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Saturday, June 15th, 2024
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
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Bible Commentaries
Luke 2

Watson's Exposition on Matthew, Mark, Luke & RomansWatson's Expositions

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Introduction

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

1 Augustus taxeth all the Roman empire.

6 The nativity of Christ.

8 One angel relateth it to the shepherds:

13 many sing praises to God for

2 : 21 Christ is circumcised,

22 Mary purified.

28 Simeon and Anna prophesy of Christ:

40 who increaseth in wisdom,

46 questioneth in the temple with the doctors,

51 and is obedient to his parents.

Verse 1

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

In those days. — A little after the birth, of John, and just before the birth of our Lord.

All the world. — Πασαν την οικουμενην properly signifies the habitable earth, but was frequently used of the Roman empire. Its meaning here cannot be extended beyond this; and many confine it to Judea, in the sense of country or region. Prideaux, Wall, Archbishop Newcome, and others think that the enrolment extended throughout the whole Roman empire; “that Augustus had three of these enrolments during his reign; and that this mentioned by Luke was the middle one, in the consulship of C. Marcius Censorinus, and C. Asinius Gallus, about three years before the birth of Christ, the enrolment having occupied three years before it extended to Judea, a remote province of the empire.” Lardner, however, thinks that the census mentioned by St. Luke was only of the dominions of Herod, king of Judea, with whom Augustus was at that time offended, and so proceeded to treat him as a subject, and his dominions as a province by enrolment, in order to the imposition of a poll tax. That an oath of fidelity to Cesar was about this time exacted from the whole Jewish nation, appears from Josephus, which was no doubt connected with this enrolment, in which also the return of persons, ages, and property was made upon oath. Nothing can be more strikingly in proof that the sceptre was departing from Judah, and the sovereignty of Herod was rather nominal than real. Julian the apostate objected to Christ’s claim, that he was by virtue of this very enrolment born one of Cesar’s subjects; not knowing how truly this illustrated the ancient prophecy of Jacob, that his birth and the departing of the sceptre from Judah should be coincident.

Should be taxed. — Απογραφεσθαι rather signifies “to be enrolled with reference to being taxed.” In fact, the levying of the tax did not take place until some years afterward; Herod, according to Josephus, having found means to set himself right with Augustus. Still the enrolment being made and the lists preserved to be acted upon at pleasure, was a sufficient proof of the subjection of Herod and his dominions to the power of Rome.

Verse 2

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And this taxing was first made, &c. — A great difficulty has here exercised the skill of commentators: the passage as it stands in our translation makes the tax or enrolment take place when Cyrenius was governor of Syria, which was not till some years after the birth of Christ. Archbishop Newcome translates with Lardner, “This was the first enrolment of Cyrenius, afterward governor of Syria;” which, by making the phrase, “governor of Syria,” merely an epithet, to distinguish this Cyrenius from others of the same name, entirely obviates the difficulty. But it is better to render this parenthesis as Campbell, “This first register took effect when Cyrenius was president of Syria.” The enrolment was made in Herod’s time, but was not followed up, through the policy of Herod; but when, after the deposition and banishment of Archelaus, Judea was annexed to Syria, and converted into a province, Cyrenius had only to refer to the former census for his guidance in levying the capitation tax. Of the levying of taxes upon the Jews by this Cyrenius, Josephus takes express notice. Paley argues that the word πρωτη , first, in the text, demonstrates that St. Luke had more than one census in contemplation. Cyrenius therefore had made two; and, it is highly probable, one before he came to his is government, which corresponds with the time of Christ’s birth. His title of governor of Syria is mentioned, though he became such after the event.

Verse 3

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Every one into his own city. — Grotius explains ιδιαν πολιν , “the city which formerly belonged to their family.” Le Clerc brings an instance from Livy where the consul orders the citizens of the allied cities admitted to the freedom of Rome, to withdraw from Rome to be taxed in their own cities.

Verse 4

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

House and lineage. — The lineage, πατρια , has a stricter, sense than οικος , the former signifying the family or direct line of descent.

Verse 5

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

To be taxed with Mary. — These words indicate that Mary was enrolled as well as Joseph; which will prove her an heiress, however small might be her portion: otherwise she was under no necessity of going to Bethlehem; nor but for this probably would, in her circumstances, have taken so long and troublesome a journey. If, however, she were an heiress that will be an additional proof that she was of the same tribe, since she could not marry out of it.

