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Matthew 2

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

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

1 The wise men out of the east are directed to Christ by a star.

11 They worship him, and offer their presents.

14 Joseph fleeth into Egypt, with Jesus and his mother.

16 Herod slayeth the children:

20 Himself dieth.

23 Christ is brought back again into Galilee to Nazareth.

Verse 1

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

Bethlehem of Judea, &c. — About six miles from Jerusalem, and so called to distinguish it from another Bethlehem, in the tribe of Zebulon.

In the days of Herod the king. — The mention of Herod renders it necessary to connect his history with that of the Jews after their return from captivity in Babylon. This took place five hundred and thirty-five years before the birth of Christ. The Jews continued under the protection of the kings of Persia for two hundred years; in the early part of which period they were ruled by governors of their own nation, appointed by the Persian court; and in the latter the high priests were deputed to that office.

The Persian empire was subverted by Alexander the Great, on whose death the Seleucidæ reigned in Syria, and the Ptolemies in Egypt. The provinces of Cœlo-Syria and Palestine were wrested from the Ptolemies by Antiochus the Great, king of Syria. His son, Antiochus Epiphanes, conquered Egypt, and then made a furious attack upon the Jews, 170 years before Christ, plundered Jerusalem, polluted the temple, destroyed forty thousand of the inhabitants, and a short time afterward renewed his atrocities, and, being a bitter persecuting pagan, he abolished, as far as he was able, the worship of God, and consecrated the temple to Jupiter Olympus. These acts of outrage and cruelty called forth the pious patriotism of the celebrated family of the Maccabees, who, after the most severe and noble struggles, in which they were well supported by the devoted heroism of the Jews, succeeded in expelling the Syrians. This was the rise of the Asmonean family, as the Maccabees were also called, from an ancestor of the name of Asmoneus; and Judas Maccabæus, who united the high priesthood with the supreme government, formed an alliance with the Romans, the better to defend the new commonwealth which his valour had founded. The successors of Judas were Jonathan, Simon, John Hyrcanus, who subdued the Idumæans, Aristobulus, who assumed the title of king, Alexander Janæus, Alexandra his widow, Aristobulus the younger son, deposed by Pompey, who restored Hyrcanus the elder son, but forbade the use of the diadem, and made the nation tributary to the Romans.

The prime minister of this Hyrcanus, the last of the Asmonean family, was Antipater, an Idumæan or Edomite, who, having ingratiated himself with the Romans, obtained from them for his son Herod, afterward called the Great, the government of Galilee; and Herod having married Mariamne, the granddaughter of Hyrcanus, with much opposition and violence, and by the favour of Mark Antony, took possession of the kingdom of Judea, and reigned thirty-four years. He died within two years after the real time of the birth of Christ, and soon after the slaughter of the innocents at Bethlehem. The distribution of his kingdom by his will was confirmed by Augustus Cesar. Archelaus had Judea; Herod Antipas the tetrarchy of Iturea and Trachonitis. Herod Philip appears to have been left in a private station. The names of these princes appear in the gospels. Archelaus was reigning when Joseph and Mary returned from Egypt. Herod Antipas the tetrarch, or, by courtesy, the king of Galilee, is several times mentioned, Matthew 14:1; Matthew 14:3; Matthew 14:6; Mark 6:14; Luke 3:1; Luke 3:19; and to him our Lord was sent by Pilate. Philip is mentioned Luke 3:1. Herodias was the wife of Herod Philip, and was married to Herod Antipas during the lifetime of her husband; which proved the occasion of the murder of John the Baptist Matthew 14:3-10. The Herod Agrippa mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles was a grandson of Herod the Great, and brother of Herodias. The Emperor Caligula made him tetrarch of Trachonitis and Abilene, to which Claudius added the kingdom of Judea. He it was that put James the apostle to death, Acts 12:1-2; and was mortally smitten of God, in the height of his pride, at Cesarea, Acts 12:20. On his death, a Roman governor was again appointed to Judea. His son, Agrippa the second, succeeded to the tetrarchies of Trachonitis and Abilene. Before this Agrippa St. Paul delivered his reasons for becoming a Christian.

