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JESUS THE CHRIST BY HIS EARLY HISTORY answering to the word of God by the prophets. This is shown by four particulars, for each of which a corresponding prophecy is adduced.
(1) The place of his birth; where, further, he receives homage of Gentiles, though neglected by his own people (Matthew 2:1-12).
(2) His stay in Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15).
(3) The slaughter of the innocents (Matthew 2:16-18).
(4) His dwelling at Nazareth, and consequent appellation (Matthew 2:19-23).
Of these naturally the first is the most important, and it may indeed be that the chief object of the evangelist was to show that Jesus satisfied the conditions of prophecy with respect to his birth. He was only driven from Bethlehem to Egypt and subsequently to Nazareth by the jealousy of the ruler of the Jews.
While, however, the fulfilment of prophecy by Jesus the Christ was doubtless the most prominent thought in the evangelist's mind, the typical character of the treatment received cannot but have forced itself upon him, writing as he did at a time when the contrast between the Lord's rejection by Jews and his reception by Gentiles was becoming daily more marked. It is, further, not impossible that the spread of the gospel to other lands may in itself have proved a stumbling-block to the Jews, who made so much of the superior sanctity of Palestine, and that there may be in this chapter something of the same thought that moved St. Stephen to insist on the fact that God's presence is not tied to one spot or country (Acts 7:1-60.).
Born at Bethlehem, according to prophecy, he receives there the homage of representatives of the, heathen world.
Now when Jesus; who has just been identified with Christ. But in this chapter the narrative employs only those terms ("Jesus," "young Child") which bystanders might have used. They are purely annalistic, not interpretative. Contrast Matthew 1:18 and Herod's statement of a thee-logical problem (Matthew 1:4). Was born in Bethlehem. The First Gospel, if taken alone would give the impression that Joseph had had no previous connexion with Nazareth. But about the place where Joseph and Mary lived before the birth of Jesus the evangelist did not concern himself (cf Matthew 1:23, note). Of Judaea. For the evangelist's purpose it was most important so to define it as to exclude Bethlehem of Zebulun (Joshua 19:15). The inhabitants of Bethlehem of Judaea, a market town of a fruitful (Ephratah) district, live chiefly by agriculture, but also for several centuries have manufactured images of saints, rosaries, and fancy articles. Since 1834: it has been almost exclusively occupied by Christians. From "the House of Bread" came forth" the true Bread." In the days of Herod the king. Herod the Great and Herod Agrippa II. (Acts 25:13) alone held the legal title of "king" for any time (but cf. Matthew 14:1, note)—the former as King of the Jews (Josephus, 'Bell. Jud.,' Matthew 1:14.Matthew 1:4), or King "of the Idumaeans and Samaritans'', by a decree of an express meeting of the Roman senate, b.c. 40; the latter by Claudius's appointment, as king first of Chalcis (a.d. 48-53) and afterwards (a.d. 53-100) of the tetrarchies of Philip and Lysanias (Josephus, 'Bell. Jud.,' Matthew 2:12. Matthew 2:8; Matthew 13:2), although Herod Antipas was so spoken of by courtesy (infra, Matthew 14:9). As the date of Agrippa II. is quite out of the question, we are almost compelled by this phrase alone to recognize the date of Christ's birth as falling in the lifetime of Herod the Great. Herod the Great died in the spring of A.U.C. 750, our b.c. 4, and as our Lord was born at least forty days earlier, for the purification in the temple must have taken place before Herod's massacre of the innocents, he cannot have been born later than the very beginning of b.c. 4, or the end of b.c. 5. Indeed, upon the most natural deduction from Matthew 1:16, he must have been born some months earlier. The Church, from the days of Justin Martyr ('Ap.,' 1:32), has loved to see in the abolition by Rome of the kingdom of the Jews at the death of Herod, of its native dynasty by Herod's usurnation (Origen, 'Genesis Hom.,' Genesis 17:6), the fulfilment of Jacob's prophecy (Genesis 49:10). Behold, there came Wise Men from the East. The true order, as given in the Revised Version, lays the emphasis on the office, and in a subordinate degree on the home of the strangers—Wise Men from the East came. This translation also hints at the full meaning of the verb (παρεγένοντο) , of which the connotation is not of the place a quo, but of the publicity of their appearance at the place in quo (cf. Matthew 3:1). Wise Men (Μάγοι); "astromyens" (Wickliffe); "rages" (Rheims). On this word see especially Schrader ('Cuneitbrm Inscriptions and the Old Testament') on Jeremiah 39:3. He considers it to be in origin not Iranian (Medo-Persian), but Babylonian, and to have primarily meant either "one who is deep whether in power and reputation or in insight," or one who has fulness of power. It was, perhaps, at first used with special reference to astrologers and interpreters of dreams, and, passing from Babylonia to Media, it became the name of the Median priestly order. In the latter sense it is probably used here. In Acts 1:1-26 Acts 3:6-8 it, apparently by reversion, is used in its wider meaning. Of the number and rank of those who now came absolutely nothing is known. Of greater importance is Cicero's statement ('De Div.,' 1:41), "Nee quisquam rex Persarum potest esse, qui non ante magorum disciplinam scientiamque perceperit." These Magi spontaneously submit to the Babe. From the East. The proper home of the Magi would thus be Media, and, from the length of time employed on their journey (Acts 3:16), it is probable that by "the East" we must here understand Media or some other part of the kingdom, of Parthia, into which Media had been mostly absorbed, and in which, in fact, the Magi were now greatly honoured. Many, however (e.g. Lightfoot, 'Her. Hebr.'; and Edersheim, 'Life,' etc., 1.203, who points out that a Jewish kingdom of Yemen then existed), think that these Magi came from Arabia; and with this the tradition, evidently received by Justin Martyr and frequently referred to by him, perhaps agrees. But Justin's own opinion was that they came from Damascus, which "was and is a part of the land of Arabia" (§ 78). It is noticeable that Justin's tradition is confirmed by the Jerusalem Talmud ('Ber.,' 2.4), which makes an "Arabian" tell a Jew that Messiah is born. The whole passage is worth quoting for its illustration of several details in this chapter. "After this the children of Israel shall be converted, and shall inquire after the Lord their God, and David their king (Hosea 3:5). Our rabbins say, 'That is King Messias, if he be among the living, his name is David, or if dead, David is his name.' Rabbi Tanchum said, 'Thus I prove it: He sheweth mercy to David his Messiah' (Psalms 18:50). Rabbi Josua ben Levi saith, 'His name is חמץ, a Branch (Zechariah 3:8).' Rabbi Judah bar Aibu saith, ' His name is Menahem (that is, Παράκλητος, the Comforter).' And that which happened to a certain Jew, as he was ploughing, agreeth with this business. A certain Arabian travelling, and hearing the ox bellow, said to the Jew at plough, 'O Jew, loose thy oxen, and loose thy ploughs, for, behold, the temple is laid waste!' The ox bellowed the second time; the Arabian saith to him, 'O Jew, Jew, yoke thy oxen, and fit thy ploughs: for, behold, King Messiah is born!' But saith the Jew, 'What is his name?' 'Menahem,'saith he. 'And what is the name of his father?' 'Hezekiah,'saith the Arabian. To whom the Jew, 'But whence is he?' The other answered, ' From the palace of the King of Bethlehem-Judah.' Away he went, and sold his oxen, and his ploughs, and became a seller of infants'swaddling-clothes, going about from town to town. When he came to that city (Bethlehem) all the women bought of him, but the mother of Menahem bought nothing. He heard the voice of the women saying, 'O thou mother of Menahem, thou mother of Menahem, carry thy son the things that are here sold.' But she replied, 'May the enemies of Israel be strandded, because on the day that he was born the temple was laid waste.' To whom he said, 'But we hoped, that as it was laid waste at his feet, so at his feet it would be built again.' She saith, 'I have no money.' To whom he replied, 'But why should this be prejudicial to him? Carry him what you buy here, and if you have no money to-day, after some days I will come back and receive it.' After some days he returns to that city, and saith to her, 'How does the little infant?' And she said, 'From the time you saw me last, spirits [winds] and tempests came, and snatched him away out of my hands.' Rabbi Bon saith, 'What need have we to learn from an Arabian? Is it not plainly written, "And Lebanon shall fall before the Powerful One?" (Isaiah 10:34). And what follows after? "A Branch shall come out of the root of Jesse" (Isaiah 11:1)'" ('Hor. Hebr.,' in loc.) To Jerusalem. The capital, where this King would reign, and where information about his birth would most naturally be obtained.
Saying. The inquiry was on their lips at the moment of their appearance. Where is? Not "whether there is." The Magi show no signs of doubt. He that is born King of the Jews; i.e. he that is born to be King of the Jews. Whether he is king from the very moment of his birth is not stated. The rendering of the Revised Version margin, "Where is the King of the Jews that is born?" would imply this. With either form the bystanders could hardly help contrasting him with their then ruler, who had acquired the kingship after years of conflict, and who was of foreign extraction. King of the Jews. Notice:
(1) This was, perhaps, Herod's exact title (Matthew 2:1, note).
(2) They do not say king of the world. They accept the facts that the Jews alone expected this king, and that according to the more literal interpretation of the Jewish prophecies the homage of the world would be rendered to him as the Head of the Jewish nation.
(3) The title is not used of our Lord again until the Passion, where it is only used by heathen. The Magi and the Roman, learning and administration, East and West, acknowledge, at least in form, the King of the Jews.
(4) The Jews themselves preferred the term, "King of Israel". The term "Jews" made them only one of the nations of the earth; "Israel" reminded them of their theocratic privileges. For. They state the reason of their certainty. We have seen (we saw, Revised Version); at home. His star. In the way of their ordinary pursuits they learned of Christ. The observation of nature led them to nature's Bond (Colossians 1:17). What this star really was has been the subject of much consideration without any very satisfactory result. The principal theories are:
(1) It was the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, which took place in May to July and again in September, b.c. 7.
(2) It was the rising of Sirius on the same day in the fifth, fourth, third, and second years b.c.
(3) It was some strange evanescent star such as Kepler saw in 1603-4.
(4) Astronomy can suggest nothing which satisfies all the conditions, and the appearance must have been strictly miraculous.
Since Professor Pritchard's article in the 'Dictionary of the Bible,' this last has been generally accepted in England. A further question is—How came they to identify the star as "his"? i.e. What made the Magi connect the coming of the King of the Jews with a star? and what made them consider that this particular appearance was the one they expected? The latter part of the question can hardly be answered, except on the supposition that the star that they saw was in itself so extraordinary as to convince them that no greater star could be looked for. To the former part various answers have been given.
(1) Balaam's prophecy (Numbers 24:17) was understood literally, and the knowledge of it, with its misinterpretation, had spread to the Magi. For this literal interpretation, cf. the 'Pesikta Zutarta' ('Lekah Tob') on Numbers 24:17, where it says that in the fifth year of the heptad before Messiah "the star" shall shine forth from the east,, and this is the star of the Messiah (cf. also Edersheim, 'Life,' etc., 1.212). Similarly we find the false Messiah of the second century applying the term to himself—"Barcochab."
(2) They had learned, by intercourse with Jews (cf. the influence of the Jewish Sibylline oracles on the fourth eclogue), that these latter expected a great King, and they had applied to his coming, as to all events, the science that they themselves practised. They believed fully in astrology, and the Divine ordering that a star should appear to them was a condescension to the then state of human knowledge. In the East (ἐν τῇ ἀνατολῇ). Ellicott points out that to translate this "at its rising" seems to be at needless variance with the use of the same words in Numbers 24:9, where they seem to stand in a kind of local antithesis to "where the young Child was." For the phrase as referring to the Eastern part of the earth, cf. Clem. Romans, § 5. It is more definite than the plural of verse 1. And are come. "We saw … and came" (εἴδομεν … ἤλθομεν) without delay. To Worship him. Not as God, but as Lord and King (Matthew 4:9, note). The prostration of themselves bodily before him (προσκυνῆσαι; cf. also verse 11) was not a Greek or Roman, but an Eastern, and it is said especially a Persian, form of homage.
When; and when, Revised Version. There is a contrast (δέ) between the eager question of the Magi and the feelings of Herod. Herod the king. In the true text the emphasis is not on the person (as in Matthew 2:1, where the date was all-important), but on the office as then exercised. Tile king visibly regnant is contrasted with him who was born to be King. Heard. Through some of his many sources of information, for "there were spies set everywhere" (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 15.10. 4). These things; it, Revised Version. Nothing is expressed in the original. He was troubled; perplexed, agitated (ἐταράχθη). Fully in accordance with his jealous and suspicious character. For he had already slain, as actual or possible candidates for the throne, five of the Maccabean princes and princesses, including his favourite wife Mariamne (thus extirpating the direct line) and also his two sons by Mariamne. Josephus ('Ant.,' 17.2. 4; cf. Holtzmann) mentions a prediction of the Pharisees towards the end of Herod's life, that "God had decreed that Herod's government should cease, and his posterity should be deprived of it." This seems to have a Messianic reference, though used at the time for an intrigue in favour of Pheroras, Herod's brother. And all Jerusalem. The feminine (here only, πᾶσα Ἰεροσόλυμα) points to a Hebrew source. The reason for the inhabitants of Jerusalem feeling troubled is generally explained, by their fear, which was in fact only too well justified by experience, that the news would excite Herod to fresh crimes. It is also possible that many would shrink from the changes which the coming of Messiah could not but bring. Present ease, though only comparative, is with the unbelieving preferable to possibilities of the highest blessedness. Matthew 21:10 affords both a parallel and a contrast. With him. In this respect Jerusalem was one with Herod (John 1:11).
And when he had gathered … together (καὶ συναγαγών). The Revised Version, and gathering together, suggests that there was no delay. All the chief priests and scribes of the people (πάντας τοὺς ἀρχιερεῖς καὶ γραμματεῖς τοῦ λαοῦ). In the absence of the article before γραμματεῖς we must take the words, "of the people," as belonging to both terms. The addition helped to bring out the evangelist's thought that the representatives of the chosen people (1 Peter 2:10) were fully informed of the coming of Christ. The chief priests (cf. also Matthew 16:21, note) represented the ecclesiastical and Sadducean part, the scribes the more literary and probably the Pharisaic part, of the nation. The width of the term "all," and the double classification, seem to point to this not being a meeting of the Sanhedrin as such. Herod called an informal and perhaps the more comprehensive meeting of those who could assist him. He demanded of them; Revised Version, inquired, for "demand" is, in modern English, too strong for ἐπυνθάνετο The tyrant could be courteous when it served his purpose. Does the imperfect mark his putting the question to one after another (cf. Acts 1:6; and contrast John 4:52)? Where Christ (the Christ, Revised Version) should be born (γεννᾶται). In Matthew 2:2 (ὁτεχθείς) the stress lay on his birth as an accomplished fact. Here on his birth as connected with his origin The present is chosen, not the future, because Herod is stating a theological question without reference to time. Observe, in Herod's inquiry and subsequent action, the combination of superstition and irreligion. He was willing to accept the witness of stars and of prophecies, but not willing to allow himself to be morally influenced by it. His attempt to kill this Child was the expression of a desire to destroy the Jewish nationality so far as this was severed from himself, and perhaps with it to uproot at the same time a fundamental part of the Jewish religion.
And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet. For" by" the Revised Version margin has "through" (Matthew 1:22, not,.).
And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Jude, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel; and thou Bethlehem, land of Judah, art in no wise least among the princes of Judah: For out of thee shall come forth a governor, which shall be shepherd of my people Israel (Revised Version). In this quotation from Micah 5:2 notice the following Variations from the Hebrew, and practically from the LXX.:
(1) "Land of Judah" for "Ephratah"; an unimportant change in the terms of definition.
(2) "Art in no wise least" for "which art little to be "; a verbal contradiction probably, but also unimportant, as the thought of the context in Micah is of Bethlehem's greatness.
(3) "Princes" for "thousands." This may be due
(a) to a different pointing of the Hebrew, יפֵלֻאַבְּ for יפֵלְאַבְּ (cf. the rabbinic commentary, 'Metzud. Zion.'), or
(b) to understanding יפֵלְאַבְּ as "families", and then concentrating the family in its head.
(4) "For out of thee shall come forth a governor, which shall be shepherd of my people Israel" for "out of thee shall one come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel." This is a paraphrase, with a paraphrastic addition from 2 Samuel 5:2 (2 Samuel 7:7), in order to distinctly identify the ruler with Messiah.
Nothing is commoner in Jewish authors than the silent conjunction of quotations from separate contexts. In this case the thought of the shepherd in Micah 5:4 made the addition from Samuel the more easy. It must also be noticed that the reference of the passage in Micah to Christ is fully borne out by Jewish writers. Though they generally explain the rest of the verse as referring to the long lapse of time from David himself, they understand the ruler to be Messiah. But it is not usual with Jewish interpreters to understand the reference to Bethlehem as implying the place of Messiah's own birth. They generally take it as referring to the home of David, Messiah's ancestor. And this is the more natural meaning of the prophecy. The quotation, however, from the Jerusalem Talmud already given on verse 1, and the Targum of Jonathan on Genesis 35:21 ("the tower of Edar—the place whence King Messiah is about to be revealed in the end of the days"), endorse the thoroughly Jewish character of the reply given to Herod (cf. also John 7:42). If it be asked why St. Matthew does not give an exact and verbal rendering of the Hebrew, the answer may be made that he probably gives the current form of its exposition. The high priests and scribes would have doubtless quoted it accurately in the process of weighing Micah's statement, but when, as here, they were only reproducing the result that they had arrived at, they would care for only the substance of the prophet's teaching (cf. the paraphrastic rendering of the Targum). In the land of Judah; Revised Version omits in (Βηθλεὲμ γῆ Ἰούδα). "Bethlehem-Judah" would have presented no difficulty, for a town was often distinguished by the apposition of the name of the district in which it was situated; e.g. Ramoth-Gilead, Kedesh-Naphtali. It seems best to explain the γῆ as a mere expansion of "Judah" (cf. 1 Macc. 5:68, ἄζωτον γῆν ἀλλοφυλῶν, where probably the thought was Ashdod-Philistia). It is, however, possible that γῆ is here used in the sense of "the town and its surrounding district, over which district, it is to be observed, Herod extended his massacre (verse 16)" (Humphrey, in loc.).
