The wise men out of the east are directed to Christ by a star: they worship him, and offer their presents. Joseph fleeth into Egypt, with Jesus and his mother. Herod slayeth the children, himself dieth. Christ is brought back again into Galilee, to Nazareth.
Year of the World 4004.
Matthew 2:1. Bethlehem of Judea—wise men, &c.— Bethlehem was a small town in the tribe of Judah, which lay on the southof Jerusalem; there was a city of the same name in Galilee, which belonged to the tribe of Zebulun, Joshua 19:15 andthis is the reason why the former is here called Bethlehem of Judea. In the days of Herod the king, is an Hebraism for the time of king Herod the Great; who was at first tetrarch or governor of Judaea, and afterwards declared king of the same country. See Joseph. Hist. Jude 1:1. xiv. c. 3. and 1. xvii. c. 10. . The evangelical and apostolical history begins with Herod the Great, and ends with Agrippa, the last king of the Jews. Concerning these wise men, four things are pretty generally agreed; that they were Persians, or Parthians; that they were priests, or ministers of religion; that they frequently travelled into different countries; and that they applied themselves very much to the contemplation of the stars. As to the title here given them, it is certain that the word ΄αγοι, Magi, was not appropriated in ancient times to such as practised wicked arts, but frequently was used to express philosophers or men of learning; and those particularly who were curious in examining the works of nature, and in observing the motions of the heavenly bodies. Compare Daniel 2:2; Daniel 2:27 and Daniel 5:11 and the Septuagint; and see Wetstein and Doddridge.
Matthew 2:2. Saying, &c.— Saying, Where is this new-born king of the Jews? Campbell. There does not seem to be any need of supposing, with some of the fathers, that the wise men knew the signification of this star which they saw while they were in the east, by comparing it with Balaam's prophesy, Numbers 24:17 or Daniel's, Daniel 2:44; Daniel 9:25. Nor can we think, as Grotius seems to intimate, that they discovered it by the rules of their art. It is much more probable that they learned it by a divine revelation, by which it is plain they were guided in their return. See Matthew 2:12. It was a common observation among the ancients, that the appearance of a new star denoted either the birth or death of great men. Chalcidius, in his comment upon Plato, mentions the appearance of this star in a very remarkable manner; "as foretelling the descent of a god upon earth, for the preservation of mankind; and as occasioning some wise men among the Chaldeans to go in search of him, and pay him adoration." Dr. Doddridge and others render the latter clause of the verse, And are come to prostrate ourselves before him.
Matthew 2:3. He was troubled— Alarmed. Our translation suits well to Herod, jealous for his crown, but not to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who were oppressed by him; and (according to their notions of a Messiah) would conceive hopes of their deliverance from the news of his death. The original word ταρασσω signifies only a great emotion, whatever the cause be, whether of joy, or fear, or admiration, Judith 14:7. See Heylin and Mintert on the word.
Matthew 2:4. And when he had gathered &c.— And having assembled. Campbell. All the chief priests, must comprehend here not only the high-priest for the time being, and his deputy, with those who formerly had borne that office; but also the heads of the twenty-four courses, as well as any other persons of peculiar eminence in the priesthood. See 1 Chronicles 24:6. 2 Chronicles 36:14. The scribes of the people, mean the rabbies or doctors, who explained the law to the people. See Michaelis's Introduction to the New Testament.
Matthew 2:5. In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus, &c.— For a full explanation of this passage we refer to the notes on Micah 5:2; Micah 5:15.; just observing, with Dr. Doddridge, that when this and several other quotations from the Old Testament, which we find in the New, come to be compared with the original, and even with the Septuagint, it will plainly appear that the apostles did nor think it necessary always to transcribe exactlythe passages they quoted, but sometimes contented themselves with giving the general sense, in some little diversity of language.
Matthew 2:8. Search diligently for, &c.— Make exact inquiry about, &c. It is an amazing thing that so suspicious and artful a prince as Herod should put such an important affair on so precarious a footing; when, if he had notgone himself, it would have been so easy, under pretence of doing honour to these learned strangers, to have sent a guard of soldiers with them, who might, humanly speaking, without any difficulty, have slaughtered the child and his parents on the spot. Perhaps he might have been unwilling to commit such an act of cruelty in the presence of these sages, lest their report of it might have rendered him infamous abroad: or rather, we must refer it to a secret infatuation with which God, whenever he pleases, canconfound the most sagacious of mankind. See Doddridge and Calmet.
