Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 12 October 2010; Revised 20 February 2018
Scripture: The Scripture text of Matthew used below is prepared by Blaine Robison and based on the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament. The essentially literal translation seeks to reflect the Jewish character of the author and writing. See my web article The Jewish New Testament. Other Bible versions are also quoted. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. Most versions can be accessed on the Internet. Messianic Jewish versions are CJB, DHE, GNC, HNV, MW, OJB, & TLV.
Sources: Bibliographic data for sources cited may be found at the end of the chapter commentary. Works without page numbers are cited ad loc. The Septuagint (LXX) is the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, which was in use by Jews by the mid-2nd century BC. The LXX with English translation may be found here. Unless otherwise indicated references to the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); available online at Halakhah.com. Click here for Talmud Abbreviations. Dates of Israelite kings are from Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Dates of the nativity are from Risto Santala, The Messiah in the New Testament in the Light of Rabbinical Writings (1992). Online.
Syntax: Unless otherwise noted the definitions of Greek words are from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009). See the Greek Guide for the meaning of grammar abbreviations. Definitions of Hebrew words are from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981). The numbering system of the Strong's Exhaustive Concordance is identified with "SH" (Strong's Hebrew number) and "SG" (Strong's Greek number). Strong's Online.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Torah (Law), Besekh (New Testament), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ). I use the title "The Book of Matthew" because that is how Matthew introduces his story (Matt 1:1).
Summary: Matthew's account of the visit of the Magi occurs after Yeshua has been born. Given that the flight to Egypt occurred almost immediately after the departure of the Magi, then their visit must have occurred after the events recorded in Luke 2:1-39, probably more than a year later. See the chronological order at the beginning of the commentary on Matthew 1.
1 Now Yeshua having been born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem,
Now: Grk. de, conj. used to indicate (1) a contrast to a preceding statement or thought, "but;" (2) a transition in presentation of subject matter, "now, then;" or (3) a connecting particle to continue a thought, "and, also," sometimes with emphasis, "indeed," "moreover" (Thayer). The second meaning applies here. Yeshua: Grk. Iēsous, a transliteration of the Hebrew name Yeshua ("Jesus" in Christian Bibles). Yeshua is a contraction of the Hebrew name Y'hoshua ("Joshua"), which means "YHVH [the LORD] is salvation" (BDB 221). The meaning of his name is explained to Joseph by an angel of the Lord, "You shall call his name Yeshua, for he will save his people from their sins" (Matt 1:21). The English rendering of "Jesus" originated with the Mace New Testament in 1729. For more information on the meaning our Lord's name, his identity, and the history of translation of the name see my web article Who is Yeshua?
having been born: Grk. gennaō, aor. pass. part., to cause to come into being, to father or to beget. Yeshua was most likely born in September of 3 B.C. (See my commentary on Luke 2:2.) Matthew skips from the angelic announcement to the time well past the birth of Yeshua. in Bethlehem: Grk. Bēthleem, which roughly transliterates Heb. Beit-Lechem, house of bread. Situated five miles south of Jerusalem the village is first mentioned in Genesis 35:19. The village gained special importance as David's birthplace and place of anointing and thus became his city (Luke 2:11). of Judea: Grk. Ioudaia transliterates the Latin provincial name of Iudaea and corresponds to the Heb. name Y'hudah, which means "praised" or "object of praise" (Gen 29:35; BDB 397). "Judea" refers to the historic territory of Judea (which lay between Samaria and Idumea). The boundaries changed after the death of Herod the Great and Rome created the province of Judaea.
in the days: pl. of Grk. hēmera may refer to (1) the daylight hours from sunrise to sunset, (2) the civil or legal day that included the night, (3) an appointed day for a special purpose or (4) a longer or imprecise period, such as a timeframe for accomplishing something or a time of life or activity (BAG). The fourth usage applies here. of Herod: Grk. Hrodēs, from hēros, 'hero,' known as Herod the Great. Herod was born about the year 73 BC. According to Josephus, Herod was an Idumean on his father's side and an Arabian on his mother's (Ant. XIV, 1:3 and 7:3). The Idumeans were the descendants of Esau, and inhabited the Sinaitic peninsula south of the Dead Sea. The Edomites had been constant enemies of the Jews, but they were finally subjugated by John Hyrcanus, a Hasmonean leader of the 2nd century BC. He left them in possession of their land, but compelled them to undergo circumcision and adopt the Jewish law (cf. Ant. XIII, 9:1; XV 7:9; Wars IV, 5:5). The latter was an unprecedented act for a Jewish ruler.
the king: Grk. basileus, king or chief ruler. In the LXX basileus appears frequently to translate Heb. melek. In the Tanakh the title "king" was not associated with the size of territory governed (often a city), but the authority wielded. The executive and judicial functions (and sometimes legislative) of government were vested in one man. Herod had been appointed king "by the Romans," i.e., the Roman Senate with the nomination of Marc Antony in 40 B.C. (Josephus, Ant. XIV, 13:1; 14:5; XVII, 8:1). However, Herod did not gain actual power until after he defeated the last Hasmonean king with assistance from Marc Antony. King Herod then reigned from 38 BC to 1 BC. See verse 19 below concerning his death.