Then Herod, when he had privily called the Wise Men. Secrecy was doubly necessary. He would not publicly commit himself to acknowledging the rights of the new King, and he would give no opportunity for others to warn the Child's parents of the dangerous interest that Herod was taking in him. Duplicity was very characteristic of Herod; cf. his assassination of Aristobulus the high priest (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 15.3. 3), and his alluring his son Antipater home to death (ibid., 17.5. 1). Inquired of them diligently; learned of them carefully (Revised Version); "lerned of hem bisili" (Wickliffe); ἠκρίβωσεν παρ αὐτῶν. The stress is not upon Herod's careful questioning, but on the exact information that he obtained. What time the star appeared. Although this is not the literal translation, it may, perhaps, represent the sense of the original (τὸν χρόνον τοῦ φαινομένου ἀστέρος) , the participle characterizing the star in its most important relation—its appearance, and the words being treated as a compound expression (cf. John 12:9, John 12:12). Herod supposed that the birth of the Babe was synchronous with the first appearance of the star. The translation, however, of the Revised Version margin, "the time of the star that appeared," better suits the exact wording (χρόνον, not καιρόν;φαινομένου, not φανέντος) , the phrase thus including both the first appearance and also the period of continuance (cf. Grotius, "non initium, sed continuitas"). But it is difficult to see What Herod would have learned from this latter particular. Some even think that the star was still visible (Plumptre; Weiss, 'Matthew'), but in this case the joy of the Magi in Matthew 2:10 is not satisfactorily explained.
And he sent them to Bethlehem. Thus answering their question (Matthew 2:2). And said, Go and search diligently for the young Child; and search out carefully concerning, Revised Version; ἐξετάσατε ἀκριβῶς περί. Herod bade them make precise inquiry as to all particulars about the Child. The more details he could obtain, the more easily he could make away with him. And when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also; the Revised Version rightly joins, I also—I as well as you; I the king. It might well be at a secret conference with the Magi that Herod said this, for no Jew would have believed him. Worship; Matthew 2:2, note.
When they had heard the king. There is a slight contrast in the Greek, but they [for their part] having heard the King. They departed; went their way (Revised Version). Took their journey (ἐπορεύθησαν) And lo, the star, which they saw in the East. They would, in accordance with Eastern custom, probably travel by night. Observe that the joy they felt at seeing the star (Matthew 2:10) implies that it had not continued visible (Matthew 2:7, note). They had fully used all means; now they receive fresh Divine guidance. In the East (Matthew 2:2, note). Went before them. Continuously (τροῆγεν); "taking them by the hand and drawing them on" (Chrysostom). Not to show them the way to Bethlehem, for the road was easy, but to assure them of guidance to the Babe, over whose temporary home it stayed. The road to Bethlehem is, and from the nature of the valley must always have been, so nearly straight (until the last half-mile, when there is a sudden turn up the hill) that the star need have moved but slightly. Bethlehem itself is seen soon after passing Mar Elias, a monastery rather more than half-way from Jerusalem. Till it came and stood over where the young Child was. Does the true reading (ἐστάθη) suggest the unseen hand by which this star was itself guided and stationed (Matthew 27:11)? or is it used with a kind of reflexive force, indicating that it was by no chance that it stood still there—"took its stand" (cf. σταθείς, Luke 18:11, Luke 18:40; Luke 19:8; Acts 2:14, et al.; cf. also Revelation 8:3; 12:18)?
When (and when, Revised Version) they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy; "they were marvelously glad" (Tyndale). Its reappearance was the pledge of the full answer to their search, the full reward of their toilsome journey. Contrast the indifference of the chosen people.
And when they were come into the house. For after the enrolment the caravanserai would not be so crowded (Luke 2:7). But whether it was now the caravanserai or a private house, we have no evidence to show. They saw (εἶδον, with the uncials and most of the versions). The translators in this case followed the text of the Complutensian and of Colinaeus' edition, rejecting the false εὗρον of the Vulgate and the Received Text. The young Child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him (Matthew 2:2, note). In this latter clause Mary is not mentioned. And when they had opened. Neither the Authorized Version nor the Revised Version brings out the exact correlation of the six aorists in this verse. Their treasures (so the Revised Version); perhaps, more strictly, treasuries, coffers. There is the same ambiguity about "treasure" in old English (cf. Jeremiah 10:13; Jeremiah 51:16; Eeclus. 43:14) as in the Greek. They presented unto him gifts. Thus fulfilling in germ the predictions of offerings being made to Messiah and Messiah's people by the Gentile nations (Isaiah 60:1-22.; Haggai 2:7; Psalms 72:10). Presented; offered (Revised Version). The verb used (προσφέρω) seems to lay stress on the persons to whom and by whom the offering is made, the personal relation in which they stand to each other; ἀναφέρω (cf. Bishop Westcott, on Hebrews 7:27) and παρίστημι on the destination and use of the offering (James 2:21; Romans 6:13). Observe the three stages in this verse—vision, submission, consecration. Gifts; without which one does not approach an Eastern monarch (cf. 1 Kings 10:2). Gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. Wealth and delights, the material and the aesthetic.
And being warned of God (καὶ χρηματισθέντες; cf. Bishop Westcott, on Hebrews 8:5). And, not "but;" this is joined to the threefold "and" of Matthew 2:11, and is the final example of God's mercy and grace towards them, preserving them from probable death at Herod's hands. In a dream (Matthew 1:20, note). That they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way. Perhaps eastwards by Bet Sahur and Mar Saba and Jericho.
The deliverance of Jesus by flight into Egypt.
And (Revised Version, now) when they were departed. The flight was not by their advice, and they were not even entrusted with the secret. Behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream (Matthew 1:20, notes). The present tense (φαίνεται) is here more vivid. Saying, Arise (Matthew 2:14, note), and take the young Child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word; Revised Version, I tell thee (ἕως ἂν εἴπω σοι). The rendering of the Authorized Version seems to be due to a desire to express the dependence of the messenger on him who sent him. For Herod; though he spoke so fair to the Magi. Will seek. The full form (μέλλει … ζητεῖν) hints that Herod's action will be the result of no momentary emotion, but of premeditation. The young Child to destroy him. The final motive (τοῦ ἀπολέσαι) of seeking him.
When he arose, he took; Revised Version, and he arose and took. The ἐγερθείς here, as in Matthew 2:13, precludes delay. The young Child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt. As St. Paul in after years was able to connect himself with fellow-craftsmen, and thus maintain himself (Acts 18:3), so might Joseph reasonably expect to be able to do in Egypt, and the more so since the connexion there between those who worked at the same trade seems to have been even closer than elsewhere, for in tile great synagogue at Alexandria they sat together, "so that if a stranger came he could join himself to his fellow-craftsmen and, through their means, obtain his livelihood". Jewish reference to our Lord's stay in Egypt are to be found in the blasphemous tables of his having brought thence his knowledge of magic.
And was there until the death of Herod. The Revised Version rightly joins this with the preceding, not with the following, clause. That it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying (Matthew 1:22, notes), Out of Egypt have I called (Revised Version, did I call) my Son (Hosea 11:1, "When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt"). Observe here:
(1) The quotation is not from the LXX. ("Out of Egypt I summoned his children"), but from the Hebrew, which Aquila also follows.
(2) The expression in Hosea is based on Exodus 4:22, "Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son, my firstborn;" of. also Wis. 18:13. "They acknowledged this people to be the son of God (ὡμολόγησαν Θεοῦ υἱὸν λαὸνεἶναι)."
(3) The quotation is, by the context, evidently adduced, not to prove the sonship of Jesus, but to enlarge upon the treatment that he received. The fundamental thought is that the experience of Messiah was parallel to the experience of the nation.
(4) The application of the term "my Son" to Messiah is justified by Jewish thought. In Exodus 4:22 the nation was so called; in Psalms 2:7 the head of the nation, the theocratic king, received the same title; much more could the great theocratic King, the Messiah, be so spoken of. That, indeed, the name, "the Son of God," was used as a title of Messiahship by the Jews lacks direct evidence, but is surely to be deduced from Matthew 26:63 (Matthew 16:16); of. also the application of Psalms 2:7 to Messiah in Talm. Bab.,' Succah,' 52 a, in the late Midrash 'Tillim,' in loc., which traces" the decree" there spoken of through the Law (Exodus 4:22), the prophets (e.g.. Isaiah 52:13), and the Hagiographa. It is hardly too much to say that no Jew could consistently, either in the early days of the Church or now, find any difficulty in St. Matthew's reference of the term "my Son" to Christ.
(5) Seeing that St. Matthew's reference of tile term "my Son" is justified by Jewish thought, and that the passage in Hosea is adduced to show that the experience of Messiah was parallel to that of the nation, there seems no real need to look for further reasons for the application. St. Matthew may hays held that Messiah was the Flower of Israel, so that what was predicated of Israel could be essentially explained of Messiah; he may have considered that Messiah was so organically connected with Israel that even when the nation was in Egypt Messiah was there also (cf. Hebrews 7:10; Hebrews 11:26); he may have thought that the pro-incarnate Son of God was always with his Church, and therefore with it even in Egypt; but of none of these theories have we any hint. The application of Hosea 11:1 to the early life of Christ belongs, we do not doubt, to the very earliest stage of Jewish Christian thought, and to defend it by modem subtleties of interpretation seems quite out of place. Messiah was in some sense, as all Jews granted, the Son of God; Messiah, like the nation, went down into Egypt; what was predicated of the one was, clearly in this case, true of the other, and the prophet's words received a "fulfilment." The fulfilment was, indeed, what we should call a coincidence (of. verse 23, note), but to the pious mind, and especially to the pious mind of a Jew, coincidences are not chances, they are signs of the Divine Governor.
The slaughter of the innocents.
Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked (ὅτι ἐνεπαίχθη). The verb which in the New Testament occurs only in the synoptists, and always in the strict sense of "mock" (e.g. Matthew 20:19; Matthew 27:29, Matthew 27:31, Matthew 27:41), represents Herod's feelings, and perhaps his language, at his treatment by the Magi. It was more than deception; they had trifled with him. Of the Wise Men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children; Revised Version, male children (τοὺς παῖδας, not τὰ τέκρα). That were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts (Revised Version, borders) thereof. Not merely the districts legally belonging to the city, but the neighbourhood generally. From two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired (Matthew 2:7, note) of the Wise Men. Had he made further inquiries, he might have aroused suspicion, so he made sure of his prey by allowing a wide margin both in time and space. "'On Augustus being informed,'says Macrobius ['Saturn.,' 2.4], 'that among the boys under two years of age whom Herod ordered to be slain in Syria, his own son also lind been slain, "It is better," said he, "to be Herod's pig (ὖν) than his son (υἱὸν)." Although Macrobius is a late writer [circ. 400]. and made the mistake of supposing that Herod's son Antipater, who was put to death about the same time as the massacre of the innocents, had actually perished in that massacre, it is clear that the form in which he narrates the bon mot of Augustus points to some dim reminiscence of this cruel slaughter". Farrar (and Edersheim accepts his calculation) reckons that not more than twenty children were killed. Thus failed the first attempt to destroy Christ, Revelation 12:4 (Nosgen).
Matthew 2:17, Matthew 2:18
Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by (διά) Jeremy the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not (Jeremiah 31:15, from the Hebrew). Notice:
(1) As to details.
(a) The order in the Revised Version. A voice was heard in Ramah is more literal; the stress is on the cry rather than on the place.
(b) Lamentation and must be omitted, with the Revised Version, as a mere addition from the LXX.
(c) And would not. The Revised Version, and she would not, seems to be an attempt to express the full term, καὶ οὐκ ἤθελεν κ.τ.λ.. (cf. Genesis 37:35).
(2) As to the quotation generally. St. Matthew applies Jeremiah's picture of Rachel, the mother of Joseph, i.e. of Ephraim (and also Manasseh), which was the typical part of the northern kingdom, weeping over the destruction of her children by the Assyrians, to the weeping of the mothers in Bethlehem. This application was the more easy because, as Rachel's tomb was near Bethlehem (Genesis 35:19; Genesis 48:1-22.Genesis 48:7), she might be considered the figurative ancestress of the Bethlehe-mites as well as the physical ancestress of the Ephraimites. The fulfilment spoken of is thus not to be understood as implying that Jeremiah predicted the massacre at Bethlehem, but that in it his words received a new and deeper significance. It must, however, be added that, although Rachel's tomb is placed at Bethlehem, both by the direct statement of the present text of Genesis and by tradition, which may be traced at least as far back as a.d. 333, and is accepted by Jews, Christians, and Mohammedans, there are serious doubts whether 1 Samuel 10:2 does not definitely place it in the north of Benjamin, and whether Jeremiah 31:15 does not accept this latter view (cf. for this question Delitzsch, on Genesis, loc. cit.) In any case, St. Matthew adopts the statement of Genesis.
The return from Egypt and settlement in Nazareth.
But when Herod was dead. Does the repetition of the tenor of Matthew 2:15 point to a different source? Behold, an angel (rightly; contrast Matthew 1:20, note) of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph (φαίνεται κατ ὄναρ, as in Matthew 2:13). In both cases the stress is on the fact of the appearance, not on its mode. In Egypt. The evangelist will leave no room for doubt as to where Joseph then was (cf. note at head of chapter).
Saying, Arise, and take the young Child and his mother (so far verbally equivalent to Matthew 2:13). And go into the land. of Israel; any part of the holy and promised land (1 Samuel 13:19; Ezekiel 11:17). For they are dead which sought the young Child's life. The plural is difficult, and is perhaps best explained as an adaptation of the historic parallel of Exodus 4:19.
And he arose, and took the young Child and his mother (so far verbally equivalent to Matthew 2:14), and came into the land of Israel. Implicit and immediate obedience marking all he did.'
But when he heard that Archelaus. Until his murder five days before Herod's own death in the spring of A.U.C. 750, Antipater, Herod's eldest son, might naturally have been regarded as the successor, though in fact Antipas had been named as such in the will. But after Antipater's death Herod altered his will; and appointing Antipas Tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea, and Philip Tetrarch of Gaulonitis, Traehonitis, and Paneas, he granted the kingdom to Archelaus. Further, even after Herod's death, the succession was far from certain until the consent of Augustus had been obtained, and this, in fact, was jeopardized by Archelaus's massacre of three thousand cf those who, on his accession, called for justice on the agents of the barbarities of the late reign. Eventually, however, Herod's last arrangement was practically confirmed by Augustus, save that he expressly gave Archelaus, who had hastened to Rome, but half of his father's dominion, and appointed him only ethnarch, promising to make him king "if he governed that part virtuously" (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 17.8. 1; 11. 4; cf. 'Bell. Jud.,' 1. 33. 8; 2.7. 3). Joseph's fear of Archelaus quite corresponds to the character given of him by the Jewish ambassadors before Augustus. "He seemed to be afraid lest he should not be deemed Herod's own son; and so, without any delay, he immediately Jet the nation understand his meaning," i.e. by the slaughter of the three thousand malcontents above referred to (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 17.11.2). He was in a.d. 6 deposed for his cruelty, and banished to Vienne, in Gaul. Did reign; Revised Version, was reigning; an attempt to express the vivid present of the original, which recalls the very words he heard. After Augustus's decision, Archelaus could not legally have called himself βασιλεύς, but the title, especially as implied in the verb, would have been customary in popular speech (cf. Matthew 14:9). But it is possible that the expression was used before Archelaus went to Rome, and at the time of his first grasp of power under Herod's will. In Judaea. The Revised Version (over Judaea, βασιλεύει τῆς Ἰουδαίας) rightly implies not only that he lived in Judaea, but that, unlike his father, was not king of the whole of Palestine, but emphatically of Judaea. To this Idumaea and Samaria were appendages. In the room of his father Herod. Had St. Matthew the same thought as the Jewish ambassadors above? He was afraid to go thither; and presumably he told God his fears. Notwithstanding (only δέ); Revised Version, and. Being warned of God (verse 12, note). For he does not leave his people in perplexity. In a dream. No angel is mentioned this time. He turned aside; Revised Version, he withdrew (ἀνεχώρησεν). Into the parts of Galilee; where Antipas was tetrarch. The form (cf. Matthew 15:21; Matthew 16:13) seems to imply removal from one spot to another before finally settling at Nazareth, and also the subordinate importance of the places visited, compared with the more populous towns.
And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth. En-Nasira, now of from five thousand to six thousand souls, in the hills on the northern edge of the Plain of Esdraelon, not mentioned in the Old Testament or by Josephus. "Nazareth is a rose, and, like a rose, has the same rounded form, enclosed by mountains as the flower by its leaves". Observe the (:) in the Revised Version, showing that the following "fulfilment" is not to be considered as part of Joseph's intention. Dwelt; settled down after the exile life (cf Acts 7:4). That (ὅπως). The purpose lay in the Divine overruling of Joseph's action, ὄπως with πληρωθῇ, Matthew 8:17 and Matthew 13:35 only. In each case it is used with reference to general statements, i.e. it marks a less close connection than that implied by ἵνα. It might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets. He shall be called (Revised Version, that he should be called; ὅτι κληθήσεται; cf. also the Geneva) a Nazarene. The Revised Version expresses the fact that the quotation is not of words, but of substance, for although the recitative ὅτι is found in St. Matthew (Matthew 7:23; Matthew 9:18; Matthew 14:26; Matthew 27:43, Matthew 27:47) and even before verbal citations from Scripture after γέγραπται (Matthew 4:6) and ἀνέγνωετε (Matthew 21:16, contrast 42), yet it does not occur after the formula τον κ.τ.λ. By the prophets. Not "in the prophets" (Acts 13:40), which might have preferred (yet cf. Hebrews 1:1) only to the book containing their writings, and then would not in itself have implied more than one passage there. The present phrase (διὰ τῶν προφητῶν) suggests personality rather than writing, and implies either that two or more prophets were the agents by whom the words were spoken, or, better, that in some way the whole company of the prophets (cf. Acts 3:25; Hebrews 1:1) spoke the message now summarized. In this way the phrase will indicate that even if the following words are found in the utterances of only one prophet, they also represent a phase of teaching common to all. A Nazarene. Those interpretations which connect this with רזן (nzr) ,
(1) in the sense of "separated" (Lightfoot, 'Hor. Hebr.'),
(a) generally (cf. Psalms 69:7);
(b) specifically as "Nazarite" (ריזן, Ναζηραῖος, so Tyndale to Rheims); or
(2) in the sense of "diadem" (רזֶןֵ, "Zu Cronberg [תרזן] hat der Gekronte gewohnet," Bengel); are inadmissible in the light of the fact that, in Jewish writings, both "Nazareth" and "Nazarene" (ירצון) are from רצן (ntsr). Thus the reference to the prophets requires that they speak of Messiah by some term belonging to this root, and not to רזן (nzr). What this term is may be gathered from the true text of Talm. Bab., 'Sanh.,' 43a (cf. 'Levy,'s.v. רצן, and for the passage in full, Rabbinowicz, 'Var. Leer.'), where, after enumerating five disciples of Jesus the Nazarene (ירצונה ושי), among them Netzer, a summary is given of their trial and condemnation. Of Netzer it is said, "They brought Netzer up for trial. He said to the judges, Shall Netzer be slain? It is written, 'A branch (netzer, רצן) out of his roots shall bear fruit (Isaiah 11:1).'They answered him, Yea, Netzer shall be slain. For it is written, 'But thou art cast forth away from thy sepulchre like an abominable branch'" (netzer, Isaiah 14:19). It does not now concern us to inquire which, if any, of the twelve disciples is here spoken of by the name of Netzer. But it is evident that the Jews
(1) connected this name closely with Jesus the Nazarene just before mentioned, and
(2) saw a connexion between it and "the Branch" of Isaiah 11:1. True that they rejected the disciple's application of the passage, but they did not reject the identity of the expressions. The application which was made, even according to the Talmud, is fully expressed by the evangelist here. There, as we may see if we read between the lines, the disciple claimed for his Christianity that it corresponded to the promise of Isaiah; here the evangelist more definitely claims a correspondence between that promise and Jesus. He is not concerned with deeper points of similarity, though they could not fail to suggest themselves both to him and to his readers, but merely notices that the very dwelling-place of Jesus answers to the promise of Messiah. Netzer he was to be; the Divine working brought it about that this, though in adjectival form, was his common appellation. Observe that
(1) to netzer in Isaiah 11:1 the word tsemah, corresponds in Jeremiah 23:5 and Zechariah 3:8;
(2) the fulfilment consists, not in carrying out a definite statement to its logical issue in history, but in the existence of a strange correspondence which implies Divine foresight and arrangement. Why Joseph settled at Nazareth rather than at any other spot in Galilee, St. Matthew gives no hint. The reason is found in the fact recorded by St. Luke that Mary (Luke 1:26) and Joseph (Luke 2:4) had lived there before the Birth. It is true that St. Matthew's account taken alone gives the impression that this was not the case, but the impression is not so strong as to warrant even the assertion that St. Matthew was ignorant of the earlier residence, much less that his account in fact contradicts St. Luke's. The mutual independence and the general trustworthiness of the two accounts of the Birth and Infancy is shown by the fact that in their less important details they cannot always be reconciled.
