The Wise Men and the Flight into Egypt.
SUMMARY.--The Wise Men.
The Star in the East.
The King of the Jews.
Herod and Jerusalem Troubled.
Christ to Be Born in Bethlehem.
Herod's Demand of the Wise Men.
The Star over the Young Child.
Gifts Laid at His Feet.
Joseph Warned in a Dream.
Flight into Egypt.
The Massacre of the Children.
Joseph Called to Return.
The Home in Galilee.
The City of Nazareth.
1. When Jesus was born. Though the home of Joseph and Mary was
Nazareth, prophecy had declared that Christ should be born at
Bethlehem, the native place of David; and this was accomplished by the
agency of the Roman emperor. See notes on
The pride of the Jews in their genealogies would lead them to the head
cities of their families; thus, Mary traversed with her husband the
length of the land, from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the city of David, to
whose house they both belonged.
In Bethlehem of Judea. Bethlehem was one of the oldest places
in the land of Judea, and had been in existence at least 1,500
years before the Savior was born. It was the scene of events
so touchingly related in the Book of Ruth. It was known as the city of
David, because it was his birthplace. The little town has an imposing
aspect and commanding site. It stands on the summit of a narrow ridge,
which projects eastward from the central mountain chain of Judah. It
is about six miles south of Jerusalem, on the road toward Hebron. It
contains at the present time about four thousand inhabitants, chiefly
Christians of the Greek Church, who obtain much of their sustenance
from the sale of relics to pilgrims and visitors.
In the days of Herod the king. This statement gives data for
ascertaining the time of the birth of Jesus. It is conceded that it
took place in the last year of Herod's reign. But it is known that
Herod died about three years before the first year of our era.
Therefore, if the Savior was born "in the days of king Herod," he must
have been about four years earlier than the date assigned. Herod was
only partly of Jewish blood, was a man of most bloody and unscrupulous
character, a great tyrant, the murderer of even his own wife and sons.
Seven of the Herods are named in the New Testament. (1) "Herod the
king," here named, called by Josephus Herod the Great, the first of
the Herodian kings, a man of great force of character, but a bloody
tyrant. He held his royal authority by the appointment of the Romans.
(2) Herod Archelaus, his son and successor in Judea
The Romans deposed him and appointed a Roman governor in his stead.
(3) Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee, who slew John the Baptist
Also a son of Herod the Great. (4) Herod Philip, a third son, the
lawful husband of Herodias
(5) Another son, also named Herod Philip. He is only referred to in the
New Testament in
(6) Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great, named in
Acts 12:1-3, 23.
(7) Herod Agrippa, the son of the last, the King Agrippa before whom
Paul made his famous defense
(Acts 25:13, 23; 26:27).
There came wise men from the east. The word rendered "wise men"
is more correctly "Magi," a term which designates an order of priests
and philosophers which belonged originally to Persia and Media, and
who were extensively distributed over the region of the Euphrates.
Those described in the book of Daniel as wise men, astrologers and
magicians, belonged to this order. We can only conjecture where these
"wise men" came from, but the probability is that they journeyed from
the valley of the Euphrates.
2. Where is he that is born King of the Jews? Their question
shows two things: 1. That they partook of the general expectation
that about this time there would appear in the East a Ruler divinely
appointed to his mission. The works of profane writers of this period
show that this expectation was general. 2. It is plain that the wise
men misapprehended the mission of Christ, and expected him to be
a secular king.
We have seen his star in the east. No certain conclusion can be
reached as to what this appearance in the heavens was, and it is
useless to enter into the discussion. It seemed a part of God's plan
that Gentiles as well as Jews should offer homage to the infant
3. Herod . . . was troubled. The trouble of Herod is easily
accounted for. He was a usurper. This news seemed to portend a
legitimate king, a rival for the throne, around whom the Jewish nation
All Jerusalem with him. The capital was in commotion. It was the
seat of Herod's power, and his staunchest supporters were there.
4. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes
together. Literally, "high priests." The high priests, and perhaps
the heads of the twenty-four courses of priests, are included. See
1 Chron. 24:1-19.
The "scribes" were the successors of Ezra, the official copyists of the
Scripture, who naturally became its expounders, and were the
theologians of the time of Christ. The priests, as the head of the
Jewish religion, and the scribes, as the chief expounders of the
Scriptures, were the proper persons to answer Herod's question.
Where Christ should be born. This demand concedes: 1. That the
Jews expected a Messiah; 2. That the Scriptures had foretold his
coming; 3. That the very place of his birth had been pointed out.
5. In Bethlehem of Judea; for thus it is written by the
prophet. The prophet here referred to is Micah, who lived about
seven centuries before Christ. See
Micah 5:1, 2.
6. And thou Bethlehem. The quotation is made freely from the
Septuagint version (Greek), which was in common use, and from which
the Savior and his apostles constantly quoted. The Hebrew is
literally, "But thou Bethlehem Ephrata, too small to be among the
thousands of Judah (i. e., the towns where the heads of thousands
resided, the chief towns in the distribution of the tribes), out of
thee shall come forth one who is to be the ruler of Israel."
Princes. Put for towns, where the princes or head of thousands
7. Then Herod privily called the wise men. The crafty and cruel
king had gained one point: he now knew where the Christ was to be born.
He therefore asks another question of the wise men, by which he hopes
to ascertain the age of the royal child.
What time the star appeared. The fact that, as stated below, he
slew the children of two years and under, denotes that the star had
been seen first about two years before.
8. And he sent them to Bethlehem. Herod commanded them to
search out the young child and bring him word, but lied as to his
object, which was murder instead of worship.
9. They went their way. They probably departed immediately
after their interview with Herod,
and as the appearance of the star as soon as they started indicates
that it was night, they probably saw Herod in the evening.
So the star . . . went before them. This language implies a
miraculous appearance, like a star, which guided the steps of the wise
men. Such a view is no less probable than that a pillar of fire should
have guided Israel. This luminous appearance
stood over where the young child was. Either over Bethlehem, or
over the house where the young child was sheltered.
10. And when they saw the star. This language shows that for a
time, at least, they had not seen the star until they left Jerusalem
for Bethlehem. Its reappearance caused them great rejoicing, because
it showed them that their quest was not in vain.
11. And they came into the house. Not, probably, the stable
where the Lord was born, but a temporary home obtained after the crowd
had left Jerusalem. Many suppose that Joseph and Mary remained at
Bethlehem until the forty days of purification were passed; that the
young child was presented in the temple as recorded in
that then they returned to Bethlehem; were visited shortly after by the
wise man, and thence fled into Egypt. If this is correct, the young
child must have been six or seven weeks old at the time of the visit.
With Mary his mother. The child was probably in the mother's
They fell down and worshipped him. Observe that no adoration is
offered his mother.
When they had opened their treasures. They had brought these
all the way from the East as an offering. They offer to him gifts such
as were offered to kings by embassadors or vassals.
Gold. A usual offering to kings.
Frankincense. A costly and fragrant gum distilled from a tree
in India and Arabia.
Myrrh. An aromatic gum produced from a thorn-bush that grew in
Arabia and Ethiopia. The providence of God is seen in these gifts. It
provided the means necessary for the flight to Egypt that was to
follow at once, and to sustain the holy family in a foreign land.
12. Being warned of God in a dream. Probably they were
suspicious of Herod, for they could not fail to know his character,
and asked God to guide them. He did so by a dream, and hence they
avoided Jerusalem on their return.
13. And when they were departed. It is probable that the Magi
were led by the star to Bethlehem, offered their homage, departed,
Joseph was warned, and the holy family started to Egypt, all the same
Flee into Egypt. Egypt has a very intimate connection with Bible
history. It was the nearest of Roman provinces independent of Herod,
was the home of thousands of Joseph's countrymen, was the home of
thousands of Joseph's countrymen, and was convenient for a return at
the proper time.
