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1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
Ver. 1. Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem ] The house of bread, that bread of life that came down from heaven, John 6:50 , and dwelt among us in this city of David, otherwise called Ephrata, that is, fruit bearing; and situated (they say) in the very navel and centre of the earth, because in him all nations should be blessed: here was Jesus born, by mere accident in regard of his parents (who were brought hither by a tyrannical edict of the emperor, forcing all, even great bellied women, to repair to their own city to be taxed, though it were in the deep of winter), but by a sweet Providence of God, to fulfil the Scripture and to settle our faith.
In the days of Herod the king ] When the sceptre was departed from Judah, and the times were grown deplored and desperately wicked. Joseph found his brethren in Dothan, i.e. in defection; so did Christ, when he came: scarcely were there four, or fewer, found, that waited for the consolation of Israel. Then, also, when among the poor Gentiles a plentiful harvest, a very great number of elect, were ready ripe,Matthew 9:37; Matthew 9:37 ; Luke 10:2 ; John 4:35 . Then, when cuncta atque continua totius generis humani aut pax fuit, aut pactio (Flor.), then came the Prince of Peace into the world, when all was at peace throughout the world.
Behold, there came wise men ] Neither kings nor cunning men, but sages of the East, Θεωρητικοι , contemplative persons, philosophers, interpreters of the laws of God and men ( μαγοι, מהנים ). The tale of the three kings of Cullen is long since exploded.
To Jerusalem ] So misreckoning of a point they missed the haven, and had like to have run upon the rocks. Had they met with the shepherds of Bethlehem, they had received better intelligence than they could from the learned scribes of Jerusalem. God hath chosen the weak of the world to confound the wise, 1 Corinthians 1:27-28 . Surgunt indocti et rapiunt coelum, et nos, cum doetrinis nostris, detrudimur in Gehennam (August. Confess. viii. 8). None are so far from Christ, many times, as knowing men. Some of the scribes and Pharisees were very atheists, for they knew "neither the Father nor the Son." Ulpian the chief lawyer, Galen the chief physician, Porphyry the chief Aristotelian, Plotinus the chief Platonist, Libanus and Lucian the chief orators of that age, were all professed enemies to Christ. No Church was founded at Athens, Acts 17:16 , which yet Demosthenes calls the soul, sun, and eye of Greece, Euripides the Greece of Greece, Thucydides and Diodorus the common school of all men, the mart of good learning, &c.; ψυχην, και ηλιον, και οφθαλμον ελλαδος. ελλαδυς ελλαδα. κοινον παιδευτηριον παντων ανθρωπων . The greatest clerks are not always the wisest men in the affairs of God. Howbeit, learned Nathaniel, Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus, masters in Israel, were disciples to our Saviour; lest, if he had called simple men only, it might have been thought, quod fuissent ex simplicitate decepti, that they were deceived out of their simplicity, saith one.
2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
Ver. 2. Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? ] As presupposing a common notice. But the "kingdom of God cometh not by observation," Luke 17:21 , neither is it of this world. Christ is somewhat an obscure King here, as Melchisedec was; and his kingdom consists in righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, which the stranger worldling meddles not with, Proverbs 14:10 ; Romans 14:17 . The cock on the dunghill esteems not this jewel.
For we have seen his star in the East ] Some rumour of the star of Jacob they had heard and received, likely, either from Balaam’s prophecy, Numbers 24:17 , who was an East countryman; or from the Chaldean sibyl, or from the Jews in the Babylonish captivity; and now they make their use of it. (Hugo. Postill.) But the Scripture giveth more grace, James 4:6 . Only take heed that "ye receive not the grace of God in vain," 2 Corinthians 6:1 .
And are come to worship him ] With a religious worship; to kiss at his mouth, as the word signifieth; and as Pharaoh said to Joseph, they shall all kiss at thy mouth. Woe worth to us, if we kiss not the Son with a kiss of faith and love ( προσκυνειν ), since he is now so clearly revealed unto us, not by the sight of one star only, as to these, but by a whole heaven bespangled with stars, though not in every part, yet in every zone and quarter of it, as one saith of our Church. We have a word of prophecy (how much more is this true of the holy Gospel?) more sure than the voice that came from heaven in the holy Mount (saith St Peter), whereunto we shall do well to take heed, as unto a light shining in a dark place, 2 Peter 1:19 . Besides the works of God, those regii professores, as one calleth them, those catholic preachers, Psalms 19:2-3 , those real postills of the divinity, Christ is purposely compared to sensible objects, as to the sun, stars, rose, rock, &c., that through the creatures, as so many optic glasses, we might see him that is invisible, having the eyes of our mind turned towards Christ, as the faces of the cherubim were toward the mercy seat.
