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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 2

The Expositor's Greek TestamentExpositor's Greek Testament

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The leading aim of the evangelist in this chapter is not to give biographic details as to the time and place of Christ’s birth. These are disposed of in an introductory subordinate clause with a genitive absolute construction: “Jesus being born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the King”: that is all. The main purpose is to show the reception given by the world to the new-born Messianic King. Homage from afar, hostility at home; “foreshadowing the fortunes of the new faith: acceptance by the Gentiles, rejection by the Jews; such is the lesson of this new section. It is history, but not of the prosaic sort: history with a religious bias, and wearing a halo of poetry. The story forms a natural sequel to the preceding account. The δὲ in Matthew 2:1 , as in Matthew 1:18 , is adversative only to the extent of taking the attention off one topic and fixing it on another connected and kindred. This, according to Klotz, who regards δὲ as a weak form of δὴ , is the original force of the particle. He says (in Devarius , p. 355): “Illa particula eam vim habet, ut abducat nos ab ea re, quae proposita est, transferatque ad id quod, missa illa priore re, jam pro vero ponendum esse videatur”.

Verse 1

Matthew 2:1 . ἐν Βηθλεὲμ : The first hint of the birthplace, and no hint that Bethlehem is not the home of the family. τῆς Ἰουδαίας : to distinguish it from another Bethlehem in Galilee (Zebulon), named in Joshua 19:15 . Our Bethlehem is called Bethlehem-Judah in 1 Samuel 17:12 , and Jerome thought it should be so written here Bethlehem of Judah, not of Judaea, taking the latter for the name of the whole nation. The name means “house of bread,” and points to the fertility of the neighbourhood; about six miles south of Jerusalem. ἐν ἡμέραις , “in the days,” a very vague indication of time. Luke aims at more exactness in these matters. It is enough for our evangelist to indicate that the birth of Jesus fell within the evil time represented by Herod. A name of evil omen; called the Great; great in energy, in magnificence, in wickedness; a considerable personage in many ways in the history of Israel, and of the world. Not a Jew, his father Antipater an Edomite, his mother an Arabian the sceptre has departed from Judah through the influence of Antony appointed King of Judaea by the Roman senate about forty years before the birth of Christ. The event here recorded therefore took place towards the close of his long reign; fit ending for a career blackened with many dark deeds. ἰδοὺ μάγοι : “Behold!” introducing in a lively manner the new theme, and a very different class of men from the reigning King of Judaea. Herod, Magi; the one representing the ungodly element in Israel, the other the best element in the Gentile world; Magi, not kings as the legend makes them, but having influence with kings, and intermeddling much by astrological lore with the fortunes of individuals and peoples. The homage of the Gentiles could not be offered by worthier representatives, in whom power, wisdom, and also error, superstition meet. μάγοι ἀπὸ ἀνατ . παρεγ ., Magi from the east came so the words must be connected: not “came from the east”; from the east, the land of the sunrise; vague indication of locality. It is vain to inquire what precise country is meant, though commentators have inquired, and are divided into hostile camps on the point: Arabia, Persia, Media, Babylon, Parthia are some of the rival suggestions. The evangelist does not know or care. The east generally is the suitable part of the world for Magi to come from on this errand. εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα : they arrived at Jerusalem, the capital, the natural place for strangers to come to, the precise spot connected with their errand to be determined by further inquiry. Note the Greek form of the name, usual with Matthew, Mark and John. In Luke, the Hebrew form Ἱερουσαλὴμ is used. Beforehand, one would have expected the first evangelist writing for Jews to have used the Hebrew form, and the Pauline evangelist the Greek.

Verses 1-12

Matthew 2:1-12 . Visit of the Magi.

