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Thursday, July 18th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 2

Gaebelein's Annotated BibleGaebelein's Annotated

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Verses 1-23

2. The King Worshipped by Gentiles;

Jerusalem in Ignorance of Him; the Child Persecuted.

1. The Visit of the Wise Men.(Matthew 2:1-12 .) 2. The Flight into Egypt. (Matthew 2:13-18 .) 3. The Return from Egypt. (Matthew 2:19-23 .)


The second chapter in Matthew relates events which are nowhere else recorded in the Gospels. For this reason, and this is the only reason, the authenticity of the chapter has been doubted more than once. All that which the second chapter contains belongs properly into the Jewish, dispensational Gospel, and would indeed be entirely out of place in the other three Gospels, therefore the Holy Spirit has seen fit to put it only in the first Gospel. The chapter contains the story of the coming of the Magi or wise men to Jerusalem in search of the King of the Jews, to worship Him, and to bring Him the gifts they had brought from afar; the wrath of Herod the king, and the flight of the child into Egypt, the slaughter of the children in Bethlehem, the return from Egypt, and the dwelling of the Lord in Nazareth as the rejected One. All these events are foretold in the Old Testament, to which we are referred and where we learn the meaning of them. The chapter is an intensely interesting one, full of important teachings. It gives us in a nutshell the story of the entire Gospel. The true King is not known in Jerusalem, the City of a great King; in His own royal residence, His people do not know He has come. Strangers from distant lands seek Him and are desirous to know and to worship Him. Still worse, the ecclesiastical authorities, the chief priests and the scribes, are indifferent, and the civil ruler is filled with hatred against Him and seeks His life, and later both combined to kill Him. Thus in one of the shortest chapters and narratives the trend of the whole Gospel is given. But it is reaching still farther. The whole history of the kingdom of the heavens in its hidden form is here outlined, and the character of the entire new dispensation is manifested.

“Now Jesus having been born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold Magi from the East arrived in Jerusalem, saying, Where is He that hath been born, King of the Jews, for we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him?” (Matthew 2:1-2 .)

The first question would be to ascertain the time when these wise men came to Jerusalem. It is generally believed that it was immediately after the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. The old masters have taken most of the subjects for their paintings from biblical history, but many of these productions, if not all, are unscriptural and misleading. Thus the birth of the Saviour has been put on canvas, so familiar to our readers, a stable, a manger, Mary and Joseph, domestic animals, a star shining over the building, shepherds with their staffs on the one hand and on the other three gaudily attired persons on their knees, glittering crowns on their heads, and in the extended hands the gift upon which the eyes of the babe rest. Such a picture of course is incorrect. The authorized version, too, has helped such a wrong conception along by having it translated, “But when Jesus was born.” The correct reading is, But Jesus having been born, that is some time after and not immediately after. Other evidences in the chapter show that the child must have been about a year old when the visit of the wise men occurred. They had seen His star, announcing to them in their far away homes that the expected king had been born. They had to travel over a large territory, and the journey must have taken many months, and then there is nothing to show that they started at once. In the eleventh verse we read, “And when they had come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshipped Him.” In Luke it says, “And she brought forth her first born Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” In Matthew it is a house where the child is found, in Luke there was no room in the inn. Perhaps the most important evidence is in the sixteenth verse. Herod had privately called the wise men and inquired of them exactly the time that the star appeared. Their answer is not given, but from the sixteenth verse we may conclude that Herod had received a very definite answer by which he knew that the child could not be over two years old.