Wise men from the east. — Μαγοι απο ανατολων , magi from the east; which word, as being descriptive of a certain class of eastern sages, ought to have been retained in the translation. It was the title given by the ancient Persians to their philosophers. They chiefly cultivated theology and politics according to Aristotle; but Philo describes them also as diligent inquirers into nature, and given up to contemplation. They anciently admitted the dualistic system, or the doctrine of two principles, one the author of good, the other of evil, which were represented by light and darkness. They abhorred images, but adored fire as emblematical of the beneficent Deity. Many of them, or of those who passed under that name, were greatly addicted also to astrology and divination. During the captivity of the Jews in Babylon, the Persian sages who came into that country with Cyrus probably became acquainted with the sacred books of the Hebrews, and, under the influence of Zoroaster, it is supposed that the Magian religion was greatly reformed, and brought nearer to the Jewish. The Zendavesta, their sacred book, is full of passages from the writings of Moses. The term magi was, however, at length generally used, not only in Persia, but in Chaldea, Armenia, Arabia, and different parts of Asia, to distinguish philosophers; and their religious system, no doubt, greatly varied in all these countries, and at different periods. Attempts have been made to fix the country from which the magi mentioned in the text came, from the kind of gifts they presented; but this affords no satisfactory illustration, as the precious gums, though natives of Arabia, were used throughout the east, as presents of honour to distinguished personages. Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Epiphanius, think that they came from Arabia, which is called “the east,” in Judges 6:3; Job 1:3; whereas Chaldea, the country assigned to them by others is somewhat to the north of Judea. Of whatever country they were, they are injured by being supposed to be astrologers. They were manifestly holy men and worshippers of the true God, and favoured with special revelations from him. That the east was celebrated for wisdom in ancient times, appears from Solomon’s wisdom being said to excel “the wisdom of the children of the east country, and all the wisdom of Egypt,” 1 Kings 4:30.

Verse 2

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

His star in the east. — Many conjectures have been offered as to this appearance; as, that it was the glory of the Shechinah; the Holy Spirit; an angel; a new star in the heavens; or a comet. It appears to have been a meteor, bearing the appearance of a bright star, and was manifestly supernatural, and connected as to its import with some revelation shade to them of the birth of the Messiah. How otherwise should it have guided them to the very house where “the young child was?” and how, without a revelation, should they have known its significancy as indicating the birth of “the king of the Jews?” The sign was, however, appropriate, as among the ancients the appearance of a star was considered the forerunner of the birth of great princes. By them, also, bright meteors, having a stellar appearance, were denominated stars. So Homer uses the word αστερα in Illiad Δ 75, and Virgil stella, Æneid. 2. 693.

Verse 3

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

When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled. —

Herod was not only by nature a suspicious man, but he knew that he was abhorred of the Jews as a foreigner; and was therefore moved with strong apprehension lest this recently born child, thus publicly announced as the king of the Jews and the heir of David’s throne, should excite a sedition which might deprive him of his kingdom. And all Jerusalem with him, as knowing his fierce and cruel temper, and fearing that his rage might break forth as it had done on several former occasions, in acts of indiscriminate cruelty.

The chief priests and scribes. — He convenes a solemn assembly of the chief priests, including the high priest, his deputy, and the heads of the twenty-four courses of priests. The Hebrew word for scribe, ספר, is derived from a root which signifies to number, from which probably comes our word cypher. The rendering in Greek is γραμματευς , from γραμμα , a letter so that the scribes were employed in writings, numbers, accounts and in transcribing and interpreting the books of the law; and the word is used both for those who were employed about any kind of civil writings or records, or those whose business it was to transcribe, study, and explain the Scriptures. The scribes mentioned in the New Testament were all of the latter class, and are the same as the νομικοι , “lawyers,” sometimes also mentioned. They were students and teachers of the law, and were particularly skilled in the traditions which at that time were held in such reverence. (See note on Matthew 5:20.) The assembly convened by Herod was therefore one of the greatest authority; and Divine Providence so ordered it, that they should give the opinion of the Jewish Church as to the sense of that important prophecy in Micah, which they adduce in answer to Herod’s inquiry, where the Christ should be born. It follows from Herod’s question and the answer of the council, that it was at that time received among the Jews, that the Christ should not make his appearance among them by a descent from heaven, but be born of woman; which they were probably led the more fully to expect, from the prophecy of Isaiah above noticed.

