of additional assistance in finding the child—assistance that might raise further questions and jeopardize the child’s life. While we do not know the exact nature of the star, here again we see its unnatural behavior. The phrase "went before them" (proegen autous) is in the imperfect tense, indicating it continued to guide them to the exact spot—unlike natural stars that stand generally above the earth (Robertson 19).

Verse 10

When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

The light that leads the Magi to the house gives them great joy. The spiritual light, however, that comes from the Savior gives joy to the entire world. Men who seek after righteousness (Matthew 5:6) are made glad with the light of the gospel, but those who are evil stumble in darkness (2 Corinthians 4:4).

Verse 11

And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

We are immediately struck with the adoration the Magi have toward this young child. Jesus’s age makes no difference in their worship of Him. These Magi, Gentiles from a far, are the first non-Jews to bow before the Messiah, thus foreshadowing Jesus’s universal mission to save all mankind. Special notice must be taken in that there is not even a hint that Mary is worshiped. Unlike Catholicism that adores Mary, these Magi give praise rightfully to the Son of God.

The Magi’s gifts are a testimony to their sincerity. All are traditional gifts of homage to a ruler (Ellicott 150). Gold is a precious metal, highly valued by all cultures. Frankincense is a costly resin used in making incense. And myrrh is a valuable resin used in incense, in anesthetic when mingled with wine, and in embalming. As to why the wise men give these gifts, we do not know; but they are cheerfully and carefully chosen. Offerings to God must still be purposed in the heart and presented cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:7). With the gold one cannot help but be reminded of Jesus’ kingship and royalty. With the spices one cannot help but think of Jesus’ burial. We do not know what is done with the gifts, but it is possible they finance this poor family’s flight into Egypt.

Verse 12

And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

Having accomplished their mission of praise and worship, the Magi return home. Again, however, we see God’s intervention with a dream, not the first or last record in Matthew’s gospel of this heavenly mode of communication. The guiding star and dream indicate these events take place at night. After presenting their gifts, they retire to sleep but are soon awakened and sent on their way. The term used of their warning (chrematisthentes) indicates the wise men may have sought counsel of God who in turn replies in a dream (Vincent 21). The Magi probably take the road northeast from Bethlehem to Jericho, thus avoiding Jerusalem proper. By the time Herod realizes they are not returning to him, they are safely beyond the Jordan River.

Verse 13

And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.

The exact time lapse between the Magi’s dream and Joseph’s dream cannot be determined. Matthew indicates, however, that no sooner have the Magi departed than Joseph is warned to flee into Egypt. Egypt is a logical place to go since it is the closest Roman province outside Herod’s jurisdiction. It lies some 75 miles to the southwest of Bethlehem. Thousands of Jews have settled there; and in Egypt’s chief city, Alexandria, Jews enjoy unprecedented influence and power. Philo, the Jewish philosopher and historian and himself a resident of Alexandria, records that by 40 A.D. the city houses at least one million Jews. It had been in Alexandria in the third century B.C. that a group of Jewish scholars had produced the Septuagint (LXX), a translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Greek. We do not know to which city the family flees. Some have conjectured it was Matareeh, a few miles northwest of Cairo.

The trip south will not be an easy one. It will have to be made immediately without prior preparation. It will be made at night, and the family will be fugitives from the land they love. Furthermore, the family with their infant will have to travel several days by foot or on beast of burden. Joseph and Mary are poor, and it is reasonable to assume it did not take them long to gather their essential possessions—maybe little more than the clothes on their backs. In God’s providence, however, the Magi have provided the riches to sustain such a flight.

The word "flee" (pheugo) is from the same derivative as our word fugitive. The word is used here in the present imperative, indicating the beginning of action that is to be continued. Thus, the family is to begin to flee and not stop until they reach the safety of Egypt. Once there they are to stay until God further instructs them.

Verse 14

When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt:

Scripture does not afford us a detailed account of Joseph’s life. He fades from the picture rather early in the gospel accounts. What we do learn from scripture, however, is a tribute to this godly man. Like Abraham, his righteous ancestor, Joseph obeys when he is called to leave his homeland. Joseph does not procrastinate in duty but immediately sets out. He stands as a godly example for all fathers and husbands today.

Verse 15

And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.

