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Bible Commentaries

John Broadus' Commentary on Matthew
Matthew 2

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-12

Matthew 2:1-12.
The Visit Of The Magi

Having spoken of the birth of Jesus (compare on Matthew 1:18,) the Evangelist now adds (Matthew 2) two incidents of his infancy, viz., the visit of the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12), and closely connected therewith the flight into Egypt and return. (Matthew 2:13-23) The first tends to show that Jesus was the Messiah, and to honour him, in bringing out the signal respect paid him by distinguished Gentiles, (as often predicted of the Messiah, e. g., Isaiah 60:3) and in stating the appearance of a star in connection with his birth; the second incident exhibits God's special care of the child. Both are connected with extraordinary divine communications (Matthew 2:12-13, Matthew 2:19), designed for his protection, and with the fulfilment of prophecies concerning the Messiah, such as the birth at Bethlehem (5), the calling out of Egypt (15), the disconsolate mourners (18), and the residence at Nazareth (23). Comparing this section with Luke, Matthew 2, we see that Matthew records such incidents of the infancy as furnish proofs that Jesus is the Messiah—to prove which is a special aim of his impel. One of these proofs, to a Jew, was he homage of Gentiles; while Luke, writing more for Gentiles, who knew that the majority of the Jews had rejected Jesus as their Messiah, mentions the recognition of the child by the conspicuously devout Jews, Simeon and Hannah.

Matthew 2:1. The narrative goes right on. The preceding sentence ended with the name Jesus, and this begins: Now when Jesus was born, etc. Literally, the Jesus, the one just mentioned; 'this Jesus' would be too strong a rendering, but it may help to show the close connection.

Bethlehem is a very ancient but always small village, prettily situated on a hill about five miles south of Jerusalem. Its original name was Ephrath or Ephratah, (Genesis 35:16, Genesis 35:19, Genesis 48:7) probably applied to the surrounding country, as well as to the town. The Israelites named it Beth-lehem, 'house of bread,' or, as we should say, 'bread-town,' which the Arabs retain as Beit-lahm. This name was doubtless given because of the fruitfulness of its fields which is still remarkable. It was called Bethlehem Ephratah, or Bethlehem Judah, to distinguish it from another Bethlehem not far from Nazareth in the portion of Zabulon. (Joshua 19:15) Judea here must consequently be understood, not as denoting the whole country of the Jews, Palestine, but in a narrower sense, Judea as distinguished from Galilee (see on "Matthew 2:22"). A beautiful picture of life at Bethlehem is found in the Book of Ruth It was the birthplace of David, but he did nothing to increase its importance; nor did the 'Son of David,' who was born there ever visit it, so far as we know, during his public ministry, which appears not to have extended south of Jerusalem. In like manner the present population is only about 4,000, some of whom cultivate the surrounding hills and beautiful deep valleys, while many make their living by manufacturing trinkets to sell to pilgrims and travellers. In itself, Bethlehem was from first to last "little to be among the thousands of Judah" (Micah, Rev. Ver.); yet in moral importance it was "in no wise least" among them (Matt., Rev. Ver.), for from it came the Messiah. The traditional localities of particular sacred events which are now pointed out there are all more or less doubtful; but the general locality is beyond question that near to which Jacob buried his Rachel, where Ruth gleaned in the rich wheat fields, and David showed his youthful valour in protecting his flock, and where valley and hill-side shone with celestial light and echoed the angels' song when the Saviour was born.

Matthew here first mentions a place. Ha does not refer to a previous residence of Joseph and Mary at Nazareth, (Luke 1:26-27) but certainly does not in the least exclude it; and in fact his way of introducing Bethlehem seems very readily to leave room for what we learn elsewhere, viz., that the events he has already narrated (Matthew 1:18-25) did not occur at that place.

Herod the king would be well known, by this simple description, to Matthew's first readers, who knew that the other royal Herods (Antipas and Agrippa) belonged to a later period. (Luke also, Luke 1:5, places the birth of Jesus in his reign.) The Maccabean or Hasmonean(1) line of rulers, who had made the second century B. C., one of the most glorious periods in the national history, had rapidly degenerated, and after the virtual conquest of Judea by the Romans (B. C., 63), an Idumean named Antipater attained, by Roman favour, a gradually increasing power in the State, and his son Herod was at length (B. C., 40) declared, by the Senate at Rome, to be king of the Jews. Aided by the Roman arms, Herod overcame the opposition of the people, and in B. C. 37, established his authority, which he sought to render less unpopular by marrying the beautiful Mariamne, the heiress of the Maccabean line. Adroit and of pleasing address, Herod was a favourite successively of Antony and Augustus, and even the fascinating Cleopatra was unable to circumvent him. Amid the confusion of the Roman civil wars, he appears to have dreamed of founding a new Eastern empire; and possibly with this view he made costly presents to all the leading cities of Greece and secured the appointment of President of the Olympic Games. Meantime he strove to please his own people, while also gratifying his personal snares, by erecting many splendid buildings in various cities of his dominions; among others rebuilding the Temple in a style of unrivalled magnificence. That he could command means for such lavish expense at home and abroad, at the same time courting popularity by various remissions of taxes, shows that his subjects were numerous and wealthy, and his administration vigorous. But besides being a usurper,—not of the Davidic nor of the Maccabean line—supported by the hated Romans, and a favourer of foreign ideas and customs, and even of idolatry, he was extremely arbitrary and cruel, especially in his declining years. Mariamne herself, whom he loved with mad fondness, and several of his sons, with many other persons, fell victims to his jealousy and suspicion. Bitterly hated by the great mass of the Jews, and afraid to trust even his own family, the unhappy old tyrant was constantly on the watch for attempts to destroy him, or to dispose of the succession otherwise than he wished. These facts strikingly accord with the perturbation at hearing of one 'born king of the Jews,' and the hypocrisy, cunning, and cruelty, which appear in connection with the visit of the Magi. (See on "Matthew 5:20; Mat_5:22", and read the copious history of Herod in Josephus, "Antiquities Ancient History of the Jews," Book XIV. XVIII., a history which throws much light on the New Testament times.)

The wise men, or Magi (see margin Rev. Ver.) were originally the priestly tribe or caste among the Medes, and afterwards the Medo-Persians, being the recognized teachers of religion and of science.(1) In the great Persian Empire they wielded the highest influence and power. As to science, they cultivated astronomy, especially in the form of astrology, with medicine, and every form of divination and incantation. Their name gradually came to he applied to persons of similar position and pursuits in other nations, especially to diviners enchanters. It is used in the Greek translation of Daniel 1:20; Daniel 2:27, Daniel 5:7, Daniel 5:11, Daniel 5:15, to render a word signifying 'diviner,' etc. So in the New Testament it is employed to describe Barjesus, (Acts 13:6, Acts 13:8, translated 'sorcerer') and words derived from it applied to, Simon at Samaria, (Acts 8:9, Acts 8:11, 'sorceries') who is commonly spoken of as Simon Magus (cutup. also Wisdom of Solomon 17:7); and from it come our words magic, magician, etc. It is however probable that these magi from the East were not mere ordinary astrologers or diviners, but belonged to the old Persian class, many members of which still maintained a high position and an elevated character. (Compare Upham.) So it is likely, but of course not certain, that they came from Persia or from Babylonia;(2) in the latter region Jews were now very numerous and influential, and in Persia also they had been regarded with apical interest, as far hack as the time of Cyrus. However this may be, the visit and homage of 'magi from the East' would be esteemed by the Jews, and was in fact, a most impressive tribute to the infant Messiah. The tradition that they were kings, found as early as Tertullian, doubtless grew out of the supposed prophecy that kings should do homage to Messiah (Psalms 68:29, Psalms 68:31; Psalms 72:10);(3) and the traditional number three was apparently drawn from the number of their gifts. These, with the traditional names, are of no authority, and of no consequence except as connected with modern Christian art.—Wise men from the East. The Greek is ambiguous, but more probably means this than "wise men came from the East." To Jerusalem, the capital of the country, these strangers would naturally come, as there they could most readily obtain information concerning the new-born king. (As to Jerusalem, see on "Matthew 21:10".)