The Wise Men from the East.
I. THEIR CIRCUMSTANCES.
1. They were Gentiles. The first chapter represents the Lord Jesus as a Jew, the Son of David, the long-expected Messiah. The second chapter tells us that the Gentiles also have an interest in the new-born Saviour. He came to bear the sins of the world, to be the Saviour of the world; to be not only "the Glory of his people Israel," but also "a Light to lighten the Gentiles." Ancient prophecy had foretold that "the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising." They were coming now, the firstfruits of the Gentile world—coming a long journey from the far East to seek the infant Saviour who had come from highest heaven to save their souls. They were the leaders of the long procession of Gentiles who, drawn by grace, have sought the Lord. What countless millions have followed them, not from the East only, but in mightier multitudes from the West, from the North, and from the South! Their coming, thus early, to the cradle of the Lord prefigured the gradual ingathering of that great host, that multitude which no man could number.
2. They were Magians. Like Daniel and his companions, they belonged to the learned, the sacerdotal, caste; they had been instructed in the wisdom of the East. Especially they had been engaged in the study of astronomy. Their learning had not degenerated into the magic, the pretensions to supernatural power, so common in their time. It was sanctified by a longing after God; it had elevated and refined their character. They were not like the Simon of Acts 8:1-40., or the Elymas of Acts 13:1-52. The name, Μάγοι, was common to them all; but Simon and Elymas were impostors, seeking their own selfish ends; their learning, such as it was, was degraded by falsehood and charlatanry; the Magians of St. Matthew were sincere seekers after God. They may possibly have heard something of ancient prophecy; the prophecies of Balaam, and more especially those of Daniel, may have been known in their country; they must have been familiar with the expectations of a coming King, a Deliverer, a Messiah, so generally diffused throughout the East. They were diligent observers of the stars; in the clear atmosphere of Mesopotamia or Persia they had watched the glorious march, the marvellous order, of the heavenly bodies. Astronomy, their favourite science, was blessed to their souls'salvation—it pointed the way to the Saviour. Science is the handmaid of religion, if it is pursued in the humble, teachable spirit which becomes seekers after truth. Philosophy, it has well been said, begins in wonder, and it ends in wonder. The wonders of this vast universe awaken thought and stimulate research, but every truth, pursued as far as man can reach, results in mystery. The wider, the more accurate, our knowledge, the deeper will be our consciousness of our own ignorance. That sense of ignorance, those insoluble mysteries, should lift up the heart to God. Reverence, humility, are the tempers which true learning should produce. They who in such a spirit "follow Truth along her star-paved way" will find that that way leads to God. The learned need a Saviour as much as the ignorant; the Magians must come to Christ as well as the shepherds. The best and holiest need him as much as the most sinful, the blessed virgin as much as the publican and the sinner.
3. They were rich. They brought rich gifts—gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The rich must come as well as the poor. They must bring their free-will offerings, giving largely, gladly, with a willing mind. Almsgiving is an important part of Christian duty, an element in Christian worship. The true disciple will learn of the Lord "who, though he was rich, yet for our sake became poor," the deep and holy lesson that "it is more blessed to give than to receive." We must give, not the mere shreds and parings of our worldly substance, but in due proportion to our means. "Of all that thou shalt give me," Jacob said, when he had seen the vision of God in Bethel, the house of God, "I will surely give the tenth unto thee."
4. They came a long journey. From the far East, from Chaldea or from Persia. They shrank not from the toil, the danger, of the way. They believed the heavenly warning, they sought the Saviour. We must seek Christ in faith. God has called us; we must obey the calling. The way that leads to eternal life seems often long; it is always strait, narrow, steep. There is need of perseverance and self-denial; we must forget those things which are behind, pressing ever onwards to those things which are before.
5. Their question. "Where is he that is born King of the Jews?" They had not the Scriptures, the Word of God, which is "a lamp unto our feet, and a light unto our path." But they had seen the wondrous star; the voice of God speaking in their hearts told them its meaning. Then they arose, and went their way, seeking the King. We shall find the Christ if, like them, we are earnest seekers. Scripture, study, the promptings of our own heart, will lead us to him. For he is seeking us. He called the Wise Men from the East by the leading of a star; he calls us now by his Word, by his works, by his Spirit. We could not find him were it not that he first loved us, and sought us in his love. He was hidden from the eyes of sinful men in the unapproachable light which no man hath seen or can see. But he loved us; he draws us to himself by the attractive power of his constraining love. Yet we must seek him. It is he who seeketh that findeth; we must not sit still in spiritual idleness and take it for granted that all will be well. We must seek him as the Wise Men sought him, coming a long journey, offering our gifts, our hearts, our selves, our earthly goods. We must come asking, "Where is he?" Every one that seeketh findeth. "Where is he that is born King of the Jews?" It is a great question—a question of deep meaning and very solemn interest. He is born King of the Jews—King by birth, by Divine right; King not only of Israel after the flesh, but of the Israel of God, the Church of the Firstborn. We all owe him our allegiance, for he is our King, the King of the nations, King of kings and Lord of lords. Where is he? We must find him; for he is our Life, the Life of our souls. To know him is eternal life; we must seek until we find, seeking earnestly, like the Wise Men from the East, grudging no pains, no cost.
6. What led them to the Christ? The mysterious star. The brightest light that shone in the Gentile firmament was but as a star compared with the Sun of Righteousness. There were good men among the heathen—men who in the darkness felt after the truth, if haply they might find it; who showed the work of the law written in their hearts; men like Socrates, Plato, Epictetus, earnest seekers after God. Their knowledge was as a star, beautiful, but pale; very limited in range and power, glimmering in the darkness. Still, it was enough, we cannot doubt, for their salvation. Their conscience bore witness; if they followed its guidance it would bring them safe to their journey's end. That guiding star, conscience, the candle of the Lord within us, tells us of sin, of judgment, of salvation. It is set in our hearts to lead us to the Saviour. God grant that we may find him!
7. The object of their coming. To worship him. The great blessedness promised to God's saints is the beatific vision, the unveiled vision of God. "I will," the Saviour said, "that they may behold my glory which thou hast given me." That vision implies worship. Worship is the homage of the heart, the reverential submission of the whole being, adoration full of wondering awe, full of grateful love. It is the occupation of heaven: "They rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come." We must learn to worship here; it is the training for the heavenly life. Worship is not merely prayer; it includes prayer, but it is more. It does not consist simply in asking for what we need to supply our own wants. It is unselfish; its. end is the glory of God. They who are learning here the true and heavenly worship are learning to approach God, to seek the presence of God, not only for their own deep necessities—they must indeed seek him for that, but not for that only—they seek his face for himself, because he is so great, so glorious, so holy, so gracious. He himself is the exceeding great Reward of his chosen. These Gentiles teach us Christians what so many of us forget, the duty of unselfish Worship—simple, heartfelt adoration.
II. THEIR RECEPTION AT JERUSALEM.
1. By Herod. They came to Jerusalem, the city of the great King, but they found not there the King whom they sought. Another king was reigning in Jerusalem, a stranger, an Edomite; a king in name, but a very slave of the evil one, now drawing near to the close of his wicked life, in that miserable old age which is the necessary result of a youth spent in the unbridled indulgence of sinful appetites.
(1) Herod was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. The announcement of the King's birth was not good news to Herod. He felt that that King must be the expected Messiah, the Christ; but he thought only of his own selfish aims, he feared for his crown. Strange that even in the immediate prospect of death, men should so cling to earthly things which must ass away so very soon, and neglect the one thing needful. But it is commonly so; as a man lives, so, as a rule, he will die. The selfish and avaricious in life are selfish and avaricious still, even in the presence of death. He was troubled, and all Jerusalem. A strange awe came over people. The expectation of a Messiah was almost universal. Now, they heard, he was coming; and it may be their thoughts shaped themselves into the words of the prophet, "Who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth?" That awe soon passed away; the visit of the Magians was soon forgotten; the warning was lost. Jerusalem knew not the time of her visitation. The Lord came unto his own, and his own received him not. Men are troubled in spirit when death seems near, when the thought of the judgment is brought home to their souls. Alas] how often those solemn feelings bear no real fruit! Selfish fear is very different from conversion; fear passes away with the sense of danger; conversion is an abiding change.
(2) He consults the priests and scribes. We see another strange inconsistency—strange, but very common—belief in the letter of Holy Scripture joined with practical unbelief. Herod's religion is simply superstition; he has the Scriptures, he has the priests; he uses them as if they were heathen oracles, and priests of Jupiter or Apollo. Mere bibliolatry is little better than unbelief: "the letter killeth." The Bible is precious exceedingly to the faithful: "the Spirit giveth life;" but to men like Herod, who make use of religion merely for political or selfish purposes, it is a savour of death unto death.
(3) He sends the Wise Men to Bethlehem. He goes not there himself; he will come, he says. He bids others search diligently; he remains at home. So men put off the great work of life; they do not seek Christ now; they say they will do so; but the future recedes further and further; the end comes, they have not sought, and so they have not found. He will worship him, he says. He believes in a way, he half believes; it is, at least it may be, the expected King. But he is a traitor; in his intense wickedness he talks of worship while in his heart he is plotting death; he is ready to slay the King, the Messiah, if he can, rather than endanger the crown which he can wear so short a time. There is an awful warning in Herod's selfish hypocrisy. Be true, it says to us, be true to your convictions. While you have the light, believe in the light, and walk in the light. Be true in yourselves, true in your relations with God, true in your dealings with men. God is true; he sooth in secret. Hypocrisy is hateful in his sight; it is the death of the soul.
2. The chief priests and scribes. They knew the Scriptures; they could answer Herod's question at once; they told him where the Christ should be born. But they were blind guides; they knew and did not. Their religion was a lifeless theology, a dead orthodoxy. They showed Others the way to Christ; they sought him not themselves. They taught the Gentile Magians; the disciples profited, the teachers were callous and unmoved. It is a sad thing when the preacher does not feel the saving power of the words which, by the grace of God, bring life to the listener. The deepest, the most accurate knowledge of the letter or Scripture is a very poor thing compared with that inner knowledge of the heart, which may be granted to the ignorant as well as to the learned; which leads learned and ignorant alike to him who is the only Saviour of the world, the Lord Jesus Christ. He was to be found in Bethlehem, in seclusion and poverty. Jerusalem was grand and rich; Bethlehem was small and poor. The priests showed the way, but went not; the Gentile Magians believed. The King was not to be found in Jerusalem, in its palaces, in its glorious temple. They sought him in simple faith in the little Bethlehem, and there they found the Governor, who should be the Shepherd of the Israel of God.
III. THEIR JOURNEY TO BETHLEHEM.
1. They believed the Scriptures. They had not known the Scriptures; they were Gentiles. Now they heard them, and they doubted not. They had expected to find the King at Jerusalem; the Scriptures bade them seek him at Bethlehem; they at once obeyed. There is a lesson for us here. We should search the Scriptures, not, as many seem to do, to find our own opinions there, but in the humble, teachable spirit of the true disciple, who desires only to learn the truth of God, and, when he has learned it, strives with all his heart to do the will of God.
2. The reward of their faith. The star appeared again; it went before them; it stood over where the young Child was. God will not leave us to grope our way in the darkness, when we are seeking him in faith. The kindly light of his gracious love will lead us through the encircling gloom. We may be far from home, like the Magians; but if, like them, we do not seek to choose our own path, but submit to be guided by his Word, the light will lead us on till, like them, we see a more than angel-face, the loving face of the most holy Saviour. Earnest search is the condition of the heavenly guidance; the heavenly guidance is the reward of earnest search. They rejoiced to see the star; they recognized it as the star which had first raised their hopes when they saw it in the East. It came nearer now; its guidance was more distinct, more certain; it stood over where the young Child was. The leading of God's Holy Spirit, the intimations of his will, become clearer and more definite as the faithful Christian draws nearer to the end of his journey; the more readily they are obeyed, the plainer they become. The sons of God are led by his Spirit, led ever nearer to Christ. The fruit of the Spirit is joy; they rejoice with exceeding great joy who feel the workings of that good Spirit within them; they recognize his gentle whispers as the voice of God calling them to his great salvation. That joy is of all joys the holiest and the best, the most abiding; it is joy unspeakable and full of glory; it is the foretaste of the joy of heaven.
3. Their thankfulness. They saw the young Child with Mary his mother. It was not as they had, perhaps, expected; there were no outward signs of royalty, no pomp, no guards, no courtiers; only a manger, or now, perhaps, some poor cottage; very different from the stately palace where they had left the proud, wicked Herod. But their faith was not shaken by these mean surroundings; they recognized the little Child as the King Messiah; they paid him the worship which they had come to render; they fell down and worshipped him—him, we mark, not the virgin-mother. Worship was the end, the object, of their long journey. It is the end of ours; the heavenly worship before the throne is the high hope that brightens the Christian life. They made their offerings to the infant Christ. True worship involves offerings; they will give of their means who first have given their hearts; they freely give who have freely received; they who have found Christ count all earthly wealth as dross in comparison with the heavenly riches. They offered costly gifts—gifts of mystic meaning. The frankincense was significant; it was offered to God in the services of the temple; offered to the holy Babe, it confessed his Divinity. Gold is offered to a king; the star had announced the approaching birth of the King of the Jews; the Magians recognized the infant Jesus as the promised King. Myrrh was used in preparing bodies for the grave. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes (John 19:39), and laid therein the sacred body of the Lord. It may be that the gift of myrrh prefigured the blessed death which was to close the earthly life of the holy Babe.
4. Their departure. They were warned of God. Perhaps they had consulted him, as the Greek word seems to imply. They could not trust Herod; the contrast between his dark character and the beautiful simplicity of the holy family at Bethlehem struck them, and awakened their suspicions. They feared the designs of Herod. They sought counsel of God; he provided for the safety of the holy Child; he warned them; they departed to their own country. We know no more of them certainly; we cannot doubt that they were saints of God. Their pilgrimage was not in vain; they carried back the lessons they had learned, and died at the last in the faith of him whom they had worshipped. We may be sure of this—sure that he who had begun the good work within their hearts would complete it. Their character is strikingly beautiful; simple faith, undoubting obedience, deep loving reverence, love that showed itself in costly offerings,—these were the graces that shone forth in the first Gentiles to whom the Saviour of the world was manifested.
1. Some read the Bible like Herod and the priests; they know all about Christ, they know not himself. Such knowledge sayeth not.
2. Come to Christ yourselves, like the Wise Men; seek him, and you shall find; God guideth those who seek.
3. They travelled far; you must persevere. They gave costly gifts; you must offer freely of your substance for the work of God.
The Lord's infancy.
I. THE FLIGHT INTO EGYPT.
1. The dream of Joseph. The visit of the Wise Men, with their adoring worship and their costly gifts, is followed by persecution and distress. The opening life of the Lord exhibits those vicissitudes which were to occur again and again in the history of his Church and in the lives of individual Christians. The bright sunshine of success and popularity is soon clouded by seeming failure, by perplexity and persecution. It is what we are to expect. The disciple is not above his Master, nor the servant above his Lord. But God cares for his own; his providence prepares them for the coming trials; in his hands we are safe. "Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his Anointed." But "he that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in derision." The humblest of his servants sometimes defeat the designs of the mightiest of his foes, for he is with them. Joseph saves the infant Jesus from the cruel hands of Herod. But it was under the Divine guidance. The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream; God spoke to him by his messenger in the visions of the night; God guided him in his difficulties, as he will guide us in ours, if we trust in him with the humble submission, with the undoubting obedience, of the holy Joseph.
2. His journey. He obeyed at once; he took the young Child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt. In Egypt, long ago, another Joseph had nourished his father and his brethren, the patriarchs, when the famine was sore in the land of Canaan; in Egypt, now, the little Babe was cherished who was to be the Bread of life, the Bread which came down from heaven and giveth life to the world. In Egypt the children of the patriarchs, Israel, the people of God, had lived long in exile and in bondage; in Egypt the heavenly Babe sojourned for a while, an outcast and a fugitive. God had called his son out of Egypt; he had said to Pharaoh, by the mouth of Moses, "Israel is my son, even my firstborn: and I say unto thee, Let my son go" (Exodus 4:22, Exodus 4:23). "When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt." But those words of Hosea were pregnant with a deeper meaning—a meaning possibly not present to the mind of the prophet, but now unfolded by the Holy Ghost. God called his only begotten Son out of Egypt. God had a mighty work for him to do, and the scene of that work was to be, not Egypt, but the Holy Land. God sometimes seems to separate us from our work, to banish us from what seems to us our proper field of labour. We must trust him, as Joseph did; he will bring to pass in his own good time the purposes of his love and wisdom.