Verse 2

Matthew 2:2 , ποῦ … Ἰουδαίων : the inquiry of the Magi. It is very laconic, combining an assertion with a question. The assertion is contained in τεχθεὶς . That a king of the Jews had been born was their inference from the star they had seen, and what they said was in effect thus: that a king has been born somewhere in this land we know from a star we have seen arising, and we desire to know where he can be found: “insigne hoc concisae orationis exemplum,” Fritzsche. The Messianic hope of the Jews, and the aspiration after world-wide dominion connected with it, were known to the outside world, according to the testimony of non-Christian writers such as Josephus and Tacitus. The visit of the Magi in quest of the new-born king is not incredible. εἴδομεν … ἐν τῇ ἀνατολῇ , we saw His star in its rising , not in the east, as in A. V [4] , the plural being used for that in Matthew 2:1 . Always on the outlook, no heavenly phenomenon escaped them; it was visible as soon as it appeared above the horizon. ἀστέρα , what was this celestial portent? Was it phenomenal only? an appearance in the heavens miraculously produced to guide the wise men to Judaea and Bethlehem; or a real astronomical object, a rare conjunction of planets, or a new star appearing, and invested by men addicted to astrology with a certain significance; or mythical, neither a miraculous nor a natural phenomenon, but a creation of the religious imagination working on slender data, such as the Star of Jacob in Balaam’s prophecies? All these views have been held. Some of the fathers, especially Chrysostom, advocated the first, viz. , that it were a star, not φύσει , but ὄψει μόνον . Harons were such as these: it moved from north to south; it appeared in the daytime while the sun shone; it appeared and disappeared; it descended down to the house where the child lay, and so indicated the spot, which could not be done by a star in the sky (Hom. vi.). Some modern commentators have laid under contribution the investigations of astronomers, and supposed the ἀστήρ to have been one of several rare conjunctions of planets occurring about the beginning of our era or a comet observed in China. Vide the elaborate note in Alford’s Greek Testament. The third view is in favour with students of comparative religion and of criticism, who lay stress on the fact that in ancient times the appearance of a star was expected at the birth of all great men (De Wette), and who expect mythological elements in the N. T. as well as in the Old. ( vide Fritzsche, Strauss, L. J. , and Holtzmann in H. C.) These diverse theories will probably always find their abettors; the first among the devout to whom the miraculous is no stumbling-block, the second among those who while accepting the miraculous desire to reduce it to a minimum, or at least to avoid its unnecessary extension, the third among men of naturalistic proclivities. I do not profess to be able to settle the question. I content myself with expressing general acquiescence in the idea thrown out by Spinoza in his discussion on prophecy in the Tractatus theologico-politicus , that in the case of the Magi we have an instance of a sign given, accommodated to the false opinions of men, to guide them to the truth. The whole system of astrology was a delusion, yet it might be used by Providence to guide seekers after God. The expectation of an epochmaking birth was current in the east, spread by Babylonian Jews. That it might interest Magians there is no wise incredible; that their astrological lore might lead them to connect some unknown celestial phenomenon with the prevalent expectation is likewise credible. On the other hand, that legendary elements might get mixed up in the Christian tradition of the star-guided visit must be admitted to be possible. It remains to add that the use of the word ἀστήρ , not ἀστρόν , has been supposed to have an important bearing on the question as to the nature of the phenomenon. ἀστήρ means an individual star, ἀστρόν a constellation. But in the N. T. this distinction is not observed. ( vide Luke 21:25 ; Acts 27:20 ; Hebrews 11:12 ; and Grimm’s Lexicon on the two words.)

[4] Authorised Version.

Verse 3

Matthew 2:3 . ὁ βασιλεὺς Ἡρώδης ἐταράχθη : βασιλεὺς before the name, not after, as in Matthew 2:1 , the emphatic position suggesting that it was as king and because king that Herod was troubled. The foreigner and usurper feared a rival, and the tyrant feared the rival would be welcome. It takes little to put evildoers in fear. He had reigned long, men were weary, and the Pharisees, according to Joseph (A. J. xvii. 2 4), had predicted that his family would were long lose its place of power. His fear therefore, though the occasion may seem insignificant, is every way credible. καὶ πᾶσα I., doubtless an exaggeration, yet substantially true. The spirit of the city was servile and selfish. They bowed to godless power, and cared for their own interest rather than for Herod’s. Few in that so-called holy city had healthy sympathies with truth and right. Whether the king’s fears were groundless or not they knew not nor cared. It was enough that the fears existed. The world is ruled not by truth but by opinion. πᾶσα : s Ἰεροσόλυμα feminine here, or is ἡ πὀλις understood? or is it a construction, ad sensum , of the inhabitants? (Schanz).

