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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 2

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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Verses 1-2

"In the 708th year from the foundation of Rome (46 B.C. by Christian reckoning) Julius Caesar established the Julian Calendar, beginning the year with January 1st. But it was not until the sixth century A.D. that Dionysius Exiguus, a Scythian monk living in Rome, who was confirming the Easter cycle, originated the system of reckoning time from the birth of Christ. Gradually this usage spread, being adopted in England by the Synod of Whitby in 664, until it gained universal acceptance. In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII reformed the Julian calendar. However, more accurate knowledge shows that the earlier reckonings of the time of Christ’s birth were in error by several years. Thus it is now agreed that the birth of Christ should be placed c. 6-4 B.C." [Note: The New Scofield . . ., pp. 992-93. See also Edersheim, 2:704-5.]

When did the Magi visit Jesus in Bethlehem? [Note: For the geographical locations of places that Matthew referred to, see the map "Palestine in the Time of Jesus" at the end of these notes.] There are several factors that point to a time about a year after Jesus’ birth. First, Matthew described Jesus as a "child" (Gr. paidion, Matthew 2:11), not an "infant" (Gr. brephos, cf. Luke 2:27). Second, Jesus’ family was residing in a house (Matthew 2:11), not beside a manger (cf. Luke 2:1-20). Third, Herod’s edict to destroy all the male children two years old and under (Matthew 2:16) suggests that Jesus fell within this age span. Fourth, Joseph and Mary brought the offering of poor people to the temple when they dedicated Jesus about 40 days after His birth (Luke 2:24). After receiving the Magi’s gifts, they could have presented the normal offering (cf. Leviticus 12). Fifth, Joseph and Mary’s decision to return to Judea from Egypt (Matthew 2:22) implies that Judea is where they had lived before they took refuge in Egypt.

Matthew carefully identified the Bethlehem in Judea, in contrast to the Bethlehem in Zebulun (Joshua 19:15), as the birthplace of Jesus. This was important because the prophecy of Messiah’s birthplace was specifically Bethlehem of Judah, the hometown of King David (Matthew 2:6; Micah 5:2).

"Herod the Great, as he is now called, was born in 73 B.C. and was named king of Judea by the Roman Senate in 40 B.C. By 37 B.C. he had crushed, with the help of Roman forces, all opposition to his rule. Son of the Idumean Antipater, he was wealthy, politically gifted, intensely loyal, an excellent administrator, and clever enough to remain in the good graces of successive Roman emperors. His famine relief was superb and his building projects (including the temple, begun 20 B.C.) admired even by his foes. But he loved power, inflicted incredibly heavy taxes on the people, and resented the fact that many Jews considered him a usurper. In his last years, suffering an illness that compounded his paranoia, he turned to cruelty and in fits of rage and jealousy killed close associates, his wife Mariamne (of Jewish descent from the Maccabeans), and at least two of his sons . . ." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 84. See also Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 14-18; and S. Perowne, The Life and Times of Herod the Great.]

"Herod was not only an Idumaean in race and a Jew in religion, but he was a heathen in practice and a monster in character." [Note: Unger’s Bible Dictionary, 1957 ed., s.v. "Herod," by S. L. Bowman.]

"Behold" (Gr. idou) is a Hebraic expression that Matthew used to point out the wise men. They are the focus of his attention in this pericope.

It is not easy to identify the Magi (from the Gr. magoi) precisely. The Greek word from which we get "magi" comes from a Persian word that means experts regarding the stars. Centuries before Christ’s time they were a priestly caste of Chaldeans who could interpret dreams (cf. Daniel 1:20; Daniel 2:2; Daniel 4:7; Daniel 5:7). Later the term broadened to include men interested in dreams, magic, astrology, and the future. Some of these were honest inquirers after the truth, but others were charlatans (cf. Acts 8:9; Acts 13:6; Acts 13:8). The Magi who came to Jerusalem came from the East. Jerusalem at this time covered about 300 acres, and its population at non-feast times was between 200,000 and 250,000 people. [Note: Edersheim, 1:116-17.] Probably the Magi came from Babylon that had been for centuries a center for the study of the stars. [Note: Richard C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, p. 57; Allen, pp. 11-12.] Babylon had also been the home of Daniel who had been in command of former Magi in Babylonia (Daniel 2:48) and who had written of the death of Messiah (Daniel 9:24-27). The oldest opinion is that the Magi came from Arabia rather than Persia. [Note: Tony T. Maalouf, "Were the Magi from Persia or Arabia?" Bibliotheca Sacra 156:624 (October-December 1999):423-42.] Magi had such a dubious reputation in Jewish and Christian circles that it is unlikely that Matthew would have mentioned their testimony if it were not true. [Note: France, p. 65.]

