Verse 23. "That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets" - It is difficult to ascertain by what prophets this was spoken. The margin usually refers to Judg. xiii. 5, where the angel, foretelling the birth of Samson, says, No razor shall come upon his head; for the child shall be a NAZARITE ( ryzn nezir) unto God from the womb. The second passage usually referred to is Isa. xi. 1: There shall come forth a rod from the stem of Jesse, and a BRANCH ( rxn netser) shall grow out of his roots.
That this refers to Christ, there is no doubt. Jeremiah, Jeremiah xxiii. 5, is supposed to speak in the same language- I will raise unto David a righteous BRANCH: but here the word is jmx tsemach, not rxn netser; and it is the same in the parallel place, Zechariah iii. 8; vi. 12; therefore, these two prophets cannot be referred to; but the passages in Judges and Isaiah may have been in the eye of the evangelist, as well as the whole institution relative to the Nazarite ( ryzn nezir) delivered at large, Num. vi. , where see the notes. As the Nazarite was the most pure and perfect institution under the law, it is possible that God intended to point out by it, not only the perfection of our Lord, but also the purity of his followers. And it is likely that, before St. Matthew wrote this Gospel, those afterwards called Christians bore the appellation of Nazarites, or Nazoreans, for so the Greek word, nazwraiov, should be written. Leaving the spiritual reference out of the question, the Nazarene or Nazorean here may mean simply an inhabitant or person of Nazareth; as Galilean does a person or inhabitant of Galilee. The evangelist evidently designed to state, that neither the sojourning at Nazareth, nor our Lord being called a Nazarene, were fortuitous events, but were wisely determined and provided for in the providence of God; and therefore foretold by inspired men, or fore-represented by significant institutions.
But how shall we account for the manner in which St. Matthew and others apply this, and various other circumstances, to the fulfillment of ancient traditions? This question has greatly agitated divines and critics for more than a century. Surenhusius, Hebrew professor at Amsterdam, and editor of a very splendid and useful edition of the Mishna, in six vols. fol.
published an express treatise on this subject, in 1713, full of deep research and sound criticism. He remarks great difference in the mode of quoting used in the Sacred Writings: as, It hath been said-it is written-that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets-the Scripture says-see what is said-the Scripture foreseeing-he saith-is it not written?-the saying that is written, &c., &c. With great pains and industry, he has collected ten rules out of the Talmud and the rabbins, to explain and justify all the quotations made from the Old Testament in the New.
RULE I. Reading the words, not according to the regular vowel points, but to others substituted for them. He thinks this is done by Peter, Acts iii. 22, 23; by Stephen, Acts vii. 42, &c.; and by Paul, 1 Cor. xv. 54; 2 Cor. viii. 15.
RULE II. Changing the letters, as done by St. Paul, Rom. ix. 33; 1 Cor. ix. 9, &c.; Heb. viii. 9., &c.; Heb. x. 5.
RULE III. Changing both letters and vowel points, as he supposes is done by St. Paul, Acts xiii. 40, 41; 2 Cor. viii. 15.
RULE IV. Adding some letters, and retrenching others.
RULE V. Transposing words and letters.
RULE VI. Dividing one word into two.
RULE VII. Adding other words to make the sense more clear.
RULE VIII. Changing the original order of the words.
RULE IX. Changing the original order, and adding other words.
RULE X. Changing the original order, and adding and retrenching words, which he maintains is a method often used by St. Paul.
Let it be observed, that although all these rules are used by the rabbins, yet, as far as they are employed by the sacred writers of the New Testament, they never, in any case, contradict what they quote from the Old, which cannot be said of the rabbins: they only explain what they quote, or accommodate the passage to the facts then in question. And who will venture to say that the Holy Spirit has not a right, in any subsequent period, to explain and illustrate his own meaning, by showing that it had a greater extension in the Divine mind than could have been then perceived by men? And has HE not a right to add to what he has formerly said, if it seem right in his own sight? Is not the whole of the New Testament, an addition to the Old, as the apostolic epistles are to the narrative of our Lord's life and acts, as given by the evangelists? Gusset, Wolf, Rosenmuller, and others, give four rules, according to which, the phrase, that it might be fulfilled, may be applied in the New Testament.
