Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
Luke mentions the occurrence of a grand celestial illumination celebrating the nativity of Jesus, which was witnessed by Jewish shepherds, Matthew here records another heavenly sign, discerned by Gentile scientists. Such phenomena - severally seen by Jew and Gentile, by peasants and by scholars, by persons in humble station and by those of wealth and standing - authenticated this, viz. that the great event so celebrated concerns all sorts and conditions of men. We have here especially to consider the star which denoted Christ (see 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).
(b) The family of David was reduced to a humble condition, and all but extinct (cf. Isaiah 7:15 with Matthew 3:4; see also Isaiah 53:2).
(c) Daniel's weeks were fast running out (Daniel 9:24).
(2) Hence the prevalent expectation:
(a) In Israel (see Matthew 24:5; Luke 3:15; Luke 19:11).
(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.
Parallel VersesKJV: Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,