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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 2

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

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Matthew 2:0


The Visit of the Wise MenWise Men from the EastThe Wise MenVisitors From the EastThe Visit of the Magi
Matthew 2:1-6Matthew 2:1-12Matthew 2:1-6Matthew 2:1-2Matthew 2:1-12
Matthew 2:3-4
Matthew 2:5-6 (6)
Matthew 2:7-12Matthew 2:7-12Matthew 2:7-8
Matthew 2:9-11
Matthew 2:12
The Flight to EgyptThe Flight Into EgyptEscape to Egypt and ReturnThe Escape to EgyptThe Flight into Egypt, the Massacre of the Innocent
Matthew 2:13-15Matthew 2:13-15Matthew 2:13-15Matthew 2:13Matthew 2:13-15
Matthew 2:14-15a
Matthew 2:15b (15b)
The Slaying of the InfantsMassacre of the InnocentsThe Killing of the Children
Matthew 2:16-18Matthew 2:16-18Matthew 2:16-18Matthew 2:16Matthew 2:16-18
Matthew 2:17-18 (18)
The Return from EgyptThe Home in NazarethFrom Egypt to Nazareth
Matthew 2:19-23Matthew 2:19-23Matthew 2:19-23Matthew 2:19-21Matthew 2:19-23
Matthew 2:22-23 (23c)

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Who were the wise men? Were they Jewish?

2. What kind of star was it?

3. How old was Jesus when the Magi came?

4. How does Micah 5:2-6 relate to the validity of the Bible as a supernatural book?

5. Do these Old Testament quotes seem to be out of context? Why?

Verses 1-6

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Matthew 2:1-6 1Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2"Where is He who has been born 'King of the Jews?'For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him." 3When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: 6'And you, Bethlehem, Land of Judah, Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; For out of you shall come forth a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.'"

Matthew 2:1 "Bethlehem" The name meant "house of bread." This was the birthplace of Boaz, and later, King David (cf. Matthew 2:1 and 4:18-22). It was a small rural village of about 300 people, located 4-5 miles south of Jerusalem. There were two villages by this name; one in Judah (cf. Micah 5:2) and one in Zebulun (cf. Joshua 19:15).

"Herod the King" Herod the Great was a jealous, paranoid Idumean (Edomite) ruler installed by the Romans. He expanded the second Temple in order to appease the Jews who were upset over a non-Jew ruling over them. He died in 4 B.C.; therefore, Jesus must have been born earlier, sometime between 6 - 4 B.C.


Matthew 2:1

NASB"magi" NKJV, NRSV, NJB"wise men" TEV"men who studied the stars"

This type of sage probably originated in Media, but they came to be a well known group of wise men, counselors, and astrologers all over Mesopotamia. Herodotus called them Medean Priests (Herodotus I, 101). They were sometimes referred to in Babylon literature as "Chaldeans" (cf. Daniel 2:2-13).

The ones mentioned in this text were possibly Zoroastrians from Persia, but they could have been Jewish exiles like Daniel. It is unusual that Matthew, writing to Jews, included the story of the wise men (Gentiles) from the East while Luke, writing to Gentiles, included the story of the Jewish shepherds (outcast Jews).


"from the East" Tradition tries to locate where they came from and how many there were, as well as their race and social status, but the Bible is silent on these issues.

Matthew 2:2 "King of the Jews" This was Herod the Great's title. This was the same title that was placed on Jesus' cross (cf. Matthew 27:37). It was a way of referring to the Messiah (cf. 1 Samuel 8:7; Psalms 10:16; Psalms 29:10; Psalms 98:6).

NASB, NKJV"we have seen His star in the east" NRSV"we observed his star at its rising" TEV"We saw his star when it came up in the east" NJB"we saw his star as it rose"

This is literally "from the rising of the sun." This could mean: (1) "we saw his star while we were in the East," or (2) "we saw his star when it rose in the night sky." It cannot mean it rose in the east because the star would have led them in the wrong direction, unless it rose in the east but moved to the western part of the sky.

The ancient world correlated the birth of important men or events with astrological occurrences. God revealed to them in a way they would understand. In a sense they represent the world seeking and finding the Jewish Messiah. This " star" may have related to the prophecy of Numbers 24:17: "I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob, A scepter shall rise from Israel."