Verse 7

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

In a manger. — Horses in the east do not eat out of mangers, but hair-cloths; but if this were not a sufficient objection to this rendering, it is plain that the φατνη , where the child was laid, was the place where the mother also was accommodated, and a place inferior to the inn, in which there was no room for them. The opinion of the fathers, and tradition, makes this place subterranean; a cave in a rock, which indeed it might be, and yet be a stable; for these natural stables, affording shelter to men and their cattle, were sufficiently common in Palestine. That there were inns or houses for public accommodation of travellers, distinct from what are now called in the east caravansaries, which are designed for the reception of whole caravans, appears from the parable of the good Samaritan. That is called πανδοκειον , and this καταλυμα , which, as taken from the loosing of the girdles and sandals of the guests, and the packages of their beasts, could not greatly differ. There appears to have been but one such place as Bethlehem, which was a reduced town; and at this time of public concourse it was crowded. The φατνη was probably the stable of this inn, the place where the cattle of travellers were separately accommodated; and it might be either an enclosed court, or a collection of caves or stalls in the rock, according to tradition. That it was not a manger derives confirmation from the angel giving it as a sign to the shepherds, that they should find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying εν τη φατνη . Now of mangers, if they were used at all for cattle, there must have been many at Bethlehem; but as there was there but one inn, there would be but one stabulum, or φατνη , connected with it, and so it would easily be found. There was also but one babe in this inhospitable place of accommodation, and that was Christ the Lord! It was not indeed poverty which drove the holy family into this stable, but the circumstance that the inn was full of guests; yet was this also ordered by a higher power, that the entrance of the incarnate Saviour into our world should be one of marked humiliation, that he might so begin his course as to show, says one, “the vanity of earthly distinctions, and to consecrate suffering.”

Verse 8

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Shepherds abiding in the field, &c. — Here again the pride of man was trampled upon, and the heavenly host sent to announce the fact, neither to the crowd at Bethlehem, nor to the select, opulent, and influential few who might be collected there by the enrolment, nor to the officers of Cesar who conducted the census, but to shepherds in the solitude of the fields.

The country about Bethlehem was famous for pasturage; there David had kept his father’s flock, and from its “sheep folds” was he called to be king over Israel. Of their cattle, the Jewish writers observe that those which lie out in the pastures, “the cattle of the wilderness,” do so “all the days of cold and heat, and do not go into the cities, until the rains descend.” So that they were sent into the open field about the passover, and were kept there till the first rains, which fell in the early part of our November. From this it has been plausibly concluded that our Lord was born not earlier than March, nor later than the beginning of November; for these shepherds were probably not nomadic tribes like the Arabs, who remained out all the year. The precise month is not, however, to be determined; but if any importance had been attached under the Christian dispensation to the anniversary celebration of the events, the times of their occurrence would have been as accurately marked in the New Testament as in the Old. Neither the day nor the month of the birth of Christ can be fixed with any certainty.

Keeping watch over their flock. — Literally, “watching the watches of the night over their flock.” The night was divided into four watches of three hours, or sometimes into three of four hours long. The shepherds probably relieved each other at the watches, and thus a part of them watched through the watches of the night. This was necessary to prevent the flock from being scattered, and to guard it against robbers and beasts of prey.

Verse 9

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Angel of the Lord came upon them, &c. — This celestial messenger appeared suddenly and at once, as the word imports, and was made visible, no doubt, by that glory of the Lord which shone round about them. By “the glory of the Lord” some understand a very splendid glory, as goodly cedars are called “cedars of the Lord;” but it is more analogous to many Scripture facts, as well as more accordant with Scripture language to consider this glory a streaming forth from the Divine shechinah, the light in which the special presence of God has ever been enshrined; in which it appears to dwell in the heaven of heavens; and by which God was so often manifested on earth.

And they were sore afraid. — Literally, they feared a great fear. See note on Matthew 2:10.

