Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. CHRIST COMES WHEN HE IS MOST NEEDED. Those were dark days when Herod made his Saturnine temper the spirit of a nation's government. His reign had been carried on with an external splendour and a vigorous attempt to please the Jews. But a heathen by nature, Herod was always suspected by the Jews in the midst of his pious Hebrew professions. Now, however, at the end of his life, his crimes had consumed what little good repute he had contrived to manufacture for himself. The nation was sick at heart, and the only solid hope left it was that cherished in the breast of the devout Jews, who, like Anna and Simeon, were "waiting for the consolation of Israel." It was the chill and darkness that precede the dawn. Then Christ came. No earthly events could shape a Christ; for the earthly circumstances were most adverse. He did not come to reward merit; for merit was rare in those days. But the need was great, and it was simply the need of man that brought Christ into the world.
II. THERE IS ROOM FOR ANOTHER KING BESIDES THE EARTHLY RULER. Herod was still reigning, and yet the Christ came to set up his kingdom. The sovereign at Jerusalem naturally suspected the new-born King to be a rival to his throne. Most of the Jews would have shared his opinion if they had believed in Jesus, though they would have regarded the situation with very different feelings. But Christ did not come to sit on the throne of Herod, and we cannot think of him simply as the rightful Heir who will expel the insolent usurper. His kingdom is not of this world. Earthly monarchs rise and fall, and still he reigns. His is the kingdom of heaven set up on earth. There is a reign of life which they that hold the sword of external government cannot hinder. They cannot restrain its glorious liberty, nor can they reform its evils. The world wants a King who can rule in the realm of ideas, who can sway hearts, who can conquer sin. Therefore the apostles were commissioned to make known "another King, one Jesus" (Acts 17:7).
III. THE RULE OF CHRIST IS IN STRONG CONTRAST TO ITS EXTERNAL SURROUNDINGS. Christ and Herod - what a contrast the two names suggest! Yet they are the names of the two kings of the Jews of the same day. Force, selfishness, cruelty, characterize the degenerate visible rule. Truth, gentleness, love, mark the invisible spiritual rule. So it is always, though not necessarily in the same dramatic form. When we come to Christ and his kingdom we reach a higher level, we breathe purer air, we walk in the light. Then, though the days may be adverse and altogether unpropitious, we have reached what is above daily vexations, we have attained some of the peace of the eternity in which Christ lives. - W.F.A.
I. THE SEARCH FOR CHRIST.
1. Its origin. The Magi had seen "his star in the East." This appearance was in accordance with the character of their own study and observation. God can use a variety of methods to bring us to Christ - the science of the naturalist, the literature of the book-student, the work of the business man. He even used the astrology of the Magi.
2. Its method.
(1) The pursuit of knowledge already attained. These men knew their star, and to this they clung. We can best reach new truth by following the revelation already possessed by us.
(2) A trust in heavenly guidance. The star in the physical heavens was regarded as a beacon from the spiritual heavens. In this case God permitted it to serve as such a beacon. Thus the guidance was from God. We must lift up our eyes to the heavens if we would see the way to Christ.
(3) A use of earthly means. At Jerusalem the Magi consulted Herod, and he took counsel of the rabbis. The fresh star in the heavens did not eclipse the light of ancient Hebrew prophecy. This still had its sphere in discovering Bethlehem. Divine revelation does not dispense with human study. New lights do not extinguish old truths.
3. Its character.
(1) An energetic search. The Magi set off on a long journey to find Christ. They did not wait for him to find them; they made it their business to discover him. Such a search deserves the reward of finding. Many do not know Christ because they will not take the trouble to seek him.
(2) A persevering search. The Magi travelled far and pressed their suit, not resting till they had attained their end. The truly wise man will not abandon his search because of any amount of discouragements.
II. THE DISCOVERY OF CHRIST. At length the Babe was found. Every true seeker after Christ will be rewarded by seeing him. Such a discovery is full of fruitful issues.
1. Its blessedness. The Magi seem to have lost sight of the star during their anxious interviews with Herod at Jerusalem. When they were out in the country again the star reappeared; for the heavens are larger and brighter in the solitudes of nature than where they bend over the crowds of city life. It was a happy sight when the star reappeared, but only because this was the promise of the nearing sight of the infant Saviour. To reach him is to come to the heart's greatest joy.
2. Its result. The Magi opened their rich stores and presented them to the Child. They set out with the object of worshipping him; this is the way in which they performed their intention. Their liturgy was an act of sacrifice. It is unworthy only to seek Christ for the sake of the good we hope to obtain for ourselves. He is worthy of adoration, and we can best express our adoration by service and sacrifice. Some will not measure the gift. He whose heart is on fire with devotion to Christ will not ask with what minimum will his Lord be satisfied; he will love to give his best. The Christian can now give to the babe Jesus in giving to one of his little ones (Matthew 10:42). - W.F.A.
I. HOMAGE FROM THE GENTILES. It is singular that St. Matthew, and not St. Luke the evangelist of the Gentiles, gives us this narrative of Gentile faith and adoration. Thus we see that all parties among Christ's true disciples recognized the great fact that the gospel was for the whole world. At the very commencement of Christ's life this was seen. Yet still the greater part of the world is quite ignorant of his very Name. Here is a reason for greater missionary-activity.
II. HOMAGE FROM A DISTANCE. These men had come from a far country. They had made a long and tedious pilgrimage to Christ. None are so remote but that they may find Christ if they will truly seek him. Yet some who dwell in a Christian land are really further from Christ than some who are commonly reckoned as heathen. Surely Socrates was nearer to Christ than Caesar Borgia.
III. HOMAGE FROM ANTIQUITY. These Magi represented the ancient Persian priesthood. But the old order of the Magi had been broken up, and many now took the name who were not in any recognized rank or office. Yet in the very degeneracy of the name it reminds us of its mysterious antiquity. The past looks forward to the future. Nothing in the past will satisfy the hearts of men. We may ransack antiquity, but we shall find there no substitute for Christ.
IV. THE HOMAGE OF SCIENCE. Evidently the Magi were astrologers. In old times all that was known of astronomy was mixed up with astrology, and all that was known of chemistry was liable to be confused by ideas of alchemy and magic. Nevertheless, this does not mean that nothing was known of the true sciences. Here we see the science of the day bowing before Christ. Science cannot be contrary to Christ if he is the Truth, for it is but accurate and systematized truth, and all truth must be harmonious. But neither science nor learning can ever be a substitute for Christ. The student cannot find the Bread of life in his books; and the man of science will not discover it in his laboratory. After all earthly attainments have been reached, the soul still needs Christ.
V. THE HOMAGE OF WEALTH. Tradition has called the Wise Men "kings." Certainly they were men of substance, as they brought with them costly gifts. We think of Christ as the Friend of the poor, but we have no right to narrow our conception of his sympathy to any one class of society. He is equally the friend of the rich, when the rich accept his friendship - e.g. Zacchaeus. Moreover, the rich need Christ as much as the poor. The rich, too, have the privilege of giving to him from their wealth. - W.F.A.
I. THOSE WHO LIVE FURTHEST OFF FROM ZION ARE OFTEN THE EARLIEST AND MOST PUNCTUAL TO ARRIVE THERE. NO city, town, or village church or school but has witnessed this phenomenon times without number. The very type of all these lesser instances, yet instances so deeply significant of spiritual fact and history, is here. Very little can be said to be known about these Wise Men of the East, of whom the passage speaks. It is not difficult to make more than one account of them, which might hold together very well and seem sufficiently consistent to pass for truth. We are reading well-attested inspired history, or we might imagine we had come across the path of the fable and entered the region, not of Eastern wisdom, but of Eastern myth. But it is not so. There were these men called wise indeed, likelier to have been really good, who ventured on the long fanatic pilgrimage, and who are the first to knock at Jerusalem's gates for the Messiah, at the temple doors - yes, and at the weaker, the trembling doors of King Herod's and many another heart of Jerusalem's regular inhabitants.
II. THE SPIRIT BLOWETH WHERE HE LISTETH. The impulse for these pilgrims from the East cannot be set down to anything less than the Divine. There are some things that are certainly known and that help to throw light on the substance, if not on the form, of what is here recorded. It is true that there was a rumour prevalent over the whole of the East, and not concentrated even as much as it should have been in Judaea, that the time was approaching for the appearance of a great King, a King of a small people - the Jews. He was to be One of whom great things should come to pass. There is nothing for a moment to hinder our supposing that the Wise Men had got hold of this vague rumour at least, and were working upon it. But were there not thousands of others into the hearing of whose ears the same things entered, yet to be powerless over their heart? By whom was this "thing secretly brought" to the Wise Men, and their "ear received a little thereof"? Perhaps "in thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falleth on men." It was brought by the Author of all good counsel.
III. THERE IS A CERTAIN HARMONY IN THE WORK OF THAT SPIRIT WHERE HIS PRESENCE REALLY IS, AND WHICH IS OFTEN VERY TRACEABLE. Perhaps we cannot say why the Spirit moved so remarkably those Wise Men of the East. It helps sustain our persuasion that he was the prime Mover when we observe the special guidance given to them. They were almost for certain Chaldeans, or Persians, or Arabians. Their very natural way of allusion to the star as "his star" receives accordingly all the easier explanation. They studied astrology, and thought divinely of their study. They were accustomed, in the course of the stars, to inquire for and investigate, as they thought, the course of human events. It was an ancient opinion, and one very widely spread, that great events on earth were portended often by corresponding appearances in the heavens. This need not be called a merely heathen fiction. It has been so, incontestably, at times and on occasions most solemn. Was it not so, above all, at the Crucifixion? and again on occasion of the destruction of Jerusalem? And if we were to ask whether it were altogether likely that as such things have nevertheless very often been turned to the purposes of superstition, God would have used a star by which to guide these men, and have so seemed to encourage an unreal science, however real at times the fact might be, we may venture to reply that it is very conceivable, very possible. Because what God looks at is not knowledge, but honesty. What he abhors is not human ignorance, but human dishonesty. There is to-day plenty of honest superstition in Chaldea, Persia, Arabia, India, China; while, alas! it is perhaps equally true that the pure eye of God surveys a far larger total of dishonest superstition of the Worst character in every country of enlightened Europe, in every county of noonday England. God's Spirit may often condescend to graft the sweetest, kindest of his light on very blear-eyed intellectual vision, so that the moral vision be to its possibilities single. And as true, at all events, as whatever else in this wonderful narration, is this - that from afar to Jerusalem, and from Jerusalem to "over where the young Child was," a star was the divinely given guide to the pilgrims. The Spirit that gave the impulse to good hearts used the method that very imperfect minds would follow and be able to appreciate while they followed it. Nor did the kind, the faithful Spirit desert "the work which he had begun."
