|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
2:1-8 Those who live at the greatest distance from the means of grace often use most diligence, and learn to know the most of Christ and his salvation. But no curious arts, or mere human learning, can direct men unto him. We must learn of Christ by attending to the word of God, as a light that shineth in a dark place, and by seeking the teaching of the Holy Spirit. And those in whose hearts the day-star is risen, to give them any thing of the knowledge of Christ, make it their business to worship him. Though Herod was very old, and never had shown affection for his family, and was not himself likely to live till a new-born infant had grown up to manhood, he began to be troubled with the dread of a rival. He understood not the spiritual nature of the Messiah's kingdom. Let us beware of a dead faith. A man may be persuaded of many truths, and yet may hate them, because they interfere with his ambition, or sinful indulgences. Such a belief will make him uneasy, and the more resolved to oppose the truth and the cause of God; and he may be foolish enough to hope for success therein.
Verses 1-12. - Born at Bethlehem, according to prophecy, he receives there the homage of representatives of the, heathen world. Verse 1. - Now when Jesus; who has just been identified with Christ. But in this chapter the narrative employs only those terms ("Jesus," "young Child") which bystanders might have used. They are purely annalistic, not interpretative. Contrast Matthew 1:18 and Herod's statement of a thee-logical problem (ver. 4). Was born in Bethlehem. The First Gospel, if taken alone would give the impression that Joseph had had no previous connexion with Nazareth. But about the place where Joseph and Mary lived before the birth of Jesus the evangelist did not concern himself (cf ver. 23, note). Of Judaea. For the evangelist's purpose it was most important so to define it as to exclude Bethlehem of Zebulun (Joshua 19:15). The inhabitants of Bethlehem of Judaea, a market town of a fruitful (Ephratah) district, live chiefly by agriculture, but also for several centuries have manufactured images of saints, rosaries, and fancy articles. Since 1834: it has been almost exclusively occupied by Christians (Socin's Baedeker,' p. 243, seq.). From "the House of Bread" came forth" the true Bread." In the days of Herod the king. Herod the Great and Herod Agrippa II. (Acts 25:13) alone held the legal title of "king" for any time (but cf. Matthew 14:1, note) - the former as King of the Jews (Josephus, 'Bell. Jud.,' 1:14.4), or King "of the Idumaeans and Samaritans" (Appian, 'Civ., 5:75; vide Schurer, 1:1. 340), by a decree of an express meeting of the Roman senate, B.C. 40; the latter by Claudius's appointment, as king first of Chalcis (A.D. 48-53) and afterwards (A.D. 53-100) of the tetrarchies of Philip and Lysanias (Josephus, 'Bell. Jud.,' 2:12. 8; 13. 2), although Herod Antipas was so spoken of by courtesy ( infra, Matthew 14:9). As the date of Agrippa II. is quite out of the question, we are almost compelled by this phrase alone to recognize the date of Christ's birth as falling in the lifetime of Herod the Great. Herod the Great died in the spring of A.U.C. 750, our B.C. 4 (Schiirer, 1:1. 466), and as our Lord was born at least forty days earlier, for the purification in the temple must have taken place before Herod's massacre of the innocents, he cannot have been born later than the very beginning of B.C. 4, or the end of B.C. 5. Indeed, upon the most natural deduction from ver. 16, he must have been born some months earlier. The Church, from the days of Justin Martyr ('Ap.,' 1:32), has loved to see in the abolition by Rome of the kingdom of the Jews at the death of Herod, of its native dynasty by Herod's usurnation (Origen, 'Genesis Hom.,' 17:6), the fulfilment of Jacob's prophecy (Genesis 49:10). Behold, there came Wise Men from the East. The true order, as given in the Revised Version, lays the emphasis on the office, and in a subordinate degree on