|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.
Verse 2. - Saying. The inquiry was on their lips at the moment of their appearance. Where is? Not "whether there is." The Magi show no signs of doubt. He that is born King of the Jews; i.e. he that is born to be King of the Jews. Whether he is king from the very moment of his birth is not stated. The rendering of the Revised Version margin, "Where is the King of the Jews that is born?" would imply this. With either form the bystanders could hardly help contrasting him with their then ruler, who had acquired the kingship after years of conflict, and who was of foreign extraction. King of the Jews. Notice:
(1) This was, perhaps, Herod's exact title (ver. 1, note).
(2) They do not say king of the world. They accept the facts that the Jews alone expected this king, and that according to the more literal interpretation of the Jewish prophecies the homage of the world would be rendered to him as the Head of the Jewish nation.
(3) The title is not used of our Lord again until the Passion, where it is only used by heathen (Pilate and the soldiers, Matthew 27:11, 29, 37, and parallel passages, Mark, Luke, John, and especially John 19:21). The Magi and the Roman, learning and administration, East and West, acknowledge, at least in form, the King of the Jews.
(4) The Jews themselves preferred the term, "King of Israel" (Matthew 27:42; Mark 15:32, to which passages Luke 23:37, placing the gibe in the soldiers' mouth, forms a significant contrast). The term "Jews" made them only one of the nations of the earth; "Israel" reminded them of their theocratic privileges. For. They state the reason of their certainty. We have seen ( we saw, Revised Version); at home. His star. In the way of their ordinary pursuits they learned of Christ. The observation of nature led them to nature's Bond (Colossians 1:17). What this star really was has been the subject of much consideration without any very satisfactory result. The principal theories are:
(1) It was the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, which took place in May to July and again in September, B.C. 7.
(2) It was the rising of Sirius on the same day in the fifth, fourth, third, and second years B.C.
(3) It was some strange evanescent star such as Kepler saw in 1603-4.
(4) Astronomy can suggest nothing which satisfies all the conditions, and the appearance must have been strictly miraculous. Since Professor Pritchard's article in the 'Dictionary of the Bible,' this last has been generally accepted in England. A further question is - How came they to identify the star as "his"? i.e. What made the Magi connect the coming of the King of the Jews with a star? and what made them consider that this particular appearance was the one they expected? The latter part of the question can hardly be answered, except on the supposition that the star that they saw was in itself so extraordinary as to convince them that no greater star could be looked for. To the former part various answers have been given.
(1) Balaam's prophecy (Numbers 24:17) was understood literally, and the knowledge of it, with its misinterpretation, had spread to the Magi. For this literal interpretation, cf. the 'Pesikta Zutarta' ('Lekah Tob') on Numbers 24:17 (p. 58, Venice edit.), where it says that in the fifth year of the heptad before Messiah "the star" shall shine forth from the east,, and this is the star of the Messiah (cf. also Edersheim, 'Life,' etc., 1:212). Similarly we find the false Messiah of the second century applying the term to himself - "Barcochab."
(2) They had learned, by intercourse with Jews (cf. the influence of the Jewish Sibylline oracles on the fourth eclogue), that these latter expected a great King, and they had applied to his coming, as to all events, the science that they themselves practised. They believed fully in astrology, and the Divine ordering that a star should appear to them was a condescension to the then state of human knowledge. In the East (ἐν τῇ ἀνατολῇ). Ellicott points out ('Hist. Lects.,' p. 73) that to translate this "at its rising" seems to be at needless variance with the use of the same words in ver. 9, where they seem to stand in a kind of local antithesis to "where the young Child was." For the phrase as referring to the Eastern part of the earth, cf. Clem. Romans, § 5. It is more definite than the plural of ver. 1. And are come. "We saw... and came" (εἴδομεν... ἤλθομεν) without delay. To Worship him. Not as God, but as Lord and King (Matthew 4:9, note). The prostration of themselves bodily before him (προσκυνῆσαι; cf. also ver. 11) was not a Greek or Roman, but an Eastern, and it is said especially a Persian, form of homage.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Saying, where is he that is born king of the Jews?.... These words were spoken to the Jews, or rather to Herod the king, or his ministers and courtiers, or to each of them, as the wise men had the opportunity of speaking to them; who make no scruple of his being born, of this they were fully assured; nor did they in the least hesitate about his being king of the Jews, who was born; but only inquire where he was, in what city, town, village, house, or family. The reason of their asking this question is,
for we have seen his star in the east. By the star they saw, some understand an angel, which is not likely. The learned Lightfoot (i) is of opinion that it was the light or glory of the Lord, which shone about the shepherds, when the angel brought them the news of Christ's birth, and which at so great a distance appeared as a star to these wise men; others, that it was a comet, such as has been thought to portend the birth or death of some illustrious person: but it seems to be properly a star, a new and an unusual one, such as had never been seen, nor observed before; and is called his star, the star of the king born, because it appeared on his account, and was the sign of his birth, who is "the root and offspring of David, and the bright and morning star", Revelation 22:16. This they saw "in the east"; not in the eastern part of the heavens, but they saw it when they were in the east, that is, in their own country; and according to the best observations they were able to make, it was in that part of the heavens right over the land of Judea; from whence they concluded that the king of the Jews was born; but the question is how they should hereby know and be assured that such a person was born? To this it maybe