"The tradition that the Magi were kings can be traced as far back as Tertullian (died c. 225). It probably developed under the influence of OT passages that say kings will come and worship Messiah (cf. Psalms 68:29; Psalms 68:31; Psalms 72:10-11; Isaiah 49:7; Isaiah 60:1-6). The theory that there were three ’wise men’ is probably a deduction from the three gifts (Matthew 2:11). By the end of the sixth century, the wise men were named: Melkon (later Melchior), Balthasar, and Gasper. Matthew gives no names. His magoi come to Jerusalem (which, like Bethlehem, has strong Davidic connections [2 Samuel 5:5-9]), arriving, apparently . . ., from the east-possibly from Babylon, where a sizable Jewish settlement wielded considerable influence, but possibly from Persia or from the Arabian desert. The more distant Babylon may be supported by the travel time apparently required . . ." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 85.]

The magi’s question (Matthew 2:2) was not, Where is He who has been born to become King of the Jews? but, Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? Jesus’ status as Israel’s king did not come to Him later in His life. He was born with it (cf. Matthew 27:37). In this respect He was superior to Herod who was not born a king and saw the young child as a threat to his throne. The only other occurrences of the title "king of the Jews" in Matthew are in Matthew 27:11; Matthew 27:29; Matthew 27:37 where Gentiles used these words to mock Jesus.

What Jesus’ star was remains problematic. Some scholars have suggested a conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation of Pisces. [Note: Edersheim, 1:212-13.] Others believed it was a supernova (a star that explodes and emits unusual light for several weeks or months), a comet, or some other planetary conjunctions or groupings. Still others believed it was a supernatural creation. Whatever it was, it was the same star that guided the Magi to Jesus’ house in Bethlehem or at least to Bethlehem (Matthew 2:9). The presence of the definite Greek article with "star" in Matthew 2:9 points to the same star mentioned in Matthew 2:2. It seems to me that it would be very unlikely that a planetary conjunction or other natural "star" could have given the wise men such specific guidance.

"Could it be that ’the star’ which the Magi saw and which led them to a specific house was the Shekinah glory of God? That same glory had led the children of Israel through the wilderness for 40 years as a pillar of fire and cloud. Perhaps this was what they saw in the East, and for want of a better term they called it a ’star.’" [Note: Barbieri, p. 22. Cf. Walvoord, p. 23.]

Perhaps the Magi connected Balaam’s messianic prophecy of a star that would rise out of Judah (Numbers 24:17) with the Jewish King. Balaam evidently originated in the East (Numbers 23:7). The Jews in Jesus’ day regarded Balaam’s oracle as messianic. [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 86.] Interestingly, Balaam, like the wise men, experienced pressure from a king who was intent on destroying God’s people, but he, and they, refused to cooperate.

The Magi’s statement that they intended to "worship" the new King does not necessarily mean that they regarded Him as divine. They may have meant that they wanted to do Him homage. However in view of chapter 1 we know that the new King was worthy of true worship. "Worship" (Gr. proskyneo) occurs 13 times in Matthew and is something the writer stressed. Apparently the Magi recognized the King as Israel’s Messiah. "King of the Jews" was the Gentile way of saying "Messiah." [Note: France, p. 61.] The Messiah was indeed the King of the Jews.

Verses 1-12

1. The prophecy about Bethlehem 2:1-12

The Old Testament not only predicted how Messiah would be born (Matthew 1:18-25) but where He would be born (Matthew 2:1-12).

Verses 1-23

C. The King’s childhood ch. 2

There is nothing in chapter 2 that describes Jesus Himself. Therefore Matthew’s purpose was not simply to give the reader information about Jesus’ childhood. Rather he stressed the reception that the Messiah received having entered the world. The rulers were hostile, the Jewish religious leaders were indifferent, but the Gentiles welcomed and worshipped Him. These proved to be typical responses throughout Jesus’ ministry, as Matthew’s Gospel reveals. This literary device of presenting implication and then realization is common in the first Gospel. Also in this chapter there are several references to the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies (Matthew 2:5-6; Matthew 2:15; Matthew 2:17-18; Matthew 2:23). Matthew wanted to continue to prove that Jesus was the promised Messiah who fulfilled what the prophets had predicted. In chapter 1 the emphasis is more on how Jesus’ identity fulfilled prophecy, but in chapter 2 it is more on how Jesus’ geographical connections fulfilled prophecy. To prove that Jesus was the Christ, Matthew had to show that Jesus was born where the Old Testament said Messiah would be born. Another purpose of this chapter was to show God’s providential care of His Son.