And was there until the death of Herod: Joseph and family probably remained in Egypt for just a short time. Herod dies in the spring of 4 B.C. (supposedly April 1) at Jericho, being seventy years of age. His death brings happiness to many, including the family of our Lord. Upon his death, Archelaus, his son, takes the throne.

that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son: Matthew records that this event fulfills the prophecy of Hosea 11:1. As in Matthew 1:23, we are faced with a difficulty in interpretation. Does Hosea intend his prophecy as a dual reference, initially to physical Israel and subsequently to Jesus, or as a straight line prophecy of the Messiah alone? Most commentators today suppose the former. Others, however, maintain that Matthew takes liberties in applying the text. Albert Barnes remarks, "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" (Barnes 16)

Barnes’ statement, however, leaves us to ascertain the meaning of Matthew’s comment "that it might be fulfilled." This phrase, found several times in the first gospel, is never precisely defined by Matthew. Harold Fowler suggests five possible interpretations.

1. It may be taken in its most literal and strict sense. Matthew’s reference, for example, to Micah 5:2 (see Matthew 2:4-6) predicts the literal birthplace of the Messiah.

2. It may contain hidden meaning disclosed only by later historical developments.

3. It may be taken in the figurative sense in that a prophet’s words, while containing no predictive element, are so apt that they are used to describe a different situation.

4. It may be taken in a general sense in that an event, while not specifically foretold, may be said to be fulfilled because the general tenor of scripture indicates that such an event would occur. Fowler sees Luke 24:44 and Matthew 2:23 as such.

5. And it may be taken in the sense that a prophet’s words are so axiomatic that they transcend all time and may be said to be fulfilled over and over, even though they originally contained no predictive element. Matthew 13:14 (Isaiah 6:9-10) is cited as an example. This idea resembles # 3 (see Fowler 82-85).

While the five explanations are interesting, they go only so far in solving the difficulty surrounding any particular "fulfillment verse." Obviously the main rule of interpretation is "context." Context of either the original prophecy or its fulfillment must determine its meaning. In most instances no matter what position one takes it has little effect on interpretation. In cases like Matthew 1:23 (Isaiah 7:14), anything but a straight-line interpretation significantly alters its veracity (see comments on 1:23).

But what of the passage at hand? While no major doctrine rests on its interpretation, how does Matthew see its fulfillment?

In chapter 10, Hosea warns of God’s punishment and destruction of physical Israel at the hand of Assyria. This event occurs because of her rebellion and her sin. In chapter 11:1, however, Hosea suggests God will create a new beginning for His people. In chapter 3:4-5, he announces they will someday return and seek the LORD and "David" their king. By Hosea’s day, David has been dead over 250 years, so this is obviously a reference to the Messiah, the true David. Battey says, "In spite of the terrible punishment coming upon the nation, there is coming a new Israel" (Battey, PS Notes 133). This "new beginning" for Israel does not occur until the Messianic age. Jesus alone provides an escape from sin and rebellion.

While Battey’s suggestion is probably correct, there are those who see Hosea 11:1 as a metaphor. Just as God calls forth ancient Israel from Egypt and from slavery to be a covenanted people, so Jesus calls forth men from the bondage of sin into His church. Further similarities may perhaps be seen in that Jesus, the New Israel, spends time in Egypt as does the patriarch. Just as the patriarch must flee to Egypt to escape destruction, so the New Israel resorts thither to escape Herod.

The similarities are striking and cannot be ignored. However, we are still faced with the fact that Matthew portrays Hosea 11:1 as Messianic and not as a reference to physical Israel. It seems reasonable to believe that Hosea 11:1 is a straight line prophecy of the Messiah and the new beginning He will bring. Nothing, including the similarities noted above, demands other than a face value interpretation. Matthew, the inspired apostle, is telling us the meaning of Old Testament prophecy. It seems wise to leave it at that. Dogmatism on the issue, however, is of little value.

Verse 16

Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men.

Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men: Herod now realizes the Magi are not ignorant of his evil game. This realization naturally incenses the ruler, and he sets about to settle the matter himself.

was exceeding wroth: The phrase "exceeding wroth" (lian thumoo) is in the passive voice, indicating Herod loses control of his passion and now is completely controlled by it.

and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem: The absence of a record of this event in secular history causes concern for some. Even Josephus is silent on the matter. Ellicott has observed, however, that such a murderous plot, while repugnant to the Christian mind, will be very typical for the character of this Herod. Tormented with incurable disease and incurable suspicion, he gives orders to execute many of his closest companions. When combined with the fact that Bethlehem is a small village of perhaps no more than 2,000, it is possible that no more than twenty or thirty male children are slain. Such an act, while wholly godless and evil, might not be considered noteworthy to writers of the day (Ellicott 18, Barnes 16). The word "children" (tous paidas) is preceded with the masculine article and refers to little boys.

and in all the coasts thereof: In this context this phrase has reference to the surrounding communities around Bethlehem.

from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men: Because Herod does not know exactly when Jesus’ birth takes place, his orders are given "from two years old and under" in hopes of including Jesus. Two years will give a margin of error on either side of the time of the star’s appearance and the child’s birth.