Matthew 2:10. When they saw the star— Dr. Doddridge reads a star or meteor; because, says he, no star could point out not only a town, but a particular house. The original, in the conclusion of this verse, is remarkably emphatical, They rejoiced with a joy which was exceeding great.
Matthew 2:11. And fell down and worshipped him— Prostrating themselves they adored him. Heylin. The original word for treasures signifies not only a collection of rarities and precious things, but also whatever serves to hold them. Here it signifies the vessels or boxes wherein these sages had put the presents they designed for the King of the Jews. It was the custom of their country to offer presents to the illustrious personages whom they came to visit, as appears from many passages of the Old Testament; (see Genesis 11:25. 1 Samuel 9:7-8; 1 Samuel 10:27. Psalms 72:10 and Proverbs 18:16.) and Maundrell, Chardin, and many other writers of the best credit, assure us, that the custom is yet retained. We cannot help noting how seasonable and providential an assistance this was to furnish Joseph and Mary for so long and expensivea journey as that into Egypt; a country where they were intirely strangers, and yet were to abide there for some considerable time. Several commentators have observed a significancy and propriety in these gifts; which, whether true or not, is at least ingenious. They offered him, say they, gold as a king, paying him tribute; frankincense as a god, for they honoured God with the smoke of incense; and myrrh, as a man who should die; for myrrh was used in embalming dead bodies. See Doddridge, Beausobre and Lenfant, and Henry.
Matthew 2:13. Into Egypt— There were great numbers of Jews in Egypt: some fled thither in the time of Jeremiah; and great numbers were broughtthere afterwards, on account of the temple of Onias. We may just observe, once for all, that the particle ιδου, behold, is a frequent Hebraism in the evangelists, which commonly is but an expletive, though sometimes it is emphatical. The angel, would be rendered more properly an angel.
Matthew 2:15. That it might be fulfilled, &c.— So that what the Lord had spoken by the prophet was verified. Campbell. The reader will remember the general observation which has been made on Matthew 1:22 respecting the phrase, that it might be fulfilled, and will refer to Hosea 11:1 concerning this text; which Grotius, Heinsius, and many of the best critics, both ancient and modern, understand asa mere allusion. SeeCalmet on the verse. The editors of the Prussian Testament observe, that the words out of Egypt, &c. belong, in their proper and literal sense, to the people of Israel, as appears from the beginning of the verse in Hosea. Compare Exodus 4:22-23. Numbers 24:8. St. Matthew applies them to the Lord Jesus Christ, according to the method of the Jewish doctors, who considered several particulars in the Old Testament as relating to the Messiah typically, though, in a literal sense, they referred to other matters.
Matthew 2:16. Then Herod, when he saw, &c.— Perceiving that he was mocked by the Magi—slew all the children—entering on the second year and under, according to the time which he had exactly learned, &c. Knatchbull. The word ενεπαιχθη , in the original, rendered mocked, signifies properly to be played with, and well expresses the view in which the pride of Herod taught him to regard this action, as if it were intended to expose him to the derision of his subjects, and to treat him as a child, rather than as a prince of so great experience and renown. Haman's rage against Mordecai is expressed by the LXX in the same terms as Herod's anger is here. See Esther 3:5; Esther 5:9. It is probable that Herod in his passion ordered the slaughter of the infants, as soon as he perceived that he was disappointed in his expectation of the return of the wise men; lest otherwise the child, of whom he was so jealous, might be removed: and, as his cruelty extended even to those who had entered on the second year, which is expressly said to be according to the time of which he had got exact information from the sages; it must be natural hence to conclude, that it was not till some considerable time after the birth of Christ that he was visited by the wise men; even though we should allow the first appearance of the star to have been, as some suppose, about the time of Christ's conception. The truth is, it is very difficult to determine the exact period of time when the wise men paid their visit to Christ; though it appears to me most probable from the 11th verse that it was at the time of his nativity. See Sir Norton Knatchbull, and Bedford's Chronology, p. 740. The reader willfind, at the end of Bishop Chandler's Vindication of his Defence, a piece which well deserves his perusal, intitled, The Slaughter of the Children in Bethlehem, as an historical Fact in St. Matthew's Gospel, vindicated, &c.
