Matthew 2

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The Magi Come to Jesus

Verse 1: After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem (NIV)

  • There is no time frame given after Jesus' birth. The best guesses are between 1 and 2 years. Herod died in 4 BC and so this had to happen before then (Blomberg 61).
  • One of the most controversial aspects of Jesus' birth is the identity of the “magi” or “wise men.”
    • ”Magi” is a term used for Persian, and then Babylonian, priests and wise men who were experts in astrology, interpretation of dreams, and other secret arts (Arndt 484).
    • This was someone who was a possessor and user of supernatural knowledge, a magician (Kittell Vol 4, 356).
    • These probably would have been Zoroastrian priests, because only those in Babylon would have had enough contact with Jews to make them interested in the Messiah.
    • These Magi were both religious and political figures in Persia and were fairly important (Blomberg 62).
    • There is no notion of these magi being kings or rulers.
    • The term here could be a derogatory one, but probably just means people who learn from the stars (Newman 33), an astrologer.
    • Here Herod is representing the worst of the Jews, and the Magi are the best of the Gentiles (Nicoll Vol 1 69), and both of them are the last place to find it. In this account their expected roles are reversed. The pagan astrologers offer worship and the “devout” king doesn't know the Messiah is here, and then tries to kill him.
  • ”East” is probably East of Jerusalem. This has usually been assumed to be Babylon/Iran (Newman 33), given the connection with the Magi.
  • There are no specified numbers of magi that came, just more than one. The notion that there were three came from there being three gifts. Not even the non-canonical texts mention a specific number of magi.
  • Apparently the Magi just knew the king of the Jews was born. It is possible they didn't even know it would not be Herod's child. But they apparently didn't get specific directions until after they left Jerusalem, so they came to the capital city.

Verse 2: and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” (NIV)

  • The phrase “where is the one” has no doubt in it. They were sure that it happened (Spence-Jones 31).
  • There are two possibilities as to this king.
    • This could read that a baby was born who was king already at his birth.
    • The other option is that this is a baby who was called “King of the Jews,” but probably won't come into that title for a while.
  • That the Magi were looking for the king in Jerusalem indicates that they possibly thought it was a literal king, though then their desire to worship him is odd.
  • The star is unlikely to be a large glowing star like normally depicted, but an astrological sign. These men were astrologers. It possibly was a new star not seem before.
    • Various theories have been put forth about the star. It could have been planets aligning, a comet, a new star, a shift in the earth's orbit so a new star appeared above the horizon, or purely a God thing.
    • The nature of the star is not important. The meaning that the star has to the Magi is important.
  • There is no indication in the text that the star was pointing towards Jesus at the time.
    • “The east” here probably indicates where they were when they saw it, as opposed to where the star was, as that would be in the opposite side of the sky from Israel.
    • ”In the East” could mean “at the rising” (Newman 34).
    • The main indication that the star was over Jesus is that it was a standard belief of the time that a new star in the sky was a sign that a ruler had been born in the country the star shone over (Blomberg 62).
  • It is a recurring theme from Jesus' ministry that those outside of Judaism were often the ones to understand who he was the quickest.
  • ”Worship” is more literally “pay homage” and could refer to the reverence given either a god or a king (Newman 34).

Verse 3: When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. (NIV)

  • ”King” is emphasized here in Greek. It is because he was the king that Herod was afraid (Nicoll Vol 1 71). Herod was afraid of a rival to steal away the power he had fought all his life to gain.
  • ”Disturbed” here is about confusion and disorder, to be shaken up (Liddell 792).
    • It is the same word used in Matthew 14:26 for the disciples being terrified.
    • This goes to point out how wrong-headed Herod was. Any good Jew should have rejoiced at the news that the Messiah was born, and Herod was upset (Blomberg 63).
  • ”All Jerusalem” is obviously a hyperbole. Most of Jerusalem wouldn't have heard or cared about this. But a king who is in disorder and thrown for a loop is never a good thing for a people.