Verses 17-18

Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping [for] her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.

Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying: Again Matthew brings the Jewish reader to a familiar Old Testament passage (Jeremiah 31:15). Jeremiah, who lives at the time of the Babylonian Captivity, writes of the pain Judah experiences at the deportation into captivity.

In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Ramah is a city in the territory of Benjamin about six miles north of Jerusalem and on the border of Israel and Judah. It is from here that Jeremiah, himself a captive, sees his fellow countrymen carried away in chains.

Rachel weeping [for] her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not: Matthew’s vivid portrayal of Rachel is appropriate, for she is the wife of Jacob (Israel) and mother of Joseph. Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, become the progenitors of two half-tribes with Ephraim often used to picture the northern kingdom. Rachel is also the mother of Benjamin, whose tribe becomes part of the southern kingdom. Thus, she represents all of National Israel. Here she is pictured as rising from her tomb, which is not far from Bethlehem, weeping and refusing to be comforted at yet another tragic loss. Rachel, who at first is barren (Genesis 29:31), is portrayed as the epitome of a mother’s love. Matthew’s point is that Herod brings great pain and anguish on the village of Bethlehem. What Herod does is a national tragedy in proportion to Israel’s deportation into Babylonian captivity.

We have noted the various ways scholars interpret Matthew’s "fulfillment" phrases (see remarks on 2;14). McGarvey says the three quotations from the prophets in this chapter (6, 15, 18) represent three classes of quotations. The first in verse 6 is a direct prediction. The second in verse 15 is a double reference. And this, the third, is a general reference in which the prophet’s original words contained no predictive element but are used here for illustrative purposes (McGarvey 30).

Verse 19

But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt,

But when Herod was dead: With the death of this evil man, the immediate danger for the child ceased. Josephus, in gruesome detail, describes the last days of Herod. His description tells of ulcerated intestines, maggot eaten organs, convulsions, difficulty and stench of breath none of which doctors can cure. Josephus also records that Herod becomes like a mad man and in a fit of rage orders the "principle men of the entire Jewish nation" called to him and shut up in the hippodrome. At his death they are executed to assure mourning instead of celebration among the populace (Antiquities, XVII, vi). Herod dies in the spring, just before the Passover, in the Roman year 750 (c. 4 B.C.) during the thirty-fourth year of his reign (Broadus 26). Jesus is probably less than one year old when Herod dies.

an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt: Again this is the method of choice God uses to communicate with Joseph. As will be noted, Joseph immediately obeys.

Verse 20

Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life.

Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: "The land of Israel" is a phrase that encompasses all four of its provinces: Galilee, Samaria, Judea, and Perea. Galilee will be the territory to which Joseph will be later directed (2:22).

for they are dead which sought the young child’s life: This passage obviously refers to Herod, the most imminent threat to the child. It is unclear whether others are included in this phrase or whether it is a Hebrew idiom (cf. Exodus 4:19). Boles suggests Herod’s wicked son, Antipater, who is killed five days before Herod dies, may have been involved in the plot and is included here with Herod (58).

Verse 21

And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel.

Here we again see the obedience of Joseph. There is no hint of hesitation or reluctance to return to the home land from where he has fled a few months earlier. At this juncture Joseph has not been directed to a specific location in Palestine but obeys based on the information he has.

One is amazed at the obedience and the flexibility of our Lord’s earthy father. Joseph’s will is conformable to the Lord’s. In raising godly children today, fathers need to be flexible and willing to make whatever changes are necessary for the well being of their family. Joseph puts his family above his "career" of carpentry.

Verse 22

But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee:

But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: No sooner has Joseph entered Israel than the news of Jerusalem’s politics reaches him. Matthew indicates Joseph’s intentions are to return to Judea and perhaps to Bethlehem. But when he hears that Archelaus reigns, he travels northward to Galilee beyond his jurisdiction. This location will be safer for the family.

notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream: In this verse we find the fifth record of an angel’s appearance. One time an angel has appeared to the Magi (2:12) and four times to Joseph (1:20; 2:13; 2:19; 2:22).

he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: Galilee is a densely populated territory whose population is a mixture of Jews and Gentiles. As may be seen from Matthew 26:73, the Galilean’s speech and pronunciation of certain words distinguish them. They are viewed as uncultured and uneducated country folk. There is general contempt among the Rabbis toward them for their mispronunciation and neglect of the mother-tongue. Later on in Jesus life it is little wonder that the Pharisees ask, "How does this man know letters?" (John 7:15) Unger describes these people as generous and impulsive, of simple manners, earnest piety and intense nationalism. He also remarks that they are excitable and passionate (387). Obviously Peter is the portrait of a typical Galilean.