3 When Herod the king had heard these things , he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
Ver. 3. When Herod the King heard these things he was troubled ] At that wherein the sages and shepherds rejoiced. It is fair weather with the saints when foulest with the wicked. Abraham stands upon the hill, and seeth the smoke of the cities ascend like a furnace. "Behold, my servants shall rejoice, but ye shall be ashamed: my servants shall sing for joy of heart, but ye shall cry for sorrow of heart, and ye shall leave your name for a curse unto my chosen," Isaiah 65:14-15 . Aelian ( Histor. Animal. ) compareth tyrants to swine, which if a man but touch, they begin to cry, as dreaming of nothing but death; forasmuch as they have neither fleece nor milk, nor anything else, but their flesh only to forfeit. But si praesepe vagientis Herodem tantum terruit, quid tribunal iudicantis? saith one. If Christ in the cratch were so terrible, what will he be on the tribunal?
And all Jerusalem with him ] Perhaps to comply and ingratiate with the tyrant (as the Arabians, if their king be sick or lame, they all feign themselves so); or, as homines ad servitutem parati; so Tiberius called the Romans, who gave public thanks for all, even the wicked acts of their emperors (Tacitus); or as fearing some new stirs in the state, as the burnt child dreads the fire.
4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.
Ver. 4. And when he had gathered all the chief priests ] The true picture of Popish councils, who propound grave questions as this was, Where Christ should be born? and pretend to worship Christ, but intend to worry him: the Council of Trent was carried, against the simplicity of Christ, with such infinite guile and craft, as that themselves will even smile in the twiumphs of their own wits (when they hear it but mentioned) as at a master stratagem. It passed in France in manner of a proverb, That the modern council had more authority than that of the apostles, because their own pleasure was a sufficient ground for the decrees, without admitting the Holy Ghost. (Hist. of Council of Trent.)
5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,
Ver. 5. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem ] Lo, how readily and roundly, out of the Scriptures, they could answer to this capital question; giving such signs of the Messias as did evidently agree to Jesus Christ. Yet were they for their obstinace so infatuated, that when God showed them the man to whom their own signs agree, they cannot allow him. Unless the Lord give a mind as well as means, sight as well as light, and irradiate the organ as well as the object, we grope as blind men in the dark,Isaiah 59:10; Isaiah 59:10 ; we err in heart, as not knowing God’s ways, yet cannot wander so wide as to miss hell: to original blindness we add actual stubbornness, Psalms 95:8 , the devil holding his black hand (as it were) afore our eyes, that we may not see and be saved, Acts 26:19 .
6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.
Ver. 6. And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least ] "Thou art the least," saith Micah, Micah 5:2 , via in comparison of greater cities, yet "not the least," saith Matthew, because "out of thee shall come a Governor," &c. In Scripture, the place of holy men’s birth is remembered and registered: God loves the very ground his servants tread on. "The Lord shall count, when he numbereth up the people, that this man was born there:" Psa 67:6-7 how much more the man Christ Jesus? Any interest or relation to him ennobleth whatsoever place or person, and may justly comfort us against whatsoever troubles. The prophet Micah, whose words are here cited, opposeth the birth of this babe of Bethlehem to all the troops and troubles of Assyria, Micah 5:1-2 .
For out of thee shall come a Governor ] No sooner is this Child born, this Son given to us, bug the "government is laid upon his shoulder," Isaiah 9:6 , as the key of the house of David was upon Eliakim’s, Isaiah 22:22 . Send ye therefore a lamb to this ruler of the land, Isaiah 16:1 ; do him all hearty homage and fealty.
That shall rule my people ] Or feed them; a for the art of feeding and ruling are sisters. David was taken from following the ewes to feed God’s people; so was Moses, in whose absence, how soon was Israel, as silly sheep, gone out of the way! Christ is the arch-Shepherd, that feeds his people daily, daintily, plentifully, pleasantly, among the lilies,Song of Solomon 2:16; Song of Solomon 2:16 ; yea, in his garden of spices, in green pastures of his word, and by the still waters of his sacraments, where we go in and out, and find pasture, John 10:9 , such as breeds life, and life in more abundance, Matthew 2:10 . We lie down in peace,Jeremiah 23:4; Jeremiah 23:4 , and need not fear the spiritual Assyrian, Micah 5:5 , while we keep us within the hedge, and run to the foddering places; submitting to the ministers, those under-shepherds, Song of Solomon 1:7-8 , who are charged to feed Christ’s sheep, his sheep with golden fleeces; yea, to do it ( לי , as the Syriac hath it) for me, for my sake (saith our Saviour), to whom Peter cannot better seal up his love than by taking care of his cure. I know how Bellarmine glosseth that text, Joh 21:16 "Feed my sheep," that is, Regio more impera, Rule like an emperor: Supremum in Ecclesia dominlum tibi assere, saith Baronius, Domineer over the Church, because the word here used ( ποιμαινω , -and so in John) signifieth as well to govern as to feed. But what will they say to βοσκω , the other word there twice used by our Saviour, which always signifieth to feed, and not at all to govern? But these men seize at government, stop feeding, although the Fathers took the text only of feeding by doctrine, and that they beat upon, and urged altogether.
a ποιμανει . Psalms 78:71 . Αγαμεμνονα ποιμενα λαων . Homer. 1 Peter 5:4 ; Song of Solomon 8:14 ; Psalms 23:2-3 .
