Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
1. Cæsar Augustus--the first of the Roman emperors.
all the world--so the vast Roman Empire was termed.
taxed--enrolled, or register themselves.
2. first . . . when Cyrenius, &c.--a very perplexing
verse, inasmuch as Cyrenius, or Quirinus, appears not to have been
governor of Syria for about ten years after the birth of Christ, and
the "taxing" under his administration was what led to the insurrection
That there was a taxing, however, of the whole Roman Empire under
Augustus, is now admitted by all; and candid critics, even of skeptical
tendency, are ready to allow that there is not likely to be any real
inaccuracy in the statement of our Evangelist. Many superior scholars
would render the words thus, "This registration was previous to
Cyrenius being governor of Syria"--as the word "first" is rendered in
Joh 1:15; 15:18.
In this case, of course, the difficulty vanishes. But it is perhaps
better to suppose, with others, that the registration may have been
ordered with a view to the taxation, about the time of our Lord's
birth, though the taxing itself--an obnoxious measure in Palestine--was
not carried out till the time of Quirinus.
3. went . . . to his own city--the city of his
extraction, according to the Jewish custom, not of his
abode, which was the usual Roman method.
4, 5. Not only does Joseph, who was of the royal line, go to
but Mary too--not from choice surely in her condition, but, probably,
for personal enrollment, as herself an heiress.
5. espoused wife--now, without doubt, taken home to him, as related
Mt 1:18; 25:6.
6. while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should
be delivered--Mary had up to this time been living at the wrong place
for Messiah's birth. A little longer stay at Nazareth, and the prophecy
would have failed. But lo! with no intention certainly on her part, much
less of Cæsar Augustus, to fulfil the prophecy, she is brought from
Nazareth to Bethlehem, and at that nick of time her period arrives, and
her Babe is born
"Every creature walks blindfold; only He that dwells in light knows
whether they go" [BISHOP HALL].
yet the law, in speaking of the first-born, regardeth not whether any
were born after or no, but only that none were born
wrapt him . . . laid him--The mother herself did so. Had she then none
to help her? It would seem so
a manger--the manger, the bench to which the horses' heads were tied,
on which their food could rest [WEBSTER and
no room in the inn--a square erection, open inside, where travellers
put up, and whose rear parts were used as stables. The ancient
tradition, that our Lord was born in a grotto or cave, is quite
consistent with this, the country being rocky. In Mary's condition the
journey would be a slow one, and ere they arrived, the inn would be
fully occupied--affecting anticipation of the reception He was
throughout to meet with
| Wrapt in His swaddling--bands,
And in His manger laid,
The hope and glory of all lands
Is come to the world's aid.
No peaceful home upon His cradle smiled,
Guests rudely went and came where slept the royal Child.
But some "guests went and came" not "rudely," but reverently. God
sent visitors of His own to pay court to the new-born King.
ANNUNCIATION TO THE
VISIT TO THE
8. abiding in the fields--staying there, probably in huts or tents.
watch . . . by night--or, night watches, taking their turn of watching.
From about passover time in April until autumn, the flocks pastured
constantly in the open fields, the shepherds lodging there all that
time. (From this it seems plain that the period of the year usually
assigned to our Lord's birth is too late). Were these shepherds chosen
to have the first sight of the blessed Babe without any respect of their
own state of mind? That, at least, is not God's way. "No doubt, like
they were among the waiters for the Consolation of Israel" [OLSHAUSEN]; and, if the simplicity of their rustic minds,
their quiet occupation, the stillness of the midnight hours, and the
amplitude of the deep blue vault above them for the heavenly music
which was to fill their ear, pointed them out as fit recipients for the
first tidings of an Infant Saviour, the congenial meditations and
conversations by which, we may suppose, they would beguile the tedious
hours would perfect their preparation for the unexpected visit. Thus
was Nathanael engaged, all alone but not unseen, under the fig tree, in
unconscious preparation for his first interview with Jesus. (See on
So was the rapt seer on his lonely rock "in the spirit on the Lord's
Day," little thinking that this was his preparation for hearing behind
him the trumpet voice of the Son of man
&c.). But if the shepherds in His immediate neighborhood had the
first, the sages from afar had the next sight of the
new-born King. Even so still, simplicity first, science next, finds its
way to Christ, whom
| In quiet ever and in shade
Shepherds and Sage may find--
They, who have bowed untaught to Nature's sway,
And they, who follow Truth along her star-pav'd way.