Verse 4: When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. (NIV)

  • This is a plural of “chief priest” which should not happen. There is only supposed to be one at a time.
    • This probably refers to the previous high priest who still has power, as well as the current one.
    • It could also mean various leaders in the priesthood, family of the high priest, and others who counseled the chief priest (Newman 35).
    • Another theory was that “chief priests” means the people who headed the 24 main orders of priests who lived around the city (Blomberg 63).
  • Herod automatically knew that this was about the messiah, even if the magi did not, as he referred to this “king” as the Christ.
  • The word translated here as “ask” is about learning by inquiry (Arndt 711). This is a question for the purpose of learning something new. He expected them to have the answer.
  • Literally, it says “where the Christ is being born.”
  • That Herod had to ask where the savior would be born shows how little he really paid attention to Jewish belief. Though he did recognize this as the fulfillment of prophecy.

Verse 5: “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: (NIV)

  • There is a very meaningful statement being made here.
    • Natural revelation let the magi know of Jesus' birth, and find the country.
    • But it took special revelation for the Magi to actually find Jesus.

Verse 6: “ 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.' ” (NIV)

  • This quotation is from Micah 5:2, with a few changes.
    • ”Among the rulers” is “among the thousands” in Hebrew.
    • The ending “who will be the shepherd of my people Israel” is an addition.
    • ”By no means” is not in the Hebrew text either, it is added to indicate that Bethlehem's status had changed with this birth to one of power (Blomberg 64).
    • This quotation leaves off the end of the passage, which goes on to emphasize the Messianic qualities of the ruler.
  • Today we see these two statements, ruler and shepherd, to be synonymous. But putting the two of them together was revolutionary.
    • Shepherd did not have the connotations of leadership it does today. Here is a leader who will be a servant, foreshadowing Jesus' role in life.

Verse 7: Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. (NIV)

  • Secrecy makes sense for this discussion.
    • Kings were not allowed to consort with magicians, and these people qualified f it was a private meeting.
    • Perhaps the previous meeting had been an official state visit as well.
    • He also couldn't acknowledge that a king had been born other than him (Spence-Jones 33).
  • Found out” is found only here in the New Testament. It's about questioning closely and acquiring what you want (Newman 38).
  • There is no “appearance” of the star in Greek. Literally, this says “the time of the star shining.”
    • This could be about appearing, that is shone for a while and then stopped, but then a more literal “began” shining or “appeared” would be appropriate.
    • Another option is that “shines” indicates a change in level of brightness, perhaps a joining of stars, or a change in importance as “shines” can also be a metaphor for power/importance.

Verse 8: He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” (NIV)

  • ”I” is emphatic here. Herod shows here that he does not really think anyone else's input matters as much as his worship would.
  • This is obviously a lie from King Herod, as his later actions will show.

Verse 9: After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. (NIV)

  • In Greek, it says “behold,” the star… This implies that it was a new thing and that the star was not leading them earlier. That would explain why the magi only came in Jerusalem instead of Bethlehem.
  • This specifically says that the star “led them onward” (Arndt 670).
  • Seeing the star implies that the magi traveled at night, as was custom in the East (Spence-Jones 34).
  • It is about a five mile distance between Jerusalem and Bethlehem (Newman 41).
  • The star “stood” over where the child was. This is a contrast in movement to the star earlier leading the magi.
  • There is no indication that Jesus was still in the place he was born. But wherever he was, the star led the way.

Verse 10: When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. (NIV)

  • This is the same type of language used in Luke to describe the shepherd's fear. They literally “rejoiced a great exceeding joy.”

Verse 11: On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. (NIV)

  • The family were living in a house at this point, apparently they had made Bethlehem their home after the birth of Jesus, but exactly where and how we don't know.
  • There is no mention of Joseph here, though he immediately has a dream and so was probably there, just considered less important for the moment.
  • There is no indication that the gifts were given by individual magi, though this is where the legend of there being three magi comes from.
  • Frankincense is an incense made from the sap of a tree in Arabia. Myrrh is a resin from a shrub that had medicinal uses, and also helps prepare bodies for burial (Newman 42).

Verse 12: And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (NIV)

  • This is the same mode of communication that warns Joseph in the next verse. But there is no angel mentioned speaking to the Magi.
  • Interpretation of dreams was a standard part of the Magi's role (Arndt 484).
  • It is interesting that Herod apparently knew the route that the magi had used when they arrived in Israel, though it could be referring only to avoiding Jerusalem.

