VISIT OF THE
The Wise Men Reach Jerusalem--The Sanhedrim, on Herod's Demand,
Pronounce Bethlehem to Be Messiah's Predicted Birthplace
1. Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea--so called to
distinguish it from another Bethlehem in the tribe of Zebulun, near the
Sea of Galilee
called also Beth-lehem-judah, as being in that tribe
and combining both, Beth-lehem Ephratah
It lay about six miles southwest of Jerusalem. But how came Joseph and
Mary to remove thither from Nazareth, the place of their residence? Not
of their own accord, and certainly not with the view of fulfilling the
prophecy regarding Messiah's birthplace; nay, they stayed at Nazareth
till it was almost too late for Mary to travel with safety; nor would
they have stirred from it at all, had not an order which left them no
choice forced them to the appointed place. A high hand was in all these
movements. (See on
in the days of Herod the king--styled the Great; son of Antipater, an
Edomite, made king by the Romans. Thus was "the sceptre departing
a sign that Messiah was now at hand. As Herod is known to have died in
the year of Rome 750, in the fourth year before the commencement of our
Christian era, the birth of Christ must be dated four years before the
date usually assigned to it, even if He was born within the year of
Herod's death, as it is next to certain that He was.
there came wise men--literally, "Magi" or "Magians," probably of the
learned class who cultivated astrology and kindred sciences. Balaam's
and perhaps Daniel's
&c.), might have come down to them by tradition; but nothing definite
is known of them.
from the east--but whether from Arabia, Persia, or Mesopotamia is
to Jerusalem--as the Jewish metropolis.
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
and of the Roman soldiers,
with the very different language of the Jews themselves,
&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
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
3. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled--viewing
this as a danger to his own throne: perhaps his guilty conscience also
suggested other grounds of fear.
and all Jerusalem with him--from a dread of revolutionary commotions,
and perhaps also of Herod's rage.
4. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the
people together--The class of the "chief priests" included the high
priest for the time being, together with all who had previously filled
this office; for though the then head of the Aaronic family was the only
rightful high priest, the Romans removed them at pleasure, to make way
for creatures of their own. In this class probably were included also
the heads of the four and twenty courses of the priests. The "scribes"
were at first merely transcribers of the law and synagogue readers;
afterwards interpreters of the law, both civil and religious, and so
both lawyers and divines. The first of these classes, a proportion of
the second, and "the elders"--that is, as
LIGHTFOOT thinks, "those
elders of the laity that were not of the Levitical tribe"--constituted
the supreme council of the nation, called the Sanhedrim, the members
of which, at their full complement, numbered seventy-two. That this was
the council which Herod now convened is most probable, from the
solemnity of the occasion; for though the elders are not mentioned, we
find a similar omission where all three were certainly meant (compare
Mt 26:59; 27:1).
As MEYER says, it was all the theologians of the
nation whom Herod convened, because it was a theological response that
he demanded of them--as the authorized interpreters of Scripture.
where Christ--the Messiah.
should be born--according to prophecy.
5. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judea--a prompt and
involuntary testimony from the highest tribunal; which yet at length
condemned Him to die.
for thus it is written by the prophet--
6. And thou, Bethlehem, in the land of Juda--the "in" being
familiarly left out, as we say, "London, Middlesex."
art not the least among the princes of Judah: for out of thee shall
come a Governor, &c.--This quotation, though differing verbally,
agrees substantially with the Hebrew and the Septuagint.
For says the prophet, "Though thou be little, yet out of thee shall
come the Ruler"--this honor more than compensating for its natural
insignificance; while our Evangelist, by a lively turn, makes him say,
"Thou art not the least: for out of thee shall come a
Governor"--this distinction lifting it from the lowest to the highest
rank. The "thousands of Juda," in the prophet, mean the subordinate
divisions of the tribe: our Evangelist, instead of these, merely names
the "princes" or heads of these families, including the districts which
that shall rule--or "feed," as in the Margin.
my people Israel--In the Old Testament, kings are, by a beautiful
figure, styled "shepherds"
&c.). The classical writers use the same figure. The pastoral rule of
Jehovah and Messiah over His people is a representation pervading all
Scripture, and rich in import. (See
That this prophecy of Micah referred to the Messiah, was admitted by
the ancient Rabbins.