7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.
Ver. 7. Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently ] a The children of this world are wise in their generation, but so are serpents, foxes, &c., to the which the Church’s enemies are often compared, He thought by this means to have made all sure, but in the thing wherein he dealt proudly and politically, God was above them, as old Jethro hath it, Exodus 18:11 . There is neither power nor policy against the Lord; "who ever waxed fierce against him, and prospered?" Job 9:4 .
a ηκριβωσε . Accuravit, et omnibus nervis incubuit.
8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him , bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.
Ver. 8. And he sent them to Bethlehem ] It was a wonder he went not himself, or sent not some assassin underhand, to despatch the child immediately. But God befooled him. The Germans have a proverb, "Where God intends to blind any man, he first closes his eyes." a So the apostle, 1 Corinthians 3:19 , He taketh the wise ( σοφους ), the finest and choicest wits of the world, the rare and picked pieces: Mentemque habere queis bonam et esse corculis datum est: These he taketh, he catcheth and keepeth as beasts in a gin (so the word signifieth), and that in their own craft; b when they have racked their wits, and racked their fortunes, to effect their fetches; when they have done their utmost (as the word imports) to bring about their devilish devices.
That I may come and worship him ] When he meant to worry him. Cogitabat Iesum non colere sed tollere, non adorare sed necare. Oh base dissimulation! such was that of those incendiary fugitives of Rhemes, Giffard, Hodgson, and others, who at the same time when they had set up, and set on savage to kill Queen Elizabeth, they put forth a book, wherein they admonished the English Catholics not to attempt anything against their prince. (Camden’s Elizabeth.) In like sort Robert Parsons (that arch-traitor), when he was hatching a horrible treason against his natural prince and native country, he set forth his book of Christian Resolution, as if he had been wholly made of devotion. So Garret (a little before the Gunpowder Plot was discovered) wrote to the Pope that he would lay his command upon our Papists to obey their king and keep themselves quiet. Herod here, when he was whetting his sword, yet promised devotion, saith Chrysostom. c A fair glove upon a foul hand. The panther’s skin is fairest, but his friendship is fatal, and his breath infectious. The above mentioned Garnet, upon a treatise of equivocation, plastered on this title, A Treatise against Lying and fraudulent Dissimulation.
a Deus quem destruet dementat. God first deludes whom he will destroy.
b δρασσεσθαι est manu capere, et fimiter tenere. εν τη πανουργια, in veteratoria versutia. Erasmus.
c Quando gladium acuebat, devotionem promittebat.
9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.
Ver. 9. And, lo, the star ] A star either newly created, or at least wise strangely carried: for it stands one while, moves another, appears in the lower region, is not obscured by the beams of the sun: so that some have thought it was an angel, a It moved slowly, as might be best for the pace and purpose of these pilgrims.
Till it came and stood over where the young child was ] They show still at Bethlehem a little hole over the place where our Saviour was born, through which the star fell down to the ground. But who will not conclude that there was a vertigo in his head who first made a star subject to the falling sickness? Fuller’s History of Holy War.
a Angelus in specie sideris figuratus. An angel form in the appearance of a star. Per.
10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
Ver. 10. When they saw the star ] The sight whereof they seem to have lost when they turned out of the way; it led them to Jerusalem. But this text is excellently paraphrased and applied by Bishop Hooper, martyr, in a letter of his, written to one Mrs Anne Warcup, in these words (Acts and Mon.): "Such as travelled to find Christ followed only the star, and as long as they saw it, they were assured they were in the right way, and had great mirth in their journey. But when they entered into Jerusalem (whereas the star led them not thither, but unto Bethlehem) and there asked the citizens the thing that the star showed before; as long as they tarried in Jerusalem, and would be instructed where Christ was born, they were not only ignorant of Bethlehem, but also lost the sight of the star that led them before. Whereof we learn in any case, while we are going to seek Christ which is above, to beware we lose not the star of God’s word, that only is the mark that shows us where Christ is, and which way we may come unto him. But as Jerusalem stood in the way, and was an impediment to these wise men; so doth the synagogue of Antichrist (that bears the name of Jerusalem, that is, the vision of peace, and among the people now is called the Catholic Church) stand in the way that pilgrims must go by through this world to Bethlehem, the house of saturity and plentifulness, and is an impediment to all Christian travellers; yea, and except the more grace of God be, will keep the pilgrims still in her, that they shall not come where Christ is adored. And to stay them indeed, they take away the star of light, viz. the word of God, that it cannot be seen, as you may read that other star was hidden from the wise men while they asked of the Pharisees at Jerusalem where Christ was born. You may see what great dangers happened to these wise men while they were a learning of liars, where was Christ; first they were out of their way, and next they lost their guide," &c.