Verses 3-6

This news troubled Herod because he was very aware of the Jews’ desire to throw off the Roman yoke and his own rule in particular. Remember Pharaoh’s fear for his throne that also led to infanticide. Herod was an Edomite, a descendant of Esau, and the prospect of a Jewish Messiah’s appearance was one he could not ignore. The rest of Jerusalem’s citizens became disturbed because they realized that this news from the Magi might lead Herod to take further cruel action against them. This is what happened (Matthew 2:16). Already we begin to see the opposition of the people of Jerusalem to Jesus that would eventually result in His crucifixion.

Herod assembled Israel’s leaders to investigate the Magi’s announcement further (Matthew 2:4). The chief priests were mainly Sadducees at this time, and most of the scribes ("teachers of the law," NIV) were Pharisees. The chief priests included the high priest and his associates. The high priest obtained his position by appointment from Rome. The scribes were the official interpreters and communicators of the law to the people, the lawyers. Since these two groups of leaders did not get along, Herod may have had meetings with each group separately.

"The scribes were so called because it was their office to make copies of the Scriptures, to classify and teach the precepts of the oral law . . ., and to keep careful count of every letter in the O.T. writings. Such an office was necessary in a religion of law and precept, and was an O.T. function (2 Samuel 8:17; 2 Samuel 20:25; 1 Kings 4:3; Jeremiah 8:8; Jeremiah 36:10; Jeremiah 36:12; Jeremiah 36:26). To this legitimate work the scribes added a record of rabbinical decisions on questions of ritual (Halachoth); the new code resulting from those decisions (Mishna); the Hebrew sacred legends (Gemara, forming with the Mishna, the Talmud); commentaries on the O.T. (Midrashim); reasonings upon these (Hagada); and finally, mystical interpretations which found in Scripture meanings other than the grammatical, lexical, and obvious ones (the Kabbala), not unlike the allegorical method of Origen. In our Lord’s time, the Pharisees considered it orthodox to receive this mass of writing which had been superimposed upon and had obscured the Scripture." [Note: The New Scofield . . ., p. 993. See also Edersheim, 1:93-94.]

The Jews of Jesus’ day regarded the Halekhah (from halakh, "to go," i.e., The Rule of the Spiritual Road) as having greater authority than the Hebrew Scriptures. [Note: Ibid., 1:11.]

Notice that Herod perceived the King the Magi had spoken of as the Messiah (Matthew 2:4). Some of the Jews-particularly the Essenes, whom Herod did not consult, but not the Sadducees and Pharisees-were expecting a Messiah to appear soon because of Daniel 9:24-27. [Note: Josephus, Antiquities of. . ., 20:8:8; and idem, The Wars . . ., 4:3:9.] Daniel had been a wise man in the East also.

"Matthew adroitly answers Jewish unbelief concerning Jesus Christ by quoting their own official body to the effect that the prophecy of His birth in Bethlehem was literal, that the Messiah was to be an individual, not the entire Jewish nation, and that their Messiah was to be a King who would rule over them." [Note: Walvoord, p. 22.]

"In the original context of Micah 5:2, the prophet is speaking prophetically and prophesying that whenever the Messiah is born, He will be born in Bethlehem of Judah. That is the literal meaning of Micah 5:2. When a literal prophecy is fulfilled in the New Testament, it is quoted as a literal fulfillment. Many prophecies fall into this category . . ." [Note: Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, p. 843.]

Another writer called this, literal prophecy plus literal fulfillment. [Note: David L. Cooper, Messiah: His Historical Appearance, pp. 174-75.]

Matthew’s rendering of the Micah 5:2 prophecy adds the fact that the Ruler would shepherd the Israelites. This statement, from 2 Samuel 5:2, originally referred to David. Thus Matthew again showed the connection between the prophecies of Messiah and the Davidic line, a connection he also made in chapter 1. Perhaps the religious leaders put these passages together in their quotation. [Note: See Edersheim, 2:710-41, for a list of Old Testament passages messianically applied in ancient rabbinic writings, and talmucic discussion on the Messiah.] Such seems to have been the case. The quotation is free, not verbatim from either the Hebrew or the Greek (Septuagint) texts.

Verses 7-8

Evidently Herod summoned the Magi secretly to avoid arousing undue interest in their visit among Israel’s religious leaders (Matthew 2:7). He wanted to know when the star had appeared so he could determine the age of the child King.