Dr. Campbell reads, all the children, all the male children, τους παιδας . I do not deny, says he, that there may be instances wherein the Greek term οι παιδες, like the other οι υιοι, may mean children in general .The phrase, both in Hebrew and in Greek, is, the sons of Israel, which our translators render the children of Israel, as nobody doubts that the whole posterity is meant. We address an audience of men and women by the title brethren; and under the denomination all men, the whole species is included. But in such examples, the universality of the application is either previously known from common usage, or is manifest from the subject or occasion. Where this cannot be said, the words ought to be strictly interpreted. Add to this, 1st, That the historian seems here purposely to have changed the term παιδιον, which is used for child no less than nine times in this chapter; as that word, being neuter, and admitting only the neuter article, was not fit for marking the distinction of sexes; and to have adopted a term which he nowhere else employs for infants, though frequently for men-servants, and once for youths or boys: 2nd, That the reason of the thing points to the interpretation that I have given. It made no more for Herod's purpose to destroy female children, than to massacre grown men and women; and, tyrant though he was, that he meant to go no farther than, in his way of judging, his own securityrendered expedient, is evident from the instructions which he gave to his emissaries, in regard to the age of the infants to be sacrificed to his jealousy, that they might not exceed such an age, nor be under such another.
Matthew 2:17-18. Then was fulfilled, &c.— Then, &c.—a cry heard, lamentation, and weeping, and bitter complaint. See, for an explanation of this text, the notes on Jeremiah 31:15. Dr. Doddridge understands this also as an allusion. But the notes above referred to will convince the reader, that this passage may, with strict propriety, be understood as a prophesy of that event to which the sacred historian applies it.
Matthew 2:19. But when Herod was dead— It will be worth the reader's while to peruse the particular and affecting account which Josephus has given of the dreadful death of this inhuman tyrant, whom God so remarkably made a terror to himself, as well as to all about him. See Antiq. l. xvii. c. 6. Jewish War, l. i. c. 33. and Univ. History, vol. x. p. 638.
Matthew 2:20. Who sought the young child's life— Greek. Who sought the soul; a Hebraism, of which our version gives the sense. See 1 Kings 10:14. Exodus 4:19 to which last passage the angel seems to allude. It is an ingenious conjecture of Mr. Manne, that Antipater, the son of Herod, who, at the time when Christ was born, was heir apparent to his crown, and was a prince so cruel and ambitious, that he had procured the death of his two elder brothers to clear his way to the succession, would very probably be anactive counsellor and instrument in seeking the destruction of the new-born Jesus, and in advisingthe slaughter of the infants; and as this Antipater died but five days before Herod, both might be referred to in these words of the angel, they are dead. See Manne's Dissert. p. 74. Doddridge, and Wetstein.
Matthew 2:22. Archelaus— He was the sixth son of Herod, and the most cruel of all those who survived him. He caused three thousand citizens to be murdered at one time in the temple. Herod in his will appointed him his successor, and bestowed upon him the regal authority; but Augustus gave him only the title of Ethnarch, or prince of the nation; of which, however, he deprived him afterwards, and sent him into banishment for his tyranny and cruelty. Galilee belonged to the jurisdiction of Antipas, another of the sons of Herod, and who was himself afterwards called Herod. See ch. Matthew 14:1. He was of a much milder disposition than Archelaus, and was then upon such hostile terms with him, that there was no danger of his giving up Joseph and Mary into his power. The reader, the better to understand this part of the sacred history, will do well to read Josephus, or the Universal History as above referred to.