9. glory of the Lord--"the brightness or glory which is represented
as encompassing all heavenly visions" [OLSHAUSEN].
sore afraid--So it ever was
(Da 10:7, 8;
Men have never felt easy with the invisible world laid suddenly open to
their gaze. It was never meant to be permanent; a momentary purpose was
all it was intended to serve.
10. to all people--"to the whole people," that is, of Israel; to
be by them afterwards opened up to the whole world. (See on
11. unto you is born--you shepherds, Israel, mankind
"Unto us a Child is born." It is a birth--"The Word is made
When? "This day." Where? "In the city of David"--in the
right line and at the right "spot"; where prophecy bade us look
for Him, and faith accordingly expected Him. How dear to us should be
these historic moorings of our faith! With the loss of them, all
substantial Christianity is lost. By means of them how many have been
kept from making shipwreck, and attained to a certain external
admiration of Him, ere yet they have fully "beheld His glory."
a Saviour--not One who shall be a Saviour, but
"born a Saviour."
Christ the Lord--"magnificent appellation!"
[BENGEL]. "This is the
only place where these words come together; and I see no way of
understanding this "Lord" but as corresponding to the Hebrew
12. a sign--"the sign."
the babe--"a Babe."
a manger--"the manger." The sign was to consist, it seems, solely in
the overpowering contrast between the things just said of Him and
the lowly condition in which they would find Him--Him whose goings forth
have been from of old, from everlasting, "ye shall find a Babe"; whom
the heaven of heavens cannot contain, "wrapt in swaddling bands"; the
"Saviour, Christ the Lord," lying in a manger! Thus early were these
amazing contrasts, which are His chosen style, held forth.
13. suddenly--as if only waiting till their fellow had done.
with the angel--who retires not, but is joined by others, come to
seal and to celebrate the tidings he has brought.
heavenly host--or "army," an army celebrating peace!
"transferring the occupation of their exalted station to this poor
earth, which so seldom resounds with the pure praise of God"
[OLSHAUSEN]; to let it be known how this event is regarded
in heaven and should be regarded on earth.
14. Glory, &c.--brief but transporting hymn--not only in articulate
human speech, for our benefit, but in tunable measure, in the form of a
Hebrew parallelism of two complete clauses, and a third one only
amplifying the second, and so without a connecting "and." The
"glory to God," which the new-born "Saviour" was to bring, is the
first note of this sublime hymn: to this answers, in the second clause,
the "peace on earth," of which He was to be "the Prince"
--probably sung responsively by the celestial choir; while quickly
follows the glad echo of this note, probably by a third detachment of
the angelic choristers--"good will to men." "They say not, glory
to God in heaven, where angels are, but, using a rare
expression, "in the highest [heavens]," whither angels aspire
(Heb 1:3, 4)
[BENGEL]. "Peace" with God is the grand necessity
of a fallen world. To bring in this, and all other peace in its train,
was the prime errand of the Saviour to this earth, and, along with it,
Heaven's whole "good will to men"--the divine complacency on a new
footing--descends to rest upon men, as upon the Son Himself, in whom
God is "well-pleased."
the same word as here.)
15. Let us go, &c.--lovely simplicity of devoutness and faith this!
They are not taken up with the angels, the glory that invested them, and
the lofty strains with which they filled the air. Nor do they say, Let
us go and see if this be true--they have no misgivings. But "Let us
go and see this thing which is come to pass, which
the Lord hath made known unto us." Does not this confirm the view
of the spirit of these humble men?
16. with haste--Compare
("left her water-pot," as they do their flocks, in a transport).
found Mary, &c.--"mysteriously guided by the Spirit to the right
place through the obscurity of the night" [OLSHAUSEN].
a manger--"the manger," as before.
17. made known abroad--before their return
and thus were the first evangelists [BENGEL].
20. glorifying and praising God, &c.--The latter word, used of the
song of the angels
and Lu 24:53,
leads us to suppose that theirs was a song too, probably some canticle
from the Psalter--meet vehicle for the swelling emotions of their
simple hearts at what "they had heard and seen."