Under a pretext of desire to "worship" the new King, Herod sent the Magi to Bethlehem as his representatives with orders to report what they found to him. His hypocritical humility deceived the wise men. He must have sensed this since he sent no escort with them but trusted them to return to him.

It is remarkable that the chief priests and scribes apparently made no effort to check out Jesus’ birth as the Magi did.

"It is strange how much the scribes knew, and what little use they made of it." [Note: Richard Glover, A Teacher’s Commentary of the Gospel of Matthew, p. 14.]

Their apathy contrasts with the Magi’s curiosity and with Herod’s fear. It continued into Jesus’ ministry until it turned into antagonism.

". . . the conflict on which the plot of Matthew’s story turns is that between Jesus and Israel, especially the religious leaders." [Note: Kingsbury, p. 8.]

"Except for Jesus himself, the religious leaders are the ones who influence most the development of the plot of Matthew’s story." [Note: Ibid., p. 18.]

Verses 9-12

Perhaps "the" star (Matthew 2:2), whatever it was, was so bright that the wise men could see it as they traveled in daylight. Travel at night was common to avoid the heat, so they may have made the five-mile trip south to Bethlehem at night. Nevertheless this would have been winter, so they probably traveled during daylight hours. [Note: Harold W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, pp. 25-26.]

The star could have identified Bethlehem as the town where Jesus abode, and the Magi could have obtained His exact location from the residents. On the other hand, the star may have identified the very house where Joseph and Mary dwelt. This seems more likely in view of Matthew 2:11. God supernaturally guided the seekers so they found the Messiah. God’s provision gave them great joy (Matthew 2:10; cf. Luke 2:10).

The reaction of the wise men to discovering "the child" and His mother was to bow and worship Him. Notice that they did not worship Mary nor did they worship Jesus through Mary.

It was customary in the ancient Near East to present gifts when approaching a superior (cf. Genesis 43:11; 1 Samuel 9:7-8; 1 Kings 10:2). The wise men produced these from their "treasures" or coffers. The expensive gifts reflected the great honor the Magi bestowed on the Christ child. The gold probably financed Joseph and Mary’s trip to Egypt (Matthew 2:14-21). Frankincense is a gum obtained from the resin of certain trees that was particularly fragrant. Myrrh was also a sap-like substance that came from a tree that grew in Arabia. People used it as a spice and as a perfume often in embalming as well as in other applications. Many commentators, ancient and modern, have seen symbolic significance in these three gifts. Some have said gold suggests royalty while others have seen deity. Some say incense represents deity while others believe it better represents perfect humanity. Most expositors view myrrh as prefiguring Jesus’ death and burial. It is unlikely that the Magi saw this significance, but Matthew may have intended his readers to see it. This act by Gentile leaders also prefigures the wealth that the Old Testament prophets said the Gentiles would one day present to Israel’s Messiah (Psalms 72:10-11; Psalms 72:15; Isaiah 60:5; Isaiah 60:11; Isaiah 61:6; Isaiah 66:20; Zephaniah 3:10; Haggai 2:7-8). This will occur in the fullest sense at the Second Coming of Christ.

God supernaturally intervened to keep the Magi from returning to Herod who would have then been able to target Jesus precisely. Dreams were a common method of divine guidance during the Old Testament economy in which Jesus lived (cf. Numbers 12:6).

Several contrasts in this section reveal Matthew’s emphases. Herod, the wicked Idumean usurper king, contrasts with Jesus, the born righteous king of Israel. The great distance from which the Magi traveled to visit Jesus contrasts with the short distance Israel’s leaders had to travel to see Him. The genuine worship of the wise men contrasts with the feigned worship of Herod and the total lack of worship of the chief priests and scribes. The Gentile Magi’s sensitivity and responsiveness to divine guidance also contrast with the insensitivity and unresponsiveness of Israel’s leaders.

"The first to worship the King in Matthew’s Gospel are Gentiles, an implication of the last command of the Messiah. The supernatural stellar manifestations attest the divine character of the person of Jesus. Matthew also notes the fact that the Magi who worship the Messiah of Israel are forced to take refuge from Bethlehem. This, too, is a hint of the future antagonism of Israel to their King." [Note: Toussaint, p. 51.]

". . . he [Matthew] contrasts the eagerness of the Magi to worship Jesus, despite their limited knowledge, with the apathy of the Jewish leaders and the hostility of Herod’s court-all of whom had the Scriptures to inform them. Formal knowledge of the Scriptures, Matthew implies, does not in itself lead to knowing who Jesus is . . ." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 86.]

