Welcome to day 2 of our reading through the book of Matthew! We are reading a chapter of Matthew each day. 28 chapters in 28 days. What a great way to start the New Year. I’m praying for you. Today we read about the Wise-men, Herod’s attempt to kill Jesus, Joseph’s dream and flight to Egypt to protect Jesus.
VISITORS ARRIVE FROM EASTERN LANDS / 2:1-12
Only Matthew has a record of the visit of the wise men. These men traveled thousands of miles to see the king of the Jews. When they finally found him, they responded with joy, worship, and gifts. This is so different from the approach people often take today. Some expect God to come looking for us, to explain himself, prove who he is, and give us gifts. But the truly wise still seek and worship Jesus today for who he is, not for what they can get.
2:1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king.NKJV Matthew did not record the details of Jesus’ birth, as did Luke in the well-known chapter 2 of his Gospel. Instead, after stating that Mary had given birth to a son (1:25), Matthew moved to the time after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea. Most scholars believe that the traditional non-biblical picture of the wise men arriving at the manger is incorrect based on clues given in this chapter. More likely, the wise men arrived some time after Jesus’ birth—Jesus is called a child (paidion, 2:9, 11) rather than a baby or infant (brephos, used in Luke 2:12), and the wise men went to a house (2:11), not to a stable. The fact that Herod had all the baby boys under two years old killed (2:16) may mean that a couple of years had passed between Jesus’ birth and this visit. If so, apparently Mary and Joseph decided to remain for a time in Bethlehem instead of returning after the census taking (Luke 2:1-5) to Nazareth. Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3 describe Joseph as a tekton, that is, a builder and possibly contractor, not just a carpenter. This may have involved a lot of travel, which would explain his mobile lifestyle.
While we cannot know exactly when this story took place, we do know more details about other elements. The tiny village of Bethlehem is located about five miles south of Jerusalem and sits on a high ridge more than two thousand feet above sea level. This little village held great significance for the Jews. Jacob had buried his beloved wife Rachel in Bethlehem (Genesis 35:19); Ruth had met Boaz in Bethlehem (Ruth 1:22-2:6); King David had grown up in Bethlehem (1 Samuel 16:1; 17:12). Even more important, the prophet Micah had prophesied that the Messiah would be born there: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2 niv).
To distinguish this Bethlehem from other towns with the same name, Matthew added of Judea. The land of Israel was divided into four political districts and several lesser territories. Judea (also called Judah) was to the south, Samaria in the middle, Galilee to the north, and Idumea to the southeast.
Jerusalem was also in Judea and was the seat of government for Herod the king. While many Herods are mentioned in the Bible, this was Herod the Great, named king over all four political districts of Palestine by the Roman Senate. He ruled from 37 to 4 b.c. The history of the Herod family is filled with lies, murder, treachery, and adultery. Although Herod the Great was a ruthless, evil man who murdered many in his own family, he also supervised the renovation of the temple, making it much larger and more beautiful, as well as overseeing other building projects. This made him popular with many Jews. After Herod’s death, the districts were divided among three separate rulers. We later read about Herod the Great’s son, Herod Antipas, who killed John the Baptist (Mark 6:26-28) and taunted Jesus (Luke 23:6-12).
Behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem.NKJV Not much is known about these wise men. Also called Magi, they may have interpreted dreams and had other special knowledge and abilities; they specialized in astronomy. They may have been from the priestly caste in Persia; they were not kings. We don’t know where they came from; the Bible just says from the East. Tradition says they were men of high position from Parthia, near the site of ancient Babylon (the book of Daniel refers to the wise men of Babylon; see Daniel 2:12, 18; 4:6, 18). The traditional view that there were three wise men comes from the three gifts presented to Jesus (2:11), but the Bible doesn’t say how many wise men came. These men came from the East to Jerusalem. If they traveled from Parthia, they had covered thousands of miles in their quest to find a newborn king.