Verse 10

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Behold, I bring you, &c. — Every thing in the angel’s message is emphatic. The address, Behold! There had been a wonderful celestial manifestation, awakening the astonishment of the shepherds; yet they are still called to behold, to pay attention to something beyond this glorious scene, and to which it was only subservient. The message of the angel is called a happy enunciation, an evangelizing, or proclaiming of good news a great joy, χαραν μεγαλην , χαρα being put for the subject of joy; and this great subject of rejoicing was to be to all people. Thus the message is announced generally, and its import is not diminished when it becomes particular. For unto you, for your benefit, is born this day — so that you have no longer to wait for the Christ, who is already born — in the city of David, as being the son of David, a Saviour who is, not an inferior judge, prophet, or king, such as your history has recorded, but CHRIST the Messiah, himself THE LORD, the supreme and almighty Lord of all. For in no lower sense, as it is here used emphatically and distinctly, can the term Lord, κυριος , be used, than as it corresponds with JEHOVAH. An exact parallel is presented in Hosea 1:7: “I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and will save them by the Lord (Jehovah) their God.” Such a salvation indeed as the Gospel everywhere describes, — which is the deliverance of the SOULS of men from guilt and vice of every kind, their restoration to the favour of God, and to his moral image, the rescue of their BODIES from the power of death, and their recovery to immortal life, and the glorification and eternal beatification of their whole person in the very presence of God, necessarily implies the Divinity of the Redeemer. He who THUS saves, must be “the God of salvation,” and the object of absolute trust on account both of his unlimited power, and his boundless goodness.

Verse 13

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And suddenly there was with the angel, &c. — An appropriate accompaniment to such a message: not one angel, but a multitude of the heavenly host now become visible, and break the silence of night by a song of celestial praise. The subject of this song is, in fact, a characteristic description of that new dispensation which the Messiah was to introduce: it illustrates the glory of God, establishes peace upon earth, opens the benevolence of God to men; and for all these things the heavenly host praise God. Their own knowledge of God was enlarged and heightened; the plans of the Divine government, in connection with redemption, which had engaged their attention and interest, opened before them in new and richer scenes, throwing equal light upon the past and the future; their interest in a race of intelligent and immortal beings, like themselves, was gratified by the grand ministry of peace and reconciliation, which was now about to be commenced by the Divine Teacher himself; and the manifestation of the source of Divine good will to men, without exception — the Gentile nations as well as the Jews, opened prospects of the recovery and advancement of the world, on which benevolent and holy natures like theirs could not dwell without supreme delight, nor without referring the whole, in transports of praise, to their great Author.

The critical attempts which have been made to bring this doxology into two members instead of three, or at least to prove that it can have but two parts in sense, though three in form, has arisen chiefly from taking peace on earth and goodwill toward men, to express nearly the same meaning, and so to imply a tautology not to be looked for in such a composition; though some stress is also laid upon the absence of και before the last clause. The latter reason has no weight when the abrupt form of expression, which strong emotion usually adopts, is considered; and as to the former, the sense is sufficiently distinct to warrant a distinct recognition of each. Peace on earth expresses, no doubt, the first great result of the Gospel, the reconciliation of man to God, which was to be effected by Christ, and the effecting of which, in a manner that should consist with the glory of God, and manifest it in the loftier views it should give of all his perfections, constitutes the grand peculiarity of the Gospel, and could not be overlooked in this DESCRIPTIVE song of the angels. But good will to men is the effect of this reconciliation. All the kind purposes and benevolent intentions of God toward the world take their rise from “the reconciliation for sin” made by the Messiah; and when individual man is actually reconciled through him to God, then the good will, the benevolence of God, is open toward him in its fulness, in time and in eternity. Man, once under wrath, stands to God only in a relation of friendship, and shall be its object for ever. There is here, therefore, no tautology, but an enunciation of distinct truths, each of the highest importance, and all redounding to the glory of God in the highest heavens.

Verse 15

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

The shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, &c. — Literally, “the men, the shepherds,” a Hebrew pleonasm.

Verse 19

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Kept all these things, and pondered, &c. — The shepherds related what they had seen and heard, with the confirmatory sign, their finding the child in the place pointed out by the angel; and all who heard wondered. But Mary kept and pondered these things: she had a key to their import and meaning which others had not; and she preserved every event in memory, and revolved it, or weighed its import, in her mind, by remarking its connection with the great event which had taken place, and the intimations which the angel had given of the character and work of the great Deliverer; and thus she saw the Divine plans opening before her, though not without mysterious, and probably for a time, to her, inexplicable occurrences, which threw her back upon those deep musings which appear to have characterized her, and no doubt often painfully tried her faith. These exercises, of which she perhaps had a larger share than any mortal, were but now commencing.

Verse 21

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Eight days were accomplished, &c. — This is according to the Jewish mode of speaking of time, and signifies when the eighth day was come. Our Lord being made “under the law,” was circumcised; for, as a descendant of Abraham according to the flesh, he was as a man bound to observe all the religious institutions which had been enjoined. Circumcision was a token of his descent from Abraham; and through it he could claim all his privileges as a Jew, which without it he could not have done. — He could not, for instance, have entered the temple.