"Even though Israel is cognizant of the prophecies, they are blind to spiritual realities. The King of Israel is worshiped by Gentiles, while His own people do not bother to own Him as their King. The condition of Israel is clearly implied in the early verses of Matthew’s Gospel. They are cold and indifferent." [Note: Toussaint, p. 52]

"The Gentile wise men worship the King of the Jews; the Jews are apathetic; and Herod is concerned only for his throne. Herod’s interest in his own political well-being marks the attitude of the governmental authorities throughout the remainder of the Gospel." [Note: Ibid., p. 53.]

Verse 13

For the second time in two chapters we read that an angel from the Lord appeared with a message for Joseph (cf. Matthew 1:20). This indicates that the message had unusual importance.

The order of the words "the child and His mother" is unusual. Normally the parent would receive mention before the child. This order draws attention again to the centrality of Jesus in the narrative.

Egypt was a natural place of refuge at this time. Its border was just 75 miles from Bethlehem, though the nearest town was about 150 miles, and it provided escape from Herod’s hatred. Herod had no authority there. Furthermore, there was a large Jewish population there as well as a substitute for the Jerusalem temple. [Note: France, p. 79.]

Joseph learned that he was to remain in Egypt until God directed him elsewhere, not until Herod died. Again the sovereignty of God stands out.

"In obeying at once this command from God and the other commands that follow, Joseph’s righteousness (Matthew 1:19) casts Herod’s wickedness in ever sharper relief." [Note: Kingsbury, p. 49.]

In many respects Jesus recapitulated Moses’ life and experiences. Moses had also been the target of the ruler of his day who sought to destroy him and all the other male Hebrew babies by ordering them slain (Exodus 1:15-22). Matthew wanted his readers to see Jesus as a second Moses as well as the true Israel.

Verses 13-18

2. The prophecies about Egypt 2:13-18

Matthew continued to stress God’s predictions about and His protection of His Messiah to help his readers recognize Jesus as the promised King.

Verses 14-15

Herod died in 4 B.C. [Note: Hoehner, p. 13.] Josephus recorded that he died a horrible death, his body rotting away and consumed by worms. [Note: Josephus, Antiquities of . . ., 17:6:5; idem, The Wars . . ., 1:33.] His grandson, Herod Agrippa, later suffered a similar fate (Acts 12:23).

As noted, Matthew frequently used the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies to show that Jesus was the Christ. Matthew 2:15 contains another fulfillment. This one is difficult to understand, however, because in Hosea 11:1 the prophet did not predict anything. He simply described the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt as the departure of God’s son (cf. Exodus 4:22). Old Testament writers frequently used the term "son" to describe Israel in its relationship to God. What did Matthew mean when he wrote that Jesus’ departure from Egypt fulfilled Hosea’s words (Hosea 11:1)? Matthew’s quotation is from the Hebrew text.

Matthew did not say that Jesus was fulfilling a prophecy. Another significant factor is the meaning of the word "fulfill" (Gr. pleroo). It has a broader meaning than simply "to make complete." It essentially means "to establish completely." [Note: Hermann Cremer, Biblico-Theological Lexicon of New Testament Greek, p. 500.] In the case of predictive prophecy, the complete establishment of what the prophet predicted occurred when what he predicted happened. In the case of prophetic utterances that dealt with the past or present, the complete establishment of what the prophet said took place when another event that was similar happened. This is the sense in which Jesus’ departure from Egypt fulfilled Hosea’s prophecy (cf. James 2:21-23). Jesus was the Son of God (Matthew 2:15; Matthew 3:17; Matthew 4:3; Matthew 4:6; Matthew 8:29; Matthew 11:27; Matthew 14:33; Matthew 16:16; Matthew 17:5; Matthew 26:63; Matthew 27:40; Matthew 27:43; Matthew 27:54). The history of Israel, the son of God in a different sense, anticipated the life of Messiah. [Note: Plummer, p. 19.] To state the same thing another way, Jesus was the "typological recapitulation of Israel " [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 91.] Another writer called this "literal [event] plus typical [fulfillment]." [Note: Fruchtenbaum, pp. 843-44.] Still another referred to it as "literal prophecy plus a typical import." [Note: Cooper, pp. 175-76.]

"There were similarities between the nation and the Son. Israel was God’s chosen ’son’ by adoption (Exodus 4:22), and Jesus is the Messiah, God’s Son. In both cases the descent into Egypt was to escape danger, and the return was important to the nation’s providential history." [Note: Barbieri, p. 22.]

