Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentMatthew 2
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the King, behold, Wisemen came from the east to Jerusalem, saying,
Bethlehem of Judaea
distinguishes between the two Bethlehems in Israel. One of them was in Zebulon (Joshua 19:15,16) and the other in Judaea. Micah had firmly foretold the birth of the Messiah in the Judaean Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). The word BETHLEHEM means "place of bread"; and it seems quite appropriate that "The Bread of Life" should have been born in a place with such a name. Located six miles south of Jerusalem on the road to Hebron, it has existed since 1,500 years before Christ and has boasted many great names among its citizens, including that of David the king.
In the days of Herod the king
is as near as Matthew comes to giving the date of Jesus' birth, a point on which there is much difference of opinion among scholars and commentators. H. Leo Boles makes the date 4 B.C. Dummelow makes it not later than 6 B.C. Encyclopedias usually date the reign of Herod the Great as 37 B.C. to 4 B.C. Now, if it could be ascertained with accuracy that Herod died the year our Lord was born, then the date would lie approximately 4 B.C. However, some scholars like Dummelow, understand Matthew 2:16 as a reference to a period of waiting and searching while Herod tried to find the wise men and get a report from them. The two years thus lost would move the birth of Christ back to 6 B.C. H. Leo Boles and others refer the "two years" to the time the wise men lost finding Christ. This would suppose the star to have appeared two years before Christ was born. Slight difficulty is encountered by either position. No one can say certainly exactly when the birth of Christ occurred. Fortunately, this is not an important difficulty.
Herod the king
was Herod I, called the Great, no less than nine members of whose family are mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures. He was, in short, a monster. Josephus details his pride, cruelty, and blood-lust, as they supported his merciless and implacable ambition. It was indeed "night" when our Lord was born with such a man upon the throne. Others of Herod's dynasty mentioned in the Bible are: his four sons, Herod Philip I, the first husband of Herodias (Matthew 14:3; Mark 6:17); (2) Herod Antipas, the second husband of Herodias, who was rebuked for his incestuous marriage by John the Baptist (Mark 6:17); (3) Herod Archelaus (Matthew 2:22); (4) Herod Philip II (Luke 3:1); (5) a grandson, Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12:1); (6) a great-grandson, Herod Agrippa II, before whom Paul made his defense in Acts 25 and Acts 26; (7) a great-granddaughter, Bernice, common law wife of her own brother, Agrippa II, and a mistress of both Vespasian and Titus (Acts 25; Acts 26); (8) Drusilla, another great-granddaughter, the wife of Felix (Acts 24:24); and (9) Herodias, wife of Herod Philip I, by whom she had Salome, and later, wife of Herod Antipas who was rebuked by John the Baptist. The numerous mentions of Herod's name in this wondrous second chapter of Matthew which details the birth of the Saviour is like an oft-repeated sour note in what is otherwise a perfect orchestral rendition.
There came wisemen ...
These were MAGI, that is, astrologers. Boles pointed out that Daniel "was made president of this order in Babylon (Daniel 2:48), and that Jeremiah spoke of this class among Babylonians." F1 The number of the wise men who came to visit Jesus is not known. The conjecture that there were "three" probably rose from the fact that three kinds of gifts are mentioned - gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Dummelow, among many, noted the spiritual implications of the worship from the wise men and called it: "A prophecy of the succeeding centuries, in which the chosen people have persistently rejected the Messiah, and the Gentiles have accepted him." F2 The translation "wise men" is a fortunate rendition of the Greek term "magi," since the truly wise of all ages are indeed those who bow down and worship the Lord Jesus Christ. The coming of those wise men to Christ has been compared to the experience of certain ones who come to Christ now: (1) They followed a little light, the star. (2) They arrived at the wrong place. (3) They asked for more light. (4) They did not received it from men but from God's word, the Bible. (5) They followed the additional light which they obtained from Micah 5:2. (6) They found the Lord in Bethlehem, (7) Lo, the star came; and it appeared that they had not lost any light but kept all they previously had. (8) They worshiped him. (9) They returned another way! Many, in groping their way out of denominational strife and error, have retraced the steps of those original wise men. Martin Luther loved the spiritual lesson derived from this incident. He said, "When the wise men relied upon their judgment and went straight to Jerusalem without consulting the star, God lifted it out of heaven and left them bewildered to make inquiry of Herod who then called his wise men, and they searched the Scriptures. And that is what we must do when we are bereft of the star." F3
Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we saw his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
The Old Testament opens with a question, God seeking man, and asking, "Adam, where art thou?" (Genesis 3:9). The New Testament opens with a question, man seeking God, and asking, "Where is he ...?"