Verse 4

Matthew 2:4 . Herod’s measures . καὶ συναγαγὼν … τοῦ λαοῦ . Was this a meeting of the Sanhedrim? Not likely, as the elders are not mentioned, who are elsewhere named as the representatives of the people, vide Matthew 26:3 , “the chief priests, scribes and elders of the people”. Here we read only of the chief priests and scribes of the people. The article is not repeated before γραμματεῖς , the two classes being joined together as the theological experts of the people. Herod called together the leading men among the priests and scribes to consult them as to the birth-place of Messiah. Holtzmann (H. C.), assuring that a meeting of the Sanhedrim is meant, uses the fact as an argument against the historicity of the narrative. The Herod of history slew the Sanhedrists wholesale, and did his best to lull to sleep Messianic hopes. It is only the Herod of Christian legend that convenes the Sanhedrim, and makes anxious inquiries about Messiah’s birth-place. But the past policy of the king and his present action, as reported by the evangelist, hang together. He discouraged Messianic hopes, and, now that they have revived in spite of him, he must deal with them, and his first step is to consult the experts in as quiet a way as possible, to ascertain the whereabouts of the new-born child ἐπυνθάνετο , etc.: it is not a historical question he submits to the experts as to where the Christ has been born, or shall be, but a theological one: where, according to the accepted tradition, is His birth-place? Hence γεννᾶται , present tense.

Verses 5-6

Matthew 2:5-6 . The answer of the experts . οἱ δὲ εἶπον , etc. This is not a Christian opinion put into the mouth of the scribes. It was the answer to be expected from them as reflecting the current opinion of the time. The Targum put upon the oracle in Micah a Messianic interpretation (Wetstein, and Wünsche, Beiträge ). Yet with the Talmudists the Messiah was the one who should come forth from a strange, unknown place (Weber, Die Lehren des Talmud , p. 342). Vide on this point Schanz, who quotes Schegg as denying the statement of Wetstein, and refers to Celsus as objecting that this view about Messiah’s birthplace was not current among the Jews. (Origen, c. Celsum , i. 51. Cf. John 7:27 ; John 7:42 .) οὕτω γὰρ γεγραπται , etc.: The Scripture proof that Messiah’s birth-place was Bethlehem is taken from Micah 5:2 . The oracle put into the mouth of the experts consulted by Herod receives its shape from the hand of the evangelist. It varies very considerably both from the original Hebrew and from the Sept [5] The “least” becomes “by no means the least,” “among the thousands” becomes “among the princes,” and the closing clause, “who shall rule my people Israel,’ departs from the prophetic oracle altogether, and borrows from 2 Samuel 5:2 , God’s promise to David; the connecting link apparently being the poetic word descriptive of the kingly function common to the two places ποιμανεῖ in Micah 5:3 , ποιμανεῖς in 2 Samuel 5:2 . The second variation arises from a different pointing of the same Hebrew word באלפי , בְאַלפֵי = among the thousands, בְאַלֻּפֵי = among the heads of thousands. Such facts are to be taken as they stand. They do not correspond to modern ideas of Scripture proof.

[5] Septuagint.

Verses 7-8

Matthew 2:7-8 . Herod’s next step . τότε Ἡρώδης … ἀστέρος : τότε , frequent formula of transition with our evangelist, cf. Matthew 2:16-17 ; Matthew 4:1 ; Matthew 4:5 ; Matthew 4:11 , etc. Herod wished to ascertain precisely when the child the Magi had come to worship was born. He assumed that the event would synchronise with the ascent of the star which the Magi had seen in its rising, and which still continued to be seen ( φαινομένου ). Therefore he made particular inquiries ( ἠκρίβωσε ) as to the time of the star, i.e. , the time of its first appearing. This was a blind, an affectation of great interest in all that related to the child, in whose destinies even the stars were involved.

Verse 8

Matthew 2:8 . καὶ πέμψας … αὐτῷ : his hypocrisy went further. He bade the strangers go to Bethlehem, find out the whereabouts of the child, come back and tell him, that he also might go and worship Him. Worship, i.e. , murder! “Incredible motive!” (H.C.). Yes, as a real motive for a man like Herod, but not as a pretended one, and quite likely to be believed by these simple, guileless souls from the east. πέμψας εἶπε : the sending was synchronous with the directions according to De Wette, prior according to Meyer. It is a question of no importance here, but it is sometimes an important question in what relation the action expressed by the aorist participle stands to that expressed by the following finite verb. The rule certainly is that the participle expresses an action going before: one thing having happened, another thereafter took place. But there is an important class of exceptions. The aorist participle “may express time coincident with that of the verb, when the actions of the verb and the participle are practically one”. Goodwin, Syntax, p. 52, and vide article there referred to by Prof. Ballantine in Bibl. Sacra. , 1884, on the application of this rule to the N. T., in which many instances of the kind occur. Most frequent in the Gospels is the expression ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπε , which does not mean “having first answered he then proceeded to say,” but “in answering he said”. The case before us may be one of this kind. He sent them by saying “Go and search,” etc.