According to Christian tradition the events which Matthew now describes occurred within a short time following the birth. However, in Luke's narrative, Joseph, while in Bethlehem, circumcised Yeshua on the eighth day after birth (Luke 2:21), and then forty days later the parents take Yeshua to the temple in Jerusalem to present him to the Lord and complete the purification rite for Miriam as prescribed in the Torah (Luke 2:22-24). Upon completion of these tasks they returned to Nazareth (Luke 2:39).
behold: Grk. idou, demonstrative interjection (the aor. mid. imp. of eidon, "to see"), that arouses the attention of hearers or readers. The Greek particle, like its corresponding Heb. word hinneh (SH-2009) in divine monologues or narratives (e.g., Gen 1:29), serves particularly as a call to closer consideration and contemplation of something, to introduce something new or to emphasize the size or importance of something; (you) see, look, behold (BAG). The interjection provides an apt transition from the reference to the past birth of Yeshua to a new drama about to unfold.
magi: Grk. magoi (pl. of magos), one of a class of Oriental men of letters and experts in astrology (Danker). BAG defines the term as a Magus that occurs in both Persian and Babylonian languages, a wise man and priest, who was expert in astrology, interpretation of dreams and various other secret arts. LSJ identifies three different meanings in classical works: (1) Magian, one of a Median tribe (Herodotus, History I, 101; Strabo, Geography, XV, 1:1); (2) one of the priests and wise men in Persia who interpreted dreams (Herodotus, VII, 37); and (3) enchanter, wizard, esp. in bad sense, impostor, charlatan (Euripides, Orestes 1498; Plato, Republic 572e).
In the LXX magos occurs only in the book of Daniel, first to render Heb. chartom (SH-2741; pl. chartummim), which BDB defines as an engraver or writer and refers to one possessed of occult knowledge (355) (Dan 1:20; 2:2 ABP LXX). Magos also occurs in Daniel 2:10, 27; 4:7; 5:7, 11, 15 for the Aram. chartom (SH-2749), which corresponds to the Hebrew word (BDB 1093). The Hebrew chartom first occurs in Genesis 41:8, 24 where it refers to men called upon by Pharaoh to interpret his prophetic dreams and then in Exodus 8:3, 14, 15 of magicians who duplicated the miracles performed by Aaron.
It's important to note that in Daniel the chartummim/magoi are listed among various professions that served King Nebuchadnezzar and King Belshazzar and were called upon to interpret dreams and visions and provide counsel. The prophet Jeremiah mentions that a chief authority among the magoi, called the "Rab-Mag" (SH-7248; transliterated in the LXX as Rabamag), was part of a group of dignitaries that entered Jerusalem after its capture by the Babylonians (Jer 39:3, 13). Based the usage in Daniel we could say that a magos was not always a sorcerer or a conjurer and that is certainly not the meaning intended in Matthew's narrative. Daniel himself could be described as a magos since he served on royal staffs and interpreted dreams for the king (Dan 1:19; 2:16, 25-27; 4:19; 5:12).
Cicero (106-43 BC), the Roman philosopher and lawyer, identified the Magi as "wise and learned men among the Persians" (De Divinatione I, §23). Strabo provides even more pertinent information on the Magi at the time of the nativity story. Persia was ruled by a king and a legislative body called the Council of the Parthians, which was composed of two houses, one house of kinsmen of the king and the other house of Magoi ('great men') and Sophoi ('wise men'). One of the duties of this body included the election of the king of the Parthian empire (Geography, Book XI, 9:3). Cicero concurred saying, that "no one can become king of the Persians until he has learned the theory and the practice of the magi" (De Divinatione I, §41).