Verse 22

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Days of her purification. — A woman after bearing a male child could not go into the sanctuary until the fortieth day, The first-born son was presented in the temple, and this in Mary’s case was done at the same time. The first-born belonged to God, and were presented to the priest as his representative at the eastern gate. Here Mary appeared, and for the first time “the Lord came to his temple,” though in the form of a helpless infant. The sacrifice offered on these occasions was a lamb of the first year for a burnt-offering, and a young pigeon or a turtle dove for a sin-offering; but among the poorer sort of people a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons sufficed. This is so expressly put in the law, Leviticus 12:6-8, upon the ground of the woman “not being able to bring a lamb,” that the fact is conclusive, as to the humble circumstances of Mary and Joseph. It indicates too that the presentation in the temple took place before the visit of the magi, and the enriching of the holy family with the presents brought by them, and which Providence designed to be their supply for their journey into Egypt.

Verses 25-26

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Simeon. — Some have thought him “Simeon the just,” president of the sanhedrim, and father of Gamaliel, but upon insufficient evidence, or rather upon unsatisfactory conjecture. Whatever he was, the moral greatness of his character is strongly marked. He was just in regard to his conduct and observance of the law; devout, ευλαβης , one who had great reverence for God, expressed, no doubt, in acts of habitual prayer and praise. His devotion was not, therefore, that of the formal Pharisees, but was the result of reverential affections to the Divine majesty, a sentiment composed of AWE and LOVE, blended with and controlling each other. Still farther, he waited for the consolation of Israel, that is, the Messiah; for with the Jews this was one of his titles. “May I never see the consolation,” is one form of an oath among them. But when it is said that Simeon waited for the consolation, as of other pious persons of the same time, that they waited for redemption, another name of the Messiah, the meaning must be emphatic. They waited in some peculiar sense; for the whole nation of the Jews waited for Messiah’s advent, and prayed for it.

We may therefore conclude that as these eminently spiritual persons among the Jews had better views of the nature and office of the Messiah, in consequence of their spirituality of mind, so they waited in another manner, not with the impatient longing of a people expecting to be led on to victory and conquest, but with earnest desires to be partakers of that personal and spiritual redemption which the Messiah was to accomplish for his people. Of this class was Simeon; but the Holy Ghost also was upon him, not in an ordinary way, as upon all good men, but in the spirit of prophecy. For this spirit had been restored, after having ceased from the time of Malachi about the birth of our Lord, and in evident connection with that event. It fell upon Zacharias, Elisabeth, Mary; and had rested for some time upon Simeon, to whom it had been revealed, that he should not see death until he had seen the Lord’s Christ. “The Lord’s Christ,” or Jehovah’s Messiah, is a phrase found in the Targum. Thus, on Isaiah 4:2, “In that time Jehovah’s Messiah shall be for joy and glory.”

Verse 27

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

By the Spirit, &c. — Under the impulse and incitement of the Holy Ghost, at the time of Christ’s presentation, and the payment of the redemption money for him as the first-born, which is called doing for him according to the custom of the law. The end was, that Simeon, who was an inhabitant of Jerusalem, and probably known there as a man endued with the prophetic spirit, — a circumstance itself which would excite attention, especially as he seems to have publicly declared that, though an aged man he should not die before he had seen the Christ, — might give a testimony to him under the influence of inspiration, expressing itself in that prophetic and elevated song which he then poured forth.

Verse 29

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Depart in peace, &c. — The expression is exceedingly beautiful and affecting. Απολυειν is to loose, to let go, after a previous detention, from country, home, or any other desirable and longed-for place. The aged saint had been detained from that heavenly rest for which he had sighed but for the joyful purpose of beholding with his eyes what so many “kings and righteous men had desired to see, and were not able,” — the Christ in the flesh, No sooner then does he see the child than, in a rapture of joy, he takes him in his arms, blesses God, and welcomes so gracious a token of dismissal to the kingdom of his Father. He had nothing greater to see on earth; the salvation of God was manifested; and he now hastens to heaven to watch the scene, and enjoy the glorious benefits of this stupendous incarnation of the Son of God. Salvation is one of the names of Messiah Genesis 49:18; Isaiah 49:6; and he is so called as the Author of that deliverance of man from guilt, sin, and death, of which all the instances of the salvation of the Jews from temporal calamities were but the feeble types.