Here only recorded, and even here merely alluded to, for the sake of the
name then given to the holy Babe, "JESUS," or
Yet in this naming of Him "Saviour," in the act of circumcising Him,
which was a symbolical and bloody removal of the body of sin, we have a
tacit intimation that they "had need"--as John said of His
Baptism--rather to be circumcised by Him "with the circumcision made
without hands, in the putting off of the body [of the sins] of the
flesh by the circumcision of Christ"
and that He only "suffered it to be so, because thus it became Him to
fulfil all righteousness"
Still the circumcision of Christ had a profound bearing on His own
work--by few rightly apprehended. For since "he that is circumcised is
a debtor to do the whole law"
Jesus thus bore about with Him in His very flesh the seal of a
voluntary obligation to do the whole law--by Him only possible in the
flesh since the fall. And as He was "made under the law" for no ends of
His own, but only "to redeem them that were under the law, that
we might receive the adoption of sons"
(Ga 4:4, 5),
the obedience to which His circumcision pledged Him was a redeeming
obedience--that of a "Saviour." And, finally, as "Christ hath
redeemed us from the curse of the law" by "being made a curse
we must regard Him, in His circumcision, as brought under a palpable
pledge to be "obedient unto death, even the death of the cross"
PURIFICATION OF THE
VIRGIN--PRESENTATION OF THE
BABE IN THE
22, 24. her purification--Though the most and best copies read
"their," it was the mother only who needed purifying from the legal
uncleanness of childbearing. "The days" of this purification for a male
child were forty in all
(Le 12:2, 4),
on the expiry of which the mother was required to offer a lamb for a
burnt offering, and a turtle dove or a young pigeon for a sin offering.
If she could not afford a lamb, the mother had to bring another turtle
dove or young pigeon; and, if even this was beyond her means, then a
portion of fine flour, but without the usual fragrant accompaniments of
oil and frankincense, as it represented a sin offering
(Le 12:6-8; 5:7-11).
From the intermediate offering of "a pair of turtle doves or two young
pigeons," we gather that Joseph and the Virgin were in poor
though not in abject poverty. Being a first-born male, they "bring him
to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord." All such had been claimed as
"holy to the Lord," or set apart to sacred uses, in memory of the
deliverance of the first-born of Israel from destruction in Egypt,
through the sprinkling of blood
In lieu of these, however, one whole tribe, that of Levi, was accepted,
and set apart to occupations exclusively sacred
and whereas there were two hundred seventy-three fewer Levites than
first-born of all Israel on the first reckoning, each of these
first-born was to be redeemed by the payment of five shekels, yet not
without being "presented (or brought) unto the Lord," in
token of His rightful claim to them and their service
(Nu 3:44-47; 18:15, 16).
It was in obedience to this "law of Moses," that the Virgin presented
her babe unto the Lord, "in the east gate of the court called Nicanor's
Gate, where she herself would be sprinkled by the priest with the blood
of her sacrifice" [LIGHTFOOT]. By that Babe, in
due time, we were to be redeemed, "not with corruptible things as
silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ"
(1Pe 1:18, 19),
and the consuming of the mother's burnt offering, and the sprinkling of
her with the blood of her sin offering, were to find their abiding
realization in the "living sacrifice" of the Christian mother herself,
in the fulness of a "heart sprinkled from an evil conscience," by "the
blood which cleanseth from all sin."
25. just--upright in his moral character.
devout--of a religious frame of spirit.
waiting for the consolation of Israel--a beautiful title of the
coming Messiah, here intended.
the Holy Ghost was--supernaturally.
upon him--Thus was the Spirit, after a dreary absence of nearly four
hundred years, returning to the Church, to quicken expectation, and
prepare for coming events.
26. revealed by the Holy Ghost--implying, beyond all doubt, the
personality of the Spirit.
should see not death till he had seen--"sweet antithesis!"
How would the one sight gild the gloom of the other! He was, probably,
by this time, advanced in years.
27, 28. The Spirit guided him to the temple at the very moment when
the Virgin was about to present Him to the Lord.
28. took him up in his arms--immediately recognizing in the
child, with unhesitating certainty, the promised Messiah, without
needing Mary to inform him of what had happened to her. [OLSHAUSEN]. The remarkable act of taking the babe in his
arms must not be overlooked. It was as if he said, "This is all my
salvation and all my desire"
29. Lord--"Master," a word rarely used in the New Testament, and
selected here with peculiar propriety, when the aged saint, feeling that
his last object in wishing to live had now been attained, only awaited
his Master's word of command to "depart."
now lettest, &c.--more clearly, "now Thou art releasing Thy servant";
a patient yet reverential mode of expressing a desire to depart.
30. seen thy salvation--Many saw this child, nay, the full-grown "man,
Christ Jesus," who never saw in Him "God's Salvation." This estimate of
an object of sight, an unconscious, helpless babe, was pure faith. He
"beheld His glory"
In another view it was prior faith rewarded by present
31, 32. all people--all the peoples, mankind at large.
a light to the Gentiles--then in thick darkness.
glory of thy people Israel--already Thine, and now, in the believing
portion of it, to be so more gloriously than ever. It will be observed
that this "swan-like song, bidding an eternal farewell to this
terrestrial life" [OLSHAUSEN], takes a more comprehensive view of the
kingdom of Christ than that of Zacharias, though the kingdom they sing
of is one.