the home of the strangers - Wise Men from the East came. This translation also hints at the full meaning of the verb ( παρεγένοντο) , of which the connotation is not of the place a quo, but of the publicity of their appearance at the place in quo (cf. Matthew 3:1). Wise Men (Μάγοι); "astromyens" (Wickliffe); "rages" (Rheims). On this word see especially Schrader ('Cuneiform Inscriptions and the Old Testament') on Jeremiah 39:3. He considers it to be in origin not Iranian (Medo-Persian), but Babylonian, and to have primarily meant either "one who is deep whether in power and reputation or in insight," or one who has fulness of power. It was, perhaps, at first used with special reference to astrologers and interpreters of dreams, and, passing from Babylonia to Media, it became the name of the Median priestly order. In the latter sense it is probably used here. In Acts 13:6-8 it, apparently by reversion, is used in its wider meaning. Of the number and rank of those who now came absolutely nothing is known. Of greater importance is Cicero's statement ('De Div.,' 1:41), "Nee quisquam rex Persarum potest esse, qui non ante magorum disciplinam scientiamque perceperit." These Magi spontaneously submit to the Babe. From the East. The proper home of the Magi would thus be Media, and, from the length of time employed on their journey (ver. 16), it is probable that by "the East" we must here understand Media or some other part of the kingdom, of Parthia, into which Media had been mostly absorbed, and in which, in fact, the Magi were now greatly honoured. Many, however (e.g. Lightfoot, 'Her. Hebr.'; and Edersheim, 'Life,' etc., 1:203, who points out that a Jewish kingdom of Yemen then existed), think that these Magi came from Arabia; and with this the tradition, evidently received by Justin Martyr and frequently referred to by him ( οἱ ἀπὸ Ἀρραβίας Μάγοι, 'Trypho,' §§ 77, 78, 88, 102; cf. Reseh, 'Agrapha,' p. 471), perhaps agrees. But Justin's own opinion was that they came from Damascus, which "was and is a part of the land of Arabia" (§ 78). It is noticeable that Justin's tradition is confirmed by the Jerusalem Talmud ('Ber.,' 2:4), which makes an "Arabian" tell a Jew that Messiah is born. The whole passage is worth quoting for its illustration of several details in this chapter. "After this the children of Israel shall be converted, and shall inquire after the Lord their God, and David their king (Hosea 3:5). Our rabbins say, 'That is King Messias, if he be among the living, his name is David, or if dead, David is his name.' Rabbi Tanchum said, 'Thus I prove it: He sheweth mercy to David his Messiah' (Psalm 18:50). Rabbi Josua ben Levi saith, 'His name is צמח, a Branch (Zechariah 3:8).' Rabbi Judah bar Aibu saith, ' His name is Menahem (that is, Para>klhtov, the Comforter).' And that which happened to a certain Jew, as he was ploughing, agreeth with this business. A certain Arabian travelling, and hearing the ox bellow, said to the Jew at plough, 'O Jew, loose thy oxen, and loose thy ploughs, for, behold, the temple is laid waste!' The ox bellowed the second time; the Arabian saith to him, 'O Jew, Jew, yoke thy oxen, and fit thy ploughs: for, behold, King Messiah is born!' But saith the Jew, 'What is his name?' 'Menahem,' saith he. 'And what is the name of his father?' 'Hezekiah,' saith the Arabian. To whom the Jew, 'But whence is he?' The other answered, ' From the palace of the King of Bethlehem-Judah.' Away he went, and sold his oxen, and his ploughs, and became a seller of infants' swaddling-clothes, going about from town to town. When he came to that city (Bethlehem) all the women bought of him, but the mother of Menahem bought nothing. He heard the voice of the women saying, 'O thou mother of Menahem, thou mother of Menahem, carry thy son the things that are here sold.' But she replied, 'May the enemies of Israel be strandded, because on the day that he was born the temple was laid waste.' To whom he said, 'But we hoped, that as it was laid waste at his feet, so at his feet it would be