2:2 Saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”NKJV The wise men said they had seen Jesus’ star (His star). In the Old Testament, through a man named Balaam, God had referred to “a star” coming out of Jacob (Numbers 24:17 niv). How did these wise men know that the star represented the Messiah, the one who was born King of the Jews? (1) They could have been Jews who remained in Babylon after the Exile and knew the Old Testament predictions of the Messiah’s coming.
|(2) They may have been eastern astrologers who studied ancient manuscripts from around the world. Because of the Jewish exile centuries earlier, a large Jewish population still existed there, and they would have had copies of the Old Testament. (3) They may have had a special message from God directing them to the Messiah.||Worship is a meeting between God and His people when the worshiper is brought into personal contact with the one who gives meaning and purpose to life; from this encounter the worshiper receives strength and courage to live with hope in a fallen world.
Some say this star may have been a conjunction of Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars in 6 b.c.; others offer many other explanations. However, no explanation accounts for the star moving as described in 2:9. We don’t know if the miraculous element took the form of the timely conjunction of the planets, or if God, who created the heavens, created a special event to signal the arrival of his Son, just as he had created a pillar of cloud and of fire to lead the nation of Israel to the Promised Land (Exodus 13:21-22). Based on the significance of the star, these wise men traveled thousands of miles searching for the one who had been born King of the Jews. When they found him, they worshiped him. While their worship was probably meant to be no more than homage to royalty (notice that Jesus did not “become” king of the Jews, he was “born” king of the Jews), the homage paid to this young king was more respect than he received from many of his own people.
Astrology and those who practiced the art were held in contempt by the Bible and by God-fearing Jews (Isaiah 47:13-15; Jeremiah 10:1-2; Daniel 2:10; 4:7). Matthew made a significant point in highlighting the worship of these wise men (who were pagan astrologers, wise in the ways of secular science, diviners, and magicians) in contrast to the Jewish religious leaders who knew the Holy Scriptures and did not need to travel far to find their Messiah. The Jewish leaders directed the wise men to Bethlehem but apparently did not go themselves (2:4-6). Some scholars say these wise men were each from a different land, representing the entire world bowing before Jesus. These men from faraway lands recognized Jesus as the Messiah when most of God’s chosen people in Israel did not. Matthew pictures Jesus as King over the whole world, not just Judea.
|LIFE APPLICATION – LOOKING FOR GOD?|
|How can we learn about God? Some people say, “I find God on a nature hike when the wind whistles through trees and the stars shine brightly.” Others say, “Read the Bible and you’ll discover God.” And yet others, “Only by believing in Jesus can a person ever know God.”|
|Here we learn that all three ways of knowing God are important. The wise men were drawn to worship by a bright heavenly radiance. They came close (Jerusalem) and got specific instruction from people who knew the Old Testament well. Then, unlike Herod and the priests, they actually finished the journey and saw Jesus, who was then a little child. All three ways of finding God helped the wise men finish their journey.|
|If you want to find God, see his glory in nature, learn of his promises in the Bible, and discover Jesus by getting to know him personally.|
2:3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.NKJV The wise men traveled to Jerusalem, the capital city, expecting to find a young king there. However, Herod the Great did not even know about the birth of someone who was to be king. This obviously troubled him for several reasons:
- Herod was not the rightful heir to the throne of David. He was partly Jewish, but descended not from Jacob but from Esau. He was an Idumean Arab, but honestly considered himself Jewish by religion. His people had been forcefully converted a century earlier (126 c.), but Herod considered himself a faithful Jew. He reigned by appointment from Rome. Many Jews hated Herod as a usurper, even though Herod attempted to boost his popularity among the Jews by doing much for their country (see Josephus’s Antiquities 13.258). If this baby really was a rightful heir to the throne, Herod could face trouble from the Jews who might want to make the baby king.
- Herod was ruthless, and because of his many enemies, he was suspicious that someone would try to overthrow him. Many feel he had become mentally unstable by this time in his life.
- Herod didn’t want the Jews, a religious people, to unite around a religious figure.
- If these wise men were of Jewish descent and from Parthia (the most powerful region next to Rome), they would have welcomed a Jewish king who could swing the balance of power away from Rome. The land of Israel, far from Rome, would have been easy prey for a nation trying to gain more control.