The Wise Men Despatched to Bethlehem by Herod to See the Babe, and
Bring Him Word, Make a Religious Offering to the Infant King, but
Divinely Warned, Return Home by Another Way
7. Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men--Herod has so
far succeeded in his murderous design: he has tracked the spot where
lies his victim, an unconscious babe. But he has another point to
fix--the date of His birth--without which he might still miss his mark.
The one he had got from the Sanhedrim; the other he will have from the
sages; but secretly, lest his object should be suspected and defeated.
inquired of them diligently--rather, "precisely."
what time the star appeared--presuming that this would be the best
clue to the age of the child. The unsuspecting strangers tell him all.
And now he thinks he is succeeding to a wish, and shall speedily clutch
his victim; for at so early an age as they indicate, He would not likely
have been removed from the place of His birth. Yet he is wary. He sends
them as messengers from himself, and bids them come to him, that he
may follow their pious example.
8. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently--"Search out carefully."
for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again,
that I may come and worship him also--The cunning and bloody hypocrite!
Yet this royal mandate would meantime serve as a safe conduct to the
9. When they had heard the king, they departed--But where were ye, O
Jewish ecclesiastics, ye chief priests and scribes of the people? Ye
could tell Herod where Christ should be born, and could hear of these
strangers from the far East that the Desire of all nations had actually
come; but I do not see you trooping to Bethlehem--I find these devout
strangers journeying thither all alone. Yet God ordered this too, lest
the news should be blabbed, and reach the tyrant's ears, before the Babe
could be placed beyond his reach. Thus are the very errors and crimes
and cold indifferences of men all overruled.
and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east--implying apparently that
it had disappeared in the interval.
went before them, and stood over where the young child was--Surely this
could hardly be but by a luminous meteor, and not very high.
10. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy--The
language is very strong, expressing exuberant transport.
11. And when they were come into the house--not the stable; for as soon
as Bethlehem was emptied of its strangers, they would have no difficulty
in finding a dwelling-house.
they saw--The received text has "found"; but here our translators
rightly depart from it, for it has no authority.
the young child with Mary his mother--The blessed Babe is naturally
mentioned first, then the mother; but Joseph, though doubtless present,
is not noticed, as being but the head of the house.
and fell down and worshipped him--Clearly this was no civil homage to
a petty Jewish king, whom these star-guided strangers came so far, and
inquired so eagerly, and rejoiced with such exceeding joy, to pay, but a
lofty spiritual homage. The next clause confirms this.
and when they had opened their treasures they presented--rather,
unto him gifts--This expression, used frequently in the Old Testament
of the oblations presented to God, is in the New Testament employed
seven times, and always in a religious sense of offerings to God.
Beyond doubt, therefore, we are to understand the presentation of these
gifts by the Magi as a religious offering.
gold, frankincense, and myrrh--Visits were seldom paid to sovereigns
without a present
Ps 72:10, 11, 15;
Isa 60:3, 6).
"Frankincense" was an aromatic used in sacrificial offerings; "myrrh"
was used in perfuming ointments. These, with the "gold" which they
presented, seem to show that the offerers were persons in affluent
circumstances. That the gold was presented to the infant King in token
of His royalty; the frankincense in token of His divinity, and the
myrrh, of His sufferings; or that they were designed to express His
divine and human natures; or that the prophetical, priestly, and kingly
offices of Christ are to be seen in these gifts; or that they were the
offerings of three individuals respectively, each of them kings, the
very names of whom tradition has handed down--all these are, at the
best, precarious suppositions. But that the feelings of these devout
givers are to be seen in the richness of their gifts, and that the
gold, at least, would be highly serviceable to the parents of the
blessed Babe in their unexpected journey to Egypt and stay there--that
much at least admits of no dispute.
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.
MARY WITH THE
The Flight into Egypt
13. And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord
appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child
and his mother--Observe this form of expression, repeated in
--another indirect hint that Joseph was no more than the Child's
guardian. Indeed, personally considered, Joseph has no spiritual
significance, and very little place at all, in the Gospel history.
and flee into Egypt--which, being near, as
ALFORD says, and a Roman
province independent of Herod