3. The slaughter of the innocents.
(1) The murderer. Herod reverences ancient prophecy, and seeks to slay the Lord's Christ, of whom the prophets spake. He receives Holy Scripture as the Word of God, and tries to frustrate the counsels of the Most High. Strange and miserable inconsistency! His mind accepts the Divine authority of the Bible; his heart revolts in direct rebellion from the will of God. Like Balaam, he thinks that he, poor worm of the earth, can check the development of the purpose of God. Like Balaam, he puts his own selfish ends into conflict with the love of God. The infant King of the Jews may endanger his earthly throne; he will slay him if he can, though he believes him, or half believes him, to be appointed by God to be the Ruler of his people Israel. Very awful wickedness; but yet differing only in degree from the guilt of those who, professing to believe in Christ, oppress his poor, or for their own selfish ends oppose the work and progress of his Church. The Bible is a very precious talent entrusted to us by God; but the knowledge of his will must increase our condemnation a hundredfold if we set ourselves against it in our lives. Knowledge with obedience is very blessed; knowledge with disobedience incurs a fearful doom.
(2) The victims. They were martyrs in deed, though not in will. They died for Christ, unconsciously indeed, but yet for him, to ensure his safety, that he might live to die for them, to save them, with all his people, through his most precious blood. We may be sure that their death was blessed; they died for Christ. They were taken from the evil to come; they died before their infant souls were stained by actual sin. The death of little children is a mystery. It looks like a waste of life; it seems as if there is an immense waste in the creation of God; such multitudes die before they come to maturity. But we live in an atmosphere of mystery; we can see only a very little way into the surrounding darkness. We walk by faith, not by sight. We must believe that he doeth all things well, and trust our babes to him who loved the little children, who took them up into his arms and blessed them.
(3) The prophecy. The words of Jeremiah related to the wailings of the captives collected at Ramah on their way to Babylon. Rachel, their ancestress, buried near Bethlehem, hears their cries; she issues from her grave; her lamentations are heard in Ramah. Now the prophecy receives a second fulfilment; the bitter sorrow of the bereaved mothers moves the heart of the dead Rachel; again her voice is heard weeping with the weeping mothers. It is a touching illustration of the exceeding great anguish of those Bethlehem matrons. Rachel is represented as listening and joining in their mourning. The Lord Christ listens to us in our distress; he feels for us with all the depth of human tenderness, with all the strength of Divine love.
II. THE RETURN.
1. Herod was dead. The wicked king, on whose conscience lay the death of so many sufferers, had now to meet death himself. His last days were passed in the extremest misery, sometimes in planning acts of cruelty, sometimes in fits of the deepest despair. His wealth and power could not save him from a frightful death. "There is no peace, saith my God, unto the wicked." His death teaches the solemn lesson, "Envy thou not the oppressor." Wickedness, however gilded by rank and riches, must end in misery, probably in this world, certainly in the world to come. Herod was dead; the Lord Jesus was yet an Infant. The two, so utterly unlike, are mentioned here together. For a moment they almost crossed each other's path—the old man and the little Babe; the Idumaean and the Son of David; the despot in all his barbaric splendour, and the Child who had been cradled in the manger; the mighty tyrant with his soldiers, and the helpless Infant with one only earthly protector; the one intensely wicked, guilty beyond the ordinary range of human guilt, the other Holiest of holies, gentle, loving, self-sacrificing beyond all that human heart can conceive. For a moment their paths almost met, and then they parted—the one to die in torture, in misery of soul and body, thirsting for blood to the last moments of his evil life; the other to live a life most holy and most blessed, and at the last to lay down his life, a spotless Sacrifice, for the sins of the whole world. Herod was dead: who would envy the pomp and luxury of a life doomed to issue in such a death? They carried him to his tomb in royal majesty; the corpse lay on a bier of gold adorned with the costliest jewels. It seemed a ghastly mockery; that pomp could not follow him beyond the grave, it could not help the poor soul that was gone.
2. The call. Again the angel's voice aroused the sleeping Joseph; again he recognized the word of God, and obeyed, as was his wont, at once. He took the young Child and his mother. Mary had suffered much; she was highly favoured; but those who are nearest to God are often called to pass through great affliction. She was in exile, far from home and country; she must have been in great distress and anxiety for the safety of the precious Child. She had trusted herself to God before: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord." Doubtless she trusted him always. He cared for her; he guided her. It is a comforting thought for anxious mothers.
(1) Joseph's fears. God had bidden him to go into the land of Israel; he went in faith and obedience. But he had our human weakness, our doubts and fears. God's grace does not remove the infirmities of our human nature; it helps us to resist them. Joseph heard that Archelaus had succeeded his father in Judaea. His character was well known; he was like his father, cruel and suspicious. Joseph feared for the holy Child.
(2) His dream. Again (so the Greek word seems to suggest) he sought counsel of God; again, for the fourth time now, God answered him in a dream. We mark Joseph's untiring watchfulness, his constant prayers, God's gracious answers. God's people must do their part; they must work and watch and pray. In all their difficulties they must come to God in prayer; he will guide and direct them, they may not doubt. But they must be, like Joseph, vigilant and careful; they must learn of One greater than Joseph to "watch and pray." They must try to live, as Joseph lived, in habitual intercourse with God.
(3) His obedience. He might have wished to live at Bethlehem, where he and Mary were not known, where the holy Child was born; the city of David seemed the fit home for the Son of David. But there was reason to fear the tyranny of Archelaus. God guided him to Galilee; he returned to his old home at Nazareth. There the holy Child grew up to manhood. The first years of that wonderful life were spent in that little town, away from great cities; among the busy scenes of active life, in daily labour, in deep mysterious thought and constant prayer; in wanderings, perhaps, full of holy meditation, among those scenes of rare natural beauty, on those wooded hills with their wealth of bright flowers, with their fair, wide-reaching prospects. There he lived, a still, humble life, unknown to the great world; but, we may be sure, a life most beautiful and holy, a life which the angels of God watched with the intensest interest, with the deepest reverence. We may well be content to live quiet, commonplace lives, unknown and unregarded; such was the early life of Jesus Christ our Lord. But in those early years, we cannot doubt, much of his great work was wrought. "By the obedience of One shall many be made righteous." During those long years of perfect purity and holy submission of will he obeyed the Law of God in our nature, as our Representative. He is our Wisdom and Righteousness and Sanctification; he is "the Lord our Righteousness;" his obedience is ours, if we abide in him. Out of those thirty years of silent obedience grew the three years of active work. Quiet persevering obedience in the ordinary duties of daily life is the best preparation for active work for God, and for the great emergencies which may from time to time occur in our lives.
(4) The Nazarene. The prophets had spoken of the Messiah as the Branch (Netser) which should grow out of the roots of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1). The name of Nazareth itself was Netser, "the Branch." The prophets had also spoken of him as despised and rejected of men. He was the lowly Branch or Shrub, not the stately tree; he dwelt in Nazareth, which bore the same humble name, an unknown place, from which it was not thought that any good thing could come. The prophetic description was fulfilled; he was called "the Nazarene;" the same name has been given in contempt to his disciples. He was lowly in heart; let us learn of him the precious grace of lowliness.
1. God will bring to pass the purposes of his love; wicked men cannot overthrow them. "In quietness and confidence shall be your strength."
2. Trust the little ones to God; he cares for them.
3. Be humble and gentle, like the holy Child.
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY
"The days of Herod the king."
This is more than a note of time. It cannot but strike us as a remarkable fact that Christ should have been born during the reign of the gloomy Idumaean ruler.
I. CHRIST COMES WHEN HE IS MOST NEEDED. Those were dark days when Herod made his Saturnine temper the spirit of a nation's government. His reign had been carried on with an external splendour and a vigorous attempt to please the Jews. But a heathen by nature, Herod was always suspected by the Jews in the midst of his pious Hebrew professions. Now, however, at the end of his life, his crimes had consumed what little good repute he had contrived to manufacture for himself. The nation was sick at heart, and the only solid hope left it was that cherished in the breast of the devout Jews, who, like Anna and Simeon, were "waiting for the consolation of Israel." It was the chill and darkness that precede the dawn. Then Christ came. No earthly events could shape a Christ; for the earthly circumstances were most adverse. He did not come to reward merit; for merit was rare in those days. But the need was great, and it was simply the need of man that brought Christ into the world.
II. THERE IS ROOM FOR ANOTHER KING BESIDES THE EARTHLY RULER. Herod was still reigning, and yet the Christ came to set up his kingdom. The sovereign at Jerusalem naturally suspected the new-born King to be a rival to his throne. Most of the Jews would have shared his opinion if they had believed in Jesus, though they would have regarded the situation with very different feelings. But Christ did not come to sit on the throne of Herod, and we cannot think of him simply as the rightful Heir who will expel the insolent usurper. His kingdom is not of this world. Earthly monarchs rise and fall, and still he reigns. His is the kingdom of heaven set up on earth. There is a reign of life which they that hold the sword of external government cannot hinder. They cannot restrain its glorious liberty, nor can they reform its evils. The world wants a King who can rule in the realm of ideas, who can sway hearts, who can conquer sin. Therefore the apostles were commissioned to make known "another King, one Jesus" (Acts 17:7).
III. THE RULE OF CHRIST IS IN STRONG CONTRAST TO ITS EXTERNAL SURROUNDINGS. Christ and Herod—what a contrast the two names suggest! Yet they are the names of the two kings of the Jews of the same day. Force, selfishness, cruelty, characterize the degenerate visible rule. Truth, gentleness, love, mark the invisible spiritual rule. So it is always, though not necessarily in the same dramatic form. When we come to Christ and his kingdom we reach a higher level, we breathe purer air, we walk in the light. Then, though the days may be adverse and altogether unpropitious, we have reached what is above daily vexations, we have attained some of the peace of the eternity in which Christ lives.—W.F.A.
The pilgrimage of the Magi.
The way in which these men acted throws a flood of light on their characters.; at the same time, it opens up to us lessons of general application. The Magi are examples to us in their effort to find Christ, and in their conduct when they had found him.
I. THE SEARCH FOR CHRIST.
1. Its origin. The Magi had seen "his star in the East." This appearance was in accordance with the character of their own study and observation. God can use a variety of methods to bring us to Christ—the science of the naturalist, the literature of the book-student, the work of the business man. He even used the astrology of the Magi.
2. Its method.
(1) The pursuit of knowledge already attained. These men knew their star, and to this they clung. We can best reach new truth by following the revelation already possessed by us.
(2) A trust in heavenly guidance. The star in the physical heavens was regarded as a beacon from the spiritual heavens. In this case God permitted it to serve as such a beacon. Thus the guidance was from God. We must lift up our eyes to the heavens if we would see the way to Christ.
(3) A use of earthly means. At Jerusalem the Magi consulted Herod, and he took counsel of the rabbis. The fresh star in the heavens did not eclipse the light of ancient Hebrew prophecy. This still had its sphere in discovering Bethlehem. Divine revelation does not dispense with human study. New lights do not extinguish old truths.
3. Its character.
(1) An energetic search. The Magi set off on a long journey to find Christ. They did not wait for him to find them; they made it their business to discover him. Such a search deserves the reward of finding. Many do not know Christ because they will not take the trouble to seek him.
(2) A persevering search. The Magi travelled far and pressed their suit, not resting till they had attained their end. The truly wise man will not abandon his search because of any amount of discouragements.
II. THE DISCOVERY OF CHRIST. At length the Babe was found. Every true seeker after Christ will be rewarded by seeing him. Such a discovery is full of fruitful issues.
1. Its blessedness. The Magi seem to have lost sight of the star during their anxious interviews with Herod at Jerusalem. When they were out in the country again the star reappeared; for the heavens are larger and brighter in the solitudes of nature than where they bend over the crowds of city life. It was a happy sight when the star reappeared, but only because this was the promise of the nearing sight of the infant Saviour. To reach him is to come to the heart's greatest joy.
2. Its result. The Magi opened their rich stores and presented them to the Child. They set out with the object of worshipping him; this is the way in which they performed their intention. Their liturgy was an act of sacrifice. It is unworthy only to seek Christ for the sake of the good we hope to obtain for ourselves. He is worthy of adoration, and we can best express our adoration by service and sacrifice. Some will not measure the gift. He whose heart is on fire with devotion to Christ will not ask with what minimum will his Lord be satisfied; he will love to give his best. The Christian can now give to the babe Jesus in giving to one of his little ones (Matthew 10:42).—W.F.A.
The Wise Men from the East.
These Magi come to give their homage to Christ. Their own personal characters and circumstances enhance the value of their gifts.
I. HOMAGE FROM THE GENTILES. It is singular that St. Matthew, and not St. Luke the evangelist of the Gentiles, gives us this narrative of Gentile faith and adoration. Thus we see that all parties among Christ's true disciples recognized the great fact that the gospel was for the whole world. At the very commencement of Christ's life this was seen. Yet still the greater part of the world is quite ignorant of his very Name. Here is a reason for greater missionary-activity.
II. HOMAGE FROM A DISTANCE. These men had come from a far country. They had made a long and tedious pilgrimage to Christ. None are so remote but that they may find Christ if they will truly seek him. Yet some who dwell in a Christian land are really further from Christ than some who are commonly reckoned as heathen. Surely Socrates was nearer to Christ than Caesar Borgia.
III. HOMAGE FROM ANTIQUITY. These Magi represented the ancient Persian priesthood. But the old order of the Magi had been broken up, and many now took the name who were not in any recognized rank or office. Yet in the very degeneracy of the name it reminds us of its mysterious antiquity. The past looks forward to the future. Nothing in the past will satisfy the hearts of men. We may ransack antiquity, but we shall find there no substitute for Christ.
IV. THE HOMAGE OF SCIENCE. Evidently the Magi were astrologers. In old times all that was known of astronomy was mixed up with astrology, and all that was known of chemistry was liable to be confused by ideas of alchemy and magic. Nevertheless, this does not mean that nothing was known of the true sciences. Here we see the science of the day bowing before Christ. Science cannot be contrary to Christ if he is the Truth, for it is but accurate and systematized truth, and all truth must be harmonious. But neither science nor learning can ever be a substitute for Christ. The student cannot find the Bread of life in his books; and the man of science will not discover it in his laboratory. After all earthly attainments have been reached, the soul still needs Christ.
V. THE HOMAGE OF WEALTH. Tradition has called the Wise Men "kings." Certainly they were men of substance, as they brought with them costly gifts. We think of Christ as the Friend of the poor, but we have no right to narrow our conception of his sympathy to any one class of society. He is equally the friend of the rich, when the rich accept his friendship—e.g. Zacchaeus. Moreover, the rich need Christ as much as the poor. The rich, too, have the privilege of giving to him from their wealth.—W.F.A.
This is one of the most heartrending scenes in all history. The questions which it suggests are mysterious, and some of them quite unanswerable.
I. HEROD'S CRIME. People have said, "This is impossible!" But Herod's character, as painted by the secular historian, shows him to be gloomy and morose in his later days and capable of almost any cruelty. We execrate the enemies of Christ as monsters of wickedness. Herod and Judas are names that make us shudder, and we think of their owners as half-demons. Yet the wickedness of their crimes is not unapproached in our own day. The slow murder of young children by starvation and ill treatment, simply to escape the cost and trouble of keeping them, or because their death will be a source of gain to their guardians, is worse than Herod's crime, because it is committed in cold blood and without the provocation of terror at the appearance of a dangerous rival which excited the jealous passions of the Idumaean prince. Then there is a slaughter of the souls of young children, which in the sight of God is more cruel and deadly than the killing of their bodies. When fair young lives are blighted and innocent characters stained by vicious examples, a fate worse than death has overtaken them, and those who exercised the baleful influence have a very heavy account to answer for.
II. THE CHILDREN'S FATE. The death of young children is always a mystery. We cannot understand why innocent infants should be permitted to suffer great pain. It is a piteous sight to observe a baby-face drawn and pinched with agony. This is a very acute phase of the great mystery of suffering. It may be that greater evil in the future is thereby avoided. But even in that case the method of saving the children is terribly perplexing. Two points of light, however, emerge in the midst of the darkness of this mystery.
1. The suffering of the innocent is vicarious. These babes of Bethlehem have been regarded by a fond fancy as early martyrs for Christ. It was in his cause that they were slain. They died for Christ, as Christ afterwards died for men.
2. The suffering of Christ's children is but the door to blessedness. The hope of a future life lights much of the gloom of this scene. Holman Hunt's wonderful picture represents the murdered children just awakening to a new life as they are drawn after the infant Jesus with Mary and Joseph on their flight to Egypt—like a trail of rosy clouds.
III. THE DIVINE DESTINY. The murder of the children at Bethlehem was foreseen by God. It accomplished an ancient prophecy. This does not mean that God ordered it, but it shows that it could not frustrate God's purposes—purposes which were laid down in full knowledge of Herod's attempt to nullify them. Therefore Herod was doomed to failure. His guilt was not the less because his crime was useless, but his power as an enemy of Christ is thus shown to be quite futile. Nothing can ultimately frustrate God's great designs. Christ has come to conquer, and he will win the victory in spite of his foes. The first Herod was not allowed to touch him when it was essential to God's plan that he should live. The second Herod was permitted to have a hand in his death, but only when his time had come, and when the Divine destiny was fulfilled by means of. the crime of slaying Christ.—W.F.A.
We need not be troubled if we cannot find exact verbal precedents for the words here recorded. The idea that is suggested by the title "Nazarene" is apparent in more than one ancient prophecy; e.g. Isaiah 53:1-12.
I. CHRIST SHOWED HIS CONDESCENSION IN APPEARING AMONG HUMBLE AND EVEN CONTEMPTIBLE SCENES. Nazareth was an obscure provincial town. Nathanael seems to have considered it to be a place with a bad reputation (John 1:46). Yet here our Lord spent the greater part of his life—more than nine-tenths of it. Here he was brought up as a Boy, no doubt attending the elementary synagogue school, and later working at Joseph's bench. Over the neighbouring hills he had roamed, and there he had learnt to love the flowers which abound in this highland retreat; there, too, he had been able to love his brother-men as he saw them in their daily work and in the homely society of the little town. He was not kept, like Sakya Muni, from all sights of misery until his adult age forced them on his notice. Sorrow, suffering, sin, and death must often have come before his eyes. He never shrank into selfish isolation, but took his place with his suffering brethren, quite naturally, with lowliness and perfect simplicity, not a spark of pretentiousness ever leading them to expect that he would subsequently put forth the highest claims.
II. CHRIST WAS NOT THE CREATURE OF HIS CIRCUMSTANCES. His genealogy showed that he was not a mere product of his ancestry; now his local surroundings make it apparent that he was not formed by the world about him. Had he been brought up at Jerusalem, or Athens, or Alexandria, or Rome, some might have tried to explain him as an expression of some great movement in the city of his early days. But no one can say that Nazareth could produce Christianity.