Verses 9-10

Matthew 2:9-10 . The Magi go on their errand to Bethlehem . They do not know the way, but the star guides them. ἰδοὺ ὁ ἀστὴρ : looking up to heaven as they set out on their journey, they once more behold their heavenly guide. ὃν εἶδον ἐ . τ . ἀνατολῇ : is the meaning that they had seen the star only at its rising, finding their way to Jesus without its guidance, and that again it appeared leading them to Bethlehem? So Bengel, and after him Meyer. Against this is φαινομένου , Matthew 2:7 , which implies continuous visibility. The clause ὃν εἶδον , etc., is introduced for the purpose of identification. It was their celestial guide appearing again. προῆγεν : it kept going before them (imperfect) all the way till, arriving at Bethlehem, it took up its position ( ἐστάθη ) right over the spot where the child was. The star seemed to go before them by an optical illusion (Weiss-Meyer); it really, in the view of the evangelist, went before and stopped over the house (De Wette, who, of course, regards this as impossible in fact).

Verse 10

Matthew 2:10 , ἰδάντες δὲ … χαρὰν μεγάλην σφόδρα : seeing the star standing over the sacred spot, they were overjoyed. Their quest was at an end; they had at last reached the goal of their long journey. σφόδρα , a favourite word of our evangelist, and here very appropriate after μεγάλην to express exuberant gladness, ecstatic delight. On the convoy of the star, Fritzsche remarks: “Fuit certe stellae pompa tam gravi tempore digna”. Some connect the seeing of the star in Matthew 2:10 with the beginning of the journey from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. They rejoiced, says Euthy. Zig. ὡς εὑρόντες τὸν ἀψευδέστατον ὁδηγόν .

Verse 11

Matthew 2:11 . The Magi enter and do homage . καὶ ε . ε . τ . οἰκίαν : the house . In Luke the shepherds find the holy family in a stable , and the holy child lying in a manger; reconcilable by assuming that the Magi arrived after they had found refuge in a friend’s house (Epiphan. Theophy.). εἶδον τ . π .… αὐτοῦ : εἶδον better than εὗρον , which seems to have been introduced by the copyists as not only in itself suitable to the situation, but relieving the monotony caused by too frequent use of εἶδον (Matthew 2:9-10 ). The child with His mother , Joseph not mentioned, not intentionally, that no wrong suspicions might occur to the Gentiles (Rabanus in Aquin. Cat. Aur. ). καὶ πεσόντες … σμύρναν . They come, eastern fashion, with full hands, as befits those who enter into the presence of a king. They open the boxes or sacks ( θησαυροὺς , some ancient copies seem to have read πήρας = sacculos, which Grotius, with probability, regards as an interpretative gloss that had found its way into the text, vide Epiphanius Adv. Haer. Alogi., c. 8), and bring forth gold, frankincense and myrrh , the two latter being aromatic gums distilled from trees. λίβανον : in classic Greek, the tree, in later Greek and N. T., the gum, τὸ θυμιώμενον = λιβανωτός , vide Phryn. ed. Lobeck, p. 187. The gifts were of three kinds, hence the inference that the Magi were three in number. That they were kings was deduced from texts in Psalms and Prophecies ( e.g. , Psalms 72:10 , Isaiah 60:3 ), predicting that kings would come doing homage and bringing gifts to Messiah. The legend of the three kings dates as far back as Origen, and is beautiful but baseless. It grew with time; by-and-by the kings were furnished with names. The legendary spirit loves definiteness. The gifts would be products of the givers’ country, or in high esteem and costly there. Hence the inference drawn by some that the Magi were from Arabia. Thus Grotius: “Myrrha nonnisi in Arabia nascitur, nec thus nisi apud Jabaeos Arabum portionem: sed et aurifera est felix Arabia”. Gold and incense ( λίβανος ) are mentioned in Isaiah 60:6 among the gifts to be brought to Israel in the good time coming. The fathers delighted in assigning to these gifts of the Magi mystic meanings: gold as to a king, incense as to God, myrrh as to one destined to die ( ὡς μέλλοντι γεύσασθαι θανάτου ). Grotius struck into a new line: gold = works of mercy; incense = prayer; myrrh = purity to the disgust of Fritzsche, who thought such mystic interpretations beneath so great a scholar.

