Gospel of Matthew Chapter Two Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Our Lord And King
Verses 1-2: "Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2 'Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.'" This is not so different from a group of people showing up in the capital city of your country, asking for a leader you know nothing about. There are many ideas about the nature of these "magi." Among the theories, some conclude the magi were Babylonians, and others think they were Persian. The latter opinion is probably correct. There are also many ideas about the "star in the east." It's been theorized that it was a conjunction of planets or an astral sign in the stars. Another thought is that it was simply a miracle, a suspension of God's laws of physics, as He brought a large asteroid into an orbital point over "Bethlehem" ("House of Bread"). The "star" may allude to the prophesy of Balaam in Numbers 24:17—"a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel..." Balaam was certainly a strange character, but the same Lord who caused the man's donkey to speak (Numbers 22:28), can also bring a true prophesy out of a false prophet. Notice, by the way, there was no sign of doubt in the words or actions of these "magi." They came to "WORSHIP" the "King of the Jews." We may question their theological perspective, but they were doing what we all should do about Jesus: "Worship Him."
Verses 3-4: "When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born." This was Herod the Great, not a Jew, but an Idumean, a puppet-king appointed by the Romans. It is known he died in 4 B.C., indicating that the Messiah Jesus, who was born before Herod died, was likely born in 6 or 5 B.C., and where "the Messiah was to be born" was suddenly very important to Herod. He was shocked because it might mean he would lose the power given to him; which disturbed many others in Jerusalem also. When YOU hear about Jesus, are you like the Magi who would "worship Him?" Or at some level, are you "troubled" by the Lord?"
Verses 5-6: "They said to him, 'In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: 6 'And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
are by no means least among the leaders of Judah;
for out of you shall come forth a Ruler
who will shepherd My people Israel.'" The prophesies about Jesus Christ in the Old Testament were puzzling to ancient Jewish scholars. It seemed to them, as this chapter might indicate, that there would have to be several Messiahs in order for the prophesies to be literally fulfilled. One of those prophesies is found in Micah 5:2—"You, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be rules in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting." The Messiah, the Christ, would be born in little Bethlehem! And yet, to the consternation of the Jewish elders, He would also come from "everlasting," whatever that might be. We have the advantage of looking at these events from the future, whereas they strained to look from the past. What would it all mean? They did not know, but thanks be to God who has come to us and revealed: There is One Messiah and His Name is Jesus Christ.
Verses 7-8: "Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, 'Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.'" Herod the Great, like all too many in the history of this blood-soaked world, was a murderer and a hypocrite. He had already murdered several younger Maccabean and other princes and princesses, who might have had some kind of claim to his throne. Whatever ethics he might have had were swallowed up by his lust for power. He murdered some and would kill more. And here he is, in the throes of his hypocrisy, pretending that he would "worship" the "Child," when actually, as we will see, Herod's thought, his intention was to murder the infant Son of Mary, the Son of God, our King.
Verses 9-10: "After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy." This "star" is more-and-more beginning to seem like something that can't be explained by some kind of astrologer or scientist. Whatever it was, it "went on before them." I remember, as a young man in the military, in Japan, I was assigned to electronically monitor the unprecedented "Sputnik," as it orbited the earth. I performed the electronic functions within a small building, then stepped outside to find out if I could see it with my eyes. I did. It was a tiny white, moving light in the midnight sky. The "star" over Bethlehem might have seemed like that, except it did something incredibly more: It then "stood over the place where the Child was." It was a literal object seen by the magi, a thing that apparently did something outside of the physical laws God long ago created—it STOPPED! The "star" stopped! A miracle!
Verses 11-12: "After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way." Some have thought the Greek word for "Child" means that He was a newborn baby, whereas others have decided it meant something like the English word, "toddler." Actually, it could have had either meaning in that language. The suggestion of three gifts has meant to many that the givers, the "magi" were three men, but actually these were three TYPES of gifts, given by at least three (or likely more) who made the journey and offered gifts to the King. And these seem to be men of faith in the Lord. They did not have the information available in our modern Bibles, but they responded to "God in a dream," and left the area by a different route. They believed in the Lord who led them, like we should also.
Verses 13-15: "Now when they had gone, behold, 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 remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.' 14 So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt. 15 He remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 'Out of Egypt I called My Son.'" The Lord wasn't done with dreams. Now "an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream," warning him essentially to "Get out of town—now!" providing the additional information that King Herod, who had the well-deserved reputation of being a monster, would kill Jesus if they didn't go. The infant Son of God was to enter the land from which God had delivered His human ancestors from slavery—Egypt. As observed in Verse 15, this flight was a fulfillment of the prophecy seen in Hosea 11:1—"Out of Egypt I called my Son." Jesus would be in Egypt, saved from death until the set time when He would die for the sins of the world.
Verse 16: "Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi." If you don't think there is such a thing as sin in the world, you might read the Bible, or simply watch or listen to today's news broadcast. There's something wrong with humanity, and it isn't just King Herod. As Romans 3:23 puts it, "ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of God." The old song describes our problem: "It's ME, it's me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer." There is a rage hidden deep within us, and it isn't enough to say, "Absolute power corrupts absolutely." The reality is, we are already corrupt and if you give power to us, corruption is likely to emerge, like pus from a wound. We all need help; we need the Lord. Herod murdered the male babies of Bethlehem and to make sure they got the right Baby, Herod's men killed many children in the areas surrounding the town!
Verses 17-18: "Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: 18 'A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children;
and she refused to be comforted,
because they were no more.'" These verses reach back in time to Jeremiah 31:15, and it's interesting how a prophecy may pertain both to a current series of events, like what happened to the people of Zion then, and to those in Bethlehem, centuries later. "Rachel," the love of Jacob's life, wept as she died while giving birth to her younger son, Benjamin (Genesis 35:16-20); the Hebrew women at the time of Jeremiah, wept as they returned from captivity (Jeremiah 31:9); and those of Bethlehem wept as Herod murdered their infant sons. Unfortunately, the weeping continues, for there are all too many Herods in this world.
Verses 19-20: "But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, and said, 20 'Get up, take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child’s life are dead.'" It's sad when death occurs, but Joseph and Mary must have breathed deep sighs of relief as they discussed the dream of Joseph, who had now experienced enough dreams to know it was God speaking to him: Herod was dead! God does communicate with and protect His people. He is leading us—we are to listen to Him and be less disturbed by the cares of this world. As to Joseph, Mary and Jesus, it was time to leave Egypt and return to the land of Israel.
Verses 21-23: "So Joseph got up, took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Then after being warned by God in a dream, he left for the regions of Galilee, 23 and came and lived in a city called Nazareth. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: 'He shall be called a Nazarene.'" Archelaus was a surviving son of Herod the Great who now ruled Idumea, Samaria and Judea, beginning in 4 B.C. He was another questionable individual and was deposed by the Romans in 6 A.D. And note that the Messiah was to be part of not only the region of "Galilee" but also a "city called Nazareth." In Isaiah 9:6, we find He was to be associated with "Galilee of the Gentiles," and in the future from that moment, in Acts 24:5, we see that His followers were called, "the sect of the Nazarenes." How could someone be a citizen of Bethlehem, an Egyptian, a Galilean, a Nazarene, and also the King from eternity? All of it was and is fulfilled—by Him! There were many prophesies about Jesus and He fulfilled them all. He is our Lord and King.
Lord, You are infinitely more than we understand. We place our faith in You, for You, our Savior, King and God, are wonderful. We worship You, Lord Jesus. Thank You for Your mercy, for loving us. In Jesus Name. Amen.