The wise men’s news troubled Herod because he knew that the Jewish people expected the Messiah to come soon (Luke 3:15). Most Jews expected the Messiah to be a great military and political deliverer, like Alexander the Great.
That all Jerusalem was troubled along with King Herod indicates that the leaders and lay people also felt concern over word of a child born in the Jewish royal line, the line of David. What would this mean? Any who knew Herod’s ruthlessness may have feared his aroused suspicions. Such fear was well founded considering Herod’s actions recorded in 2:16.
|LIFE APPLICATION – THE GREAT TROUBLEMAKER|
|When Jesus was born into our world, people immediately began to react. His presence did not soothe and comfort people; instead, it startled and disturbed them. In some, he awakened spiritual longings; in others, fear and insecurity. If it is true that God entered our world when Jesus was born, we dare not sit idly by ignoring and rationalizing our inaction. We must acknowledge Jesus as the rightful King of our lives. He did not stay in the manger.|
2:4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born.NIV Herod needed some advice from the experts. So he called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law. While Herod did not call a formal meeting of the Sanhedrin, he probably called together a group of leaders living in Jerusalem who could tell him what he wanted to know. The “chief priests” were probably mostly Sadducees, while the “teachers of the law” (sometimes called “scribes”) were mostly Pharisees. These two groups did not get along because of vast differences in their beliefs about the law. The Sadducees believed only the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) to be God’s Word; the Pharisees and teachers of the law were the professional interpreters of the law, the legal specialists of Jesus’ day. They interpreted the law but were especially concerned about the “halakah” or “rules” for life that came to be as binding as God’s written law in the Torah. Among these men Herod hoped to find someone who could explain where the Christ was to be born. Herod apparently understood that the King of the Jews sought by the wise men was also “the Christ,” that is, the Jews’ promised Messiah. However, the Jews expected their Messiah to be a political leader, accounting for Herod’s interest and concern.
|LIFE APPLICATION – SO CLOSE; SO FAR|
|Herod asked the religious leaders and teachers to tell him what the Scriptures said about the location of the Messiah’s birth. These religious leaders and teachers had knowledge of the Scriptures, but they lacked the desire to understand and believe. With so many churches nearby, so many Christian books and Bibles available, so many radio and television programs, so many Christian videos and films—how can anyone not believe? But it happens. Several Bibles on your bedroom shelf and perfect Sunday school attendance do not a Christian make! Like the chief priests and teachers of the law, a person can miss the opportunity to believe in Jesus completely while studying the facts of the Bible meticulously.|
|Becoming a Christian means giving your life to Jesus Christ in faith. In a simple prayer, give up trying so hard to be so good. Admit to God your need, and accept in faith his promise to save you.|
2:5-6 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'”NIV The answer to Herod’s question was simple, for the prophet Micah had given the exact location of the Messiah’s birth seven centuries earlier in Micah 5:2. Matthew often quoted Old Testament prophets to show how perfectly Jesus fulfilled the prophecies about the Messiah. The religious leaders quoted from Micah 5:2 and 2 Samuel 5:2. As the grandson of an Idumean Jew, Herod may have known about messianic prophecies, but he was not trained in knowing anything specific. The Jewish religious leaders understood that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem in Judea. In fact, the Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem was well-known to all Jews (John 7:41-42). Ironically, when Jesus was born, these same religious leaders became his greatest enemies. When the Messiah for whom they had been waiting finally came, they wouldn’t recognize him.
2:7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.NRSV Herod had a problem on his hands, and already his troubled mind was making a plan. He called the wise men back to him in order to answer their question (2:2) and send them along to Bethlehem. However, Herod also needed some information from them. He needed to know the age of this “king.” Herod deduced that if he knew the exact time when the star had appeared, he would know the child’s age. We infer from this that the star had appeared a couple of years earlier, for when Herod went on his murderous rampage, he ordered the killing of all boys two years old and under (2:16), although he may have added to the age to make sure the child would be destroyed.