34, 35. set--appointed.
fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign spoken
against--Perhaps the former of these phrases expresses the two
stages of temporary "fall of many in Israel" through unbelief, during
our Lord's earthly career, and the subsequent "rising again" of
the same persons after the effusion of the Spirit at pentecost
threw a new light to them on the whole subject; while the latter clause
describes the determined enemies of the Lord Jesus. Such opposite views
of Christ are taken from age to age.
35. Yea, &c.--"Blessed as thou art among women, thou shalt have
thine own deep share of the struggles and sufferings which this Babe is
to occasion"--pointing not only to the continued obloquy and rejection
of this Child of hers, those agonies of His which she was to witness at
the cross, and her desolate condition thereafter, but to dreadful
alternations of faith and unbelief, of hope and fear regarding Him,
which she would have to pass through.
that the thoughts, &c.--Men's views and decisions regarding Christ
are a mirror in which the very "thoughts of their hearts" are seen.
36. Anna--or, Hannah.
a prophetess--another evidence that "the last times" in which God
was to "pour out His Spirit upon all flesh" were at hand.
of the tribe of Aser--one of the ten tribes, of whom many were not
carried captive, and not a few reunited themselves to Judah after the
return from Babylon. The distinction of tribes, though practically
destroyed by the captivity, was well enough known up to their final
nor is it now entirely lost.
lived, &c.--she had lived seven years with her husband
and been a widow eighty-four years; so that if she married at the
earliest marriageable age, twelve years, she could not at this time be
less than a hundred three years old.
37. departed not from the temple--was found there at all stated
hours of the day, and even during the night services of the temple
(Ps 134:1, 2),
"serving God with fastings and prayer." (See
suggested by this.)
38. coming in--"presenting herself." She had been there already but
now is found "standing by," as Simeon's testimony to the blessed Babe
died away, ready to take it up "in turn" (as the word rendered
"likewise" here means).
to all them, &c.--the sense is, "to all them in Jerusalem that were
looking for redemption"--saying in effect, In that Babe are wrapt up all
your expectations. If this was at the hour of prayer, when numbers
flocked to the temple, it would account for her having such an audience
as the words imply [ALFORD].
39. Nothing is more difficult than to fix the precise order in which
the visit of the Magi, with the flight into and return from Egypt
are to be taken, in relation to the circumcision and presentation of
Christ in the temple, here recorded. It is perhaps best to leave this
in the obscurity in which we find it, as the result of two independent,
though if we knew all, easily reconcilable narratives.
40. His mental development kept pace with His bodily, and "the grace
of God," the divine favor, rested manifestly and increasingly upon Him.
"Solitary flowered out of the wonderful enclosed garden of the thirty
years, plucked precisely there where the swollen bud, at a
distinctive crisis (at twelve years of age), bursts into flower. To
mark that is assuredly the design and the meaning of this record"
42. went up--"were wont to go." Though males only were required to
go up to Jerusalem at the three annual festivals
devout women, when family duties permitted, went also, as did Hannah
and, as we here see, the mother of Jesus.
when twelve years old--At this age every Jewish boy was styled "a
son of the law," being put under a course of instruction and trained to
fasting and attendance on public worship, besides being set to learn a
trade. At this age accordingly our Lord is taken up for the first time
to Jerusalem, at the passover season, the chief of the three annual
festivals. But oh, with what thoughts and feelings must this Youth have
gone up! Long ere He beheld it, He had doubtless "loved the habitation
of God's house and the place where His honor dwelt"
a love nourished, we may be sure, by that "word hid in His heart," with
which in afterlife He showed so perfect a familiarity. As the time for
His first visit approached, could one's ear have caught the breathings
of His young soul, he might have heard Him whispering, "As the hart
panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God.
The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.
I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go unto the house of the
Lord. Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem!"
(Ps 42:1; 87:2; 122:1, 2).
On catching the first view of "the city of their solemnities," and high
above all in it, "the place of God's rest," we hear Him saying to
Himself, "Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth is Mount
Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King: Out of
Zion, the perfection of beauty, God doth shine"
(Ps 48:2; 50:2).
