We have here related to us the birth of Christ; the visit of the Wise Men from the East, led by a star to worship him; the consternation induced in the minds of Herod, and the whole city of Jerusalem, at the event of Christ's birth; the ministry of an angel to Joseph, and the flight of Joseph, with his family, into Egypt.
Matthew 2:1 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,
I detain the Reader at the very entrance on this Chapter, to remark several very interesting particulars in this short, but sweet account of the birth of the LORD Jesus after the flesh. Bethlehem, which signifies the house of bread, had been expressly declared by one of the Prophets to be the place which should be rendered sacred to this great event. Micah 5:2. And what place so proper to give birth to Jesus, who is himself the bread of life and the living bread? John 6:41-58. And as our misery and leanness arose from originally leaving this Bethlehem, as was typified. Ruth 1:1-6. So the LORD JESUS, CHRIST begins his salvation at the very spot where our ruin began. Moreover, the humbleness of the place became most highly suited for the humble SAVIOR to make his first appearance, in substance of our flesh. For this Bethlehem was about five or six miles from Jerusalem, and a little city in Judah. Joshua 17:7. There was another Bethlehem in Zebulon. Joshua 19:5. But as our Lord sprang out of Judah, so from Judah, in the midst of the tribes, he will arise. It was said of him, that he should grow out of his place. Zechariah 6:12. And here it is. I should not forget also to observe, that some have called Bethlehem the house of flesh; for Lechem may be so rendered. And if so, the beauty of the expression is doubled. CHRIST calls his body the flesh, which he wilt give for the life of the world. And both John and Paul, use the same. John 1:14; 1 Timothy 3:16. Reader! shall not you, and I, join the disciples' prayer! LORD! evermore give us this bread! 2 Samuel 23:15; Luke 2:4-20; Haggai 2:7-9; Malachi 3:1; John 6:51-57.
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.
I should be led to conceive, that this visit of the Wise Men was not immediately on the birth of Christ, but perhaps a considerable time after. Some have thought nearly two years. For as the flight into Egypt could not have been so immediately on the birth, we may, reasonably infer, that the over-ruling providence of the LORD, did, in this instance, as in that of Moses, conceal the wonderful event to the most suited time for discovery. Exodus 2:2. I mention this the rather, because it is no uncommon thing to behold representations of the virgin, and an infant, in pictures, by way of setting forth the nativity. Alas! how senseless and unbecoming are all such things in relation to the solemn subjects of holy scripture! And how much they degrade what they mean to embellish! - In relation to those wise men, we are wholly at conjecture who they were, or from whence, (more than from the East,) they came. Some have thought that they were men who practiced magic, like Balaam. And it is remarkable, that this man prophesied of a star which should come out of Jacob. Numbers 24:17. And Jesus himself is called the bright, and morning star. Revelation 22:16. But be this as it may, certain it is that an angel from heaven proclaimed to the Jewish shepherds the birth of Christ. And why should it be thought incredible, that the same glorious intelligence was communicated to Gentile philosophers by the ministry of a star? Reader! let us both pause over this account of the wise men. Did they come from the East, over vast regions, to hail the Savior? And shall not we feel constrained to welcome his approach? Did the LORD hang out in the heavens a light so direct to point to Jesus? And shall not you and I hope, that he will send out his light and his truth to guide us unto Jesus? Surely the grace shewn to those Gentiles ought to encourage us!
When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
That Herod should be troubled at this intelligence was natural enough; and from the character which follows in this chapter of this unfeeling man, it is easy enough to discover the cause of his trouble. But that all Jerusalem should be troubled, which one might have thought would have shouted aloud for joy at the account; how strange is this representation. Zechariah 2:10-11. But, Reader! such is the reception Jesus meets with from even his own people, until by his grace and Holy Spirit he shews them who he is, and how much they need him. Read Isaiah 53:1-3; John 1:10-13.
And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.
Herod, it should seem by this question, was no stranger to the prophecies of scripture, and had heard how Israel expected a king, that should arise to deliver them from bondage. And though the children of Israel, no more than Herod, had the most distant idea that this deliverance was of a spiritual nature; yet it proves how general the expectation was at this time of the coming Savior. The dying Jacob had said, that the sceptre should not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until the Shiloh should come. Genesis 49:10. And now the intelligence is brought, and by wise men also, from the East, that the sovereign stranger is arrived. Daniel also had in his day mentioned the time. And from all calculations the time was fulfilled. Daniel 9:24-27. Add to these, Herod knew, that he was by birth an Edomite, and a stranger, and therefore by the laws of Israel could not reign by just right. Deuteronomy 17:15. See Psalms 2:1-6; Acts 4:27-28; John 18:37.