2:8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”NIV Discovering that this future king was not in Jerusalem, King Herod sent the wise men down the road to the little village of Bethlehem to make a careful search for the child. Not knowing the age of the child, nor exactly where he would be found, might make for a difficult and lengthy search. Herod certainly wondered how they would know this child even if they found him. But Herod would not let rumor of a future king go unchecked. So he sent the wise men on their way, instructing them to return to Jerusalem after they found the child. Herod’s reason? So that I too may go and worship him, he explained. This deceitful ruse fooled the wise men, and they agreed to return and report to Herod the whereabouts of the child. The wise men had no reason to expect that Herod would do anything other than pay homage to a king, and Herod had no reason to think that the wise men would not return with the information he needed. But Herod did not want to worship Christ—he was lying. Herod planned to kill Jesus.
2:9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.NIV Having been told that the child was to be born in Bethlehem, the wise men left Jerusalem, heading south. As they went on their way, suddenly they saw once again the star they had seen in the east. The wise men had followed this star thousands of miles, traveling west toward Jerusalem.
|At this point, the star reappeared as they traveled south toward Bethlehem, moving ahead of them. Then, the star stopped over the place where the child was. Obviously this was no ordinary star (see comments on 2:2). Matthew does not tell us what the star looked like, how it moved, or how the wise men found the child from the movement and stopping of the star. But Matthew made his point that God had purposely sent this star to guide these men to his Son.||God comes to men in the spheres with which they are most familiar; to Zacharias in the Temple, to the shepherds in the fields, to the wise men by a portent in the heavens. He knows just where to find us. Be sure to follow your star, whatever it be; only remember that it must ultimately receive the corroboration of Scripture.
F. B. Meyer
2:10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.NRSV The star’s movement had been constant and visible to these men who studied the sky and watched the stars. They had followed this star across thousands of miles. They had not found the child in the palace in Jerusalem as they had expected. So they had wearily continued on their way, only to once again follow the moving star. No wonder that when they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. Their journey was completed; they had found the one for whom they were searching.
|LIFE APPLICATION – FINDING CHRIST|
|The wise men were overjoyed at finding the child. If you think becoming a Christian means putting on a long face and behaving like a person in a straitjacket, think again. Finding Christ brings real joy—deeper than winning at sports, more enduring than the first test drive in that new car—this joy fills the soul and makes you glad. This joy comes from knowing all is well, you’re OK, God loves you, the future will be secure.|
|Have you been on a journey to find yourself, to find love, satisfaction, or some sense of what this life is all about? There’s joy at the end of that journey when you find Christ.|
2:11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.NKJV Jesus was probably one or two years old (a young Child) when the wise men found him. By this time, Mary and Joseph were married, living in a house and intending to stay in Bethlehem for a while. The wise men gave expensive gifts because these were worthy presents for a future king. The wise men were simply bringing customary expensive gifts for a superior, but scholars have seen in the gifts symbols of Christ’s identity and what he would accomplish. Gold was a gift for a king (Psalm 72:15). Frankincense (also simply called “incense”), a glittering, odorous gum obtained from the bark of certain trees, was a gift for deity (Isaiah 60:6). Myrrh, a valued spice and perfume (Psalm 45:8), also came from trees and was used in embalming; thus, it was a gift for a person who was going to die (Mark 15:23; John 19:39). These gifts certainly would have provided the financial resources for Joseph and Mary’s trip to Egypt and back (2:13-23).
These wise men, astrologers from the east, fell down and worshiped the young king of the Jews, indicating a further fulfillment of prophecy. Psalm 72:10-19 speaks of a coming king before whom all will bow and whom all nations will serve.