Josephus (AD 37-100), the Jewish historian, makes no mention of the Magi, but Philo (20 BC – AD 50), the Jewish philosopher, in listing "wise men" of different lands also identifies the Magi as being in Persia:
"Among the Persians there is the body of the Magi, who, investigating the works of nature for the purpose of becoming acquainted with the truth, do at their leisure become initiated themselves and initiate others in the divine virtues by very clear explanations." (Quo Probus Liber, XI, 74)
Thus, the Magi at this time were very possibly "king makers" (Setterfield). The Magi had clearly moved beyond being teachers and priests, and were members of the Persian government. Daniel's service to Darius and Cyrus illustrates the fact that magos is not a term of ethnicity or character, but only of an office. Daniel's influence on the Persian court was no doubt profound and lasting. It is even possible as Clarke suggests that some of the Jews in Persia had become members of the Magi and the Magi of this story were Jewish (767). No pagan leader would come to Jerusalem to carry out the purpose stated in the next verse. If they were not Jewish these Magi would be the equivalent of "God-fearers" who worshipped the God of Israel and embraced the standards of righteousness set forth in Scripture.
from the east: Grk. anatolē, rising, an astronomical term used in astrology of a heavenly body rising above the horizon; e.g. "the rising of the sun," not "in the East" (KJV). The idiom of the sunrise is often used in Scripture to mean the direction of east and here could refer to a country located to the east of Israel or as a direction would mean due east from the point of an observer in Jerusalem. Although Scripture does not define the geographical home of the Magi. Kasdan suggests that the Magi came from Babylon where Daniel lived under King Nebuchadnezzar (19). However, the capital of the Persian Empire was Susa (Heb. Shushan) in Elam and this was where Daniel resided and worked in the latter part of his career (Dan 8:2; Josephus, Ant., X, 11:7).
Justin Martyr (110-165 AD) claimed the Magi came from Arabia, but he gives no reason for his declaration (Dialog With Trypho the Jew, §77). Santala points out that the kings of Yemen in the southern part of the Arabian peninsula practiced Judaism from 120 BC right up to the 6th century AD (81). Wise men of Arabia would likely be familiar with Jewish messianic expectation and biblical prophecy. Santala also points out that Mesopotamia at that time was a center for Jewish cultural influence. There was still a strong Jewish population in Babylonia in the first century. The general consensus of commentators is that the Magi came from Persia and this interpretation is supported by ancient sources, but Justin Martyr could be right about Arabia in terms of the route of travel.
arrived: Grk. paraginomai, aor. mid., to make one's way so as to be present, to come, arrive or be present. in: Grk. eis, prep., 'into.' In other words the Magi did not just stop and camp outside the city. Jerusalem: Grk. Hierosoluma, a rough transliteration of the Heb. Yerushalayim, which means "possession" or "foundation of peace" (BDB 436). The city is situated some 2500 feet above sea level and eighteen miles west of the northern end of the Dead Sea, is renowned as the capital of all Israel, afterwards of the Kingdom of Judah and the seat of central worship in the temple. Jeremias estimated the resident population of the city in the time of Yeshua at about twenty-five to thirty thousand (252).
For the faithful Jew the city of Jerusalem represented all that was dear in the covenant relationship with God. One psalmist expressed his affection thus, "If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget her skill, may my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy" (Psalm 137:5-6). What a precious name is Jerusalem! Jerusalem is almost due east of Susa, the capital of Persia. (There's only one degree difference in latitude.) That the Magi would make the trip to Israel was not out of character for their influence in the world of that time. At a later time Tiridates, King of Armenia, along with members of the Magi visited Rome and the Magi performed special rites for Nero (Suetonius, The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, XIII, 13:1, 34:4). Magi also went to Athens and sacrificed to the memory of Plato (Seneca, Epistles 58:31).
The arrival date of the Magi in Bethlehem cannot be known with absolute certainty, but early church traditions place it during the winter of 2 BC, some believing it took place in December and others in January of 1 BC. Christian tradition celebrates the Epiphany ("manifestation") of the Messiah to the Wise Men on January 6th. In my view, the Magi arrived during the festival of Hanukkah of 2 BC, which took place 22-29 December that year.
2 saying, "Where is the One who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw his star in the east and have come to worship Him."
Where: Grk. pou, interrogative adv., here of place; where (?), at which place (?). is: Grk. eimi, pres., to be, a function word used primarily to declare a state of existence, whether in the past ('was, were'), present ('are, is') or future ('will be'), often to unite a subject and predicate (BAG). the One who has been born: Grk. tiktō, aor. pass. part. with the definite article, to cause to come into being, to birth. One might ask why the Magi sought a baby king and not an adult king. Since the Magi were watchers of the heavens they would have taken note of the fact that Venus, the mother planet, had appeared in conjunctions of planets in June, August and November of 3 BC, as well as in June and August of 2 BC.
In addition, they would have noted the unusual conjunction in September 3 BC of Jupiter (planet of kings and the Messiah) joining Regulus (the chief star in Leo, the Royal Planet and Royal Star), the Sun in Virgo (Virgin Constellation), and the New Moon in Royal Constellation Leo (Judah). Some interpreters might assume that the Magi did not know the Messiah had been born, but that is not the information they sought. They assumed he had already been born, and they wanted to know where he was located at the time of their arrival. It would only be natural to assume that the new king would be in Jerusalem. And, besides, it was prudent politically to present themselves before the sitting monarch.