Verse 5

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

In Bethlehem of Judea. — The residence of Joseph was at Nazareth, more than fifty miles distant; and Mary being far advanced in pregnancy, nothing was more unlikely than that our Lord should be born at Bethlehem, and especially as no private business called them thither. This event was brought about through means over which they had no control. The Emperor Augustus ordered a census of his empire to be taken, including such nominally independent states as Judea; and this laid Joseph and Mary under the necessity of repairing without delay to Bethlehem, because they were both “of the house and lineage of David,” and the enrolments of Judea were made of every one according to his tribe, and city, and family. So remarkably does God accomplish his purposes, without interference with the free agency of man; and so strikingly does this, and many similar events, display the depth of that wisdom of God which “sweetly ordereth all things.” Events work at greater distances from each other than human knowledge can discern; and although no human power can establish a connection between them; yet they infallibly co-operate to accomplish the purposes of God.

Verse 6

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

And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, &c. — This quotation agrees neither with the Hebrew, nor the Septuagint; for which difference, it has been remarked, the council of priests and not the evangelist was responsible. If indeed the quotation was given by St. Matthew in these exact words, this view is sufficiently satisfactory; and as they no doubt rendered the passage from the Hebrew to Herod, either in Greek or the Palestinian dialect; it is to be regarded as their extemporaneous translation, and gives the sense of the Hebrew with sufficient accuracy. But if St. Matthew quotes the passage from the prophet his variations stand on the same ground, as all others which occur in his gospel, and in those of the following evangelists. With respect to these variations, they are not always important; for it may be generally observed, says Bishop Randolph, that on comparing them, “it will appear how nearly the citations in the New Testament agree with the original Hebrew, though they sometimes quote from the Septuagint, and perhaps other translations or paraphrases.” The passage, as it stands in Micah 5:2, is, “But thou Bethlehem Ephratah, 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.” For “Bethlehem Ephratah” St. Matthew has, “Bethlehem in the land of Juda,” which is but another designation of the same town. In the Old Testament it has the name of Bethlehem Judah; Judges 17:7. The principal variation is in the negative, ουδαμως , “by no means the least,” whereas our translation makes the Prophet Micah to say, “Though thou be little.” Though, however, is not in the Hebrew, which may be read interrogatively, “Art thou little?” Thus, in the Syriac translation, we have, “num parva es?” while the Arabic uses the negative, “neguaquam es minima,” and so agrees with the sense of the Hebrew, which manifestly is, that Bethlehem, although an obscure town, was to be dignified by the birth of Messiah.

“The thousands of Judah,” is rendered in Matthew the princes of Judah which is only another mode of expressing the same thing; for the tribes were divided into thousands, over every one of which was placed a PRINCE, or chief. Thus the real agreement of St. Matthew with the Hebrew is manifest. It is, however, here to be noticed, that the whole prophecy in Micah is not adduced; for it was the custom of the Jews, when quoting their Scriptures for argument or illustration, to cite only the introductory parts of a section to which they made reference, supposing those to whom they spoke or wrote to be familiar with the whole, as indeed they generally were. Though, therefore, the quotation does not give the complete prophecy, we are referred by it to the whole section in which it stands, which extends through several verses, and is an illustrious revelation of the Divinity and official glory of that prince of Judah, who was indeed to be born in Bethlehem, but whose “goings forth were of old, even from everlasting.”

“This prophecy of Micah;” says Dr. Hales, “is perhaps the most important single prophecy in the Old Testament, and the most comprehensive, respecting the personal character of the Messiah, and his successive manifestation to the world. It crowns the whole chain of prophecies descriptive of the several limitations of the blessed Seed of the woman, to the line of Shem, to the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to the tribe of Judah, and to the royal house of David, here terminating in his birth at Bethlehem, ‘the city of David.’ It carefully distinguishes his human nativity from his eternal generation; foretells the rejection of the Israelites and Jews for a season, their final restoration, and the universal peace destined to prevail throughout the earth in ‘the regeneration.’ It forms, therefore, the basis of the New Testament; which begins with his human birth at Bethlehem, the miraculous circumstances of which are recorded in the introductions of Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels; his eternal generation, as the ORACLE, or WISDOM, in the sublime introduction of John’s gospel; his prophetic character and second coming, illustrated in the four gospels and the epistles; ending with a prediction of the speedy approach of the latter, in the Apocalypse Revelation 22:20.”

