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MATTHEW CHAPTER 2
Matthew 2:1-2 Wise men from the east come to Jerusalem to inquire after Christ.
Matthew 2:3-8 Herod is alarmed.
Matthew 2:9-12 The wise men are directed by a star to Christ, and worship him, offering gifts.
Matthew 2:13-15 Joseph, warned by an angel, fleeth with the young child and his mother into Egypt.
Matthew 2:16-18 Herod’s massacre of the children in Bethlehem and round about.
Matthew 2:19-23 Upon the death of Herod Christ is brought out of Egypt, and dwelleth at Nazareth.
That Joseph, the legal father of Jesus, was of Nazareth in Galilee, appears from Luke 2:4, where we are told that he went from thence unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David); to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife: for, it seems, so was the emperor’s decree, Luke 2:1, and Cyrenius the governor of Syria had ordered that every one should go to be taxed in his own tribe and city. Those words, of Judea, were added to distinguish the place from another Bethlehem, which was in the territories of Zebulun, Joshua 19:15. The verse further tells us, that this was
in the days of Herod the king: these words, the king, are added to distinguish him from Herod the tetrarch, Matthew 14:1, or other Herods. This was that Herod the Great, commonly called the Ascalonite, the son of Antipater. There are three opinions of learned men concerning him. Some think that he was by birth an Idumean, and that his mother was an Arabian, and say he was the first foreigner that ever reigned in Judea; and that in him the prophecy was fulfilled, Genesis 49:10, that the sceptre should not depart from Judah till Shiloh came. Others contend that he was a native Jew. A third sort say he was originally an Idumean, but that his predecessors had for some ages been proselyted to the Jewish religion: which last opinion is judged the most probable. Judea was at that time subject to the Romans, whose senate made him king over it. Christ being born at this time, it is said,
there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem. How long it was after he was born that they came the Scriptures tell us not. Some think they came presently; some think within thirteen days; some think it was two years after. It is certain they were directed to find Christ at Bethlehem, Matthew 2:8,Matthew 2:9. There he was born, and circumcised the eighth day. There his mother accomplished the days of her purification, according to the law; which days were thirty-three, as may be seen Leviticus 12:2,Leviticus 12:3, &c. Luke tells us, Luke 2:22, that after the accomplishment of those days, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him (as their firstborn) to the Lord, Exodus 13:2, and to offer a sacrifice; and he tells us there of his meeting with Simeon and Anna, and of their prophecies, Luke 2:25, &c.; and it is said, Luke 2:39, When they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth. It is not probable that these wise men came before our Lord was carried to Jerusalem, (which was about six weeks after he was born), for besides that they had a long journey to come, after such a noise made by the wise men’s coming, it is no way probable that Joseph and Mary would have carried him to Jerusalem, where the inquiry was first made; especially considering Herod’s trouble about it, and his sending messengers presently to slay all the children in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, Matthew 2:16. It is therefore most probable that it was near two years after the birth of Christ before they came; for though no such thing can be concluded from Herod’s decree, which was for the slaying those that were two years old and under, yet one would think the following words signify some such thing, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. He had then made inquiry about what time this child should be born; possibly they could not tell him the exact time, but if they said a year or a year and half before, Herod (to make sure) might make his decree for all to be slain from two years old and under; but had they said a month or six weeks, it is not probable Herod would have been so barbarous as to have slain all of two years old: so as, if we wisely consider the history of Scripture, it is no way probable that they came before Mary’s purification was over, and their offering him to the Lord, &c. mentioned Luke 2:22.
But then how should they find him at Bethlehem? For he went to Nazareth, Luke 2:39.