Of His feelings or actions during all the eight days of the feast not a
word is said. As a devout child, in company with its parents, He would
go through the services, keeping His thoughts to Himself. But methinks
I hear Him, after the sublime services of that feast, saying to
Himself, "He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me
was love. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit
was sweet to my taste"
(So 2:3, 4).
43. as they returned--If the duties of life must give place to worship,
worship, in its turn, must give place to them. Jerusalem is good,
but Nazareth is good, too; let him who neglects the one, on pretext
of attending to the other, ponder this scene.
tarried behind . . . Joseph and his mother knew not--Accustomed to the
discretion and obedience of the lad [OLSHAUSEN], they might be thrown
off their guard.
44. sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintances--On these sacred
journeys, whole villages and districts travelled in groups together,
partly for protection, partly for company; and as the well-disposed
would beguile the tediousness of the way by good discourse, to which the
child Jesus would be no silent listener, they expect to find Him in such
45, 46. After three sorrowing days, they find Him still in
Jerusalem, not gazing on its architecture, or surveying its forms of
busy life, but in the temple--not the "sanctuary" (as in
to which only the priests had access, but in some one of the enclosures
around it, where the rabbins, or "doctors," taught their scholars.
46. hearing . . . asking--The method of question and
answer was the customary form of rabbinical teaching; teacher and
learner becoming by turns questioner and answerer, as may be seen from
their extant works. This would give full scope for all that
"astonished them in His understanding and answers." Not that He assumed
the office of teaching--"His hour" for that "was not yet come,"
and His equipment for that was not complete; for He had yet to
"increase in wisdom" as well as "stature"
In fact, the beauty of Christ's example lies very much in His never at
one stage of His life anticipating the duties of another. All would be
in the style and manner of a learner, "opening His mouth and panting."
"His soul breaking for the longing that it had unto God's judgments at
and now more than ever before, when finding Himself for the first time
in His Father's house. Still there would be in His questions far
more than in their answers; and if we may take the frivolous
interrogatories with which they afterwards plied Him, about the woman
that had seven husbands and such like, as a specimen of their present
drivelling questions, perhaps we shall not greatly err, if we suppose
that "the questions" which He now "asked them" in return were just the
germs of those pregnant questions with which He astonished and silenced
them in after years: "What think ye of Christ? Whose Son is He? If
David call Him Lord, how is He then his Son?" "Which is the
first and great commandment?" "Who is my neighbour?"
49. about my Father's business--literally, "in" or "at My Fathers,"
that is, either "about My Father's affairs," or "in My Father's
courts"--where He dwells and is to be found--about His hand, so
to speak. This latter shade of meaning, which includes the former, is
perhaps the true one, Here He felt Himself at home, breathing His
own proper air. His words convey a gentle rebuke of their obtuseness in
requiring Him to explain this. "Once here, thought ye I should so
readily hasten away? Let ordinary worshippers be content to keep the
feast and be gone; but is this all ye have learnt of Me?" Methinks we
are here let into the holy privacies of Nazareth; for what He says they
should have known, He must have given them ground to know. She
tells Him of the sorrow with which His father and she had sought
Him. He speaks of no Father but one, saying, in effect, My Father
has not been seeking Me; I have been with Him all this time; "the
King hath brought me into His chambers . . . His left hand is under my
head, and His right hand doth embrace me"
(So 1:4; 2:6).
How is it that ye do not understand?
50, 51. understood not--probably He had never expressly
said as much, and so confounded them, though it was but the true
interpretation of many things which they had seen and heard from Him at
home. (See on
But lest it should be thought that now He threw off the filial yoke,
and became His own Master henceforth, and theirs too, it is purposely
added, "And He went down with them, and was subject unto
them." The marvel of this condescension lies in its coming after
such a scene, and such an assertion of His higher Sonship; and the
words are evidently meant to convey this. "From this time we have no
more mention of Joseph. The next we hear is of his "mother and
whence it is inferred, that between this time and the commencement of
our Lord's public life, Joseph died" [ALFORD], having now served the double end of being the
protector of our Lord's Virgin--mother, and affording Himself the
opportunity of presenting a matchless pattern of subjection to both
52. See on
stature--or better, perhaps, as in the Margin, "age," which implies
the other. This is all the record we have of the next eighteen years of
that wondrous life. What seasons of tranquil meditation over the lively
oracles, and holy fellowship with His Father; what inlettings, on the
one hand, of light, and love, and power from on high, and outgoings of
filial supplication, freedom, love, and joy on the other, would these
eighteen years contain! And would they not seem "but a few days" if they
were so passed, however ardently He might long to be more directly
"about His Father's business?"