RULE I. When the thing predicted is literally accomplished.
RULE II. When that is done, of which the Scripture has spoken, not in a literal sense, but in a spiritual sense.
RULE III. When a thing is done neither in a literal nor spiritual sense, according to the fact referred to in the Scripture; but is similar to that fact.
RULE IV. When that which has been mentioned in the Old Testament as formerly done, is accomplished in a larger and more extensive sense in the New Testament.
St. Matthew seems to quote according to all these rules; and it will be useful to the reader to keep them constantly in view. I may add here, that the writers of the New Testament seem often to differ from those of the Old, because they appear uniformly to quote from some copy of the Septuagint version; and most of their quotations agree verbally, and often even literally, with one or other of the copies of that version which subsist to the present day. Want of attention to the difference of copies, in the Septuagint version, has led some divines and critics into strange and even ridiculous mistakes, as they have taken that for THE SEPTUAGINT which existed in the printed copy before them; which sometimes happened not to be the most correct.
ON the birth-place of our Lord, a pious and sensible man has made the following observations:-" At the first sight, it seems of little consequence to know the place of Christ's nativity; for we should consider him as our Redeemer, whatever the circumstances might be which attended his mortal life. But, seeing it has pleased God to announce, beforehand, the place where the saviour of the world should be born, it became necessary that it should happen precisely in that place; and that this should be one of the characteristics whereby Jesus Christ should be known to be the true Messiah.
"It is also a matter of small importance to us where we may live, provided we find genuine happiness. There is no place on earth, however poor and despicable, but may have better and more happy inhabitants than many of those are who dwell in the largest and most celebrated cities. Do we know a single place on the whole globe where the works of God do not appear under a thousand different forms, and where a person may not feel that blessed satisfaction which arises from a holy and Christian life? For an individual, that place is preferable to all others where he can get and do most good. For a number of people, that place is best where they can find the greatest number of wise and pious men. Every nation declines, in proportion as virtue and religion lose their influence on the minds of the inhabitants. The place where a young man first beheld the dawn and the beauty of renewed nature, and with most lively sensations of joy and gratitude adored his God, with all the veneration and love his heart was capable of; the place where a virtuous couple first met, and got acquainted; or where two friends gave each other the noblest proofs of their most tender affection; the village where one may have given, or seen, the most remarkable example of goodness, uprightness, and patience; such places, I say, must be dear to their hearts.
"Bethlehem was, according to this rule, notwithstanding its smallness, a most venerable place; seeing that there so many pious people had their abode, and that acts of peculiar piety had often been performed in it. First, the patriarch Jacob stopped some time in it, to erect a monument to his well- beloved Rachel. It was at Bethlehem that honest Naomi, and her modest daughter-in-law, Ruth, gave such proofs of their faith and holiness; and in it Boaz, the generous benefactor, had his abode and his possessions.
At Bethlehem the humble Jesse sojourned, the happy father of so many sons; the youngest of whom rose from the pastoral life to the throne of Israel. It was in this country that David formed the resolution of building a house for the Lord, and in which he showed himself the true shepherd and father of his subjects, when, at the sight of the destroying angel, whose sword spread consternation and death on all hands, he made intercession for his people. It was in Bethlehem that ZerubbHebel the prince was born, this descendant of David, who was the type of that Ruler and Shepherd under whose empire Israel is one day to assemble, in order to enjoy uninterrupted happiness. Lastly, in this city the Son of God appeared; who, by his birth, laid the foundation of that salvation, which, as Redeemer, he was to purchase by his death for the whole world. Thus, in places which from their smallness are entitled to little notice, men sometimes spring, who become the benefactors of the human race. Often, an inconsiderable village has given birth to a man, who, by his wisdom, uprightness, and heroism, has been a blessing to whole kingdoms." Sturm's Reflections, translated by A. C. vol. iv.