IV. THE EARNESTNESS AND SINCERITY OF THE EARNEST AND SINCERE WILL OFTEN IN AN UNPREMEDITATED AND WONDERFUL WAY, CUTTING ACROSS THE PATHS AND VERY HIGH WAYS OF THE WORLD, SERVE TO STARTLE THAT WORLD AND INSPIRE IN IT THE DEEPEST ALARM. It was certainly so now (vers. 3-8). The simple journey and simple inquiries of these "men of love," whose steps were worship, lips peace, and hands adoring gifts, excite unparalleled commotion in the heart of the chiefest man of Jerusalem, and throughout the whole city. This is partly the very nature of truth, of whatever sort. It carries about with it a holy subtlety. And it is partly the gift of God's providence. And it is partly just one chosen method, in and of itself, of God's carrying on his work and reaching his ends, not by the power of might, but by that of goodness and simplicity. This excitement and commotion show at fewest six results here. First, in the fear wrought in King Herod and many others in Jerusalem. Secondly, in the ensuing summoning of the council. Thirdly, in the necessity entailed of searching the Scriptures. Fourthly, in the king's consulting of those Eastern pilgrims and forwarding them on their journey. Fifthly, in his committing himself to be beholden to them for what he considered vital information. And, sixthly, in clenching all by a profession of lying hypocrisy, the firstborn of his heart's stricken cowardice, when Herod lets out of his lips the words, "that I also may come and worship him." The one inquiry of the Wise Men was like a six-edged blade, or a six-bladed knife, for the work it did.
V. THE FINEST QUALITY OF FAITH, THE MOST PERSISTENT HOPE, AND ENERGY THE MOST ACTIVE AND ENTHUSIASTIC, HAVE BEEN FOUND TO COME OF THE KEENEST LONGING. It is astounding to observe the testimony which history bears to the amount of force of mind and force of achievement and triumph of every degree that follow strong longing, keenness of desire, impassioned wish. When these are, therefore, noble in sort and spiritual in their ends, earth has no grander heroisms to admire. So Jacob won the morning victory after the night-long wrestling against all the grandeur of the Man who would not tell his name, but who showed his own prerogative when "he blessed" Jacob (Genesis 32:24-30). So the Syro-phcenician woman won the victory in argument and in fact against the condescending, the merciful Jesus himself. And what have we here? Amid men's even superstitious inquirings of the heavens, upon such as do so inquire with honesty, with good motive, with intense anxiety, and for want of better opportunities of knowledge, a star of veritable meaning and calm brilliance may rise. It is in God's sight a better thing to see men inquiring m some mistaken manner than not at all. These were men longing, inquiring, and, at great pains and outlay, seeking for the true King of men, the one Saviour of the world. The notion which they had. of that King and Saviour must needs have been very inadequate. It stood ticklish too, resting on the thin soil of dim tradition, standing on the slender footing of vague rumour. But because the footing of such knowledge, faith, and hope as they had was so slender, a little scanty soil on the side of the rocks the only apparent nutriment (as you may so often see in Alpine heights to wonder's own perfection, with the splendid pines of the precipice), therefore did this good plant shoot down its roots with keener appetite, and clave to the rock itself. Granted that these men were heathen, and superstitious heathen; that with minds in large measure darkened, and with hearts undelivered into the freedom of the newest truth, "they worshipped the host of heaven," the sun and moon and stars, and "beholding the sun when it shined and the moon" walking in its chaste brightness, "their heart was secretly enticed," as Job describes the scene, "and their mouth kissed their hand;" that they belonged to the very company of "star-gazers, astrologers, and monthly prognosticators," whose weakness to save God had himself challenged, and of whose ways, as so utterly heathenish, God had at least warned his own people by the mouth of Jeremiah, saying, "Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of the heavens; for it is the heathen who are dismayed at them... the customs of the people are vain... be not afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good;" - let all this be granted, yet nevertheless let us not despise what, manifestly, God did not despise - the gropings of those in darkness, who longed for light, and inquired for it and travelled far to seek and to find it. Let us not despise the infant often falling and spreading trouble and consternation all around, but who is most sincerely striving to walk uprightly. We have but to centre attention on this - that through intense longing, with little to inform or to encourage it, they were inquiring and seeking, though they inquired not with the right instruments nor sought in the most chosen fashion. What symptoms these of better things to come! of highest life not expired, and of a tremendous advance for the better, for that life beyond the grave! The conduct of these Wise Men of the East was counted worthy to find a place, long as time should last, on the page of the New Testament. Persist in seeking, and the Lord will rise on you. He will send enlargement of heart, growth of intelligent earnestness, and the persuasion that, guided by him first, you shall find yourself at last guided safely to him.
VI. A TRUE FAITH IS A SIMPLE DEVOTION. When the Wise Men had found the young Child and his mother, they fell down and worshipped him; they opened their treasures, and presented their gifts to the Child - gold and frankincense and myrrh. And with this they are content. They do not, emphatically not, worship the mother, nor present to her gifts. They have longed, have sought, have found, what kings and prophets of ages and centuries had desired, and in vain - and they have found. A Divine contentment takes possession of them, and, still under the gracious guidance which had led them hitherto, "they depart into their own country another way," who can doubt, not merely gladder men, but gladder with good reason, holier men? They have found the right worship, and their hearts have worshipped. Misnomer for them in a hundred aspects is their title of Wise Men, yet in one aspect so true as to counterbalance all the rest; for no wisdom equals the wisdom of simple, fervent, seeking goodness. - B.
I. HEROD AND JESUS. The king and the Babe; earthly might and spiritual power. This contrast comes continually in view throughout the life of Christ, but never more strikingly than here. Depict the apparent helplessness of the young Child when confronted with the relentless and crafty hostility of Herod. The restless, suspicious jealousy of the old king, and the guileless, unconscious innocence of the Child. The selfish cruelty of the despot, and his ever-increasing misery, contrast with the self-sacrificing love and the calm peace of the spiritual King. The results of Herod's reign, and the results of Christ's reign. And yet how difficult to see the harvest in the seed! how difficult to discern between apparent and real glory! and how hard, even when we have some understanding of the difference, to choose for ourselves the glory which is attained by self-sacrifice and which makes no appeal to worldly ambition!
II. HEROD AND THE MAGI.
1. Two classes of inquirers after Christ - the well-intentioned, who seek him that they may do him homage; the evilly disposed, who strive to acquaint themselves sufficiently with his history to direct their assaults upon him. Two classes of critics of the Gospels - the malevolent and the divinely led; the jealous and the frankly admiring; the destructive and the reverent. Christ excites curiosity and inquiry in all. His life stirs ceaseless controversy. Two currents-of hope and of hatred - set towards him without intermission. He is the great Test of men, "set for the fall and rising again of many." By their thoughts of him, their judgments passed upon him, their bearing towards him, men reveal their own nature. By their conduct towards Christ, their acceptance or refusal of him, men show whether their tastes are spiritual or earthly.
2. Means by which inquirers are led. The astrology of these Magi was probably not sound from the point of view of science; indeed, it is almost impossible for us even to understand their calculations regarding the star. But God used their ideas, fanciful, mistaken, or partly well grounded, to lead them to the truth. "Instead of making tirades against the imperfect, he speaks to us in the language we understand, even if it express his meaning very imperfectly, and guides us thereby to the perfect truth. Just as he used astrology to lead the world to astronomy, and alchemy to conduct it to chemistry, and as the revival of learning preceded the Reformation, so he used the knowledge of these men, which was half falsehood and superstition, to lead them to the Light of the world" (Stalker's 'Life of Christ,' p. 16). Where a true heart is earnestly longing for light, it is dealt with according to its capacity, and led by that which it will attend to. Notice might here be directed to the appearance of this law in the method of revelation - the law of accommodation, which requires that regard should be had to the condition of those to whom a revelation is to be made. An American writer alludes to it in the following terms: "The faults of the Old Testament are, as Herder says, the faults of the pupil, not of the teacher. They are the necessary incidents of a course of moral education; they are the unavoidable limitations of a partial and progressive revelation. If God chooses to enter upon an historic course of revelation, then that revelation must be accommodated to the necessities, and limited by the capacities, mental and moral, of each successive age. Otherwise revelation would be a wild, destructive power; a flood, sweeping everything away, and not the river of life. We cannot suppose that the Almighty can pour the Mississippi river into the banks of a mountain brook. He can begin, however, with the springs and the brooks, and make in time the broad Mississippi river."
III. HOMAGE OF THE MAGI. They are Gentiles and sages; they are aliens, and belong to a school of experts in science; but they use their knowledge to glorify Jesus. They offer gifts symbolic of his royalty, and they themselves represent the attraction felt by all races towards the Christ. This King has blessings for all; and from the first he is claimed by those afar off.