The second question would be about these strange visitors, who came to do homage before the King. Who were they? How many of them came? They are called in the Greek, Magi from the East. Magi is the name by which in olden times a large class of people, who were occupied with occult things, were known. These were the astrologers, interpreters of dreams and omens, medical men, necromancers, etc. Among the Persians and Medes they formed a special class of priests, and were chiefly occupied with foretelling events from the stars, and preparations of medicines for bodily ills. From Magi has come the more modern word magic; in an evil sense, sorcerer. Daniel was chief over such a class of wise men. “And the king made Daniel to be chief governor over all the wise men of Babylon” (Daniel 2:48 ). These wise men of the East were not all impostors. Many of them were earnest seekers after the truth, and students of natural forces. They did not have the true light. What a significant fact it is that now in the beginning of the twentieth century, in the midst of so-called Christian nations, soothsayers, readers of “human destiny” through the stars, those who claim to ask the dead, others having familiar spirits, are practicing their deceptions, wickedness and abominations, and are advertising their evil things openly, and find among these so-called “Christians” thousands and thousands to consult them. It cannot be otherwise. The true Light rejected, the truth not believed, strong delusions and utter darkness follow (2 Thessalonians 2:1-17 ). The Magi here were unquestionably earnest seekers after truth. There is nothing to show how many came thus to Jerusalem. That three came and that these three were kings is incorrect. We would rather think that a larger number made their appearance in the city, followed perhaps by a large train of attendants. Their appearance in number was striking enough to startle Jerusalem, and to bring trouble into the heart of its wicked king.

They had seen “His star,” the star of the born King of the Jews. There has been much speculating about the star, likewise. Many think that the star was a constellation of Jupiter and Saturn. The great astronomer, Kepler, issued in 1606 a book in which he attempted to show the year of the birth of our Lord by such a constellation. In 1463 the great Jewish teacher, Abarbanel, concluded from a similar constellation which happened then that the coming of the Messiah must be near. But it does not say stars, but it is star, and that His star. It is also incorrect to think that the star guided the Magi from the East across an immense stretch of country and brought them at last to Jerusalem. The star they had seen in the East went before them only after they had departed from Jerusalem. It says then, “When they saw the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” This shows that for a time they did not see the star. Perhaps in their ancient traditions there was something left of Balaam’s prophecy (Numbers 23:1-30 ; Numbers 24:1-25 ). Might they not have had fragments of Daniel’s prophecies? It is a well known fact that throughout the East there was at that time a universal expectancy of the coming of a King, and Jerusalem was connected with this King. A similar expectancy is even now noticeable among Oriental nations. A marvelous light was seen by these men. It burst forth in a brilliant brightness, as once more in the near future the heavens will be lit up by the sign of the Son of man, returning in power and glory. With that strange light in the heavens, a brilliant star, the intelligence was conveyed to them that the King, the One who is the desire of all nations (Haggai 2:3 ) was born. And that light was sufficient for these seekers to make them set out with their gifts, to undertake the long and dangerous journey to find the King and bow before His royal person.

What a day it was when they arrived at last in Jerusalem, not guided there by the star, but by the knowledge that in Jerusalem the King was to reign, and where they expected to find Him! But what did they find? Jerusalem under the regime of an Edomite. Herod upon the throne and his heart filled with Edomite hatred. No question that these evil rulers, including this one, are types of the final usurper, the Antichrist, whom the Lord will find in possession of the city when He comes the second time, and whom He will destroy with the breath of His mouth and the brightness of His coming. “Where is He that hath been born King of the Jews?” Where is He? In vain they go after their long journey through the streets of Jerusalem asking the question; there is no answer. The great city with its magnificent religious institutions, its wonderful Herodian temple, then still in process of erection, its aristocratic priesthood and benevolent institutions, had no knowledge of that King; nay, they did not desire that King to come, they were self-satisfied. This foreshadows the whole story of the rejection of the King, the Lord from heaven, that there was not alone no room for Him in the inn, but there was likewise no room for Him among His own; they received Him not. Herod, the king, was troubled and all Jerusalem with him. He feared for his throne, which was not his. Jerusalem knew what Herod’s fear meant -- rebellion, bloodshed, and suffering.

How true this is still, and how truly it describes the entire dispensation in which we live! Jerusalem knows not the King, has rejected Him who is their Messiah, and ever since, Jerusalem and Israel’s sad history of blood and tears has begun and will surely not end till the false king is dethroned and Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews, is crowned as Lord of all.

