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Bible Commentaries

E.M. Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament

Matthew 2

Verse 1

2:1 Verse 1. Bethlehem was a small town not far from Jerusalem, and Judea was one of the three divisions or territories into which Palestine was divided in the time of Christ. Judea was the most important part of the country in that it contained the important city of Jerusalem. which was the capital and place at the temple of the Jews. Herod the king. I shall quote from history regarding thIs man who occupied so prominent a place In the affairs of God's people: "This year was born Herod the Great, who was afterwards king of Judea (for he was twenty·five years old when be was first made governor of Galilee In the year before Christ, 47). His father was Antlpas, a noble Idumaean, and his mother Cyprus of an illustrious famtly among the Arabians . . . By country therefore he was an Idumaean. but by religion a Jew, as all other Idumaeans were trom the time that Hyrcanus brought them all to embrace the Jewish religion, of which I have above given an account." Prideaux's Connexion. year 72. "But Antigonus. by way of reply to what Herod had caused to be proclaimed, and this before the Romans, and before Silas also, said, that they would not do justly so they gave the kingdom to Herod. who was not more than a private man, and an Idumean, i.e., a half Jew." Josephus, ,Antiquities, Book 14. Chapter 15. Section 2. The Herodian family figures prominently in the New Testament history. and the various members of it will be ident!lIed by their Individual names as they appear in the passages. Wise men is from MAGOS which Thayer defines at this place as follows: "Oriental wise men (astrologers) who. having discovered by the rising of a remarkable star that the Messiah had just been born, came to Jerusalem to worship him." The origlnal word is used with reference to both good and evil men, but the whole context indicates that it was used in the former sense in the present instance. We are sure that the case of the shepherds as recorded In Luke 2 was not an accident, likewise the fact that the star led the wise men. Mat 2:2-6 correctly would show their standing with the Lord . Furthermore. God spoke to them in a dream (verse 12) on the matter which again proves that tbe visit of the wise men to Jerusalem was under the direction ot God. Since the New Testament was not yet written, this event would be another to come under Heb 1:1. East is defined by Thayer, "eastern region, the east." The term therefore refers not merely to the direction from which the wise men came, but the country in general lying in that direction from Palestine. The guidance of the star was general only and directed them to Jerusalem. This was doubtless by the hand of God, to bring them in contact with those who were concerned in this grand occasion, particularly Herod who was destined to play sucb an important part in the drama.

Verse 2

2:2 Verse 2. When the wise men reached Jerusalem they made inquiry. seeking the exact location ot the newborn king of the J ews.. This specific statement is another proof that the whole movement of these men was under the instruction ot the Lord. Seen his star in the east denotes where they were when they first saw the star. not that it was merely in the east when they saw it. lt was over Jerusalem when they reached the city. for verse 9 describes it as moving immediately before them even to the extent of detailed guidance in the local territory. They gave as their mission only the desire to worship the newborn king. It might be wondered as to how an infant could be worshiped by wise men. seeing that the general idea seems to restrict that word to some specified schedule of religious performance. The word in its several English forms is used in various connections in the New Testament. and also comes trom many different Greek originals. These Greek words are also rendered by other words in the Authorized Version. I shall give a complete list of these words. showing where they occur as the original for 'worship. followed by other words (if any) by which they have been translated in the New Testament. The figure after the word de­notes the number of times the word is so rendered, DOXA, Luk 14:10. Worship 1, dignity 2, glory 144, honor 6, praise 4, glorious 6. EUSEBEQ, Act 17:23. Shew piety 1, worship 1. thebafeuo, Act 17:26, Cure 5. heal 38, worship 1. THRESKEIA, Col 2:18. Religion 3, worshiping 1, LATEEUO, Act 7:42; Act 24:14; Php 3:3; Heb 10:2. Do ser­vice 1, serve 16, worship 3, worshiper 1. neokobos, Act 19:36. Worshiper 1. pbosjcuntes, Joh 4:23, Worshiper 1. SEBAZO, Rom 1:25. Worship 1, SEBOMAI, Mat 15:9; Mar 7:7; Act 16:14; Act 18:7; Act 18:13; Act 19:27. Worship 6, devout 2, devout person 1. religious 1. SEBASMA, 2Th 2:4. Devotion 1, that is worshiped 1, THEOSEBES, Joh 9:31. Worshiper of God 1. PROSKUNEO is rendered "wor­ship" 58 times in the New Testament and is never rendered by any other word. Not one of the Greek words in this group is used of the public services of the church when translated by the word "worship.” This list will not be copied again, bo the reader is advised to mark it for ready reference.