|LIFE APPLICATION – HE ALONE IS WORTHY|
|The wise men brought gifts and worshiped Jesus for who he was. This is the essence of true worship—honoring Christ for who he is and being willing to give him what is valuable to you. We see in their lives a pattern for worship:|
|They entered. They had prepared for their journey, studied, and sought out Jesus.|
|They bowed. They humbled themselves in the presence of their superior. They acknowledged his authority.|
|They gave. They gave expensive and sacrificial gifts out of respect and honor for the child king.|
|They worshiped. They recognized God’s guidance in bringing them and attested to Jesus’ royalty. They exalted Jesus as the rightful king.|
|They obeyed. Their worship was not empty. They followed the guidance they received from God.|
|Worship God because he is the perfect, just, and almighty Creator of the universe, worthy of the best you have to give.|
2:12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.NIV After finding Jesus and worshiping him, the wise men were warned by God in a dream not to return through Jerusalem and take their news back to Herod as they had intended. God gave guidance to Joseph at four separate times in dreams (see 1:20; 2:13, 19, 22). The first three times, the angel of the Lord is specifically mentioned as appearing and delivering God’s message to Joseph. The angel is not mentioned as appearing to the wise men, but somehow God guided the wise men in a dream. The wise men “wisely” followed the guidance given them; after worshiping the child, they returned to their country by another route. Going back through Jerusalem would make it impossible to avoid Herod; so they apparently went out of Bethlehem in another direction, perhaps continuing south and going around the southern end of the Dead Sea before heading back north and east. It took courage to refuse the king’s command; it also took courage to follow guidance that added many miles to their already lengthy journey.
In this story, God reveals his care for his Son as the hostile world already was attempting to take the young child’s life. Matthew has divine intervention as a major theme. He shows how God superintends Jesus’ life in order to accomplish the divine plan.
THE ESCAPE TO EGYPT / 2:13-18
Even before the tiny baby could speak, the worldly powers, led by Satan himself, were moving against him. Herod, a ruthless king who had killed three of his own sons to secure his power, was afraid of losing that power, so he embarked on a plan to kill the tiny child who had been born “king of the Jews.” In his madness, Herod murdered innocent children, hoping to kill this one child. Herod stained his hands with blood, but he did not harm Jesus. No one can thwart God’s plans.
2:13-14 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”NIV This was the second dream or vision that Joseph received from God. Joseph’s first dream had revealed that Mary’s child would be the Messiah (1:20-21). His second dream told him how to protect the child’s life. Even though the wise men didn’t return to Herod, Herod did not give up on his evil plan. An angel of the Lord warned Joseph that
|Herod is going to search for the child to kill him. Joseph had to move immediately; it would not be long before Herod would realize that he had been tricked and would unleash his anger. The angel told Joseph exactly what to do, and Joseph obeyed.||Faith means taking the bare Word of God and acting upon it because it is the Word of God. It means believing what God says simply and solely because He has said it.
Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt.NRSV Joseph got up after this dream, took Jesus and Mary, and began the seventy-five mile journey to Egypt by night, escaping from Bethlehem under cover of darkness. The angel instructed Joseph to remain in Egypt until God told him otherwise (stay there until I tell you) through another dream (see 2:20). Going to Egypt was not unusual. Egypt had been a place of refuge for Israelites during times of political upheaval (1 Kings 11:40; 2 Kings 25:26). There were colonies of Jews in several major Egyptian cities (Alexandria was a key center of Jewish knowledge and education). These colonies had developed during the time of the great captivity (see Jeremiah 43-44) and may have numbered as many as one million Jews. Egypt was a Roman province, but outside Herod’s jurisdiction. Even more important, however, this event fulfilled the prophecy of Hosea (see 2:15).
2:15 And remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”NRSV Joseph followed the angel’s instructions and remained in Egypt until the death of Herod. So Jesus was kept safe.
There is an interesting parallel between this flight to Egypt and Israel’s history. Hosea wrote about God’s love for Israel and his promise of a deliverer who would draw them to himself. Matthew viewed Hosea’s prophecy in light of Jesus Christ as the one who came as the promised deliverer of Israel and of the entire world. As an infant nation, Israel had gone to Egypt, just as Jesus did as a child. Joseph had been taken as a captive to Egypt when he was sold into slavery by his brothers. His brothers had almost killed him, but he was kept safe in Egypt. There is also a parallel between the Egyptian pharaoh’s killing of
The Flight to Egypt
Herod planned to kill the baby Jesus, whom he perceived to be a future threat to his position. Warned of this treachery in a dream, Joseph took his family to Egypt until Herod’s death, which occurred a year or two later. They then planned to return to Judea, but God led them instead to Nazareth in Galilee.
the baby boys of the Israelites and Herod’s killing of the baby boys in Bethlehem. Years later, in the Exodus, God led Israel out; God had brought Jesus back. Thus, the prophet Hosea’s words, “Out of Egypt I have called my son” (Hosea 11:1), see Israel’s miracle-filled Exodus from Egypt as foreshadowing Jesus’ return from Egypt to Israel. And in Jesus, the restoration of Israel from exile is complete.