Matthew 2:3 "he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him" Herod the Great was so cruel and unpredictable that when he was upset, everyone was afraid! A notable example of his cruelty was that when he was near death, he was afraid no one would mourn his passing, so he imprisoned many Pharisees who were to be crucified when he died. This would ensure that the day of his death would be a day of grieving. The order was not carried out, but this illustrates his character.

Matthew 2:4 "all the chief priests and scribes of the people" This referred to the Sanhedrin, the highest judicial and religious court of the Jewish nation, made up of 70 leaders from the Jerusalem area. It was presided over by the High Priest (Sadducees, see Special Topic at Matthew 22:23), which was at this time a position purchased from Roman authorities. The Sanhedrin was usually referred to by the phrase "High Priests, scribes (Pharisees, see Special Topic at Matthew 22:15), and elders" (cf. Matthew 26:57; Matthew 27:41; Mark 11:27; Mark 14:43, Mark 14:53; Acts 4:5). Herod had arrested and later killed many of the Jerusalem leaders several years earlier so it is uncertain if this is a reference to the official Sanhedrin.


"he inquired of them" This is imperfect tense meaning (1) he asked repeatedly or (2) he began to ask.

Matthew 2:6 This was an allusion to Micah 5:2. It was not an exact quote from the Masoretic Text or the Septuagint. This specific prophecy gives strong evidence for the inspiration of the Bible. Micah wrote approximately 750 years before Christ's birth yet he predicted the small village where the Messiah would unexpectedly be born. The most powerful empirical evidence for an inspired Bible is predictive prophecy which is unique to Scripture!

"Who will shepherd My people Israel" This line from the composite quote was added from 2 Samuel 5:2.

Verses 7-12

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Matthew 2:7-12 7Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. 8And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him." 9After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. 10When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.

Matthew 2:7

NASB"determined from them the exact time the star appeared" NKJV"determined from them what time the star appeared" NRSV"learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared" TEV"and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared" NJB"He asked them the exact date on which the star appeared"

Herod was interested in the age of the child. Since it took the Magi many months to travel from Persia, Jesus was at least one or two years of age at this time.

Matthew 2:9

NASB"the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them, until it came and stood over the place where the Child was" NKJV"the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was" NRSV"and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was" TEV"and it went ahead of them until it came and stopped over the place where the child was" NJB"the star they had seen rising went forward and halted over the place where the child was"

Presuppositions determine interpretation. I believe in the supernatural, although I cannot always explain why or how. The star moved and stopped! It must not have been so spectacular that many others saw it or recognized its significance. These men were trained in what to expect in the night sky. This phenomena did not fit a standard pattern. Therefore, it was not solely a natural phenomenon. This mixture of the natural and supernatural is similar to the plagues on Egypt.

The wise men did not come the same time as the shepherds. It has always surprised me that Matthew, writing to Jews, mentions Gentiles coming (saw the star) and Luke, writing to Gentiles, mentions Jewish shepherds coming (heard the angels). The theological truth is obvious-everyone is welcome to come (Gentiles, outcast Jews)!

Matthew 2:10 "they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy" Why did they rejoice?

1. their search was over

2. the star continued to guide them

3. there is a spiritual component to their search (cf. Matthew 2:11); they found their new king and lord!

The intensive nature of this phrase leads one to option #3.

Matthew 2:11 "the house" Obviously some time (up to two years) had passed from the time of the birth. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were living in their own house.

"the Child" The Greek term (paidion) used here was not the usual term for "infant" (brephos, cf. Luke 1:41, Luke 1:44; Luke 2:12, Luke 2:16), but "toddler" (cf. Luke 2:40; Matthew 18:2). There was a lengthy period of time between the visit of the shepherds and the wise men.

"gold, frankincense, and myrrh" Because three gifts were presented, tradition has asserted that there were three wise men. Tertullian even went so far as to assert that they were the kings mentioned in Isaiah 60:3. Much effort has been spent to interpret the significance of the gifts, but what is known definitely is that these gifts were expensive and were used by royalty. It is possible they are fulfillment of Isaiah 49:23 or Psalms 72:10-12.

Matthew 2:12 "having been warned by God in a dream" God spoke to these magi just as He revealed His will to Mary and Joseph in a dream (cf. Matthew 1:13, Matthew 1:19). They were spiritually sensitive men.

Verse 13

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Matthew 2:13 13Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.

Matthew 2:13 "an angel of the Lord" See note at Matthew 1:20.

"Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him" The folly of evil men can be clearly seen in their attempts to thwart the will of God.


Verses 14-15

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Matthew 2:14-15 14So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt. 15He remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called My Son."

Matthew 2:15 "Out of Egypt I called My Son" Hosea 11:1 is the source of this prophetic quote. In the OT "son" referred either to Israel, the King, or the Messiah. The plural "sons" usually referred to angels.

Hosea 11:1 in context referred to the Exodus. This then is a play on the word "son," originally referring to Israel. Matthew alone records this incident. It is impossible to construct an exact chronology of the early life of Jesus from the Gospels. Egypt was home to a large Jewish community. Maybe this is symbolic of a second exodus or deliverance.

Verses 16-18

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Matthew 2:16-18 16Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi. 17Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: 18" A voice was heard in Ramah, Weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; And she refused to be comforted, Because they were no more."

Matthew 2:16 "slew all the male children. . .two years old and under" Bethlehem was a small village, so probably few babies were involved in the slaughter. The phrase "two years old and under," reinforces the age of Jesus as a toddler, not an infant, at the time of the Magi's visit.

Matthew 2:18 "Ramah" Verse Matthew 2:18 is a quote from Jeremiah 31:15, but it relates to Genesis 48:7. Rachel, the mother of Joseph, was associated with the Northern Ten Tribes, while her other son, Benjamin, was associated with Judah. In this one mother both houses of Israel are joined. The city of Ramah (6 miles north of Jerusalem) was the collection point for the deportation of the Northern Ten Tribes under Sargon II of Assyria in 722 B.C. Symbolically Rachel is again weeping over her lost children.

NASB"weeping and great mourning" NKJV"lamentation, weeping and great mourning" NRSV"wailing and loud lamentation" TEV"sound of bitter weeping" NJB"lamentation and bitter weeping"

This is an allusion to Jacob's favorite wife, Rachel, who had children, one of whom would be part of the northern ten tribes (after the united monarchy split in 922 B.C.) and one in the southern tribes. She is depicted as weeping over the exile of her sons (cf. Jeremiah 31:15, referring to the exile of Israel in 722 B.C. and Judah in 586 B.C.). In this context her grief is a metaphor for the death of the children of Bethlehem by Herod.

Some uncial Greek manuscripts have one verb, " weeping" (i.e., א, B, Z); others add "mourning," which comes from the LXX of Jeremiah 31:15 (i.e., C, D, L, W). As with so many of these manuscript variants, it makes little difference in understanding the meaning of the verse.

Verses 19-23

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Matthew 2:19-23 19But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, and said, 20"Get up, take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child's life are dead." 21So Joseph got up, took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Then after being warned by God in a dream, he left for the regions of Galilee, 23and came and lived in a city called Nazareth. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: "He shall be called a Nazarene."

Matthew 2:19 "an angel of the Lord" See note at Matthew 1:20.

Matthew 2:22 "Archelaus" Archelaus was another cruel member of the Herod family whom Joseph did not trust. He ruled the southern part of Herod the Great's territories (Judah, Samaria, and Idumea) from 4 B.C. - A.D. 6 when the Romans banished him to Gaul because of his cruelty.

Matthew 2:23 "He shall be called a Nazarene" The village where Jesus grew up was called Nazareth. It is not mentioned in the OT, the Talmud, or in Josephus. It apparently was not settled until the time of John Hyrcanus (i.e., Hasmonaen), who ruled from 134-104 B.C. The presence of Joseph and Mary from this village implies that a clan of David's line settled here.

There may be an etymological connection between the names Nazareth and the Messianic title "Branch," which is netser in Hebrew (cf. Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:15; Zechariah 3:8; Zechariah 6:12; Revelation 5:5; Revelation 22:16). This interpretation is evidenced by the fact that no prophet ever foretold of Jesus being born or raised in Nazareth, but they did predict the coming of a special anointed Davidic king (i.e., Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 9:1-7; Isaiah 11:1-5; Daniel 2:44; Daniel 7:13-14, see Special Topic at Matthew 8:20).

It was apparently a term of reproach because of its location far from Jerusalem in a Gentile area (cf. John 1:46 and Acts 24:5, even though this, too, was prophecy cf. Isaiah 9:1). This may be why it was included on the board above Jesus on the cross (i.e., Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews).


Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Matthew 2". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/matthew-2.html. 2021.
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