Verses 31-32

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Prepared before the face. — This preparation, ordination, or arrangement, expresses the perfection of the Divine plan; complete in all its parts and provisions, and ready, upon the fulness of every time and season arriving, to display itself, and come into efficient operation. Before the face of all people, denotes the publicity which was now to be given to this prepared, arranged system of salvation; and the event issued, according to the prophecy, — the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Saviour; his worship and honour, his Church and people, his Gospel and its ministry, the facts, doctrines, hopes, sanctions, and institutions of his religion, are all before the world; not confined to the Jews, but spread publicly before the face of all mankind, that they may be known, and reverenced, and embraced. — Hence it is added, a Light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. Christ, before called the Salvation, is now called a Light, with reference to Isaiah 49:6, “I will give thee for a Light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation to the end of the earth.” Some take the words of the evangelist to be transposed for φως εθνων εις αποκαλυψιν , a Light of the Gentiles for revelation, which does not affect the sense: a light is the emblem of an instructer; and the effect of teaching is to enlighten or make a revelation of truth to the minds of men.

Verse 34

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Set for the fall and rising, again, &c. — It has been taken for granted, without, however, any just ground, that the allusion is here to “the stone of stumbling and rock of offence,” mentioned by the prophets. But this only perplexes the meaning of a very plain passage. Christ was set, appointed, by the Divine wisdom, in such a way that none but the humble and penitent should be benefited by his mission, and that the proud and worldly should have their condemnation increased by it, through no fatality or predestination, but through their own fault and folly, turning that unto “death,” which was “ordained for life.” Many in Israel, therefore, rejecting his holy doctrines, and despising the mere spiritualities which he offered to them, fell into the guilt of rejecting and crucifying the Son of God, for which “wrath came upon them to the uttermost.” On the other hand many rose. Our translation, rising again, would intimate that the same persons who fell, afterward rose, which was not certainly the fact; but αναστασις , often signifies a rising up, without the idea of reiteration. True faith in Christ raises man up from the degradation of sin, and that prostrate, spurned, and incurable condition to which he is reduced by his fallen nature and his vicious habits, into the favour and image of God, the dignity of communion with him, and the lofty hopes of immortality and eternal life. Every Jew, when Christ came, had the alternative placed before him, to fall by unbelief, or to rise by faith; and wherever Christ is preached, the same result follows, as to every individual, Let no one suppose that he can reject the Gospel through positive infidelity, or neglect it through indifference and remain irresponsible. Nor let him assume, even, that all that can follow is the loss of some good which might otherwise have been secured. A positive offence is committed in either case against the majesty, the authority, and the mercy of God; an offence to be signally punished, not by the loss of good merely, but by the infliction of evil. He that will not rise, through the appointed Redeemer, must fall beneath the stroke of his vengeance as Judge, — a fall of which the terrible disasters brought upon the Jewish nation were but the faint types, however terrible.

For a sign which shall be spoken against. — The metaphor supposed to be implied here, “a butt or mark to be shot at,” is fanciful. — The publicity of Christ’s character, his claims as God manifest in the flesh, and the public exhibition of his cross, as the only ground for man to hope for salvation, with the array of public miracles which attested the whole, appear to be comprehended in the term sign, — a public representation of something remarkable and striking. And this, says Simeon, is, or shall be, a sign spoken against, or contradicted, and even blasphemed, as it has been in all ages by Jews, Mohammedans, and infidels; and too often, in its more spiritual manifestations, by formalists and hypocrites, professing a religion which they do not understand, and which, if they did, they would contradict and hate, as, in fact, they do when it is presented to them in its true forms of power and purity.

Verse 35

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

A sword shall pierce, &c. — Words which predicted the poignant, agonized feelings of the mother when she heard the “contradiction of sinners” against her immaculate Son, saw him hung, and heard him taunted, upon the cross. Wounds of the mind are often said, in all languages, to be inflicted by “arrows” and “swords.” — This clause, being addressed to Mary particularly, seems rightly regarded as a parenthesis: and what follows, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed, is connected with the rejecting of, and speaking against Christ, before mentioned. Grotius understands the thoughts to mean the real disposition, which is indeed true; but διαλογισμοι signifies the thoughts (so to speak) in action, in a state of disputing, reasoning, and forming different conclusions. Nor has any thing ever opened the moral state of the heart of men, thrown such light upon the actuating principles of human nature, and brought every part of the character of men of all ranks under such searching and demonstrative views, as Christ and his holy Gospel.

The rejection of its truth because of its purity; of its love, because of the confession of our helplessness and unworthiness which it supposes; of its true worship, because of its spirituality; and the hatred it has brought upon its meek and benevolent followers, in all ages, for their very devotedness to Christ, and their zeal for the salvation of others; are all such manifestations of the dislike of man to light and conviction, his pride, his carnality, his haughty enmity to holiness and holy men, his very hatred of God as the world had never witnessed before. The fact of the persecution of this Divine religion of Christ, in his followers, and the habitual hatred of THE WORLD to his true DISCIPLES, whether that world has worn a Pagan or a Christian garb, are all circumstances which have revealed the thoughts of many hearts, and poured a flood of light upon the fallen state of human nature.