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.
It is very blessed to behold, how the Lord is causing both Jews and Gentiles to minister unto his dear Son. Let the Reader turn to Isa 60, and observe how the Lord declared the Church's glory in CHRIST and compare what is there said with those Eastern sages worshipping Christ; and the Jewish chief priests and scribes bringing forward the prophecies of their scriptures concerning Him, whom afterwards they despised; and what testimonies by the way they become to the truth as it is in Jesus! If the Reader compares the passage from Micah with what is here said by the chief priests and scribes, he will perceive, that the quotation is not correct. But the difference is not great. And let it be remembered that it is not Matthew which quotes the passage from the Prophet, but the chief priests and scribes.
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.
I would beg the Reader to pause over those verses, for several interesting circumstances of improvement arise from them. What an awful picture is here drawn of the human heart, in the character of Herod! He was now an old man; had long reigned; and this young prince just born, supposing all that Herod might suppose of an earthly monarchy could not, in the nature of things, hastily arise to oppose him. And yet with what deep artifice and hypocrisy did he cover over the cruel design he had formed of murdering the newborn stranger. Look at the chief priests and scribes also. Though they saw, as well as Herod, with what earnestness and labor the wise men from the East had come, a vast journey to worship the king of the Jews yet they who were Jews, felt no concern about the glorious area of his birth; though their Prophets had so plainly declared both the place and the time of his coming. The wise men were told where they might find Christ; but none of the priests or scribes, it should seem, went with them to see him. But, Reader! do not fail to remark a circumstance yet more interesting than either; surely, it must have been the Lord, by his providence, over-ruling things, that so Jesus might remain in safety, until a more convenient season for his flight into Egypt should arrive.
When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
It appears that Herod had so disguised his intentions, that the wise men had no consciousness of it. So is it in common life. But the Lord readeth the heart. What a wonderful ministry was this star! Evidently it must have had a particular motion, and different from the ordinary course of the stars. For the star which had been first seen by them in the East, now appeared to them in those Western heavens. And it was not confined to the ministry of the night, for now it appeared by day. And very low it must have shone, for it even pointed to an house; for it went before them until it came and stood over where the young child was! Reader! do not fail to observe the grace of GOD in this providence. He who hung out this star, did not hang it out in vain. The same God who led Israel by the cloud, led those wise men by a star. And while hanging a light without, gave the proper apprehension of the meaning within. And the effect was, as might be supposed, when they saw the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy! And is it not so with his people, whom he guides to JESUS now? The day dawn, and the day star, when first shining in the heart, and pointing to CHRIST, calls forth the anxious enquiry after CHRIST. And when darkness at any time intervenes, how blessed is it again after such obscurity, and doubt, and misgiving, to have new discoveries of Christ; and in so clear and open-a manner, leading to CHRIST, which, like this star, points to his very person, to shew where he is!
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.
I beg the Reader to remark with me, that the Wise Men saw not Joseph. For as Joseph was not the real but only the reputed father, his presence was not necessary; perhaps it might have been improper. But must not the same power which hung out the star, and directed the minds of these men to interpret the meaning of it, have influenced them also to worship CHRIST. For otherwise, how ill did the poverty of Christ's appearance correspond to the greatness of his dignity. It hath been supposed, that the gifts they presented of gold, and frankincense, and myrrh, had some significancy. Perhaps they might. But the Holy Ghost is silent upon this subject. Instead, therefore, of conjecture, I would refer the Reader to those scriptures. Song of Solomon 5:11; Son_1:13; Son_4:14; Psalms 72:10-15; 1 Kings 10:2.
And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
I stay not to enquire further concerning the divine intimation to those men, but just to remark, how the LORD was watching over the whole of this most interesting event, in relation to CHRIST. But we cannot but be led to hope, that these Wise Men, who came so far to worship the LORD JESUS, and were so evidently guided in their enquiry after him, were brought by the same Almighty teaching, into a saving acquaintance with him. The man of Ethiopia, we read of in the after age of the church, was so blessed. Acts 8:27-39. And it is probable, that the Lord had an eye of grace on those men. But it is remarkable, that there is no further account of them in the word of God. Oh! what unknown, unnumbered multitudes from the East and the West, will arise to the triumphs of the Lord JESUS, when he Comes to make up his jewels! Luke 13:29; 2 Thessalonians 1:10.