Born King of the Jews.
That the Messianic hope of the Hebrews was well known throughout the ancient world is evident from the following considerations: (1) The Old Testament had been translated into the Greek language in the Septuagint translation "about 280 B.C." The Old Testament was thus given a worldwide circulation at least a quarter of a millennium before Christ was born. Dummelow noted that "Synagogues existed through the east; ... at Damascus, nearly all the women were proselytes." F4 The Messianic hope is mentioned by the Roman historians, Suetonius and Tacitus, the latter actually stating that the prophecies were fulfilled in the birth of Titus! F5
We saw his star in the east ...
Many conjectures with reference to this star still leave the question unanswered with regard to what it actually was. Kepler stated that there was a conjunction of the planets Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars within the constellation Pisces (the fish), beginning in 7 B.C. and culminating in 6 B.C. This particular constellation, Pisces, was held by ancient astrologers to represent Israel; therefore, this remarkable conjunction is at least worthy of notice. It is not hard to see in this a possible fulfillment of Numbers 24:17 concerning the star that should rise out of Jacob! Surely this must have been a real star, else the astrologers from the east would not have been impressed by it. F6 That the wise men were guided by a "real star" appears very unreasonable to Boles. F7 He affirmed that such a manifestation would have attracted multitudes; but it will be remembered that these "multitudes" could not even see the Sun of Righteousness himself after John the Baptist pointed him out to them! As to the genuine nature of that "star," we may not be dogmatic; but there can be no doubt whatever of the nature of that blessed Child over whom it stood. He was God of very God!
And when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
Herod's trouble was jealousy and rage, a rage that would finally vent itself in the slaughter of the innocents. Well, also, might the city of Jerusalem have been troubled with such a man upon the throne. Josephus related the circumstances attending the death of Herod, who, when he saw death was near, caused a large number of prominent persons to be put in prison with instructions that they should be put to death just as soon as Herod expired in order that (Herod said) "there should be real mourning" at his death! F8
And gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ should be born.
There is a terribly grim humor about this inquiry of Herod. He was doubtless most thoroughly hated; and there must have been countless speculations concerning the coming of the Messiah; but when he convened the most learned people of the day and demanded to know where Christ would be born, the bravest among them must have trembled. Under the circumstances, they wisely took refuge in the Word of God. In effect, they said, "O King, we don't really know anything about it, but there is, it so happens, a verse in one of the prophecies that speaks of the birth of the Messiah, and that says it is to take place in Bethlehem." The ignorance of Herod concerning the Messianic hope of the Jews is in keeping with secular monarchial character in all ages. Alas, how few men in public life have any real knowledge of spiritual things!
And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written through the prophet.
And thou, Bethlehem land of Judah, Art in no wise least among the princes of Judah: For out of thee shall come forth a governor, Who shall be shepherd of my people, Israel.
For once, the Pharisees did not embellish the plain word of God with all the trivia usually so dear to the Pharisaical mind. Under the awesome inquiry of merciless and ambitious Herod, they let the Word of God stand alone and unadorned.
Verses 7, 8
Then Herod privily called the wise men, and learned of them exactly what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search out exactly concerning the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word, that I also may come and worship him.
Herod's duplicity was in keeping with his evil character. He did not wish to worship the Christ child but to destroy him! He knew the birthplace; he thought he knew the child's age; and it remained only to find the exact location of the Christ child in order to slay him. That there was real danger in this plot appears from the fact that God himself intervened both in the behavior of the wise men and in the departure of Joseph to Egypt.
Verses 9, 10
And they, having heard the king, went their way; and lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. And when they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
Following additional light which they received from the Bible, the wise men soon found that in following that additional light they did not forfeit light previously enjoyed. The star came and stood over the place. Being wise men, they respectfully heard the instructions of Herod, manifesting, no doubt, an attitude of respect and deference that led Herod to suppose they would be the ready instruments of his evil purpose. It was not Herod's way, however, that they went; they "went THEIR way"! Though we may not know the exact nature of that star, the rejoicing which attended the finding of the Christ is something which every man may experience for himself when he turns to the Lord and knows the Redeemer in the forgiveness of his sins!
