Matthew 2

1 Some critics claim that the Bible is not intended to be a history book. However, many passages like this intend to place the stories in historical perspective. What is written in Scripture really happened, and should have profound implications on what we believe, how we live, and what we hope for.

The Bible does not give details of the wise men. Their number, origin, and actual time of arrival are not given. The term "Magi" originates from Iran, suggesting that the wise men may have come from Persia or Media. Others believe the men came from Babylon or southern Arabia. The men were most likely scholars and not kings as has become a popular idea.

What we know about their time of arrival is that it was sometime between when He was born and the time He was two years old (Mat 2:7, 16).

2 These wise men knew something that the Jews should have known already. It is suspected that these "wise men" were pagan astrologers. Yet, God revealed Himself to them in a unique and profound way. When God created the stars, He intended to use them as signs of His working (Gen 1:14). This is not to say that astrology is at all justified or encouraged by God. It simply shows that God can reach into the deepest realms of sin and reveal Himself in such a way that the sinful person can understand God true nature, leave his sinful life, and go to where God is at to worship Him.
3 The Jews of this day fervently prayed for the Messiah (the God-appointed King that would free Israel from sin and their enemies). However, when they heard that He had arrived, they were troubled. Perhaps they had become complacent or content as they integrated into their secular society. Perhaps they realized that when it came right down to it, they were not ready for such a King. Perhaps they feared how their Roman ruler, Herod, would respond to the news.

Herod the Great was a suspicious king. He went to great lengths to protect His throne, even to the point of killing some of his wives and children. Herod ruled Judea and Galilee from 37-4 B.C. He was an Idumean, but his first wife was a Jew (he later killed her). Herod tried to do many things to appease the Jews (e.g., rebuilding the Temple), but he did many other things that infuriated the Jews. The unrest in the areas contributed to his concern about the security of his throne.

4 Herod was removed from Old Testament knowledge, so he needed to get information from others. We should not be like this -- expecting a preacher to tell us about God and where He is working. We should each read His Word for ourselves so that He can direct us quickly and easily. We need not be taken surprise by our circumstances, not know how to react to hardship, or defend our faith in God. All the answers we need in these matters are in the Bible.
5 Again, God speaks through the prophets of old. God's promises will come true, even if it takes a "long time" (2 Pet 3:9).

Some will note that there are many prophecies about the Messiah, Jesus. These references appear scattered though out the various books. Through diligent reading, the Jews had pieced together many things. However, as the prophecies unfold, they will find that God's promises were more profound and had broader application than they were prepared for.

6 The Jewish religious leaders quote Micah 5:2, which had always been considered a prophecy concerning the Messiah's birthplace. God so often chooses the little people and places to do profound works. Though Bethlehem was small, it had been the birthplace of King David, and was to be the birthplace of the One who would inherit his throne forever (2 Sam 7:12-16).

The ruler would not be a tyrant, but a caring shepherd.

7 Herod was devious. He called a secret meeting with the wise men to determine when the start had appeared. He did not want this meeting to be known publicly, lest he aroused the suspicion of the people. He did not want to leave anything to chance. If there were indeed a king out there that would threaten his authority he wanted to be able to kill him before the throne was threatened.

Unfortunately, we cannot always know whether someone's questions are meant for good or will be later used against us. The best we can do is answer honestly and only say as much as God wants us to. We should also strive in our own lives to have no hidden agendas. We should be honest about our intentions whenever we ask questions.

8 Herod did not want to waste time searching for the Child King himself. In this way, his evil motive would later backfire. He had no intention of worshiping the King he wanted to kill.
9 The wise men took the request at face value and continued their journey, having obtained the information they needed about the location of the King of the Jews.What I find astonishing is that neither Jew nor Roman went with them. The Jews had been eagerly awaiting the Messiah. However, when news of His arrival came, they were not interested (or they did not trust the source of the information). Herod wanted to kill this King, but he did not initially put much effort into finding Him. This slip-up was probably God's design.

Much has been suggested about this star that the wise men followed. Some have suggested that the star was one that we still see today and happened to pass through a particular constellation. The astrologers interpreted this as a king being born in Judah. However, the description of the star moving and then standing still would seem to indicate that it was not a normal star. Other theories that can be dismissed on this ground include comets, the conjunction of planets, or a super-nova.

It is possible that this "star" was actually an angel leading the wise men to the house. Stars and angels have some relationship to each other that we humans know little about (Isa 40:26, Dan 8:10, Rev 1:20, Rev 9:1).