King: Grk. basileus. See the previous verse. of the Jews: Grk. Ioudaioi, pl. of Ioudaios, Judean, Jew or Jewish. The name, occurring 239 times in the Besekh and regardless of translation, identified biological descendants of Jacob who adhered to Mosaic/Israelite traditions. Ioudaios translates the Heb. term Y'hudi (pl Y'hudim). Y'hudi was derived from Y'hudah, the name given to Jacob's son (Gen 29:35) and thereafter his tribal descendants (Ex 31:2). Y'hudi first appears in 2 Kings 16:6; 25:25 and Jeremiah 34:9 to refer to Judeans or citizens of the Kingdom of Judah.
Since the Magi came from Persia they would likely be aware of the both the Aramaic and Hebrew words for the "Jews." The use of Y'hudi to describe Mordecai in Esther 2:5 and 3:4 should be translated as "Judean" instead of "Jew" as in Christian Bibles, because he was from the tribe of Benjamin. (The Kingdom of Judah included the tribes of Benjamin and Simeon.) The plural form Y'hudim is used in Esther 8:9, 11, and 17 where the name refers to all those taken in captivity from the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah. Indeed, the broader use of Y'hudim/Ioudaioi mirrors the Aramaic form Y'hudain that occurs in Ezra (4:12, 23; 5:1, 5; 6:7, 14) and Daniel (3:8, 12). The genitive phrase "of the Jews" could mean that the King is of Jewish lineage or that the King rules over the Jewish people or both.
To the casual reader it may seem strange that a delegation of Persian rulers would be interested in a new King of the Jews. Barclay opines that just about the time Yeshua was born there was in the world a expectation of the coming of a king (1:27). He offers these quotations:
Suetonius, Roman historian (c. 75-160 A.D.): "There had spread over all the Orient an old and established belief, that it was fated at that time for men coming from Judaea to rule the world" (The Life of Vespasian, 4:5).
Tacitus, Roman historian (56-117 AD): "there was a firm persuasion, that in the ancient records of their [Jews] priests was contained a prediction of how at this very time the East was to grow powerful, and rulers, coming from Judaea, were to acquire universal empire." (Histories 5:13).
Josephus, Jewish historian (c. 37-100 A.D.): "there was an ambiguous oracle that was also found in their sacred writings, how, about that time, one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth" (Josephus, Wars VI, 5:4)
However, these quotations do not actually explain the motivation of the Magi to seek the Jewish king, since these words were written decades after the nativity events. Moreover, Barclay omits comments of these three historians that the expectation referred to a Roman ruler.
For we saw his star: Grk. astēr, generally of a luminous heavenly body other than the sun, whether in a fixed position such as Venus (Rev 2:28; 22:16), or moving such as a comet, meteor or asteroid (Jude 1:13; Rev 8:10). Astēr is also used fig. of angelic beings (Jude 1:13; Rev 9:1; 12:4) and congregational overseers (Rev 1:16, 20; 3:1). In the LXX astēr renders the Heb. kokab (SH-3556), star or heavenly body, first occurring in the creation narrative (Gen 1:16). Kokab shares the same root as kabod, glory or glorious, emphasizing the luminescence of the heavenly body. In the Tanakh the term is generally literal for the points of light in the night sky, but also fig. of the Messiah (Num 24:7), the people of Israel (Ex 32:13; Deut 1:10; 10:22; 28:62; 1Chr 27:23), and angels (Jdg 5:20; Job 38:7; Isa 14:13; Dan 8:10).
The Magi declared that they had seen "the star of him" (i.e., the Messiah). The stars, as the sun, moon, and planets, were placed in the heavens to serve as signs and in the nativity narrative we see the star as a sign of the Messiah. In this regard the Magi likely knew of what was spoken by a Mesopotamian prophet called Balaam, "A star shall come forth from Jacob, A scepter shall rise from Israel" (Num 24:17). Ironically, Rabbi Akiva in declaring Simon ben Kosibah the Messiah in the Second Jewish Revolt against Rome (AD 132-135) called him Simon bar Kokhba, "son of a star," believing Simon to be the fulfillment of Balaam's prophecy (Kasdan 21).
The Hebrew prophet Daniel had been held in high regard in the Persian court. The Magi had the prophecy that seventy weeks or 490 years were decreed for Israel to complete the plan of God, including the advent of the Messiah (Dan 9:24-27). The Magi knew from the prophecy that the Messiah would be so despised that he would be killed. Unfortunately, the timeline to the death of the Messiah in A.D. 30 does not specify when he would be born. Regardless of how the years are calculated (whether 365 or 360-day years) the Magi would reasonably assume that the birth of the Messiah must be at hand and would look to the heavens for guidance.