And they came into the house and saw the young child with Mary his mother; and they fell down and worshiped him; and opening their treasures, they offered unto him gifts, gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
Came into the house ...
indicates the passage of some little time after the birth of Christ which took place in a stable (Luke 2:7). Since the departure of the holy family was so soon to follow, it may also be that the presentation in the temple had already taken place. If so, Jesus was about six weeks old at that time.
Fell down and worshiped him ...
indicates that Christ alone was the object of their adoration. B. W. Johnson pointed out that "No adoration was offered to his mother." F9
of gold, frankincense, and myrrh certainly suggest three phases of our Lord's life. His kingship, his divinity, and his sufferings are in the most solemn manner suggested by these wonderful gifts; and, although we must agree with the commentators who reject any special symbolism in these gifts on the basis that nothing in the text supports such symbolism, nevertheless, it must must be admitted, they DO SUGGEST those things with reference to Christ. A practical need for the gifts existed in the forthcoming journey to Egypt. Another outstanding teaching connected with this incident is the fact that giving is a vital and necessary part of worship. Those who worship Christ GIVE. Those who do not or will not GIVE do not worship either! True worship simply does not exist apart from sacrifice. It will be remembered that no ancient monarch was ever approached without a gift; and this ancient procedure is frequently noted in the sacred Scriptures (Genesis 43:11; 1 Samuel 10:27; 1 Kings 10:2).
And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
Being warned of God in a dream ...
the wise men refused to cooperate with Herod. His caution in calling the wise men privily (Matthew 2:7) was of no avail. He that "slumbers not nor sleeps" was watching over the Saviour's cradle. Dreams were often a vehicle of revelation among the Hebrews. They were considered inferior to visions but often played a vital role in protecting the chosen people. Interpretation of dreams always belonged to God alone. See Gen. 40:8; Gen. 41:16; Daniel 1:17.
They returned ... another way.
The old ways are forsaken forever by those who truly worship Christ. The return of the wise men by ANOTHER WAY suggests the new and better passage that God gives His worshipers in delivering them from sin and leading them into eternal life.
Now when they were departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, ... through the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt did I call my son.
Out of Egypt did I call my son.
This prophecy is referred by Matthew to the flight of Joseph and the holy family into Egypt from which, of course, they later came back. Thus, there is scriptural authority for that method of interpreting prophecy which finds both an immediate and a remote fulfillment. Israel was first called "out of Egypt" when God delivered the chosen race under the leadership of Moses, but it was fulfilled even more gloriously when the Christ returned from his journey in Egypt. Another case of this double fulfillment will be noted in Matt. 2:18.
Spoken by the Lord through the prophet ...
In words like these and also those in Matt. 1:22, one sees the Scriptural affirmation that it was actually GOD who spoke THROUGH the prophets. The prophets were only instruments to convey God's message. The word belonged to God and came forth from Him!
Verses 14, 15
Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wisemen, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth and slew all the male children ... Then was fulfilled that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet, ... Rachel weeping for her children; And she would not be comforted, because they are not.
Exceeding wroth ...
indicates the utmost fury of that inhuman king. Some have professed to marvel that Josephus omits any reference to Herod's slaughter of the innocents; but such is easily understood when it is recalled that Bethlehem was a small place and that the list of the slain was possibly not very large, especially when compared with the long lists of the slain so characteristic of Herod's reign. The slaughter of a few babies in Bethlehem would create little stir in a society like that. Yet there is historical reference to the event. A fourth century historian, Macrobius, referred to the slaughter of those children and affirmed that Herod's own son was among the slain, hence a proverb that arose, "It is better to be Herod's hog than his son." F10 As a Jewish proselyte, Herod refrained from killing swine or having anything to do with them or their flesh.
Two years old and under ...
This period is hard to place. Do they refer to children two years older, or younger than Christ; or do they apply to those both younger and older, embracing a period of one year before to one year after our Lord's birth? The latter case would have indicated that Herod used a margin of allowance on both sides of our Lord's age. It is the difficulty of determining just what this period is that makes it almost impossible to locate with positive accuracy the exact year of the Saviour's birth.
Rachel weeping for her children ...
The tomb of Rachel was located at Ramah; and many of the captives led away to Babylon passed her tomb on the way to captivity. Jeremiah represented Rachel as weeping for the children of the captivity (Jeremiah 31:15). Here Matthew applies the words as a prophecy of the grief and tears arising upon the slaughter of the innocents at the birth of Christ. Thus, there is another example of prophecy having an immediate and a remote fulfillment (Matthew 2:15).