Answer: God might order some motion of Joseph to Bethlehem (of which the Scripture is silent); it was a city within the tribe to which he related, where probably he had kindred. So as, though it were a year or more after the birth of Christ before these wise men came, yet it is possible they might find him at Bethlehem, his parents being as guests there, though inhabitants at Nazareth. This is enough to have spoken of the time when these wise men came, viz. at what distance from the birth of Christ, considering that nothing can be in the case certainly determined. It is yet a greater question who these wise men were, and from what part of the world (here called the east) they came. The uncertainties of men’s conclusions in their points of curiosity, rather than profit, let us know how vainly men search for satisfaction when God hath hidden a thing from them. They cannot agree in the number of these men, some will have them twelve, some but three; and they undertake to tell us their names, though neither can they agree in it. Some will have them to be kings; and the papists make us believe they have their sepulchres with them to this day at Cologne; and by the number of the tombs they know their number; and that Church hath a festival for them, which is our Twelfth day. These and a hundred more fables there are about them. The Scripture saith no more than wise men, and telleth us nothing of their number. Whether they were mere astrologers, or such as were skilled in magical arts, or more generally philosophers, is vainly disputed; only we have their observation of this extraordinary star, together with what the Scripture tells us of the use those Eastern nations made of astrologers, to guide us to think they were such as were famous in their country for astrology: though others think them persons skilled in Divine and human laws. The Scripture only calls them
wise men. Whether they came from the eastern parts of the world, or that part of the world which lay eastward to the city of Jerusalem, is another unprofitable question: pagans they were, without doubt; whether Persians or Arabians, or of some other country, is of no great concern for us to know, and almost impossible to determine. These were the firstfruits of the Gentiles owning Christ as King of the Jews, whilst he came amongst his own, and they received him not; nor do I know any thing more worthy of our observation concerning them. Those that think it worth the while to read what more is said concerning them, may read enough in Spanhem, his Dub. Evang., Heinsius, his Exercitat. Sac. and Poli Critica, which I rather choose to name than the popish writers, because in some of these he will find the antidote together with the poison of those fabulous discourses, and be taught a pious wariness of obtruding old wives’ fables into canonical history, and lightly imposing upon the faith of ignorant people.
Jerusalem was the metropolis of Judea; thither they come, as to the most likely place where to receive satisfaction. Of whom they inquired the Scripture saith not, but it is observable that they took notice that there was a person born who was to be an illustrious King of the Jewish nation, they speak not at all doubtfully as to that. This information they doubtless had from a Divine revelation, for although there was an extraordinary star appeared, which might let them know that God had produced, or was producing, so extraordinary a work of providence in the world, yet without a supernatural interpreter they could not have made so true and particular interpretation of it, as upon the sight of it to have come with such a confidence to Jerusalem, affirming that there was a King of the Jews born, and that this was his star, a light which God had put forth to direct that part of the world to the true Messiah. All guesses at the nature of this star, and the means how the wise men came to know that the King of the Jews was born upon the sight of it, and its motion, are great uncertainties; God undoubtedly revealed the thing unto them, and caused this extraordinary star, as at first to appear to confirm what he told them, so at last to appear directing them to the very house in which the young Child with his mother were.
And are come to worship him: whether worshipping here signifieth only a civil honour, which those Eastern nations ordinarily gave unto great princes, or that religious homage and adoration which was due unto the Messias, is variously opened by interpreters. It is said, Matthew 2:11, they fell down and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh. This might be upon a civil or upon a religious account; and doubtless was according to the revelation which they had, concerning which nothing can be certainly determined.
Herod was hardly warm in his kingdom, and had taken Jerusalem by force, and was therefore much concerned to hear that there was a new King born; and supposing him to have been all his life acquainted with the Jewish writings and records, where were prophecies of the Messias under the notion of a King, and not knowing that the kingdom of the Messias was not to be of this world, but being possessed of the ordinary nation of the Jews, that the Messias should restore a temporal kingdom to Israel, he could not but be troubled at the news of one born who was to be the King of the Jews, especially having a confirmation of it by such an extraordinary means, as persons coming from a far country, and being directed to their journey by some extraordinary impulse, upon the sight of a new star, which pointed to Judea, as the place to which it related: Herod upon this might justly think that his newly acquired kingdom would not last long. And though most people are quickly weary of conquerors, yet their former miseries being fresh in their minds, and the renewing of them likely upon a change in the government, it is no wonder if the generality of the people were also troubled.
