Matthew 2:12
And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
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(12) Being warned of God.—Following the order of events in our minds, it seems probable that after their homage on the evening of their arrival, they retired, possibly to the “inn” of Bethlehem, and were then, in their sleep, warned not to return to Jerusalem the following day, but to make their way to the fords of Jordan, and so to escape from the tyrant’s jealous pursuit. So ends all that we know of the visit of the Magi. St. Matthew, writing for Hebrews, recorded it apparently as testifying to the kingly character of Jesus. Christendom, however, has rightly seen in it a yet deeper significance, and the “wise men” have been regarded as the first-fruits of the outlying heathen world, the earnest of the future ingathering. Among all the festivals that enter into the Christmas cycle, none has made so deep an impression on Christian feeling, poetry, and art as the Epiphany, or “Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.” The arrangement which places that festival at an interval of twelve days only from the Nativity is purely arbitrary.

We need not ignore the fact that the narrative has been treated by many critics as purely mythical. Those who so regard it, however, with hardly an exception, extend their theory to every supernatural element in the Gospel history; and so this is but a fragmentary issue, part of a far wider question, with which this is not the place to deal. The very least that can be said is that there are no special notes of a legendary character in this narrative which could warrant our regarding it as less trustworthy than the rest of the Gospel. Why St. Matthew only records this fact, and St. Luke only the visit of the shepherds, is a question which we may ask, but cannot answer. The two narratives are, at any rate, in no way whatever irreconcilable.

Matthew 2:12. And being warned of God in a dream, that they should not return to Herod — Which, it is probable, in the simplicity of their hearts, they were preparing to do, they departed into their own country another way — Not at all solicitous as to the consequences of Herod’s resentment. Thus did the providence of God watch over these devout Gentiles, as well as over Jesus and his parents, and would not suffer their honest simplicity to be abused, and made a prey of by the crafty designs of Herod. For into what grief and perplexity would they have been brought, had they been made even the innocent instruments of an assault on the holy child! But God delivered them, and guided their way. For while he was waiting for their return, they had time to get out of his reach, before his passion rose, which might have been fatal to them.

2:9-12 What joy these wise men felt upon this sight of the star, none know so well as those who, after a long and melancholy night of temptation and desertion, under the power of a spirit of bondage, at length receive the Spirit of adoption, witnessing with their spirits that they are the children of God. We may well think what a disappointment it was to them, when they found a cottage was his palace, and his own poor mother the only attendant he had. However, these wise men did not think themselves baffled; but having found the King they sought, they presented their gifts to him. The humble inquirer after Christ will not be stumbled at finding him and his disciples in obscure cottages, after having in vain sought them in palaces and populous cities. Is a soul busy, seeking after Christ? Would it worship him, and does it say, Alas! I am a foolish and poor creature, and have nothing to offer? Nothing! Hast thou not a heart, though unworthy of him, dark, hard, and foul? Give it to him as it is, and be willing that he use and dispose of it as it pleases him; he will take it, and will make it better, and thou shalt never repent having given it to him. He shall frame it to his own likeness, and will give thee himself, and be thine for ever. The gifts the wise men presented were gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Providence sent these as a seasonable relief to Joseph and Mary in their present poor condition. Thus our heavenly Father, who knows what his children need, uses some as stewards to supply the wants of others, and can provide for them, even from the ends of the earth.Warned of God - This was done, doubtless, because, if they had given Herod precise information where he was, it would have been easy for him to send forth and kill him. And from this we learn that God will watch over those whom He loves; that He knows how to foil the purposes of the wicked, and to deliver His own out of the hands of those who would destroy them.

In a dream - See the note at Matthew 1:20.

12. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed—or, "withdrew."

to their own country another way—What a surprise would this vision be to the sages, just as they were preparing to carry the glad news of what they had seen to the pious king! But the Lord knew the bloody old tyrant better than to let him see their face again.

Now the wise God begins to defeat the crafty counsels of Herod, whose bloody hand he had stayed till he should from the wise men have had a perfect intelligence concerning this newborn King. God in a dream appeareth to the wise men, and warns them to go no more to Herod. The wise men came with no intention to serve Herod’s bloody designs, but came in the simplicity of their hearts. This simplicity of theirs Herod would have abused, to have made them accessaries to his guilt. God will not suffer it: He who walketh uprightly walketh safely. Thus the integrity of Abimelech in taking Sarah protected him from guilt with reference to her, Genesis 20:6. The word which we here translate warned of God, is used of persons whom God is pleased to honour, so far as to discourse with, either by himself or an angel, Luke 2:26 Acts 10:22 Hebrews 8:5 11:7. Thus hath God honoured these wise men, whose hearts were inclined towards him and his Christ;

1. By giving them a star, to guide them.

2. Confirming their hearts by his word, from the mouth of the chief priests and scribes, that they were not mistaken concerning the star and its indication.