The Escape to Egypt

Verse 13: When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” (NIV)

  • In Greek there is no implication that this happened immediately after the magi had left, just sometimes afterwards. The actions of Herod, however, indicate that it was not long afterwards.
  • Literally, an angel “shines” on Joseph by a dream.
    • Light was a symbol of knowledge and of God, so an angel shining conjures up images of God flashing into appearance with something to share.
    • ”Shines” is in middle voice, which is probably just because this happened in a dream so Joseph was involved in not only receiving the message, but transmitting it through his dream.
  • ”Take the child” is imperative, as is “flee.” These were commands, probably with a sense of urgency attached to them.
  • The angel does not tell Joseph to take “your child” but “the child” and “his mother" (Blomberg 66). Jesus is the focus of the passage, and while Joseph is the one having the dream, he isn't the father and he isn't the most important person in the story even now.
  • There is no time limit or promise of return included in this message. There is not even a promise that everything will be alright. They are simply told to go and God will provide the next step when it is time.
  • Twice, the angel avoids mentioning Jesus by name, but calls him “child.”
    • Child here means a very young child or an infant (Arndt 604). Jesus was not very old at this time.
    • This avoidance of Jesus' name could be the same respect that the Jews give to the name of God, don't say it. Or it could be just a literary device, as Mary is not mentioned by name either.
  • Ironically, Egypt was a good place of refuge for Jews of this time period and already had a large Jewish population (Blomberg 66).
  • ”Kill” is here an infinitive or purpose.
    • Herod is seeking Jesus with the purpose of killing him.
    • This is not the normal word for kill, but a word that more closely means “destroy” or “demolish” (Liddell 101).

Verse 14: So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, (NIV)

  • The entire first half of this verse, until “night” are the exact words used by the angel, down to the tense and person (except that “take” is no longer a command but an action). This is emphasizing that Joseph followed the angel exactly.
  • The word used for “left” can have the connotations of “take refuge” (Arndt 63).

Verse 15: where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” (NIV)

  • Oddly enough, “remained” is singular, not plural (Newman 47). Joseph was firmly the deciding factor here.
  • ”Fulfilled” is probably a subjunctive of purpose. The reason they stayed was so that they could fulfill this prophecy.
  • This quote is from Hoseas 11:1 and in context doesn't appear to be talking about a prophecy at all, but about Israel and God's love for her.
  • Herod the Great died in 4 B.C. (Blomberg 67).
  • By using this verse, God is calling Jesus “my son” when Joseph did not get that honor himself.
  • This quote comes from the Hebrew, translated into Greek, and not from the Greek Septuagint.

Verse 16: When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. (NIV)

  • We can probably assume that it took some time for Herod to realize that he had been duped.
  • The word here translated as “outwitted” can mean to mock or ridicule someone (Arndt 255). Herod took this personally, he looked like a fool and wanted to show his power.
  • The text makes it very clear that it is because of what the Magi did that Herod got upset. This wasn't coincidental, or even really about Jesus escaping.
  • ”Boys” is here not the same word as the “child” of verse 13. What Jesus was referred to as was a diminutive of this word (Kittel Vol 5, 636). So while this is about all children, Jesus qualified as a “small child”.
  • The word “territories” is not very clear about how far this killing spread.
    • It couldn't have gone too far or it would have had a huge outcry.
    • Given the rural nature of Bethlehem, it is possible that as few as 20 children were killed (Blomberg 68).
  • Apparently Mary and Joseph were still living near/in Bethlehem when this happened, which is surprising considering they had not lived there before the birth of Jesus, especially as this had apparently taken about two years.
  • This is the first indication we have as to where this story fits in the timeline. Jesus could have been two years old by now.
  • The time Herod had ”learned” from the Magi is not a vague guess. Literally, “learning” means “to investigate accurately” or “to be perfect” (Liddell 30). Herod knew precisely how old Jesus would have been.

Verse 18: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” (NIV)

  • This quote is from Jeremiah 31:15. It originally dealt with the mourning over the exile of Israel.
  • Rachel's tomb was near Bethlehem and so this passage is applied to the mourning of her figurative descendents (Spencer-Jones 36).
  • This does not completely match the Septuagint, and so could be a translation into Greek from the Hebrew, or perhaps a quotation from memory of the Septuagint (Newman 50).

Message Ideas/Scripts/Liturgy That Use This Chapter

A Gift Just for You1-12This sets up telling the story of the magi coming to baby Jesus, and that gifts are for good and for free.MagiChildrenChildren's Church
Giving Jesus our Treasure1-10Christmas is a time of giving our treasure to others in the name of Jesus.Treasure
Message Idea