In this perplexity the king Herod calleth a synod or convocation, which was made up of the chief priests and scribes; the single question which he propounds to them was to resolve him
where Christ should be born. It is most likely this was an extraordinary convention of such of these persons as the king thought fit, who were best skilled in the law, and other revelations of holy writ, not any orderly meeting of the sanhedrim; for the question propounded to them was of mere ecclesiastical concern, and to be resolved from the prophecies and writings of the Old Testament. The stating of the question to them, not where the King of the Jews, but where Christ should be born, makes it manifest, that although (that we read of) the wise men said nothing of Christ, yet Herod presently conceived that this King of the Jews, that was born, must be the Messiah prophesied of Psalms 2:1-12 and in Daniel 9:1-27; he therefore desired to know of them the place in which, according to their received tradition, and sense of the prophecies of holy writ, the Messiah whom they expected (that is, Christ) should be born.
It was (as it seems) so received a tradition, and interpretation of Micah 5:2, that they gave him an answer without any hesitation, telling him he was to be born
in Bethlehem of Judea; this they confirm by the prophecy of the prophet Micah, Micah 5:2; so confirming the Son of the virgin Mary (at unawares) to be the Messiah from the testimony of the prophet Micah. The words in Micah something vary from those here mentioned; they are thus: But thou, Bethlehem Ephrata, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be Ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. We must know,
1. That the writers of the New Testament, in their quotations out of the Old Testament, ordinarily quote only so much of them as makes to their purpose, and not always in the very terms in which they are found in the Old Testament: but keeping to the sense.
2. That it is more than probable that the evangelist keeps to the words in which the priests and scribes delivered in their answer to the king, for in this relation he is but reciting their answer.
The sole question propounded to them was: What the place was, where the Messiah, according to their records, was to be born? They answer: In Bethlehem Judah: they prove their answer from the testimony of the prophet. If any object that the prophet calls it Bethlehem Ephratah, not Bethlehem Judah, the answer is, that it is in sense the same, for Bethlehem Ephratah was within the tribe of Judah. It should seem by Genesis 35:19; Genesis 48:7 that it was formerly in Jacob’s time called Ephrath. Some think that it was a town within Caleb’s portion, and called Ephratah from his second wife, whose name was Ephrath, or Ephratah, 1 Chronicles 2:19,1 Chronicles 2:50, if it were not the same place, only fortified anew. We read of another Bethlehem in Judah builded by Rehoboam, 2 Chronicles 11:6; whether it had this addition from its old name in Jacob’s time, or from Caleb’s wife, or to distinguish it from Bethlehem belonging to the tribe of Zebulun, is hard to say: it is plain that that Bethlehem is meant, both by Micah and Matthew, which was in Judah; possibly in tract of time the addition Ephratah was lost.
But, say some, there is a contradiction between Micah and Matthew; Micah saith it was the least, Matthew saith it was not the least.
Answer: Here is no contradiction; consider Bethlehem itself, it was but a small city, (if it were in Caleb’s lot it is not named), but in other respects it was not the least. It was of old famous for Ibzan, one of the judges, for Elimelech, Boaz, Jesse, David; and now last of all for the birth of Christ, where respect to which the evangelist calls it not the least; or if he reciteth the scribes’ and priests’ words, they might call it not the least upon the account of Boaz, Jesse, and David, all which were born or dwelt there; and particularly with respect to Christ, who was born there. The prophet calls it the least with respect to its state in his time, the evangelist not the least with respect to its state then, its state being magnified by the birth of Christ. Micah saith among the thousands. Matthew,
among the princes. It is the same thing, for, Numbers 1:16, their princes were heads of thousands in Israel. The Jews would by no means have this text interpreted of Christ, but either of Zerubbabel or David: but as to Zerubbabel, he was born in Babylon, not in Bethlehem, and David was dead long before this prophecy; neither could the following words, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting, agree to Zerubbabel or David: Zerubbabel’s name tells us where he was born, and we never read that Bethlehem was thus celebrated with reference to David, though he was born there, 1 Samuel 16:1; 1 Samuel 17:58, upon which account it is called the city of David, Luke 2:4. The prophecy certainly related to Christ, and him only, and so is interpreted by the Chaldee paraphrast, who some think was one of this council called by Herod in this cause.