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.
What an interesting subject the flight of JESUS into Egypt furnisheth! What! must the Son of GOD flee for safety? Yes! What a Sweet lesson then doth it teach his people, in all their exercises. But wherefore Egypt? Here it was the church was first formed into a Church. Exodus 4:22. And here then the Great Head of the Church shall go. The Prophet Hosea ages before had been taught to prophesy to the church, that out of Egypt would God call his Son. Hosea 11:1. Let not the Reader take offence with the carnal world at this humiliation of the SON of GOD. It behoved him in all points to be like unto his brethren. Sweet thought to my poor soul! Revelation 12:4; Isaiah 19:18-25.
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.
It is worthy observation, here all along mention is made of the young child and his mother, without the least intimation of any relationship to Joseph. It appears from the history of those times, that Herod himself survived but a little space CHRIST'S departure into Egypt. What a beautiful observation the Psalmist makes of the shortness and transiency of all such characters For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be; thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be. Psalms 37:10.
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.
Here is opened the mystery of iniquity which lay brooding in the heart of Herod, all the while he put on the apparent regard he proposed to shew to the new born King. But, can the imagination form an idea so horrid, as that of the destruction of such a number of little harmless children, in order to he sure of the One? Alas! what is the human heart, in a state of unrenewed nature! But, Reader, be not offended. Your heart, my heart, every man's heart by nature is the same. And we read this account of Herod to little profit, if we do not see in him the portrait of every son and daughter of Adam, by the fall. For there can be no difference in the same nature, but what sovereign grace hath wrought. What one man's nature hath done, every man's nature is capable of doing; yea, and would do, if the same corresponding causes, temptations, and opportunities, led to it, and grace did not restrain. Oh! who shall calculate, who shall tell, to what a desperate state of wickedness the whole nature of man is fallen, by the original apostasy of our first father? Reader! do you believe this? I do from my very heart. And I bless GOD the HOLY GHOST for the merciful discovery. For never should I have known the want of salvation, neither rightly valued that salvation, but for this divine teaching. Never should I have loved thee, or wouldest thou have been so endeared to my soul, blessed, precious LORD JESUS, as thou now art, had not God the HOLY GHOST, as thou didst promise concerning him, convinced me of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. John 16:8-11; Jeremiah 17:9; 2 Kings 8:11-13.
Concerning the murder of those babes: if the Reader will turn to Jeremiah 31:15-40; he will, I think, behold the sweet consolation that is there pointed out in CHRIST, as the everlasting remedy to this, and all other bereaving providences. And in relation to the infants themselves; they were only removed from the evil to come. Had they lived to old age, they would have lived to have seen the siege and destruction of Jerusalem, which the Lord Jesus so mournfully foretold, Matthew 20:4; Mr 13; Lu 21 when they would have said; blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck. If those sweet babes who died for CHRIST died also in CHRIST were they not such as John heard a voice from heaven concerning, saying, blessed are the dead which die in the LORD, Revelation 14:13. And is it not said, precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. Psalms 116:15. And may we not without violence to the words suppose, that these little ones of CHRIST'S fold, were among that holy army John saw on Mount Zion, when he said, I looked, and lo, a Lamb stood on the Mount Zion, and with him an hundred and forty and four thousand, having his FATHER'S name written in their foreheads. See Revelation 14:1-5. See also 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.
But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt,
Reader! pause over this verse, and contemplate the awful death of this man. Ah Herod! is this the termination of all thy grandeur? Hast thou so shortly after followed thy murdered subjects to the grave? If the Reader would see a striking representation of such an end as this of Herod's, he may find it, Isaiah 14:4-20. I cannot refrain from quoting what Eusebius hath related in his Ecclesiastical History (and which he had from Josephus) concerning the dreadful close of Herod's life. He saith "that a burning fever seized him, with an intolerable itching over his whole body. He was visited with grievous wounds, which putrefied, and bred worms. So that his whole body became so horridly offensive, that none could approach him. And such was his unbounded rage, as to be the dread of every one. Finding death drawing nigh, he attempted to destroy himself, but was prevented. At length he expired in agonies."