III. CHRIST WAS SEEN IN EXTERNAL LOWLINESS BEFORE HIS DIVINE GREATNESS COULD BE PERCEIVED. He was known as the Nazarene before he was recognized as the Son of God. Many heard his local name who never saw his true greatness. This local name was even a hindrance to some; they could not believe in the Nazarene. Thus it was no great advantage to have known Christ after the flesh. His own people were slow to believe in him. Nazareth treated him badly, tried even to murder him by throwing him from a precipice of the rock-built town. It is possible now to blind ourselves to the true greatness and grace of Christ by looking too exclusively at his external life. We need to know Christ spiritually to enjoy the real blessedness of fellowship with him.
IV. CHRIST REDEEMED THE LOWEST THINGS THAT HE TOUCHED. He has made the title "Nazarene" one of honour, as he has converted the shameful cross into a token regarded with adoring gratitude. Now we take pilgrimages to the once obscure Nazareth as to one of the most sacred spots on earth. If Christ enters a lonely life he uplifts it and sheds over it a new and unexpected beauty. To him nothing is common or unclean. As the Friend of publicans and sinners, he does not only condescend to associate with degraded and neglected people; he lifts these people up to a new life.—W.F.A.
HOMILIES BY P.C. BARKER
The happy misnomer of the Wise Men of the East.
Once on a time our Saviour warned persons of far inferior privilege to our own that men would come from the east, and west, and north, and south, who should rise up in the judgment against them. The present passage of sacred history tells us most emphatically how men from the East did arrive very early, to upbraid, not in word, but with all the force of deed, though without any direct intention of doing so, those among whom, unexpected, unwelcomed visitors as they were, they arrived. The passage is crowded with suggestions of practical use; and, far from being novelties, they rather waken the echoes of our deepest heart and long-past experience and observation. From lesson and suggestion and reminders of our own experiences, to suggestion and lesson and reminders of our own experiences again, do the contents of this history lead us, some lying on the very surface and others deeper down. Let us observe, then, a notable instance of how—
I. THOSE WHO LIVE FURTHEST OFF FROM ZION ARE OFTEN THE EARLIEST AND MOST PUNCTUAL TO ARRIVE THERE. NO city, town, or village church or school but has witnessed this phenomenon times without number. The very type of all these lesser instances, yet instances so deeply significant of spiritual fact and history, is here. Very little can be said to be known about these Wise Men of the East, of whom the passage speaks. It is not difficult to make more than one account of them, which might hold together very well and seem sufficiently consistent to pass for truth. We are reading well-attested inspired history, or we might imagine we had come across the path of the fable and entered the region, not of Eastern wisdom, but of Eastern myth. But it is not so. There were these men called wise indeed, likelier to have been really good, who ventured on the long fanatic pilgrimage, and who are the first to knock at Jerusalem's gates for the Messiah, at the temple doors—yes, and at the weaker, the trembling doors of King Herod's and many another heart of Jerusalem's regular inhabitants.
II. THE SPIRIT BLOWETH WHERE HE LISTETH. The impulse for these pilgrims from the East cannot be set down to anything less than the Divine. There are some things that are certainly known and that help to throw light on the substance, if not on the form, of what is here recorded. It is true that there was a rumour prevalent over the whole of the East, and not concentrated even as much as it should have been in Judaea, that the time was approaching for the appearance of a great King, a King of a small people—the Jews. He was to be One of whom great things should come to pass. There is nothing for a moment to hinder our supposing that the Wise Men had got hold of this vague rumour at least, and were working upon it. But were there not thousands of others into the hearing of whose ears the same things entered, yet to be powerless over their heart? By whom was this "thing secretly brought" to the Wise Men, and their "ear received a little thereof"? Perhaps "in thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falleth on men." It was brought by the Author of all good counsel.
III. THERE IS A CERTAIN HARMONY IN THE WORK OF THAT SPIRIT WHERE HIS PRESENCE REALLY IS, AND WHICH IS OFTEN VERY TRACEABLE. Perhaps we cannot say why the Spirit moved so remarkably those Wise Men of the East. It helps sustain our persuasion that he was the prime Mover when we observe the special guidance given to them. They were almost for certain Chaldeans, or Persians, or Arabians. Their very natural way of allusion to the star as "his star" receives accordingly all the easier explanation. They studied astrology, and thought divinely of their study. They were accustomed, in the course of the stars, to inquire for and investigate, as they thought, the course of human events. It was an ancient opinion, and one very widely spread, that great events on earth were portended often by corresponding appearances in the heavens. This need not be called a merely heathen fiction. It has been so, incontestably, at times and on occasions most solemn. Was it not so, above all, at the Crucifixion? and again on occasion of the destruction of Jerusalem? And if we were to ask whether it were altogether likely that as such things have nevertheless very often been turned to the purposes of superstition, God would have used a star by which to guide these men, and have so seemed to encourage an unreal science, however real at times the fact might be, we may venture to reply that it is very conceivable, very possible. Because what God looks at is not knowledge, but honesty. What he abhors is not human ignorance, but human dishonesty. There is to-day plenty of honest superstition in Chaldea, Persia, Arabia, India, China; while, alas! it is perhaps equally true that the pure eye of God surveys a far larger total of dishonest superstition of the Worst character in every country of enlightened Europe, in every county of noonday England. God's Spirit may often condescend to graft the sweetest, kindest of his light on very blear-eyed intellectual vision, so that the moral vision be to its possibilities single. And as true, at all events, as whatever else in this wonderful narration, is this—that from afar to Jerusalem, and from Jerusalem to "over where the young Child was," a star was the divinely given guide to the pilgrims. The Spirit that gave the impulse to good hearts used the method that very imperfect minds would follow and be able to appreciate while they followed it. Nor did the kind, the faithful Spirit desert "the work which he had begun."
IV. THE EARNESTNESS AND SINCERITY OF THE EARNEST AND SINCERE WILL OFTEN IN AN UNPREMEDITATED AND WONDERFUL WAY, CUTTING ACROSS THE PATHS AND VERY HIGH WAYS OF THE WORLD, SERVE TO STARTLE THAT WORLD AND INSPIRE IN IT THE DEEPEST ALARM. It was certainly so now (Matthew 2:3-8). The simple journey and simple inquiries of these "men of love," whose steps were worship, lips peace, and hands adoring gifts, excite unparalleled commotion in the heart of the chiefest man of Jerusalem, and throughout the whole city. This is partly the very nature of truth, of whatever sort. It carries about with it a holy subtlety. And it is partly the gift of God's providence. And it is partly just one chosen method, in and of itself, of God's carrying on his work and reaching his ends, not by the power of might, but by that of goodness and simplicity. This excitement and commotion show at fewest six results here. First, in the fear wrought in King Herod and many others in Jerusalem. Secondly, in the ensuing summoning of the council. Thirdly, in the necessity entailed of searching the Scriptures. Fourthly, in the king's consulting of those Eastern pilgrims and forwarding them on their journey. Fifthly, in his committing himself to be beholden to them for what he considered vital information. And, sixthly, in clenching all by a profession of lying hypocrisy, the firstborn of his heart's stricken cowardice, when Herod lets out of his lips the words, "that I also may come and worship him." The one inquiry of the Wise Men was like a six-edged blade, or a six-bladed knife, for the work it did.
V. THE FINEST QUALITY OF FAITH, THE MOST PERSISTENT HOPE, AND ENERGY THE MOST ACTIVE AND ENTHUSIASTIC, HAVE BEEN FOUND TO COME OF THE KEENEST LONGING. It is astounding to observe the testimony which history bears to the amount of force of mind and force of achievement and triumph of every degree that follow strong longing, keenness of desire, impassioned wish. When these are, therefore, noble in sort and spiritual in their ends, earth has no grander heroisms to admire. So Jacob won the morning victory after the night-long wrestling against all the grandeur of the Man who would not tell his name, but who showed his own prerogative when "he blessed" Jacob (Genesis 32:24-30). So the Syro-phcenician woman won the victory in argument and in fact against the condescending, the merciful Jesus himself. And what have we here? Amid men's even superstitious inquirings of the heavens, upon such as do so inquire with honesty, with good motive, with intense anxiety, and for want of better opportunities of knowledge, a star of veritable meaning and calm brilliance may rise. It is in God's sight a better thing to see men inquiring m some mistaken manner than not at all. These were men longing, inquiring, and, at great pains and outlay, seeking for the true King of men, the one Saviour of the world. The notion which they had. of that King and Saviour must needs have been very inadequate. It stood ticklish too, resting on the thin soil of dim tradition, standing on the slender footing of vague rumour. But because the footing of such knowledge, faith, and hope as they had was so slender, a little scanty soil on the side of the rocks the only apparent nutriment, therefore did this good plant shoot down its roots with keener appetite, and clave to the rock itself. Granted that these men were heathen, and superstitious heathen; that with minds in large measure darkened, and with hearts undelivered into the freedom of the newest truth, "they worshipped the host of heaven," the sun and moon and stars, and "beholding the sun when it shined and the moon" walking in its chaste brightness, "their heart was secretly enticed," as Job describes the scene, "and their mouth kissed their hand;" that they belonged to the very company of "star-gazers, astrologers, and monthly prognosticators," whose weakness to save God had himself challenged, and of whose ways, as so utterly heathenish, God had at least warned his own people by the mouth of Jeremiah, saying, "Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of the heavens; for it is the heathen who are dismayed at them … the customs of the people are vain … be not afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good;"—let all this be granted, yet nevertheless let us not despise what, manifestly, God did not despise—the gropings of those in darkness, who longed for light, and inquired for it and travelled far to seek and to find it. Let us not despise the infant often falling and spreading trouble and consternation all around, but who is most sincerely striving to walk uprightly. We have but to centre attention on this—that through intense longing, with little to inform or to encourage it, they were inquiring and seeking, though they inquired not with the right instruments nor sought in the most chosen fashion. What symptoms these of better things to come! of highest life not expired, and of a tremendous advance for the better, for that life beyond the grave! The conduct of these Wise Men of the East was counted worthy to find a place, long as time should last, on the page of the New Testament. Persist in seeking, and the Lord will rise on you. He will send enlargement of heart, growth of intelligent earnestness, and the persuasion that, guided by him first, you shall find yourself at last guided safely to him.
VI. A TRUE FAITH IS A SIMPLE DEVOTION. When the Wise Men had found the young Child and his mother, they fell down and worshipped him; they opened their treasures, and presented their gifts to the Child—gold and frankincense and myrrh. And with this they are content. They do not, emphatically not, worship the mother, nor present to her gifts. They have longed, have sought, have found, what kings and prophets of ages and centuries had desired, and in vain—and they have found. A Divine contentment takes possession of them, and, still under the gracious guidance which had led them hitherto, "they depart into their own country another way," who can doubt, not merely gladder men, but gladder with good reason, holier men? They have found the right worship, and their hearts have worshipped. Misnomer for them in a hundred aspects is their title of Wise Men, yet in one aspect so true as to counterbalance all the rest; for no wisdom equals the wisdom of simple, fervent, seeking goodness.—B.
Matthew 2:13, Matthew 2:19, Matthew 2:22
The providence that befriended the earliest life of Jesus.
Three times in this chapter, as well as once in the preceding (Matthew 1:20), do we thus read of the intervention of particular Divine directions given to Joseph in the interest of the infant Jesus. The grand head under which events of this kind must seek and find their classification is that of providence. The next greatest fact to creation is providence, without which creation itself would soon have proved a still-born thing, or some monstrosity. The objections that have been sometimes felt, sometimes urged, against particular providences, do but betoken a feeble hold upon the real nature of providence. They incontestably lie in part material, and must be granted to be in somewhat closer relationship, at all events, than the interpositions called miracles and the general course of the so-called laws of nature. The very same hand that ministers the one ministers and rules the other in both instances. As surely as "a thousand fall at our side, and ten thousand at our right hand," seen, more than those numbers fall unseen also. As surely as we owe it to God's goodness that we are saved from the comparatively few dangers we see and are cognizant of, we owe it to that goodness that we are saved from an immensely larger number unseen, undreamt of. What appears to us as the extraordinary interventions of Divine goodness and mercy are in no wise so extraordinary as respects the quality of the goodness and mercy, as in the fact that the whole matter of them lies, for some reason or other, disclosed and patent before our eyes. Notice, therefore, that—
I. THE NECESSITIES OF HUMAN LIFE, IN VIEW OF ITS WEAKNESS AND ITS NO FORESIGHT, ARE SUCH AS TO REQUIRE THE CONTINUAL MINISTRY OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE.
II. THE ADVANTAGE OF HUMAN LIFE IS INFINITELY CONSULTED IN THE INTERVENTION OF THAT PROVIDENCE IN SUCH SHAPE AND MANNER AS SHALL MAKE IT STRIKINGLY APPARENT.
III. THOUGH SOME DIVINITY UNMISTAKABLY HEDGED IN THIS WONDERFUL, IMPERILLED, GLORIOUS LIFE OF JESUS, YET, AT PRESENT AT ALL EVENTS, NO SPECIAL DIVINITY HEDGED IT IN. NO "mark" was placed on Jesus to designate him as the Favourite of God and of angels. Neither his Person nor his head only were really enveloped in a halo. He is befriended by providence, and faithfully befriended, but
(1) only to the extent of his need, and
(2) only in the same kind of way as innumerable others.
His earthly parents must take all care, all precautions, all toilsome journeys, all vexatious home-leaving and country-leaving, if he is to be safe.
IV. DEEP INDICATIONS LIE IN ALL THIS OF THE MOST REAL HUMANITY OF JESUS, AND OF HIS UNFEIGNED, OBEDIENT TAKING OF HUMAN NATURE AND HUMAN LOT.—B.
A notable instance of the vicarious in the human lot and in suffering.
The great desirableness of reading Scripture and nature alike, observant of the facts of each, refusing to disguise the facts of either, attentively following them as far as may be possible, and, if this be not far enough to conduct to the vindication of the facts themselves, reverently storing them, as the things that await explanation. Therefore—
I. THE ATTENTION TO THE FACT THAT THE PRESENT SAVING FROM DANGER OF THIS ONE LIFE, THE LIFE OF JESUS, WAS, IN LITERAL TRUTH, THE INVOLVING IN DESTRUCTION A LARGE NUMBER OF OTHER LIVES INNOCENT AS THE LIGHT, AND THE CAUSING OF INFINITE GRIEF AND WAILING TO MANY, MANY MOTHERS.
II. ALLOW FULLY THE FACT THAT GOD KNEW THIS, FOREKNEW IT, AND PERMITTED IT.
III. RECALL THE FACT THAT THE ACT OF GOD IN THIS MATTER CAME FIRST; THAT IT WAS IN ITSELF A RIGHT ACT, NAY, WAS THE RIGHT THING TO DO UNDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES PRESENT; WHILE HEROD'S PASSION AND MOST CRIMINAL DEED CAME AFTERWARD, SECOND IN THE SERIES, AND WERE INTRINSICALLY AND IN EVERY WAY UNJUSTIFIABLE.
IV. SHOW THAT ALL WHICH IS HERE RECORDED AS TAKING PLACE AMOUNTS TO A VERY VIVID DEED-PAINTING OF VERY, VERY MUCH WITH WHICH WE ALL ARE BUT TOO FAMILIAR IN HUMAN LIFE. BY THOSE WHO CANNOT FORESEE, FOREKNOW, THE RIGHT AND THE GOOD ARE TO BE DONE, MUST AND SHALL BE DONE; AND THE RESPONSIBILITY OF CONSEQUENCES RESTS ELSEWHERE, WHEREVER THAT ELSEWHERE MAY BE.
V. POINT OUT THE SLIGHT CLUE THAT THIS PASSAGE AFFORDS TO THE PROBABILITY OF A COMING VINDICATION OF THE BITTEREST VICARIOUS SUFFERING, THAT SHOULD SATISFY ALL, AND BE ACQUIESCED IN NOT LEAST BY THE SUFFERERS THEMSELVES.—B.
HOMILIES BY MARCUS DODS
Childhood of Jesus.
I. HEROD AND JESUS. The king and the Babe; earthly might and spiritual power. This contrast comes continually in view throughout the life of Christ, but never more strikingly than here. Depict the apparent helplessness of the young Child when confronted with the relentless and crafty hostility of Herod. The restless, suspicious jealousy of the old king, and the guileless, unconscious innocence of the Child. The selfish cruelty of the despot, and his ever-increasing misery, contrast with the self-sacrificing love and the calm peace of the spiritual King. The results of Herod's reign, and the results of Christ's reign. And yet how difficult to see the harvest in the seed! how difficult to discern between apparent and real glory! and how hard, even when we have some understanding of the difference, to choose for ourselves the glory which is attained by self-sacrifice and which makes no appeal to worldly ambition!
II. HEROD AND THE MAGI.
1. Two classes of inquirers after Christ—the well-intentioned, who seek him that they may do him homage; the evilly disposed, who strive to acquaint themselves sufficiently with his history to direct their assaults upon him. Two classes of critics of the Gospels—the malevolent and the divinely led; the jealous and the frankly admiring; the destructive and the reverent. Christ excites curiosity and inquiry in all. His life stirs ceaseless controversy. Two currents-of hope and of hatred—set towards him without intermission. He is the great Test of men, "set for the fall and rising again of many." By their thoughts of him, their judgments passed upon him, their bearing towards him, men reveal their own nature. By their conduct towards Christ, their acceptance or refusal of him, men show whether their tastes are spiritual or earthly.
2. Means by which inquirers are led. The astrology of these Magi was probably not sound from the point of view of science; indeed, it is almost impossible for us even to understand their calculations regarding the star. But God used their ideas, fanciful, mistaken, or partly well grounded, to lead them to the truth. "Instead of making tirades against the imperfect, he speaks to us in the language we understand, even if it express his meaning very imperfectly, and guides us thereby to the perfect truth. Just as he used astrology to lead the world to astronomy, and alchemy to conduct it to chemistry, and as the revival of learning preceded the Reformation, so he used the knowledge of these men, which was half falsehood and superstition, to lead them to the Light of the world". Where a true heart is earnestly longing for light, it is dealt with according to its capacity, and led by that which it will attend to. Notice might here be directed to the appearance of this law in the method of revelation—the law of accommodation, which requires that regard should be had to the condition of those to whom a revelation is to be made. An American writer alludes to it in the following terms: "The faults of the Old Testament are, as Herder says, the faults of the pupil, not of the teacher. They are the necessary incidents of a course of moral education; they are the unavoidable limitations of a partial and progressive revelation. If God chooses to enter upon an historic course of revelation, then that revelation must be accommodated to the necessities, and limited by the capacities, mental and moral, of each successive age. Otherwise revelation would be a wild, destructive power; a flood, sweeping everything away, and not the river of life. We cannot suppose that the Almighty can pour the Mississippi river into the banks of a mountain brook. He can begin, however, with the springs and the brooks, and make in time the broad Mississippi river."
III. HOMAGE OF THE MAGI. They are Gentiles and sages; they are aliens, and belong to a school of experts in science; but they use their knowledge to glorify Jesus. They offer gifts symbolic of his royalty, and they themselves represent the attraction felt by all races towards the Christ. This King has blessings for all; and from the first he is claimed by those afar off.