Verse 9

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

And, lo, the star, which they saw, in the east, &c. — If the star guided them the whole way to Judea, which is not to be inferred from the history, it disappeared upon their entrance into Judea, and left them to their own judgment; and, as they were in search of him who was born “king of the Jews,” they naturally directed their course to the metropolis. It was upon their departure from Jerusalem to Bethlehem that the star again appeared; and at this, according to our version, “they rejoiced with exceeding great joy,” which is an excellent translation of εχαρησαν χαραν μεγαλην σφοδρα , where, as in passages which sometimes occur in Greek and Latin authors, similar words are used to denote emphasis and excess.

Verse 11

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

And fell down, and worshipped him. — The same Greek word is used to express both Divine worship and the prostrate homage which the people of the east paid to their kings. Thus Xenophon, describing the respect paid to Cyrus by his subjects, says, “When the people saw him, παντες προσεκυνησαν , they all worshipped him. Our own word worship, as formerly used, had this double sense. In this case the magi paid our Lord ROYAL homage; but whether with any reference also to his Divinity does not so clearly appear as some of the fathers would have it understood. And yet, as the fact of Messiah having been born was made known to them by a Divine revelation, intimations of his Divinity might also be given, and their worship be paid to him under the highest character. As for the gifts presented, gold, frankincense, and myrrh, it may be remarked, that no person in ancient times in those countries appeared before a superior without a present. These were of the most costly kind, and such only as were presented to the greatest personages. That these magi were men of rank as well as philosophers, is the voice of tradition. Thus in their lower sense and earliest application were those prophecies fulfilled, —

“Nations shall come to thy light,

And princes to the brightness of thy rising:

The kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts.”

Opened their treasures. — That is, the packages and vessels which contained them; the word being applied, not to the contents, but to the containing receptacle. Thus Cicero calls memory “the treasure of all things;” and Virgil the vessels in which honey is preserved,

servataque mella thesauris.

Several very important ends were answered by the visit of the magi. It showed that the expectation of the appearance of Messiah about that time was not only entertained by Jews, but by Gentiles; and therefore that the prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures were not the only sources of information on that interesting subject. Either several of the same prophecies had been transmitted by the heads of those families which had branched off from the common Abrahamic stock, or the relics of the ten tribes in different eastern countries had communicated those annunciations of Messiah contained in the Pentateuch; or the proselytes, “the strangers” who occasionally went up to worship God at Jerusalem, circulated the leading doctrines and hopes of the Jewish Church; or revelations were occasionally made on the subject of “the great salvation of God” to pious Gentiles in different places and at different times. How else shall we account for so general an expectation of the appearance of the great Restorer, which certainly existed? “For,” says Suetonius, “an ancient and settled persuasion prevailed throughout the east, that the fates had decreed some one to proceed from Judea, who would attain universal empire.”

How also shall we account for the Sibylline prophecies which Virgil has embodied in his Pollio, and which bear so striking a resemblance to some of the predictions of Isaiah, as to the glorious and peaceful reign of Messiah, and the great changes to be wrought in his days in the state of society? And, finally, how are we to account for the journey of these magi from the east? The simple circumstance of the appearance of an extraordinary meteor could not alone indicate that the Messiah, the king of the Jews, was already born; a direct verbal revelation must be supposed, answering no doubt to the general information previously existing among them, and communicating the intelligence that he whom they expected was in fact born, and that he was born in Judea. Of this revelation the appearance of the star was the supernatural sign, which became still more indubitable when it went before them and directed their steps to Bethlehem. — Another end answered by this event was, that the public inquiry made by these strangers for “the king of the Jews,” whom they knew to have been recently born, turned the attention of the inhabitants of the Jewish metropolis to the fact of his birth, which probably they then for the first time heard; the annunciation of the shepherds being probably as yet confined to the neighbourhood in which it took place. But a still higher purpose was, to bring forth a public testimony from the highest ecclesiastical and theological authority among the Jews as to the birth place of Messiah having been previously recorded by one of their own prophet’s to be Bethlehem of Judah, and to show that it was a matter of universal agreement among them, that that illustrious prophecy, in all its parts belonged to Messiah, and consequently that the Christ of prophecy stood in opposition to those low conceptions which they afterward indulged as to the simple humanity of the Messiah, and were contradicted by a passage which attributes positive Divinity as well as real humanity to him, and which, in full council, and in answer to the question of Herod their king, they declared to be a prophecy of the Christ.