IV. RETIREMENT IN EGYPT. "The flight into Egypt was no mere expedient of rescue, but is, on the contrary, a moulding factor of continuous influence in Christ's life, giving to the subsequent stream of his fortunes a quite novel character and direction" (W. G. Elmslie, in the Expositor, 6:401). It formed the necessary break between the miraculous birth, with its accompaniment of homage, and the quiet boyhood and youth, in which Jesus could grow up as other boys and youths did. After this flight we hear no more of angelic announcements, prophetic songs, signs in the heavens, or the homage of mysterious strangers; but the life of the Boy falls into the ordinary course, and runs on unnoticed and unknown. Had it not been so, he could not have shared the ordinary human lot. Had he still and throughout been recognized as superhuman, the object of his life would, so far, have been rendered impracticable. But the danger to which he was exposed by Herod's jealousy, the warning which his parents thus received, and the obscurity in which they consequently kept their great Charge, secured the conditions necessary for our Lord becoming in all points like his brethren. - D.
Revelation 22:16), whether viewed as a portent, a disturber, or a guide.
I. AS A PORTENT.
1. A star is the emblem of a prince.
(1) So the sign was interpreted by the Magi. "Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star - his emblem. Herod could not be credited with refined spiritual discernment, yet even he accepted at once the justness of their inference.
(2) The Star out of Jacob" is, in Balaam's parable, explained to be a "Sceptre," or King, destined to "rise out of Israel" (Numbers 24:17). The ambitious monarch of Babylon would "exalt his throne above the stars of God," or reigning kings; so would he be "Lucifer, son of the morning," brightest among the stars or kings (Isaiah 14:4, 12, 13). And the overthrow of monarchies is described as the falling of stars from the (political) heavens (Isaiah 34:4; Joel 3:15, 16; Matthew 24:29; Revelation 6:12-17).
(3) The propriety of the symbol may be seen in the elements of
(d) rule, or influence over the earth (see Genesis 1:14-19).
2. This star indicated an extraordinary Prince.
(1) It was not an object seen only in description in a treatise on symbols. It was not a commonplace phenomenon.
(2) It was an unusual apparition. It was not a "fixed star;" for it moved. Not a recognized planet; it was too near the earth. Not an ordinary electrical meteor; it blazed too steadily. Then, as a supernatural star, it betokened a supernatural Prince.
3. It denoted the Christ of God.
(1) The time was ripe for the advent of Messiah.
(a) The sceptre, tribe rod, or tribal magistracy, was visibly departing from Judah (Genesis 49:10).
(c) Daniel's weeks were fast running out (Daniel 9:24).
(2) Hence the prevalent expectation:
(b) Amongst the nations. This is testified by Suetonius, Tacitus, Cicero; also in sundry Oriental traditions.
(3) The Magi seem to have shared in this expectation. They were generally familiar with Hebrew traditions. They appear to have been particularly acquainted with Balaam's prophecy. Possibly the son of Beor had been one of their predecessors - one of the ancient Magi of their own country.
(4) "His star;" the star peculiar to him. Evidently so, for no other prince sustains a miraculous character. The false Christ in the time of Adrian took the name of Barchochab, "the son of a star." Note: The Wise Men profited by discerning the signs of their times. The neglect of prophetic study is the reverse of creditable to Christians (see Matthew 16:3; 2 Peter 1:19-21; Revelation 1:3).
II. AS A DISTURBER.
1. It troubled Herod.
(1) By showing the advent of One whom he thought to be his political rival, who might deprive him of his throne. Jesus was "born King of the Jews;" Herod was an Idumaean usurper. He was too carnal to discern that the heavenly star betokened a heavenly kingdom. Jesus had no design upon his paltry seat. Note: Christ retributively rebukes the wicked through their own disordered imaginations. "The most general enmities and oppositions to good. arise from mistakes" (Bishop Hall).
(2) Herod's trouble stirred up the devil in his nature. He instantly took the resolution to rid himself of his rival. Note: Sin would murder any virtue that opposed its ambition. Virtues are representatives of Christ, who is the Impersonation of all virtues in their perfection.
(3) Herod carried out his resolution with exquisite hypocrisy. Note: The most frightful wickedness is that concealed under the mask of piety. Sharpers join Churches and seek Church office to use the influence so acquired to fleece the simple and confiding. A Herod may even deceive wise men; he cannot cheat God.
2. Jerusalem was troubled.
(1) Herod's courtiers were concerned for their places as their master was for his throne. Only the unscrupulous could aid the tyranny of such a ruler. In the kingdom of Messiah persons of that type could have no place. Note: What trouble will be amongst those who have the spirit of the courtier when the great King comes to the judgment!
(2) But why should the citizens be troubled? They were troubled "with" Herod, aware of the moods of the tyrant, and dreading some tragedy. He had murdered the brother and grandfather of his wife; he had murdered Mariamne, his wife, and her mother Alexandra; he had despatched two of his own sons, etc. The slaughter of the innocents which followed justified such an apprehension. The tyrant was shown up when he had collected the principal Jews, and had them shut up in the circus at Jericho, intending them all to be slain at his death, that a general mourning might be secured. We should bless God for our civil and religious liberties.
(3) In Jerusalem there were those who "waited for the Consolation of Israel" (Luke 2:25, 38). To these the news of the advent of Messiah would bring joy. He is not the trouble but the peace of the righteous. But how few were they? How few now, even in the Church, are "looking for" the (second) appearing of Christ?
(4) The majority of the citizens would be troubled because of their moral unfitness for the kingdom. The wicked ever have been, and still are, troubled at the thought of the fulfilment of Scripture. How many Christian professors would be fearfully troubled did those signs now appear in the heavens which are to presage the great day of judgment (Matthew 24:29, 30)!
III. AS A GUIDE.
1. By it the Magi came to Jerusalem.
(1) We do not affirm that it moved before them in the heavens to point their way to Jerusalem. This does not appear to have been the case. But the appearance of the star in the East set them upon trains of thought which determined them to go to Jerusalem as the place most likely in which to get information concerning the King of the Jews. God does not work miracles to supersede the uses of reason.
(2) The Magi were apprized as to the event of the Nativity; now they desired to know its place. The more we know of Christ the more we want to know. The Magi supremely desired to find him. With knowledge concerning Christ we should never be satisfied until it leads us to himself. Has the Day-star arisen in your hearts!
(3) In Jerusalem they got instruction from the Scriptures. The Sanhedrin (see Bloomfield, in loc.), convened at the instance of Herod, turn up the Prophet Micah, who makes Bethlehem of Judah the favoured place (Micah 5:2). Thus, by the highest authority amongst the Jews was this most important public testimony borne, viz. That Jesus is the Christ. And this, too, through the instrumentality of a tyrant who had no such design. So God makes the wrath of man to praise him. So does he make the selfishness of the wicked subserve his own benign purposes.
2. By it they were guided to Christ.
(1) Now the Magi are on their way to Bethlehem. What for? To find in a somewhat populous city the right Babe. They journeyed in faith, trusting that he who had hitherto prospered their way would guide them to the end. Note: Those who follow up the leadings of providence will never lack a providence to lead them.
(2) Behold the relief to their perplexity! The familiar star is again in sight. Lo, it moves! They follow. It stands over a dwelling. Those brightening scintillations proclaim that the heavenly Royalty is there. Note: It was not reason that guided the Magi to Christ. Reason had its province, and will ever have it. But the effectual guidance, first and last, was supernatural. "No man can come to Christ except the Father draw him" (see John 6:44, 45, 65).
(3) "Exceeding great" was the "joy" of the Magi when they saw the star. It certified the Christ. Certitude to the truth-seeker is bliss. The bliss is intense as the truth is noble. Here the certainty had respect to Truth itself, essential Truth, all truth. Wise, indeed, were the men, and wise are those still, who find this philosopher's stone that transmutes all things into good. Good is better than gold. - J.A.M.
(1) the King he was to be;
(2) the King he seemed to be;
(3) the King he proves to be.
For introduction show what associations of kingship could have been in the minds of the Eastern Magi. The idea of the uprising of world-conquerors had been made familiar by the stories of Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander, and Caesar; and we have the authority of the pagan writer, Suetonius, for the fact that "an ancient and constant opinion had become prevalent all over the East, that it was contained in the fates that at that time certain ones arising from Judaea should gain universal dominion." No doubt it is largely true that prophecy tends to fulfil itself, but in this case the fulfilment took such shape as most clearly indicated Divine control and direction. With this idea in the minds of the Magi, they would easily be guided by their astrological observations. What they looked for was, in some sense, a universal King; and that, in the fullest sense, Jesus was.
I. THE KING HE WAS TO BE. There was nothing evidently kingly about the circumstances and surroundings of this Babe. Yet the Magi expected him to turn out a King. But what sort of a King was it expected that he would be? Here follow three lines:
1. The line of Scripture prophecy, noticing all figures of Messiah as King.
2. The line of Scripture, and after-Scripture, history. Especially dealing with Daniel's presentations, and showing how the success of the Maccabees fixed the form of the Messianic hope.
3. The line of world-conquering kings outside Scripture history. It is well to fix Very clearly that the King universally expected was a delivering, conquering, redeeming King; and such Jesus was, in high, holy, spiritual senses.
II. THE KING HE SEEMED TO BE. Hanging on a cross, an inscription over his head, "This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." His Kingship seemed a miserable, hopeless failure; a claim which men scorned with a cross.. For that inscription was Pilate's scorn of the pretensions of his spiritless prisoner, and Pilate's insult of those who had made him act as if the claim were of importance. What would you say of Christ's Kingship, judging by the appearances?
III. THE KING HE PROVES TO BE. "Exalted a Prince and a Saviour."
1. The first of men in every department is king in that department.
2. From our Lord's answer to Pilate, we learn that the truth-bearer is a king.
3. Our Lord dealt with sin and its physical result, disease, in truly kingly fashion.
4. Because his work is accepted, he is entrusted with mediatorial sovereignty, is King of the spiritual world, King of souls, dispensing pardon to sinners and grace to saints. - R.T.
one, their forms are variously adapted to the condition and disposition and ability of each. And the exceeding grace of God is seen in that adaptation.
I. DIVINE LEADINGS. Two things:
1. They are direct Divine operations. Whether we see the hand in them or not, the hand is there.
2. They employ instrumentalities; but, in the very simplicity and naturalness of them, we often miss the Divine working that is at the heart of them. It is easy to see nature-forces making conjunctions of stars to guide Magi, and miss seeing the Divine overrulings that make nature-forces work the Divine will. Whether it be shepherds, Magi, or pious Simeons, the Divine leading of men is to Christ their Saviour. What God is doing with men is bringing them to Jesus.