Matthew 2:23. A city called Nazareth— Which was a small town of the lower Galilee, near the frontiers of the tribes of Zebulon and Issachar. In the description of the Nazarite given Numbers 6 we learn that he was first to abstain from wine and all vinous liquors; secondly, to let his hair grow; thirdly, not to defile himself with the dead. Now in each of these particulars, as we have observed on the 21st verse of that chapter, the Nazarite was a lively type of Christ; whose extraordinary endowments, as man, were not from any natural causes, but from above, even from the Spirit of God: who was invested with all power and authority, of which hair was an emblem; (see Judges 20:22. Compare 1 Corinthians 11:7 in the Greek;) and who was intirely separate from dead works, from sin and sinners. It would be needless, and far exceed my present bounds, to quote the prophesies wherein the Messiah is described as endowed with these high qualifications. Many of the predictions concerning Christ may be reduced to one or other of these heads; and, in order to turn the attention of men to him as the true Nazarite, in which the type was completely fulfilled, it is remarkably observed here by St. Matthew, that he came and dwelt at Nazareth; that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, he shall be called, that is to say, shall be truly and justly Ναζωραιος, a Nazarite; so the Vulgate, Nazaraeus. Thus, while the Jews and Romans were calling him in contempt the Nazarene, the providence of God was at the same time pointing him out to mankind as thetrue Nazarite, from the circumstance of his dwelling in that city which had been prophetically, with a view, no doubt, to this important event, called Nazareth, or the City of the Nazarites. Parkhurst on the word נער nezer. It may be proper just to observe, that there are other and different expositions given of this prophesy. The editors of the Prussian Testament agree with the margin of our English Bible, and think that the passage referred to is either Judges 13:5 where Samson, a type of the Messiah, is spoken of; or Isaiah 11:1 where the Messiah is styled the Netzer or Branch; while Wetstein, Doddridge, Macknight, and many others, suppose that the expression refers to the mean and despicable circumstances of the Messiah, and the reproachful mannerwherein he was treated, agreeable to several prophetical passages of Scripture. But Houbigant is of opinion, that the evangelist refers to the blessings of Jacob and Moses, in each of which Joseph, as a type of the Messiah, is called Nezir, or Nazarite. See Genesis 49:26. Deuteronomy 33:16 and Houbigant's note on the last place.
Inferences.—The love of our Redeemer for a mean and private life appears from the first moment of his birth, in the choice which he makes of Bethlehem.
Those who are nearest to Christ very often know him not, when those who are farther off seek and adore him. How great was the faith of these wise men, and how illustrious a testimony did they bear to the dignity of our Lord's person! Surely the readiness that they shewed, and the fatiguing journey which they so willingly undertook to pay their adoration to their infant Saviour, should awaken in our souls an anxious concern, not to be excelled by them in duty and devotion to this divine Lord, now that we enjoy the better and more abiding light of his Gospel, that glorious day-spring from on high. With what cheerfulness should we present ourselves and all we have to him! opening the treasuries of our hearts, and offering before him the valuable presents of humble faith and adoring love!
It is not to be supposed that God would have guided these wise men in this extraordinary manner, merely to pay a transient compliment to Jesus; their prostrations, no doubt, expressed religious adoration as well as civil respect; and it is not unlikely that their report might in due time make way for the reception of the Gospel, in the country whence they came. Gentiles as they were, we cannot help looking upon them as the first-fruits of the nations to Christ. This circumstance of the sacred history affords a beautiful emblem of that glorious state of the Christian church, foretold by the prophets, when the Gentiles should come down to its light, and sages and kings to the brightness of its rising; when the abundance of the sea should be converted to it, and the wealth of the Gentiles consecrated to its honour.
We may observe here how Jews and Gentiles conferred together about Jesus Christ. The Gentiles know the time of his birth by a star; the Jews know the time of it by the Scripture; and so they are capable of informing one another. It would contribute much to the increase of knowledge, if we were thus mutually to communicate what we know. Men grow rich by bartering and exchange; so, if we have knowledge to communicate to others, they will be ready to communicate to us. Thus many shall discourse, shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased. Even a Herod, you may remark, consults the priests and teachers of the law in matters of religious concernment: and to inspire us with reverence for the oracles of God, these priests presume not to answer the question, but by a reference to the Scriptures of truth.
How very conspicuous did the wisdom and power of divine Providence appear in the preservation of the infant Jesus! and in thwarting the vile hypocrisy and execrable cruelty of the tyrant Herod! There is no understanding, or wisdom, or counsel against the Lord; no scheme so artfully disguised that he cannot penetrate it; or so politically formed, that he cannot with infinite ease confound it.