Verse 12

Matthew 2:12 . Their pious errand fulfilled, the Magi, warned to keep out of Herod’s way, return home by another road . χρηματισθέντες points to divine guidance given in a dream ( κατ ὄναρ ); responso accepto , Vulg [6] The passive, in the sense of a divine oracle given, is found chiefly in N. T. (Fritzsche after Casaubon). Was the oracle given in answer to a prayer for guidance? Opinions differ. It may be assumed here, as in the case of Joseph (Matthew 1:20 ), that the Magi had anxious thoughts corresponding to the divine communication. Doubts had arisen in their minds about Herod’s intentions. They had, doubtless, heard something of his history and character, and his manner on reflection may have appeared suspicious. A skilful dissembler, yet not quite successful in concealing his hidden purpose even from these guileless men. Hence a sense of need of guidance, if not a formal petition for it, may be taken for granted. Divine guidance comes only to prepared hearts. The dream reflects the antecedent state of mind. μὴ ἀνακάμψαι , not to turn back on their steps towards Jerus. and Herod. Fritzsche praises the felicity of this word as implying that to go by Jerusalem was a roundabout for travellers from Bethlehem to the east. Apart from the question of fact, such a thought does not seem to be in the mind of the evangelist. He is thinking, not of the shortest road, but of avoiding Herod ἀνεχώρησαν , they withdrew not only homewards, but away from Herod’s neighbourhood. A word of frequent occurrence in our Gospel, four times in this chapter (Matthew 2:13-14 ; Matthew 2:22 ).

[6] Vulgate (Jerome’s revision of old Latin version).

Verse 13

Matthew 2:13 . φαίνεται : assuming that this is the correct reading, the flight to Egypt is represented as following close on the departure of the Magi; the historic present, vividly introducing one scene after another. A subjective state of anxiety is here also to be presumed. Whence arising we can only conjecture. Did the Magi give a hint, mentioning Herod’s name in a significant manner? Be that as it may, Joseph also gets the necessary direction. Ἐγερθεὶς … εἰς Αἴγυπτον : Egypt near, friendly, and the refuge of Israel’s ancestors in days of old, if also their house of bondage. παράλαβε , take with a view to taking care of ( cf. John 1:11 , “His own received Him not,” παρέλαβον ); benigne , Fritzsche ἕως … σοί : either generally, till I give thee further orders (Fritzsche); or till I tell thee to return (Meyer, Schanz); sense the same; the time of such new direction is left vague ( ἂν with sub.). μέλλει γὰρ : gives reason of the command. τοῦ ἀπολέσαι αὐτό : Herod’s first purpose was to kill Mary’s child alone. He afterwards killed many to make sure of the one. The genitive of the infinitive to express purpose belongs to comparatively late Greek. It occurs constantly in the Sept [7] and in N. T.

[7] Septuagint.

Verses 13-15

Matthew 2:13-15 . Flight to Egypt .

Verses 13-23

Matthew 2:13-23 . Flight to Egypt, massacre in Bethlehem, return to Nazareth . These three stories have one aim. They indicate the omens which appear in beginnings omina principiis inesse solent (Ovid). The fortunes of Christianity foreshadowed in the experiences of the holy child: welcomed by Gentiles, evil entreated by Jews. “The real contents of these sections embody an ideal aim” (Schanz).

Verse 14

Matthew 2:14 . ὁ δὲ ἐγερθεὶς : Joseph promptly executes the command, νυκτός , before the day, indicating alarm as well as obedience. The words of the command in Matthew 2:13 are repeated by the evangelist in Matthew 2:14 to emphasise the obedient spirit of Joseph.