Matthew 2:2. His star. Two non-supernatural explanations have been offered. (1) One was first suggested by the astronomer Kepler (d. 1630), and is well presented by Alford (last ed.). In the year 747 of Rome there were three different conjunctions (in the constellation Pisces) of the planets Jupiter and Saturn, in May, October, and November. The astrology-loving Magi may have somehow connected this conjunction with the birth of a Jewish king; even as the Jewish writer, Abarbanel (A. D. 1453), thought the Messiah was at hand in his day because there had been a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in Pisces, a conjunction of which planets tradition represented as associated with the birth of Moses. It is supposed that after the May conjunction the Magi set out, and in Jerusalem saw the October or November conjunction, either of which at certain hours would have been in the direction of Bethlehem. But the Greek word is aster, 'star,' and not astron, which is used for a group of stars. The two planets cannot have "appeared as one star," for a recent English astronomer shows (Smith's "Dict.") that they were never nearer each other than one degree, which is about double the apparent diameter of the moon. Some hold that 'star' must here be taken In a general sense, denoting a group; but the distinction between the two Greek words is uniformly observed. It is also objected to this theory that other data for the time of Christ's birth would place it at least two years later than A. U. C., 747, though the conclusion from those data is not certain. Edersheim rather favours this theory, and adduces for the first time a passage from a minor Midrash about the Messiah, to the effect that two years before his coming "the star shall shine forth in the east, and this is the star of the Messiah." But these minor Rabbinical treatises are of uncertain date, and there would be much room for suspecting that the statement in question was imitated from Matthew. (2) Some "variable stars" (see any recent work on astronomy) vary so widely as at times to become invisible and afterwards re-appear; and it has been supposed (Lutteroth) that such a disappearing and re-appearing star was seen by the magi.—either of these theories is in itself possible, and a reasonable natural explanation would obviously be better than the unnecessary introduction of the miraculous. But it is extremely difficult to reconcile these theories with the language of Matthew 2:9, 'the star... went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.' If a heavenly body be considered as moving forward in advance of them from Jerusalem, it would be equally in advance when they arrived at Bethlehem, and in no sense standing over that place. Taking Matthew's language according to its obvious import, we have to set aside the above explanations, and to regard the appearance as miraculous; conjecture as to its nature will then be to no profit. The supernatural is easily admitted here, since there were so many miracles connected with the Saviour's birth, and the visit of the Magi was an event of great moral significance, fit to be the occasion of a miracle.

Why did they call it his star? Upon theory (1) we should suppose some astrological ground, as above intimated. Otherwise we are unable to explain. Some hypothetically connect it with Balaam's prophecy of a star out of Jacob (Numbers 24:17), which all the Targums refer to Messiah (Wünsche), and which on this hypothesis is supposed to have led to an eastern tradition. Others connect it with the fact attested, towards a century later than the visit of the Magi, by Josephus, Suetonius, and Tacitus, that it had long been believed throughout the East that persons sprung from Judea would gain supreme power (Josephus."War," vi. 6, 4; Suetonius "Vesp." 4; Tacitus "Hist." Matthew 2:13); but there is in those writers nothing of a star,(1) and Suetonius and Tacitus appear to have merely borrowed from Josephus.

In the east might here mean 'at its rising'; but Matthew 2:9 leaves no doubt. Worship. But do homage is much more probably the correct rendering here (the Greek word meaning either), because there is no reason to believe that they regarded the new born king as in any sense divine, though they apparently expected his reign to influence other nations.

Matthew 2:3. Herod was troubled at the idea of a rival (see on "Matthew 2:1"); and while many dependants of Herod would really share his feelings, being interested in the permanence of his government, all the people would be disturbed at the same time, through fear of new tyrannies and cruelties as the effect of his jealous fears.

Matthew 2:4. As the question to be asked was a religious-political one, the king assembled all the leading students of the law to answer it. The chief priests and scribes might mean the Sanhedrin, as in Matthew 20:18, the elders being here omitted, as in Matthew 27:1 the scribes are omitted. But the word all, with the additional phrase of the people, makes it more natural to understand a general assemblage of teachers, including many scribes who did not belong to the Sanhedrin. This would accord with the idea of great uneasiness on his part; compare the similar course of Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar. (Daniel 2:2, Daniel 5:7) The 'chief priests' comprised the high priest at the time, any persons who had previously occupied that office (as Herod and the Romans made frequent changes), and probably also the heads of the twenty-four courses of priests, (Luke 1:8) for the language of Josephus ("Ant." xx. 8, 8; "War," iv. 3, 9) implies that the number of 'high priests' was considerable. The term 'scribes' (in the Old Testament meaning military secretaries) had now for several centuries denoted those who supervised the copying of the Scriptures, which Jewish feeling required to be performed with the most scrupulous care. Their minute acquaintance with the text of Scripture would naturally lead to their being consulted as to its meaning; and in the time of our Lord they were by common consent regarded as authorized expounders of the law (hence called 'lawyers,' Matthew 22:35), and besides answering the iquiries of individuals as to questions of truth and duty, many of them gave public instruction on such subjects, (hence called 'doctors—or teachers—of the law,' Luke 5:17), particularly at the schools in the temple courts. Their instructions and practical decisions were at this time seldom the result of their own thinking, but consisted of sayings handed down from earlier teachers, or traditional decisions of tribunals in former times. (Compare on Matthew 7:29.) Those scribes who acted as teachers were among the persons called Rabbi. Altogether, they possessed very great influence and distinction, and some of their number were united with the 'chief priests' and the 'elders' to form the Sanhedrin (see on "Matthew 26:57; Mat_26:59"). Filled with ambition and vanity, they exposed themselves to the severe censure of our Lord, who gives a vivid picture of them in Luke 20:46. Some of the scribes were Sadducees, but most of them Pharisees; and hence we frequently find the 'scribes and Pharisees' mentioned together, since the policy and the special faults which characterized the scribes extended also to all the rest of the great Pharisaic party.