To the Messiah, as described by Micah, the Messiah which the Jews have ever expected does not answer; but to the Messiah of this prophecy our blessed Lord is the exact counterpart; he was born in Bethlehem, and yet his “goings forth have been from the days of eternity.” The whole history is also beautifully instructive, as one of those numerous instances with which the Scriptures abound of the manner in which an unseen, but ever-watchful, ever-active power overrules the purposes of men, even when they are opposed to that issue which is evolved by unanticipated circumstances, and frustrates equally their subtlety and their power. Herod, in his own true character of malignant cunning, wishes to make the magi the instruments of conveying to him the intelligence of this new-born heir of the throne of David, and affects to partake of their joy, and to be ready to do him homage; but, warned of God, they depart home by another route, and thus their safety is provided for, which might have been compromised by an act of constructive treason, in acknowledging another king beside him; while his sanguinary purpose was delayed, to give the holy family time to hasten down to Egypt, beyond the reach of his power; for which journey the gifts of the wise men afforded a seasonable, and, as it appears, an abundant supply. “There is no counsel against the Lord.”

Verse 14

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

And departed into Egypt, — From the time of the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great, the Jews were settled in great numbers in its principal cities, and especially in Alexandria. There they established their own worship, and maintained a constant intercourse with their own country-men in Judea. Joseph would therefore naturally reside among his own people during his stay in Egypt, and, being out of Herod’s jurisdiction, was safe.

Verse 15

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

Out of Egypt have I called my son. — This is cited from Hosea 11:1; and has been often adduced by those who consider the quotations from the Old Testament in the evangelists as mere accommodated allusions, founded upon some vague and undesigned resemblances, as a pregnant proof of their theory. But it is here to be recollected that the evangelist introduces the quotation with the formula “that it might be fulfilled,” as in Matthew 1:22-23, on which see the note. — Now this formula is just as appropriate when a type is referred to, as a prophecy; for when the type is not one of human fancy, but of Divine appointment, in each case there is an accomplishment, or completion; because a type is predictive, and differs only from a prophecy in form. The passage, as it stands in Hosea, is, “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt;” and, as these words were spoken of the people Israel, the question is, whether, in any respects, the people Israel bore a typical character? This must be granted, because nothing is more certain, both from the style of the Hebrew prophets, and from the writings of St. Paul, than that Israel “after the flesh” is often made the type of “the Israel of God,” or of the Christian Church; and the deliverance of the former from Egypt the type of our redemption by Christ. It will be pertinent next to inquire, whether by the Prophet Hosea the term Israel is not sometimes used in a sense not literal, and under which, therefore, some religious mystery is contained. Of this we have an instance in Hosea 12:3-6: “By his strength he had power with God: yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto him. — Therefore turn thou to thy God: keep mercy and judgment, and wait on thy God continually.”

Here, indeed, there is not a typical use of the real Jacob or Israel; but the people Israel are personated and identified with their progenitor, and under that character, as Israel, “a prince which had power with God,” they are exhorted, as though they had been Jacob or Israel himself, to “turn to God,” and to “wait on him continually,” in order to prevail. This is sufficient to prove, that this prophet does not always confine himself to one simple view in the use of the term Israel. But it will throw still greater light upon the subject, if we consider that the people Israel are sometimes spoken of as one person, and called God’s “son,” and his “first-born,” which indicates that Israel was intended to be in some particulars the type of some individual: and who could this be but “the Son,” and “the First-born” of God, the Messiah? To which we may add this strong confirmation, that the Messiah himself is by the prophets called Israel, doubtless for this reason, for no other can be assigned, that he was, in some respects or other, typified by the people Israel. Thus, in Isaiah 49:3, where Jehovah is introduced speaking to Messiah, he says, “Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified;” and Isaiah 42:1, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth,” is, in the Septuagint, “Jacob my servant — and Israel mine elect.” Here too the Jewish uninspired writers afford a proof that they understood the Messiah to be typified by Israel. Thus Dr. Alix remarks that the author of Midrash Tehillim on Psalms 2:7, says, “The mysteries of the King Messiah are declared in the law, the prophets, and the Hagiographa.” In the law it is written, Exodus 4:22, “Israel is my Son, even my first-born.” Hence Rabbi Nathan in Schemoth Rabba on those words speaks thus: “As I made Jacob my first-born, Exodus 4:22, so have I made Messiah my first-born, as it is said, Psalms 89:27, ‘I will make him my first-born, higher than the kings of the earth.’” Thus, then, as we find Messiah called Jacob and Israel, and no other reason can be assigned for this but that something in the case and history of the people of Israel was realized in him, in the sense of correspondence with an instituted type, the words of Hosea were intended to indicate, at least in one respect, in what the type consisted, and those of the evangelist how the type was “fulfilled in him.” Israel was in Egypt subject to a foreign power, and in a lowly state; but was brought out from thence, and, after various trials and wanderings in the desert, was raised to dominion and glory among the nations. So our Lord was for a time in Egypt, in subjection to a foreign dominion, and in a lowly condition; but was called from thence, that, after his season of trial and humiliation, he might be exalted to glory and universal dominion. It is in these particulars that the type was fulfilled.