IV. RETIREMENT IN EGYPT. "The flight into Egypt was no mere expedient of rescue, but is, on the contrary, a moulding factor of continuous influence in Christ's life, giving to the subsequent stream of his fortunes a quite novel character and direction" (W. G. Elmslie, in the Expositor, 6.401). It formed the necessary break between the miraculous birth, with its accompaniment of homage, and the quiet boyhood and youth, in which Jesus could grow up as other boys and youths did. After this flight we hear no more of angelic announcements, prophetic songs, signs in the heavens, or the homage of mysterious strangers; but the life of the Boy falls into the ordinary course, and runs on unnoticed and unknown. Had it not been so, he could not have shared the ordinary human lot. Had he still and throughout been recognized as superhuman, the object of his life would, so far, have been rendered impracticable. But the danger to which he was exposed by Herod's jealousy, the warning which his parents thus received, and the obscurity in which they consequently kept their great Charge, secured the conditions necessary for our Lord becoming in all points like his brethren.—D.
HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD
Luke mentions the occurrence of a grand celestial illumination celebrating the nativity of Jesus, which was witnessed by Jewish shepherds, Matthew here records another heavenly sign, discerned by Gentile scientists. Such phenomena—severally seen by Jew and Gentile, by peasants and by scholars, by persons in humble station and by those of wealth and standing—authenticated this, viz. that the great event so celebrated concerns all sorts and conditions of men. We have here especially to consider the star which denoted Christ (see Revelation 22:16), whether viewed as a portent, a disturber, or a guide.
I. AS A PORTENT.
1. A star is the emblem of a prince.
(1) So the sign was interpreted by the Magi. "Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star"—his emblem. Herod could not be credited with refined spiritual discernment, yet even he accepted at once the justness of their inference.
(2) The "Star out of Jacob" is, in Balaam's parable, explained to be a "Sceptre," or King, destined to "rise out of Israel" (Numbers 24:17). The ambitious monarch of Babylon would "exalt his throne above the stars of God," or reigning kings; so would he be "Lucifer, son of the morning," brightest among the stars or kings (Isaiah 14:4, Isaiah 14:12, Isaiah 14:13). And the overthrow of monarchies is described as the falling of stars from the (political) heavens (Isaiah 34:4; Joel 3:15, Joel 3:16; Matthew 24:29; Revelation 6:12-17).
(3) The propriety of the symbol may be seen in the elements of
(d) rule, or influence over the earth (see Genesis 1:14-19).
2. This star indicated an extraordinary Prince.
(1) It was not an object seen only in description in a treatise on symbols. It was not a commonplace phenomenon.
(2) It was an unusual apparition. It was not a "fixed star;" for it moved. Not a recognized planet; it was too near the earth. Not an ordinary electrical meteor; it blazed too steadily. Then, as a supernatural star, it betokened a supernatural Prince.
3. It denoted the Christ of God.
(1) The time was ripe for the advent of Messiah.
(a) The sceptre, tribe rod, or tribal magistracy, was visibly departing from Judah (Genesis 49:10).
(b) The family of David was reduced to a humble condition, and all but extinct (cf. Isaiah 7:15 with Matthew 3:4; see also Isaiah 53:2).
(c) Daniel's weeks were fast running out (Daniel 9:24).
(2) Hence the prevalent expectation:
(a) In Israel (see Matthew 24:5; Luke 3:15; Luke 19:11).
(b) Amongst the nations. This is testified by Suetonius, Tacitus, Cicero; also in sundry Oriental traditions.
(3) The Magi seem to have shared in this expectation. They were generally familiar with Hebrew traditions. They appear to have been particularly acquainted with Balaam's prophecy. Possibly the son of Beor had been one of their predecessors—one of the ancient Magi of their own country.
(4) "His star;" the star peculiar to him. Evidently so, for no other prince sustains a miraculous character. The false Christ in the time of Adrian took the name of Barchochab, "the son of a star." Note: The Wise Men profited by discerning the signs of their times. The neglect of prophetic study is the reverse of creditable to Christians (see Matthew 16:3; 2 Peter 1:19-21; Revelation 1:3).
II. AS A DISTURBER.
1. It troubled Herod.
(1) By showing the advent of One whom he thought to be his political rival, who might deprive him of his throne. Jesus was "born King of the Jews;" Herod was an Idumaean usurper. He was too carnal to discern that the heavenly star betokened a heavenly kingdom. Jesus had no design upon his paltry seat. Note: Christ retributively rebukes the wicked through their own disordered imaginations. "The most general enmities and oppositions to good. arise from mistakes" (Bishop Hall).
(2) Herod's trouble stirred up the devil in his nature. He instantly took the resolution to rid himself of his rival. Note: Sin would murder any virtue that opposed its ambition. Virtues are representatives of Christ, who is the Impersonation of all virtues in their perfection.
(3) Herod carried out his resolution with exquisite hypocrisy. Note: The most frightful wickedness is that concealed under the mask of piety. Sharpers join Churches and seek Church office to use the influence so acquired to fleece the simple and confiding. A Herod may even deceive wise men; he cannot cheat God.
2. Jerusalem was troubled.
(1) Herod's courtiers were concerned for their places as their master was for his throne. Only the unscrupulous could aid the tyranny of such a ruler. In the kingdom of Messiah persons of that type could have no place. Note: What trouble will be amongst those who have the spirit of the courtier when the great King comes to the judgment!
(2) But why should the citizens be troubled? They were troubled "with" Herod, aware of the moods of the tyrant, and dreading some tragedy. He had murdered the brother and grandfather of his wife; he had murdered Mariamne, his wife, and her mother Alexandra; he had despatched two of his own sons, etc. The slaughter of the innocents which followed justified such an apprehension. The tyrant was shown up when he had collected the principal Jews, and had them shut up in the circus at Jericho, intending them all to be slain at his death, that a general mourning might be secured. We should bless God for our civil and religious liberties.
(3) In Jerusalem there were those who "waited for the Consolation of Israel" (Luke 2:25, Luke 2:38). To these the news of the advent of Messiah would bring joy. He is not the trouble but the peace of the righteous. But how few were they? How few now, even in the Church, are "looking for" the (second) appearing of Christ?
(4) The majority of the citizens would be troubled because of their moral unfitness for the kingdom. The wicked ever have been, and still are, troubled at the thought of the fulfilment of Scripture. How many Christian professors would be fearfully troubled did those signs now appear in the heavens which are to presage the great day of judgment (Matthew 24:29, Matthew 24:30)!
III. AS A GUIDE.
1. By it the Magi came to Jerusalem.
(1) We do not affirm that it moved before them in the heavens to point their way to Jerusalem. This does not appear to have been the case. But the appearance of the star in the East set them upon trains of thought which determined them to go to Jerusalem as the place most likely in which to get information concerning the King of the Jews. God does not work miracles to supersede the uses of reason.
(2) The Magi were apprized as to the event of the Nativity; now they desired to know its place. The more we know of Christ the more we want to know. The Magi supremely desired to find him. With knowledge concerning Christ we should never be satisfied until it leads us to himself. Has the Day-star arisen in your hearts!
(3) In Jerusalem they got instruction from the Scriptures. The Sanhedrin (see Bloomfield, in loc.), convened at the instance of Herod, turn up the Prophet Micah, who makes Bethlehem of Judah the favoured place (Micah 5:2). Thus, by the highest authority amongst the Jews was this most important public testimony borne, viz. That Jesus is the Christ. And this, too, through the instrumentality of a tyrant who had no such design. So God makes the wrath of man to praise him. So does he make the selfishness of the wicked subserve his own benign purposes.
2. By it they were guided to Christ.
(1) Now the Magi are on their way to Bethlehem. What for? To find in a somewhat populous city the right Babe. They journeyed in faith, trusting that he who had hitherto prospered their way would guide them to the end. Note: Those who follow up the leadings of providence will never lack a providence to lead them.
(2) Behold the relief to their perplexity! The familiar star is again in sight. Lo, it moves! They follow. It stands over a dwelling. Those brightening scintillations proclaim that the heavenly Royalty is there. Note: It was not reason that guided the Magi to Christ. Reason had its province, and will ever have it. But the effectual guidance, first and last, was supernatural. "No man can come to Christ except the Father draw him" (see John 6:44, John 6:45, John 6:65).
(3) "Exceeding great" was the "joy" of the Magi when they saw the star. It certified the Christ. Certitude to the truth-seeker is bliss. The bliss is intense as the truth is noble. Here the certainty had respect to Truth itself, essential Truth, all truth. Wise, indeed, were the men, and wise are those still, who find this philosopher's stone that transmutes all things into good. Good is better than gold.—J.A.M.
Matthew 2:11, Matthew 2:12
Guided by the providence of God, the devout scientists from the East, who inquired in Jerusalem for the King of the Jews, are arrived at Bethlehem. Now they enter the house of the carpenter. Let us also enter, that we may see and worship with them.
I. WHAT DO THEY SEE?
1. They behold the King of the Jews.
(1) He is denoted by the star. Some think it entered the dwelling and formed as a nimbus round the Infant's head. This notion was ancient, and has suggested to painters their practice of depicting a glory surrounding the head of Jesus. The evidence in favour of this opinion is not very clear. The star sufficiently indicated the Prince of Israel as it stood blazing in the atmosphere directly over his dwelling. No palace was ever so honoured as this humble residence. The "morning star" indicates the place and rising of the sun.
(2) He is denoted by the prophet. The passage cited from Micah by the Sanhedrin, together with the star, declared the Babe of Bethlehem to be the "Ruler whose goings forth have been from the days of eternity." The greatness of Christ is conspicuous in his gentleness.
(3) He is denoted by the angel. For the Magi were warned of God in a dream—presumably by the angel of the Lord who afterwards in a dream appeared to Joseph. Note: The testimony concerning the Messiahship of Jesus is ample (cf. Deuteronomy 19:15; Matthew 18:16). Unbelief is as perilous as it is defence-less (see Deuteronomy 17:6).
2. They see him veiled in humanity.
(1) His humanity was real. "The young Child." Born as other children, though very differently conceived. "With his mother." Nourished as an ordinary infant.
(2) Note in the truth of the humanity of Jesus:
(a) The reality of our interest in his mission and work.
(b) The reality and perfection of his sympathy with us.
(3) So let us be encouraged
(a) to open all our anxieties to him;
(b) to trust him with a perfect confidence.
3. They see Immanuel in humiliation.
(1) He is the "King of the Jews;" but, in this humble dwelling, in what contrast to the magnificence of Solomon! Note: True grandeur is spiritual. Mind is above matter.
(2) How much greater still is the contrast! The "King of the Jews," in the carpenter's house, attended only by his poor mother; and the King of glory, in the heights of heaven, attended by his myriad retinue of angels!
(3) Let us read in this
(a) how humanity is dignified in Christ;
(b) how in him the Divine royalty of man is and may be asserted amidst circumstances of reverse.
4. They see a heavenly vision.
(1) Whether God warned them by his Shechinah or by his angel, when in their dream or trance, in that revelation their faith was richly rewarded.
(2) Their obedience to the heavenly vision also became a means to the important end of preserving Christ from the fury of Herod. So are faithful defenders of Christ and his cause still the honoured instruments of preserving his life in his Church.
(3) Their obedience secured also their own safety. For had they rather obeyed Herod and returned to him, they might have fallen victims to his tyranny under a construction of treason in acknowledging a rival King of the Jews. The way of duty is safety as well as honour.
II. HOW DO THEY WORSHIP?
1. They worship Jesus as the King of the Jews.
(1) "They fell down," etc., put themselves into that attitude which Orientals are accustomed to assume in presence of royalty.
(2) "Opening their treasures," etc. It was also customary in the East to bring gilts to kings. Note:
(a) "The powers that be are ordained of God," and should therefore be religiously respected.
(b) Kings exist for the order and happiness of states, and should therefore be religiously sustained in the due exercise of their functions.
2. They worship Jesus as the Christ of God.
(1) They did not journey from the distant East to pay respect to an ordinary prince. The star had marked this prince as extraordinary and supernatural. Prophecy also had declared him to be Divine.
(2) These Gentiles, in coming to the King of the Jews, claimed an interest in his kingdom. They did not honour Herod as they honoured Jesus. Neither did they pay religious worship to Mary.
(3) The humble circumstances in which they found the Christ did not discourage their faith. Now, since nations have come to acknowledge him, faith has become fashionable.
3. They worshipped him with gifts.
(1) They presented themselves. This, in the first place, is most important. The living sacrifice. The reasonable service.
(2) They consecrated their substance. "Gold," etc. (see Psalms 72:10). Some will give to Christ personal service, but withhold property. Others will give property, but withhold personal service. The Magi gave both. Christ is worthy of all homage.
4. Their worship was typical.
(1) The mention of "gold and frankincense" refers us back to Isaiah 60:6, where the gathering of the Gentiles is foretold (see also Haggai 2:8). "The respect paid to Christ by these Gentiles was a happy presage and specimen of what would follow when those who were afar off should be made nigh by Christ" (Henry).
(2) The shepherds of Bethlehem found Christ before the Magi found him. The gospel came "to the Jew first." But, though Bethlehem was but half a dozen miles from Jerusalem, the Magi do not appear to have been accompanied by any of the Sanhedrin or citizens. The Gentiles received the gospel when it was rejected by the Jews. Heathendom is accepting it as Christendom is rejecting it. "Those nearest to the means are often furthest from the end" (cf. Matthew 8:11, Matthew 8:12).
5. their gifts were symbolical.
(1) Some think the "gold" was given as tribute to the "King;" the "frankincense" in recognition of his Divinity, because God is honoured with incense; and the "myrrh" in recognition of his humanity, and that as man he should die, because myrrh was used in embalming (see Joh 19:1-42 :89).
(2) Perhaps their purpose was to confess Christ as universal King. They presented themselves as representing the "kingdom of men," and the whole animated creation at whose head man stands. The "frankincense and myrrh" would represent the vegetable kingdom. "Gold" in like manner would represent the mineral. Christ, who carried his miracle-working into every kingdom of nature, is destined to receive universal homage (see Ephesians 1:10, Ephesians 1:20-23; Philippians 2:9-11; Colossians 1:16; Revelation 4:11).
(3) Or perhaps they may have designed to express simply their faith in Jesus as the Christ. Thus they came seeking the "King of the Jews," and now they give him "gold," or pay tribute to him as such. But then the King of the Jews is the King Messiah. Their faith in Jesus as such would be expressed in the "myrrh," which was a leading ingredient in the composition of the holy anointing oil (see Exodus 30:23). The ointment in composition they could not present, for it would have been unlawful for them to compound it. But further, since all excellences in perfection existed in Christ, they would express this in their donation of "frankincense;" for this was a principal ingredient in the holy perfume, viz. that which common persons must neither compound nor use (Exodus 30:34). The Bridegroom, in the Canticles, is described as "coming out of the wilderness, like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant" (Song of Solomon 3:6). The cloud of the Shechinah, the holy oil, and the holy perfume are here together associated to describe the qualities of Christ.—J.A.M.
System in providence.
It were a truism to say that there is wisdom in providence; for otherwise providence could not be Divine. In that wisdom there is what Paul describes as a manifoldness (Ephesians 3:10). And this appears in a system of developments and correspondences, evincing at the same time unity of plan. The text furnishes striking illustrations. It suggests—
I. THAT THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL WERE CHRIST TYPICAL.
1. For Hosea's allusion is historical. His words are these: "When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt" (Hosea 11:1). The reference plainly is to the bringing forth of the people of Israel from Egypt by the hand of Moses and Aaron. Moreover, it is a paraphrase upon the words of God's message to Pharaoh (Exodus 4:22, Exodus 4:23). From the history we learn:
(1) That the suffering of God's people is no certain proof of his displeasure.
(2) That it may evince his love as that of a Father to a child who needs discipline and education.
(3) That when love's ends are served the discipline will end.
2. Hosea's words are still prophetic.
(1) That they contain a mystery is clear from the manner in which they speak of the nation as a person. This is the converse of the manner in which the same prophet makes the real Jacob or Israel stand for the nation descended from him (cf. Hosea 12:3-6).
(2) The evangelist explains the mystery as containing a prophecy of Christ. In doing this he is countenanced by prophetic analogies. Thus Jehovah, speaking evidently of Messiah, says, "Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified" (Isaiah 49:3). Again, "Behold my Servant, whom I uphold; mine Elect, in whom my soul delighteth" (Isaiah 42:1). This the LXX. construes thus: "Jacob my servant, and Israel mine elect;" while in the Chaldee it is, "My servant the Messiah." This paraphrase is clearly justified by the context.
3. So the history in the Law likewise is prophetic.
(1) 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 firstborn.' Rabbi Nathan, in ' Sehemath Rabba,' on those words speaks thus: 'As I made Jacob my firstborn' (Exodus 4:22), so have I made Messiah my firstborn; as it is said (Psalms 89:27), 'I will make him my Firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth.'"
(2) The perils, then, in which Israel typified Christ, viz. as they are presented in the passages before us, are:
(a) His Sonship.
(b) His election.
(c) His sojourn in Egypt.
(d) His return and advancement to dignity and glory.
II. THAT GOD BROUGHT CHRIST TYPICAL OUT OF EGYPT.
1. The system of providence is seen in presages.
(1) The sojourn of Israel in Egypt was presaged in the personal history of Abraham their father. For early in that history "there was a famine in the land [of Canaan]: and Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there." In that land he found not only asylum, but generous treatment, and acquired property. Afterwards "the Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai Abram's wife;" and these plagues induced Pharaoh to send him away (Genesis 12:14-20).
(2) That in all this there was an allegory Abram might have learnt from his subsequent experience (see Genesis 15:11-16). The horror of darkness was evidently a premonition of the sufferings his seed were destined to pass through in the dark land of Egypt (see Gesenius, under מח).
2. So is it seen in their accomplishment.
(1) Joseph's dreams were prophetic sketches of what afterwards became history.
(2) The fulfilment of the dreams of Joseph was also the accomplishment of the presages of Abram. The famine in Syria. The provision of plenty in Egypt in connection with which Joseph, by the good hand of God upon him, came into power. The settlement of Israel in Egypt. His sufferings there when the services of Joseph were forgotten. The plaguing of Pharaoh. The Exodus.
III. THAT GOD BROUGHT CHRIST LITERAL OUT or EGYPT.
1. Correspondences are seen in the agents.
(1) We note a correspondence of names. In each case we have a "Joseph," and moreover a "Joseph the son of Jacob."
(2) We have also a correspondence of character. The son of Rachel was eminently a righteous man, and so likewise was the husband of Mary. Both were alike distinguished for their unswerving loyalty and obedience to God.
(3) There is, moreover, a correspondence of dreams. God honours those who honour him.