Herod having heard the answer of the priests and scribes, did not think fit to make any noise of it amongst the people; he knew the Jews were apt enough to rebel, and being so little a conqueror had no reason to presume much of their goodwill towards him; he therefore calls the wise men privily, and takes no notice of any King they talked of, but only inquires the time when this new star first appeared. To what end he made this inquiry may be learned from Matthew 2:16; only that he might be able to govern himself in his bloody decree, that he might neither destroy more children than would serve his present design, nor yet leave this Child behind.
He tells the wise men that Bethlehem was the place, wherein his wise men had informed him that the King of the Jews was to be born, and sends them thither with these instructions: That they should go, and
search diligently there
for the young Child, whom he doth not call King; thereby dissembling his bloody mind, and making as if he had no jealousy of him; yet withal he suggests to them that he was like to be a great Prince, or else he would never have pretended that he had a design, when once he knew certainly where he was, to go and pay a homage to him. This text lets us see the malignity of Herod’s heart, and indeed of all wicked men’s hearts. Herod knew that the Messiah was born. The extraordinary star and the coming of the wise men, the priests’ and scribes’ answer to him, could not but confirm him that he was born, who was long since promised, as a King and Governor to Israel; yet could he not obtain of his wretched heart to comply with the counsels of God, but, contrary to his own convictions, shows the folly of his heart, in thinking it was in his power to frustrate the Divine counsels, and be too hard for God himself. Nor is his folly less remarkable, not sending any of his own courtiers with them, whom he might better have trusted than mere strangers to have come back and brought him an account; but whether it was that he durst not trust any of the Jews, or that he was over credulous in trusting to the innocent simplicity of these wise men, being not made acquainted with his intentions, he suffereth them to go alone upon this errand, whom he might possibly think would be least suspected of Joseph and Mary, so as at their return he should have a more full account of all circumstances concerning him, than he could have expected from one who had been taken notice of as one that belonged to his court.
They departed toward Bethlehem Judah; how long their journey was we cannot tell: some wonder that none of the Jews did attend them in their journey, coming out of their own country upon such a discovery, and impute it either to the Jews’ fear of the tyrant under which they were, or to the blindness and hardness of their hearts, for St. John tells us he came amongst his own, and they received him not; but it is possible that the wise men’s immediate applications were to the court, as thinking that the most probable place to hear of one that should be born King of the Jews; and it may be questioned whether Herod, though he called the scribes and the priests together, told them that his summoning of them was occasioned by the coming of the wise men, for the only question he propounded to them was where Christ was to be born, which they might understand without any relation to the wise men’s question. Nor is it probable that Herod should be more open than needed in publishing the coming of these wise men, or their errand. Yet the text saying that not only Herod, but all Jerusalem, was troubled, suggests to us, that both their coming, and the occasion of it, was noised abroad, more than probably Herod could have wished; but it is like their dismission was so private, that if any of the Jews had had a heart and courage enough to have gone with them, yet they might not have had opportunity. It is more admirable that Herod sent none that he could securely trust with them. But the hand of God was in this thing. They shall be hid whom he will hide. The Lord had prepared them a better guide.
The star, which probably had disappeared for a good time while they were upon their journey to Jerusalem, (for they needed no star to guide them to so famous a place), as soon as they were out of Jerusalem it appeared again,
and went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was: probably the star appeared in the lower region, and though it could not point so directly that they should know the very house, yet it might point so near as by inquiry they might easily find it, especially by the influence of God upon their spirits, which doubtless they did not want. Whether these wise men were of the posterity of Balaam, who prophesied of a sceptre that should rise out of Israel, that should smite the corners of Moab, one that should have dominion, & c., Numbers 24:17,Numbers 24:19, or this star had any relation to the star mentioned there, Numbers 24:17 is very uncertain: it is more probable that these wise men came a much further journey, and that the star there mentioned was not to be understood in a literal sense, but better expounded by Simeon, Luke 2:32, A light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of his people Israel.