11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
Ver. 11. And when they were come into the house ] Not a palace prepared for the purpose, as the Porphyrogeniti in Constantinople had, but in an inn was Christ born, as ready to receive all that come unto him ( πανδοχειον ); and in a hole of the earth, an underground den, as Justin Martyr, Epiphanius, Eusebius, and Origen witness. In hoc terrae foramine (saith St Jerome, ad Marcell. tom. 1) coelorum conditor natus est, hic involutus pannis, hic visus a pastoribus, hic adoratus a Magis, hic circumcisus, &c.: In this cell or hole was the world’s Creator born, swathed, visited, adored, circumcised.
They saw the young child ] For this Ancient of days, by joining his majesty to our vileness, his power to our weakness, suspended and laid aside his own glory, wherewith he was glorified with the Father before the world began, and voluntarily abased himself to the shape and state of a poor, feeble, helpless infant, that we might come to the fulness of the age in Christ. Ephesians 4:13 .
With Mary his mother ] Without any other assistance or attendance. Joseph haply was at work, or otherwise absent, lest the wise men should mistake him for the true father of the child.
And when they had opened their treasure, they presented unto him gifts ] No great matters to make him rich; for then, what needed the holy Virgin, at her purification, to have offered two young pigeons, as a token of her penury, that could not reach to a lamb? Yet something it was, gold, frankincense, and myrrh (sent them in by a special providence of God), to help to bear their charges into Egypt, whither they were now to flee.
Gold, frankincense, and myrrh ] The best commodities of their country, doubtless; thereby (as by a peppercorn or trifle, in way of homage or chief rent) they acknowledged Christ to be the true Proprietary and Lord of all. Of the elephant it is reported, that coming to feed, the first sprig he breaks he turns it toward heaven. Of the stork Pliny tells us, that she offers the firstfruits of her young ones to God, by casting one of them out of the nest. a God is content we have the benefit of his creatures, so he may have the glory of them: this is all the loan he looketh for, and for this, as he indents with us,Psalms 50:15; Psalms 50:15 , so the saints promise in return, Genesis 28:22 . But he cannot abide that we pay this rent to a wrong landlord, whether to ourselves, asDeuteronomy 8:17; Deuteronomy 8:17 , or to our fellow creatures, as they to their sweethearts, Hosea 2:5 .
Gold, frankincense, and myrrh ] Aurum, Thus, Myrrham, Regique, Hominique, Deoque. A little of each, as Genesis 43:11 . Lycurgus made a law that no man should be too costly or bountiful in his offering of sacrifice, lest at length he should grow weary of the charge, and give God up. b Ought we not (saith one) often in soul to go with the wise men to Bethlehem, being directed by the star of grace, and there fall down and worship the little King; there offer the gold of charity, the frankincense of devotion, the myrrh of penitence; and then return, not by cruel Herod or troubled Jerusalem, but another way, a better way, unto our long and happy home? (Sutton’s Disce Virere. )
a Hinc pietatis cultrix a Latinis dicitur, Hafida ab Hebraeis. Amasii Trem.
b ινα μηποτε τιμωντες το θειοιν καταλειπωσιν . Plut.
12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
Ver. 12. And being warned of God in a dream, &c. ] Thus were they pulled by a sweet Providence out of the lion’s mouth, as Paul was; 2Ti 4:17 as Athanasius and Basil often; as Luther also; and Queen Elizabeth, of famous memory, for whose execution a warrant once came down under seal, Gardner being the chief engineer. And when through a sea of sorrows she had swum to the crown, treasons there were every year so many, that she said in parliament, "She rather marvelled that she was, than mused that she should not be." (Camden’s Elizabeth.) But no man is master of his own life, much less of another’s, as our Saviour told Pilate. SeeJob 24:22; Job 24:22 ; "My times are in thy hands," saith David; "deliver me from the hands of mine enemies, and from them that persecute me,"Psalms 31:15; Psalms 31:15 . So Queen Elizabeth at Woodstock, after a great deliverance, "Lord, look upon the wounds of thy hands," said she, "and despise not the work of thy hands. Thou hast written me down in thy hook of preservation with thine own hand. Oh read thine own handwriting and save me," &c. (Camden’s Elizabeth.) And God heard her, and hid the silver thread of her precious life in the endless maze of his bottomless mercies. Mr Fox makes mention of one Laremouth, alias Williamson, Chaplain to Lady Anne of Cleeve, a Scotchman, to whom in prison it was said, as he thought, "Arise, and go thy ways," whereto when he gave no great heed at first, the second time it was so said; upon this, as he fell to his prayers, it was said the third time likewise to him, which was half an hour after. So he arising upon the same immediately a piece of the prison wall fell down. And as the officers came in at the outer gate of the prison, he leaping over the ditch escaped; and in the way, meeting a certain beggar, changed his coat with him, and coming to the sea shore, where he found a vessel ready to go over, was taken in and escaped the search, which was straitly laid for him all the country over. (Acts and Mon.)