built again.' She saith, 'I have no money.' To whom he replied, 'But why should this be prejudicial to him? Carry him what you buy here, and if you have no money to-day, after some days I will come back and receive it.' After some days he returns to that city, and saith to her, 'How does the little infant?' And she said, 'From the time you saw me last, spirits [winds] and tempests came, and snatched him away out of my hands.' Rabbi Bon saith, 'What need have we to learn from an Arabian? Is it not plainly written, "And Lebanon shall fall before the Powerful One?" (Esa. 10:34). And what follows after? "A Branch shall come out of the root of Jesse" (Esa. 11:1)'" ('Hor. Hebr.,' in loc.) . To Jerusalem. The capital, where this King would reign, and where information about his birth would most naturally be obtained.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Now when Jesus was born,.... Several things are here related respecting the birth of Christ, as the place where he was born,
in Bethlehem of Judea; so called to distinguish it from another Bethlehem in the tribe of Zabulon, Joshua 19:15. Here Christ was to be born according to a prophecy hereafter mentioned, and accordingly the Jews expected he would be born here, Matthew 2:4 and so Jesus was born here, Luke 2:4 and this the Jews themselves acknowledge;
"Such a year, says a noted (l) chronologer of theirs, Jesus of Nazareth was born in Bethlehem Juda, which is a "parsa" and a half, i.e. six miles, from Jerusalem.''
Benjamin (m) Tudelensis says it is two parsas, i.e. eight miles, from it; and according to Justin Martyr (n) it was thirty five furlongs distant from it. Yea even they own this, that Jesus was born there, in that vile and blasphemous book (o) of theirs, written on purpose to defame him; nay, even the ancient Jews have owned that the Messiah is already born, and that he was born at Bethlehem; as appears from their Talmud (p), where we meet with such a passage.
"It happened to a certain Jew, that as he was ploughing, one of his oxen bellowed; a certain Arabian passed by and heard it, who said, O Jew, Jew, loose thy oxen, and loose thy ploughshare, for lo, the house of the sanctuary is destroyed: it bellowed a second time; he said unto him, O Jew, Jew, bind thy oxen, and bind thy ploughshare, for lo "the king Messiah is born". He said to him, what is his name? Menachem (the comforter); he asked again, what is his father's name? Hezekiah; once more he says, from whence is he? He replies "from the palace of the king of Bethlehem Judah"; he went and sold his oxen and his ploughshares, and became a seller of swaddling clothes for infants; and he went from city to city till he came to that city, (Bethlehem,) and all the women bought of him, but the mother of Menachem bought nothing.''
Afterwards they tell you, he was snatched away by winds and tempests. This story is told in much the same manner in another (q) of their writings. Bethlehem signifies "the house of bread", and in it was born, as an ancient writer (r) observes, the bread which comes down from heaven: and it may also signify "the house of flesh", and to it the allusion may be in 1 Timothy 3:16 "God manifest in the flesh". The time of Christ's birth is here expressed,
in the days of Herod the king. This was Herod the great, the first of that name: the Jewish chronologer (s) gives an account of him in the following manner.
"Herod the first, called Herod the Ascalonite, was the son of Antipater, a friend of king Hyrcanus and his deputy; him the senate of Rome made king in the room of Hyrcanus his master. This Herod whilst he was a servant of king Hyrcanus (so in the (t) Talmud Herod is said to be a servant of the family of the Asmonaeans) king Hyrcanus saved from death, to which he was sentenced by the sanhedrim of Shammai; that they might not slay him for the murder of one Hezekiah, as is related by Josephus, l. 6. c. 44. and Herod took to him for wife Miriam, the daughter of Alexander the son of Aristobulus, who was the daughter's daughter of king Hyrcanus.''