II. THE INDIVIDUALITY OF DIVINE LEADINGS. No one else was led just as the shepherds were, and none just as the Magi were. God knows each one, reckons for each one, and deals with each one. There is no being lost in a crowd. There is no fear of unskilful dealing because our case is not precisely understood. We come into the world one by one; we go out one by one; and all the while we are in the world we are simple units before God. Illustrate this individuality of Divine dealings from Bible cases of conversion, such as
(2) Manasseh the king;
(4) the Woman of Samaria;
(6) Eunuch of Queen Candace;
(8) Jailor at Philippi.
Each a typical, perhaps, but certainly an individual, case.
III. THE GRACE OF THE INDIVIDUALITY OF DIVINE LEADINGS. It secures fittings and fitness. In each of the above cases show how precise the adaptation was. Show the grace which is always displayed in having things to fit. Show that the grace is proved by the tender consideration for the individual which such adaptation involves. Appeal to our experience of grace adapted to us. - R.T.
Psalm 87:3-5). Bethlehem was but a little and insignificant town, scarcely more than what we should call a village; not even important for its situation, since it was not on any of the main caravan-routes. And yet it stands out most prominently of all cities in Palestine, save Jerusalem, the capital. Everybody knows Bethlehem. Every traveller must go and see Bethlehem. We should smile at the woeful ignorance of a traveller who did not know enough to compel him to go to Bethlehem. Both the Old Testament and the New give prominence to it, and we may properly call it the twice-honoured city. Descriptions of it, as it was in our Lord's time and now, are at very easy command in modern 'Lives of Christ' and books of travel.
I. HONOURED AS THE BIRTHPLACE OF DAVID. David is the hero of Old Testament history. He is the proper founder of the Jewish monarchy; and is specially commended because he founded it on strictly theocratical lines. He is worthy of honour
(1) for his personal character on the whole;
(2) for his kingly rule, with some marked exceptions;
(3) and he is specially interesting because his reign was distinctly typical of the Messianic reign.
Jerusalem gained honour as the "city of David," Bethlehem as his birthplace. Showing interest in a birthplace is a common sign of our interest in him who was born there. And we even expect to find relations between the genius of the man and the genius of the place.
II. HONOURED AS THE BIRTHPLACE OF DAVID'S GREATER SON. Trace the orderings of Divine providence which brought Mary to Bethlehem. Martin Luther was born unexpectedly at an inn, when his parents were journeying from home. Talk, how you may, the praises of cities, call them "beautiful for situation," record the struggles for liberty of which they may have been the centres, still you must leave the supreme honours for "little Bethlehem." The "Lamb of God," the "Saviour of the world," was born there. - R.T.
I. MAN'S GUILE MAY ATTEMPT TO MASTER GOD'S OMNISCIENCE. See how far man's guile may succeed. It may master his fellow-men. Herod outwitted the Magi, and outwitted the "chief priests and scribes." The Magi proposed to do his bidding; the "chief priests and scribes" answered him correctly, treating him as if he were as sincere as he seemed. And all this meant Herod trying his guilefulness upon God. He was going to manage things otherwise than as God proposed. Men did not read his wicked heart; he would act as if God did not read it either. He meant by his skilfulness to frustrate the Divine purposes. Men may try to push their plans against God. They may be clever, guileful, persistent; but the strong figure of the psalm may be used, "He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in derision." Abundant are the illustrations of conduct like Herod's; at first, seemingly effective and successful; but it does not really succeed. It never is possible for the wicked to do more than make their attempt. "Man proposes, God disposes."
II. GOD'S OMNISCIENCE MASTERING MAN'S GUILE. God's omniscience is
God knew what Herod said; but, going beyond Magi and scribes, God knew what Herod meant. So Divine action was guided by complete knowledge, and guileful Herod had no chance. God told the Magi what Herod had in his heart, so they never brought him any word. God bore away the young King into a place of safety, and all Herod's guile proved in vain. We can work with God, and reach good success. He who works against God must feel God's overmastering. - R.T.
I. WHAT DO THEY SEE?
1. They behold the King of the Jews.
(1) He is denoted by the star. Some think it entered the dwelling and formed as a nimbus round the Infant's head. This notion was ancient, and has suggested to painters their practice of depicting a glory surrounding the head of Jesus. The evidence in favour of this opinion is not very clear. The star sufficiently indicated the Prince of Israel as it stood blazing in the atmosphere directly over his dwelling. No palace was ever so honoured as this humble residence. The "morning star" indicates the place and rising of the sun.
(2) He is denoted by the prophet. The passage cited from Micah by the Sanhedrin, together with the star, declared the Babe of Bethlehem to be the "Ruler whose goings forth have been from the days of eternity. The greatness of Christ is conspicuous in his gentleness.
(3) He is denoted by the angel. For the Magi were warned of God in a dream - presumably by the angel of the Lord who afterwards in a dream appeared to Joseph. Note: The testimony concerning the Messiahship of Jesus is ample (cf. Deuteronomy 19:15; Matthew 18:16). Unbelief is as perilous as it is defence-less (see Deuteronomy 17:6).
2. They see him veiled in humanity.
(1) His humanity was real. The young Child." Born as other children, though very differently conceived. "With his mother." Nourished as an ordinary infant.
(2) Note in the truth of the humanity of Jesus:
(a) The reality of our interest in his mission and work.
(b) The reality and perfection of his sympathy with us.
(3) So let us be encouraged
(a) to open all our anxieties to him;
(b) to trust him with a perfect confidence.
3. They see Immanuel in humiliation.
(1) He is the "King of the Jews;" but, in this humble dwelling, in what contrast to the magnificence of Solomon! Note: True grandeur is spiritual. Mind is above matter.
(2) How much greater still is the contrast! The "King of the Jews," in the carpenter's house, attended only by his poor mother; and the King of glory, in the heights of heaven, attended by his myriad retinue of angels!
(3) Let us read in this
(a) how humanity is dignified in Christ;
(b) how in him the Divine royalty of man is and may be asserted amidst circumstances of reverse.
4. They see a heavenly vision.
(1) Whether God warned them by his Shechinah or by his angel, when in their dream or trance, in that revelation their faith was richly rewarded.
(2) Their obedience to the heavenly vision also became a means to the important end of preserving Christ from the fury of Herod. So are faithful defenders of Christ and his cause still the honoured instruments of preserving his life in his Church.
(3) Their obedience secured also their own safety. For had they rather obeyed Herod and returned to him, they might have fallen victims to his tyranny under a construction of treason in acknowledging a rival King of the Jews. The way of duty is safety as well as honour.
II. HOW DO THEY WORSHIP?
1. They worship Jesus as the King of the Jews.
(1) "They fell down," etc., put themselves into that attitude which Orientals are accustomed to assume in presence of royalty.
(2) "Opening their treasures," etc. It was also customary in the East to bring gilts to kings. Note:
(a) "The powers that be are ordained of God," and should therefore be religiously respected.
(b) Kings exist for the order and happiness of states, and should therefore be religiously sustained in the due exercise of their functions.
2. They worship Jesus as the Christ of God.
(1) They did not journey from the distant East to pay respect to an ordinary prince. The star had marked this prince as extraordinary and supernatural. Prophecy also had declared him to be Divine.
(2) These Gentiles, in coming to the King of the Jews, claimed an interest in his kingdom. They did not honour Herod as they honoured Jesus. Neither did they pay religious worship to Mary.
(3) The humble circumstances in which they found the Christ did not discourage their faith. Now, since nations have come to acknowledge him, faith has become fashionable.
3. They worshipped him with gifts.
(1) They presented themselves. This, in the first place, is most important. The living sacrifice. The reasonable service.
(2) They consecrated their substance. "Gold," etc. (see Psalm 72:10). Some will give to Christ personal service, but withhold property. Others will give property, but withhold personal service. The Magi gave both. Christ is worthy of all homage.
4. Their worship was typical.
(1) The mention of "gold and frankincense" refers us back to Isaiah 60:6, where the gathering of the Gentiles is foretold (see also Haggai 2:8). "The respect paid to Christ by these Gentiles was a happy presage and specimen of what would follow when those who were afar off should be made nigh by Christ" (Henry).
(2) The shepherds of Bethlehem found Christ before the Magi found him. The gospel came "to the Jew first." But, though Bethlehem was but half a dozen miles from Jerusalem, the Magi do not appear to have been accompanied by any of the Sanhedrin or citizens. The Gentiles received the gospel when it was rejected by the Jews. Heathendom is accepting it as Christendom is rejecting it. "Those nearest to the means are often furthest from the end" (cf. Matthew 8:11, 12).
5. their gifts were symbolical.
(1) Some think the "gold" was given as tribute to the "King;" the "frankincense" in recognition of his Divinity, because God is honoured with incense; and the "myrrh" in recognition of his humanity, and that as man he should die, because myrrh was used in embalming (see John 19:89).
(2) Perhaps their purpose was to confess Christ as universal King. They presented themselves as representing the "kingdom of men," and the whole animated creation at whose head man stands. The "frankincense and myrrh" would represent the vegetable kingdom. "Gold" in like manner would represent the mineral. Christ, who carried his miracle-working into every kingdom of nature, is destined to receive universal homage (see Ephesians 1:10, 20-23; Philippians 2:9-11; Colossians 1:16; Revelation 4:11).