Setterfield notes that Zoroaster, a pupil of Daniel, had incorporated the prophecy of Scripture into his own "bible," called the Zend Avesta, and Zoroastrianism was the State Religion of Persia at the time of Messiah's birth. Zoroaster had prophesied that there would be born to the Jews a King Messiah, and that his coming would be heralded by a sign in the heavens in the constellation Virgo. We should consider that Revelation 12:1 seems to depict the constellation Virgo to represent the woman who would give birth to the Savior.
in the east: Grk. en anatolē. See the previous verse. However, the usage here en anatolē in relation to the star refers to an acronical rising, when an object rises at sunset and is visible all night. So, what was this star? Various suggestions have been made:
• A conjunction of planets (Craig Chester, The Star of Bethlehem ; Barry Setterfield, The Christmas Star; Edersheim 211f; Finegan 319 and Santala 84f). From 7 BC to 2 BC there were fourteen significant planetary conjunctions that likely served as portents of the Messiah's coming (Ross Olson, Dates of Significant Astronomical Events, Twin Cities Creation Science Association). This solution seems to be the most popular of those who make a choice of the possibilities.
• A comet or meteor (Origen, Against Celsus, I, §58, §59; Clarke 767). Setterfield says that Halley's Comet appeared in 11 BC and another comet appeared in 4 BC. Chester gives the date for Halley's Comet as 12 BC and Henry Morris gives 5 BC for the second comet. In any event, no comets occurred in 3/2 BC, the most likely date for the nativity.
• A supernova (E.W. Maunder, Star of the Magi, ISBE; Henry Morris, Star Witness). An Internet search revealed that prominent supernovae are known to have been observed from Earth in AD 185, 393, 1006, 1054, 1181, 1572, and 1604. Ross Olson says that a supernova occurred in Capricorn in 5 BC, and another source, Historical Supernovae, lists a supernova observed by the Chinese in the Spring of 4 BC. Astronomers acknowledge that published lists of supernovae are incomplete as many are not seen due to dust obscuration (Galactic Supernovae List).
• The Sh'khinah glory of God, due to its unusual movement in verse 9 (Kasdan 20). The Sh'khinah, a cloud of fire, was manifested six times in the Tanakh (Ex 13:21; 16:10; 19:9-21; 24:15-17; 40:34-35; Num 9:16; 11:25; 1 Kin 8:10-11) and once in the Gospels (Mark 9:7). At times the glory cloud did serve as a travel guide.
Many interpretations of this narrative fail to take due notice of what is said and what is not said, and as a result develop faulty assumptions. First, the word "star" is singular. If the Matthew had wanted to convey a constellation or grouping of planets he would probably have used the Greek word mazouroth, which occurs in the LXX to translate two Hebrew words, mazzaroth (2Kgs 23:5; Job 38:32) and kesil (Job 9:9; Amos 5:8; Isa 13:10). Mazzaroth means "constellation" (BDB 561) and kesil means "Orion and other constellations of the same brilliancy" (BDB 493). Mazouroth does not occur in the Besekh at all.
Second, the star over Persia could have been one of the planets commonly associated by Jews with royalty. Jupiter was the planet of kings and symbolized the Messiah. Also, Regulus, the chief star in Leo, was the Star of Kingship. Leo was the constellation of kings and the tribe of Judah. Significant planetary conjunctions in 3 B.C. would have provided an initial alert of the birth of the Messiah. On August 12 a conjunction of Jupiter (Royal Planet, Messiah) and Venus (Mother Planet) occurred in Leo (Royal Constellation of Judah). Then on September 11 Jupiter joined Regulus, (Royal Star and chief star in Leo), with the Sun in Virgo (Virgin Constellation), and the New Moon in Leo.
and have come: Grk. erchomai, aor., to come or to arrive. After weeks of travel the Magi finally reach their destination. Setterfield suggests that the Magi came across Arabia. The usual route northward along the river, through the fertile crescent, then down through Syria parallel to the Mediterranean coast was fraught with dangerous encounters with the Romans. The armed cavalry escort of the Magi would have sparked incidents which they would want to avoid. So, the Magi traveled across the desert through Arabia. If they had come via the river-Mediterranean route, Herod would have heard of their approach long before they arrived and would have had Roman forces out. As it was, Herod was taken completely by surprise. There were at least three routes available to the Magi and in that case the trip would take no more than 6 weeks by horse. The length of the trip, of course, does not tell us when the trip planning began. The Magi would have needed time to obtain permission and funding to leave Persia and to gather supplies.