". . . Matthew looked back and carefully drew analogies between the events of the nation’s history and the historical incidents in the life of Jesus." [Note: Tracy L. Howard, "The Use of Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:15 : An Alternative Solution," Bibliotheca Sacra 143:572 (October-December 1986):325. This article evaluated several other proposed solutions to this difficult citation.]

Verses 16-18

Some critical scholars discounted Matthew’s account of Herod’s slaughter of the Bethlehem children because there is no extrabiblical confirmation of it. However, Bethlehem was small, and many other biblically significant events have no secular confirmation, including Jesus’ crucifixion. One writer estimated that this purge would have affected only about 20 children. [Note: France, p. 85.] He believed that the total population of Bethlehem at this time was under 1,000. Compared to some of Herod’s other atrocities this one was minor. [Note: See Edersheim, 1:127.]

"Emperor Augustus reportedly said it was better to be Herod’s sow than his son, for his sow had a better chance of surviving in a Jewish community. In the Greek language, as in English, there is only one letter difference between the words ’sow’ (hyos) and ’son’ (hyios)." [Note: Barbieri, p. 23.]

"The selfsame character traits Herod exhibits in chapter 2, the [religious] leaders will exhibit later in the story. To enumerate the most obvious of these, Herod shows himself to be ’spiritually blind’ (Matthew 2:3), ’fearful’ (Matthew 2:3), ’conspiratorial’ (Matthew 2:7), ’guileful’ and ’mendacious’ (Matthew 2:8), ’murderous’ (Matthew 2:13; Matthew 2:16), ’wrathful’ (Matthew 2:16; cf. Matthew 21:15), and ’apprehensive of the future’ (Matthew 2:16)." [Note: Kingsbury, p. 117.]

Matthew again claimed that another event surrounding Jesus’ birth fulfilled prophecy (Matthew 2:17). Matthew is the only New Testament writer who quoted Jeremiah (cf. Matthew 16:14; Matthew 27:9). This quotation is evidently also from the Hebrew text. Incidentally, Matthew only quoted Isaiah and Jeremiah by name of all the prophets he quoted.

"Matthew is not simply meditating on Old Testament texts, but claiming that in what has happened they find fulfillment. If the events are legendary [rather than historical], the argument is futile." [Note: R. T. France, "Herod and the Children of Bethlehem," Novum Testamentum 21 (1979):120.]

It is not clear whether Jeremiah was referring to the deportation of the northern tribes in 722 B.C. or to the Babylonian Captivity in 586 B.C. Since he dealt primarily with the second of these events in his ministry, he probably did so here too. Poetically he presented Rachel as the idealized mother of the Jews mourning from her grave because her children were going into captivity. Since Rachel’s grave was near Bethlehem, mention of her ties in nicely with the events of Jesus’ early childhood near Bethlehem.

"In the original context, Jeremiah is speaking of an event soon to come as the Babylonian Captivity begins. As the Jewish young men were being taken into captivity, they went by the town of Ramah. Not too far from Ramah is where Rachel was buried and she was the symbol of Jewish motherhood. As the young men were marched toward Babylon, the Jewish mothers of Ramah came out weeping for sons they will never see again. Jeremiah pictured the scene as Rachel weeping for her children. This is the literal meaning of Jeremiah 31:15. The New Testament cannot change or reinterpret what this verse means in that context, nor does it try to do so. In this category [of fulfilled prophecy], there is a New Testament event that has one point of similarity with the Old Testament event. The verse is quoted as an application. The one point of similarity between Ramah and Bethlehem is that once again Jewish mothers are weeping for sons they will never see again and so the Old Testament passage is applied to the New Testament event. Otherwise, everything else is different." [Note: Fruchtenbaum, p. 844. ]

Cooper called this "literal prophecy plus an application." [Note: Cooper, p. 176.] Bailey saw three points of comparison between the two situations: in both of them a Gentile king was threatening the future of Israel (cf. Matthew 2:13), children were involved, and the future restoration of Israel was nevertheless secure (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-37). [Note: Bailey, p. 8.]

Matthew evidently used Jeremiah 31:15 because it presented hope to the Israelites that Israel would return to the land even though they wept at the nation’s departure. The context of Jeremiah’s words is hope. Matthew used the Jeremiah passage to give his readers hope that despite the tears of the Bethlehem mothers Messiah had escaped from Herod and would return to reign ultimately. [Note: Robert H. Gundry, The Use of the Old Testament in St. Matthew’s Gospel, with Special Reference to the Messianic Hope, p. 210; R. V. G. Tasker, The Gospel According to St. Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary, pp. 43-44.]