Joy is but the natural consequence of desire satisfied: they had in their own country seen an extraordinary star, which, according to the rules of their own art, they might guess to be an indication of a great Prince born, or, by a Divine revelation, they might know to be so. This kindled in them a strong desire to go and pay a homage to him; upon this they take a long journey to Jerusalem. When they come there they were more fully confirmed, from the answer of the priests and scribes, that there was a Christ to be born in Bethlehem Judah. Thither they go. In their journey the same star they had before seen appears to them again, confirming both their former apprehensions, and, by its standing over Bethlehem, and a particular house in it, (to their apprehensions), they were fully confirmed that they had right instructions from Herod, and rejoiced in the satisfaction of their desires naturally, and possibly rejoiced spiritually in this matter of joy to all people, if they had (as is probable) a spiritual illumination, and believed that this Christ was also Jesus, one come to save both Jews and Gentiles from their sins.
How long the virgin Mary and her holy Child had been there is not expressed; those that think these wise men came within six weeks or two months, judge that Joseph and Mary came thither from Jerusalem after that he had been there offered, to the Lord, of which you read Luke 2:22; but they are forced, to uphold this, to interpret Luke 2:39, which saith that after they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth, of a considerable time after they had performed these things, which seemeth something hard and needless, especially considering Nazareth was Joseph’s own city, i.e. the city where his fixed habitation was. It is most probable that they, after so long absence, went right home, and if the wise men (which is said) found them in Bethlehem, they were gone thither again to visit some relations.
They saw the young child with Mary his mother; under what other circumstances the Scripture saith not, but questionless they were very poor and mean, which is a very strong inducement to us to believe that they had a spiritual Divine revelation, that this was a King whose kingdom was not of this world, the true Messiah and Saviour of the world; they would hardly else have treated a poor infant, in an ordinary house and no more attended, at the rate they did, for the text saith they
fell down and worshipped him; a usual homage indeed which the Eastern nations paid to princes, but they used then to have better evidences of their royal state and dignity than these wise men seemed to have had, if they had not, besides the star, a Divine revelation what manner of King this was to be. We may therefore rather judge that their revelation extended not only to the birth of a King, but of such a King as indeed he was, the eternal Son of God clothed with human flesh; and that their falling down and worshipping him is to be understood of a Divine worship they paid to him, as the Saviour of the world: and so they were the first fruits of the Gentiles, owning and believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. And that their following offerings to him were upon that account, for opening
their treasures, they presented to him gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The guesses of those who think that they offered him gold as to a King, frankincense as a High Priest, and myrrh to sweeten the place where he was, I take to be but the product of luxuriant fancies. It is most certain that those Eastern people seldom came to their princes without some presents, and that their presents were usually of the most choice things their country afforded. This is plain from Genesis 43:11; and if what naturalists tell us be true, that myrrh was only to be found in Arabia, and frankincense in Sabea, (a part of Arabia) and that country also had gold, which it is plain that it had from 2 Chronicles 9:14, it makes a very probable argument, that these wise men came from Arabia, which was full of men that were astrologers. The providence of God was wonderfully seen in these presents, by them providing for the sustenance of Joseph, and Mary, and Jesus in that exile which they were soon after to endure. For other allegorical and mystical significations of these presents, they are but conjectures, and the exuberances of men’s fancies.