This writer tacitly owns afterwards (u) that Jesus was born in the days of this king; for he says, that in the days of Hillell and Shammai (who lived in those times) there was one of their disciples, who was called R. Joshua ben Perachiah, and he was, adds he, "the master of the Nazarene", or of Jesus of Nazareth. Herod reigned, as this same author observes, thirty seven years; and according to Dr. Lightfoot's calculation, Christ was born in the thirty fifth year of his reign, and in the thirty first of Augustus Caesar, and in the year of the world three thousand nine hundred and twenty eight, and the month Tisri, which answers to part of our September, about the feast of tabernacles; which indeed was typical of Christ's incarnation, and then it may reasonably be thought that "the word was made flesh", and "tabernacled among us", John 1:14. Another circumstance relating to the birth of Christ is, that
when Jesus was born--behold, there came wise men from the East to Jerusalem; these wise men in the Greek text are called "Magi", a word which is always used in a bad sense in the sacred writings; hence they are thought by some to be magicians, sorcerers, wizards, such as Simon Magus, Acts 8:9 and Elymas, Acts 13:8 and so the Jewish writers (w) interpret the word a wizard, an enchanter, a blasphemer of God, and one that entices others to idolatry; and in the Hebrew Gospel of Munster these men are called "wizards". Some have thought this to be their national name. Epiphanius (x) supposes that these men were of the posterity of Abraham by Keturah, who inhabited a country in some part of Arabia, called Magodia: but could this be thought to be the name of their country, one might rather be induced to suppose that they were of the "Magi", a nation of the Medes mentioned by Herodotus (y); since both the name and country better agree with these persons; but the word seems to be rather a name of character and office, and to design the wise men, and priests of the Persians. An Eastern (z) writer says the word is of Persic original, and is compounded of two words, "Mije Gush", which signifies "a man with short ears"; for such was the first founder of the sect, and from whom they were so called. But in the Arabic Persic Nomenclator (a) it is rendered "a worshipper of fire", and such the Persian priests were; and to this agrees what Apuleius (b) says, that "Magus", in the Persian language, is the same as "priest" with us: and Xenophon (c) says, that the Magi were first appointed by Cyrus, to sing hymns to the gods, as soon as it was day, and to sacrifice to them. The account given of them by Porphyry (d) is, that
"among the Persians they that were wise concerning God, and worshipped him, were called "Magi", for so "Magus" signifies in their country dialect; and so august and venerable were this sort of men accounted with the Persians, that Darius, the son of Hystaspis, ordered this, among other things, to be inscribed on his monument, that he was the master of the Magi.''
From whence we may learn in some measure who these men were, and why the word is by our translators rendered "wise men"; since the Magi, as Cicero (e) says, were reckoned a sort of wise men, and doctors among the Persians: who further observes, that no man could be a king of the Persians before he understood the discipline and knowledge of the Magi: and the wisdom of the Persian Magi, as Aelianus (f) writes, among other things, lay in foretelling things to come. These came
from the east, not from Chaldea, as some have thought, led hereunto by the multitude of astrologers, magicians, and soothsayers, which were among that people; see Daniel 2:2 for Chaldea was not east, but north of Judea, as appears from Jeremiah 1:14 Jeremiah 6:22. Others have thought they came from Arabia, and particularly Sheba, induced hereunto by Psalm 72:10. But though some part of Arabia lay east, yet Sheba was south of the land of Israel, as is evident from the queen of that place being called the "queen of the south", Matthew 12:42. The more generally received opinion seems to be most right, that they came from Persia, which as it lies east of Judea, so was famous for this sort of men, and besides the name, as has been seen, is of Persic original. The place whither they came was Jerusalem, the "metropolis" of Judea, where they might suppose the king of the Jews was born, or where, at least, they might persuade themselves they should hear of him; since here Herod the king lived, to whom it seems they applied themselves in the first place. The time of their coming was, "when Jesus was born"; not as soon as he was born, or on the "thirteenth" day after his birth, the sixth of January, as it stands in our Calendar; or within the forty days before Mary's Purification; since this space of time does not seem to be sufficient for so long a journey, and which must require a considerable preparation for it; nor is it probable if they came so soon as this, that after such a stir at Jerusalem, after Herod's diligent search and inquiry concerning this matter, and his wrath and anger at being disappointed and deluded by the wise men, that Joseph and Mary should so soon bring the child into the temple, where, it was declared to be the Messiah by Simeon and Anna. Besides, immediately after the departure of the wise men, Joseph with his wife and child were ordered into Egypt, which could not be done before Mary's Purification. But rather this their coming was near upon two years after the birth of Christ; since it is afterwards observed, that "Herod sent and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men", Matthew 2:16. This was the opinion of Epiphanius (g) formerly, and is embraced by Dr. Lightfoot (h), to whom I refer the reader for further proof of this matter.