(a) As the latter Joseph by his alliance with Christ came to converse with angels, so have all who are spiritually related to Christ intercourse with Heaven (cf. Hebrews 1:14; Hebrews 12:22).
(b) If the reason of God's communicating with men in dreams be that in sleep men's minds are disengaged from the world, the lesson is that if we would come under special heavenly influences we must call off our affections from earthly things.
2. Correspondences are seen in the accidents.
(1) "Flee into Egypt." God can make the worst places serve the best purposes (cf. Revelation 12:16).
(2) Jesus, like Israel of old, was in Egypt for asylum. "For Herod will seek the young Child to destroy him." God knows the purposes of his enemies (cf. Isaiah 37:28).
(3) Jesus was nourished there evidently by the hand of God, as Israel was in the days of the earlier Joseph. The carpenter was so poor that Mary had to offer doves instead of a lamb (cf. Le Psalms 12:8 with Luke 2:24). He had no difficulty in gathering up his effects to set off for Egypt the same night in which he had his orders. "If rich people have the advantage of the poor while they possess what they have, the poor have the advantage of the rich when they are called to part with it" (Henry). But how, then, could this Joseph subsist his sacred Charge in a strange land? He who gave the years of plenty to the ancient Joseph for the nourishment of his typical son, placed the gold of the Magi in the hand of his namesake for the preservation of the Son of his love.
(4) There was in the days of Israel's sojourn in Egypt a slaughter of the male children of that people by order of Pharaoh, from which Moses, the future redeemer of the nation, was wonderfully spared. Who does not see in this a prophecy of the deliverance of Jesus from Herod's slaughter of the innocents?
(5) The retribution for this came upon Pharaoh in the death of his firstborn when the firstborn of Israel was spared, and eventually upon himself also in the destruction at the Red Sea. So Herod's death followed quickly upon his massacre of the innocents. And as the overthrow of Pharaoh was coincident with the escape of Israel, for on the other shore of the Red Sea he was out of Egypt; so the death of Herod was the signal for the calling out of Egypt of the true Son of God. The end of the wicked is death. They have everything to fear from time. The good have everything to hope from it.
IV. THAT GOD WILL BRING CHRIST MYSTICAL OUT OF EGYPT.
1. The Church of true believers is the mystical Christ.
(1) So Paul describes the Church as the body of which Christ is the Head (Romans 12:4, Romans 12:5; 1Co 10:16, 1 Corinthians 10:17; Ephesians 1:22, Ephesians 1:23; Ephesians 4:15, Ephesians 4:16; Ephesians 5:23, Ephesians 5:30; Colossians 1:18, Colossians 1:24). The head and the body make up one Christ.
(2) Hence the Church is called Christ (1 Corinthians 8:12; Galatians 3:16 with Galatians 3:29).
(3) Agreeably to this "Israel after the flesh," which we have seen to have been a type of Christ, is often made a type also of the "Israel of God," or true Christian Church.
2. What is predicated of Christ is mystically predicable of his Church.
(1) The mystical Egypt is that state of moral darkness and bondage in which we are by nature and former practice.
(2) The mystical Pharaoh, or Herod, is Satan, who is the tyrant of the moral house of bondage. So the persecuting powers of the world, which have ever been instinct with the spirit of the old serpent, are described under the figure of a dragon—a monster whose zoological type is the crocodile of the Nile (Revelation 12:1-17.); fittingly so, since the Egyptian was the first really formidable political incarnation of Satan.
(3) Deliverance through Christ from the bondage of sin and tyranny of Satan is compared to that of Israel from Egypt. ]t is also compared to the coming up of Christ from that land, as in the text.
(4) The early and brief sojourn of Jesus in Egypt was a presage of the early but too transient Christianizing of the laud of the Pharaohs. As there was a very flourishing Church in Egypt in the early Christian ages, so may there be again in the generations of the future (cf. Deuteronomy 23:7; Isaiah 19:24, Isaiah 19:25). Providence and grace are interwoven in wisdom. Never let us murmur against, evermore let us trust, that wisdom which is manifold and profound.—J.A.M.
Providence in evil.
Josephus does not mention this massacre. The event occurred ninety-four years before he wrote; it was but one of the many frightful atrocities of Herod, and, not being apparently connected with any political event, was easily passed over by him. Lardner, however, cites Macrobius, a heathen author of the fourth century, who refers to it thus: "When he [Augustus Caesar] heard that among those male infants above two years old which Herod, the King of the Jews, ordered to be slain in Syria, one of his sons was also murdered, he said, ' It is better to be Herod's hog than his son.'" The event is also thus noticed in a rabbinical work called 'Toldath Jesu:' "And the king gave orders for putting to death every infant to be found in Bethlehem." The history cannot be doubted, but we are now concerned with its lessons. It teaches—
I. THAT MORAL EVIL IS PERMITTED THOUGH NOT ORDAINED OF GOD.
1. It cannot be ordained of God.
(1) That would be to approve what his goodness must abhor. Given his infinity, he must be infinitely good. Infinitely evil he cannot be, for ample proofs of his goodness surround us. Partially good he cannot be, for then where would be his infinity?
(2) His abhorrence of the atrocity of Herod is graphically set forth in the prophetic description of Rachel's wailing (Jeremiah 31:15-17). Ramah was one of the "borders" of Bethlehem—perhaps marked the limit or radius of the tragedy. It belonged to Benjamin (Joshua 18:25). Rachel, the mother of Benjamin, and ancestress of many of these bereaved mothers, was buried in the hill overlooking the area of the slaughter (Genesis 35:19, Genesis 35:20; Genesis 48:7), yet within the "border of Benjamin" (1 Samuel 10:2). She is here finely represented as moved with horror in her very tomb, and rising thence, coming forth and wailing in the wailing of her daughters. Her "voice," in theirs, is also "heard," viz. by the God of judgment (cf. James 5:4). Note: The connection of the spiritual world with this is intimate. If there be joy in the presence of the angels of God over a sinner repenting, may there not be grief amongst departed spirits over the evil deeds of men (cf. Hebrews 12:1)?
2. Moral evil is the work of evil moral agents.
(1) Moral agency the actors must possess to constitute their actions evil in the moral sense. Physical evil is quite another thing, essentially different.
(2) Such a moral agent was Herod. "Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the Wise Men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth and slew," etc. Note:
(a) Wicked men are never so gratified as when they can make wisdom subservient to their ends. Absalom, in his unnatural rebellion, sent for Ahithophel (2 Samuel 15:12).
(b) They are "exceeding wroth" when the wise elude their grasp or disappoint them of their prey.
(c) They do not see that they are "mocked" of God (cf. Psalms 2:4; Psalms 37:13).
(3) Such agents were the murderers Herod employed. He was moved by blood thirst and jealousy; they were moved by love of gain and fear of the tyrant's resentment.
(4) Such an agent is Satan. He is "the evil one," viz. whose spirit is wholly evil. He was here especially active in his uncivil "enmity" against the "Seed of the woman" (Genesis 3:15).
3. God is not necessarily chargeable with what he permits.
(1) That God permits the existence of moral evil is indisputable. The fact of its existence proves this. Omnipotence could instantly annihilate every evil being. For the permitting of evil God is therefore responsible, viz. to himself.
(2) But whether the permitting be good or evil must be determined by the reasons for it. If the reasons be good, then the permitting, even of moral evil, must be good.
(3) Of the quality of these reasons God is himself the best judge. Some of his reasons he has disclosed. Thus without such permission there could be no scope for moral freedom. Other reasons he reserves to be revealed in due time.
(4) Since God is responsible only to himself, and since his ways to us are past finding out, it is alike foolish and impious in us to attempt to judge him or cherish hard thoughts of him.
II. THAT THE PHYSICAL EVIL IS BOTH PERMITTED AND ORDAINED OF GOD.
1. It is permitted to afflict the morally innocent.
(1) The babes murdered by Herod suffered without any provocation on their part given. God never ordained or commanded that they should thus suffer. But he permitted it; for he could have hindered it. He that interposed to save Christ might also have saved the lives of the infants that perished for his sake. He might have cut short Herod's life by two years, for he died within two years of this massacre. God is not wanting in resources.
(2) "Then was fulfilled." This is the note of permission. In cases where God actively interfered, or gave effect to an ordination, the phrase is, "That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord," etc. (Matthew 1:22; Matthew 2:23).
2. It is ordained for the punishment of sin.
(1) God has constituted the physical and moral in the universe to act and react each on the other. Thus the body and soul stand mutually related for action and reaction. And through the body the soul acts upon the outer world and suffers its reactions.
(2) The reactions of moral goodness are physically beneficial, while those of moral evil are correspondingly injurious. So by natural sequence sin is physically punished.
3. It is ordained as a warning against sin. To this end physical evil is made emblematical of the moral.
(1) Injuries and privations of the body represent corresponding injuries and privations of the soul—mutilations, lameness, blindness, deafness, etc.
(2) Diseases of the body represent corresponding diseases of the soul—leprosy, palsy, fever, etc.
(3) Diseases of the mind represent maladies of the heart—demoniacal possession, insanity, idiocy.
III. THAT GOOD IS ORDAINED AND EVIL MADE SUBSERVIENT TO IT.
1. Good was ordained in the creation of moral beings.
(1) Angels had a "first estate," which was good; for it is contrasted with the evil estate into which some of them fell.
(2) So man was made "upright." God himself pronounced this work of his creation "very good."
(3) These as moral beings had freedom. This also was good. For without this moral freedom what would they have been? Machines, vegetables, animals, imbeciles.
(4) This freedom did not necessitate the moral evil which it rendered possible. Angels might all have kept their first estate, as some did. Our first parents might have resisted their tempter.
(5) The sinner, therefore, is responsible for his sin.
2. Good was ordained in the redemption of simmers.
(1) To this good end Jesus was born, was preserved from the fury of Herod, offered himself as a sin Sacrifice. Sinners are justified through faith in his blood. So evil is made subservient to good.
(2) To this end the Holy Spirit is given, by whose gracious working believers are sealed and sanctified. So further good comes out of evil.
(3) To this end also Jesus is enthroned in heaven. Having triumphed over all forces of evil, powers of darkness, in his cross, and over death in his grave, he is able to destroy Satan in us and deliver us from the last enemy, that we may rise and reign with him in glory.
3. The subserviency of evil to good will appear in the issues of the judgment.
(1) Innocent sufferers will then be compensated. We have heard the wailing of Rachel; let us now listen to the words of her consolation: "Thus saith the Lord; Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy [the ]and of death]. And there is hope in thine end [the Ahareth, or last period of the nation], that thy children shall come again to their own border" (Jeremiah 31:16, Jeremiah 31:17). In the resurrection they shall receive the martyr's compensation, the inheritance and the crown.
(2) Incorrigible sinners will come forth to their doom. Herod and his myrmidons will be confronted by the innocents. In their punishment God will vindicate his justice, and it will be a moral to the universe. Note: There is no hope for the sinner out of Christ.—J.A.M.
Providence in prophecy and history.
Matthew, perhaps more constantly than any other New Testament writer, notes fulfilment of prophecy in events of history. His Gospel, which was the first written, was primarily intended for the Jews, who were familiar with this class of evidence, and would naturally look for it. The evidence is intrinsically very important, amongst other things evincing a Providence all-wise and all-powerful.
I. THAT CANNOT BE A CHANCE WHICH IS CIRCUMSTANTIALLY ACCURATELY FORETOLD.
1. Vague utterances are outside this argument. Such are those which may be interpreted either way. Such were those of the heathen oracles. Such are not those of Scripture prophecy.
2. Guesses also are out of the question.
(1) These may occasionally come true, viz. when they concern things of usual occurrence.
(2) That they should constantly come true is incredible. The ratio of probabilities is mathematically determinable.
(3) That guesses should constantly come true when hazarded in relation to things extraordinary and supernatural is next thing to impossible. But the subjects of Scripture prophecy are these very things.
II. THE PROPHECIES OF SCRIPTURE, WHILE THEY CONCERN THINGS UNIQUE, ARE MINUTELY CIRCUMSTANTIAL.
1. Those concerning Messiah answer this description.
(1) Never before his appearance was there any person to compare with him. Never since. He was unique in all points.
(2) Yet was he very fully described in prophecy. As the stream of time flowed on since the first utterance (Genesis 3:15), feature became added to feature by successive seers, until the collective testimony presents a proto-biography wonderfully complete.
2. Witness the sample respecting his infancy here given.
(1) His incarnation by a virgin mother of the family of David (cf. Matthew 1:22-24 with Isaiah 7:13, Isaiah 7:14).
(2) The occurrence of this stupendous event in the town of Bethlehem of Judah (cf. verses 5, 6 with Micah 5:2).
(3) The appearance of a star by which the Magi were guided in accordance with Balaam's parable (see Numbers 24:15-19).
(4) The slaughter of the innocents (cf. verses 16-18 with Jeremiah 31:15-17).
(5) The deliverance of Jesus from that slaughter, which prophecy required, as he had to fulfil many predictions there written (see Luke 24:44-48).
(6) The flight into Egypt (cf. verses 13-15, 19-21, with Exodus 4:22, Exodus 4:23; Hosea 11:1).
(7) The residence in Nazareth of Galilee, in connection with which he came to be called a Nazarene. Wonderful, is the credulity of that unbelief which can see nothing in such a tissue of evidence.
3. But where in prophecy is he described as a Nazarene?
(1) We may find this in the law of the Nazarite taken as a prophecy.
(2) Therefore also in those Nazarites, such as Samson, who must be viewed as typical persons (see Judges 13:5-7; Judges 16:17). Note: Jesus was in spirit, not in the letter, a Nazarite (see Matthew 11:18, Matthew 11:19).
(3) We may also find it in those prophecies which set forth the humiliation and odium to which Messiah was to be subjected. For the name "Nazarene" became a term of reproach (cf. John 1:14; see also Psalms 22:6; Psalms 69:6-10; Isaiah 53:3, Isaiah 53:12).
(4) If "Nazarene" be derived from רזן, this word signifies not only "to separate," but also "to crown." When Pilate in scorn set over Jesus the inscription, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews," Jesus was then in derision also crowned, viz. with thorns. God makes the very derision of his enemies to praise him.
III. THINGS NOT FORETOLD ARE YET FOREKNOWN.
1. The knowledge of things foretold implies a foreknowledge also of things to be historically interwoven with them.
(1) Thus a foreknowledge of the slaughter of the innocents implies a foreknowledge also of Herod, his character, and resources.
(2) The time of Herod's death also must have been foreknown, since the return of Jesus from Egypt, a thing foretold, was historically made contingent upon it.
(3) The succession of Archelaus to the throne of Herod must likewise have been foreknown, for the retirement of Jesus into Nazareth of Galilee, a thing foretold, was historically made contingent upon this. Archelaus, as Ethnarch (by courtesy called King) of Judaea, would be likely to inherit his father's jealousy and caution, as he was well known to have inherited his cruelty and tyranny (see Josephus, 'Ant.,' 17. c. 10).
2. Thus the foreknowledge of things interwoven with things foretold implies a corresponding foreknowledge of things interwoven with these.
(1) This follows by the same rule. So in turn of things interwoven with these. Thus a perfect knowledge of anything must involve a perfect knowledge of everything.
(2) Such, therefore, is the intelligence of Divine providence as witnessed in the evidence of prophecy. Such intelligence may be implicitly trusted for guidance. Such guidance should be earnestly sought.
IV. THERE IS A PROVIDENCE OF HISTORY AS WELL AS OF PROPHECY.
1. God is not simply an Omniscient Spectator.
(1) He was more than a Spectator when he inspired his prophets.
(2) He is also a Worker in history.
2. Instances of his direct interference with the factors of history are here recorded. He interfered:
(1) To prevent the Magi from returning to Herod.
(2) To prompt Joseph to fly into Egypt.
(3) To direct the return of the holy family from Egypt.
(4) To instruct their retirement into Galilee.
(5) To provide, viz. in the gifts of the Magi, for their subsistence.
3. This intervention was necessary to the fulfilment of prophecy.
(1) The same Being who inspired the predictions wrought in their accomplishment. He let none of the words of his prophets fall to the ground (cf. 1 Samuel 3:19; 1 Samuel 9:6).
(2) If prophecy reveals the providence of knowledge, history no less truly reveals the providence of power.
V. THE PROVIDENCE OF HISTORY, LIKE THAT OF PROPHECY, IS ALL-COMPRISING.
1. Since God works in events necessary to the fulfilment of prophecy, he must work in all events.
(1) For what events are there that are not tending to the fulfilment of prophecy? The subjects of prophecy are race-wide in their range, and extend along the whole course of time.
(2) The central line of events, more prominently delineated in prophecy, are historically interwoven with other events, these with others, and so forth. So if the interference of a providential Worker is required in respect to the central line, his working will be required from the centre outwards to the very bounds of action. Hence:
2. There is a supernatural energy in the commonest events. The case may be stated thus:
(1) The universe is dual, consisting of matter and spirit.
(2) These complements act and react upon each other.
(3) The whole is under one supreme control, infinitely intelligent, possessing illimitable resources of wisdom and efficiency. As Omniscience surveys all things, Omnipotence works in all things.
(4) In some things it pleases God to show his knowledge, as in prophecy; in some, his power, as in converting prophecy into history. Where he does this we call the event supernatural and miraculous.
(5) But in truth there is as much of the supernatural, i.e. as much of the presence and working of God, where he does not show it in deviations from the usual, as where he does so deviate.
Therefore we may:
(1) Rejoice evermore.
(2) Pray without ceasing.
(3) In everything give thanks.—J.A.M.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
Born a King; died a King; lives a King.
The term "king" suggests the three forms in which the Kingship of Christ may be presented:
(1) the King he was to be;
(2) the King he seemed to be;
(3) the King he proves to be.
For introduction show what associations of kingship could have been in the minds of the Eastern Magi. The idea of the uprising of world-conquerors had been made familiar by the stories of Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander, and Caesar; and we have the authority of the pagan writer, Suetonius, for the fact that "an ancient and constant opinion had become prevalent all over the East, that it was contained in the fates that at that time certain ones arising from Judaea should gain universal dominion." No doubt it is largely true that prophecy tends to fulfil itself, but in this case the fulfilment took such shape as most clearly indicated Divine control and direction. With this idea in the minds of the Magi, they would easily be guided by their astrological observations. What they looked for was, in some sense, a universal King; and that, in the fullest sense, Jesus was.
I. THE KING HE WAS TO BE. There was nothing evidently kingly about the circumstances and surroundings of this Babe. Yet the Magi expected him to turn out a King. But what sort of a King was it expected that he would be? Here follow three lines:
1. The line of Scripture prophecy, noticing all figures of Messiah as King.
2. The line of Scripture, and after-Scripture, history. Especially dealing with Daniel's presentations, and showing how the success of the Maccabees fixed the form of the Messianic hope.