replied, that there is a prophecy of Balaam's which is thus expressed, "there shall come a star out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel", Numbers 24:17 which is owned by some Jewish writers (k) to be a prophecy of the Messiah; though the star there mentioned is considered by them as one of the Messiah's titles; hence one who set up himself, and for a while was by some received as the Messiah, was called by them "the son of a star"; but when he was discovered to be an impostor, they called him "the son of a lie": but I rather take it to be a sign of the Messiah's coming, and the meaning is, when a star shall "walk" or steer its course from Jacob, or above, or over the land of Israel, then a sceptre, or sceptre bearer, that is, a king, shall rise out of Israel. Now this prophecy of Balaam, who lived in the east, might be traditionally handed down to this time, and be well known by these men; and who, observing such a star appear over the land of Judea, might conclude that now the sceptre bearer or king was born (l). Besides, Zerdusht or Zoroastres, the author of the sect of the Magi or wise men, and who appears to be a Jew by birth, and to be acquainted with the writings of the Old Testament, and with this prophecy, spoke of the birth of Christ to his followers; and told them when he should be born, a star would appear, and shine in the day, and ordered them to go where that directed, and offer gifts, and worship him. An Eastern writer, who affirms (m) what I have now mentioned, relates (n) the following speech as spoke by the wise men to Herod, when in conversation with him, about this matter:
"A certain person, say they, of great note with us, in a book which he composed, warned us in it, mentioning these things; a child that shall descend from heaven, will be born in Palestine, whom the greatest part of the world shall serve, and the sign of his appearance shall be this; ye shall see a strange star, which shall direct you where he is; when ye shall see this, take gold, myrrh and frankincense, and go and offer them to him, and worship him, and then return, lest a great calamity befall you. Now the star has appeared unto us, and we are come to perform what was commanded us.''
If this be true, we are not at a loss how they come by their knowledge, nor for a reason of their conduct. That the Jews have expected that a star should appear at the time of the Messiah's coming, is certain, from some passages in a book of theirs of great value and esteem among them, in which are the following things: in one place it is said (o).
"The king Messiah shall be revealed in the land of Galilee, and lo a star in the east shall swallow up seven stars in the north, and a flame of red fire shall be in the firmament six days;''
and in another place, (p).
"When the Messiah shall be revealed, there shall rise up in the east a certain Star, flaming with all sorts of colours--and all men shall see it:''
once more it is affirmed as a tradition (q) that
"The holy blessed God hath determined to build Jerusalem, and to make a certain (fixed) star appear sparkling with seven blazing tails shining from it in the midst of the firmament--and then shall the king Messiah be revealed in all the world.''
Now this expectation of the appearing of such a star at the coming of the Messiah takes its rise from and is founded upon the above mentioned prophecy. It is said (r) that Seth the son of Adam gave out a prophecy, that a star should appear at the birth of the Messiah; and that a star did appear at the birth of Christ is certain from the testimony of the Evangelist, and seems to have some confirmation from the writings of the Heathens themselves. Some have thought that the star which Virgil speaks of, and calls (s) "Caesaris Astrum", "Caesar's star", is this very star, which he in complaisance to that monarch ascribes to him. Pliny (t) makes mention
"of a bright comet with a silver beard, which was so refulgent that it could scarce be looked upon, showing in itself the effigies of God in human form.''
If the testimony of Chalcidius, a Platonic philosopher, taken notice of by many learned men, is genuine, and he not a Christian, (u) it is much to the purpose, and is as follows:
"There is also a more venerable and sacred history, which speaks of the rising of a certain unusual star; not foretelling diseases and deaths, but the descent of a venerable God, born for the sake of human conversation, and the affairs of mortals; which star truly, when the wise men of the Chaldeans saw in their journey by night, and being very expert in the consideration of celestial things, are said to inquire after the birth of the new Deity, and having found the infant majesty, to worship him, and pay their vows worthy of such a God.''
The end proposed by them in taking such a journey is expressed,
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
2. Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews?—From this it would seem they were not themselves Jews. (Compare the language of the Roman governor, Joh 18:33, and of the Roman soldiers, Mt 27:29, with the very different language of the Jews themselves, Mt 27:42, &c.). The Roman historians, Suetonius and Tacitus, bear witness to an expectation, prevalent in the East, that out of Judea should arise a sovereign of the world.
for we have seen his star in the east—Much has been written on the subject of this star; but from all that is here said it is perhaps safest to regard it as simply a luminous meteor, which appeared under special laws and for a special purpose.
and are come to worship him—to do Him homage, as the word signifies; the nature of that homage depending on the circumstances of the case. That not civil but religious homage is meant here is plain from the whole strain of the narrative, and particularly Mt 2:11. Doubtless these simple strangers expected all Jerusalem to be full of its new-born King, and the time, place, and circumstances of His birth to be familiar to every one. Little would they think that the first announcement of His birth would come from themselves, and still less could they anticipate the startling, instead of transporting, effect which it would produce—else they would probably have sought their information regarding His birthplace in some other quarter. But God overruled it to draw forth a noble testimony to the predicted birthplace of Messiah from the highest ecclesiastical authority in the nation.
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