To what perplexity and grief might these sages have been brought, had they been made even the innocent instruments of an assault on this holy child! But God delivered them from such an alarm, and happily guided their return (Matthew 2:12.); so that through his care and favour they carried home, in the tidings of the new-born Messiah, far richer treasures than they had left behind. Thus shall they, who in all their ways acknowledge God, by one method or another find that he will graciously direct their paths!
We may remark how God in his providence makes the cruelty of a Herod subservient to the publication of his Son's birth, and to the accomplishment of his designs with respect to him. He reduces, within the order of his goodness, the greatest disorders of human wickedness. He makes that Egypt, which was once the seat of persecution and oppression to his chosen people, a refuge to his Son; and thus all places will be to us what the providence of God shall be pleased to make them.
How many instructive lessons may we derive from this inhuman massacre of the innocents at Bethlehem! We are hence taught that, afflictions are not arguments of guilt, since innocent children were made a sacrifice to the ambition of a cruel tyrant: that we ought to be ready to part with what is dear to us as our own children, whenever they may become instruments of God's glory: that what oppression soever innocence meets with from the hands of wicked men, it is for the good of those who suffer it: that the conduct of those parents who neglect the education and instruction of their children in Christian and virtuous principles, exceeds the cruelty of a Herod—(he only deprived little innocents of this life; they expose their own bowels to eternal death): and that to be true disciples of Christ, we must become as little children in the frame and temper of our minds; without which we cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven. "Mortify, therefore, and kill in us all vices, great God of our salvation; and so strengthen us through thy grace, that by the innocency of our lives, and the constancy of our faith, even unto death, we may glorify thy holy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord!"
REFLECTIONS.—1st, Though the birth of Jesus, the King of kings, was ushered into the world with none of those rejoicings that usually attend the nativity of the princes of the earth, we have some instances of very distinguished notice paid to the infant Saviour.
1. Wise men came from the east, led by the observance of an extraordinary star which appeared in the heavens. Who they were, and whence they came, we are not clearly told; the most approved opinion seems to be, that they were of the Persian Magi, among whom some tradition seems to have obtained of a great prince at that time about to come into the world, which possibly might arise from Baalam's prophesy, or from their acquaintance with the Jewish scriptures; which, during the captivity, were probably brought among them: and this expectation, Tacitus observes, was spread through the east. (But see the critical notes.) As these Magi were very conversant in astronomy, the uncommon luminous phaenomenon, a meteor, or star, which they observed over Judaea, might have led them thither, concluding that this was the signal of his appearing, as they might be assured also by a divine impulse on their minds. They were Gentiles, it is certain, and this was a happy presage of their future conversion; and their wisdom most eminently appeared in coming to him, the knowledge of whom alone could make them wise unto salvation. The highest attainments in science, without this wisdom, are no better than splendid ignorance.
2. They directed their journey to Jerusalem the capital, naturally concluding there to meet with all needful information. Herod at that time reigned in Judaea, an Edomite, set up by the Romans, under whose power the Jews were, the sceptre being now departed from Shiloh; and to him it should seem they applied themselves, inquiring after the child who was born King of the Jews, concerning whom they speak with the greatest confidence; and having seen his star in the east, the intimation of his birth, were come to worship him; either to pay him their civil homage, or rather to offer divine adoration. Note; (1.) They who know the value of Christ's favour, will stop at no pains in following him whithersoever he calls them. (2.) Jesus is truly the object worthy of our adoration, even in his lowest humiliation; the babe in the manger is still the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
3. This inquiry of the wise men exceedingly affected Herod. He could be no stranger to the prophesies concerning the Messiah; and the time of the accomplishment of them was confessedly now at hand. He was troubled therefore lest his own throne should be shaken; and the people in general who heard the account seem alike disturbed, fearing possibly the tumults which they might perhaps suppose would be the consequence of a struggle for the crown, as they had, in general, no notion of the Messiah as a spiritual Saviour, but as a mighty prince and conqueror. (But see the notes.) Note; Worldly hearts are ever afraid, lest the spreading of the kingdom of Jesus should clash with their interests.