Now the wise God begins to defeat the crafty counsels of Herod, whose bloody hand he had stayed till he should from the wise men have had a perfect intelligence concerning this newborn King. God in a dream appeareth to the wise men, and warns them to go no more to Herod. The wise men came with no intention to serve Herod’s bloody designs, but came in the simplicity of their hearts. This simplicity of theirs Herod would have abused, to have made them accessaries to his guilt. God will not suffer it: He who walketh uprightly walketh safely. Thus the integrity of Abimelech in taking Sarah protected him from guilt with reference to her, Genesis 20:6. The word which we here translate warned of God, is used of persons whom God is pleased to honour, so far as to discourse with, either by himself or an angel, Luke 2:26; Acts 10:22; Hebrews 8:5; Hebrews 11:7. Thus hath God honoured these wise men, whose hearts were inclined towards him and his Christ;
1. By giving them a star, to guide them.
2. Confirming their hearts by his word, from the mouth of the chief priests and scribes, that they were not mistaken concerning the star and its indication.
3. By speaking himself to them, to keep them from any guilt, or being so much as accessaries any way to that bloody tragedy, which upon their departure he knew would be acted. They take another way to go into their own country, so we hear of them no more.
How long it was before this apparition to Joseph the Scripture saith not, but admitting what is affirmed by some geographers, that Bethlehem Judah was but two days’ journey from Jerusalem, it cannot be presumed long, for Herod had (doubtless) quick intelligence of the wise men’s motions. Here was a second temptation upon Joseph, who was of no great quality, (a carpenter), and might have anxious thoughts how he in Egypt should maintain himself, his wife, and child; but Joseph knew that the earth was the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof: though Egypt therefore was a land of idolaters, and he had no visible way of subsistence there, yet we shall hear that none of these things made him hesitate. Egypt was near to Palestine, and the dominions of another prince, within which Herod had nothing to do. Jeroboam fled thither, 1 Kings 11:40, and stayed there till the death of Solomon. God’s precept here did not only indicate his care and special providence for and over this holy Child, but included a promise of sustenance and support for it and its parents; and the Lord further assured Joseph that he should not die in that exile, for he would likewise tell him the time when he should come back. Christ’s time to die was not yet come, and therefore he would have him out of the way, for he who searcheth the heart and trieth the reins, and knoweth the thoughts of man afar off, did know that Herod would
seek the young child to destroy him: he should but seek him, for God had resolved to preserve him, but he would show the malice of his heart in seeking of him, therefore God commands him to go away, and directeth him whither to go. The certainty of an issue, from the Divine counsels, or a Divine revelation, ought not to encourage us in the neglect of any rational and just means for the obtaining of it. Though God will provide for his church and people, yet it is his will they should use all just and lawful means for their own preservation.
True faith, or assent to a Divine revelation, always produces obedience to the precept of it. Thus it did in the wise men, thus in Joseph. Thus every where in holy writ. By which we may learn, that they indeed believe not the Scriptures to be the word of God, who take no care to live up to the rule of life prescribed in them. Joseph not only obeyed, but readily and presently obeyed:
When he arose, he took the young Child and his mother. The poverty of our Saviour’s parents is not obscurely gathered from this hasty motion of Joseph. His motion was not delayed for the packing up of goods, gathering in of debts, &c; if he lost any thing by his haste, yet he carried with him the promise and special care of God for him and his. Yet he moveth prudentially, and therefore he begins his journey
by night, when least notice could be taken of his motion. We are not to put God upon working miracles for our preservation, though we have never so many sure promises, when it may be obtained in the use of means. They are God’s security given to creatures, whom he hath endued with reason, and expressed that we should use it, while we yet trust in his word. We are not told into what part of Egypt Joseph went, nor how long he stayed there: some say six or seven years; others, but three or four months. The text saith he
was there until the death of Herod. Some say that was before the paschal solemnity that year. But these things are great uncertainties. It is certain he stayed there till Herod died, but when that certainly was we know not, nor is it material for us to be curious in inquiring.