Christ, literally, the Christ. The article should by all means be retained in the English. It is proper to use in translation the Greek word 'Christ'; but we may often see more clearly how such expressions presented themselves to the original Jewish hearers, by substituting 'the Messiah.' (Try this, e. g., in Matthew 22:42; Matthew 24:5, Matthew 24:23; Mark 12:35; Luke 24:26, Luke 24:46; John 7:27, John 7:31, John 7:41-42; Acts 17:3; Acts 18:28.) As to the meaning of 'Christ,' see on Luke 1:1. Should be born, viz., according to the prophets, or any other means of knowing; where is the appointed or expected place of Messiah's birth.(1)

Matthew 2:5-6. They could answer without hesitation, in Bethlehem of Judea, for thus (to this effect, viz., that the Messiah is to be born there) it is written (has been written, and stands now written, is on record) by (properly through, see on "Matthew 1:22") the prophet, viz., Micah 5:2. The application of this prediction to the birth of the Messiah at Bethlehem is obvious and generally admitted, and was familiar in the time of our Lord (Lightfoot, Wetstein, Wünsche, Edersheim.) It is here quoted with some changes of phraseology which may be readily explained. Micah, as is often done in poetry, uses an antique name—Bethlehem Ephratah (Genesis 48:7; see on "Matthew 2:1"); Matthew takes the common Old Testament form, Bethlehem-Judah, (Ruth 1:1, etc.) though not the purely Greek form Judea, as in Matthew 2:1, Matthew 2:5; and prefixes 'land,' as when we say, 'Richmond, State of Virginia' (Alexander). Micah says, 'Thou art little to be among the thousands of Judah, (yet) out of thee,' etc., (Micah 5:2 Rev. Ver.), meaning that it is a small and insignificant place (see on "Matthew 2:1"), scarcely worthy to be numbered among the towns of Judah—yet out of it would come etc.; while Matthew's mind turns towards the moral importance of Bethlehem as derived from this very fact, and so he puts it, 'art in no wise the least among the leaders of Judah, for out of thee,' Rev. Ver. 'Thousands' was an antique designation of the great families into which the tribes were subdivided (Judges 6:15, margin; 1 Samuel 10:19, 1 Samuel 23:23), and was applied by Micah to a town as the residence of such a family; while Matthew uses the more familiar term, 'governors' or 'princes,' meaning those who by birth stood at the head of the great families, and might therefore represent them or their abode. (Or Matthew's Hebrew text may, perhaps, have had a slightly different word which signifies 'leaders'.) Shall rule. This is a general term used by Micah, but Matthew uses the specific word shepherd, who shall shepherd my people, which includes both governing, protecting, and feeding—a form of expression applied to kings, both in Scripture and the classics, and repeatedly used in Messianic prophecies.(1) The other slight differences require no explanation. It thus appears that the changes in phraseology which Matthew here makes in quoting do not introduce any idea foreign to the original, but bring out more plainly its actual meaning; and the same thing is true in many other New Testament quotations from the Old Testament. It was common among the Jews of that age to interpret in quoting (see Edersheim, ch. 8). We see from John 7:42 that the Jews understood this passage of Micah as Messianic; and in like manner the Targum (Toy) puts it, "Out of thee shall come forth before me the Messiah."

Matthew 2:7 f. Then is a favorite word of transition with Matthew (Matthew 2:16; Matthew 3; Matthew 13; Matthew 4:1, etc.) Privily, or privately. In public, Herod doubtless affected unconcern; besides, if his inquiries should become known, the parties affected might take the alarm and escape. What time the star appeared. This would give some indication as to the age of the child. He therefore inquired diligently, or, learned carefully, Rev. Ver.—sought exact (or accurate) knowledge on that point. 'Diligently' in Com. Ver. was drawn from the Vulgate Latin. It is likely that when the Magi first came he had inquired why they believed the star to signify that a king of the Jews was born. And now, having learned the place and age, he takes steps to learn the person. Go and search diligently, or investigate accurately, the expression in Matthew 2:8 being fuller and stronger than in Matthew 2:7. He treats the matter as highly important, and he is a man who never leaves any stone unturned.

Matthew 2:9-10. The Magi were not well acquainted with Herod's character, and appear not to have suspected his real design; so they set about carrying out his directions. It has always been quite common in the East to travel at night. And lo, a phrase to call attention. The Greek word is used very often by Matthew. (Matthew 1:20, Matthew 1:23; Matthew 2:1, Matthew 2:9, Matthew 2:13, Matthew 2:19, etc.), and Luke, rarely by Mark or John. It was long ago that they saw the star in the East, and here it is again. Went before them, literally, led them forward, and the Greek has the imperfect, naturally suggesting that as they moved forward it moved also. (Compare on Matthew 2:2). It appears to have indicated to them not merely the town—showing that the scribes were right—but the quarter of the town, if not the very house. (Matthew 2:11) Notice the strong expression of Matthew 2:10, as to their joy.

Matthew 2:11. The house, i. e., the particular house in which he was, as referred to in Matthew 2:9, or perhaps the house over which the star stood. We are not to think here of the place in which the shepherds had found the child, on the morning after his birth. (Luke 2:16) It had in all probability been some time since then: the presentation in the temple, forty days after the birth, (Luke 2:22, Leviticus 12:1-4) must have taken place before this visit which troubled all Jerusalem, and which was immediately followed by the flight into Egypt. There had possibly also been a journey to Nazareth, (Luke 2:39) and Joseph seems to have been now making Bethlehem his home. (Compare on Matthew 2:23.)(1) To speak of a little child with his mother is so natural that no stress should be laid on the omission of Joseph, who is mentioned by Luke (Matthew 2:16) in describing the previous visits of the shepherds. Observe that it is the child with Mary his mother. (Compare Matthew 2:13.) Our modern Romanists would have been sure to say, "the blessed Virgin with her child." Fell down and worshipped, or, did homage. See on "Matthew 2:2".—Presented. Offered, as in all English Versions before King James, is the literal and common rendering, and more expressive of respect than "presented."The word rendered treasures here more probably means treasure-chests, or the like, i. e., the vessels or packages containing the treasures. The refinements and spiritualizings of numerous ancient and modern expositors as to the number and significance of the gifts presented, are wholly unwarranted. It was, and still is, an Oriental custom and regarded as of great importance, that one must never visit a superior, especially a king, without some gift; (compare Genesis 43:11, 1 Samuel 9:7-8; 1 Kings 10:2; Psalms 72:10) and nothing could be more appropriate, or was more customary, than gold and costly spices. Frankincense (English name from its giving forth its odour freely) is a glittering, bitter, and odorous gum, obtained by incisions into the bark of a peculiar tree. The ancients procured it chiefly from Arabia, the moderns bring it from the East Indies. Myrrh is the gum familiar to us, which exudes from a tree found in Arabia and Abyssinia. It was much valued by the ancients as a perfume (Psalms 45:8; Song of Solomon 3:6), also as a spice, a medicine, and a means of embalming. (John 19:39)

Matthew 2:12. Warned of God, or, divinely instructed. The Greek word denotes the reception of a response or communication, as from an oracle, and in the Scriptures from God, though the name of God is not mentioned. It commonly, but not necessarily, implies a previous prayer or application for direction, which may or may not have been made in this case. In a dream. See on "Matthew 1:20".—Departed, more exactly, retired, withdrew, as in Matthew 2:13-14, Matthew 2:22. Thus the execution of Herod's deep-laid plan was delayed, and he was prevented from knowing precisely what child his jealousy should strike; while the well-meaning Magi escaped all complication with his further schemes. Their route of return may have been towards the northern end of the Dead Sea—as travellers now frequently go, leaving Jerusalem some miles to the left—or around its southern end, which would carry them far away from Herod in a few hours.