3. By speaking himself to them, to keep them from any guilt, or being so much as accessaries any way to that bloody tragedy, which upon their departure he knew would be acted. They take another way to go into their own country, so we hear of them no more.

Being warned of God in a dream,.... It is likely they made a short stay at Bethlehem, might lodge there a night; at least laid themselves down a while to take some refreshment in sleep, after they had paid their respects to him that was born king of the Jews, and performed the whole business they came about; when in a dream they received a divine oracle, were admonished and counselled by God,

that they should not return to Herod: which would have been going back again, and out of their way; there being a nearer one from Bethlehem to their own country, than to go by Jerusalem, though Herod had charged them to return to him. Whether they had promised him they would, is not certain; it is probable they might; however, they thought it most advisable to hearken to the divine oracle; wherefore,

they departed into their own country another way. What became of these persons afterwards, and whether they were spiritually and savingly enlightened into the knowledge of Christ; what a report they made of him when they came into their own country, and the success thereof, we have no account of, either in sacred or profane history.

And being {k} warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

(k) God warned and told them of it, even though they did not ask him.

Matthew 2:12. χρηματισθέντες] Vulgate correctly renders: responso accepto: passages in Wetstein, Kypke, Krebs, and Loesner. The question that preceded is presupposed, Luke 2:26; Hebrews 11:7. Comp. on Acts 10:22. Bengel well says: “Sic optarant vel rogarant.” The passive is found in this meaning only in the New Testament and in Josephus (Antt. iii. 8. 8, xi. 8. 4).

ἀνακάμψαιἀνεχώρησαν] The latter is not: they turned back (Matthew 2:13-14; Matthew 2:22; Matthew 4:12), but they withdrew, went away, made off; ἀνακάμψαι is “cursum reflectere.” They were not to turn back to Herod, from whom they had come hither, and that with the instruction, Matthew 2:8, but were to select another way to their home, Luke 10:6; Acts 18:21; Hebrews 11:15; Herod. ii. 8; Plat. Phaed. p. 72 B; Diod. Sic. iii. 54.

The divine direction had for its object, that Herod should not at once take measures against the true Child who was pointed at.


The narrative regarding the Magi, as it bears in Matthew the stamp of real history, has its profound truth in the ideal sphere, in which the Messianic idea, which was afterwards set forth, realized in all its glory in the historical life of Jesus, surrounded the little known childhood of this life with the thoughtful legends—its own creation—preserved in Matthew and Luke. The ideal truth of these legends lies in their corresponding relation to the marvellous greatness of the later life of the Lord and His world-embracing work; they are thereby very definitely distinguished from the legendary poetry, which assumed various shapes in the Apocryphal narratives of the infancy. Whether, moreover, any real fact may have lain at the basis of the narrative of the Magi,[368] and what the nature of this is, cannot be more minutely ascertained. Certainly Eastern astrologers may, according to the divine appointment, have read in the stars the birth of the Jewish Messiah, who was to be the light of the heathen, and with this knowledge have come to Jerusalem; but how easily did the further miraculous formation of the history lay hold of the popular belief in the appearance of a miraculous star at the birth of the Messiah (see Fabricius, Cod. pseudepigr. I. p. 584 f.; Schoettgen, II. p. 531; Bertholdt, Christol. § 14),—a belief which probably had its basis in Numbers 24:17 compared with Isaiah 60:1 ff. (Schoettgen, II. p. 151 f.), as well as in the Messianic expectation that foreign nations would bring gifts to the Messiah (Psalms 72; Isaiah 60), as on other occasions, also, rich temple gifts had arrived from the East (Zechariah 6:9 ff.). It was easy to connect with this, by way of antithesis to this divine glorifying of the child, the crafty and murderous interference of Herod as the type of decided hostility, with which the ruling power of the world, necessarily and conformably to experience, entered with cunning and violence the lists against the manifested Messiah (Luke 1:51 f.), but in vain. If we were to regard the whole narrative, with its details, as actual fact (see amongst the moderns, especially Ebrard and Gerlach), the matter would be very easily decided; the difficulties also which have been raised against so extraordinary an astral phenomenon, both in itself and from the science of optics, would be authoritatively removed by means of its miraculous nature (Eusebius, Demost. ev. 9; John of Damascus, de fide orthod. ii. 7), but there would still remain unexplained the impolitic cunning and falsehood of the otherwise so sly and crafty Herod, who allows the Magi to depart without even a guide to make sure of his designs, and without arrangements of any other kind, his expenditure of vigilance and bloodshed, which was as unnecessary as it was without result, and the altogether irreconcilable contradiction between our account and the history narrated by Luke,[369] according to which the child Jesus received homage of an altogether different kind, and is not threatened by any sort of persecution, but at the date when the Magi must have arrived, had been for a long time out of Bethlehem (Luke 2:39). Considering the legendary character of the star phenomenon, it is not adapted to serve as a chronological determination of the birth of Christ, for which purpose it has been used, especially by Wieseler and Anger, who calculate, according to it, the beginning of the year 750 as the date of that birth. (Ideler, Münter, Schubert, Huschke, Ebrard, 747; Kepler, 748; Lichtenstein and Weigl, 749; Wurm, 751; Seyffarth, 752.)