Verses 36-37

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Anna, a prophetess. — Anna, the same as Hannah, signifies grace or gracious. She is called a prophetess either with regard to the spirit of prophecy falling upon her at this time; or, like Simeon, she was an instance of its restoration to the Jewish Church, a little before the birth of Christ, but in exclusive reference, as it seems from all the instances, to that event. This aged woman had given up herself entirely to devotional exercises, being no doubt, exempted by her circumstances from any other employment. She therefore departed not from the temple, but was present there at all the stated services; for this is obviously the meaning of departing not from the temple, and of “dwelling in the courts of the Lord’s house for ever,” the wish of David; not that she was always in the temple, but at the morning and evening service, to which she might add some of those occasional ones which were often occurring, as in the case of the presentation of our Lord, during which service she came in. To this she added fastings and prayers night and day. These prayers were her private closet devotions; for at night she would have no access to the temple.

Verse 38

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Gave thanks. — In an inspired, prophetic composition, for the birth and sight of Messiah, whom she recognized by prophetic impulse, or was present while Simeon recognized him, and took him in his arms. Her song of praise is not recorded, as being perhaps an echo of Simeon’s. And she spoke of him no doubt in the same inspired strains to all that looked for redemption in Jerusalem, that is, for the Redeemer, but with reference, not to Jewish worldly views, but to the redemption which he was to effect. We thus learn that there was a pious remnant in Jerusalem, looking out with desire and confidence for the advent of the great salvation of God, the Redeemer promised in all their sacred books; and to these Anna appears to have paid a joyful visit, acquainting them with what she had seen and heard in the temple. It is interesting to observe that these pious people appear to have had mutual knowledge and pious intercourse with each other. They formed at that time the true spiritual Church, within the nominal fallen Church, of Jerusalem. And we may gather that this number of Spiritual persons was not large; although a great deterioration of the Jewish Church, both in doctrine and in manners, appears to have taken place during the thirty years which elapsed between this event and the entrance of our Lord upon his public ministry.

Verse 40

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And the child grew, &c. — Of John it was also said that he grew and waxed strong in spirit; but of our Lord it is added, filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him. Some commentators refer the last clause to the beauty of his form. So Campbell, “adorned with a Divine gracefulness;” and Wetstein before him: “Ea erat venustas, et dignitas formæ in puero, ut omnes intelligerent a Deo ita ornatum esse.” But the expression is not grace simply, which has a large signification; but the grace of God was upon him, which cannot be understood of a corporeal endowment, but of the special favour of God, and all the moral consequences which result from it. Besides, from the total silence of the gospels on the subject, it would not seem that, when Christ had entered upon his ministry, his personal appearance exhibited, any thing remarkable. Under strong excitement it probably did, as when he drove the traders out of the temple: and when unbending himself in more familiar intercourse with his beloved disciples, what we call expression, but which differs from form, was in him, no doubt, like himself, peculiar, and in its effect most influential. But generally he appeared on a level with the common order of men; and if so when grown up and in his ministry, there seems no reason to assume that he should, as to aspect and manner, be endowed in infancy and youth with a distinguishing gracefulness and elegance. The words of the text are infinitely more important, as they prove that from infancy the Holy Spirit was the tutor of the human mind of Christ; that he endowed it with his own gifts; filled it with wisdom, not at once, — for “he grew in wisdom” as well as “stature,” — but as the strength and capacity of the faculties of the human mind, subject, no doubt, as ours, to the control and limitation of the progressive growth and vigour of the body, admitted; suggested the subjects of his holy musings; fixed the strong and infallible principles of all truth in his judgment; and carried them into exact application in his meditations, as fit subjects were presented to him; enriched his imagination with imagery the most appropriate as the dress of truth; gave the purest taste; and kindled in equal proportion with all these lights of the intellect the fire of the affections; and thus rendered THE MAN, when mature, fully fitted for that perfect but mysterious intercourse with the DIVINITY within, which existed in a degree from the first; but which was probably established in all its FULNESS when the Holy Spirit completed his work as to the human nature, and at his baptism “descended and rested upon him,” in that plenitude which is described to be “without measure.”