Homiletical And Practical

Matthew 2:1. These Magi from the East will, like the Queen of the South and the men of Nineveh (Matthew 12:41-42), rise up in the judgment and condemn all who have had clearer light concerning the Messiah than they had, and have rejected him.

Matthew 2:2. The 'King of the Jews' was destined to become also King of the Gentiles, (Psalms 2:6, Psalms 2:8) King of the world (Revelation 11:15.)

Matthew 2:3. There were those that did not want the existing situation disturbed, even to introduce the Messianic reign. The most beneficent and indispensable changes will be opposed, and often by well-meaning people.

Matthew 2:4. Herod inquires the teachings of Scripture only that he may work against them. By political craft and might he will make even divine predictions serve his own selfish purpose. Often now do political tricksters appeal to religious teachers to promote mere secular ends, and sometimes even at the expense of religion.

Matthew 2:5. 'It is written.' Not only have revelations been made to men in the past, but many of them stand on record, "a possession forever." Luther: "Never mind the scribes; what saith the Scripture?" The scribes should be a warning to all religious teachers, in the pulpit, the Sunday-school, the family; they told others where to find the Saviour, but did not go to him themselves. Augustine: "They were like mile-stones; they pointed out something to travellers, but themselves remained stolid and motionless."

Matthew 2:6. That which is materially 'little' may be morally 'by no means least.' An insignificant spot has often been the scene of events possessing the greatest importance and the highest moral grandeur. So with our little earth as the scene of redemption.

Matthew 2:7-8. More secret than diplomacy, deeper than the investigations of the wise, and mightier than all kingly power, is the providence of God.—'I also.' The hoary hypocrite!

Matthew 2:9. God often overrules the errors of honest men, to lead them to truth. Astrology promoted the study of astronomy, alchemy produced the science of chemistry. The superstition of the Magi had part in their finding the Messiah.

Matthew 2:11. The joy of beholding that which we have travelled far to find. Hall: "The east saw that which Bethlehem might have seen; ofttimes those which are nearest in place are furthest off in affection."Luther: "The star stood over the land of the Jews and over their heads, and they saw it not; so ever since as to the light of the gospel. The only monarch who ever deserved that man should fall down before him was a child of poverty, whose life was spent in teaching, and who died an ignominious death."Observe that they did homage to the child, not to his mother. Gifts were offered to an Oriental king, not as needed by him, but as the natural expression of reverence and love; so with our gifts to God.

Matthew 2:12. The slightest touch of the supernatural may thwart the profoundest human sagacity. Hall: "Those sages made a happy voyage; for now they grew into further acquaintance with God." Luther: We see here how Christ has three kinds of disciples. 1. The priests and scribes, who know the Scripture and teach it to everybody, and do not come up to it themselves. 2. Herod, who believes the Scripture, that Christ is now born; and yet goes right against it, trying to prevent what it says from being done. 3. The pious Magi, who left country and house and home, and made it their one concern to find Christ.

What a vast horizon opens with the beginning of the Gospels. The genealogies point back to Abraham and to Adam, and John's preface points back to eternity. The census, by order of Caesar Augustus, reminds us of imperial Rome and all her history. The Magi, probably of Aryan descent, and full of the oldest Chaldaean learning, remind us of the hoary East. All the previous history of Western Asia and of Southern Europe stand in relation to this babe in Bethlehem. Moreover, 'the city of David,' and 'Messiah the Lord,' recall the long-cherished Messianic hope. And the angelic song treats this lowly birth as an occasion of praise in heaven and peace on earth.


Verses 13-18

Matthew 2:13-18.
The Flight Into Egypt

Matthew 2:13. Departed, withdrawn, same word as in Matthew 2:12, Matthew 2:14, Matthew 2:22. It is also employed in describing another rapid series of withdrawals, Matthew 14:13; Matthew 15:21.—The—rather an—angel, the Greek having here no article. Appeareth in a dream, see on "Matthew 1:20".—Take, more exactly, take along, take with you, as in Matthew 26:37.—Egypt was at this time a well-governed Roman province, and beyond the jurisdiction of Herod. A journey of some seventy-five miles southwest, would bring Joseph to the border, towards the isthmus, and a hundred miles more would take him into the heart of the country. Besides being thus easy of access, and having in earlier days been a place of refuge for fugitives from Judea, (1 Kings 11:40, Jeremiah 43:7)(1) Egypt was now thronged with Jewish residents. Alexander the Great, in laying out his new city of Alexandria, assigned a place to the Jews, granting them equal privileges with the Macedonians. The early Ptolemies pursued a similar course, transferring some from Palestine by force, and encouraging the immigration of others. In Egypt was made the greater part, probably the whole, of the famous translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Greek, commonly called the Septuagint. About 150 B. C., a separate temple was built for the Jews in Egypt, at once evincing and tending to increase their importance. Somewhat earlier began the succession of Jewish Alexandrine philosophers, the most remarkable of whom, Philo, was now twenty to thirty years old. In a treatise written about A. D. 40, he says the Jews in Egypt numbered near a million. These facts afford reasons for Joseph's being directed to flee into Egypt. At the same time all was providentially arranged with a view to the fulfilment of prophecy (Matthew 2:15). A late tradition names the village of Matarea, near Leontopolis, the site of the Jewish temple, as the residence of the "holy family." Late apocryphal writings have many marvellous stories of the flight and sojourn, and of the infancy of Jesus in general, which have passed freely into Christian art, but are otherwise unimportant. We may conjecture that the gifts of the Magi aided in the support of the refugees; a carpenter dwelling as a foreigner in a crowded country, was not likely at once to find adequate employment.

Matthew 2:14. He arose at once, and set out by night. The child is named first, as the more import ant person, and the one endangered; and the whole expression (here and in Matthew 2:13) reminds us that Joseph was not really his father.

Matthew 2:15. That it might be fulfilled... of the Lord by, On 'of' and 'by,' see on "Matthew 1:22". Have I called, Did I call, is a literal translation of the Greek, and certainly better suits the statement of a remote event. The prediction quoted is from Hosea 11:1. In form it follows the Hebrew exactly, while the Septuagint is here quite erroneous. Hosea clearly refers to the calling of Israel out of Egypt, the nation being elsewhere spoken of as God's 'son.' (Exodus 4:22, Jeremiah 31:9; compare Wisdom of Solomon 18:13.) But there is an evident typical relation between Israel and Messiah. Thus in Isaiah 42-53, the 'servant of Jehovah' is primarily the nation, but the predictions have been more completely fulfilled in Christ, who embodied and consummated the mission of Israel. (See below, at the beginning of Matthew 24, and compare Edersheim, ch. 5). In like manner here. As Israel in the childhood of the nation was called out of Egypt, so Jesus. We may even find resemblance in minute details: his temptation of forty days in the desert, resembles Israel' s temptation of forty years in the desert, which itself corresponded to the forty days spent by the spies. (Numbers 14:34) Thus we see how Hosea's historical statement concerning Israel may have been also a prediction concerning Messiah, as the Evangelist declares it was. It is not necessary to suppose that this was present to the prophet's consciousness. Exalted by inspiration, a prophet may well have said things having deeper meanings than he was distinctly aware of, and which only a later inspiration, coming when the occasion arose, could fully unfold.