(3) Or perhaps they may have designed to express simply their faith in Jesus as the Christ. Thus they came seeking the "King of the Jews," and now they give him "gold," or pay tribute to him as such. But then the King of the Jews is the King Messiah. Their faith in Jesus as such would be expressed in the "myrrh," which was a leading ingredient in the composition of the holy anointing oil (see Exodus 30:23). The ointment in composition they could not present, for it would have been unlawful for them to compound it. But further, since all excellences in perfection existed in Christ, they would express this in their donation of "frankincense;" for this was a principal ingredient in the holy perfume, viz. that which common persons must neither compound nor use (Exodus 30:34). The Bridegroom, in the Canticles, is described as "coming out of the wilderness, like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant" (Song of Solomon 3:6). The cloud of the Shechinah, the holy oil, and the holy perfume are here together associated to describe the qualities of Christ. - J.A.M.
acknowledge the worth of." We speak of magistrates as "your worship." We speak of the service of the Churches as "worship." But when we use the word carefully, we limit it to "paying Divine honours," "venerating with religious rites." We cannot, however, assume that these Eastern Magi worshipped the Babe in the higher, spiritual sense, recognizing in him the manifested God. We have simply that anticipative homage which was due to one who would prove to be a great King. Their attitude implies the Eastern homage offered to a King,
I. WORSHIPPING THE BABE WAS AN ACT OF FAITH. They could not worship on the ground of what the Babe actually was. He was only an ordinary world's Babe, with commonplace cottage surroundings. There was nothing whatever to suggest kingly claims. The Magi could only have worshipped on the ground of their belief in his royalty and future kingship; and that belief must have been founded on evidence that was kin to them, and satisfactory to them. It is not necessary that what satisfied them should also satisfy us. If they were convinced, their conduct in worshipping the Babe was fully justified. Show that faith must be founded on evidence, but the evidence must be relative to the capacity and associations of each individual. We are responsible for our beliefs. And, whatever they are, we are bound to act upon them. If we believe that Christ is a born King, then our place is with the Magi, worshipping him. What, then, do you believe concerning Christ?
II. WORSHIPPING THE BABE WAS AN ACT OF LOYALTY, That is, it meant acknowledging this King as their King, and declaring themselves ready to enrol themselves in his kingdom whenever that kingdom should be established. And this certainly is the true and full significance of the worship of Jesus, as now the exalted and spiritual King. It is the declaration and reaffirmation of our loyalty. Every act of worship should be an act of consecration and devotion, a reassertion of our full readiness to serve the King. - R.T.
their own; were representative; were representative strictly of themselves. These gifts may be shown to have been
(1) from their own country;
(2) of their own property;
(3) by their own selection;
(4) expressing their own meaning; and
(5) therefore they strictly represented and carried themselves.
I. FROM THEIR OWN COUNTRY. And so representative of their particular associations and interests. See the precision of the gifts selected by Jacob for Pharaoh's vizier (Genesis 43:11): "Carry down the man a present, a little balm, and a little honey, spices, and myrrh, nuts, and almonds." These were the products of the district. Arabia and the East are the spice-countries, and from them caravans bore myrrh and frankincense for trading in other lands. So the Magi seemed to bear the homage of their country.
II. FROM THEIR OWN PROPERTY. Illustrate by the noble spirit of David, who would not give, for the service of the Lord, what cost him nothing, and who generously devoted of his own private property - of his "own proper good." People are ready enough to give away common property, on committees; but the same people are mean enough when claim is made on their own property. Yet there never can be any real nobility in the gift unless we can say, "It is mine, and I give it to you."
III. BY THEIR OWN SELECTION. No doubt the question was anxiously discussed, "What shall we take?" They would be anxious to find something suitable, but each would have his idea of suitability. They were going to offer homage to a King: so all might agree that a present of gold would be wise. But, then, it was a Babe: so it seems they agreed at last on carrying the scents and spices which would be useful in tending the Babe. Whether those imaginative Easterns attached symbolical ideas to their gifts does not appear. Such ideas have been attached for them. Myrrh was for the human nature, gold for the King, and incense for the Divinity. Gifts ought to carry thought.
IV. EXPRESSING THEIR OWN MEANING. Though all meant one thing, each gave a special individuality and tone to the meaning. Let several join in a gift, and the gift will really be manifold, and not just one.
V. CARRYING THEMSELVES. A gift is nothing save as it represents the giver. Give what we may to God, the gift, to be acceptable, must give ourselves. - R.T.
had been led, by the ordinary exercise of their minds, on certain natural, if unusual, phenomena which they had observed in the heavens. But now they were led by special Divine intervention and direct Divine communications. This is the fact that seems to be suggestive. That very remarkable blending of the ordinary and the special, the natural and the miraculous, we find reappearing everywhere in the Divine dealings with men. A most interesting book might be made of illustrations of the strange limitations of the miracles. God will be found to work miracles when we can hardly see a pressing need for them, and to refrain from working miracles just where we think they would be most effective. Illustrate: Jacob takes every precaution against the anger of Esau, and God gives him supernatural strength. Israel knocks down the quails that fly low because of their weary flight over the sea; and gathers miraculous bread from heaven and water from smitten rocks. St. Paul raises the stunned, perhaps dead, Eutychus, but leaves Trophimus sick at Ephesus, to the chance of healing remedies. With these hints the Bible story will yield abundant instances, and we shall come to see that there is a method of Divine wisdom in this strange form of Divine dealings.
I. GOD NEVER SUPERSEDES MAN. In the sense of doing for man what man can do for himself. An idea may prevail that God may desire to make a show of his power, and so he may put man aside and seem to say, "Let me do it." But we need not think thus of God. Man's powers, in relation to man's sphere, are the Divine arrangement, and may be left to their free working. Let man think, observe, plan, and carry out as he can; in all the ten thousand things of life he will be left alone of God. No man need look for miracle. Its intervention can be in no human ordering; it depends on Divine omniscience and sovereignty. When the supernatural can wisely supersede the natural God alone can decide, and his decisions may well seem to us strange.
II. GOD EVER SUPPLEMENTS MAN. That is the place of miracle. In the Divine ides something is good for man, but either man is not ready enough, or skilful enough, or prompt enough to attain it, and therefore God graciously intervenes and supplements man's weakness. In connection with the text, Divine action came in because prompt action was necessary; there was no time for the ordinary human forces to work the right result in. - R.T.
Matthew 1:20), do we thus read of the intervention of particular Divine directions given to Joseph in the interest of the infant Jesus. The grand head under which events of this kind must seek and find their classification is that of providence. The next greatest fact to creation is providence, without which creation itself would soon have proved a still-born thing, or some monstrosity. The objections that have been sometimes felt, sometimes urged, against particular providences, do but betoken a feeble hold upon the real nature of providence. They incontestably lie in part material, and must be granted to be in somewhat closer relationship, at all events, than the interpositions called miracles and the general course of the so-called laws of nature. The very same hand that ministers the one ministers and rules the other in both instances. As surely as "a thousand fall at our side, and ten thousand at our right hand," seen, more than those numbers fall unseen also. As surely as we owe it to God's goodness that we are saved from the comparatively few dangers we see and are cognizant of, we owe it to that goodness that we are saved from an immensely larger number unseen, undreamt of. What appears to us as the extraordinary interventions of Divine goodness and mercy are in no wise so extraordinary as respects the quality of the goodness and mercy, as in the fact that the whole matter of them lies, for some reason or other, disclosed and patent before our eyes. Notice, therefore, that -
I. THE NECESSITIES OF HUMAN LIFE, IN VIEW OF ITS WEAKNESS AND ITS NO FORESIGHT, ARE SUCH AS TO REQUIRE THE CONTINUAL MINISTRY OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE.
II. THE ADVANTAGE OF HUMAN LIFE IS INFINITELY CONSULTED IN THE INTERVENTION OF THAT PROVIDENCE IN SUCH SHAPE AND MANNER AS SHALL MAKE IT STRIKINGLY APPARENT.
III. THOUGH SOME DIVINITY UNMISTAKABLY HEDGED IN THIS WONDERFUL, IMPERILLED, GLORIOUS LIFE OF JESUS, YET, AT PRESENT AT ALL EVENTS, NO SPECIAL DIVINITY HEDGED IT IN. NO "mark was placed on Jesus to designate him as the Favourite of God and of angels. Neither his Person nor his head only were really enveloped in a halo. He is befriended by providence, and faithfully befriended, but
(1) only to the extent of his need, and
(2) only in the same kind of way as innumerable others.
His earthly parents must take all care, all precautions, all toilsome journeys, all vexatious home-leaving and country-leaving, if he is to be safe.
IV. DEEP INDICATIONS LIE IN ALL THIS OF THE MOST REAL HUMANITY OF JESUS, AND OF HIS UNFEIGNED, OBEDIENT TAKING OF HUMAN NATURE AND HUMAN LOT. - B.
Divine. In that wisdom there is what Paul describes as a manifoldness (Ephesians 3:10). And this appears in a system of developments and correspondences, evincing at the same time unity of plan. The text furnishes striking illustrations. It suggests -
I. THAT THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL WERE CHRIST TYPICAL.
1. For Hosea s allusion is historical. His words are these: "When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt" (Hosea 11:1). The reference plainly is to the bringing forth of the people of Israel from Egypt by the hand of Moses and Aaron. Moreover, it is a paraphrase upon the words of God's message to Pharaoh (Exodus 4:22, 23). From the history we learn:
(1) That the suffering of God's people is no certain proof of his displeasure.
(2) That it may evince his love as that of a Father to a child who needs discipline and education.
(3) That when love's ends are served the discipline will end.
2. Hosea s words are still prophetic.
(1) That they contain a mystery is clear from the manner in which they speak of the nation as a person. This is the converse of the manner in which the same prophet makes the real Jacob or Israel stand for the nation descended from him (cf. Hosea 12:3-6).
(2) The evangelist explains the mystery as containing a prophecy of Christ. In doing this he is countenanced by prophetic analogies. Thus Jehovah, speaking evidently of Messiah, says, "Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified" (Isaiah 49:3). Again, "Behold my Servant, whom I uphold; mine Elect, in whom my soul delighteth" (Isaiah 42:1). This the LXX. construes thus: "Jacob my servant, and Israel mine elect;" while in the Chaldee it is, "My servant the Messiah." This paraphrase is clearly justified by the context.
