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The Time and Place of Jesus' Birth
2:1–2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, in the time of King Herod, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem saying, "Where is the one who is born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him."
Matthew (as Luke in Luke 1:5) dates the time of Jesus' birth as being in the days of Herod the Great, King of Judea, which leads scholars to believe that Christ was born in approx. 4BC. Traditionally, the term “Anno Domini” was used to denote the number of years from the date of Christ's birth; but these early estimates are inaccurate to the tune of 3–4 years.
It is of vital importance that Matthew records the place of Jesus' birth as Bethlehem, since this was long since prophesied and understood by the Jews to be the birth place of the coming Messiah (John 7:42; Micah 5:2).
Little is told us of the scholars which came from the East to Jerusalem, except that they had seen a sign which indicated to them that the Messiah King of the Jews had been born. The words "wise men" denote scientists, or learned men. They were clearly in possession of the prophetic Scriptures, and had observed a sign in the heavens as being the omen of the fulfilment of a prophecy concerning Christ's coming.
Balaam son of Beor prophesied that “a star will march forth out of Jacob, and a sceptre will rise out of Israel” (Num. 24:17).
Isaiah wrote, “and the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising” (Isa. 60:3).
To indulge in speculation as to the nature of this star is actually pointless. It served merely as a sign to these wise men, and afterward had no purpose. It is possible that the sign was supernaturally produced, or even that it was literally a new star, showing forth the glory of a creator.
Having read of his coming, these devout men travelled long distances in order to worship and pay him homage.
The Rejection of Christ
2:3 When King Herod heard this he was alarmed, and all Jerusalem with him.
The word "alarmed" is too weak. We are often told in Christmas nativities that Herod did not wish to lose his throne. Such may be the case, and yet this is not the only possible meaning of this verse. Perhaps Herod was not so much afraid of a new king taking his place as he was averse to God's king coming to reign in his heart and life; he would not submit to him. On hearing of the coming of Christ, Herod and all Jerusalem were stirred and agitated in opposition to the coming one, thus revealing the enmity in the heart of sinful people against God. To think that such antipathy was provoked merely by the mention of the coming king! Many today share this irrational enmity against God which is the result of sin.
2:4 After assembling all the chief priests and experts in the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born.
Herod himself was not entirely in the dark concerning the prophecy of a divine king who would reign over all the earth and demand perfect submission from every man. He knew enough to know that the place of his birth was predicted in the scriptures, as the scribes may have reminded him.
2:5–6 "In Bethlehem of Judea," they said, "for it is written this way by the prophet: “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are in no way least among the rulers of Judah, for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.” "
All the kings from David onwards might have been said in one sense to arise out of Bethlehem, for that was their ancestor David's family home. Yet the prophecy was specific that the Christ, the greatest of all kings, would himself be born in Bethlehem to shepherd and rule over God's people Israel. Matthew concentrates here on the fulfilment of this prophecy, and so does not elaborate on the rest of Micah's message which stated that the king’s “goings forth” had been “from everlasting" (Micah 5:2).
2:7 Then Herod privately summoned the wise men and determined from them when the star had appeared.
In keeping with every evil work, Herod wanted his plans for the killing of the Christ child to be as secret as possible. No one does wrong openly, but secretly, behind closed doors. Pretending to show greater interest for some other reason, Herod found out by closely examining the wise men when the star had appeared, information which would enable him to roughly age the child.
2:8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and look carefully for the child. When you find him, inform me so that I can go and worship him as well."
Originally it had only been Herod's intention to eliminate the Christ, so he asks the wise men to definitely locate the child and report back to him, so that he might find and destroy him.
Seeking, Finding and Worshiping
2:9–10 After listening to the king they left, and once again the star they saw when it rose led them until it stopped above the place where the child was. When they saw the star they shouted joyfully.
Since the hearts of the wise men were open to the guidance of God, they found that as they journeyed toward Bethlehem, the star "went before them" confirming that their direction of travel was correct, and they gave a shout of joy to think that they were now so near to completing their journey and finding their goal. Are we so enthusiastic about coming together to worship Jesus?