(l) R. David Ganz. Zemach David, pars 2. fol. 14. 2.((m) Itinerarium, p. 48. (n) Apolog. 2. p. 75. (o) Toldos, p. 7. (p) Hieros. Beracot. fol. 5. 1.((q) Echa Rabbati, fol. 50. 1.((r) Hieron. Epitaph. Paulae. fol. 59. E. Tom. 1.((s) R. David Ganz. Zemach David, pars 1. fol. 24. 1.((t) T. Bab. Bava Bathra, fol. 3. 2. Juchasin. fol. 17. 1. & 18. 1. & Seder Olam Zuta, p. 111. (u) Ib. Colossians 2. (w) T. Bab. Sabbat. fol. 75. 1. Gloss. in ib. & Sota, fol. 22. 1. & Sanhedrim, fol. 39. 1.((x) Contr. Haeres. l. 3. Haeres. 30. (y) Clio sive l. 1. c. 101. (z) Alfiranzabadius in Pocock. Specim. Hist. Arab. p. 146. (a) In Ibid. (b) Apolog. p. 204. (c) Cyropaedia, l. 8. sect. 6. (d) De Abstinentia, l. 4. sect. 16. (e) De Divinatione, l. i.((f) Hist. Var. l. 2. c. 17. (g) Contr. Haeres. l. 1. Haeres. 30. and l. 2. Haeres. 51. (h) Harmony, Vol. I. p. 205, 432, &c.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Mt 2:1-12. Visit of the Magi to Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
The Wise Men Reach Jerusalem—The Sanhedrim, on Herod's Demand, Pronounce Bethlehem to Be Messiah's Predicted Birthplace (Mt 2:1-6).
1. Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea—so called to distinguish it from another Bethlehem in the tribe of Zebulun, near the Sea of Galilee (Jos 19:15); called also Beth-lehem-judah, as being in that tribe (Jud 17:7); and Ephrath (Ge 35:16); and combining both, Beth-lehem Ephratah (Mic 5:2). It lay about six miles southwest of Jerusalem. But how came Joseph and Mary to remove thither from Nazareth, the place of their residence? Not of their own accord, and certainly not with the view of fulfilling the prophecy regarding Messiah's birthplace; nay, they stayed at Nazareth till it was almost too late for Mary to travel with safety; nor would they have stirred from it at all, had not an order which left them no choice forced them to the appointed place. A high hand was in all these movements. (See on Lu 2:1-6).
in the days of Herod the king—styled the Great; son of Antipater, an Edomite, made king by the Romans. Thus was "the sceptre departing from Judah" (Ge 49:10), a sign that Messiah was now at hand. As Herod is known to have died in the year of Rome 750, in the fourth year before the commencement of our Christian era, the birth of Christ must be dated four years before the date usually assigned to it, even if He was born within the year of Herod's death, as it is next to certain that He was.
there came wise men—literally, "Magi" or "Magians," probably of the learned class who cultivated astrology and kindred sciences. Balaam's prophecy (Nu 24:17), and perhaps Daniel's (Da 9:24, &c.), might have come down to them by tradition; but nothing definite is known of them.
from the east—but whether from Arabia, Persia, or Mesopotamia is uncertain.
to Jerusalem—as the Jewish metropolis.
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