If they had a star to guide them, why did they need to stop for directions? Perhaps they had lost sight of the start for a little while and needed further instructions. Perhaps they wanted confirmation that they were on the right track. Regardless of the reason, some consequences resulted. First, it alerted the Jews that God's promises were coming true. Although the notice was ignored, the Jews had been warned. Secondly, God's enemies were also alerted. The unfortunate aftermath was that a dozen or so babies and toddlers would die because of Herod's rage and suspicion. We should be very careful when we look for confirmation of what God has clearly commanded us to do.

It seems ironic that God had come to earth -- the Great Savior and King. Yet, the world either ignored Him or wished to destroy Him. Obviously, this was not a very warm welcome.

10 Whether the star revealed itself to them again, or they were simply confirmed in their search, the wise men were exceedingly happy to be continuing their journey.
11 There were three gifts, so traditionally it is thought that there were three wise men. This would have been quite a picture: Three rich and prominent "wise" men stopping at a poor carpenter's house, praying to and adoring the small toddler, and giving them lavish gifts.The gifts are significant:
  • Gold -- a gift commonly given to kings (often in the form of tribute - e.g., 1 Ki 9:14,28)
  • Frankincense -- used in making the incense offered to God by priests (Exo 30:34-38)
  • Myrrh -- used for embalming the dead (John 19:39)
All these treasures were very valuable and were no doubt used by Joseph and Mary during their subsequent flight to Egypt.
12 Herod may have been cunning in his relationships to men, but Herod's motives could not be hidden from God. God warned the wise men not to return to Herod. This would not only buy some time to get Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus away from Bethlehem, but would probably also protect the wise men's lives.
13 Now it was time to tell Joseph and Mary to leave. An incredible thing it is for God to appear as a helpless baby. He did this for our sake. It is not known why God did not use some other supernatural means to protect the Child. We should not be surprised if God often uses natural means to protect us from harm.

We also see here that evil is allowed to run its course.

Sometimes it is better to flee from evil rather than stand and face it.

14 Joseph obeyed immediately, not even waiting until daylight to obey. How often we tend to wait and debate. When God says to do something, He means now. Of course, the Father was wise enough to place His Son in the care of faithful and obedient people.
15 Joseph would stay in Egypt until it was safe to return.

Matthew quotes from Hosea 11:1, which is a verse with a dual meaning. In its straightforward reading, it is a retelling of the Exodus of Israel. However, it is applied here as a prophecy about the Messiah.

16 It is ironic that such an evil man would accuse those obedient to God of deception. Granted, the wise men did not report to Herod as asked, but Herod had also been deceptive in his motives. In general, we should obey the civil authorities, but God's will always overrules the will of men. We should keep our word whenever possible, but if God redirects us, we should break a bad promise (or not make promises at all Mat 5:33-37).

This particular act (commonly referred to as "the slaughter of the innocents") has not been found in non-biblical records concerning Herod. Some scholars, however, have suggested that Herod regularly did many bizarre and violent things, and this may not have been strange enough to record. Bethlehem was a very small town, and scholars suspect that about a dozen children were slaughtered.

17 Herod unwittingly fulfills another prophecy (Jer 31:15).
18 A great evil had happened, and the survivors mourned the children they had lost. We do not know why God did not intervene here. Why did God allow several innocent babies and toddlers to be killed? God knew what would happen, and even had a prophet speak about it. All we can say for sure is that we are in no position to judge God's decisions to allow evil to proceed in some circumstances, but restrain evil in others. Only He knows how to shape history to give the best possible outcome.
19 Now that Herod was dead, Joseph was told to return.
20 Joseph waited for God's direction. We might take exception to the fact that God spoke directly to Joseph in dreams. However, God still speaks to us through His word, and it gives us sufficient information to know how we should live our lives to please Him, even if it doesn't spell out the day-to-day details of our lives.
21 Again, Joseph obeyed.
22 We don't know why Archelaus frightened Joseph. Perhaps Herod had found that his plot to kill the Child Jesus had failed and had told his son to kill the Child if He was returned from exile.Again God intervenes and directs Joseph to live in a place where he need not fear the evil ruler.Galilee was a place with a bad reputation. The "strict" Jews considered Galilee full of compromising "liberals."Sometimes it is best to seek a safe place to raise your family. It need not be the most respected (or popular) place to live.
23 When we look at this scripture today, it does not say this. However, the word used has a letter that could have made the word "Nazareth." A transcription error could have changed the word. If this is the case, it makes the verse even more interesting since Nazareth did not even exist at the time of its writing.Nonetheless, Jesus would later be known as "Jesus of Nazareth."