And these men from the East were not Jews, they were not Israelites, but Gentiles. For months, while Jerusalem is not acquainted with the fact of the birth of the long promised One, they had knowledge that He had come. Gentiles were first to acknowledge and to worship Him. The first became last and the last became first. By their fall salvation has come to the Gentiles to provoke them to jealousy. He, the Saviour, is first, a light for the “unveiling of the Gentiles, but in the end, too, the glory of Thy people Israel” (Luke 2:32 ). Still it is to be seen here likewise that not all the Gentiles came to worship Him, only a small number, and so throughout this dispensation the promise is not that the nations will walk in His light and worship Him, but only a people is called out from the nations for His name. We will see later in the exposition of this chapter that these Gentiles who came to Jerusalem are typical of all the nations going up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts.

But in Jerusalem there was not only a king who was the enemy of the right heir to David’s throne, but there were the religious leaders of the people, the Pharisees, the scribes, the priests and the chief priests. The learned doctors of the law, the students of prophecy, the orthodox; had they no knowledge of Him of whom Moses and the Prophets spoke? Surely if they hear He has come they will run to meet Him and welcome Him! Far from it; they were ignorant, likewise, and all indifferent to the startling news which had come to Jerusalem from such an extraordinary source.

“And when Herod the king heard it he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and having gathered together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judea; for it is written through the prophet, And thou Bethlehem in the land of Juda, art in no wise least among the governors of Juda; for out of thee shall come forth a leader who shall be a shepherd to my people Israel.”

By order of the king they were called together, not in a special session of the Sanhedrin, but in a larger gathering, all the chief priests and scribes are commanded to show themselves and to produce the scrolls of the law, the prophets and the writings. And now Herod puts his question, Where is Messiah to be born? The answer comes at once from the prophecies of Micah in the beginning of the fifth chapter, “Bethlehem in Juda.” There was no dissenting voice. They were all orthodox and had a perfect knowledge of the scriptures, but it was head knowledge, and their consciences were not touched by it. The quotation itself differs from the original Hebrew and from the Septuagint. They used undoubtedly the text from a Chaldee paraphrase. The meeting is dismissed and all goes on in its usual way. Nothing is said that these priests and scribes were awakened and joined the seeking strangers to find Him, who is their Messiah. Sad was their state. Knowledge sufficient, but no interest in Him, no love for Him, the living Word. Their hearts were not filled with joy, and perhaps in their indifference the incident was soon forgotten, till one day the slaughter of the children in Bethlehem reminded them once more of what had happened. It is the first time we meet these chief priests and scribes in the Gospel; they will soon stand before us in all their religiousness in another character. Indifferent they were once, and soon we shall see them in their hatred, wickedness, and at last, with a perfect knowledge of the person who is in their midst, they deliver Him into the hands of the Gentiles.

And is this not true in Christendom at this present time? How much there is of religiousness, rituals, ceremonies and creeds of men, but with all this it is nothing but profession outwardly, the heart cares not for Him and has no interest in Him. The indifference of our times in the midst of Christendom is appalling. There is no interest in the coming again of our Lord as there was no interest in the religious leaders of the people at His first coming. Indifference ends with this age also in opposition and apostasy, followed by judgment. Perhaps for the first time had these wise men from the East heard the Word of God. The flash of light, the brilliant star, that supernatural sign, was sufficient to start them on their way. The light they had they followed, and soon there is added to it. The Word of God they heard perhaps not at all from any of the scribes and chief priests. These strangers were despised by them and considered as dogs, in spite of the prophetic scriptures which speak of the salvation of the Gentiles. The presence of them in Jerusalem should have taught them the fulfillment of prophecy. No, not the scribes and chief priests acquaint the wise men with the Word, but wicked King Herod, with his wicked thoughts and intentions, transmits it to them. “Then Herod, having privately called the Magi, inquired of them exactly the time that the star appeared; and sending them to Bethlehem he said, Go and search out exactly about the child and when ye have found Him bring me back word, that I may come and worship Him also.” They are obedient to the word spoken; though it came from Herod’s lips, it was nevertheless the truth. Jerusalem is left behind, and their faces are set towards Bethlehem. “When they had heard the king they departed; and lo, the star they had seen in the East went before them until it came and stood over where the young child was. And when they saw the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.”