2:16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.NRSV The events recorded in 2:7-14 most likely happened over just a couple of days. Bethlehem was only five miles from Jerusalem and was a small village. It would not have taken long for the wise men to find the child. Herod certainly expected the wise men to return within a day. But in the meantime, both the wise men and Jesus’ family had escaped the city. Probably by the next evening, Herod saw that he had been tricked (literally “outwitted”) by the wise men. Herod was not just upset, he was infuriated. And when this king became infuriated, his anger knew no bounds. History documents the terrible acts of this evil man—especially concerning potential rivals to the throne. In his later years, Herod had three of his sons killed, as well as his wife and many actual or suspected conspirators. It did not bother Herod to spill some blood to secure his power.
At this point, all Herod knew was that a future king, still a child, lived in Bethlehem. After the wise men explained when the star had first appeared (2:7), Herod deduced that the child would not be more than two years old. So according to the time that he had learned from the wise men, he dispatched his soldiers, and they killed all the (male) children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under. Scholars have estimated that if this tiny village had about one thousand residents, there may have been about twenty male babies. The record of this atrocity is told only here, so some have doubted its authenticity. Considering Herod’s ruthlessness and the murderous acts already listed under his name, apparently the slaughter of a few children in an insignificant village did not make the historical annals. There are examples of Romans having entire towns razed, killing every living creature, just as an example to a region. So while the “slaughter of the innocents” by Herod was terrible, it was not as uncommon as we think. But Matthew saw it as fulfillment of Scripture (2:17-18).
Modern readers question how God could allow such evil to occur even as he allowed Jesus to escape it. Yet Matthew did not ask that question. He, as a Jew, knew all too well that the history of God’s people was littered with hatred and evil acts against them. The coming of the Messiah caused Satan to unleash an arsenal of evil. In this instance, Satan used Herod, a willing vessel. Herod, the king of the Jews, killed all the boys under two years of age in an obsessive attempt to kill Jesus, the newborn King.
|LIFE APPLICATION – WHO’S ON THE THRONE?|
|Herod was afraid that this newborn king would one day take his throne. He completely misunderstood the reason for Christ’s coming. Jesus didn’t want Herod’s throne; he wanted to be king of Herod’s life. Jesus wanted to give Herod eternal life, not take his present life. Today people are often afraid that Christ wants to take things away when, in reality, he wants to give them real freedom, peace, and joy. Don’t fear Christ—allow him to reign on the throne of your life.|
2:17-18 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”NIV Matthew saw that the grieving of the mothers in Bethlehem further fulfilled the words of Jeremiah the prophet in Jeremiah 31:15. Rachel was one of the wives of Jacob, one of the great men of God in the Old Testament. From Jacob’s twelve sons had come the twelve tribes of Israel. Rachel was the symbolic mother of the nation; she had been buried near Bethlehem (Genesis 35:19). The Jeremiah passage describes Rachel, the”mother” of the nation, weeping for her children who had been taken away into captivity.
|Ramah was a staging point of deportation (Jeremiah 40:1). The mothers in Bethlehem also wept and mourned for the little boys killed by the soldiers; certainly their sorrow was so great that they could not be comforted. Matthew compared the grief of the mothers at the time of the Exile to the grief of the mothers of the slaughtered children.||It is a terrible and awful story, that of his [Jeremiah’s] prophesying, and suffering, and tears. But in Jeremiah, as in every other prophecy, there was a gleam of the glory of hope. How great were these Hebrew prophets— so cloudy, so rough, so stormy; but on every storm-cloud there is a rainbow, and the promise of deliverance.