But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying ...
But when Herod was dead, ...
That is God's answer to men who oppose His will. Through all the universe, one mighty purpose runs; and no man or combination of men or nations can thwart that will. BUT ... God's will must be done. A similar example of this same principle may be noted in Acts 12:23,34 where it is said of another Herod who opposed God's will that "He was eaten of worms ... but the word of God grew and multiplied."
Arise and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead that sought the young child's life.
Note that the instructions were to return to Israel, not to Bethlehem or to Jerusalem.
They are dead that sought ...
See under Matt. 2:3 how, by a peculiar providence, most of the powerful members of Herod's establishment perished with him. How circumstantially accurate are God's words! Satan had doubtless raised up many enemies of Christ even in his infancy. How strange and significant that Herod caused such a large number of prominent persons to be murdered on the occasion of his own death. Josephus tells how they were shut up in the Hippodrome at Jericho and destroyed with darts when Herod knew his end was near. Marvelous are the ways of God. Unique is the procedure by which Herod took so many of his vicious nobles to the grave with him. It was God's answer to Satan's hatred of the Christ.
Verses 21, 22
And he arose and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel; but when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither; and being warned of God in a dream, he withdrew into the parts of Galilee.
was a son of Herod by one of his ten wives, namely, Malthake; and, like most of that family, he was of vicious life.
Into the parts of Galilee ...
This area was also ruled by a Herod, a son of Cleopatra of Jerusalem and Philip II. He was distinguished as one of the mildest and least vicious of the many rulers that stemmed from the evil dynasty of Herod the Great.
And came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophets, that he should be called a Nazarene.
The connection between the term "Nazarene" and the Old Testament prophecies mentioned here by Matthew seems to be as follows: The Nazarites were, in a manner, typical of Christ. The town of Nazareth was named after this order of persons which counted among their number such illustrious Jewish names as those of Samuel, Samson, and John the Baptist. Nazarites were of two classes, Nazarites of days, meaning Nazarites for a short period, and Nazarites for life, of whom were the three mentioned above. The Nazarite did not allow a razor to come upon him and drank no wine or strong drink. The town of Nazareth was named after the Nazarites; and thus, Jesus' residence there resulted in his being called a "Nazarene." The marvel of the fulfillment is seen in that Christ was "called" a Nazarene, although he did not manifest the type of life ascribed to Nazarites such as John the Baptist. Christ placed a great deal of emphasis on the fact that he dwelt in Nazareth. From heaven itself, he said, "I am Jesus of Nazareth": (Acts 22:8). It appears that this wretched and despised village was made by the Lord to appear as a type of all humanity. Certainly his residence there suggested his rejection.
Footnotes for Matthew 2
1: H. Leo Boles, Commentary on Matthew (Nashville, Tennessee: Gospel Advocate Company, 1961), p. 37.
2: J. R. Dummelow, One Volume Commentary (New York: Macmillan Co., 1937), p. 627.
3: R. H. Bainton, Here I Stand (Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1950), p. 368.
4: J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 626.
5: Adam Clarke, Commentary, article on Matthew (London: Mason and Lane, 1837), on Matthew 2:2.
6: J. R. Dummelow, op cit., p. 627.
7: H. Leo Boles, op. cit., p. 39.
8: Josephus' Antiquities. Book 17, Chapter 6.
9: B. W. Johnson, People's New Testament (St. Louis, Missouri: Christian Board of Publication) on this passage.
10: Adam Clarke, op. cit., on Matthew 2:16.
11: R. A. Torrey, Difficulties in the Bible (Westwood, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1907), p. 102.
12: Ibid., p. 103.
13: Roman Catholic Testament.
14: Revised Standard Version.
15: Emphatic Diaglott.
16: Goodspeed, New Testament in Modern Speech.
17: Williams, The New Testament.
18: Moffatt, The New Testament.
19: Paul Blanchard, American Freedom and Catholic Power (Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press), pp. 138-139.
20: J. W. McGarvey, Commentary on Matthew and Mark (Nashville, Tennessee: The Gospel Advocate Company), p. 16.
21: Ibid., p. 16.
22: Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Sermons, Volume 5 (New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company), p. 20.
23: Robert Milligan, Commentary on Hebrews (Nashville: World Vision Publishing Company), pp. 73-74.