The question has been raised, Where did they find the child? In Luke we read, “And when they had performed all these things according to the law of the Lord, they returned unto Galilee, their own city Nazareth” (Luke 2:39 ). Now if the wise men came about a year later, did they find the child in Bethlehem or were they guided all the way up to Nazareth? We think they were guided by the star to Bethlehem in fulfillment of the word they had heard. Bethlehem is in a southern direction from Jerusalem and Nazareth directly north. They were put without question on the right road by Herod, when the star appeared again. But if the parents were in Bethlehem a year later with the child, why did they go there? The Gospel of Luke gives the answer. “Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast” (Luke 2:41-42 ). This brings out that they were a year after again in Jerusalem for the feast, and were therefore not in Nazareth. Bethlehem was truly their city, and the very short journey was made there from Jerusalem, where the wise men now found the young child with Mary His mother.

“And having come into the house they saw the little child with Mary, his mother, and falling down did Him homage. And having opened their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh.” With exceeding great joy they had welcomed the reappearing of the star; it came and stood over the place where the child was. They enter into the house and find the little child and Mary, his mother. Even the order of words teaches us something. It is not Mary, his mother, and the little child, but the one who is God manifested in the flesh stands first, and Joseph is not at all mentioned. What a rebuke to the corrupt systems in Christendom where Mary and Joseph occupy a prominent place and are worshipped. The wise men worshipped Him, there was no adoration for Mary, while Joseph was completely ignored. All the worship and bowing of knee is for Him of whom it is written that at His name every knee should bow, of heavenly and earthly and infernal beings, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to God the Father’s glory (Philippians 2:10 ). The outcome of their long and tedious journey, of their searching and seeking Him who is the King, was worship. A little light was followed, and soon the increase came. The Word of God showed them the way, and there was a second outburst of light from the star which brought them to the right place. What else could they do then but do homage to Him and to adore Him? Their first business was worship. It should be so with every true believer. We often hear it said, “saved to serve.” This is not strictly true. We are saved by grace to worship and adore our God and Father and His Son, our Saviour and Lord. Service comes in, too, but only after worship. Where grace is rightly understood there will be a great deal of worship and praise, followed by true service, but where there is a dim conception of what God has done for us, what He has made us in His Son, and where that blessed and comforting doctrine, the assurance of salvation, is not known, there will be much service or attempted service, with much unrest, but little worship, or none at all. May our readers understand that worship stands first and is the first thing. The Father seeks worshippers (John 4:23 ). We are saved by grace to be worshippers of Him. All our joy and peace as believers, as well as fruit bearing, comes from being at His feet and doing homage to Him.

How long the worship of the wise men lasted we do not know, nor how long they tarried. After their worship they opened their treasures and offered to Him gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh. This was their service, the offering of gifts.

Prophetically, this homage of the wise men, and the gifts they brought, is of much importance. It was, of course, and still is a custom of the Orient to appear before a person of royal descent with many presents, but here we have more than a simple custom. Without knowing it, nor knowing the significance of what they did, their hands, in selecting the gifts, were divinely guided. As King they had sought Him, as such they worshipped Him, and now the presents are in full harmony with the character of the King. The gold speaks of His divine and kingly glory, the frankincense of the fragrance of His life, as Son of God in power, according to the spirit of holiness, and myrrh, the balsamic juice of Arabian myrtle, which is used for burial, speaks of His death, that this King is to lay down His life. What lessons there come even from the gifts the wise men spread before our Lord.