That it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, Out of Egypt have I called my Son. That it might be fulfilled is a phrase we often meet with in the New Testament, to declare the harmony of Scripture, and the faithfulness of God in fulfilling the prophecies or promises of the Old Testament. Spanhemius tells us: "The Scripture is said to be fulfilled properly or improperly." Properly two ways, either literally or mystically. Improperly, secondarily, when some such like thing happeneth as was before foretold or spoken of, or an example is brought parallel to some former example. Literally the Scripture is said to be fulfilled;
1. When a thing before prophesied of, or promised, cometh to pass. Thus the prophecy, Isaiah 7:14, was literally fulfilled Matthew 1:23; so Micah 5:2 was literally fulfilled Matthew 2:6, by Christ’s being born in Bethlehem; so Zechariah 9:9 was literally fulfilled Matthew 21:5. Or else;
2. When the type is fulfilled in the antitype. Thus we read of many scriptures of the Old Testament fulfilled in Christ, several things about the paschal lamb, the brazen serpent, Solomon, David, Jonah, &c. Improperly the Scripture is said to be fulfilled, when any thing is reported as done, which bear a proportion to something before recorded in holy writ, as spoken or done: thus Christ applies the same thing to the hypocrites which lived in his time, Matthew 15:7,Matthew 15:8, which Isaiah spoke of those who lived in his time, Isaiah 29:13 so Matthew 13:14; Isaiah 6:9; this divines call a fulfilling per accommodationem, aut transumptionem.
The question is, whether this scripture, which is Hosea 11:1, was fulfilled in Christ’s being carried into Egypt, properly or improperly. There is a great variety of opinions; those possibly judge best who think that the Israelites going into and coming out of Egypt, was a type of Christ’s going into Egypt, being preserved there, and coming out again. Matthew saith the scripture was fulfilled, whether properly or improperly is not much material for us to know. I have only added thus much to shorten my discourse hereafter where we shall meet with this phrase.
Herod now expounds what he meant by his coming and worshipping Christ also, which he talked of Matthew 2:8.
When he saw that he was mocked, &c; really mocked by their coming no more to him; not that they used any mocking language, or designed by their actions to deceive him, but probably intended to have gone back according to his desire, but that they were otherwise admonished by God in a dream.
He was exceeding wroth, as great persons used to be when they see any great design they have frustrated by their inferiors,
and sent forth, and slew all the children in Bethlehem, and in the coasts thereof, from two years old and under: he sent forth soldiers, or executioners, and slew all the children. There is a tradition that amongst them he slew his own son, and that Augustus Caesar, hearing it, should say, "It was better to be Herod’s hog than his child, because the Jews will eat no swine’s flesh." Others say this is but a fable, for his son died very few days before himself.
From two years old and under: if we take these words as they seem to sound, they would incline us to think that Christ was near two years old before the wise men came; but some very learned men think they came within a year or little more, and that the term we translate "two years old," signifieth persons that had never so little entered upon the second year of their age: so as if a child were but a year and a week old, he was properly enough called διετης one of two years old, that is, who had began his second year. Hence they think that the star appeared some little matter above a year before they came to Bethlehem; and considering at how great distance some parts in Arabia were from Jerusalem, they think that a year might well be ran out in their deliberations about, and preparations for, and despatch of their journey. Thus they interpret the next words,
according to the time he had diligently inquired of the wise men, that they had told them that it was something above a year since the star appeared first. This is now a middle way between those who (very improbably) think that they came within thirteen days, too short a time doubtless for such a journey, and those that think they came not till near two years, which to some seemeth as much too long. I leave it to the reader’s judgment.
The text quoted is Jeremiah 31:15. This prophecy was literally fulfilled when Judah was carried into captivity; there was then a great mourning in the tribes of Benjamin and Judah, for their children that were slain and carried into captivity. It was now fulfilled, that is, verified, a second time. There is no need that Rama here should be taken appellatively, as it signifieth a high place, from whence a noise is most loudly and dolefully heard. There were several places so named, one near Bethlehem, (formerly called Ephrath, Genesis 35:16, Genesis 35:19), Judges 4:5, a city in the lot of Benjamin, Joshua 18:25. The slaughter was in Bethlehem and the coasts thereof; the noise reached to Rama, which was close by. Both Benjamin and Judah made up the one kingdom of Judah.
