Matthew 2

Matthew 2  •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 8
THE OPENING VERSES of chapter 2 Throw a strong and searching light upon the conditions that prevailed in those days amongst the Jews found in Jerusalem, the descendants of those who had returned under Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah. The King of the Jews was born in Bethlehem and yet for weeks they knew nothing about it. That Herod the king should be in ignorance was not at all surprising, for he was no Israelite but an Idumaean. But of all people the chief priests should have been apprized of this great event for which they had been professedly waiting—the birth of the Messiah. We find in Luke 2 That the event was made known from heaven, within a few hours at the most, to humble souls who feared the Lord. The Psalmist has told us that, “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him” (Psa. 25:1414The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will show them his covenant. (Psalm 25:14)), and this is exemplified in the shepherds and others; but the religious leaders in Jerusalem were not among these, but among “the proud” whom men called “happy.” (See Mal. 3:15, 1615And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered. 16Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name. (Malachi 3:15‑16)). Consequently they were as much in the dark as the wicked Herod.
But there is worse than this. It is not surprising, again we say, that Herod should be troubled when he heard the news, for here was apparently a rival claimant for his throne. We read however that “he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (ch. 2:3). So the advent of the Saviour produced not jubilation but consternation amongst the very people who professed to be waiting for just Him! Evidently then something was terribly wrong, since it was as yet just the recoil of their perverted instincts. They had not seen Him; He had as yet done nothing: they just sensed that His advent would mean the spoiling of their pleasures instead of the fulfillment of their hopes.
Yet these men were well versed in their Scriptures. They were able to give a prompt and correct reply to Herod’s inquiry, quoting Mic. 5:22But 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. (Micah 5:2). They had the knowledge that puffs up, and so they knew nothing as they ought to know it (see 1 Cor. 8:1, 21Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. 2And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know. (1 Corinthians 8:1‑2)), and they placed their knowledge at the service of the adversary. The “great red dragon” (Rev. 12:33And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. (Revelation 12:3)) of the Roman Empire, the power of which was vested locally in Herod, was ready to devour the “Man Child,” and they were ready to help him to do so. Theirs was the wrong kind of Scripture knowledge, and they serve as a beacon of warning for us.
The scripture they quoted presents the Lord to us as “Governor,” who should rule. In Micah only Israel is in view, but we know that His rule will be universal; and this is the third way in which He is presented to us. In JESUS we see God come forth to save. In EMMANUEL we see God come forth to dwell. In GOVERNOR we see God come forth to rule. It was ever His thought to dwell with men, governing everything according to His pleasure, and to accomplish that He had to come forth to save.
When the Young Child was found in Bethlehem there was the pledge that all three things would come to pass, and though Jerusalem was ignorant and hostile there were Gentiles from the east drawn to His rising, and they recognized the King of the Jews in Him. Do we realize how terribly they condemned the religious leaders in Jerusalem? The shepherds of Luke 2 knew of His birth within a few hours; these eastern astronomers within a few days, or weeks at the most; whereas several months must have elapsed before the priests and scribes had the smallest inkling of what had come to pass. First by a star and then by a dream God spoke to the wise men, but to the religionists in Jerusalem He did not speak at all, and there had been days when the high priest in their midst had been in touch with God by means of the Urim and Thummim. Now God was silent to them. Their state was as is portrayed in Malachi, and probably worse.
In Herod we see unscrupulous power allied with craft. When thwarted by the action of the wise men, he took, as he thought, no chances in his murderous onslaught on the children of Bethlehem. The fact that he fixed the limit of exemption at two years would indicate that the period between the appearing of the star and the arrival of the wise men at Jerusalem must have run into months. His ruthless and wicked action brought about a fulfillment of Jer. 31:1515Thus saith the Lord; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not. (Jeremiah 31:15). If that verse be read with its context it will be seen that its final and complete fulfillment will be in the last days, when God will finally cause Rachel’s weeping to cease by bringing her children back from the land of the enemy. Nevertheless what took place at Bethlehem was the same kind of thing on a smaller scale.
Herod however was fighting against God, who defeated his purpose by sending His angel to Joseph in a dream for the second time. The Young Child was taken into Egypt, and thus Hos. 11:11When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt. (Hosea 11:1) found a remarkable fulfillment, and Jesus began to retrace Israel’s history. How easily did God frustrate Herod’s wicked design, and just as easily not long after did He deal with Herod himself. Matthew does not waste words in describing his end: he simply tells us that “when Herod was dead,” (ch. 2:19) for the third time the angel of the Lord spoke to Joseph in a dream, instructing him to return to the land for death had removed the would-be murderer.
Joseph’s first intention evidently was to return to Judaea; but tidings as to Archelaus succeeding his father having reached him, fear made him hesitate. Then for the fourth time God instructed him by a dream. Thus he, Mary and the Young Child were shepherded back to Nazareth, whence he had originally come, as Luke tells us. It is instructive to see how God guided all these early movements; partly by circumstances, such as the decree of Augustus and the tidings about Archelaus; and partly by dreams. Thus the schemes of the adversary were foiled. The “porter” held open the door into the “sheepfold” in order that the true Shepherd might enter, in spite of all that he could do. Also the scriptures were fulfilled: not only was Jesus brought out of Egypt but He became known as the Nazarene.
No Old Testament prophet predicted that He should be “a Nazarene,” in so many words, but more than one said that He would be despised and an object of reproach. So in verse 23 it is “the prophets,” and not one particular prophet. They had said He should be an object of contempt, which in our Lord’s time was expressed in the epithet, “a Nazarene.” In Darby’s New Translation-large edition with full notes there is an illuminating comment on this verse, as to the exact phrase used regarding the fulfillment, as contrasted with the earlier expression in chapters 1:22, and 2:17; showing the accuracy with which quotations from the Old Testament are made. It is a note well worth reading.
Nazarene is the fourth name given to our Lord in this opening Gospel. He is, as we have seen, Jesus, Emmanuel, Governor; but He is also the Nazarene. God may come amongst men to save, to dwell, to rule; but alas! He will be “despised and rejected of men” (Isa. 53:33He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:3)).
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