3. So the history in the Law likewise is prophetic.
(1) Dr. Alix remarks that the author of 'Midrash Tehillim,' on Psalm 2:7, says, "The mysteries of the King Messiah are declared in the Law, the Prophets, and the Hagiographa. In the Law it is written (Exodus 4:22), 'Israel is my son, even my firstborn.' Rabbi Nathan, in ' Sehemath Rabba,' on those words speaks thus: 'As I made Jacob my firstborn' (Exodus 4:22), so have I made Messiah my firstborn; as it is said (Psalm 89:27), 'I will make him my Firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth.'"
(2) The perils, then, in which Israel typified Christ, viz. as they are presented in the passages before us, are:
(a) His Sonship.
(b) His election.
(c) His sojourn in Egypt.
(d) His return and advancement to dignity and glory.
II. THAT GOD BROUGHT CHRIST TYPICAL OUT OF EGYPT.
1. The system of providence is seen in presages.
(1) The sojourn of Israel in Egypt was presaged in the personal history of Abraham their father. For early in that history "there was a famine in the land [of Canaan]: and Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there." In that land he found not only asylum, but generous treatment, and acquired property. Afterwards "the Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai Abram's wife;" and these plagues induced Pharaoh to send him away (Genesis 12:14-20).
(2) That in all this there was an allegory Abram might have learnt from his subsequent experience (see Genesis 15:11-16). The horror of darkness was evidently a premonition of the sufferings his seed were destined to pass through in the dark land of Egypt (see Gesenius, under חם).
2. So is it seen in their accomplishment.
(1) Joseph's dreams were prophetic sketches of what afterwards became history.
(2) The fulfilment of the dreams of Joseph was also the accomplishment of the presages of Abram. The famine in Syria. The provision of plenty in Egypt in connection with which Joseph, by the good hand of God upon him, came into power. The settlement of Israel in Egypt. His sufferings there when the services of Joseph were forgotten. The plaguing of Pharaoh. The Exodus.
III. THAT GOD BROUGHT CHRIST LITERAL OUT or EGYPT.
1. Correspondences are seen in the agents.
(1) We note a correspondence of names. In each case we have a "Joseph," and moreover a "Joseph the son of Jacob."
(2) We have also a correspondence of character. The son of Rachel was eminently a righteous man, and so likewise was the husband of Mary. Both were alike distinguished for their unswerving loyalty and obedience to God.
(3) There is, moreover, a correspondence of dreams. God honours those who honour him.
(b) If the reason of God's communicating with men in dreams be that in sleep men's minds are disengaged from the world, the lesson is that if we would come under special heavenly influences we must call off our affections from earthly things.
2. Correspondences are seen in the accidents.
(1) "Flee into Egypt." God can make the worst places serve the best purposes (cf. Revelation 12:16).
(2) Jesus, like Israel of old, was in Egypt for asylum. "For Herod will seek the young Child to destroy him." God knows the purposes of his enemies (cf. Isaiah 37:28).
(3) Jesus was nourished there evidently by the hand of God, as Israel was in the days of the earlier Joseph. The carpenter was so poor that Mary had to offer doves instead of a lamb (cf. Leviticus 12:8 with Luke 2:24). He had no difficulty in gathering up his effects to set off for Egypt the same night in which he had his orders. "If rich people have the advantage of the poor while they possess what they have, the poor have the advantage of the rich when they are called to part with it" (Henry). But how, then, could this Joseph subsist his sacred Charge in a strange land? He who gave the years of plenty to the ancient Joseph for the nourishment of his typical son, placed the gold of the Magi in the hand of his namesake for the preservation of the Son of his love.
(4) There was in the days of Israel's sojourn in Egypt a slaughter of the male children of that people by order of Pharaoh, from which Moses, the future redeemer of the nation, was wonderfully spared. Who does not see in this a prophecy of the deliverance of Jesus from Herod's slaughter of the innocents?
(5) The retribution for this came upon Pharaoh in the death of his firstborn when the firstborn of Israel was spared, and eventually upon himself also in the destruction at the Red Sea. So Herod's death followed quickly upon his massacre of the innocents. And as the overthrow of Pharaoh was coincident with the escape of Israel, for on the other shore of the Red Sea he was out of Egypt; so the death of Herod was the signal for the calling out of Egypt of the true Son of God. The end of the wicked is death. They have everything to fear from time. The good have everything to hope from it.
IV. THAT GOD WILL BRING CHRIST MYSTICAL OUT OF EGYPT.
1. The Church of true believers is the mystical Christ.
(1) So Paul describes the Church as the body of which Christ is the Head (Romans 12:4, 5; 1 Corinthians 10:16, 17; Ephesians 1:22, 23; Ephesians 4:15, 16; Ephesians 5:23, 30; Colossians 1:18, 24). The head and the body make up one Christ.
(3) Agreeably to this "Israel after the flesh," which we have seen to have been a type of Christ, is often made a type also of the "Israel of God," or true Christian Church.
2. What is predicated of Christ is mystically predicable of his Church.
(1) The mystical Egypt is that state of moral darkness and bondage in which we are by nature and former practice.
(2) The mystical Pharaoh, or Herod, is Satan, who is the tyrant of the moral house of bondage. So the persecuting powers of the world, which have ever been instinct with the spirit of the old serpent, are described under the figure of a dragon - a monster whose zoological type is the crocodile of the Nile (Revelation 12.); fittingly so, since the Egyptian was the first really formidable political incarnation of Satan.
(3) Deliverance through Christ from the bondage of sin and tyranny of Satan is compared to that of Israel from Egypt. ]t is also compared to the coming up of Christ from that land, as in the text.
(4) The early and brief sojourn of Jesus in Egypt was a presage of the early but too transient Christianizing of the laud of the Pharaohs. As there was a very flourishing Church in Egypt in the early Christian ages, so may there be again in the generations of the future (cf. Deuteronomy 23:7; Isaiah 19:24, 25). Providence and grace are interwoven in wisdom. Never let us murmur against, evermore let us trust, that wisdom which is manifold and profound. - J.A.M.
I. HEROD'S CRIME. People have said, "This is impossible!" But Herod's character, as painted by the secular historian, shows him to be gloomy and morose in his later days and capable of almost any cruelty. We execrate the enemies of Christ as monsters of wickedness. Herod and Judas are names that make us shudder, and we think of their owners as half-demons. Yet the wickedness of their crimes is not unapproached in our own day. The slow murder of young children by starvation and ill treatment, simply to escape the cost and trouble of keeping them, or because their death will be a source of gain to their guardians, is worse than Herod's crime, because it is committed in cold blood and without the provocation of terror at the appearance of a dangerous rival which excited the jealous passions of the Idumaean prince. Then there is a slaughter of the souls of young children, which in the sight of God is more cruel and deadly than the killing of their bodies. When fair young lives are blighted and innocent characters stained by vicious examples, a fate worse than death has overtaken them, and those who exercised the baleful influence have a very heavy account to answer for.
II. THE CHILDREN'S FATE. The death of young children is always a mystery. We cannot understand why innocent infants should be permitted to suffer great pain. It is a piteous sight to observe a baby-face drawn and pinched with agony. This is a very acute phase of the great mystery of suffering. It may be that greater evil in the future is thereby avoided. But even in that case the method of saving the children is terribly perplexing. Two points of light, however, emerge in the midst of the darkness of this mystery.
1. The suffering of the innocent is vicarious. These babes of Bethlehem have been regarded by a fond fancy as early martyrs for Christ. It was in his cause that they were slain. They died for Christ, as Christ afterwards died for men.
2. The suffering of Christ s children is but the door to blessedness. The hope of a future life lights much of the gloom of this scene. Holman Hunt's wonderful picture represents the murdered children just awakening to a new life as they are drawn after the infant Jesus with Mary and Joseph on their flight to Egypt - like a trail of rosy clouds.
III. THE DIVINE DESTINY. The murder of the children at Bethlehem was foreseen by God. It accomplished an ancient prophecy. This does not mean that God ordered it, but it shows that it could not frustrate God's purposes - purposes which were laid down in full knowledge of Herod's attempt to nullify them. Therefore Herod was doomed to failure. His guilt was not the less because his crime was useless, but his power as an enemy of Christ is thus shown to be quite futile. Nothing can ultimately frustrate God s great designs. Christ has come to conquer, and he will win the victory in spite of his foes. The first Herod was not allowed to touch him when it was essential to God's plan that he should live. The second Herod was permitted to have a hand in his death, but only when his time had come, and when the Divine destiny was fulfilled by means of. the crime of slaying Christ. - W.F.A.
alike, observant of the facts of each, refusing to disguise the facts of either, attentively following them as far as may be possible, and, if this be not far enough to conduct to the vindication of the facts themselves, reverently storing them, as the things that await explanation. Therefore -
I. THE ATTENTION TO THE FACT THAT THE PRESENT SAVING FROM DANGER OF THIS ONE LIFE, THE LIFE OF JESUS, WAS, IN LITERAL TRUTH, THE INVOLVING IN DESTRUCTION A LARGE NUMBER OF OTHER LIVES INNOCENT AS THE LIGHT, AND THE CAUSING OF INFINITE GRIEF AND WAILING TO MANY, MANY MOTHERS.
II. ALLOW FULLY THE FACT THAT GOD KNEW THIS, FOREKNEW IT, AND PERMITTED IT.
III. RECALL THE FACT THAT THE ACT OF GOD IN THIS MATTER CAME FIRST; THAT IT WAS IN ITSELF A RIGHT ACT, NAY, WAS THE RIGHT THING TO DO UNDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES PRESENT; WHILE HEROD'S PASSION AND MOST CRIMINAL DEED CAME AFTERWARD, SECOND IN THE SERIES, AND WERE INTRINSICALLY AND IN EVERY WAY UNJUSTIFIABLE.
IV. SHOW THAT ALL WHICH IS HERE RECORDED AS TAKING PLACE AMOUNTS TO A VERY VIVID DEED-PAINTING OF VERY, VERY MUCH WITH WHICH WE ALL ARE BUT TOO FAMILIAR IN HUMAN LIFE. BY THOSE WHO CANNOT FORESEE, FOREKNOW, THE RIGHT AND THE GOOD ARE TO BE DONE, MUST AND SHALL BE DONE; AND THE RESPONSIBILITY OF CONSEQUENCES RESTS ELSEWHERE, WHEREVER THAT ELSEWHERE MAY BE.
V. POINT OUT THE SLIGHT CLUE THAT THIS PASSAGE AFFORDS TO THE PROBABILITY OF A COMING VINDICATION OF THE BITTEREST VICARIOUS SUFFERING, THAT SHOULD SATISFY ALL, AND BE ACQUIESCED IN NOT LEAST BY THE SUFFERERS THEMSELVES. - B.
I. THAT MORAL EVIL IS PERMITTED THOUGH NOT ORDAINED OF GOD.
1. It cannot be ordained of God.
(1) That would be to approve what his goodness must abhor. Given his infinity, he must be infinitely good. Infinitely evil he cannot be, for ample proofs of his goodness surround us. Partially good he cannot be, for then where would be his infinity?
(2) His abhorrence of the atrocity of Herod is graphically set forth in the prophetic description of Rachel's wailing (Jeremiah 31:15-17). Ramah was one of the "borders" of Bethlehem - perhaps marked the limit or radius of the tragedy. It belonged to Benjamin (Joshua 18:25). Rachel, the mother of Benjamin, and ancestress of many of these bereaved mothers, was buried in the hill overlooking the area of the slaughter (Genesis 35:19, 20; Genesis 48:7), yet within the "border of Benjamin" (1 Samuel 10:2). She is here finely represented as moved with horror in her very tomb, and rising thence, coming forth and wailing in the wailing of her daughters. Her "voice," in theirs, is also "heard," viz. by the God of judgment (cf. James 5:4). Note: The connection of the spiritual world with this is intimate. If there be joy in the presence of the angels of God over a sinner repenting, may there not be grief amongst departed spirits over the evil deeds of men (cf. Hebrews 12:1)?
2. Moral evil is the work of evil moral agents.
(1) Moral agency the actors must possess to constitute their actions evil in the moral sense. Physical evil is quite another thing, essentially different.
(2) Such a moral agent was Herod. "Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the Wise Men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth and slew," etc. Note:
(a) Wicked men are never so gratified as when they can make wisdom subservient to their ends. Absalom, in his unnatural rebellion, sent for Ahithophel (2 Samuel 15:12).
(b) They are "exceeding wroth" when the wise elude their grasp or disappoint them of their prey.
(3) Such agents were the murderers Herod employed. He was moved by blood thirst and jealousy; they were moved by love of gain and fear of the tyrant's resentment.
(4) Such an agent is Satan. He is "the evil one," viz. whose spirit is wholly evil. He was here especially active in his uncivil "enmity" against the "Seed of the woman" (Genesis 3:15).
3. God is not necessarily chargeable with what he permits.
(1) That God permits the existence of moral evil is indisputable. The fact of its existence proves this. Omnipotence could instantly annihilate every evil being. For the permitting of evil God is therefore responsible, viz. to himself.
(2) But whether the permitting be good or evil must be determined by the reasons for it. If the reasons be good, then the permitting, even of moral evil, must be good.
(3) Of the quality of these reasons God is himself the best judge. Some of his reasons he has disclosed. Thus without such permission there could be no scope for moral freedom. Other reasons he reserves to be revealed in due time.
(4) Since God is responsible only to himself, and since his ways to us are past finding out, it is alike foolish and impious in us to attempt to judge him or cherish hard thoughts of him.
II. THAT THE PHYSICAL EVIL IS BOTH PERMITTED AND ORDAINED OF GOD.
1. It is permitted to afflict the morally innocent.
(1) The babes murdered by Herod suffered without any provocation on their part given. God never ordained or commanded that they should thus suffer. But he permitted it; for he could have hindered it. He that interposed to save Christ might also have saved the lives of the infants that perished for his sake. He might have cut short Herod's life by two years, for he died within two years of this massacre. God is not wanting in resources.
(2) "Then was fulfilled." This is the note of permission. In cases where God actively interfered, or gave effect to an ordination, the phrase is, "That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord," etc. (Matthew 1:22; Matthew 2:23).
2. It is ordained for the punishment of sin.
(1) God has constituted the physical and moral in the universe to act and react each on the other. Thus the body and soul stand mutually related for action and reaction. And through the body the soul acts upon the outer world and suffers its reactions.
(2) The reactions of moral goodness are physically beneficial, while those of moral evil are correspondingly injurious. So by natural sequence sin is physically punished.
3. It is ordained as a warning against sin. To this end physical evil is made emblematical of the moral.
(1) Injuries and privations of the body represent corresponding injuries and privations of the soul - mutilations, lameness, blindness, deafness, etc.
(2) Diseases of the body represent corresponding diseases of the soul - leprosy, palsy, fever, etc.
(3) Diseases of the mind represent maladies of the heart - demoniacal possession, insanity, idiocy.
III. THAT GOOD IS ORDAINED AND EVIL MADE SUBSERVIENT TO IT.
1. Good was ordained in the creation of moral beings.
(1) Angels had a "first estate," which was good; for it is contrasted with the evil estate into which some of them fell.
(2) So man was made "upright." God himself pronounced this work of his creation "very good."
(3) These as moral beings had freedom. This also was good. For without this moral freedom what would they have been? Machines, vegetables, animals, imbeciles.
(4) This freedom did not necessitate the moral evil which it rendered possible. Angels might all have kept their first estate, as some did. Our first parents might have resisted their tempter.
(5) The sinner, therefore, is responsible for his sin.
2. Good was ordained in the redemption of simmers.
(1) To this good end Jesus was born, was preserved from the fury of Herod, offered himself as a sin Sacrifice. Sinners are justified through faith in his blood. So evil is made subservient to good.
(2) To this end the Holy Spirit is given, by whose gracious working believers are sealed and sanctified. So further good comes out of evil.
(3) To this end also Jesus is enthroned in heaven. Having triumphed over all forces of evil, powers of darkness, in his cross, and over death in his grave, he is able to destroy Satan in us and deliver us from the last enemy, that we may rise and reign with him in glory.
3. The subserviency of evil to good will appear in the issues of the judgment.
(1) Innocent sufferers will then be compensated. We have heard the wailing of Rachel; let us now listen to the words of her consolation: "Thus saith the Lord; Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy [the ]and of death]. And there is hope in thine end [the Ahareth, or last period of the nation], that thy children shall come again to their own border" (Jeremiah 31:16, 17). In the resurrection they shall receive the martyr's compensation, the inheritance and the crown.
(2) Incorrigible sinners will come forth to their doom. Herod and his myrmidons will be confronted by the innocents. In their punishment God will vindicate his justice, and it will be a moral to the universe. Note: There is no hope for the sinner out of Christ. - J.A.M.
vicariousness which runs through all life-associations. Everywhere men are bearing burdens for others, and it is only when the calamity is very terrible, or imperils life, that we feel or express any great surprise.
I. THE VICARIOUS SORROW OF THE ACTUAL MOTHERS. As the inhabitants of Bethlehem could not have been more than two thousand, there were not more than twenty babes slain; but that was sorrow in twenty homes and woe in twenty hearts. Vicarious parent-sorrow is effectively revealed in David's wail over the slain Absalom, "Would God I had died for thee!" This opens up a full consideration of the way in which mothers vicariously bear every pain, disability, or trouble of their children. And mothers are but the highest types of the relations which knit man to man all the world over, so that no one man can ever suffer, but all others within reach vicariously suffer with him. From this, rise to conceive of the vicarious sorrow of the heavenly Father.
II. THE VICARIOUS SYMPATHY OF THE RACE-MOTHER. Such Rachel is conceived to be. Poetically - but poetry is the deepest truth - Rachel is conceived as disturbed in her tomb near Bethlehem, by her sympathy with the stricken mothers and her sorrow for the slaughtered children. The race-mother is finely conceived as actually blending sympathetic tears with the bereaved mothers of Bethlehem, who are vicariously bereaved for Messiah's sake. - R.T.
I. THAT CANNOT BE A CHANCE WHICH IS CIRCUMSTANTIALLY ACCURATELY FORETOLD.
1. Vague utterances are outside this argument. Such are those which may be interpreted either way. Such were those of the heathen oracles. Such are not those of Scripture prophecy.
2. Guesses also are out of the question.
(1) These may occasionally come true, viz. when they concern things of usual occurrence.
(2) That they should constantly come true is incredible. The ratio of probabilities is mathematically determinable.
(3) That guesses should constantly come true when hazarded in relation to things extraordinary and supernatural is next thing to impossible. But the subjects of Scripture prophecy are these very things.
II. THE PROPHECIES OF SCRIPTURE, WHILE THEY CONCERN THINGS UNIQUE, ARE MINUTELY CIRCUMSTANTIAL.
1. Those concerning Messiah answer this description.
(1) Never before his appearance was there any person to compare with him. Never since. He was unique in all points.
(2) Yet was he very fully described in prophecy. As the stream of time flowed on since the first utterance (Genesis 3:15), feature became added to feature by successive seers, until the collective testimony presents a proto-biography wonderfully complete.
2. Witness the sample respecting his infancy here given.
(2) The occurrence of this stupendous event in the town of Bethlehem of Judah (cf. vers. 5, 6 with Micah 5:2).
(3) The appearance of a star by which the Magi were guided in accordance with Balaam's parable (see Numbers 24:15-19).
(4) The slaughter of the innocents (cf. vers. 16-18 with Jeremiah 31:15-17).
(5) The deliverance of Jesus from that slaughter, which prophecy required, as he had to fulfil many predictions there written (see Luke 24:44-48).
(7) The residence in Nazareth of Galilee, in connection with which he came to be called a Nazarene. Wonderful, is the credulity of that unbelief which can see nothing in such a tissue of evidence.
3. But where in prophecy is he described as a Nazarene?
(1) We may find this in the law of the Nazarite taken as a prophecy.
(2) Therefore also in those Nazarites, such as Samson, who must be viewed as typical persons (see Judges 13:5-7; Judges 16:17). Note: Jesus was in spirit, not in the letter, a Nazarite (see Matthew 11:18, 19).
(3) We may also find it in those prophecies which set forth the humiliation and odium to which Messiah was to be subjected. For the name "Nazarene" became a term of reproach (cf. John 1:14; see also Psalm 22:6; Psalm 69:6-10; Isaiah 53:3, 12).
(4) If "Nazarene" be derived from נזר, this word signifies not only "to separate," but also "to crown. When Pilate in scorn set over Jesus the inscription, Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews," Jesus was then in derision also crowned, viz. with thorns. God makes the very derision of his enemies to praise him.
III. THINGS NOT FORETOLD ARE YET FOREKNOWN.
1. The knowledge of things foretold implies a foreknowledge also of things to be historically interwoven with them.
(1) Thus a foreknowledge of the slaughter of the innocents implies a foreknowledge also of Herod, his character, and resources.
(2) The time of Herod's death also must have been foreknown, since the return of Jesus from Egypt, a thing foretold, was historically made contingent upon it.
(3) The succession of Archelaus to the throne of Herod must likewise have been foreknown, for the retirement of Jesus into Nazareth of Galilee, a thing foretold, was historically made contingent upon this. Archelaus, as Ethnarch (by courtesy called King) of Judaea, would be likely to inherit his father's jealousy and caution, as he was well known to have inherited his cruelty and tyranny (see Josephus, 'Ant.,' 17. c. 10).
2. Thus the foreknowledge of things interwoven with things foretold implies a corresponding foreknowledge of things interwoven with these.
(1) This follows by the same rule. So in turn of things interwoven with these. Thus a perfect knowledge of anything must involve a perfect knowledge of everything.
(2) Such, therefore, is the intelligence of Divine providence as witnessed in the evidence of prophecy. Such intelligence may be implicitly trusted for guidance. Such guidance should be earnestly sought.
IV. THERE IS A PROVIDENCE OF HISTORY AS WELL AS OF PROPHECY.
1. God is not simply an Omniscient Spectator.
(1) He was more than a Spectator when he inspired his prophets.
(2) He is also a Worker in history.
2. Instances of his direct interference with the factors of history are here recorded. He interfered:
(1) To prevent the Magi from returning to Herod.
(2) To prompt Joseph to fly into Egypt.
(3) To direct the return of the holy family from Egypt.
(4) To instruct their retirement into Galilee.
(5) To provide, viz. in the gifts of the Magi, for their subsistence.
3. This intervention was necessary to the fulfilment of prophecy.
(2) If prophecy reveals the providence of knowledge, history no less truly reveals the providence of power.
V. THE PROVIDENCE OF HISTORY, LIKE THAT OF PROPHECY, IS ALL-COMPRISING.
1. Since God works in events necessary to the fulfilment of prophecy, he must work in all events.
(1) For what events are there that are not tending to the fulfilment of prophecy? The subjects of prophecy are race-wide in their range, and extend along the whole course of time.
(2) The central line of events, more prominently delineated in prophecy, are historically interwoven with other events, these with others, and so forth. So if the interference of a providential Worker is required in respect to the central line, his working will be required from the centre outwards to the very bounds of action. Hence:
2. There is a supernatural energy in the commonest events. The case may be stated thus:
(1) The universe is dual, consisting of matter and spirit.
(2) These complements act and react upon each other.
(3) The whole is under one supreme control, infinitely intelligent, possessing illimitable resources of wisdom and efficiency. As Omniscience surveys all things, Omnipotence works in all things.
(4) In some things it pleases God to show his knowledge, as in prophecy; in some, his power, as in converting prophecy into history. Where he does this we call the event supernatural and miraculous.
(5) But in truth there is as much of the supernatural, i.e. as much of the presence and working of God, where he does not show it in deviations from the usual, as where he does so deviate. Therefore we may:
(1) Rejoice evermore.
(2) Pray without ceasing.
(3) In everything give thanks. - J.A.M.
where in the land of Israel, he was not told. It might seem as if he was expected to return to Bethlehem, and this appears to have been taken into consideration. He had faith in that Divine direction he had received. He proceeded to obey. He started out on his journey. But he received news, as he approached the land of Judah, that Archelaus was Governor of Judaea in place of the dead Herod; and the character of Archelaus was well known. He would scheme to kill any one whom he heard of as claiming to be a native-born prince. So Joseph feared, and let his fears decide his faith, or rather the obedience to which his faith inspired him.
I. OUR FEARS MAY INTERFERE WITH OUR FAITH. Then we may refuse to do, or neglect to do, what we believe to be our duty, and our fears may create practical unbelief. Where a man's way is clearly and precisely defined by God for him, his fears should have no influence on him. After-considerations must never be permitted to interfere with the declaration of the Divine will. If Joseph had been precisely told to return to Bethlehem, he would just have had to go there, even though the reports about Archelaus had frightened him out of his senses. This truth is illustrated in the story of the prophet from Judah given in 1 Kings 13.
II. OUR FEARS MAY GUIDE THE OBEDIENCE OF OUR FAITH. This we have in the text. Joseph's fears about Archelaus are the things used by the Divine providence for guiding him to the particularpart of the "land of Israel" where he was to settle. So we learn the Divine control and use of all the forces and faculties, as well as of all the circumstances, of a man's life. Divine direction does not undertake for a man; it leaves him still to take counsel with his own judgment and his own fears. God's gracious working of his providences, through man's mental movements and character-movements and subjective influences, has never yet been systematically thought out. - R.T.
e.g. Isaiah 53.
I. CHRIST SHOWED HIS CONDESCENSION IN APPEARING AMONG HUMBLE AND EVEN CONTEMPTIBLE SCENES. Nazareth was an obscure provincial town. Nathanael seems to have considered it to be a place with a bad reputation (John 1:46). Yet here our Lord spent the greater part of his life - more than nine-tenths of it. Here he was brought up as a Boy, no doubt attending the elementary synagogue school, and later working at Joseph's bench. Over the neighbouring hills he had roamed, and there he had learnt to love the flowers which abound in this highland retreat; there, too, he had been able to love his brother-men as he saw them in their daily work and in the homely society of the little town. He was not kept, like Sakya Muni, from all sights of misery until his adult age forced them on his notice. Sorrow, suffering, sin, and death must often have come before his eyes. He never shrank into selfish isolation, but took his place with his suffering brethren, quite naturally, with lowliness and perfect simplicity, not a spark of pretentiousness ever leading them to expect that he would subsequently put forth the highest claims.
II. CHRIST WAS NOT THE CREATURE OF HIS CIRCUMSTANCES. His genealogy showed that he was not a mere product of his ancestry; now his local surroundings make it apparent that he was not formed by the world about him. Had he been brought up at Jerusalem, or Athens, or Alexandria, or Rome, some might have tried to explain him as an expression of some great movement in the city of his early days. But no one can say that Nazareth could produce Christianity.
III. CHRIST WAS SEEN IN EXTERNAL LOWLINESS BEFORE HIS DIVINE GREATNESS COULD BE PERCEIVED. He was known as the Nazarene before he was recognized as the Son of God. Many heard his local name who never saw his true greatness. This local name was even a hindrance to some; they could not believe in the Nazarene. Thus it was no great advantage to have known Christ after the flesh. His own people were slow to believe in him. Nazareth treated him badly, tried even to murder him by throwing him from a precipice of the rock-built town. It is possible now to blind ourselves to the true greatness and grace of Christ by looking too exclusively at his external life. We need to know Christ spiritually to enjoy the real blessedness of fellowship with him.
IV. CHRIST REDEEMED THE LOWEST THINGS THAT HE TOUCHED. He has made the title "Nazarene" one of honour, as he has converted the shameful cross into a token regarded with adoring gratitude. Now we take pilgrimages to the once obscure Nazareth as to one of the most sacred spots on earth. If Christ enters a lonely life he uplifts it and sheds over it a new and unexpected beauty. To him nothing is common or unclean. As the Friend of publicans and sinners, he does not only condescend to associate with degraded and neglected people; he lifts these people up to a new life. - W.F.A.
trace causes and developments is a modern mental practice. We sometimes wonder that no records remain of the Child-life of Jesus, but it is to be remembered that no records of the child-life of any ancient hero have been preserved. It is especially a modern notion that the place where a child is brought up may have an important influence on the moulding of his character; all the more if he be a sensitive, poetical, child. This idea gained embodiment in Hugh Miller's 'Schools and Schoolmasters.' And in all recent biographies this element of training is taken into full account. All our Lord's Childhood and Boyhood were spent at Nazareth; and we may trace the influence of such things as the following, using our own associations, but carefully qualifying them by due regard for the Eastern and the Palestinian associations.
I. THE INFLUENCE OF SMALL-TOWN LIFE. Familiarity with everybody. Local prejudices. Impressions unvaried, and persistently renewed.
II. THE INFLUENCE OF ISOLATED-TOWN LIFE. Peculiarity of Nazareth was that it was out of the way; apart from the great currents of life; secluded. This may tend to nourish a meditative mood, when there is active-mindedness. Life is slow. Time is plentiful. Men can dream, think, pray.
III. THE INFLUENCE OF JEWISH-TOWN LIFE. At this time patriotism took one special feature. It spent itself in anticipations of the near coming of the delivering and conquering Messiah. This filled men's thoughts and talk. It would be supremely fascinating to a thoughtful, sensitive boy. Think with what things the heart of the Child Jesus must have been filled.
IV. THE INFLUENCE OF A WELL-SITUATED TOWN. One among the hills; with extensive outlook; beautiful surrounding landscapes; and in full view of scenes rich with Bible associations (see descriptions of Nazareth). For such as Jesus a great voice speaks "out of Nature's heart." - R.T.