"Here Jesus does not, as in Matthew 2:15, recapitulate an event from Israel’s history. The Exile sent Israel into captivity and thereby called forth tears. But here the tears are not for him who goes into ’exile’ but because of the children who stay behind and are slaughtered. Why, then, refer to the Exile at all? Help comes from observing the broader context of both Jeremiah and Matthew. Jeremiah 31:9; Jeremiah 31:20 refers to Israel = Ephraim as God’s dear son and also introduces the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34) the Lord will make with his people. Therefore the tears associated with Exile (Jeremiah 31:15) will end. Matthew has already made the Exile a turning point in his thought (Matthew 1:11-12), for at that time the Davidic line was dethroned. The tears of the Exile are now being ’fulfilled’-i.e., the tears begun in Jeremiah’s day are climaxed and ended by the tears of the mothers of Bethlehem. The heir to David’s throne has come, the Exile is over, the true Son of God has arrived, and he will introduce the new covenant (Matthew 26:28) promised by Jeremiah." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 95.]

Verses 19-20

God’s sovereign initiative is again the subject of Matthew’s record. This is the fourth dream and the third mention of the angel of the Lord appearing to Joseph in the prologue. The phrase "the land of Israel" occurs only here in the New Testament. Evidently Matthew used it since it recalls the promises and blessings God gave Jacob and his descendants. [Note: Toussaint, p. 56.]

Verses 19-23

3. The prophecies about Nazareth 2:19-23 (cf. Luke 2:39)

Matthew concluded his selective account of the events in Jesus’ childhood that demonstrated His messiahship and illustrated various reactions to Him with Jesus’ return to Israel.

Verses 21-23

Joseph obediently responded to the Lord’s command. However before he could do so, news reached him that Herod the Great’s son, Archelaus, had begun to rule as ethnarch over Judea, Samaria, and Idumea. The rest of Herod the Great’s kingdom went to his sons Antipas, who ruled as tetrarch over Galilee and Perea (4 B.C. - A.D. 39), and Philip. "Tetrarch" means Philip ruled over one-fourth of the kingdom of his father, Herod the Great. Philip became tetrarch of Iturea, Trachonitis, and some other territories (4 B.C. - A.D. 34). The title "ethnarch" was a more honorable title than "tetrarch." It meant ruler over a people. It was also a title inferior to "king," however.

"One of the first acts of Archelaus was to murder some three thousand people in the temple because some of their number had memorialized some martyrs put to death by Herod. Like father, like son." [Note: Walvoord, p. 24. See also Edersheim, 1:220.]

Archelaus proved to be a bad ruler. Caesar Augustus banished him for his poor record in A.D. 6. [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 96.] Philip was the best ruler among Herod the Great’s sons.

Evidently God warned Joseph not to return to Archelaus’ territory. Joseph chose to settle in Nazareth in Galilee instead, on the northern border of Zebulun, undoubtedly guided there by God. This had been his and Mary’s residence before Jesus’ birth (Matthew 13:53-58; Luke 1:26-27; Luke 2:39). Matthew noted that this move was another fulfillment of prophecy (Matthew 2:23). Nazareth stood 70 miles north of Bethlehem, and archaeological evidence points to a population of about 480 at the beginning of the first century A.D. [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p. 91.]

". . . the ancient Via Maris [Sea Highway] led through Nazareth, and thence either by Cana, or else along the northern shoulder of Mount Tabor, to the Lake of Gennesaret-each of these roads soon uniting with the Upper Galilean. Hence, although the stream of commerce between Acco and the East was divided into three channels, yet, as one of these passed through Nazareth, the quiet little town was not a stagnant pool of rustic seclusion. . . . But, on the other hand, Nazareth was also one of the great centers of Jewish Temple-life. . . . The Priests of the ’course’ which was to be on duty always gathered in certain towns, whence they went up in company to Jerusalem, while those of their number who were unable to go spent the week in fasting and prayer. . . . Thus, to take a wider view, a double symbolic significance attached to Nazareth, since through it passed alike those who carried on the traffic of the world, and those who ministered in the Temple." [Note: Edersheim, 1:147-48.]

Careful attention to the terms Matthew used to describe this fulfillment helps us understand how Jesus fulfilled Scripture. First, Matthew said the prophecy came through "prophets," not a prophet. This is the only place in the first Gospel that he said this. Second, Matthew did not say that the prophets "said" or "wrote" the prediction. He said "what was said or spoken" through them happened. In other words, Matthew was quoting indirectly, freely. [Note: W. Barnes Tatum Jr., "Matthew 2:23," The Bible Translator 27 (1976):135-37.]