4. To give them a resolution of the question, and perhaps to gain particular information himself, for purposes that his mind already harboured, he called a council of the chief priests, those most distinguished for station and abilities, and the scribes learned in the law, and most conversant with the prophesies, that he might have their concurring sentiments concerning the place where the Christ, the Messiah should be born. And thus, by divine providence, this wicked king, who consulted them with the vilest design, is made the instrument of obtaining a distinguished suffrage, even from the wisest of the Jewish nation, to the place of the Messiah's birth, and where the babe Jesus actually was born.
5. They are unanimous in their opinion; for the prophet Micah has expressly determined the place to be Bethlehem of Judaea, chap. Matthew 5:2 and they cite the prophesy, in sense the same with the original, though with some variation in the expression. Thence the ruler and governor of his Israel should arise, and who is and ever will be the Lord of his faithful saints, reigning in their hearts, and bringing them into subjection to his blessed self.
6. Herod hereupon dismisses the wise men in search of this child, after examining them in private with the greatest accuracy concerning the time when the star appeared, and having concerted in his own mind the bloody project of cutting off him whom he eyed already with jealousy as the rival of his throne: and therefore he strictly charges them, after having made diligent search at Bethlehem, to return, and acquaint him with the place of his abode, hypocritically pretending a desire to pay his worship to the young child born and destined of God to such distinguished honour. So often has the mask of religion concealed the foulest designs.
None of his courtiers were sent with these strangers: perhaps he was afraid to awaken the suspicion of the parents of Jesus, his ambition and cruelty being fully known; or so God, in his over-ruling providence, ordered it; who taketh the wise in their own craftiness, and can divert the enemies of his people from using the most obvious means which they seem to have in their power to distress or destroy them.
2nd, With attention and respect the wise men received their directions, and departed in search of the king of the Jews. And,
1. We find them happily conducted to the spot where he is. The star which they had seen at Christ's birth, afterwards disappeared; at least, if, as some suggest, it led them to the borders of Judaea, it then left them, but now returned, hanging low in the sky, and moving on before them till it stood over the house where Jesus was: for before this, it seems, his parents had changed the place of his birth in a stable, for a more commodious abode. The return of the star, as it promised them a happy issue of their journey, rejoiced them exceedingly; and under its guidance being led to the house, they entered without farther inquiry: and finding the child with his virgin-mother, they immediately prostrated themselves before him, worshipping him as their God, or honouring him as their king. And according to the eastern custom, of making presents to their monarchs when they make their addresses to them, they opened their treasures, and presented him gold, frankincense, and myrrh, Isaiah 60:6 and thus also providentially supplied Joseph and Mary with a sufficiency for the long journey they were quickly after called to undertake. Note; (1.) When we are found in the way of duty, using the means that God hath given us, we shall not be left without a guide. (2.) The word of God, and the ministry of it, is now this star to lead us to Jesus; and blessed and happy are they who follow its direction. (3.) When for a while we have been in the darkness of affliction, temptation, or desertion, with double joy we behold the re-appearing of the day-star to our benighted souls, and rejoice with exceeding great joy. (4.) Jesus is the object of our adorations; to him every knee must bow. (5.) The Lord by strange and unexpected ways often supplies the wants of his people: they who trust him, will assuredly own that he has never failed them in time of need.
2. To prevent their return to Jerusalem according to Herod's desire, God, by a dream, which carried its own evidence that it came from him, probably the very day or night after their arrival at Bethlehem, warned them not to go back to Herod; and accordingly they immediately departed into their own country another way. So easily can God blast the malicious designs of the ungodly.
3rdly, No sooner were the wise men departed, than God, who knew the cruel intentions of Herod, takes care of the safety of the child Jesus.
1. The Lord in a dream apprizes Joseph of the danger to which the young child was exposed; and bids him, without delay, secure the babe with his mother in Egypt, from the fury of this bloody king, and expect farther directions there. Immediately that very night he arose, and fled with his family to this appointed place of refuge, and there continued till the death of Herod, which soon followed the massacre of the infants. Note; (1.) The place where God's people suffered the bitterest persecution affords an asylum for his Son: so easily can he who has in his hands the hearts of all men, make our once inveterate enemies our firmest friends. (2.) The faithful heart obeys God's commands without hesitation or delay: having committed our all to him, we must be safe under his guidance.