2:11 As they came into the house and saw the child with Mary his mother, they bowed down and worshiped him. They opened their treasure boxes and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
The worship of the wise men consisted of faith and homage. They sought him and bowed down to him. It consisted also of devotion, for they opened their treasures—it may well have been all they had to live on, it was certainly not cheap to them, this gold, frankincense and myrrh: gold the gift for a king, frankincense for the worship of God, and myrrh for burial and the priestly office.
Since by this time Matthew refers to Jesus as a "young child" (different word to "babe") we may assume that the arrival of the wise men came a while after Christ's birth and that Mary and Joseph had spent some time in Bethlehem. From what follows in this passage we assume that time to be approximately two years, and Jesus was anything up to two years old at this point.
2:12 After being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back by another route to their own country.
Whether or not the wise men had been taken in by Herod's duplicity is unclear. Yet if they did harbour any suspicions, these were to be confirmed, for an angel of the Lord appeared to them in a dream, warning them about Herod's true purpose. They went back to their own country by a different route in order to escape and frustrate him.
Herod Tries to Kill Jesus
2:13–15 After they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to look for the child to kill him." Then he got up, took the child and his mother during the night, and went to Egypt. He stayed there until Herod died. In this way what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet was fulfilled: "I called my Son out of Egypt."
God sent his angel also to warn Joseph of what was about to happen. "Herod is going to look for the child to kill him". God instructs Joseph to flee Bethlehem and remain in Egypt where he would be safe, until he once more received word from God. Joseph immediately obeyed, and through all of these circumstances another prophecy was fulfilled: "out of Egypt have I called my son" (Hosea 11:1).
2:16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he became enraged. He sent men to kill all the children in Bethlehem and throughout the surrounding region from the age of two and under, according to the time he had learned from the wise men.
The opponent of Christ was angered when his plans were frustrated by the wise men, and so he sought to accomplish his evil plan in another way. This delay may be seen as God giving Herod an opportunity to turn from his evil purpose, but he did not do so. Instead, he ordered his soldiers to slaughter all children in Bethlehem and the surrounding districts who were aged two and under. It is worth remembering that the soldiers would not have asked to see evidence of age. They would have killed every child who looked two or under, and they would not have stopped to check the child's gender either, so many girls may have died too in Herod's efforts to rid the earth of the Christ child.
2:17–18 Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: "A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud wailing, Rachel weeping for her children, and she did not want to be comforted, because they were gone."
This mindless slaughter, carried out in deliberate defiance of God, was predicted through the prophet Jeremiah. Barnes notes that Rama was a small town about 6 miles northwest of Jerusalem, and Rachel was buried near to Bethlehem (Gen. 35:16–19) which is about 10 miles from Rama.
The prophecy clearly indicates the extent of the "surrounding region" (v16) where the children were killed. One might easily understand why the parents refused to be comforted.
2:19–20 After Herod had died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt saying, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child's life are dead."
The one comfort we can take from this passage is that Herod died, as all tyrants will. It was time then for God to call his son back into Israel; which is what the angel instructed Joseph to do.
2:21–23 So he got up and took the child and his mother and returned to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. After being warned in a dream, he went to the regions of Galilee. He came to a town called Nazareth and lived there. Then what had been spoken by the prophets was fulfilled, that Jesus would be called a Nazarene.
Joseph immediately obeyed. But as he journeyed, he learned that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod. Knowing the son to be as evil as his father, and perhaps worried that the story of the Christ child might endanger Jesus there, and with divine confirmation of this being given, Joseph decided to return to Nazareth, which was a different jurisdiction, where he and Mary had become engaged, and where no one was looking for Jesus. This once again caused the fulfilment of scripture, where the coming Messiah was foreshadowed by the oath of the Nazarite, the one from Nazareth. Thus the Messiah would be a Nazarene. Nazareth was a despised city, and so it was fitting that he who was despised and rejected by men should live there.
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