Verse 42

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Twelve years old. — The males were obliged to go up to Jerusalem at the three great feasts, the passover, pentecost, and the tabernacles. That it is stated to be the custom of Joseph and Mary to go to Jerusalem every year to the passover might seem to be superfluous; but as women only went up at the feast of the passover, and that as to them was purely voluntary, as the Jewish writers expressly inform us, the practice of Mary in going up at this feast regularly with Joseph is probably mentioned as a proof of her piety; and also to mark the feast, of which mention is about to be made, to be the passover, since Mary was present at it. The male children did not come fully under “the yoke of the law,” as to fasting and other religious exercises, and attendance at the feasts, until thirteen years of age. Hence it is said in Zohar, “He that is worthy at thirteen years of age is called a son of the congregation of Israel.” But the Jews laudably began at a much earlier period to accustom their children to religious observances; they made them fast at as early an age as they could bear it, until at twelve years they could fast a whole day; and they took their young children with them to the synagogues, “that they might be ready in the commandments.” That our Lord was taken to the feast of the passover a year before he was legally obliged to be present, was an indication of the piety of the parents, and of his own respect for the public institutions of religion.

Verse 43

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Fulfilled the days. — The seven days of unleavened bread; so that they remained throughout the whole duration of the feast, which they were not bound to do.

Knew not of it. — The custom was to travel in companies; relations, neighbours, and townspeople, choosing to consort together for protection and convenience. In this way they travelled a day’s journey from Jerusalem; and as the δυνοδια , or caravan, was large, and they had many “kinsfolk and acquaintance in it,” they were under no alarm at the absence of their son, till the day’s journey was completed, and the family groups would be collected for the evening meal.

Verses 46-47

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

After three days they found him. — This, according to the Jewish mode of reckoning time, is equivalent to, on the third day. They had journeyed one day from Jerusalem, on the second they travelled back, and on the third they found him.

In the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors. — The temple includes its courts, which were collectively so called. Here were the sanhedrim, which consisted of seventy-two members with the nasi or president at their head, and the Father of the court, Ab-beth-din, on his right hand. This sat in the room Gazith. Then there was the lesser council of twenty-three judges, which sat in the gate of the court of Israel; and another council which sat in the gate of the court of the Gentiles. There was also a synagogue in the temple called the great synagogue, to which several celebrated doctors were attached. Lightfoot has adduced examples to show that it was permitted and customary in any of these assemblies of doctors, of learned scribes and rabbins, to propose questions concerning the law. These courts were also open, and there was generally a full audience of the people. Those who questioned, and those who answered, did it before the public. The doctors of this time at Jerusalem were of great celebrity. There was Hillel, and Shammai; one the president, the other the vice-president of the sanhedrim, who had each authority enough to divide the whole body of the learned into two schools on the interpretation of the law of divorce. Simeon, the son of Hillel, was also a distinguished man; and Jonathan Ben Uzziel, the author of the Chaldee paraphrase; and several others, noted in the subsequent writings of the Jews as among their wisest and greatest authorities. The sanhedrim sat in a semicircle; and before them sat the disciples of the wise men in rows. But our Lord was found sitting in the midst of the doctors; having, probably, through admiration of the wisdom he had shown in the commencement of the conversation, been called up and placed there as a mark of honour.

Hearing them, and asking questions. — They were employed in controversies and determinations, during which the disciples of the rabbins were permitted to ask questions to gain information. It would seem also that this was allowed to any one, as our Lord was not the scholar of any rabbi; and indeed the Jewish doctors were pleased to be interrogated, and placed their fame upon the readiness and skill with which they answered questions. They also often chose to communicate knowledge by asking questions of their disciples, thereby suggesting trains of thought, calling their powers into exercise, and taking occasion from their replies to form other questions to lead at length to the right conclusion. Our Lord heard the debates and the divisions of the doctors, probably the questions of some of their disciples, and the answers given. He also put in his questions, was answered, and was himself questioned; so that the attention of all was strongly fixed upon him; and all that heard him were astonished at his understanding in the law, and the Scriptures in general, and at his answers, those which he gave to the questions proposed to him. The common notion of his disputing in the temple with the doctors, is unwarranted by the history. Nothing strictly controversial seems to have arisen; but the subjects were such as to unfold so much of that “wisdom with which he was filled,” such deep and comprehensive views of sacred subjects, as at once astonished the assembly and engaged their good will.

Verse 48

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

They were amazed, &c. — Campbell’s attempt to connect this with the foregoing, and thus transfer the amazement from the parents to the auditors, is ingenious, but not solid. His parents were not amazed at his wisdom, like the rest, because they knew it; but at finding him, not only among the auditors of Jewish doctors in the sanhedrim, but placed honourably in the midst of them, and exciting their admiration by his answers.