13 And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.
Ver 13. Behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream ] Angels cannot enlighten the mind or powerfully incline the will (that is proper to the Holy Ghost to do), but as spirits and instruments of the Holy Ghost they can insinuate themselves into the fantasy (as here to Joseph), stir up fantasms of good things, propound truth to the mind, advise and persuade to it, as counsellors, and inwardly instigate, as it were, by speaking and doing after a spiritual manner, suggesting good thoughts as the apostate angels do evil. How often had we fallen had not these guardians hindered (as Michael opposed Satan, Jdg 1:9 ) by removing occasions, or casting in good instincts into us, either asleep or awake. a
Take the young child, and flee into Egypt ] Perhaps through that terrible and roaring wilderness of Arabia: Deu 8:15 however, this was a part of his passion; for, from his cratch to his cross, he suffered many a little death all his life long; and as it is said of that French king (Henry IV), that he had more wars than others ever saw, so our Saviour suffered more miseries than we ever heard of. Banished he was early, to bring back his banished to paradise, that is, above, their proper country; towards the which we groan and aspire, as often as we look towards heaven, waiting, as with outstretched necks, "for the manifestation of the sons of God," αποκαραδοκια , Rom 8:19 and saying with Sisera’s mother, "Why is his chariot so long in coming? why tarry the wheels of his chariots?"Judges 5:28; Judges 5:28 ; "Make haste, my beloved, and be like a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of spices," Song of Solomon 8:14 ..
For Herod will seek the young child to destroy him ] The devil in Herod, Revelation 12:4 . So Revelation 2:10 ; "The devil shall cast some of you into prison," &c. Is the devil become a justicer, to send men to prison? By his imps and instruments (such as Herod was, that abuse their authority) Satan exerciseth his malice against the saints, lending them his seven heads to plot, and his ten horns to push; but all in vain,Psalms 2:5; Psalms 2:5 .
a Magnus est animus qui se Deo tradidit. Great is the mind who turns himself over to God. Senec.
14 When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt:
Ver. 14. When he arose he took the young child, &e. ] Whither God leads, we must cheerfully follow, though he seem to lead us, as he did Israel in the wilderness, in and out, backwards and forwards, as if he were treading in a maze; although we were to go with him into those places (Hor. I 32):
" Pigris ubi nulla campis
Arbor aestiva recreatur aura:
Quod latus mundi nebulae malusque
Iupiter urget. "
And departed into Egypt ] A country, for its fruitfulness and abundance, anciently called, Publicum orbis horreum, the world’s great granary or barn: Horreum, unde hauriatur. (Plin. Mela.) And to this day, so far as the river waters, they do but throw in the seed, and have four rich harvests in less than four months, saith a recent traveller. a To here flees the Son of God, as to a sanctuary of safety. And some say, that at his coming there all the idols fell to the ground. Sure it is, that when the love of Christ once cometh into the heart, all the idol desires of the world and flesh fall to nothing,Hosea 14:8; Hosea 14:8 .
a Blount’s Yoyage into the Levant.
15 And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.
Ver. 15. And was there till the death of Herod ] Which was a matter of two or three years at least a For Christ was born in 32 of Herod’s reign, fled when he was about two years old, or soon after his birth (as others are of the opinion), and returned not till Herod was dead, after he had reigned seven and thirty years.
That it might be fulfilled that was spoken, &c. ] When the Old Testament is cited in the New, it is not only by way of accommodation, but because it is the proper meaning of the places both in the type and in the truth.
a Epiphanius vult haec biennio post natum Christum conligisse.
16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men.
Ver. 16. Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked ] He had mocked them, and yet takes it ill to be mocked of them, to have his own measure: he never takes notice of this, that God usually maketh fools of his enemies; lets them proceed, that they may be frustrated; and when they are gone to the utmost reach of their tether, pulls them back to their task with shame.