There is no Old Testament passage that predicted that the Messiah would come from Nazareth or that people would call Him a Nazarene. How then could Matthew say that Jesus fulfilled Scripture by living there? The most probable explanation seems to be that Nazareth was a specially despised town in the despised region of Galilee in Jesus’ day (John 1:46; John 7:42; John 7:52). Several of the Old Testament prophets predicted that people would despise the Messiah (Psalms 22:6-8; Psalms 22:13; Psalms 69:8; Psalms 69:20-21; Isaiah 11:1; Isaiah 42:1-4; Isaiah 49:7; Isaiah 53:2-3; Isaiah 53:8; Daniel 9:26). Matthew often returned to this theme of Jesus being despised (Matthew 8:20; Matthew 11:16-19; Matthew 15:7-8). The writer appears to be giving the substance of several Old Testament passages here rather than quoting any one of them. There may also be an allusion to the naser ("branch") in Isaiah 11:1 that the rabbis in Jesus’ day regarded as messianic. [Note: The New Scofield . . ., p. 994; Wiersbe, 1:16.] In that passage David’s heir appears to be emerging from a lowly, obscure place. One writer gave evidence that the Targums, as well as the New Testament writers, exegeted the Old Testament messianically. [Note: See Michael B. Shepherd, "Targums, The New Testament, and Biblical Theology of the Messiah," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 51:1 (March 2008):45-58.]

"In the first century, Nazarenes were people despised and rejected and the term was used to reproach and to shame (John 1:46). The prophets did teach that the Messiah would be a despised and rejected individual (e.g. Isaiah 53:3) and this is summarized by the term, Nazarene." [Note: Fruchtenbaum, p. 845.]

Fruchtenbaum called this type of prophetic fulfillment "summation." [Note: Ibid.] Cooper preferred to call it "literal prophecy plus a summation." [Note: Cooper, pp. 177-78.]

"Jesus is King Messiah, Son of God, Son of David; but he was a branch from a royal line hacked down to a stump and reared in surroundings guaranteed to win him scorn. Jesus the Messiah, Matthew is telling us, did not introduce his kingdom with outward show or present himself with the pomp of an earthly monarch. In accord with prophecy he came as the despised Servant of the Lord." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 97.]

Less satisfying explanations of this prophecy and its fulfillment are the following. First, some connect "Nazarene" with "Nazirite" (cf. Judges 13:5). However, Jesus was never a Nazirite (Matthew 11:19). Furthermore the etymologies of these words do not connect. Second, some believe the Hebrew word translated "branch" (naser) in Isaiah 11:1 sounds enough like Nazareth to justify a connection. The problem with this view is that the Hebrew word and the town of Nazareth have nothing in common except similar sounding names. Also naser occurs in only one passage, but Matthew quoted the "prophets." Third, some writers have posited a pre-Christian sect and suggested that Matthew referred to this. There is no evidence to support this theory. Fourth, some believe Matthew was making a pun by connecting the names Nazareth and Nazarene. If this were true, how could he claim a fulfillment of prophecy? Fifth, some think the writer referred to prophecies not recorded in Scripture but known to and accepted by his original readers. Matthew gave no clue that this unusual meaning is what he intended. Furthermore later readers would not only reject such an authority but would charge Matthew with fabricating such a source to support his argument.

Matthew chapter 2 advances the writer’s argument significantly by making three major points.

"The first relates to the Gentiles. The Magi come from the East and worship the King of the Jews. A glimmering foreview of all the nations of the earth being blessed in Abraham is seen in this act. . . . The second point Matthew makes concerns the Jews. They are shown to be unconcerned and indifferent to any report concerning Him. Finally, Matthew, by his use of the Old Testament, proves that Jesus is the promised Messiah. He is the fulfillment of all that is anticipated in their Scriptures. These three things form the basis of Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus is presented as the Messiah prophesied and promised in the Old Testament. The Jews reject Him. Because of this rejection the King turns to the Gentiles and the kingdom program for the Jews is postponed.

"Chapter one declares the theanthropic character of the person of the Messiah. The reception which is to be given the claims of the Messiah is set forth in chapter two. Matthew three begins the narrative of the historical account of the presentation of Israel’s Messiah to that nation." [Note: Toussaint, pp. 57-58.]

"Matthew 1-2 serves as a finely wrought prologue for every major theme in the Gospel." [Note: Carson, "Matthew," p. 73.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Matthew 2". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/matthew-2.html. 2012.
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