Israel the typical son, and Jesus the true Son, were each called out of Egypt, by special interposition of God, to accomplish his great purposes, and to be raised to honour, and invested with dominion. We may therefore conclude that the Holy Spirit first dictated the passage quoted to Hosea and then directed St. Matthew to refer the call of Christ out of Egypt to the same passage, as an accomplishment of it, in order to explain in what the typical character of Israel in reference to Christ consisted, and to convince the Jews by this type that the humiliation and glory of the Messiah were as much connected, in the intention of God, as the humiliation of the ancient Israel, and the glory to which that people were afterward conducted. Thus the words of the prophet, which had always a mystical reference to Christ, were in the strict sense FULFILLED. With respect to this passage it may, however, be observed that Doddridge, following earlier commentators inclines to the opinion that the words are in the strictest sense a prophecy, and are to be read, “Though Israel be a child that is wayward and perverse, yet I have loved him, and WILL CALL my Son out of Egypt;” the past being used for the future, as is frequent in the prophetic writings. The sense would then be, that, notwithstanding the unworthiness of Israel, yet the compassion of God would still extend to them through the Messiah, and that after having been preserved from Herod, he would be called out of Egypt to accomplish their salvation.

Verse 16

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

Slew all the children. — That is, all the male children; τους ωαιδας . This act, however barbarous, was quite accordant with the malignant character of Herod, who, especially when under the influence of political jealousy, knowing how much he was hated by the Jews, gave full range to his sanguinary temper. He had imbrued his hands in the blood of his own sons, and his wife, and many others; and, though tormented in his last days by remorse and fear, yet even on his deathbed he sent for all the considerable Jews of Jericho, where he then was, and had them shut up in the circus, giving orders that they should be slain as soon as he expired, that he might have a lamentation at his death. The order was disobeyed; but it marks the character of this unhappy man of blood, with whom departed the sceptre finally from Judah. — Josephus does not mention this slaughter of the children by Herod. This may be accounted for probably because of the slight impression which this event would produce among the Jews, accustomed to witness in Herod’s proceedings acts of superior atrocity; and also because it was done in an obscure part of the country and was unconnected with any political event. The memory of it would be preserved among Christians, as connected with the early history of their Lord; but a Jew like Josephus, writing near a century afterward, was likely to overlook it. Beside this, Josephus professes to take the greatest part of his account of Herod’s actions from Nicolaus of Damascus, whom he acknowledges to have written with partiality in Herod’s favour, omitting many of his cruelties. There was nothing in this matter, barbarous as it was, to give it a prominent place in heathen or Jewish record; nevertheless, it is adverted to by Macrobius, a heathen author of the fourth century, adduced by Lardner, but only to introduce one of the witticisms of Augustus, the Roman emperor. “Melius est Herodis porcum esse, quam filium.” — “It is better to be Herod’s swine, than his son;” alluding to the Jewish abstinence from swine’s flesh. The remark of Augustus applied, however, to Herod’s murder of his sons, though Macrobius joins with this the distinct tragedy of Bethlehem, to which only his words can refer: “Those male infants within two years old, which Herod, the king of the Jews, ordered to be slain in Syria.” This event is noticed in a rabbinical work called Toldath Jeshu, — “And the king gave orders for putting to death every infant to be found in Bethlehem.”