Was exceeding wroth, and sent forth and slew ] "In their anger they slew a man," saith Jacob of his two sons; "cursed be their anger, for it was fierce," &c., Genesis 49:6-7 . It is indeed the fury of the unclean spirit, that old manslayer, Gen 4:23 a very beast within the heart of a man; a short madness, as we see in Saul, whom the devil possessed by this passion; Eph 4:27 in Lamech, who slew a man in his heat, and boasted of it; as Alexander Phereas consecrated the javelin wherewith he slew Poliphron (Plutarch); in David, who swore a great oath what he would do to Nabal by such a time: 1Sa 25:21-22 and when Uzziah was smitten for his carting the Ark, 1Ch 15:2 how untowardly spake he! (so did Jonah too), as if the fault were in God (dogs in a chase sometimes bark at their own masters). Lastly, in Theodosius at Thessalonica, where being enraged at the slaughter of certain judges, slain by sedition, he executed at hand of seven thousand men. Anger begins in rashness, abounds in transgression, Pro 29:22 ends in repentance. a Jonathan therefore rose from the table in fierce anger, 1Sa 20:34 and, to prevent further mischief; went into the field to shoot: and Ahasuerus, to slake the fire of his wrath conceived against Haman, walked into his garden, ere he pronounced anything against him, Ezra 7:7 .
All the children ] His own son also; which Augustus Caesar hearing of, said, "it were better be Herod’s swine than his son." b So Philip, King of France, ventured his eldest son twice in the wars against those ancient Protestants, the Albigenses, at the siege of Toulouse. And Philip, King of Spain, suffered his eldest son Charles to be murdered by the cruel Inquisition, because he seemed to favour Lutherans: for which that mouth of blasphemy, the Pope, gave him this panegyric, Non pepercit filio suo, sed dedit pro nobis: He spared not his own son, but gave him up for us. (Beza.)
According to the time which he had diligently inquired ] Some think the wise men came before the purification, but Epiphanius will have it well nigh two years after. Herod was diligent in the search, that he might make sure work; but God defeated him. I kept the bloodhound at staves’ end (saith Nichol. Shetterden, martyr), not as thinking to escape them, but that I would see the foxes leap above ground for my blood if they can reach it, &c. (Acts and Mon.)
a Qui non moderabitur irae, infectum volet esse dolor quod suaserit, et mens. Hor. Epist. i. 2. 60.
b Melius est Herodis esse porcum quam filium. Macrob. Saturn. Bassianus Imp. Getam fratrem supra matris pectus multo undantem sanguine obtruncabat, cum quidem ille clamaret, Mater, fer opem, interficior.
17 Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying,
Ver. 17. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken ] Fulfilling of prophecies is a convincing argument of the divinity of the Scriptures. Moses had foretold that God should dwell between Benjamin’s shoulders, Deuteronomy 33:12 . This was fulfilled 440 years after, when the temple was set up in the tribe of Benjamin: so the prophecies of the coming of Christ and of Antichrist, and others in the Revelation, which we see daily accomplished.
18 In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.
Ver. 18. Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning ] How impatient was Jacob in the loss of Joseph; David of Absalom, &c. Grief for sin (than which none more deep and soaking), is set forth by this unparalleled lamentation: Zechariah 12:10 ; Mat 5:4 "Blessed are they that mourn" ( πενθουντες ), as men do at the death of their dearest children. But let such say to God, as St Jerome (ad Julian.) adviseth a friend of his in like case, Tulisti liberos, quos ipse dederas: non contristor quod recepisti: ago gratias quod dedisti: thou hast taken away whom thou hadst given me: I grieve not that thou hast taken them, but praise the Lord, that was pleased to give them.
Rachel weeping ] That is, Bethlehem, in the way whereto Rachel died in childbirth, and was buried. "Give me children, or else I die:" give her children, and yet she dies. Well might Bethlehem weep, if at this massacre there were (as some affirm it) 14,000 infants butchered.
For her children ] Those dear pledges and pieces of ourselves; called cari dears, by the Latins, and φιλτατα by the Greeks, darlings, in whom is all our delight, Ezekiel 24:24 ; yet are they certain cares, but uncertain comforts, a
And would not be comforted ] This confutes him in Plautus, that said, Mulier nulla dolet cordicitus ex animo, these mourned beyond measure, utterly refusing to be comforted by any fair words of the murderers excusing the matter (likely) to the miserable mothers, and promising amends from the king by some other means, or by any other way. But immoderate sorrow for losses past hope of recovery is more sullen than useful: our stomach may be bewrayed by it, not our wisdom; and although something we may yield to nature in these eases, yet nothing to impatience.