Matthew 2:16. Herod deemed that the Magi were trifling with him. They got from him the information they needed, and then coolly went off without bringing back the information he required and expected. A despot easily comes to regard the slightest neglect to do his bidding as a gross insult. Already, no doubt, designing to make way with the child, the king was now greatly incensed at this insulting neglect, and the delay it caused; and in the blind rage of a tyrant, he perpetrated an act which may seem to us not merely cruel but unnecessary, since his officers might easily have found out the child which the Magi had visited, and also ill-suited to his design, since in an indiscriminate massacre the child sought might escape. Such blind cruelty is, under all the circumstances, natural enough. And probably all this occurred within twenty-four hours, Bethlehem being only five miles off. The Magi went at nightfall, and being warned in a dream, departed during the night. As they did not return next day, Herod would send messengers to inquire, and these would report that the Magi were gone, and the child missing. Herod might conclude that the child was simply concealed in the village or its neighbourhood, and so the cruel order, to be executed the same evening, would seem likely to accomplish its purpose.

All the children. Properly, all the male children, as in Rev. Ver., the original marking the gender.(1) The borders. The English word 'coasts' formerly signified borders in general; the border of the Mississippi River, for hundreds of miles from its mouth, is still called the 'coast.' The term 'borders' is often used for the territory they inclose, and here means the little district belonging to the town. From two years old and under, etc., does not prove, as some have inferred, that the star had appeared to the Magi two years before, or even one year. A child would be called two years old as soon as it entered the second year; and Herod would be apt to go a good way beyond the age indicated by the time of its appearance, in order to make sure.

Ecclesiastical tradition (making it fourteen thousand), and modern popular opinion have greatly exaggerated the number of children slain, which by any just calculation from the probable population of the little town and its district must have been very small, say fifteen, or twenty. We can thus see how little foundation there is for the objection taken by certain critics to the authenticity of this incident, on the ground that it is not mentioned by Josephus. Amid the numerous and aggravated cruelties which marked the closing period of Herod's life,(1) the massacre of a few children in an obscure village might have been easily overlooked by the historian. And when it is said that the connection of this massacre with a person supposed to be Messiah made it a prominent fact, we may reply that, supposing this connection known to Josephus (who was not born till some forty years afterwards), it would have made him all the more disposed to omit the incident, seeing that he has the impudence to represent the Messianic hopes of the nation as fulfilled in his patron, Vespasian. In like manner, when professing to state the teachings of John the Baptist, he makes no allusion to John's announcement of the coming of Messiah. (See on "Matthew 3:2".)(2)

Matthew 2:17-18. Then was fulfilled. So in Matthew 27:9. Everywhere else Matthew says, 'that it might be fulfilled.' In these two cases he probably felt an instinctive reluctance, in which we can sympathize, to associate directly the divine purpose with a deed of enormous wickedness. He says, in these instances, as in the others, that the event 'fulfilled' a prediction; but avoids saying, what is true in a just sense, but would seem to require explanation, that the event was providentially brought about for that purpose. By—or, through—following the correct text.(1) For the meaning of the preposition, compare on Matthew 1:22. The quotation is from Jeremiah 31:15. The words lamentation and are here not genuine.(2)

This quotation presents serious difficulty. When Nebuchadnezzar ordered that the people should be carried into captivity, the persons selected were assembled, previous to setting out, at Ramah, which may have been Ramah in the tribe of Benjamin, about five miles north of Jerusalem (and ten miles from Bethlehem), or else some place of that name near Bethlehem (Thomson II., 28). This captivity seemed to threaten the complete destruction of the nation, with all their national hopes; and the bitter grief of the people is poetically described by representing Rachel, one of the mothers of the nation—the mother of that tribe in whose territory the exiles were assembled—as risen from the grave, and bewailing their destruction; while the prophet comforts her with the assurance that there is hope for the future, for the people will be restored. Now, when this poetical passage is said by Matthew to be 'fulfilled' in the case of the massacre at Bethlehem, how are we to understand him? (1) If we are unable to see in the language of Jeremiah any distinct reference to this massacre, it will not follow that the Evangelist has merely made an apt quotation. He and his Jewish readers had the general conviction that everything in the history of their nation was sacred and significant. And wherever Matthew saw a resemblance between an event in the history of Israel and an event in the life of Messiah, he might consider that, this resemblance was divinely designed, and wish his readers to take the same view. He may have used the word 'fulfil' in this sense, not intending to assert that there is here (as in most cases) a definite prediction, distinctly fulfilled, but only a discernible and noteworthy point in the general relation between the older sacred history and the new. Thus understood, the passage would leave the term 'fulfil' a real, though weakened sense, and we may, if necessary, regard it as similarly used in various other passages, while we must in every case inquire whether there is not a fulfilment in the complete sense of the word. (2) And may we not bare trace some indications of a specific relation between the events? The massacre at Bethlehem, like the occurrence at Ramah, threatens to destroy the nation's future, which all really depends on Messiah. If the infant Messiah is slain, then is Israel ruined. Suppose only that some at Bethlehem, who had heard of the shepherds and the Magi, now despondingly believed that the new-born king was slain, and their mourning would really correspond to that mourning at Ramah, which Jeremiah poetically described. In both cases, too, the grief at actual distresses is unnecessarily embittered by this despair as to the future, for the youthful Messiah had not really perished, just as the captivity would not really destroy Israel. In both cases the would-be destroyer fails, and blessings are in store for the people of God. This view may seem fine-spun, and should not be too much insisted on, but it is possible. (Camp. Calvin, Fairbairn, Keil.) The poetical introduction of Rachel as representing the common grief of Israel, is only a subordinate and incidental thing, and we need not seek any special connection between Rachel personally and Herod's massacre, such as some have sought in the fact that she was buried near Bethlehem, though it would not be wholly unreasonable to regard that also as significant. The tomb of Rachel is still marked near the village, and quite probably at the real place.


Verses 19-23

Matthew 2:19-23.
Joseph Returns From Egypt, And Makes His Home At Nazareth

The angel appears again, as he had promised. (Matthew 2:13.) The death of Herod (camp. on Matthew 2:1) occurred in the spring (just before the Passover) of the year of Rome 750. Josephus mentions an eclipse of the moon ("Antiquities," 17, 6, 4) as taking place shortly before his death, and astronomical calculations enable us to fix the year with practical certainty. (Wieseler, Andrews, Caspari, Nicholson.) The birth of Jesus must have preceded Herod's death by several months, if not longer, and must therefore have occurred at least four years before the common Christian era, the first year of which coincides with the year of Rome 754.(1) The poor old tyrant died of a most loathsome and torturing disease (see Josephus "Antiquities," 17, 6, 5), in the seventieth year of his life, and the thirty-seventh of his nominal, or thirty-fourth of his actual reign. (Josephus "War," 1, 33, 8; "Ant.," 17, 8, 1.)