It is worthy remark, that three, out of the four Herods we read of in the New Testament were such awful characters. This was the first. The second is but just mentioned by the name of Philip. Mark 6:17. The third was he who caused the beheading of John the Baptist Matthew 14:1-2. And the fourth was eaten by worms before his death. Ac 12. Reader! doth the LORD manifest to his dear children in poor circumstances, his contempt of riches, by bestowing them so often upon the most worthless of men? Oh! for grace to bless him for a sanctified use of humble poverty. 1 Corinthians 1:26-27.
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.
The most interesting of all subjects, is to eye CHRIST as the Great Nazarene. Few have ever considered the importance of the name; and yet there is none by which the Lord JESUS is distinguished in his holy scriptures more personally directed by way of emphasis, than this. For my part, so very highly significant is it in my view, that I venture to believe that all we read of in the word of God of the Nazarites, and the particularity of their order, had no one object whatever, but to point to CHRIST and He, and he alone, is the One, and only One Nazarite to GOD. If the Reader will first turn to the following scriptures, and carefully read them, I will venture to offer him my view upon the subject. Numbers 6:2-21; Judges 13:5-25; Lamentations 4:7; Amos 2:11-12.
The name of Nazarite, is evidently taken from Netzar the branch and this is well known to be the name of the Lord Jesus CHRIST. The Patriarch Jacob had pointed to CHRIST, in that prophecy concerning Joseph the Nazarite: He separated from his brethren Genesis 49:26. So that the whole concerning the law of separation had a direct reference to Jesus. In Christ therefore, being called Jesus of Nazareth, this must have been wholly upon this account: for CHRIST was born in Bethlehem, and not in Nazareth. And it should seem to have been nothing less than the overruling power of GOD, which could have so universally procured this name to CHRIST, when there were no causes but the LORD JESUS dwelling there which could have led to the idea. I have in my Poor Man's Concordance more fully dwelt upon this subject; so that I shall not in this place enlarge. I will only beg before I dismiss it to observe, that this name was made use of in a manner, and way particularly striking. The Devils used it. Mark 1:24. The Apostles used it while JESUS was upon earth. John 1:45. And again after our LORD'S resurrection. Acts 2:29; Act_4:10. The band of armed men which came to apprehend Christ used it. John 18:5. Pilate used it in his inscription on the cross. John 19:19. The servant maid at the hall of Pilate used it. Matthew 26:71. The Angels at the tomb used it. Mark 16:6. Yea the LORD himself from heaven used it. Acts 22:8. And if all these were intended (as I venture to believe they were) purposely to point to CHRIST as the true Nazarite to GOD, yea the only One; surely there is much blessedness in the view; and we see sufficient cause wherefore it was that JESUS came and dwelt in the city of Nazareth that he might be called a Nazarene.
READER! let you and I ponder well the sweet and interesting record here given of the birth of CHRIST. If angels, who needed no redemption, praised God at his birth, with what holy rapture and joy ought our songs to go forth in thanksgivings for the same. Behold! with what unequalled humbleness the SON of GOD, as man, when he came and tabernacled in our flesh, manifested himself to the church. But behold! how GOD the FATHER honoured his nativity, in not only sending wise men from the east to worship him, but in causing a star to point to the SAVIOUR. Was not this indeed sweetly fulfilling that blessed scripture; the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. But did the Lord God, in order that his blessed SON should be known, grant such a starry influence to the wise men ; and will he withhold the light of his grace from the hearts of his people? Will he not reveal CHRIST in all his glory, and suitableness, and all sufficiency, that, like them, we may fall down and worship him, and present him more than gold, and frankincense, and myrrh, even those graces of his Holy Spirit which are his own?
And was it needful that the Lord of life and glory should go down into Egypt, that what the Prophet had said of calling God's dear SON out of Egypt might be fulfilled? Surely then, LORD, it must be needful to call all thy sons from the Egypt of this world; for all by nature are in that house of bondage, before that an act of sovereign grace hath called them out. Was JESUS, the holy, harmless, undefiled Lord Jesus, here also, as in a thousand other instances, the forerunner and glorious Head of his redeemed? Oh for grace to follow the LAMB whithersoever he goeth
But Oh! thou true and only real Nazarite of GOD! Precious Jesus, thou art indeed the Branch, the Plant of Renown, the Spiritual Joseph of thy people, whose branches ran over the wall. Blessings be on the Head of Him, and on the Crown of the Head of Him that was the Netzar, the Separate, from thy brethren! Methinks I hear my LORD again say, as he did once in the days of his flesh: for their sakes I sanctify myself! Ever precious; and dear name, JESUS CHRIST of Nazareth! Thou art thy church's Nazarene!
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Matthew 2". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany