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Bible Commentaries

William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament
Matthew 2

 

 

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Verses 1-12

THE ORIENTAL MAGI

Matthew 2:1-12. “Jesus having been born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod the king, behold, the magi came from the East, saying, Where is He who was born King of the Jews? for we have seen His star in the East, and have come to worship Him.” These magi, or wise men, were the priests, diviners, and astrologers of Persia, Media, Babylonia, and Arabia. From what Country they came, we know not, as they were scattered all over the great East. Astrology is the science by which future events are predicted from the motions and phenomena of the stars. God availed himself of the profession of these influential men to give publicity to the advent of His Son. The Arabs and Babylonians were the most proficient astronomers of the early ages, always identifying it, more or less, with mythology and enchantment. Hence, these magi were accustomed to spend whole nights gazing skywardly, and diagnosing the movements and the relative brilliancy, as well as other phenomena, of the stars. Behold, in the Oriental firmament, a new star is seen, identified with none of the constellations with which those professional stargazers are so familiar. Behold, this star turns meteor, and shoots far away into the Western heavens. As the whole world is on the outlook for the Messianic advent, and these magi, standing at the front of the religious movements in the East, receive a Divine intimation that this star is ominous of that glorious coming King, from time immemorial expected by the Jews, consequently they immediately set out, and follow this moving star till they reach the land of Judea; proceeding at once to Jerusalem, the center of population, government, and influence, supposing that they can there get information in reference to the birth of the Mighty One adumbrated by the new star, which they have followed from their Eastern home.

“Herod, the king, hearing, was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” As Herod’s father was an Idumean, and his mother an Arab, he doubtless feared the influence of a native king, lest he supersede him. Whereas, Herod’s long reign of thirty-eight years had been characterized by cruelty and blood, as he never stopped till he had actually hunted up and massacred all the Maccabean family, not even sparing his own wife, Mary Anne, nor his sons, Alexander and Aristobulus; doubtless the Jerusalemites dreaded the bloody revolution that would arise in an attempt to supersede him in the kingdom. “Assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquires of them where Christ is to be born, and they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judea; for thus it has been written by the prophet [Micah 5:2], And thou, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, art not least among the princes of Judah; for out of thee shall come a Governor, who shall shepherd My people Israel.” How strange, when these chief priests and scribes were so well posted in the Messianic prophecies as tip on the first inquiry correctly to locate the birth of Christ, and then, when the test came, reject Him as an impostor!

“Then Herod, secretly calling the magi, inquired from them the time of the appearing of the star, and, sending them to Bethlehem, said, “Go and search diligently for the young Child, and when you find Him, report to me, in order that having gone, I may worship Him also.” King Herod was a very bold and prominent professor of the Jewish religion, having rebuilt the temple with great magnificence, and done many things to promote the interest of the Jewish Church; now, in the attitude of a devout Jew, watching and waiting for the Christ of prophecy to make His appearance, he treats the magi with appreciative courtesy, requesting them to go on to Bethlehem and find out whether Christ has there been born, as revealed by the star, and in that case, by all means, give him word without delay, that he may go and enjoy the privilege of worshipping Him; while at the same time he had deliberately made up his mind to slay the very Infant pointed out by the magi. How wonderfully history repeats itself! The Holy Ghost is the Spirit of Christ. The true holiness movement is the manifestation of the Holy Ghost, as the human body of Jesus is the manifestation of Christ. Nothing is more common in the present age than for people claiming conservatism to holiness, and even identity with the movement, to be its bitterest enemies, and only watching an opportunity to exterminate it. Herod stood at the head of the visible Church, claiming to be a true worshiper of Jesus, and at the same time seeking to kill Him. So the Church this day abounds in Herods, claiming to be the votaries of holiness, and seeking to destroy it.

“And hearing the king, they departed, and, behold, the star which they saw in the East led them in advance, until having come, it stood over the place where the young child was. Seeing the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.” On the road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem there is a well, about a mile from the city, called the Well of the Star, because they say that when the wise men reached it, and looked in, they saw and recognized the star which had appeared to them in the East and led them on their way.

Then the star evaded their gaze no more, but led them on till it paused over the cradle containing the world’s Redeemer. The conclusion from the facts revealed seems legitimate, that when the magi turned away from the direct route to Bethlehem to go to Jerusalem, the great metropolis, and consult the mighty men, the star eluded their vision, appearing to them no more till they get back on the direct road to Bethlehem, then reappearing, and leading them to the identical One for whose sake they had taken their long journey. So the Divine leadership is a bright star of present security and heavenly hope. It will never forsake us while we keep in God’s order, treading steadfastly the narrow way of holiness. But when we take our destiny into our own hand, and turn away into big places to consult great men, and do things with a big auger, we are sure to get out of kelter. Bethlehem was a little, obscure village. If they had followed the star, paying no attention to the big city and the great men, they would have found the Savior quickly, and had no trouble with King Herod. So, if you want to find Jesus quickly and satisfactorily, follow the Holy Star (i.e., the Holy Spirit), giving little or no attention to big preachers and influential Churches.

“Having come into the house, they saw the little child, with Mary His mother, and falling down, they worshipped Him, and opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” When I was at Bethlehem, the guide showed me a church edifice, about five hundred yards from the Church of the Nativity, which contains the manger in which Jesus was born, and said that this church stands on the spot originally occupied by the house in which Mary and Joseph lived with the infant Jesus, perhaps a month after He was born. This corroborates the statement here, that the wise men came into the house, not the manger. Of course, they either traveled on foot, or on camels or donkeys, occupying considerable time in their journey. No mention here is made of Joseph, as he happened to be absent at the time of their arrival. How wonderfully God provides for coming emergencies before we have the slightest inkling of their approach! Do you not see how very opportune these valuable gifts came to Joseph, just at the time he needed money to defray their expenses to Egypt, though he had not yet dreamed of going. The frankincense and myrrh were exceedingly valuable Oriental aromatics, which they could sell for money, and with the gold brought by the magi, have a splendid outfit for the great and expensive journey which lay immediately before them, though they apprehended it not.

“Being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed by another way into their own country.” Daniel says “the dream is from the Lord.” The Bible abounds in dreams, revealing Divine truths of greatest importance to humanity. Hence we must not depreciate dreams, but open our understanding and invite God to speak to us, ad hbitum, in our dreams or our waking. Doubtless cruel Herod would have imprisoned, and perhaps killed, the magi if he could have gotten his hands on them. God defeated him, and protected them by a dream. So, lookout! God, in His own way, will take care of you.


Verses 13-15

SOJOURN IN EGYPT

13-15. Now Joseph, a true, godly man, dreams. God talks to him in the stilly hours of his nightly slumber. It is a long way for Mary to ride a donkey, and carry the Babe in her lap. Fortunately, He is now a month old. Then there was a complete overland route from Canaan to Egypt through the Isthmus of Suez, which, a few years ago, has been cut through by a canal, one hundred miles long, one hundred yards wide, and thirty feet deep, at the cost of one hundred millions of dollars. I have several times crossed the track of Joseph and Mary, with Jesus, into Egypt. I was in the house now a Coptic church — in Old Cairo, where they say the holy family spent the time in Egypt; also, under the great sycamore-tree, twenty miles from that house, where tradition says they tarried and rested. Hosea foresaw this event long centuries before it occurred, and wrote, “Out of Egypt have I called My Son.”


Verses 16-18

SLAUGHTER OF THE INFANTS

16-18. Herod’s cruelty was simply horrific, killing his wife and three sons — Antipater, only five days before he died; all the Maccabean family; and all others who were even suspected of political rivalry. So now he sends forth and deluges Bethlehem with the blood of the innocent infants, taking all, indiscriminately, two years old and younger, so as to make sure that he got the right one, as he was determined at any cost to hold fast the royal scepter. See how wonderfully God defeats the devil in the interest of his true people! While Herod was ransacking all Bethlehem, and cutting the throat of every infant, so as to make sure that he got Jesus, He was perfectly safe in His mother’s arms, far away in another continent, so that Herod had all of his slaughter for nothing. Jeremiah 31:15, with prophetic ear, long centuries antecedent to it, hears the awful weeping in Bethlehem: “A voice was heard in Rama, lamentation, weeping, and great mourning: Rachel weeping for her children, and was not willing to be comforted, because they are not.” Rama is the name of the country in and about Bethlehem. Rachel’s Tomb is in full view of Bethlehem, and only a mile distant. Here, long centuries after she is dead, she is described as weeping over her children, and refusing to be comforted, because they are dead. The simple solution of the matter is, that Jeremiah, who was a brilliant poet, here turns loose his poetic imagination, personifying the weeping mothers of Bethlehem, whose dear babes were thus slaughtered, by Rachel, a mother in Israel, whose body is there with them sleeping in the dust. It is a strong figure, representing this dear mother, who had been so long dead, as now waking and weeping over her slaughtered children.


Verses 19-23

THE HOLY FAMILY RETURN FROM EGYPT

19-23, & Luke 2:39-40. “And Herod having died.” We do not know how long they remained in Egypt, but evidently the period was brief. Scarcely has the wail of the slaughtered infants died away on the air of Bethlehem till the cruel old king, becoming quite ill, goes to Jericho, where he had a palace and a pool, that he may avail himself of the sanitary warm baths for the recovery of his health. Even there he slays Antipater, his only surviving son by his first wife, Mary Anne, whom he had slain, with her other two sons, Alexander and Aristobulus; this dark crime only preceding five days his own exit to meet God and enter upon the awful retributions of eternity. “Behold, an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream in Egypt: Arise, take the young child and His mother, and go into Israel, for those seeking the life of the young child are dead. And he, rising, took the young child and His mother, and came into Israel. And hearing that Archelaus rules over Judea in the room of Herod his father, he feared to go thither.” Archelaus, being the only surviving son of Herod, received the government nominally by inheritance. We must remember that after the battle of Actium, which left Augustus Caesar sole proprietor of the Roman Empire, which had conquered the whole world, consequently no king in any country could reign till he went to Rome and received his crown at the hand of the emperor; consequently, immediately after the death of Herod, Archelaus went away to Rome, a long and perilous journey for those times, in order that the emperor might crown him king of the Jews. Now it is a simple fact that the emperor positively refused to crown him, so that Archelaus was really never king of Judea. On the contrary, the emperor sent Coponius to Judea, in the capacity of proconsul, thus dismantling the kingdom, and turning it into a Roman province, no longer having its own king, but simply a governor, sent out by the Roman emperor, to rule that country as a Roman province. Now why did this transition take place at this peculiar time? Why, it was a fulfillment of prophecy, which says, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, till Shiloh [i.e., Christ] comes.” Now do you not see this wonderful fulfillment of prophecy? Augustus Caesar had crowned Herod king of the Jews, and why not now crown Archelaus, and let the Jews have their kingdom, instead of reducing them to a state of vassalage by taking away their kingdom, and making them a Roman province? The solution is plain. Shiloh had already come, and the scepter had departed from Judah. Though the Roman emperor knew nothing about these prophecies nor their fulfillment, yet arbitrarily taking the bit in his teeth, he proceeded, undeviatingly, literally to fulfill the prophecies. So are wicked worldly people this day fulfilling the prophecies with astounding accuracy.

“Being warned in a dream, he departed into the regions of Galilee. Having come, he dwelt in a city called Nazareth; in order that the word spoken by the prophets may be fulfilled, that He shall be called a Nazarene.” (Isaiah 11:1.)

The village of Nazareth was so obscure and insignificant as never so much as to receive a mention in all the Old Testament Scriptures. It was proverbial for ignorance and poverty, so that the maxim obtained, “No good can come out of Nazareth;” thus illustrating the universally patent fact that this world is upside down, human estimation all wrong, and the very opposite of the Divine and true. Though Nazareth in human estimation was the most worthless place on the earth, it has come to the front, more celebrated and honored than all the time-honored metropolises on the globe. The same is true of the people. Examine all history. Those who have risen to true eminence have emanated from utter obscurity; while the high-born, as a rule, dwindle into insignificance, never amounting to anything. I did so much enjoy my sojourn in Nazareth, happily reached by Jewish and Christian enterprise, now quite flourishing, with a population of seven thousand. How I did enjoy walking through the house where Jesus dwelt thirty years; visiting Joseph’s carpenter-shop, where He labored with him at the work-bench; and the old synagogue, where He actually worshipped the God of Israel thirty years! The primitive Christians were called “Nazarenes.”

“And the little child grew and became strong in spirit, being filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.” (Luke 2:40.) No wonder the body of Jesus grew and symmetrically developed with rolling years, as He had no physical infirmities, superinduced by the fall. Consequently He never had any sickness to impede His growth, His physical life throughout being like that of Adam before the fall, perfectly healthy, natural, and free from all ailments of any kind. This conclusion follows as a legitimate sequence from the very fact that He took our nature, without sin and its consequence; i.e., without infirmity. His spiritual development was truly marvelous, from the simple fact that His intellect was perfectly clear and cloudless, never muddled, nor confused, nor in any way thrown off its equilibrium. His affections were perfectly pure, and never contaminated by anything vile. His memory was perfect, so that He never forgot anything, while His judgment was infallible, even while in childhood. Hence He was actually filled with the true wisdom of God peculiar to the heavenly state; while the grace of God, not only filled, but crowned Him.

 


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Bibliography Information
Godbey, William. "Commentary on Matthew 2:4". "William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ges/matthew-2.html.

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Saturday, December 7th, 2019
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