Verse 18

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

In Rama was there a voice heard, &c. — This quotation more nearly agrees with the Hebrew than with the present copies of the Septuagint; the variation is, however, unimportant. Rama was near Bethlehem, though in the tribe of Benjamin, near which Rachel was buried: — “And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem.” Here the captives were assembled, to be led away to Babylon, after the land and the cities had been wasted by war. Jeremiah had predicted all this, and, by an elegant poetic creation, brings forth Rachel, one of the common mothers of the people, thus slaughtered and led away captive, out of her tomb, bitterly lamenting the loss of her children; and then comforts her with the promise of the return of the captives from Babylon; Jeremiah 31:15-16. This fine passage has also been thought a mere accommodation, as quoted by St. Matthew; and, as the slaughter of the innocents took place near the tomb of Rachel, she might, it is thought, be introduced in the same poetical spirit by the evangelists, as lamenting this new calamity. St. Matthew, however, does not write poetically, but with that historical simplicity which renders it very unlikely that he should make such an application of the passage, which indeed could only be suggested by a glowing fancy, if no prophetic reference had been couched under it. Nor is the remark of Whitby and some others, who reject the doctrine of accommodation generally, of any weight, that the form of introducing the quotation is not ινα ωληρωθη , that it might be fulfilled, but τοτε επληρωθη , then was fulfilled; meaning, “Then that happened which gave a more full completion to the words of Jeremiah:” for if the words of Jeremiah should be considered as a prediction of the distress to be brought upon the Jewish mothers of his day, personified by Rachel, by the slaughtering and the leading away their children into captivity by the Babylonian army; still this prophecy may rank among a large class of predictions which have an application to two or more events; and the heart-rending affliction of the mothers at Bethlehem and its borders was the second event to which the prophecy of Jeremiah looked, and that with striking propriety; since the scene was laid in the same tract of country, and the event was rendered equally moving by the cries and lamentations of bereaved mothers. The prophecy was therefore truly said by St. Matthew to have been “fulfilled” in its originally designed ultimate application. There is a much better reason than that given by Whitby for the change in the formula from, “Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled,” to, “Then was fulfilled;” for, in the former instances of the birth of Christ, and his call out of Egypt, there was a Divine agency employed; something “done” by God which fulfilled his own predictions; but in this slaughter the only agency was that of a wicked and infuriated despot.

Because they are not. — Οτι ουκ εισι , a phrase which equally applies to the loss of Rachel’s children, whether by captivity or by the sword, — they were not to her. When used to express death, it does not import annihilation; for those Greek writers use the phrase who allow expressly, says Grotius, that the soul survives. Philo the Jew uses the same phrase for death.

Verse 22

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

That Archelaus did reign. — He succeeded Herod only in Judea, Samaria, and Idumea, as ethnarch, a title inferior to king, though that title frequently was given in courtesy to sovereigns of every degree. — Galilee was under Herod Antipas, from whom there was less apprehension of inquiry or danger. (See note on verse 1.) Under Divine direction Joseph therefore repaired to Nazareth; for which also there was another reason beside his safety, which is mentioned in the next verse.

The parts of Galilee. — Galilee was the country formerly occupied by the tribes of Issachar, Zebulon, Naphtali, and part of Asher; and was most honoured by our Lord’s presence. It was bounded on the south by Samaria, on the west and north by “the coasts of Tyre and Sidon,” and on the east by the countries of Abilene and Iturea. Josephus describes it as fruitful and well cultivated, abounding in towns and villages, and exceedingly populous. The dialect and accent of the Galileans somewhat differed from that of the Jews in other parts, and hence Peter, Matthew 26:73, was by his speech known to be of that province.

Verse 23

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

He shall be called a Nazarene. — No such passage occurs in the Old Testament, nor can St. Matthew refer to any particular text, because he does not refer to any particular prophet; for his phrase is, “that it might be fulfilled, which was spoken by THE PROPHETS,” in the plural; so that something was thus accomplished in Christ, to which all the prophets gave concurrent testimony. — Now it is plain that they all agree that he should be “despised” as well as “rejected” of men; that he should be an object of contumely and reproach, and therefore, as Whitby well remarks, “the angel sent him to this contemptible place, that he might have a name of infamy put upon him.” He shall be called mean and contemptible, as the root of the word signifies, as well as separated. How Nazareth was esteemed, we learn from the words of the mild Nathanael, — “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” and the title Nazarene has been, by Jews and other enemies, always given in contempt to our Saviour and his disciples. All the other speculations of commentators on this designation appear to be fanciful and groundless.

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