Matthew 2:1. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, as is illustrated in Micah 5:2.
In the days of Herod the king, the son of Antipater, and father of Archelaus, who succeeded him on the throne. Herod, who was an Idumean, or an alien, is named here to indicate the time of our Saviour’s birth, and to show that the sceptre was departed from Judah, and from the Asmonæn family, who were often rulers, and honoured as descendants of David’s house.
Behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem. Magi, philosophers, learned in astronomy, and in all the sciences as then taught in the schools. The word is Persic.
But Chalcidius, as cited by Clarius, a philosopher of the Platonic school, says, they were Chaldeans, who believed that the appearance of some new star did not indicate pestilence, and diseases; but the descent of some venerable god, on a mission of grace for the preservation of the human kind.
Matthew 2:2. Where is he that is born king of the jews. This roused Herod’s fears. He said in himself, this infant king will excite great wars, seize my crown, and drive my family from the throne. Under these impressions he had recourse to unexampled crimes, instead of seeking defence from the Lord.
We have seen his star in the east. Balaam had said a star shall come out of Jacob. The Romans had an adage to the same effect. Ecce Dionæi processit Cæsasaris astrum. This star is thought to be a collection of light in the heavens which for two years hovered in the higher region of the air, and could be seen at the Euphrates. It illuminated all the country on the night of our Saviour’s birth. Luke 2:9.
Matthew 2:5. In Bethlehem of Judea. Micah had foretold that the great Shepherd should be born there, who should rule and feed his flock; and his office is copiously described in Zechariah 11. Ezekiel 34. and John 10. St. Matthew uses the word rule, which agrees with Zechariah’s staves of beauty and bands. This Shepherd had power to break the covenant with Israel, which none of the kings of Judah ever had.
Matthew 2:6. Thou Bethlehem in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda, or rulers, as in the Latin versions. The rabbins are severe on the evangelists on the subject of quotations, and allege “That they are either erroneous, or mutilated, or the meaning is distorted, or not derived from authentic books, but often from memory, which is fallacious.” In Micah 5:2, the Hebrew word is thousands; whereas Matthew says princes; and he had authority for so doing, as giving an improved reading. The Hebrews numbered the nation by thousands. Gideon a prince said to the angel, My family is poor in Manasseh. 6:15. Here the Hebrew reads, My thousand is the meanest in Manasseh. As Christ was the King of kings, and as every thousand had its prince, so Matthew makes the quotation in an enlivened form. St. Paul, with the justest propriety, paraphrases the words of David in Psalms 40:6. “Mine ears hast thou opened; a body hast thou prepared me.”
Matthew 2:15. Out of Egypt have I called my son. St. Paul says that Adam “was a figure of him that was to come.” Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are also allowed to be figures of Christ. The posterity of those patriarchs, therefore, when called out of Egypt, were figures of the wanderings and the sufferings of Christ, and of his church. The christians in Jerusalem would raise no objections against this application: the Hebrews by common consent were figures of the christian church.
Matthew 2:16. Herod slew all the children that were in Bethlehem. It is said that one of his own male children, named Antipater, after his father, fell among the victims. When the news reached the ears of Augustus the emperor, he is reported to have said, that he would rather be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son. Vide Poli. Syn. This slaughter of the infants is attested by Macrobius.
Matthew 2:18. In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation and weeping. So Jeremiah speaks, after he had warned the Benjamites to flee from Bethlehem, and from Ramah, the adjacent district, to avoid the sword of the Chaldeans. Jeremiah 6:1; Jeremiah 31:15. But prophecies have often a double sense, for the prophets always spake with the Messiah before them. When Isaiah went to king Ahaz with his infant son in his arms, he promised that a virgin should bear a Son, who should eventually save Israel. When the man of God came to Bethel, he gave a sign by the rending of the altar, that king Josiah should burn the bones of the apostate priests. So here, the prophet Jeremiah, from the Chaldean slaughter, got a glance of the infant martyrs whom Herod immolated in hopes of destroying the Christ.