to worship him: The verb Grk. proskuneō, aor. inf., has two meanings (1) to recognize another's prestige by offering special honor, ordinarily through a gesture of prostration, 'do obeisance to,' 'pay homage to;' (2) to offer worship to beings considered transcendent, ordinarily with the focus on a religious aspect to the act. In the LXX proskuneō translates primarily Heb. shachah (SH-7812), to bend down, stoop or bow (first in Gen 18:2). In the Tanakh the physical action of bending represented bowing to the will of the exalted One (cf. Ex 12:27f) (DNTT 2:876f). The first mention of shachah as "worship" in the Bible" occurs on the lips of Abraham who obeyed God to sacrifice Isaac (Gen 22:5). The Hebrew concept essentially means an attitude of submission to God's sovereign will and a willingness to sacrifice as dictated by the sovereign Majesty.
In the Besekh proskuneō continues the Hebrew meaning with a greater emphasis on personal sacrifice (instead of an animal sacrifice, cf. Luke 9:23; John 12:25; Rom 12:1f) and prayers for divine help. This clause is given as the reason the Magi came to see the newly born king, so worship in this context does not mean an act of religious devotion or even the performance of a religious ritual. There is no indication in the text that the Magi considered the baby God in flesh. The Magi fully intended to bow down to the authority of the new King of the Jews. Only someone who believed in the God of Israel would do such a thing, which implies that these Magi were Jewish. They understood that this was the deliverer for which all Israel awaited.
3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
When Herod the king: See verse 1 above. heard this: Grk. akouō, aor. pass. part., may mean (1) to hear with the ears; (2) to hear with comprehension, i.e., understand and (3) to receive information aurally, lit. "Now hearing." In other words, the Magi were standing in front of Herod and he heard from their own lips, not via a messenger.
he was troubled: Grk. tarassō, aor. pass., to be in a disturbed state of mind. Why was Herod troubled? As Setterfield points out a small army from a foreign power was at the gates of Jerusalem. And, just as disconcerting was that the Magi proclaimed the birth of a contender for Herod's throne whom they intended to support. At this time the Homonadensian War (12 BC - 1 AD) was being fought in Cilicia. The Roman forces were under the authority of Quirinius (Schurer I, 352). Roman forces stationed in Judea were purely auxiliary and under the authority of the legate of Syria. If Quirinius felt he needed them, he could order them to Cilicia for the war. It may well be that Jerusalem had only a token Roman force in the city and Herod feared what the Parthian cavalry might do. In this late time of his life Herod was increasingly paranoid as well as physically ill. He had plans for his son Archelaus to inherit the throne and perhaps these Magi planned to stage a coup d'état.
and all Jerusalem with him: "all Jerusalem" could be taken literally of all the residents or idiomatically of the chief priests and nobles, the leadership of the country. Those in the city would be troubled at the prospect of a bloody confrontation between the Parthians and Roman soldiers or a threat to the safety of their citizens in leaving or entering the city. Dealing with the madness of Herod in the waning days of his reign and his tendency to execute anyone he deemed a threat to his kingdom was bad enough. Now here was a foreign power that could cause the situation to spiral out of control.
And when he had called together: Grk. sunagō, aor. part., to bring together in a collective manner, lit. "having assembled." all the chief priests: pl. of Grk. archiereus, a high or chief priest. In the LXX archiereus occurs only two times in the canonical books, but 41 times in the Apocrypha (DNTT 3:35). In Leviticus 4:3 archiereus renders Heb. Hakohen Hamaschiach, "the anointed priest" and inserted in Joshua 24:33 without Heb. equivalent to describe Aaron. The Hebrew title Hakohen Hagadol, 'the high [or great] priest,' occurs 11 times in the Tanakh (Lev 21:10; Num 35:25, 28; Josh 20:6; 2Kgs 12:10; 22:4, 8; 23:4; 2Chr 34:9; Neh 3:1, 20), but in all of these passages the title is translated in the LXX by Grk. ho hierus ho megas, 'the great priest.'
The plural noun would include the current high priest, former high priests and holders of the priestly offices of higher rank in the Temple, altogether some fifteen to twenty persons. The retired high priests were Annas, Ishmael ben Phiabi, Eleazar and Simon ben Kamithos (Lane 531f). From Luke's narrative (Acts 4:1; 5:17) and Josephus (Ant. XX, 9:1) we know that the chief priests were generally Sadducees and ex–officio members of the Sanhedrin (Jeremias 179, 197, 230). The active chief priests held a variety of administrative posts and as a group wielded considerable power in the city. Jeremias made the following list of working chief priests based on rabbinical sources (160):
● The deputy high priest.
● The director of the weekly division of ordinary priests.