Verse 3

2:3 Verse 3. Herod was only half Jew and was appointed to the office of ruler by the Romans. who had acquired control of the country. He was fearful of losing the throne when he heard that a child of Jewish blood had been born and was spoken of as king of the Jews. He was therefore troubled or disturbed in mind. All Jerusalem with him was troubled also, because there were a great many men in the city who depended upon him for the place of dignity that they were permitted to enjoy"

Verse 4

2:4 Verse 4. Herod was an Idumaean by natton but a Jew in religion. He thus had learned something of the Old Testament Scriptures. and knew that it had been prophesied that a king was some day to be born· to the Jewish nation. However, he was not sufficiently informed to locate the town where it was to take place. He called upon the priests and scribes for the information because they were supposed to be able to give it. (See Lev 10:11; Deu 17:9; Mal 2:7)

Verse 5

2:5 Verse 5. Concordances and other works of reference were not in use at the time of this history,. but the scribes were familiar with the scriptures from having to copy them so often. It is not much wonder then that they could give Herod the information.

Verse 6

2:6 Verse 6. As proof of their statement they quoted from Mic 5:2 which designates where the birth was to occur and also what the child predicted was to do. Rule is from POJMAINO and sometimes it means to feed or nourish. Thayer defines it in this place by. "To rule, govern," and he explains Mat 2:7; Mat 16:5 the word elsewhere as meaning, "of the overseers (pastors) of the church." It should be observed that the new-born king was to rule the people of israel, not the political world.

Verse 7

2:7 Verse 7. Herod evidently believed that the star appeared at the same time as the birth and that would give him a point from which to reckon the age of the child. He called the wise men privately because his entire behaviour was prompted by craftiness.

Verse 8

2:8 Verse 8. The wicked king doubtless believed the prophecy, for he sent the wise men to Bethlehem in search of the child. Diligently is from AKRIBOS which Thayer defines, "exactly, ac- curately, diligently." Hence they were not only to be diligent or earnest in their investigation, but were to be careful that the information that they obtained was rellable. It will be understood that Herod's claim of wanting to worship the child was made in hypocrisy.

Verse 9

2:9 Verse 9. The wise men were obedient to Herod tor the present in that they started on their journey to Bethlehem. That was a small town not far from Jerusalem and could have been easily found without any special aid. But it was necessary that they not only go to the right town but also that they find the particular house where the child was at that hour. The com- munity was full of people who had come in response to the decree of Caesar (Luk 2:1-3). It might not have been known that a child had been recently born among the throng, and an inquiry would not likely brlng any accurate information. Hence the star, which evidently had temporarily disappeared, came into view again and went as an escort for the wise men, going even to the very house where the infant was then being nursed.

Verse 10

2:10 Verse 10. Having been led from their home country by the star, the confidence of the wise men had already been pretty well established. now that it reappeared just at the time they were starting on the final lap of their journey, their confidence was made stronger and hence they had great rejoicing.

Verse 11

2:11 Verse 11. They worshiped him, not the mother. For the meaning of worshiped see the note at verse 2. Gifts isfrom DORON and Thayer says in this place that it means "gifts offered as an expression of honor." An infant this young could not have personal appreciation tor material articles, hence the performance was in token of their recognition at his dignified importance. It was customary in old times to show recognition of either social or official rank by making presents. (See Gen 32:13; 1Sa 10:27 and the comments on those passages.)

Verse 12

2:12 Verse 12. To be warned. ordinarily conveys the idea of danger, but it mighl not concern the person receiving the warning but someone else to whom he was to deIIver the message. The word is from CHREMATIZO and Thayer defines it, "To be divinely commanded, admonished, instructed." The meaning is that God instructed the wise men not to return by way of Jerusalem. The word would include the idea of danger, but it would be concerning the child Jesus and not the wise men directly. Had they gone back through Jerusalem they would have been forced to meet up with Herod, and that would have given Ihem no way to keep the information from him that would have meant harm to Jesus.

Verse 13

2:13 Verse 13. When they were departed indicates that the angel gave these instructlons to Joseph at the same time that he started the wise men on their journey homeward..

Verse 14

2:14 Verse 14. This verse indicates that Joseph arose while it was yet night, for it was under the darkness that he started for Egypt. This is another instance showing promptness in obey· ing the command of the Lord. Abraham manifested a similar attitude about the offering up at his son as re corded in Gen 22:3. ..

Verse 15

2:15 Verse 15. The writer completes the part of his story that pertained to Egypt in order not to break into the line of thought, and he will resume it a little later on. In giving instructions for Joseph to come with his son out of Egypt, the prophecy in Hos 11:1 was fulfilled the second time; first time was tn the days of Moses.

Verse 16

2:16 Verse 16. The original word for wicked has a somewhat varied meaning, but in the present instance it denotes that Herod regarded the actions or the wise men as intended tor a trifling with him. Whether they had such a motive or not, he was much enraged at the slight upon his dignity. But he was not to be frustrated (as he thought) in his wicked plot to make away with the child whom he regarded as his rival. He therefore formed the plan to draw a dragnet around the terrItory of Bethlehem in the hopes of entrapping the child Jesus, and he placed the maximum age at two years. It had. been that long since he made his inquiry of the wise men which he supposed was the use of the royal birth. This plot might have accompllshed his satanic purpose had it not been for the intervention of the Lord as recorded in verse 13. Many people have been confused between the slaughter of these infants and those in Egypt in the time of Moses. In that case the male children only were to be slain, while no distinction was made in the present instance. Pharaoh was concerned only about children who might become soldiers to make war against bim and hence be ordered just the males to be killed. Herod would not risk the excuse that could have been offered by some in sparing thei r infants had the girls been exempted. hence the passage says that all the children were ordered slain. That word is from PAIS which Thayer defines is this place by the following: "1. a child. boy or girl; . . . plural infants, children."

Verse 17

2:17 Verse 17. When one inspired writer makes an application of another inspired statement. it leaves us with no uncertainty as to its meaning. Thus we know that Jeremiah had the "slaughter of the innocents" in mind when he wrote Jer 31:15.

Verse 18

2:18 Verse 18. The context of the statement in Jeremiah had to do with the sorrows of ancient Israel at the hands of the heathen nations. Many of them had been slain or otherwise mistreated by these foreign people. Rama (or Ramah) was near Jerusalem and Rachel was buried in that district. She was an important "mother in Israel" and her name Is used to represent the mothers in Israel generally. Following a practice of the Old Testament prophets in gotng from their time to that of the New Testament for a like occurrence, Jeremiah looked forward to another when the near kin of Rachel would be cruelly mistreated. This was done when Herod caused so many of the Jewish children to be slain, hence the reference of Matthew to that prophecy of Jeremiah.

Verse 19

2:19 Verse 19. Sometimes angels were sent in visible form to communicate with man on behalf of God, and at others they came only In an inspired dream which was the way it was done to Joseph in Egypt when It was necessary to give him information.

Verse 20

2:20 Verse 20. He was instructed to leave Egypt and return because the ones who sought to slay the child were dead. The first Instructions were general and designated only that he should return to the land of Israel which would Include Galilee as well as Judea..

Verse 21

2:21 Verse 21. This verse Is still in the general form and merely states that Joseph brought the childd. and his mother into the land. of Israel and in so doing he carried out the first in· structions of the angel delivered to him In the land of Egypt.

Verse 22

2:22 Verse 22. It was after the Lord informed him of the reign of Archelaus that Joseph was afraid to enter Judea which was only one part ot the land of Israel. The word not withstanding is not in the original and serves no good purpose by being Injected Into the text and should be Ignored. The verse simply means that God warned (same word as in verse 12) Joseph about the son of Herod, and that caused him to change his course and enter another part of the land of Israel called Galilee.

Verse 23

2:23 Verse 23. The city to which Joseph went with his family was Nazareth. which was the former home of Mary (Luk 1:26-27). This seems to have been a mere coincidence for them to settle at this place, but we may "be sure that God had a hand In all of the affair. The writer says it was in fulfillment of a prophecy that He was to be called a Nazarene. The last word is not in any prophecy of the Old Testament. The term is derived from the formation of the name Nazareth which seems to signify "a sprout or branch," and under such like terms Jesus is referred to in Isa 11:1; Isa 63:2; Jer 23:5; Jer 33:15; Zec 3:8; Zec 6:12.
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Bibliographical Information
Zerr, E.M. "Commentary on Matthew 2". E.M. Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. 1952.