Matthew 2:20. Take the child and go, not now 'flee,' as before (Matthew 2:13). They are dead. The expression was probably suggested by Exodus 4:19, 'For all are dead that sought thy life' (Sept.), and so it takes a general form. There are none now that seek the child's life—all such are dead. This might be said (the expression being borrowed) without specific reference to any death but that of Herod. (So Bengel, Bleek, Keil.) It is also possible to understand the plural as a mere general statement of a particular fact, such as is common in all languages, and without any reference to Exodus 4:19. (Meyer). The idea (Euthym., Clark, Luketteroth) that Antipater is included, who was slain a few days before Herod's death, assumes that he had shared his father's hostility to the child, an assumption unsupported and improbable.—To seek the life of any one is a Hebrew idiom, Romans 11:3, Jeremiah 44:30, Exodus 4:19. The land of Israel was said partly, perhaps, in contrast to the heathen land in which they had been sojourning, but also as a designation of the whole country, the term 'Judea' being presently applied (Matthew 2:22) to a particular district. 'Land of Israel' is not elsewhere found in the New Testament, but see 'cities of Israel' in Matthew 10:23. But when he heard. 'Notwithstanding,' in Com. Ver., is quite too strong for the Greek connective. Judea, always in Matthew, Mark, and John, and sometimes in Luke and Acts, means the southern district, as distinguished from Galilee, Samaria, and Perea. Elsewhere in Luke and Acts, and always in the Epistles, it denotes the whole country. In Matthew 2:22 the only fact of importance to Joseph is that Archelaus reigns over Judea, where he has intended to live; and we need not suppose that 'Judea' here includes Samaria, which was also under Archelaus' dominion.(1) After many changes of his will, Herod at the last moment divided his dominions among three of his sons (Josephus "Antiquities," 18, 8-11). (1) Herod Antipas was made Tetrarch of Galilee and Perea. (The Greek word 'tetrarch' signified originally the ruler of the fourth part of a province or district, as in Galatia; but was applied by the Romans in the time of our Lord to the ruler of any considerable part of a province or people.) He is the Herod who appears in connection with John the Baptist and the public ministry of our Lord (Matthew 14:1 if). (2) Herod Philip, Tetrarch of Iturea, Trachonitis, and some adjacent districts, is not mentioned in the Gospel history, except in Luke 3:1. It was another Herod Philip, one left in a private station, that married their niece Herodias, and was forsaken by her for Antipas; the daughter of this other Philip and Herodias was Salome, the dancer, who subsequently married Philip the Tetrarch. Among the ten wives and numerous children of Herod the Great, the same names frequently recur. Philip the Tetrarch is described by Josephus as a worthy man, and a just ruler; apparently the best man of the Herod family. Our Lord, towards the close of his ministry in Galilee, repeatedly retires from the dominions of the weak and cunning Antipas to those of Philip (Matthew 14:13; Matthew 15:29; Matthew 16:13). (3) To Archelaus were given Judea (with Idumea) and Samaria, making at least one half of his father's kingdom, and yielding twice as much revenue as both the tetrarchies combined (Josephus "Ant.," 17, 11, 4). Herod assigned him the title of 'king,' and he was saluted as such after his father's death, and so regarded in Judea for a considerable period (Jos."Ant.," 17, 8, and ch. 9, 1-5), though the Emperor Augustus finally allowed him only the title of ethnarch (ruler of a nation or people, a rather more honourable title than tetrarch), with the promise to declare him king if he should deserve it. The expression did reign, or was reigning, i. e., was king, is thus minutely correct for the period immediately following Herod's death. It may, however, be understood as used loosely, just as 'king' is applied to any ruler, from the Roman Emperor (1 Peter 2:13) to Herod Antipas the Tetrarch (Matthew 14:9; Mark 6:14). So Josephus ("Life ") says his own father was born "while Archelaus was reigning the tenth year."Joseph is surprised and disappointed at learning that Archelaus is appointed King of Judea, for it had been understood that Antipas was to succeed his father in the whole kingdom, and Herod made the change just before his death (Josephus "Antiquities," 17, 6, 1; 8, 1; 9, 4).

On warned and turned aside, or withdrew, see on "Matthew 2:12". The parts of Galilee, those parts of the country which were comprised in that district (compare Matthew 16:13; Acts 20:2).

Matthew 2:23. The town of Nazareth(1) is not mentioned in Old Testament, which is not surprising, as the Old Testament history rarely extends to any part of Galilee. Nor need we wonder that Josephus does not name it, as it was a small town remote from the principal roads, and did not fall in the way of any of the military operations which he describes. It was situated about fifty-five miles north of Jerusalem, in an elevated basin, such as is frequently found in Samaria and Galilee. This basin is about a mile long by less than half a mile wide, opening southward by a narrow and winding pass into the great plain of Esdraelon. Split a pear endwise and the lower half, with the crooked stem, will give the shape of the valley of Nazareth. The encompassing slope is divided by depressions on its face into some seventeen distinct hills. On the western side of this elevated valley, and sloping a little way up the western hill, lies the modern town, and there is no reason to think the site has materially changed. Higher up the slope is a limestone cliff thirty or forty feet high, which (or one of the similar ones not far from it) may well have been the "brow of the hill whereon their city was built, " from which the mob proposed to cast their rejected prophet, (Luke 4:29) a scene absurdly located by monkish tradition at a precipice two miles away, overlooking the plain of Esdraelon. The vale of Nazareth is green and very fertile, with many fruit trees and a fine fountain near the village, altogether presenting a beautiful scene; and from the high western hill is a view among the most extensive in Palestine, embracing Tabor and the great plain, Carmel and the blue Mediterranean, the mountain-wall east of the depressed Jordan valley, and on the north the far-off snowy summit of Hermon. Yet, as so often happens, the dwellers amid all these beauties of nature were rude, violent, and of evil repute. The question of Nathanael: (John 1:46, Rev. Ver.)"Can there anything good come out of Nazareth?" is not sufficiently accounted for, as some have thought, by the contempt for Galilee in general which was felt by the people of Judea; for Nathanael himself lived at "Cana of Galilee " (John 21:2), only a few miles distant. Nor can it be easily regarded as an unjust prejudice, for Nathanael was a man of singularly good character. (John 1:47) And so the unparalleled violence of the rabble, (Luke 4:28-30) and the persistent unbelief even on a second visit which excited the wonder of Jesus himself, (Mark 6:6) are not fully explained by the fact that he was a prophet "in his own country, " but lead us to think of them as an intractable and disorderly people, deserving their bad reputation. But here lived the righteous Joseph, and the meek, devout Mary; and here "increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man ", (Luke 2:52) the child, the boy, the youth, the man, who was in due time to come forth from this obscure village as the consolation of Israel, as the Saviour of the world. Here he wrought (Mark 6:3) at the humble and laborious calling of his reputed father (see on "Matthew 13:55"); here he worshipped every Sabbath, with such worship as only the perfect could pay, in the synagogue from which he was afterwards to be rudely thrust forth; and often, no doubt, he would climb this western hill as the sun was sinking in the Mediterranean, and look down with pure pleasure upon the beautiful valley, or far away over the magnificent prospect, and, as his human mind gradually unfolded to comprehend his mission, would think great thoughts of the kingdom that should fill the whole earth and should have no end. (See copious and pleasing descriptions in Renan and Geikie).