Verse 15

Matthew 2:15 . καὶ ἧν ἐκεῖ , etc.: the stay in Egypt cannot have been long, only a few months, prohably, before the death of Herod (Nösgen). ἵνα πληρωθῇ : another prophetic reference, this time proceeding directly from the evangelist; Hosea 11:1 , given after the Hebrew, not the Sept [8] , which for בְנִי has τέκνα αὐτοῦ . The oracle states a historical fact, and can therefore only be a typical prophecy. The event in the life of the infant Jesus may seem an insignificant fulfilment. Not so did it appear to the evangelist. For him all events in the life of the Christ possessed transcendent significance. Was it an event at all? criticism asks. Did the fact suggest the prophetic reference, or did the prophecy create the fact? In reply, be it said that the narratives in this chapter of the Infancy all hang together. If any one of them occurred, all might occur. The main question is, is Herod’s solicitude credible? If so, then the caution of the Magi, the flight to Egypt, the massacre at Bethlehem, the return at the tyrant’s death to Nazareth, are all equally credible.

[8] Septuagint.

Verses 16-18

Matthew 2:16-18 . The massacre . Τότε : ominous then . When he was certain that the Magi were not going to come back to report what they had found at Bethlehem, Herod was enraged as one who had been befooled ( ἐνεπαίχθη ). Maddened with anger, he resolves on more truculent measures than he at first intended: kill all of a certain age to make sure of the one such is his savage order to his obsequious hirelings. Incredible? Anything is credible of the man who murdered his own wife and sons. This deed shocks Christians; but it was a small affair in Herod’s career, and in contemporary history. ἐν Βηθ . καὶ ἐν πᾶσι τοῖς ὁρίοις αὐτής , in Bethlehem, and around in the neighbourhood, to make quite sure. ἀπὸ διετοῦς καὶ κατωτέρω : the meaning is clear all children from an hour to two years old. But διετοῦς may be taken either as masculine, agreeing with παιδός understood = from a two-year-old child, or as a neuter adjective used as a noun = from the age of two years, a bimatu as in Vulg [9] There are good authorities on both sides. For a similar phrase, vide 1 Chronicles 27:23 , ἀπὸ εἰκοσαετοῦς . Herod made his net wide enough; two years ensured an ample margin. κατὰ τ . χ .… μάγων . Euthy. Zig. insists that these words must be connected, not with διετοῦς , but with κατωτέρω , putting a comma after the former word, and not after the latter. If, he argues, Herod had definitely ascertained from the Magi that the child must be two years old, he would not have killed those younger. They made Mary’s child younger; Herod kept their time and added a margin: πλάτος ἔτερον αὐτὸς προσέθηκε . It does not seem to matter very much. Herod would not be very scrupulous. He was likely to add a margin in either case; below if they made the age two years, above if they made it less.

[9] Vulgate (Jerome’s revision of old Latin version).

Verse 18

Matthew 2:18 : still another prophetic reference, erem. 31:15, freely reproduced from the Sept [10] ; pathetic and poetic certainly, if the relevance be not conspicuously apparent. The evangelist introduces the prophetic passage in this case, not with ἵνα , but with τότε (Matthew 2:17 ), suggesting a fulfilment not regarded as exclusive. The words, even in their original place, are highly imaginative. The scene of Rachel weeping for her children is one of several tableaux , which passed before the prophet’s eye in a vision, in a dream which, on awaking, he felt to be sweet. It was poetry to begin with, and it is poetry here. Rachel again weeps over her children; hers, because she was buried there, the prophet’s Ramah, near Gibeah, north of Jerusalem, standing for Bethlehem as far to the south. The prophetic passage did not create the massacre; the tradition of the massacre recalled to mind the prophecy, and led to its being quoted, though of doubtful appositeness in a strict sense. Jacob’s beloved wife seems to have occupied an imaginative place also in Rabbinical literature. Wünsche quotes this from the Midrasch : “Why did Jacob bury Rachel on the way to Ephratah or Bethlehem? (Genesis 35:16 ). Because he foresaw that the exiles would at some future time pass that way, and he buried her there that she might pray for them” ( Beiträge , p. 11). Rachel was to the Hebrew fancy a mother for Israel in all time, sympathetic in all her children’s misfortunes.

[10] Septuagint.