G. Campbell Morgan
|LIFE APPLICATION – WHEN WE GRIEVE|
|With the slaughter of these young children, there was much grief and suffering. Matthew implies that the weeping of these mothers connects to a long tradition of grieving. Rachel, the mother of Israel, weeps with the Bethlehem mothers.|
|When a loved one dies, feelings of loss are strong and sometimes overwhelming. How should Christians help a friend deal with his or her grief?|
|Some well-meaning comforters advise keeping a “stiff upper lip” in view of the departed’s heavenly reward. “Don’t cry, she’s in a better place” is the comforting phrase. In other settings, where busy people don’t know each other well, grief takes its course until everyone gets back to business. “She needs time” is the phrase they use to keep a distance.|
|However, helping someone through grief really means that we cry together, we share the sadness, we enter the other’s world.|
THE RETURN TO NAZARETH / 2:19-23
God carefully protected his Son’s life, guiding Joseph as he took the child away from Israel when he was in danger, and then as he returned to Israel when it was once again safe. Jesus had not come to earth to minister in Egypt; he had come to his own people as their Messiah. Thus, God returned him to Israel and guided his parents as they raised him in Nazareth. God was working out his plan of salvation for our sakes. Believers ought to read this story with awe as they watch God working behind the scenes to protect the life of Jesus Christ on this earth.
2:19-21 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”NIV The angel of the Lord had promised that Joseph would be told when it would be safe for him and his family to return to Israel: “Stay there until I tell you” (2:13). Israel was not safe while Herod the Great ruled. But after Herod died (in 4 b.c. of an incurable disease), the angel appeared once again in a dream to direct Joseph. The angel instructed Joseph to return to Israel because those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead. The plural “those” used here was most likely a generalized term including Herod and all those under his orders.
If Christ was born one to two years before Herod’s death, that would mean that he was born in 6 b.c., that is, six years “before Christ.” The confusion was caused by a switch from the Roman to the Christian calendar in the sixth century a.d., based on the faulty calculations of Dionysius Exiguus, who must not have had accurate information about the date of Herod’s death.
Joseph did as the angel said. Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.NRSV How long they had been in Egypt is unknown. But when the angel commanded them to return to Israel, Joseph did not hesitate.
2:22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee.NRSV Rome had trusted Herod the Great but didn’t trust his sons. Herod knew that Rome wouldn’t give his successor as much power, so he divided his kingdom into three parts, one for each son. Archelaus received Judea, Samaria, and Idumea, ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod. Herod Antipas received Galilee and Perea; Herod Philip II received Traconitis. Archelaus, a violent man, began his reign by slaughtering three thousand influential people. He was known for his instability; in fact, he proved to be such a poor ruler that he was deposed in a.d. 6. Joseph had heard about Archelaus and was afraid to go back to Bethlehem, which was in the district of Judea. Once again, God guided Joseph, warning him in a dream not to go into the region of this evil ruler. So Joseph took the family north to the district of Galilee.
2:23 And he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.”NIV Joseph returned to his hometown of Nazareth (Luke 2:4). Nazareth sat in the hilly area of southern Galilee near the crossroads of great caravan trade routes. The town itself was rather small. The Roman garrison in charge of Galilee was housed there. The people of Nazareth had constant contact with people from all over the world, so world news reached them quickly. The people of Nazareth had an attitude of independence that many of the Jews despised. This may have been why Nathanael later commented, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46 niv).
The Old Testament does not record the specific statement He will be called a Nazarene. Many scholars believe, however, that Matthew was referring to Isaiah 11:1 where the Hebrew word for “branch” (netser) is similar to the word for “Nazarene.” Others say he may have been referring to a prophecy unrecorded in the Bible, or to a combination of prophecies (because he used the plural prophets). Matthew painted a picture of Jesus as the true Messiah announced by God through the prophets; he made the point that Jesus, the Messiah, had unexpectedly humble beginnings and would be despised by those to whom he came, just as the Old Testament had predicted.
Source: Life Application Bible Commentary -Matthew.