That he should be called, is as natural a translation of the Greek as He shall be called, and better suits the most probable interpretation of this passage. The words, 'He shall be called a Nazarene,' are not found in the Old Testament. The difficulty thus presented has been variously explained. (1) Chrys., Hanna, and some others, suppose a lost prophecy. But this is a mere make-shift. The term 'the prophets' in New Testament, everywhere means the canonical prophets. (Meyer.) Ewald's suggestion that it may be from an apocryphal book, is likewise a makeshift. (2) Jerome, Calvin, and others, connect it with the law as to the Nazirites. But Nazareth and Nazarene are almost certainly not derived from nazir, 'consecrated,' but from netzer, 'branch,' 'shoot,' as shown by the Syriac and the Rabbinical forms of the word Nazarene (Robinson, Evang. and Mishna) or else from some kindred word formed on the same root. (Grimm.)(1) Moreover, Jesus was in no sense a Nazirite, being quite different, as he himself declares (Matthew 11:18-19), from John the Baptist. Observe that Rev. Ver. in Numbers 6:2, Judges 13:5, etc., spells not Nazarite, but Nazirite, according to the Hebrew nazir. (3) Fritzsche, Meyer, Bleek, Weiss, Edersh., and others, suppose a reference to Isaiah 11:1, where Messiah is called a 'branch,' Hebrew netzer. An equivalent though different Hebrew word is applied to him in Jeremiah 23:5, Jeremiah 33:15; Zechariah 3:8; Zechariah 6:12. From the passage in Isaiah, reinforced by the others, it may have become common (Bleek supposes) to call the Messiah simply netzer, 'branch,' as is perhaps implied in Zechariah 3:8. So the prediction of the 'prophets' led to Messiah's being 'called' Netzer, and as a resident at Netzer or Natzara, Jesus was called Nazarene. This is ingenious and may be true, though it seems far-fetched. (4) Olshausen, Lange, Westcott (Int.), and others, understand it as referring to the various predictions (e. g., Psalms 22, Isaiah 53), that Messiah would be despised and reviled, as was done when he was 'called' a Nazarene. Had he been called Jesus the Bethlehemite, it would have seemed honourable; but to be called Jesus the Nazarene, would at once awaken the contempt of the Jews, and would be a prima facie argument against his claims' to be regarded a Messiah, the son of David; and we know that such an argument was once actually used. (John 7:41)(2) As thus understood, the passage is best translated as in Rev. Ver. This seems, upon the whole, to be decidedly the best view. The Mohammedans in Palestine, now commonly call Christians Nazarenes. (Thomson, II., 316.) (5) Hengstenberg, Alexander, Ellicott, Keil, combine (3) and (4), understanding Isaiah ll: 1 to represent Messiah as "a shoot from the prostrate trunk or stem of Jesse, i. e., as from the royal family of Judah in its humble and reduced estate." (Alex.): But this mode of connecting the two theories appears artificial. It is better to be content with one or the other, as either of them is quite possibly correct. (6) Lutteroth has a new explanation: Joseph saw that a life in Bethlehem would be perilous for the child, and in order that be might live, and the prophecies concerning him as Messiah might be fulfilled, Joseph took him to dwell in Nazareth, 'because he would be called a Nazarene,' and not a Bethlehemite, and thus would be less likely to incur hostility than if known to be from the city of David. This is quite ingenious, but strained and improbable. The translation, "because he would be called," is possible.

The plural, by, through, the prophets, is favourable to (4). Yet in (3) it is possible to suppose reference also to the other prophets, (besides Isaiah 11:1) in which another but equivalent Hebrew word is employed. And the plural might be used with especial reference to a single prediction, as in John 6:45, Acts 13:40, Acts 15:15, though this is unusual, and never found in Matthew. (Compare Matthew 26:56.) That it might be fulfilled, as in Matthew 1:22, the providential purpose.

On comparing the two first chapters of Matthew and of Luke, there appears to be some conflict as to the order of events. Not in the fact that Matthew makes no mention of the previous residence at Nazareth, which was simply not necessary to his own chief object of showing that Jesus was the Messiah. But Luke (Luke 2:39), makes the return to Nazareth follow the presentation in the temple, thus apparently leaving no room for the visit of the Magi and the flight into Egypt. The presentation, it is true, might possibly have followed the visit of the Magi—the distance being only five miles—before Herod concluded that the Magi had mocked him. But this ill accords with the expressions of Matthew 2:13-14, and the gifts of the Magi would, if previously received, have enabled the parents to present the regular offerings, without being restricted to those permitted to the poor. (Luke 2:24; Leviticus 12:8.) Moreover, Luke would still seem to exclude the flight into Egypt. To meet this difficulty, some suppose that immediately after the presentation they returned to Nazareth (Luke), and having there made the necessary arrangements, removed to Bethlehem, intending to rear the child in the city of David, an intention still apparently retained by them on returning from Egypt. (Matthew 2:22.) But though tenable (adopted in Clark's Harmony), this supposition is less simple and natural than to understand that Luke, omitting all intermediate events, passes at once from the presentation in the temple to that return to Nazareth which Matthew also records. And if Luke seems to leave no room for any intervening occurrences, this arises from the necessity of the case in a brief narrative which, being compelled to omit much, must bring together events not immediately successive, and must do this without leaving a break at the point of omission, or else altogether destroy its own continuity, and become not a narrative but a mass of fragments. If Providence designed, that there should be four independent Gospels, and each was to be a simple and readable story, apparent disagreements of this sort are inevitable. It follows that such cases cannot with propriety be understood as involving any real conflict. And we see that it is becoming to eschew the nervous harmonizing practised by some, as well as the disposition of others to magnify discrepancies, and eagerly pronounce them irreconcilable.

Homiletical And Practical

Matthew 2:13. God had promised that this child should save others (Matthew 1:21), yet now he must flee for his own life. So Paul at the shipwreck. (Acts 27:22, Acts 27:31) The supernatural comes in only where natural powers would not suffice. The child is not preserved from Herod's designs by miracle, nor miraculously transported into Egypt, after the fashion of the legendary miracles, but there is simply a supernatural warning that he must be carried away. The revelation is not all given at once. Bengel: "Joseph must quietly wait an uncertain time, 'till I bring thee word.' " Jer. Taylor." And so for all his sons by adoption, God will determine the time, and ease our pains and refresh our sorrows, and give quietness to our fears and deliverance from our troubles, and sanctify it all and give a crown at last, and all in his good time, if we but wait the coming of the angel, and in the meantime do our duty with care, and sustain our temporals with indifferency."

Matthew 2:14. Henry: "Those that would make sure work of their obedience, must make quick work of it."