14. When he arose, he took the young child. The message came
while he was sleeping; as soon as he arose from his bed he took the
Child and his mother and departed at once. There was prompt obedience,
as there should always be, to the divine commands.
15. That it might be fulfilled, . . . Out of Egypt have I called my
Son. The prophecy here quoted is found in
Israel, which was called out of Egypt, is spoken of a son. Israel,
however, was a type, and the events portrayed in Israelitish history
were typical prophecies. That was the dispensation of types and
shadows. Hence, the great outlines were prophetic, and the calling of
Israel out of Egypt a prophecy of the Leader of the true Israel being
called out of that land.
16. Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked. He had directed
the wise men to report to him after their visit to Bethlehem. Their
return to their own country without complying with his wishes seemed
to Herod a mockery of his authority, and excited his rage.
Sent forth, and slew. A band of his murderous satellites were
sent, and not only slew the male children of Bethlehem, but those of
17. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the
prophet. The saying is found in
and was first spoken with reference to the desolation of Israel by
Nebuchadnezzar. The survivors of the Israelites were gathered by their
conquerors as captives at Ramah. There the voice of lamentation was
heard from the mothers bereft of their offspring. The prophet describes
Rachel, the mother of two great tribes, as weeping and refusing to be
comforted. It was still more appropriate to the bereaved mothers of
Bethlehem. Within half a mile of that city was the tomb of Rachel, and
hence the pathetic language of the prophet is again applied to the
inconsolable mothers of Bethlehem, as though the Rachel that slept in
the tomb were a mourner over her slain offspring. On the site of the
tomb Rachel is now a Mahometan mosque. For the burial of Rachel, see
18. In Ramah was a voice heard. Ramah was a border fortress of
Judah, where the captives were collected by the generals of
Nebuchadnezzar after the fall of Jerusalem.
19. But when Herod was dead. This event was the signal for the
return to Judea. He died in the spring of the year 750 after the
building of Rome, just before the passover. This would place his death
nearly four years before the Christian era, the date from which we
reckon our time. That was not fixed upon until five hundred years
after the birth of Christ, and was fixed erroneously.
20. Arise . . . go into the land of Israel. Notice that Joseph
is not required to return to Bethlehem or to Judea, but simply to the
land of Israel.
They are dead which sought the young child's life. As "they" is
plural, there must have been the death of more than one of those who
sought the death of the Lord. Five days before the death of Herod he
slew his son Antipater, a prince of dark, cruel, treacherous
character, whom he expected to succeed him. Nothing could be more
likely than that he had fully sympathized in the scheme of
child-murder at Bethlehem. Now both, "they that sought the young
child's life," were dead.
21. And arose and took the young child. He obeyed as
promptly as before, waiting obediently upon the Divine will.
Came into the land of Israel. This included not only Judea, but
Galilee and the country beyond the Jordan. The part first reached by
Joseph on his return would be Judea.
22. When he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judea. Archelaus
is one of the four sons of Herod, who are named in the New Testament.
See note on
Was afraid to go thither. This implies that he had designed to
23. And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth. Matthew
makes no mention of the previous residence at Nazareth, and he now
names it first when it becomes the home of Christ. It was an obscure
village, nestled in the hills about five hundred feet above the plain
of Esdraelon, on the side of Galilee. It is not named in the Old
Testament, was probably a small town in the time of Christ, but now
has about 6,000 inhabitants.
That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets.
Not by one prophet, but the summing up of a number of prophecies. No
prophet had declared in express terms that he should be called a
Nazarene. They, however, did apply to Christ the term
Nezer, from which Nazareth is derived; the Nazarites, of
whom Samson was one, were typical of Christ; the meanness and contempt
in which Nazareth was held was itself a prophecy of one who "was
despised and rejected." See
Jer. 23:5; 33:15; Zech. 3:8; 6:12.