3. The line of world-conquering kings outside Scripture history. It is well to fix Very clearly that the King universally expected was a delivering, conquering, redeeming King; and such Jesus was, in high, holy, spiritual senses.
II. THE KING HE SEEMED TO BE. Hanging on a cross, an inscription over his head, "This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." His Kingship seemed a miserable, hopeless failure; a claim which men scorned with a cross.. For that inscription was Pilate's scorn of the pretensions of his spiritless prisoner, and Pilate's insult of those who had made him act as if the claim were of importance. What would you say of Christ's Kingship, judging by the appearances?
III. THE KING HE PROVES TO BE. "Exalted a Prince and a Saviour."
1. The first of men in every department is king in that department.
2. From our Lord's answer to Pilate, we learn that the truth-bearer is a king.
3. Our Lord dealt with sin and its physical result, disease, in truly kingly fashion.
4. Because his work is accepted, he is entrusted with mediatorial sovereignty, is King of the spiritual world, King of souls, dispensing pardon to sinners and grace to saints.—R.T.
The individuality of Divine leadings.
"We have seen his star in the East." God leads each one in his own way, but the way he chooses is the precisely appropriate way for each one. Simple shepherds, with Scripture associations, are led by angel-testimony and angel-song from the night-skies. Wise Magi, with the astrological associations, are led by the varying appearances of planets and stars in the clear Eastern heavens. Angels, or stars, they do but fit to the differing needs of men. And so is suggested to us the important truth that, while God's saving dealings with men are always one, their forms are variously adapted to the condition and disposition and ability of each. And the exceeding grace of God is seen in that adaptation.
I. DIVINE LEADINGS. Two things:
1. They are direct Divine operations. Whether we see the hand in them or not, the hand is there.
2. They employ instrumentalities; but, in the very simplicity and naturalness of them, we often miss the Divine working that is at the heart of them. It is easy to see nature-forces making conjunctions of stars to guide Magi, and miss seeing the Divine overrulings that make nature-forces work the Divine will. Whether it be shepherds, Magi, or pious Simeons, the Divine leading of men is to Christ their Saviour. What God is doing with men is bringing them to Jesus.
II. THE INDIVIDUALITY OF DIVINE LEADINGS. No one else was led just as the shepherds were, and none just as the Magi were. God knows each one, reckons for each one, and deals with each one. There is no being lost in a crowd. There is no fear of unskilful dealing because our case is not precisely understood. We come into the world one by one; we go out one by one; and all the while we are in the world we are simple units before God. Illustrate this individuality of Divine dealings from Bible cases of conversion, such as
(2) Manasseh the king;
(4) the Woman of Samaria;
(6) Eunuch of Queen Candace;
(8) Jailor at Philippi.
Each a typical, perhaps, but certainly an individual, case.
III. THE GRACE OF THE INDIVIDUALITY OF DIVINE LEADINGS. It secures fittings and fitness. In each of the above cases show how precise the adaptation was. Show the grace which is always displayed in having things to fit. Show that the grace is proved by the tender consideration for the individual which such adaptation involves. Appeal to our experience of grace adapted to us.—R.T.
Matthew 2:5, Matthew 2:6
The honour of a city.
"Out of thee shall come a Governor." It is not its architecture, or its situation, or its history, or its polity, or its wealth. It is its men. A city is ennobled by the heroes, the poets, the race-leaders, who are born in it. This leads some seven distinct cities to lay claim to be the birthplace of Homer. One of the later psalmists gives expression to this truth, when he says," Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God Of Zion it shall be said, This man and that man was born in her; and the Highest himself shall establish her" (Psalms 87:3-5). Bethlehem was but a little and insignificant town, scarcely more than what we should call a village; not even important for its situation, since it was not on any of the main caravan-routes. And yet it stands out most prominently of all cities in Palestine, save Jerusalem, the capital. Everybody knows Bethlehem. Every traveller must go and see Bethlehem. We should smile at the woeful ignorance of a traveller who did not know enough to compel him to go to Bethlehem. Both the Old Testament and the New give prominence to it, and we may properly call it the twice-honoured city. Descriptions of it, as it was in our Lord's time and now, are at very easy command in modern 'Lives of Christ' and books of travel.
I. HONOURED AS THE BIRTHPLACE OF DAVID. David is the hero of Old Testament history. He is the proper founder of the Jewish monarchy; and is specially commended because he founded it on strictly theocratical lines. He is worthy of honour
(1) for his personal character on the whole;
(2) for his kingly rule, with some marked exceptions;
(3) and he is specially interesting because his reign was distinctly typical of the Messianic reign.
Jerusalem gained honour as the "city of David," Bethlehem as his birthplace. Showing interest in a birthplace is a common sign of our interest in him who was born there. And we even expect to find relations between the genius of the man and the genius of the place.
II. HONOURED AS THE BIRTHPLACE OF DAVID'S GREATER SON. Trace the orderings of Divine providence which brought Mary to Bethlehem. Martin Luther was born unexpectedly at an inn, when his parents were journeying from home. Talk, how you may, the praises of cities, call them "beautiful for situation," record the struggles for liberty of which they may have been the centres, still you must leave the supreme honours for "little Bethlehem." The "Lamb of God," the "Saviour of the world," was born there.—R.T.
Man's guile and God's omniscience.
Herod's fears we can well understand. He was a usurper, a foreigner, and, indeed, belonged to the Idumaean race, which was specially hated. The one thing he had to fear was the birth of a native prince, round whom the hopes of the nation might gather. He was so continually full of fears that his life was a misery to himself and every one who had to do with him. He had learned to be prompt, vigorous, and unscrupulous whenever he felt in the least alarmed, and he had often gained his end by low cunning. In connection with the visit of the Magi, he was set upon scheming to avert disaster. He had no precise knowledge about the expected Messiah; but that must be obtained, and it could best be obtained by subtlety and deception. Explain his scheme.
I. MAN'S GUILE MAY ATTEMPT TO MASTER GOD'S OMNISCIENCE. See how far man's guile may succeed. It may master his fellow-men. Herod outwitted the Magi, and outwitted the "chief priests and scribes." The Magi proposed to do his bidding; the "chief priests and scribes" answered him correctly, treating him as if he were as sincere as he seemed. And all this meant Herod trying his guilefulness upon God. He was going to manage things otherwise than as God proposed. Men did not read his wicked heart; he would act as if God did not read it either. He meant by his skilfulness to frustrate the Divine purposes. Men may try to push their plans against God. They may be clever, guileful, persistent; but the strong figure of the psalm may be used, "He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in derision." Abundant are the illustrations of conduct like Herod's; at first, seemingly effective and successful; but it does not really succeed. It never is possible for the wicked to do more than make their attempt. "Man proposes, God disposes."
II. GOD'S OMNISCIENCE MASTERING MAN'S GUILE. God's omniscience is
God knew what Herod said; but, going beyond Magi and scribes, God knew what Herod meant. So Divine action was guided by complete knowledge, and guileful Herod had no chance. God told the Magi what Herod had in his heart, so they never brought him any word. God bore away the young King into a place of safety, and all Herod's guile proved in vain. We can work with God, and reach good success. He who works against God must feel God's overmastering.—R.T.
Worshipping a Babe.
The word "worship" is a confusing word. It is applied to human beings, and it is applied to God. It means, "offer homage as to a king;" it means, "reverently acknowledge as Divine." Really the word seems only to mean, "acknowledge the worth of." We speak of magistrates as "your worship." We speak of the service of the Churches as "worship." But when we use the word carefully, we limit it to "paying Divine honours," "venerating with religious rites." We cannot, however, assume that these Eastern Magi worshipped the Babe in the higher, spiritual sense, recognizing in him the manifested God. We have simply that anticipative homage which was due to one who would prove to be a great King. Their attitude implies the Eastern homage offered to a King,
I. WORSHIPPING THE BABE WAS AN ACT OF FAITH. They could not worship on the ground of what the Babe actually was. He was only an ordinary world's Babe, with commonplace cottage surroundings. There was nothing whatever to suggest kingly claims. The Magi could only have worshipped on the ground of their belief in his royalty and future kingship; and that belief must have been founded on evidence that was kin to them, and satisfactory to them. It is not necessary that what satisfied them should also satisfy us. If they were convinced, their conduct in worshipping the Babe was fully justified. Show that faith must be founded on evidence, but the evidence must be relative to the capacity and associations of each individual. We are responsible for our beliefs. And, whatever they are, we are bound to act upon them. If we believe that Christ is a born King, then our place is with the Magi, worshipping him. What, then, do you believe concerning Christ?
II. WORSHIPPING THE BABE WAS AN ACT OF LOYALTY, That is, it meant acknowledging this King as their King, and declaring themselves ready to enrol themselves in his kingdom whenever that kingdom should be established. And this certainly is the true and full significance of the worship of Jesus, as now the exalted and spiritual King. It is the declaration and reaffirmation of our loyalty. Every act of worship should be an act of consecration and devotion, a reassertion of our full readiness to serve the King.—R.T.
Representing ourselves by our gifts.
Traditions have gathered round this story. The Magi are said to have been three. Their names are given—Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar. Their gifts were threefold; each had a symbolic meaning, and each was the representative gift of the individual who presented it. The details of the tradition are given in Farrar's 'Life of Christ.' No great value can attach to it, but it does emphasize the facts on which we now dwell, that the gifts of the Magi were their own; were representative; were representative strictly of themselves. These gifts may be shown to have been
(1) from their own country;
(2) of their own property;
(3) by their own selection;
(4) expressing their own meaning; and
(5) therefore they strictly represented and carried themselves.
I. FROM THEIR OWN COUNTRY. And so representative of their particular associations and interests. See the precision of the gifts selected by Jacob for Pharaoh's vizier (Genesis 43:11): "Carry down the man a present, a little balm, and a little honey, spices, and myrrh, nuts, and almonds." These were the products of the district. Arabia and the East are the spice-countries, and from them caravans bore myrrh and frankincense for trading in other lands. So the Magi seemed to bear the homage of their country.
II. FROM THEIR OWN PROPERTY. Illustrate by the noble spirit of David, who would not give, for the service of the Lord, what cost him nothing, and who generously devoted of his own private property—of his "own proper good." People are ready enough to give away common property, on committees; but the same people are mean enough when claim is made on their own property. Yet there never can be any real nobility in the gift unless we can say, "It is mine, and I give it to you."
III. BY THEIR OWN SELECTION. No doubt the question was anxiously discussed, "What shall we take?" They would be anxious to find something suitable, but each would have his idea of suitability. They were going to offer homage to a King: so all might agree that a present of gold would be wise. But, then, it was a Babe: so it seems they agreed at last on carrying the scents and spices which would be useful in tending the Babe. Whether those imaginative Easterns attached symbolical ideas to their gifts does not appear. Such ideas have been attached for them. Myrrh was for the human nature, gold for the King, and incense for the Divinity. Gifts ought to carry thought.
IV. EXPRESSING THEIR OWN MEANING. Though all meant one thing, each gave a special individuality and tone to the meaning. Let several join in a gift, and the gift will really be manifold, and not just one.
V. CARRYING THEMSELVES. A gift is nothing save as it represents the giver. Give what we may to God, the gift, to be acceptable, must give ourselves.—R.T.
The blending of the ordinary and the special in Divine dealings.
These men had been led, by the ordinary exercise of their minds, on certain natural, if unusual, phenomena which they had observed in the heavens. But now they were led by special Divine intervention and direct Divine communications. This is the fact that seems to be suggestive. That very remarkable blending of the ordinary and the special, the natural and the miraculous, we find reappearing everywhere in the Divine dealings with men. A most interesting book might be made of illustrations of the strange limitations of the miracles. God will be found to work miracles when we can hardly see a pressing need for them, and to refrain from working miracles just where we think they would be most effective. Illustrate: Jacob takes every precaution against the anger of Esau, and God gives him supernatural strength. Israel knocks down the quails that fly low because of their weary flight over the sea; and gathers miraculous bread from heaven and water from smitten rocks. St. Paul raises the stunned, perhaps dead, Eutychus, but leaves Trophimus sick at Ephesus, to the chance of healing remedies. With these hints the Bible story will yield abundant instances, and we shall come to see that there is a method of Divine wisdom in this strange form of Divine dealings.
I. GOD NEVER SUPERSEDES MAN. In the sense of doing for man what man can do for himself. An idea may prevail that God may desire to make a show of his power, and so he may put man aside and seem to say, "Let me do it." But we need not think thus of God. Man's powers, in relation to man's sphere, are the Divine arrangement, and may be left to their free working. Let man think, observe, plan, and carry out as he can; in all the ten thousand things of life he will be left alone of God. No man need look for miracle. Its intervention can be in no human ordering; it depends on Divine omniscience and sovereignty. When the supernatural can wisely supersede the natural God alone can decide, and his decisions may well seem to us strange.
II. GOD EVER SUPPLEMENTS MAN. That is the place of miracle. In the Divine ides something is good for man, but either man is not ready enough, or skilful enough, or prompt enough to attain it, and therefore God graciously intervenes and supplements man's weakness. In connection with the text, Divine action came in because prompt action was necessary; there was no time for the ordinary human forces to work the right result in.—R.T.
"Rachel weeping for her children." It seems to be a most strange Divine permission that the innocent babes of Bethlehem should be slaughtered. One asks, but the question cannot be answered, "Why did not some miraculous hand preserve those innocents from Herod's shameless device?" We can only say that God's interventions are always held in the strictest limitations. They just effect their end, but interfere as little as possible with the ordinary course of human affairs, with the consequences of the passions and the sins of men. God's working is as a thread running through all the piece of human life, but it does not interfere with the making of the piece. But this hardly meets the difficulty we feel here. This calamity for the Bethlehem children comes out of the Divine providence that led to Jesus being born in Bethlehem; and so we feel as if a kind of responsibility rested on God for the safety of the Bethlehem children. To answer this we are thrown back upon the principle of vicariousness which runs through all life-associations. Everywhere men are bearing burdens for others, and it is only when the calamity is very terrible, or imperils life, that we feel or express any great surprise.
I. THE VICARIOUS SORROW OF THE ACTUAL MOTHERS. As the inhabitants of Bethlehem could not have been more than two thousand, there were not more than twenty babes slain; but that was sorrow in twenty homes and woe in twenty hearts. Vicarious parent-sorrow is effectively revealed in David's wail over the slain Absalom, "Would God I had died for thee!" This opens up a full consideration of the way in which mothers vicariously bear every pain, disability, or trouble of their children. And mothers are but the highest types of the relations which knit man to man all the world over, so that no one man can ever suffer, but all others within reach vicariously suffer with him. From this, rise to conceive of the vicarious sorrow of the heavenly Father.
II. THE VICARIOUS SYMPATHY OF THE RACE-MOTHER. Such Rachel is conceived to be. Poetically—but poetry is the deepest truth—Rachel is conceived as disturbed in her tomb near Bethlehem, by her sympathy with the stricken mothers and her sorrow for the slaughtered children. The race-mother is finely conceived as actually blending sympathetic tears with the bereaved mothers of Bethlehem, who are vicariously bereaved for Messiah's sake.—R.T.
Fears qualifying faith.
Joseph was a good, God-fearing, obedient man. Fie had clear intimations of the will of God concerning him and his. And yet the directions were not so explicit as to interfere with the exercise of his own judgment. He was to return, with the Child and his mother, into the "land of Israel;" but where in the land of Israel, he was not told. It might seem as if he was expected to return to Bethlehem, and this appears to have been taken into consideration. He had faith in that Divine direction he had received. He proceeded to obey. He started out on his journey. But he received news, as he approached the land of Judah, that Archelaus was Governor of Judaea in place of the dead Herod; and the character of Archelaus was well known. He would scheme to kill any one whom he heard of as claiming to be a native-born prince. So Joseph feared, and let his fears decide his faith, or rather the obedience to which his faith inspired him.
I. OUR FEARS MAY INTERFERE WITH OUR FAITH. Then we may refuse to do, or neglect to do, what we believe to be our duty, and our fears may create practical unbelief. Where a man's way is clearly and precisely defined by God for him, his fears should have no influence on him. After-considerations must never be permitted to interfere with the declaration of the Divine will. If Joseph had been precisely told to return to Bethlehem, he would just have had to go there, even though the reports about Archelaus had frightened him out of his senses. This truth is illustrated in the story of the prophet from Judah given in 1 Kings 13:1-34.
II. OUR FEARS MAY GUIDE THE OBEDIENCE OF OUR FAITH. This we have in the text. Joseph's fears about Archelaus are the things used by the Divine providence for guiding him to the particularpart of the "land of Israel" where he was to settle. So we learn the Divine control and use of all the forces and faculties, as well as of all the circumstances, of a man's life. Divine direction does not undertake for a man; it leaves him still to take counsel with his own judgment and his own fears. God's gracious working of his providences, through man's mental movements and character-movements and subjective influences, has never yet been systematically thought out.—R.T.
Nazareth as our Lord's training-school.
Ancient biographies take no account whatever of child-life. Manhood was not seen to be a product of child-influences. Probably the small esteem in which woman was usually held led to a small esteem of her influence on children. More probably the philosophizing which loves to trace causes and developments is a modern mental practice. We sometimes wonder that no records remain of the Child-life of Jesus, hut it is to be remembered that no records of the child-life of any ancient hero have been preserved. It is especially a modern notion that the place where a child is brought up may have an important influence on the moulding of his character; all the more if he be a sensitive, poetical, child. This idea gained embodiment in Hugh Miller's 'Schools and Schoolmasters.' And in all recent biographies this element of training is taken into full account. All our Lord's Childhood and Boyhood were spent at Nazareth; and we may trace the influence of such things as the following, using our own associations, but carefully qualifying them by due regard for the Eastern and the Palestinian associations.
I. THE INFLUENCE OF SMALL-TOWN LIFE. Familiarity with everybody. Local prejudices. Impressions unvaried, and persistently renewed.
II. THE INFLUENCE OF ISOLATED-TOWN LIFE. Peculiarity of Nazareth was that it was out of the way; apart from the great currents of life; secluded. This may tend to nourish a meditative mood, when there is active-mindedness. Life is slow. Time is plentiful. Men can dream, think, pray.
III. THE INFLUENCE OF JEWISH-TOWN LIFE. At this time patriotism took one special feature. It spent itself in anticipations of the near coming of the delivering and conquering Messiah. This filled men's thoughts and talk. It would be supremely fascinating to a thoughtful, sensitive boy. Think with what things the heart of the Child Jesus must have been filled.
IV. THE INFLUENCE OF A WELL-SITUATED TOWN. One among the hills; with extensive outlook; beautiful surrounding landscapes; and in full view of scenes rich with Bible associations (see descriptions of Nazareth). For such as Jesus a great voice speaks "out of Nature's heart."—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Matthew 2". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29