2. Particular notice is taken of the fulfilling of the scripture herein; out of Egypt have I called my son, Hosea 11:1 which, whatever reference it has to Israel as a people, had now its most direct accomplishment in the flight of Jesus thither, and his return thence.
4thly, We are told, as we might have expected from the character of this wicked prince,
1. The fury he was in at being disappointed by the wise men. He waited from day to day, in expectation of receiving intelligence from them; but hearing at last they were gone home another way, his jealousy was more inflamed against his supposed rival, and his wrath more exasperated.
2. The politic but inhuman contrivance that he formed to rid himself of his fears. He slew all the male children under two years of age, in all Bethlehem, and the territory belonging to it; being satisfied from the information he had received of the wise men, that the infant king could not exceed that age, and therefore must perish in this general massacre—An instance of barbarity, which though most agreeable to the character of that savage monarch, who had with his own hand slain his own children, we cannot read without horror; so that Augustus might well say, it was better to be Herod's swine than his son. The first crown of martyrdom for Jesus was won by these infant sufferers; and the honour to which they are advanced, infinitely repays the torments that they endured.
3. The fulfilment of the scripture herein is again observed; and to this event, no doubt, the prophet had immediate regard, Jeremiah 31:15. For, though we see it fulfilled in a measure, when the sword of the Chaldeans, and the captivity of the Jews which ensued, awakened Rachel, as it were, from her grave, which was near Bethlehem, to lament her children destroyed, or led to Babylon; yet, in a peculiarly striking manner may this tender mother's griefs be now said to overflow, when so many of her daughters raved with inconsolable anguish for their infants torn from their bosoms, and writhing on the spear of inhuman murderers. Note; Though God does not forbid us to bewail the ravages that death makes in our families; yet inconsolable grief is sinful. Christians must never sorrow as if they had no hope, or as if their comforts were all bound up in a dying worm.
5thly, The sojourning of our Lord in Egypt was but short. Quickly after the massacre of the infants, Herod was struck with a mortal disease, loathsome, and incurable, which made him a spectacle to others, and a torment to himself. So soon can God humble proud tyrants, and make them feel that wrath which they would not fear. Hereupon,
1. The Lord sent his angel, who informs Joseph, in a dream, of Herod's death, and bids him arise, since he may now safely return to the land of Israel. They who are driven far from the ordinances of God, and his people, wish to be no longer absent from them than necessity obliges them.
2. Joseph is all obedience, cheerful readiness in following God's direction being the sure effect of real devotedness to his will. He returns with the child and his mother to the land of Israel; but hearing that Archelaus, a son of Herod's, and an inheritor of his brutal temper, reigned in Judaea, he was justly afraid of settling under his jurisdiction; and in this emergence again the Lord signifies his pleasure to him by his angel, and points him out a place of safety, in the obscure retreat of Nazareth, a little town in Galilee, then under the government of Antipas, another of Herod's children, but a man of a milder temper than his brother. Note; (1.) They who are willing to follow the path of duty if they knew it, shall be directed aright. (2.) No danger must deter us when we have God's call to go; but we must not willingly rush into temptation. (3.) God will find a quiet resting-place for his faithful people sometimes under the sun, but assuredly above it.
3. This was done also, that the scripture might be fulfilled, which said, He shall be called a Nazarene: either this refers to Isaiah 11:1 where Christ is called a branch, netzer, out of the root of Jesse, the city Nazareth deriving its name from this word: or to Judges 13:5. Samson being the type of the great Nazarite and Saviour Jesus. Or rather in general, the prophesies which foretold his mean appearance, and the contempt and reproach that he should be exposed to, were thus fulfilled; Nazareth being a despicable place, and his very coming thence was urged by his enemies as an argument against his mission, can any good thing come out of so mean and contemptible a place as Nazareth? Note; They who are followers of Jesus of Nazareth, must not be ashamed of his reproach, nor of any opprobrious names with which his enemies and theirs may seek to render them odious or despicable. The disciple is then but as his Lord.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Matthew 2". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
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