Matthew 2 - Wise Men from the East, Escape to Egypt and Back Again
A. Wise men from the east come to honor Jesus.
1. (1-2) The wise men arrive in Jerusalem.
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 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."
a. Wise men from the East came to Jerusalem: Misconceptions and legends abound about these wise men. They were not kings, but wise men, which means they were astronomers. There were not only three, but probably a great company. They seem to have not come on the birth night, but many days (or even months) later.
i. Church traditions even tell us their names - supposedly Melchior, Caspar, and Balthasar. You can see their supposed skulls in a cathedral in Cologne, Germany.
b. Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? These ancient scientists from Persia were on an important mission. They probably had been alerted to the prophetic significance of their times by the prophesies of Daniel and other Old Testament prophets.
i. Jewish legends say that Daniel himself, as an official of the Persian government, founded this order of Magi (wise men), and instructed them to watch for the Messiah through the generations.
ii. This shows us that the whole world was looking for the Messiah, not only Israel.
c. For we have seen His star in the East: There has been considerable speculation on this star they saw in the East. Some say it was a curious conjunction of planets, others a comet. These are possible, but it is also possible God provided a completely unique phenomenon for them to see.
i. Whatever it was, it is significant that God meet them in their own medium: He guides the astronomers by a star.
d. And have come to worship Him: The wise men come first to Jerusalem, assuming that the leaders of the Jews would be aware and excited about the birth of their Messiah. The wise men are about to find that this isn't the case at all.
2. (3) Herod is troubled at the news brought by the wise men.
When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
a. When Herod the king heard this: Herod the Great (one of several Herods mentioned in the Bible, and the ancestor of the others) was famous for both his magnificent public building projects, and his ruthless, cruel paranoia.
i. Herod was not a Jew at all, but an Edomite, and Rome recognized him as a vassal king over Judea. The Jews tempered their great hatred of him with admiration for his building projects, such as the magnificent improvements made to the second temple.
ii. Motivated by his great paranoia and cruelty, he murdered the members of the Sanhedrien, his wife, his mother in-law, and his three sons.
iii. When Herod knew that his death was approaching, he had the most distinguished leaders of Jerusalem arrested on false charges. He ordered that as soon as he died, they should all be killed - he knew well no one would mourn his own death, so he was determined that some tears be shed when he died.
b. He was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him: The fact that all Jerusalem was troubled with Herod is significant. This was due either to the fact that the people of Jerusalem rightly feared what sort of paranoid outburst might come from Herod upon hearing of a rival king being born, or because of the size and dignity of this caravan from the East.
3. (4-6) Herod is instructed regarding the Messiah's coming by the chief priests and scribes.
And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. So they said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.'"
a. So they said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea": Sadly, these experts have the right information (quoting from Micah 5:2), but seem personally uninterested in meeting the Messiah for themselves, just like some "Bible scholars" today.
4. (7-8) True to character, Herod attempts to use wise men to find the child that he may kill Him.
Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also."
a. Determined from them what time the star appeared: Because Herod commanded that all boys two and younger be killed in the area, we can assume that the wise men first saw the star, on the night Jesus was born, a year or so previously. Herod ordered the execution of children two and under just to be safe.
i. Remember that the journey from Persia to Judea was not quick. The wise men may have left as soon as logistics allowed.
b. Bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also: The irony is strong. Herod claims a desire to worship Jesus, when he really wants to kill Him.
5. (9-12) The wise men present gifts to Jesus and leave without informing Herod.
When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 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. Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.
a. Behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them: The star continued to guide them, apparently re-appearing. Surely this was a supernatural phenomenon.
b. When they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh: The idea that there were three wise men comes from the fact that there were three gifts. Gold representing royalty, frankincense representing priesthood, and myrrh representing death.
c. Fell down and worshipped Him: More important than their gifts is the fact that they worshipped Jesus. It must have been a curious sight to see these impressive dignitaries bowing before a young child.
d. Being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way: Their worship is also manifested in obedience. They are obedient to the heavenly dream and leave without serving as Herod's informants.
6. We see here three different responses to Jesus, and all people respond in one of these three ways.
a. Herod displayed an open hatred and hostility toward Jesus.
b. The chief priests and the scribes were indifferent toward Jesus, all the while retaining their religious respectability.
c. The wise men sought out Jesus, and worshipped Him - even at great cost.
d. We see here Jesus coming to the Jew first, then the Gentile; to the humble and ignorant first, then the honorable and learned; to the poor first, then the rich; to the West first, then the East.
B. The flight to Egypt and the return to Nazareth.
1. (13-15) Joseph, Mary, and Jesus find refuge in Egypt.
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, "Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him." When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, "Out of Egypt I called My Son."
a. Flee to Egypt: There was a large Jewish community in Egypt. It wasn't strange that the Holy Spirit would guide Joseph to take the family there.
b. When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night: But we are impressed by Joseph's rapid (leaving the very night of the dream) and complete obedience. This wasn't an easy thing to do, but he did it.
c. Out of Egypt I called My Son: In the process, another prophecy was fulfilled. At first glance, we might wonder how this prophecy from Hosea 11:1 is fulfilled in Jesus. But Matthew makes it clear that even as Israel as a nation came out from Egypt, so does the Son of God.
2. (16-18) The Massacre of the Innocents.
Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: "A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more."
a. He sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts: Though there are no exact descriptions of this event in secular history, it is entirely in character with Herod's well-known ruthlessness.
b. A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, weeping, and great mourning: This quotation from Jeremiah 31:15 originally referred to the mourning of Israel's mothers during the conquest and captivity of the nation. But here, Rachel is a picture of Bethlehem's mothers.
3. (19-21) The return to Israel.
But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, "Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child's life are dead." Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel.
a. Arise, take the young Child and His mother: God speaks to Joseph again in a dream, through an angel of the Lord. We also notice Joseph's quick obedience.
b. The young Child . . . the young Child . . . the young Child: Repeatedly, the young Child is given first place in the account.
4. (22-23) Fearing the evil son of Herod (Archelaus), they go north to Nazareth.
But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, "He shall be called a Nazarene."
a. The phrase He shall be called a Nazarene is not a Biblically recorded prophecy, but probably just a well known rabbinical prophecy or interpretation.
b. He came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets: Since to take the vow of a Nazarene was a special mark of holiness, it seemed natural that the Messiah would be a Nazarene. But Matthew shows how this was true in a different way - Jesus was from the city of Nazareth, and not a Nazarene through a vow.
c. Remember that Nazareth was a city which did not have a particularly good reputation (John 1:46). Yet God the Father did not feel it necessary to have Jesus come from a "good" city.
d. What about the "Hidden Years" of Jesus? It is vain to speculate here on what God chose to keep silent; many people who want to distort the Biblical Jesus insert whatever they want during those "silent years" to make Jesus conform to their weird notions. If those years were important, God would have told us.