[368] Schleiermacher, Schr. d. Lukas, p. 47, L. J. p. 75, assigned a symbolical character to the narrative. According to Bleek, the symbolical point of view (“the first destinies of the Christian church being, as it were, reflected”) predominated at least in the mind of the first author; but the preference in point of historical truth is due to Luke. According to de Wette, the narratives contained in ch. 2 are to be regarded more with a dogmatico-religious than with a strictly historical eye; the dangers surrounding the child Jesus are a type of the persecutions awaiting the Messiah and His church, and an imitation of the dangers which threatened the life of the child Moses, and so on. According to Weisse, what is set forth is the recognition which Christianity met with amongst the heathen, the hatred it experienced amongst the Jews, and then how it took refuge amongst the Hellenists in Egypt. According to Ewald, the inner truth of the narrative is the heavenly Light, and the division amongst men, on the other hand, into the faith of the heathen and the hatred of the Jews. According to Hilgenfeld, it is the expression of the world-historical importance of Jesus, and of the recognition which, amid the hostility of the Jews, He was to find precisely amongst the heathen. According to Köstlin, the narrative has an apologetic object, to declare Jesus in a miraculous manner to be βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων, at the basis of which, perhaps, was the constellation of the year 747. According to Keim, it is an ideal history, the true form of which stands before the eyes of the Christians of all ages, and which proceeded from the fundamental thought of the conflict of the Messiah with the pseudo-Messias (Herod).

[369] The assumption (Paulus, Olshausen, Wieseler, Lichtenstein, Ebrard) that the presentation in the temple took place before the arrival of the Magi, breaks down at once before Luke 2:39. See, besides, Strauss, I. p. 284 ff. The accounts in Matthew and Luke are irreconcilable (Schleiermacher, L. J. pp. 65 ff., 75). This is also recognised by Bleek, who gives the preference to Luke.

Matthew 2:12. Their pious errand fulfilled, the Magi, warned to keep out of Herod’s way, return home by another road.—χρηματισθέντες points to divine guidance given in a dream (κατ ὄναρ); responso accepto, Vulg[6] The passive, in the sense of a divine oracle given, is found chiefly in N. T. (Fritzsche after Casaubon). Was the oracle given in answer to a prayer for guidance? Opinions differ. It may be assumed here, as in the case of Joseph (Matthew 1:20), that the Magi had anxious thoughts corresponding to the divine communication. Doubts had arisen in their minds about Herod’s intentions. They had, doubtless, heard something of his history and character, and his manner on reflection may have appeared suspicious. A skilful dissembler, yet not quite successful in concealing his hidden purpose even from these guileless men. Hence a sense of need of guidance, if not a formal petition for it, may be taken for granted. Divine guidance comes only to prepared hearts. The dream reflects the antecedent state of mind.—μὴ ἀνακάμψαι, not to turn back on their steps towards Jerus. and Herod. Fritzsche praises the felicity of this word as implying that to go by Jerusalem was a roundabout for travellers from Bethlehem to the east. Apart from the question of fact, such a thought does not seem to be in the mind of the evangelist. He is thinking, not of the shortest road, but of avoiding Herod—ἀνεχώρησαν, they withdrew not only homewards, but away from Herod’s neighbourhood. A word of frequent occurrence in our Gospel, four times in this chapter (Matthew 2:13-14; Matthew 2:22).

[6] Vulgate (Jerome’s revision of old Latin version).

Matthew 2:12. Χρηματισθέντες, being warned of God) sc. either each of them separately, or all of them through one of their number. Thus they had wished or prayed: for Χρηματισμὸς signifies an oracular answer, [and an answer implies a preceding question.] The same word occurs at Matthew 2:22.—μὴ ἀνακάμψαι, not to return) They had therefore thought of doing so.—ἀνεχώρησαν, they departed) by a road, which led in another direction.

Verse 12. - And being warned of God (καὶ χρηματισθέντες; cf. Bishop Westcott, on Hebrews 8:5). And, not "but;" this is joined to the threefold "and" of ver. 11, and is the final example of God's mercy and grace towards them, preserving them from probable death at Herod's hands. In a dream (Matthew 1:20, note). That they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way. Perhaps eastwards by Bet Sahur and Mar Saba and Jericho. Matthew 2:12Being warned (χρηματισθέντες)

The verb means to give a response to one who asks or consults: hence, in the passive, as here, to receive an answer. The word therefore implies that the wise men had sought counsel of God; and so Wycliffe, "And answer taken in sleep."

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