● The director of the daily shift.
● The seven temple overseers.
● The three or more temple treasurers.
A corresponding list of ranks is found in the War Scroll (1QM 2:1ff) of the DSS (TDSS 149). The DSS list has the high priest, his deputy, twelve chief priests, and the directors of the priests' weekly courses; twelve chief Levites, and the directors of the weekly Levitical courses. There is a certain irony here. The name of the high priest at this time was Jesus (Heb. Yeshua), son of See, who served from 4 BC until AD 6 (Jeremias 377). Yeshua the high priest will inform Herod where Yeshua, destined to be the great high priest (Heb 4:14; 9:11), is to be born. God definitely has a sense of humor.
and scribes: pl. of Grk. grammateus refers to a specialist in Jewish legal matters. In Israelite culture a scribe was a legal scholar and a teacher of the Torah. In the LXX grammateus renders two Hebrew words, shotêr and more frequently sophêr (DNTT 3:477f). The word shotêr (SH-7860, official; officer, BDB 1009) is used of an officer or overseer in Egypt (Ex 5:6), men chosen to be part of the seventy elders (Num 11:16), administrative officers in the army (Deut 20:5) and judicial officials (1Chr 23:4; Ezra 4:8). The word sophêr (SH-5608, secretary, scribe, BDB 708) was used for the secretary to a king or government official (2Sam 8:17; Ezra 4:8), the military scribe who kept the muster rolls (Jer 37:15), an amanuensis to a prophet (Jer 36:4, 18, 32) and in the later books, one skilled in the Torah (Ezra 7:6, 12, 21; Neh 8:1).
In ancient Israel the art of writing was preserved as a craft by certain families, such as the Kenites dwelling at Jabez (1Chr 2:55). An ancient scribe's appearance with a writing case on his lap is mentioned in Ezekiel 9:2. Scribal schools trained priests and Levites, who in turn instructed the people in the Torah on great feast days and made legal judgments (cf. Deut 33:10). During the monarchy Levitical scribes were needed in the fiscal and administrative organization of Temple operations (2Kgs 12:10; 1Chr 24:6; 2Chr 34:13; Jer 8:8). Government scribes ranked above the priests and wielded considerable authority and influence (cf. 2Sam 8:16-18; 2Kgs 22:3-13; 25:19; 1Chr 18:15-17; 27:32; 2Chr 34:8-21). With the return from exile the profession of scribe gained considerable status "when the need arose to copy, study and expound the Scriptures to make them the basis of national life" (DNTT 3:478). The most noted of these post-exilic scribes skilled in all the Torah was the priest Ezra, who "had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel" (Ezra 7:10).
The word grammateus occurs almost exclusively in the Synoptic Narratives and nearly always in the plural form. The term always has its Jewish meaning of one learned in Torah, a rabbi or ordained theologian. Scribes were clearly influential. They were secretaries, teachers, lawyers, judges, priests and some were members of the Sanhedrin (Matt 16:21). Some scribes belonged to the party of the Pharisees (Matt 22:34-35; Mark 2:16; Acts 5:34; 23:9) and some were "of the people" (Matt 2:4), suggesting no party affiliation. The terms "scribes" and "Pharisees" are paired together nineteen times, suggesting the majority of the scribes were Sadducees or belonged to no party. Josephus mentions Sadducees who were magistrates (Ant. XVIII, 1:4) and scribes were always preferred for appointment as judges due to their knowledge of the law (Jeremias 237).
Jeremias (Chap. 10) describes the stages of a scribe's professional development that helps to understand the contrast between Yeshua and the scribes. Scribal education began as a pupil (talmid) at an early age (adolescent years), and progressed for several years in a regular course of study. When the talmid as able to prove his skill to teachers in making personal decisions on questions of religious legislation and penal justice, the pupil would be considered a "non-ordained scholar" (talmid hakam). As a non-ordained scholar the scribe could be employed in a professional capacity. It was only when the talmid hakam attained the age of 40 (mentioned in Sotah 22b) that he could be ordained and accepted into the prestigious company of ordained scholars (hakam). As an ordained scholar the scribe was authorized to make his own decisions on matters of religious legislation and of ritual (Sanhedrin 5a), to act as a judge in criminal proceedings (Sanhedrin 3a) and to pass judgment in civil cases either as a member of the court or as an individual.