Rachel was the mother of Benjamin, a woman passionately desirous of children, therefore the fittest person to have her name used to express the sorrow of all those mothers who had lost their children in this slaughter. The slaughter of these children caused a lamentable mourning by tender mothers throughout Benjamin and Judah, such as the former captivity caused to be mentioned, Jeremiah 31:15.
That is, as some say, within three or four months, for Herod, they say, no longer outlived this bloody act; and if we may believe historians, he was in his death made a dreadful example of Divine vengeance. But we cannot assert the just time how long he outlived this bloody act; when he was dead, God, who had promised Joseph, Matthew 2:13, to tell him by an angel, (as before), let Joseph know he might safely return. It is probable this apparition was not immediately upon the death of Herod, for Archelaus was reigning, who must be allowed some time to go to Rome, and to have this dignity conferred on him; but soon after he was dead this apparition was, with a command to him to return into the land of Israel, to which he soon yieldeth obedience.
The true King of the Jews being born, the singular providence of God so ordered it, that there was no more constituted governors of Judea under the title of kings, though they are said to reign, because the tetrarchs in their provinces exercised a regal power; for though Archelaus was by his father’s will declared his successor in the kingdom, yet the emperor and senate of Rome was to confirm him, who made Archelaus tetrarch of Judea, as appears by this verse; Antipas, another of his sons, called also by his father’s name, tetrarch of Galilee; Philip, another of his sons, tetrarch of Iturea; and Lysanias tetrarch of Abylene; and set a governor over Judea, which was Pontius Pilate; as appeareth by Luke 3:1. Of all the sons of Herod, Archelaus is said to be of the most fierce and bloody disposition, which made Joseph afraid to go thither. His brother Herod Antipas is reported of a much milder disposition, and more inactive temper. So Joseph, not without the direction of God, goeth into his own province, which was Galilee.
It appeareth by Luke 2:4, that Joseph dwelt in Nazareth before our Saviour was born; and, Luke 2:39, after Mary’s purification it is said, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth; and, Luke 4:16, he was there brought up. Hence, John 1:45, he is called by Philip, Jesus of Nazareth. But the following words of this verse afford as great difficulties as any other in holy writ.
1. How Christ could be called a Nazarene, who apparently was born at Bethlehem.
2. How the evangelist saith that was fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet,
He shall be called a Nazarene; whereas there is no such saying in all the prophets.
There is a strange variety of opinions as to these questions. Spanhemius acquiesceth in that which seemeth least liable to exception, viz. That Christ was to put a period to that order of Nazarites amongst the Jews, whose rules we have Numbers 6:2,Numbers 6:3; of which order Samson was, as appears by Judges 13:7, and Joseph was called נזיר Genesis 49:26, the very same word which is used Judges 13:7. Both Joseph and Samson were eminent types of Christ. And it was spoken of Christ by the prophets, (the holy men of God who wrote the Scriptures), that Christ should be called נזיר Nezir, as it is in the Hebrew, in that it was spoken of those that were his types; who are both expressly so called. The word signifieth a holy person, one separated to God, and from ordinary converse with men. Christ was to be such a Nazarite, separated to God, for the accomplishment of our redemption, and, like Joseph, separated from his brethren: Isaiah 53:3, he was rejected of men:—we hid as it were our faces from him, and we esteemed him not. God by his singular providence so ordered it, that he who was the antitype to all the Nazarites, and the true Nezir, or person separated, should be educated at Nazareth, a poor contemptible town: John 1:46, Nathanael said, Can there any good come out of Nazareth? That while his education there gave the Jews an occasion to reproach him, as a Nazarene, because born at Nazareth, believers amongst the Jews might understand him to be the true Nazarite, understood in Joseph and Samson called by this name, as types and figures of him who was to come, separated by God to a more excellent end, and from men in a more eminent manner. So that what the prophets spake of this nature concerning Christ, they spake of those who were the true types of Christ. Those who will read Spanhemius, and Poli Critica, will find large discourses about the difficulties of this text, but this seemeth to be Spanhemius’s opinion, improving the notion of Mr. Calvin.
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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Matthew 2". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29