Verses 19-21

Matthew 2:19-21 . Joseph’s return . Τελευτήσαντος δὲ τ . Ἡρ : Herod died in 750 U. C. in his 70th year, at Jericho, of a horrible loathsome disease, rotten in body as in soul, altogether an unwholesome man ( vide Joseph, Bell, i. 33, 1 5; Antiq., xvii. 6, 5; Euseb., H. E., i. 6, 8). The news of his death would fly swiftly, and would not take long to reach Egypt.There would be no need of an angel to inform Joseph of the fact. But his anxieties would not therefore be at an end. Who was to succeed Herod? Might he not be another of the same type? Might disorder and confusion not arise? Would it be safe or wise to return to Palestine? Guidance was again needed, desired, and obtained. ἰδοὺ ἄγγελος … λέγων : the guidance is given once more in a dream ( κατʼ ὄναρ ). The anxious thoughts of the daytime are reflected in the dream by night, and the angelic message comes to put an end to uncertainty.

Verse 20

Matthew 2:20 . Ἐγερθεὶς … Ἰσραήλ : it is expressed in the same terms as those of the message directing flight to Egypt, except of course that the land is different, and the order not flee but return . “Arise, take the child and His mother.” The words were as a refrain in the life of Joseph in those critical months. τεθνήκασι γὰρ : in this general manner is the death of Herod referred to, as if in studious avoidance of the dreaded name. They are dead. The plural here ( οἱ ζητοῦντες ), as often, expresses a general idea, a class, though only a single person is meant ( vide Winer, § 27, 2, and Exodus 4:19 ). But the manner of expression may indicate a desire to dissipate completely Joseph’s apprehensions. There is nothing, no person to fear: go! Matthew 2:21 . ὁ δὲ ἐγερθεὶς … Ἰσραήλ : prompt obedience follows, but νυκτός (Matthew 2:14 ) is omitted this time. Joseph may wait till day; the matter is not so urgent. Then the word was φεῦγε . It was a flight for life, every hour or minute important.

Verses 22-23

Matthew 2:22-23 . Settlement in Nazareth in Galilee . Joseph returns with mother and child to Israel , but not to Judaea and Bethlehem. ἀκούσας … Ἡρῴδου : Archelaos reigns in his father’s stead. A man of kindred nature, suspicious, truculent (Joseph., Ant., 17, 11, 2), to be feared and avoided by such as had cause to fear his father. βασιλεύει , reigns, not in the strict sense of the word. He exercised the authority of an ethnarch, with promise of a royal title if he conducted himself so as to deserve it. In fact he earned banishment. At Herod’s death the Roman emperor divided his kingdom into four parts, of which he gave two to Archelaus, embracing Judaea, Idumaea and Samaria; the other two parts were assigned to Antipas and Philip, also sons of Herod: to Antipas, Galilee and Peraea; to Philip, Batanea, Trachonitis and Auranitis. They bore the title of Tetrarch, ruler of a fourth part (Joseph., Ant., 17, 11, 4). ἐφοβήθη ἐκεῖ ἀπελθεῖν . It is implied that to settle in Judaea was the natural course to follow, and that it would have beer followed but for a special reason. Schanz, taking a hint from Augustine, suggests that Joseph wished to settle in Jerusalem, deeming that city the most suitable home for the Messiah, but that God judged the despised Galilee a better training school for the future Saviour of publicans, sinners and Pagans. This hypothesis goes on the assumption that the original seat of the family was Nazareth. ἐκεῖ : late Greek for ἐκεῖσε . In later Greek authors the distinction between ποῖ ποῦ , οἷ οὗ , ὅποι ὅπου , ἐκεῖ and ἐκεῖσε practically disappeared. Rutherford’s New Phrynichus , p. 114. Vide for another instance, Luke 21:2 . Others explain the substitution as a case of attraction common in adverbs of place. The idea of remaining is in the mind = He feared to go thither to abide there. vide Lobeck’s Phryn. , p. 44, and Fritzsche. χρηματισθεὶς τῆς Γαλιλαίας : again oracular counsel given in a dream, implying again mental perplexity and need of guidance. Going to Galilee, Judaea being out of the question, was not a matter of course, as we should have expected. The narrative of the first Gospel appears to be constructed on the assumption that Nazareth was not the original home of the holy family, and to represent a tradition for which Nazareth was the adopted home, Bethlehem being the original. “The evangelist did not know that Nazareth was the original seat of the family.” Weiss, Matt. evang. p. 98.

