Herod ruled the Jews at the time Jesus was born and was threatened by a new “king of the Jews.” Gentile magi – wise men from the east – sought out the new King.
We ought to trust in God’s word and His promises. OT prophecies are being fulfilled.
1. Bethlehem of Judea
– Matthew does not say how Jesus came to be born in Bethlehem
– of Judea, a few miles S of Jerusalem, not the one in Galilee 7 mi. NW of Nazareth
– Judah: Gen. 49:10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet…
– in Hebrew: “House (Beth) of Bread (Lehem)”; Jesus the Bread of Life born in the House of Bread
– Mic. 5:2 But 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.
– Matthew, pedagogically, combines Mic. 5:1,2 with 2 Sam. 5:2 (but differs from both MT/Masoretic Text and LXX)
– emphasizes Jesus’ right by birth as being in fulfillment of prophecy
– emphasizes Jesus’ connection to David
– in no wise least: Matthew adds it: assurance that lowliness of birth is no impediment to fulfillment of divine right
– God uses the least for the greatest: 1 Corinthians 1:26
2. Herod was troubled
– 73 BC born
– an Edomite, descendant of Esau, through his father, Antipater, native of Idumea, region SW of Judea and between Dead Sea and Gulf of Aqaba and known as Edom; “Edom” means “red” and is derived from the name Esau.
– 47 BC became governor of Galilee (i.e., at 26 yrs of age)
– 40 BC Roman Senate named him “King of Judea” (i.e., at 33 years of age!)
– 20 BC commencement of construction of the Temple; many public works but a brutal, murderous life
– 4 BC died awful death
– his reign is described in The Life and Times of Herod the Great by S. Perowne (1956)
– did not know or believe Scripture (Micah 5) or was lazy (let magi do the work)
3. and all Jerusalem with him
– Why are people not overjoyed? They were satisfied under Herod and Rome. Unlike the magi, they did not know or believe the Scriptures or pay attention to the star.
– as in the OT and consistent with Jewish style, the city is personified, (D. Hill)
– cp. Mtt. 3:5 “then went out to him all Jerusalem, and all Judea…”; 8:34; 21:10b
4. Magi are wise men from the east
– probably astrologers from Babylonia/Chaldea, Egypt or Arabia (D. Hill comm.)
– the term (cp., magicians)
– originally a priestly class among the: Persians (Iran), Herodotus, Hist. I.101, 132; Chaldeans in Babylon (Iraq), Dan. 1:4; 2:2
– later used of magicians, sorcerers and charlatans, A. 8:9; 13:6,8
– Ps. 72:11; Isa. 49:7; 60:1-6 refer to “kings”
– later Christian tradition identified them as kings, with Armenian Infancy Gospel of late A.D. 6th C. names them Melkon (Melchior), Bathasar and Gaspar (number of magi not specified but 3 to correspond to the 3 gifts, v. 11)
– Matthew does not mention the lowliness of Jesus’ birth as Luke does, so it would seem that the point of Matthew is not the contrast of the low birth with the high guests (whether kings or simply “wise men”)
– Matthew’s interest appears more to contrast Gentile religious leaders from a distant land (Magi) coming to worship the prophesied true King with the corrupt chief priests, scribes and king of the chosen nation rejecting Him.
5. Magi as witnesses: For we have seen his star in the east
– in the east, may be translated literally, in the rising up
– astronomical phenomena associated with births of great men: cf. Cicero, De Divin. i.47, concerning Alexander; cf. Suetonius, Aug. 94, concerning Augustus; which led the Senate to decide that no one born that year should be allowed to live. (from D. Hill commentary)
– see Nu. 24:17,18 — “a star shall come forth (anatelei astron) out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel…And Edom shall be a possession…; and Israel shall do valiantly.” cf. Balaam’s oracle, Nu. 23:7, to Balak, Moabite king, who tried to bar the route to Canaan taken by the Israelites after leaving Egypt.
– 2 Pt. 1:19 “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.”
– Rev. 22:16 “I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.”
– Magi provide unbiased, disinterested (i.e., non-Jewish) witnesses of:
– special revelation (the star in the east) concerning Jesus Christ
– the birth itself of Jesus Christ consistent with the special revelation
– that the place of Messianic origin was Bethlehem of the Davidic tribe of Judah, consistent with the testimony of the prophets
– hostility of the religious leaders towards Jesus Christ
– foreshadow the conversion of the pagans to Jesus (8:11)
– cp., visit of Parthian Magi to Nero in A.D. 66
– Magi, unbiased witness from a distant land, testified to the glory and divine circumstances of Jesus’ birth.
6. Magi acknowledge Christ’s divinity and foreshadow the Gentiles engrafting
– they come to worship him
– they offered gifts, an indication in ancient East of submission and allegiance
– Ps. 72:10-15 “The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts. 11 Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him. 12 For he shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper. 13 He shall spare the poor and needy, and shall save the souls of the needy. 14 He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence: and precious shall their blood be in his sight. 15 And he shall live, and to him shall be given of the gold of Sheba: prayer also shall be made for him continually; and daily shall he be praised.”
– Is. 60:6 “The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come: they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall shew forth the praises of the Lord.”
– gifts symbolize aspects of Jesus (cf. Fathers and Luther)
– gold: royalty
– incense: divinity
– myrrh: passion and burial
– these Gentiles are the first fruits
– Ps 117: “O praise the Lord, all ye nations: praise him, all ye people. For his merciful kindness is great toward us: and the truth of the Lord endureth for ever. Praise ye the Lord.”
– A 10:1 “There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band”
– Herod and the people did not bother to come a few miles to worship Jesus. The magi came from a far way off.