Thy father and I. — So she calls Joseph, as being his father by marriage and adoption, and so popularly called, as with us. Still more emphatically so among the Jews, whose maxim was, “Not he that begets, but he that brings up, is the father.” So great a stress did they lay on education.

Verses 49-52

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

How is it that ye sought me? — A mild reproof for their too great anxiety, since, knowing who he was, they might have been persuaded of his safety. — This was, however, the predominance of natural affection, not of doubt. Wist ye not, knew ye not, ye ought to have considered, that I came into the world to accomplish the special will and great designs of God, in human redemption. Of this, intimation had been given them in the angelic visions they had had before his birth, and in the import of the name Jesus, a Saviour, which, by Divine command, as a DESCRIPTIVE name, they had given him. Thus he intimated to them that they ought to have stood prepared for his acting in reference to the accomplishment of that will, and not to be surprised if his conduct should appear extraordinary. That I must be about my Father’s business. The sentence is elliptical, εν τοις του πατρος μου . The Syriac version has, “in my Father’s house;” and in this sense the words are taken by several of the fathers. Examples also of the same form appear in Esther 7:9, εν τοις Αμαν , in the house of Haman; and in Josephus, εν τοις Καισαιρες , in Cesar’s house. But the objection to this interpretation is, that it gives no reason why his parents ought not to have sought him sorrowing, or the very insufficient and improbable one that they had no need to have sought him elsewhere than in the temple, where they ought to have concluded he would be, as the house of his Father.

Our translators therefore have supposed the ellipsis to be supplied with παραγμασι , and properly render it about my Father’s business; and unquestionably the phrase ειναι εν τινι signifies to be engaged in any occupation, and that both in classical and Hellenistic writers, of which Philo and the LXX. furnish examples. And thus the reason given is apt and convincing: it became him to prefer doing the will of God to all other considerations. That his parents understood not the saying, intimates that they did not understand its full import; they saw not how this circumstance was a performing of his Father’s business, or what was its precise connection with the great end of his coming into the world. But Mary kept all these sayings in her heart; and to her at length was given the joyful satisfaction of being able fully to comprehend the deepest meaning of every thing he had said, although for a long time veiled in mystery, by comparing his remembered sayings, first with that course of remarkable events which in a few years were constantly opening to her observation, and then with the whole grand series, including the resurrection and ascension. To us, indeed, also the import of this saying is largely laid open. To be sowing the seeds of heavenly wisdom in the Jewish council, and in the disciples of the doctors who were present, and in the hearts of the wondering hearers, — who would be the more attracted to the truth which was uttered, through the youth of him that so gravely, yet modestly, declared it, — agreed with, and indeed explained, the spirituality of his mission. This was to be about his Father’s business, teaching the ignorant, correcting the erring, and confirming truth where it was already apprehended. We also see, through the interesting opening which this account makes into the history of his youth, how perfect a unity and consistency runs through the whole life of the blessed Saviour; and how completely, in every age, it accorded with a sinless character, and the fact of the union of the Divine with the human nature. He had not then entered upon his office as Teacher; but it is clear what were the subjects which at this early period occupied his thoughts, and with what serious interest he was preparing for his great work of “teaching and preaching the kingdom of God.”

Was subject to them. — Not only regarded them with dutiful reverence, but, as the early fathers teach, and which is indeed probable, worked at his father’s business, and under his direction assisted in the support of the family. Three times every year he would, however, go up to the feasts at Jerusalem; but we never read of his frequenting the council or courts again, or exhibiting any thing remarkable. Thus the veil of mystery was again drawn around him, saving that we are informed that he grew in wisdom and in stature, or age; meaning that with his age his wisdom became still more conspicuous; and in favour with God and man; all who knew him showing the greatest affection and veneration for him — perhaps all the people of Nazareth; for as yet he had not begun his ministry, he had not preached against their formality and other vices, he had not become their faithful reprover. When he took that office, they sought his life! All these interesting particulars which Luke alone has recorded, and those concerning John Baptist he doubtless collected from those diligent inquiries and conversations with “eye witnesses,” which he tells us in his preface he made on these subjects. He had the opportunity, not only of conversing with different apostles, as Peter and James, but also probably with Mary, the mother of our Lord.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Luke 2". "Watson's Exposition on Matthew, Mark, Luke & Romans". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rwc/luke-2.html.
 
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