Verse 23

Matthew 2:23 . κατῳκησεν . κατοικεῖν in Sept [11] is used regularly for יָשַׁב in the sense of to dwell, and with ἐν in Luke and Acts (Luke 13:4 ; Acts 1:20 , etc.) in the same sense. Here with εἰς it seems to mean going to settle in, adopting as a home, the district of Galilee, the particular town called Nazareth. εἰς πόλιν is to be taken along with κατῴ . not with ἐλθὼν . Arrived in Galilee he transferred his family to Nazareth, as afterwards Jesus migrated to Capernaum to carry on there His ministry (Matthew 4:13 , where the same form of expression recurs). Ναζαρέτ , a town in lower Galilee, in the tribe of Zebulon, nowhere mentioned in O. T. or Josephus. ὅπως πληρωθῇ , etc.: a final prophetic reference winding up the history of the infancy. ὅπως not ἵνα , as usual, but with much the same meaning. It does not necessarily imply that a prophetic oracle consciously influenced Joseph in making his choice, but only that the evangelist saw in that choice a fulfilment of prophecy. But what prophecy? The reference is vague, not to any particular prophet, but to the prophets in general. In no one place can any such statement be found. Some have suggested that it occurred in some prophetic book or oracle no longer extant. “Don’t ask,” says Euthy. Zig., “in what prophets; you will not find: many prophetic books were lost” (after Chrys.). Olearius, in an elaborate note, while not adopting, states with evident sympathy this view as held by others. Jerome, following the Jewish scholars (eruditi Hebraeorum) of his time, believed the reference to be mainly to Isaiah 11:0 , where mention is made of a branch ( נָצֶר ) that shall spring out of Jesse’s root. This view is accepted by most modern scholars, Catholic and Protestant, the name of the town being viewed as a derivative from the Hebrew word (a feminine form). The epithet Ναζωραῖος will thus mean: “the man of Nazareth, the town of the off-shoot”. De Wette says: “In the spirit of the exegetical mysticism of the time, and applying what the Jews called Midrasch , deeper investigation, the word is used in a double sense in allusion at once to נֵצֶר , Isaiah 11:1 , sprout , and to the name of Nazareth”. There may be something in the suggestion that the reference is to Judges 13:7 : ὅτι Ναζιραῖον θεοῦ ἔσται , and the idea: one living apart in a secluded town. (So Furrer in Die Bedeutung der bibl. Geographie für d. bib. Exegese , p. 15.)

[11] Septuagint.

This final prophetic reference in the history of the infancy is the weakest link in the chain. It is wasted effort to try to show its value in the prophetic argument. Instead of doing this, apologists would act more wisely by frankly recognising the weakness, and drawing from it an argument in favour of historicity. This may very legitimately be done. Of all the incidents mentioned in this chapter, the settlement in Nazareth is the only one we have other means of verifying. Whether it was the original or the adopted home of Jesus may be doubtful, but from many references in the Gospels we know that it was His home from childhood till manhood. In this case, therefore, we certainly know that the historic fact suggested the prophetic reference, instead of the prophecy creating the history. And the very weakness of the prophetic reference in this instance raises a presumption that that was the nature of the connection between prophecy and history throughout. It is a caveat against the critical theory that in the second chapter of Matthew we have an imaginary history of the infancy of Jesus, compiled to meet a craving for knowledge on the subject, and adapted to the requirements of faith, the rudiments of the story consisting of a collection of Messianic prophecies the star of Jacob, princes bringing gifts, Rachel weeping for her children, etc. The last of the prophetic references would never have occurred to any one, whether the evangelist or any other unknown source of the tradition, unless there had been a fact going before, the settlement in Nazareth. But given the fact, there was a strong desire to find some allusion to it in the O. T. Faith was easily satisfied; the faintest allusion or hint would do. That was in this ease, and presumably in most cases of the kind, the problem with which the Christian mind in the Apostolic age was occupied: not creating history, but discovering in evangelic facts even the most minute, prophetic fulfilments. The evangelist’s idea of fulfilment may provoke a smile, but it might also awaken a feeling of thankfulness in view of what has been stated. It is with the prophetic references in the Gospels as with songs without words. The composer has a certain scene or state of mind in his view, and writes under its inspiration. But you are not in his secret, and cannot tell when you hear the music what it means. But let the key be given, and immediately you find new meaning in the music. The prophecies are the music; the key is the history. Given the prophecies alone and you could with difficulty imagine the history; given the history you can easily understand how religious fancy might discover corresponding prophecies. That the prophecies, once suggested, might react on the facts and lead to legendary modifications is of course not to be denied.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Matthew 2". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/egt/matthew-2.html. 1897-1910.
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