Quite often we are told that this is in fulfillment of Isaiah 60:6 . However, in looking at this passage, we discover that the wise men could not be spoken of there, nor that they fulfilled that prophecy. We read in Isaiah: “They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praises of the Lord.” We notice at once that Isaiah does not say anything at all about myrrh. Why, then, is there no myrrh in Isaiah, and why is there a mention made of myrrh by Matthew? The passage in Isaiah refers to the coming of the Gentiles at the time when the rejected King has come again in power and in glory, and is King of kings; hence there is no need of myrrh. The whole scope of Isaiah 60:1-22 brings this out. “For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the nations (yet to come during the tribulation), but the Lord shall arise upon thee (Israel) and His glory shall be seen upon thee. And nations shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.” If we read through this chapter we find multitudes coming, and they seek not a small humble house like the wise men did, but they seek the house of glory, and there they meet the King of Glory in His beauty, and spread before Him gold and frankincense, shouting aloud His praises and the glory of His name. What a glorious chapter this is, and, oh, the joy which fills us as believers in the anticipation when all this shall be so. May it soon be when violence shall no more be heard in the land, desolation nor destruction within thy borders; but thy walls shall be called salvation and thy gates praise. We would say, then, that it is incorrect to state that the wise men came in fulfillment of Isaiah 60:6 ; they were but faint types of what shall take place after the Glory, when no more bloodthirsty Herod will be upon the throne, and Jerusalem and not Bethlehem will be the city to which the Gentiles journey, the city of a great King.

“And being divinely instructed in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.” This is all the Word has to say about the departure of these strangers. After their worship and offering of gifts, divine guidance instructs them. It is guidance, likewise, we have as believers, but it is a guidance through the Spirit in the Word.

“Now they having departed, behold an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph, saying, Arise, take to thee the little child and His mother, and flee into Egypt, and be there until I shall tell thee; for Herod will seek the little child to destroy it. And having arisen, he took to him the little child and His mother by night, and departed into Egypt, and he was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord, through the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my Son” (verses 13-15). Thus the narrative continues. The child is the only prominent figure in it. There is a spurious gospel, called the Gospel of the Infancy of our Lord, (Evangelium Infantiae), in which the flight to Egypt is adorned with many miracles. We mention some of them. Idols broke to pieces wherever the child came; the three-year-old child of an Egyptian priest who was possessed by demons put a swaddling cloth of the child upon his head, and the demon fled; a woman possessed by a demon was healed by looking upon Mary; robbers fled in terror before the child; all manner of diseases were healed, including leprosy, etc. The whole book shows that it is a counterfeit, gotten up by some one who favored the worship of Mary and the child. How simple the story is here in Matthew. The child is dependent upon Joseph, who is now mentioned, and in poverty, under great danger, at night, they had to flee. God could have transported His Son by a miracle, but the Son of God had become man, and now it was for Him to enter into all. He has to go the long and weary road. The cause of the flight was Herod, who under the power of Satan sought the life of the child. He shows himself here as the murderer from the beginning. Satan is that still, the great red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, ready to devour the man-child (Revelation 12:1-17 ). The place of refuge is Egypt. There He is to go, to be called back after a while in fulfillment of the prophetic Word, “Out of Egypt have I called my Son.”

This prophecy is found in Hosea 11:1 . “When Israel was a child then I loved Him, and called My Son out of Egypt.” This was spoken about 700 years before and is about Israel, but here we learn through the Holy Spirit its true and full meaning. Jews, infidels and higher critics have stumbled at this, but how simple even this is, no difficulty, as commentaries sometimes say. Israel is, according to Exodus 4:22 , God’s first born Son, and in Jeremiah 31:9 , we read, “I am a father to Israel and Ephraim is my first born.” Christ and Israel are closely identified in the prophetic Word. Thus the Messiah, our Lord, is called in Isaiah the servant of the Lord, and Israel is spoken of there, too, as the servant of the Lord, that is Israel’s Messiah is the servant of the Lord through whose obedient suffering and death Israel becomes at last in the earth the righteous servant of Jehovah. Israel is God’s first born, but the Lord Jesus Christ is not alone the only begotten of the Father, but also the first born from the dead. In resurrection He will be the first born among many brethren, which is the Church, His body. But through Him and in Him alone, Israel, God’s earthly people, His first born will become that for which God has called them according to His merciful purposes. Israel’s history beginning with Egypt, has been a history of sin, disobedience, apostasy and shame. Therefore the true One had to come, the true servant of the Lord in obedience -- obedience unto death. He had to go through the history of His people. This is the reason why He had to go down to Egypt, the house of bondage. Of course, there was no bondage for Him. And when He is called out of Egypt, He comes to pass through the wilderness to be tested and tried, going the long journey through all in the spirit of holiness without sin, far different from that which Israel was. How blessedly He became identified with all.