Because they were not ] A just judgment of God upon them for their unnaturalness to the Son of God, whom they shut out into a stable. The dulness and dissoluteness of these Bethlehemites required thus to be raised and roused up as by the sound of a trumpet or report of a musket; happy for them, if they had hearts "to bear the rod, and who had appointed, it,"Micah 6:9; Micah 6:9 . But we many times mistake the cause of our misery, groping in the dark as the Sodomites, crying out upon the instrument, seldom reflecting; our minds being as ill set as our eyes, we turn neither of them inwards.
a Lambin. in Menech. Plauti,Acts 1:1-26; Acts 1:1-26 , Scene 1. Domi domitus fui usque cum charis meis. Filius dicitur a φιλος .
19 But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt,
Ver. 19. But when Herod was dead ] Not long after this butchery at Bethlehem he fell into a foul and loathsome disease, whereof he died: a so did Sulla, that bloody man before him; b so did Maximinus, and others after him. John de Roma, a cruel monk and inquisitioner (who used to fill boots with boiling grease, and so putting them upon the legs of those whom he examined, to tie them backward to a form, with their legs hanging down over a small fire, &c.), was smitten by God with an incurable disease, so loathsome that none could come near him, so swarming with vermin and so rotten, that the flesh fell away from the bones by piece meal, &c. Twiford (who was executioner of Frith, Bayfield, Bainham, Lambert, and other good men) died rotting above ground, that none could abide him. (Acts and Mon.) So did Alexander the cruel keeper of Newgate, and John Peter his son-in-law, who commonly, when he would affirm anything, used to say, If it be not true, I pray God I rot ere I die. Stephen Gardner rejoicing upon the news of the bishops burnt at Oxford, was suddenly seized by the terrible hand of God as he sat dining; continuing for the space of fifteen days in such intolerable torment, that he could not have any bowel movements, or otherwise, anything that he received; whereby his body being miserably inflamed (who had inflamed so many good martyrs before) was brought to a wretched end; his tongue hanging out all black and swollen, as Archbishop Arundel’s did before him. (Acts and Mon.) But to return to Herod; when he saw he should die indeed, that there might be no mourning at his funeral, he commanded the Jewish nobility (whom he had imprisoned for that purpose in the Castle of Hippodromus) to be all slain as soon as ever he was dead. (Josephus.) And being at the point of death, he commanded his son Antipater to be executed in the prison, whom but a little while before he had declared heir of the kingdom. In November, 1572, appeared a new star in Cassiopeia, and continued sixteen months. Theodore Beza wittily applied it (saith Mr Camden, Elizabeth) to that star at Christ’s birth, and to the infanticide there, and warned Charles IX to beware in this verse,
" Tu vero, Herodes sanguinolente, time. "
"And thou blood heard, truly fear"
The fifth month after the vanishing of this star, the said Charles, after long and grievous pains, died of exceeding bleeding. Constans fama est illum, dum e variis corporis partibus sanguis emanaret, in lecto scepe volutatum, inter horribilium blasphemiarum diras, tantam sanguinis vim proiecisse, ut paucas post horas mortuus fuerit: persecutors (as they say of the devil) go out with a stench. Arius (saith one) voiding out his guts, sent his soul, as a harbinger to hell, to provide room for his body: he was brought to confusion by the prayers of Alexander, the good Bishop of Constantinople, and his death was precationis opus, non morbi, work of pray not of death. (Socrat.) So, likely, was Herod’s.
Behold, an angel ] Glad of an office to serve the saints, Hebrews 1:14 . They rejoice more in their names of office than of honour: to be called angels, watchmen, Dan 4:23 &c., than principalities; powers, &c. It was long ere Joseph heard from heaven, but God’s time he knew was the best. And although he leave his people, to their thinking, yet he forsakes not. No, that he doth not, saith the author to the Hebrews. ουδ ου μη σε εγκαταλιπω . Hebrews 13:5 .
a Lento calore torrebatur. Ipsa quoque verenda putrefacta scatebant vermiculis. Joseph.
b Sulla saevus ita ut φονων ουτ αριθμος ουθ ορος esset, Plutarch. In rustico praedio pediculari morbo periit, η τε προτερον ευτυχια δοκουσα τοιουτο περιηλθεν αυτψ τελος .
20 Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life.
Ver. 20. For they are dead which sought the young child’s life ] God hid him, as it were, "for a little moment, until the indignation was overpast," Isaiah 26:20 . So he did Jeremiah, Baruch, Athanasius, Luther in his Patmos (as he used to call the castle of Wartburg), where when the Pope had excommunicated him, and the Emperor proscribed him, the Lord put into the heart of the Duke of Saxony to hide him for ten months; in which time the Pope died, the Emperor had his hands full of the French wars, and the Church thereby obtained a happy halcyon. At which time a pretty spectacle it was to behold Christ striving with Antichrist for mastery. For whatsoever the Pope and his champions could do to the contrary, all happened rather, as at Philippi, unto the furtherance of the gospel, Philippians 1:12 . So was it here in Queen Mary’s time; do what they could, the Christian congregations in London were sometimes forty, sometimes a hundred, sometimes two hundred. I have heard of one (saith Mr Fox) that being sent to them to take their names and to spy on their doings, yet in being among them was converted, and cried them all mercy. Harpsfield hearing that the queen lay dying, hasted home from London to burn those six that he had in his cruel custody. Those were the last that were burnt. Many others escaped by the queen’s death.