Matthew 2:15. Israel and Messiah, both so, journeying in Egypt—occasion in each case, and result.

Matthew 2:16. Cruelty. (1) Fostered by the possession of despotic power. (2) Inflamed by fancied insult. (3) Recklessly smiting the innocent. (4) Blindly missing its object.

Matthew 2:17-18. The old, old story—the dead babe and the heart-stricken mother. 'And would not be comforted.' When we are willing to be comforted, divine comfort is not far away.

Luther represents the Magi in their own country as the first New Testament preachers, and the murdered innocents as the first martyrs.

Matthew 2:19 (and Matthew 2:13). If we wait and watch for the guidance which God has promised, it will come, and at the right time.

Matthew 2:20. He that 'fled' in alarm (Matthew 2:18) now 'goes' in safety. Alas! for the human being whose death brings a feeling of relief to the innocent and the good.

Matthew 2:22. Like father, like son.

Matthew 2:23. The truest greatness usually grows up in retirement, often in obscurity; and the greatest personage in history was not an exception to this rule. In our day of hot haste, and especially of youthful impatience robe at work, it is well to remember that he who knew his ministry could last but a few years, spent thirty years in the most quiet preparation.

The Youth Of Jesus

As to the Saviour's life, from the point now reached to-his baptism (Matthew 3:13), we have no information in Matthew, and none in the other Gospels, save the interesting and instructive incident of Luke 2:41-52. There we find him at the age of twelve, highly intelligent and trusted by his parents; devoted to the study of the Scriptures, showing a wonderful acquaintance with them (compare Josephus, "Life 2"), and asking questions in the eager desire to know more; beginning to perceive that God is in some peculiar sense his 'Father,' and fond of attendance at his 'Father's house'; shrinking already from the sensation he produces, retiring into obscurity and subject to his parents; and growing in wisdom as he grows in stature (or age). It is a bright and inspiring glimpse, and perfectly harmonious with his character and life as a public teacher.

To meet the curiosity always felt as to his childhood and youth, a variety of marvellous stories were invented during the early centuries, which were recorded in apocryphal Gospels or passed into tradition. Though many of these are sanctioned by the Romish Church, they are often absurd, and sometimes blasphemous; and the recital of them would be to no profit, unless it were in the way of illustrating by contrast the simplicity, the reserve, the perfect good taste, of the inspired narrative.

The external conditions under which Jesus grew up, are known to us from general sources of information. His development must have been influenced by such outward circumstances as the following: (1) Home. (2) Nature (see as to Nazareth, on "Matthew 2:23"). His deep love of nature appears repeatedly in his public ministry. (3) The Scriptures. (4) The synagogue. (5) Labour; he was a worker in wood, (Mark 6:3) and it is stated in a very early tradition that he made "ploughs and yokes " (Justin Martyr, "Trypho," 88). It is not improbable that after Joseph's death (compare below), the growing youth's labour aided in the support of that loved mother for whom he took pains to provide when he was about to die (John 19:26-27) That he spent much time in reflection, and in prayerful communion with his Father, is naturally inferred from his course at a later period. (On this paragraph, compare Keim and Edersheim).

Among the outward events of these twenty-eight or twenty-nine years, a few at least ought to be here recalled.

When Jesus was about ten years old, A. D. 6, such serious complaints against Arehelaus were made at Rome, that he was deposed from the ethnarchate of Judea and Samaria, and banished to Vienna, in Gaul. (Josephus "Antiquities," 17,13, 2.) At that time the earlier history of Archelaus (see on "Matthew 2:22") would be much talked about, and thus becoming familiar to Jesus, might have afterwards suggested the Parable of the Founds. (Luke 19:12 ff) For there is a striking resemblance in many leading points: (1) Archelaus went away to Rome to receive royal power, and return to exercise it, and left his supporters in charge of his affairs. (2) The Jews hated him, and sent an embassy of fifty persons to Rome to say that they did not want Archelaus as their king. ("Ant." 17, 11, lf.) (3) When Arehelaus returned, though Augustus had enjoined moderation, he punished with great severity. (17, 13, 2.) After the banishment of Archelaus, his dominions were made a Roman province. Many of the Jews had desired this at the death of Herod, and now entreated that it be done, being weary of their weak native rulers, and expecting greater quiet and better protection for property and business under a Roman governor. Exactly similar changes, and for similar reasons, now often occur in British India, and under the Russian rule in Central Asia, and were then taking place in other parts of the Roman Empire (e. g., Tac. "Ann.," II. 42). But other Jews violently opposed such a change, clinging to the bare shadow of independence, and accounting it a sin that the people of God should be directly subject to heathen rulers, especially that they should pay them taxes. A portion of these broke out into rebellion under Judas, the Galilean or Gaulonite. (Josephus "Antiquities," 18, 1; Acts 5:37.) This movement, and other similar insurrections in following years, were easily quelled by the Romans, but the sentiment which produced them remained. (Compare a section of the German Anabaptists, the Fifth Monarchy men in England, etc.) From it came the question, "Is it lawful to give tribute to Cesar?" (Matthew 22:17.) Some of its supporters were subsequently associated as Cananites or Zelotae, including Simon, who became one of the twelve apostles. (Matthew 10:4.) Degenerating by degrees into mere robbers, the men of this opinion still commanded popular sympathy, as was perhaps shown in the case of Barabbas. (Matthew 27:16.) The same smouldering sentiment broke out in A. D. 66, leading (Josephus "Ant.," 18, 1, 6) to the war which ended in the destruction of Jerusalem, and in which the Zealots took a prominent part. The Roman Governors of Judea and Samaria were called procurators, the sixth of whom, Pontius Pilatus (Matthew 27:2), ruled from A. D. 26 (when the ministry of John and of Jesus probably began), to A. D. 86. Meantime, the quiet dwellers at Nazareth were not directly concerned in these changes and commotions, remaining under the rule of Herod Antipas (see on "Matthew 2:22"), which continued to A. D. 39.

The youthful carpenter was probably in his nineteenth year (A. D. 14) when the great Emperor Augustus died, and was succeeded by Tiberius, who reigned throughout the remaining life of Jesus, and for some seven years longer (A. D. 37).

It seems nearly certain that Joseph died at some time between the visit to Jerusalem of Luke 2:41 (probably A. D. 8), and the baptism of Christ (probably A. D. 26). Not only is he never mentioned in the history of our Lord's public ministry, but Mary is spoken of in such ways as seem to imply that she was then a widow. That several sons and daughters were born to Joseph and Mary is probable, but not certain. (Compare on Matthew 1:25, and Matthew 13:55.)

A very full account of whatever will throw light on this period in the life of Christ, including the home life and school life of a Jewish child, the social influences, public worship, and religious sentiments of the time, the political changes, and the growing and shifting expectations of the Messiah, may be found in Geikie, ch. xii-xxiii, and Edersheim, ch. ix, x. See also Ewald, Keim, Hausrath, Edersheim's "Sketches of Jewish Social Life," and other writers.

 


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Bibliography Information
Broadus, John. "Commentary on Matthew 2:4". "John Broadus' Commentary on Matthew". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jbm/matthew-2.html. 1886.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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