In the following three verses we read of the satanic rage of Herod when he finds that the wise men did not return and all the boys in Bethlehem and in all its borders from two years and under were slain. “Then it was fulfilled that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet, saying: A voice has been heard in Rama, weeping and great lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.” The wicked deed is but a beginning of the sorrows of Israel on account of the rejection of the King. His blood indeed has been upon them and their children, the worst is still to come in the time of Jacob’s trouble when the false Messiah will be like Herod, shedding their blood. The quotation is from Jeremiah 31:15 . It is an application here of that prophecy. Rachel was buried near Bethlehem. Dying there she called the son who was born to her Ben-oni, which means the son of my sorrow, but his father Jacob soon changed his name, and the son of sorrow becomes Benjamin, which means, the son of the right hand. Rachel is seen here as weeping and lamenting over the slaughtered children, the children of Bethlehem. They were no more, and would not be comforted. What greater crying and lamentation there shall be in the future in the land! In Jeremiah, in the context, we read: “Thus saith the Lord, refrain thy voice from weeping and thine eyes from tears -- they shall come again from the land of the enemy.” The child had escaped the murderous onslaught of Satan through Herod, but He comes back to lay down His life, that through death He might annul him who has the might of death, that is, the devil; and might set free all those who through fear of death through the whole of their life were subject to bondage (Hebrews 2:1-18 ). The return of the child, how long they stayed in Egypt is not said, is next described in our chapter and needs no further comment. The child is kept as He now keeps the feet of His saints, His church, and hades’ gates shall not prevail against it.

There is one more prophecy which is to be mentioned. “And having been divinely instructed in a dream, he went away in the parts of Galilee, and came and dwelt in a town called Nazareth; so that it should be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene” (Matthew 2:22-23 ). It is next to the questions from the first chapter in Matthew, the most important the inquiring Jew brings in reading the New Testament: “Where is it written, or in what prophet is it written, that Messiah should be called a Nazarene?” It does not say here that it is written by one prophet, but by the prophets. Therefore all the prophets have spoken of Him as being a Nazarene. A Nazarene is an inhabitant of Nazareth . That city is in Galilee, which is called the Galilee of the Gentiles, because so many Gentiles lived there. The Pharisees and scribes in Jerusalem hated and despised Galilee, and especially was Nazareth despised. The inhabitants were called Am-horatzim, that is ignorant men. Even the Galileans looked down upon the town and despised everybody who lived there. The ruin and corruption was there the greatest. Therefore we read in another Gospel: “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth ?” To that mean, despised place the Son of God is to go, there He, who was rich in all eternity, found His abode. Now, this is spoken by all the prophets, that the Messiah, the Saviour, was to be rejected by men. The rejection began with the very start, and there in the little town He is to spend thirty years of His life, and when He comes forth and begins His ministry in Galilee, it is only to be rejected again, ending at last in Jerusalem outside of the camp. How true, He was despised and rejected of men. And our place is with Him now in rejection, outside of the camp, to bear His reproach. May this be our place, and like Him, the leader and completer of the faith, may we, for the joy set before us, endure the cross and despise the shame.

Bibliographical Information
Gaebelein, Arno Clemens. "Commentary on Matthew 2". "Gaebelein's Annotated Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/gab/matthew-2.html. 1913-1922.
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