21 And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel.
Ver. 21. And he arose, &c., and came into the land of Israel ] Glad they were got out of such a hell as Egypt, Eze 20:7-8 where the Israelites having been for a time, brought back with them a golden calf; Jeroboam brought home two; and these good souls could not but get and gather guilt or grief. Hence David’s moans at Mesech, Psa 120:5 Lot’s vexation at Sodom, Jeremiah’s wish for a cottage in the wilderness, far enough off from those adulterers and assemblies of treacherous men, those sacrificing Sodomites, Jer 9:2 of whom it might be said, as Aaron of the people, that they were wholly set upon sin, Exodus 32:22 ; 1 John 5:19 . But some of the saints forsake all (said Marsh the martyr) and commit themselves to painful exile, that, if it please God, Christ may come again out of Egypt. (Acts and Mon.)
22 But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee:
Ver. 22. But when he heard that Archelaus ] Neither good egg nor good bird, as they say, Caracalla (saith Dio) nihil cogitabat boni, quia id non didicerat, quod ipse fatebatur: never thought of any good, for he had never learned it. No more had this Archelaus. Pope Paul III, when his son Farnesis had committed an unspeakable violence on the person of Cosmos Chaerius, Bishop of Fanum, and then poisoned him, held himself excused that he could say, Haec vitia, me non commonstratore, didicit: he never learned this of the father. But Archelaus, though he could never attain to his father’s craft, yet he had learned his cruelty. Fierce he was, but foolish; savage, but silly; a slug, a slow belly, an evil beast; wherefore the Jews soon rebelled against him; and Augustus (after ten years’ abuse of his authority) banished him to Vienna, or, as others say, to Lyons in France; setting up in his stead his brother Herod, the same that derided and set at nought our Saviour at his passion, as St Jerome writes.
23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.
Ver. 23. And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth ] Hence an opinion among the people that he was born there, Joh 7:42 and so could not be the Messiah, as the Pharisees on that ground persuaded: "For can any good come out of Nazareth?" John 1:46 . The devils also, though they confessed him "the Holy One of God," Mar 1:24-25 yet they cunningly call him "Jesus of Nazareth," to nourish the error of the multitude that thought he was born there, and so not the Christ. When one commended the Pope’s legate at the Council of Basil, Sigismund the Emperor answered, Tamen Romanus est, Nevertheless he is a Roman. So, let the devil speak true or false, fair or foul, yet he is a devil still, beware of him. Satan aliquando verax, saepius mendax, semper fallax.
That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets ] For the Book of Judges was written by various prophets, in several ages. And there be very grave authors of the opinion that Ezra (that skilful scribe) either himself alone, or with the help of his colleagues, godly and learned men like himself, inspired by the Holy Ghost, compiled and composed those books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings, out of divers annals preserved by the Churches of those ages wherein those things were acted.
He shall be called a Nazarene ] That great votary whereof Samson and the rest of his order were but types and shadows. The very name signifieth one separate and set apart from others, as Joseph was "separate from his brethren," Genesis 49:26 . And it is ascribed to three, sorts of men, usually set above others (as divines have well observed): 1. To such as are set apart to singular sanctimony, as the high priest, whose crown is called Nezer, Exodus 29:6 ; Exodus 2:1-25 . To such as in dignity and authority are set above others, as kings, whose diadem is called Nezer, 2Sa 1:10 ; 2 Samuel 3:1-39 . To such as were separated by some religious vow, as to the order of the Nazarites, whose hair increasing on their heads, as an external sign of their vow, was called Nezer,Numbers 6:5; Numbers 6:5 . As for our Saviour, it is not likely that he nourished his hair; because the apostle saith (in that age) it was uncomely for men to have long hair, 1 Corinthians 11:14 . It was enough for him that he was a Nazarite in the truth and substance of that law; and a singular comfort it is to us, that although we have broken our vows and so deeply gashed our consciences, as Jacob did; Genesis 28:20 ; Gen 31:13 yet so long as it is of infirmity and forgetfulness, not of obstinace and maliciousness, this famous Nazarite, this arch-votary, hath expiated our defaults in this kind; and through him we are in God’s sight, as Jerusalem’s Nazarites, Lam 4:7 "Purer than the snow, and whiter than the milk." And therefore, since God thinks not the worse of us, let us not think the worse of ourselves for the involuntary violation of our vows.
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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Matthew 2". Trapp's Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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