What care did providence take of the infant Messiah. Angels, and the spirit of prophecy, announced his birth to the church, while a star gave omen of his advent to the eastern world. Bourdaloue has well improved this subject in a sermon which I here translate and abridge. “In the mystery of this day, we find the accomplishment of Simeon’s words. This child shall be set for the rising and falling of many. He was a subject of elevation to the Magi, and of ruin to Herod. He executed the judgment of which he afterwards spake, enlightening some, and blinding others. The Magi are enlightened, while Herod and the Jews are blinded. Mystery, which we are not permitted to sound, but in which I ought, notwithstanding, to find instruction for your souls.
In the Magi, who sought the Son of God, we have a model of sound wisdom for all true christians. Let us therefore examine the characters of their faith. In its commencement, promptitude to follow the call of heaven. This was the first effect of the Magi’s faith, and the first fruit of that exalted wisdom which disposed and qualified them to seek the Saviour. As soon as they saw his star, they came to do him homage. Hence to seek God in the sound, zealous way of a faithful soul, is not to reason, nor to deliberate, but to execute and act without delay. It is a resolution to surmount every difficulty. The Magi left their country, their families; a farther character of their infant faith, and new proof of their eminent wisdom. If we wish, like them, to find the Saviour, we must vanquish the difficulties which discourage our indolence, and obstruct our path.
We must mark their faith in its progress. In their well supported constancy, when the star disappeared. Their faith was neither embarrassed nor disconcerted. They went and acted as before. Here appear the endowments of heavenly wisdom. It is to these trials that God sometimes exposes us after conversion. He suspends some of our sensible comforts, he leaves us in some sort to ourselves, that it may afford him occasion to mark our constancy. What, in the interval, did the Magi do to supply the defect of the star? They informed themselves, they had recourse to the priests and doctors of the law; and we ourselves ought to acquire illumination and comfort under clouds, in the same way. We as well as they have ministers to whom we ought to apply. The Magi teach us something more, and what? To seek God with a noble contempt of all human respect. In the midst of Jerusalem, and in the presence even of Herod, they asked for the new-born King of the Jews. We must mark the perfection of their faith. They came to Bethlehem, they found Jesus Christ in a manger, and notwithstanding the humility of his state, they acknowledged him for their Sovereign. Admirable perfection of faith: they not only adored him as sovereign of the world, but worshipped him as God. Perfection of faith! They made him mysterious offerings, expressive of his divinity, his humanity, and sovereignty; for so signify the incense, myrrh, and gold which they presented. Thus strangers came afar to seek Jesus in Judea, while he was renounced by the Jews, surrounding the place of his nativity. And who knows whether God will not resume our neglected talent of faith? Who knows whether he will not take it from us, and send it to the heathen?
We have here also a portrait of the blind wisdom of reprobate and worldly men, in Herod’s persecution of Jesus Christ. This false wisdom is at enmity with God. It attacks him, it revolts against him. What, did Herod not attempt to destroy the infant king? Now all he did was dictated by unsound policy. How often is it also that crafty worldlings, profane as Herod, oppose Christ with views as interested and hypocritical.
But God is at enmity with this reprobate wisdom. What did the new-born Saviour do on his part to confound the policy of Herod? He troubled him. Herod was assailed with a thousand suspicions and fears. “Nothing,” says Chrysostom, “is more capable of troubling a proud prince than a God, poor and humble.” He likewise made himself odious. Herod, to gratify his ambition, became the horror of human nature; and who is more odious than a worldling, who sacrifices every virtue to his interest and fortune? The Lord confounded his counsel. In vain did Herod massacre the infants of Bethlehem and its vicinity, while Jesus Christ escaped; and in vain does the worldly man, with all his boasted wisdom, desire happiness; he never obtains his wish.
In defiance of himself, Herod became subservient to the designs of providence. He determined to extirpate the name of Israel’s infant king, but his measures concurred to make him the more distinguished. How often have we seen impious men do the same. But by the secret arrangement of providence, their crimes have recoiled upon their own heads. Let us then for ever renounce the wisdom of the world, which is reprobate; and let us follow the wisdom of the gospel, to seek and find out God.”
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Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Matthew 2". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/
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