Matthew 1-2

Matthew 1‑2  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Matthew 1-2
Jesus is born; but He is born to the Jews, as well as of the Jews. His genealogy is given to us from Abraham and from David, heads and fathers of Israel; and His birth is announced in characters which Israel could read as their own language. The Child born is “Emmanuel” and Jesus, God with Israel, and the Saviour of Israel. “To us,” in some sense specially, Israel might now say, “a Child is born, to us a Son is given.”
Jesus was born King of the Jews, and in the city of David. Son and Heir of David; as we read, “Of the seed of David according to the flesh,” though, in His full person, He was David’s Lord.
The rights of the family of David were His; and those rights were founded in divine title, and full of majesty and honor in the earth.
In 1 Corinthians 17 the covenant made with David, the promise made to him touching his house and throne, is announced by Nathan. Mercy is to be David’s forever, the honor of his throne and the stability of his house likewise forever.
In Psalm 89 this covenant is cited; but there is added the condition touching David’s children, that, if they were not faithful, they should know the judgment of the Lord. And we know how this came to pass. The promise made conditional on the faithfulness of David’s children was lost by them and to them, as generation after generation, in the history of the kingdom of Judah, witnessed.
But discipline is not forgetfulness. The promise is suspended because of conditions broken by a faithless Solomon, or by a rebellious Zedekiah; but it stands good in God’s faithfulness, and in the hand of the Lord Christ. In Him all the promises are Yea and Amen.
Accordingly, when Jesus was born, the Spirit, by angels and by prophets, recalls, after so many ages, the covenant at first announced by Nathan. This is done, if not in terms, in spirit and reality, by Gabriel’s word to Mary, and then by the word of Zacharias (Luke 1). Jesus is introduced as the Seed of David, whom the oracles of God, in 1 Corinthians 17 and Psalm 89, had spoken of; Hebrews 1:55For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son? (Hebrews 1:5) identifies Jesus with David’s Seed of 1 Corinthians 17.
This is simple and sure, though another wondrous witness of the divine unities that are found in Scripture. And blessed it is to see light thus shining out after centuries of darkness, when the hand of the Gentile had been uppermost, and the honor of David had been in the dust. David’s Seed is brought forth in Luke 2; and now, in Matthew 2, this Seed is presented in full form and character, the Bethlehemite of the prophet Micah. And being thus set in His place (the Bethlehemite, the Seed of David, and King of the Jews), the Gentiles come to Him. This was needed to give the moment its full solemnity. All the prophets had thus invested it. Shiloh was to be of Judah; but to the Shiloh of Judah was to be the gathering of the peoples. The King of Israel was to be the God of the whole earth. The Jews were God’s people, but the Gentiles were to rejoice with them. The Root of Jesse was to stand for an ensign of Israel, but the Gentiles were to seek to it. And our prophecy from Micah speaks the like language; for, after telling of the Ruler of Israel that was to be born in Bethlehem, it goes on to say of Him, “For now shall He be great unto the ends of the earth” (Micah 5:2-42But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. 3Therefore will he give them up, until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth: then the remnant of his brethren shall return unto the children of Israel. 4And he shall stand and feed in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God; and they shall abide: for now shall he be great unto the ends of the earth. (Micah 5:2‑4)). We therefore get the visit of the wise men from the distant East, when this Child is born in Bethlehem. They come, though it be to Him that is born King of the Jews, yet to worship Him themselves.
Thus the Gentiles appear as before God in Zion, and things for a moment (a moment full of typical or mysterious beauty) are put in divine order. Israel is the head. The first dominion has come to the daughter of Zion. The Gentiles give place, and Jerusalem is sought unto by the ends of the earth.
All, after this manner, is done in full solemnity. Nothing is wanting to make complete this presentation of the Child of Bethlehem according to the prophecy of Micah. If the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem receive Him not, they are without excuse.
The rejection, however, was immediate and peremptory, sealed by murderous hands which the spirit of the world in the heart had moved, but which sought to cover itself by lies and hypocrisy. Nothing can exceed the iniquity of Herod. The throne at Jerusalem was, at that time, in his possession, and he will not part with it, though the title of another be divine. If he may hold it, he will not give it even to God Himself. This is the language of his acts. And like killer like people. Jerusalem, as well as Herod, is troubled at the word of the men of the East, and ready executioners of the work of death are found at his bidding. The priests of the Lord had once been slain, because they had helped David; the children of Bethlehem shall perish now, because David’s Lord may be among them. The voice of weeping is heard in Ramah. Messiah the Bethlehemite is refused. Israel will not be gathered, and Herod will still be king, though Jesus be first an Exile in Egypt, and then a Nazarene in the earth.
Thus is made, and thus ends, the first presentation of Christ to Israel. All this is peculiar to Matthew; and I need not add how characteristic it is of that which I have suggested to be the purpose of his Gospel.
Further Reflections on Matthew 1-2
In looking back on these chapters, some things may give us a little further thought.
What force and authority, I may say, is in that one word “Emmanuel.” Did the soul but duly entertain it, what power to displace all things else would be found in it! God with us, is a thought, or a fact, or a mystery, which might well claim authority to make room for itself, whatever else would have to give way. And this may witness to each of us how little we have known the sublime, authoritative force of that one sentence, “They shall call His name Emmanuel.”
The wretched man who shares some of the principal action of chapter 2, and to whom we have already referred, knew nothing of that name. Desperate, victorious love of the world was seated in his heart. Unseen things had been brought nigh to him. The world of spirits and of glories, the world that faith deals with, the world of God and His angels, had been presented to his eye and to his ear. The star, by the report of the wise men, and the oracle of the prophet, by the interpretation of the scribes, had been pressing that world closely upon him; but that world was a trespasser. Herod’s heart refused to enter it; for it had learned nothing of the displacing, supreme authority of that one word, “Emmanuel.”
The wise men, on the contrary, had blessedly learned it. The star commanded them. At its bidding they had risen up, and taken a long, untried journey, which knew no end until “Emmanuel” was reached. Their souls had found authority in the revelation of God. It had worked effectually in them. The intelligence and the decision, the victories and the consolations, of faith are illustrated in this passing sight which we get of them. It is a history which, in its measure, may claim a place with that of Stephen in Acts 7. Both are brief, but brilliant.
The Joseph of these chapters shows us the life of faith also; not indeed in the same earnest character, but in that principle of it which says, “I made haste, and delayed not to keep Thy commandments.” There may be fear and infirmity in Joseph; but the Lord will meet this with His provisions, as He met the decisive, victorious faith of the men of the East with His consolations. Joseph, hearing how Archelaus was reigning in Judea, in the room of his father Herod, is afraid to go there; and God, in consideration of his fears, directs him, by a dream, to turn aside to the parts of Galilee. And, I suppose, many of us, in our little histories, have experienced the like tenderness and consideration of our weakness; when, through want of faith or heart for Jesus, we could not reach His elevation, He has, by His providence, met us on our level.
The scribes, likewise, of Matthew 2, may read us a lesson as profitably as any. The lesson, however, is a painful, humbling one. They exhibit the heartlessness of mere Biblical information. Out of the Bible they teach the poor travellers their way; but they take not one step of it with them, though it were to the Bethlehemite of their prophet. Those wayfaring men of God may go alone, for all they care. Oh, the terrible sight which this affords, beloved, and the solemn admonition it has for us!