It is to these people and to this province that Jesus comes. Here he spends most of his life. Nineteen of his thirty-two parables are spoken here and twenty-five of his thirty-three miracles are performed here. While we have no record of his life between his infancy and his ministry, it is here Jesus increases in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men (Luke 2:52). A major lesson may be learned from Matthew’s reference to Galilee. Jesus comes for the common man. He comes for Jews and Gentiles alike. God’s Son does not come to the stuffy rabbinical halls of Jerusalem but to the grassy slopes of Galilee. Here, along the Sea of Galilee, he trains the apostles in fishing for men.

Just before Herod the Great’s death, he divides his dominions among three of his sons.

1. Herod Antipas is made Tetrarch of Galilee and Perea (Matthew 14:1) and appears in connection with John the Baptist and the public ministry of our Lord.

2. Herod Philip is made Tetrarch of Iturea, Trachonitis and some adjacent districts (Luke 3:1). We note that this is not the same Herod Philip described in Matthew 14:1-12. Herod the Great has ten wives with the same names often reoccurring. The Philip of chapter 14 is a non-ruling son by Mariamne II whereas this Philip is a ruling son by Cleopatra of Jerusalem. The Philip here mentioned is the most just of the Herod rulers. Toward the close of His ministry in Galilee, Jesus often retires from the dominion of the cunning Antipas to those of Philip (Broadus 26).

3. Archleaus, eldest of the three sons, becomes ruler of Judea (with Idumea) and Samaria. His land inheritance amounts to at least one half of his father’s kingdom; but because he is so hated by the Jews, Rome withholds the title of "king," conferring instead the title of "ethnarch." Like his father, he is evil and wicked. Shortly before Herod the Great dies, he has executed two popular rabbis, Matthaias and Judas, who incited their disciples to tear down a Roman eagle that has been erected above the Temple gate. On the next Passover, an insurrection breaks out; and Archelaus, then in power, dispatches his horsemen and kills three thousand Jews and Passover pilgrims. Because of continued complaints against him, he is deposed by Rome in the ninth year of his reign (A.D. 6). Governors are then appointed by Rome in his place. The most famous of these is Pontius Pilate (Matthew 27:2).

Verse 23

And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.

And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: Nazareth is located 55 miles north of Jerusalem and lies in a valley running northwards from the Plain of Esdraelon. To each side, hills rise some 400-500 feet; and, from these lofty heights, one might glimpse Lebanon and Mt Hermon to the north, Carmel and the Mediterranean to the west, Samaria and the plain of Esdraelon to the south, and Gilead and Tabor to the east. Nazareth is Joseph’s home city even before Jesus is born (Luke 2:4).

that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene: No where in the Old Testament do we find one specific prophet foretelling that Jesus will be called a Nazarene. Matthew, however, uses the plural, "prophets," which probably indicate this is the general message of the Old Testament. It is difficult to say which prophecies Matthew has in mind and why, but several theories have been proposed.

1. "Nazareth" is believed by some to come from the Hebrew word "netzer," meaning shoot or branch. They see this as a fulfillment of the branch spoken of in Isaiah 11:1. Scholars, however, disagree on Nazareth’s etymology. There is a further question as to whether Matthew’s Greek audience would have understood this play on words.

2. Some believe "Nazareth" is a derivative of the Hebrew word "nazir," meaning ’consecration’. Jerome, Calvin, and others therefore connect it with the law of the Nazarites. But Jesus is not a Nazarite, as was John the Baptist (Luke 1:15); and he is quite different from John as he himself says (Matthew 11:18-19).

3. Some believe that just as Paul gives a quote from Jesus that does not appear in the gospels (Acts 20:35), so Matthew quotes from a source the Holy Spirit does not preserve for us today.

4. Still others find this prophecy’s fulfillment in the fact that Nazareth is a despised city. To be a Nazarene is to be looked upon with contempt. Nathaniel’s words, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth" encapsulates the sentiment of those especially from Judah (John 1:46). Nathanael is shocked that the Messiah can come from such a disreputable place. Early persecutors of Christianity deride Paul and accused him of ring leading the sect of the Nazarenes (Acts 24:5). It is, therefore, possible that Matthew has reference to prophecy that foretells Jesus’ being despised and rejected (Isaiah 53:3, Isaiah 49:7, Psalms 22). Isaiah speaks of Jesus as a root out of dry ground (53:2). Certainly the entire world is thirsty for living water when Jesus comes upon the scene. No place typifies this dryness more aptly than Nazareth

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Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Matthew 2". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/matthew-2.html. 1993-2022.