In the pursuit of their profession scribes were forbidden to charge fees for their services (Bechoroth 4:6; Nedarim 37a, 62a). Scribes earned a living from working at a trade, but in the main were dependent on subsidies from students, distribution of tithes for the poor and sometimes support from the Temple treasury (Jeremias 112f). Scribes employed at the Temple were paid from the annual Temple tax (Jeremias 115). In almost all passages the scribes are seen as opponents of Yeshua or recipients of his criticism, but three times a scribe is seen in a positive light (Matt 8:19; 13:52; Mark 12:28-32). The mention of scribes with chief priests here implies that all of them were members of the Sanhedrin.
he began to inquire: Grk. punthanomai, impf. mid., to inquire or to learn as a result of inquiry. of them where the Messiah: Grk. Christos, the expected fulfiller of the hopes of Israel for an end-time deliverer, the Anointed One or Messiah (Danker). In Greek culture christos comes from chriein, to rub lightly, and in its secular use had no religious connotation at all. Christos as an adjective described someone smeared with whitewash, cosmetics or paint, and was anything but an expression of honor. As a personal reference it even tended toward the disrespectful (DNTT 2:334).
Christos was chosen deliberately by the Jewish translators of the LXX to render Mashiach and in so doing infused new meaning into the Greek word. The Heb. title Mashiach means 'anointed one' or 'poured on' and is used in the Tanakh for (1) the patriarchs (1Chr 16:16-22; Ps 105:15); (2) the High Priest, Lev 4:5; (3) various kings (1Sam 12:3; 2Sam 22:51; Isa 45:1; and (4) the Messiah (Ps 2:2 and Dan 9:25-26). Yeshua fulfilled all those roles. was to be born: Grk. gennaō, pres. pass., to give birth to.
5 So they told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
So they told him: Luke does not specify the identity of "they," but representatives of the two groups agreed on this subject. The plural verb might indicate simultaneous speaking or one person confirming what another person said. In Bethlehem: Grk. Bēthleem, which roughly transliterates Heb. Beit-Lechem, house of bread. Situated five miles south of Jerusalem the village is first mentioned in Genesis 35:19. The village gained special importance as David's birthplace and place of anointing, and thus became his city, the city of David (Luke 2:11). of Judea: Grk. Ioudaia transliterates the Heb. name Y'hudah, which means "praised" or "object of praise" (Gen 29:35; BDB 397). The first readers of Matthew might assume he meant the Roman province of Judaea formed in AD 6, which comprised Idumea, historic Judea and Samaria. However, in Luke 2:4 "Judea" is used of the territory between Idumea and Samaria and that is no doubt the intention here.
for so it has been written: Grk. graphō, perf. pass., to write or inscribe on something capable of receiving writing. The verbal phrase, usually translated as "it is written," is the standard formula in the Besekh for attesting an assertion of truth and divine inspiration of Scripture, followed by a quote from the Tanakh. Christian theologies have different theories of biblical inspiration, but for the apostles it was a simple matter that God spoke and man wrote (e.g., Ex 17:14; 24:4; 34:27; Num 33:2; 36:5; Deut 30:10; 2Pet 1:20-21). Matthew uses the formula nine times in his book (also 4:4, 6, 7, 10; 11:10; 21:13; 26:24, 31). The use of the formula is significant given the often appeal to tradition by the opponents of Yeshua whenever they disagreed with something Yeshua or his disciples did (e.g. Matt 12:2, 10; 15:2; 19:3). God's intention from the establishment of his covenant with Israel is that his people would ground their lives in the Scripture received by Moses from God and written down (Ex 24:4-8, 12; Lev 10:11; 26:46; Num 36:13; Deut 17:18-20; 27:2-3, 8, 26), not man's interpretations and rules that often contradict Scripture or substitute for Scripture.
by the prophet: Grk. prophētēs, one who is gifted with the ability for interpretation or revelation transcending normal insight or awareness, i.e., a prophet. In ancient Greek culture the word-group always had a religious meaning and referred to one who predicts or tells beforehand (DNTT 3:76). However, in Scripture the word-group also refers simply to speaking on God's behalf, often described as "forth-telling." Interestingly enough, the name of the prophet is not identified, although obvious by the following quotation. The reply to Herod may have required courage, but they provided the information because he asked.
6 'And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come One ruling who will shepherd my people Israel.'"
The quotation is from Micah 5:2, but is taken from a variant text, since the quotation diverges from the current LXX and MT in three places.
And you, Bethlehem: See the previous verse. land of Judah: Grk. Ioudas (Heb. Y'hudah), the biblical location name for the area assigned to the tribe of Judah. The mention of Judah has been substituted for Ephrathah in the Hebrew text, "But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah." The word Ephrathah (spelled Ephratah in the current LXX) means "fruitful." The name first occurs in Genesis 35:19 where it appears as a synonym for Bethlehem. Micah associates the name with the prophesied ruler based on a family relationship with David. Samuel identified Ephrathah as the home of David's father Jesse and thus of David (1Sam 17:12). Then Naomi's husband Elimelech was an Ephrathite from Bethlehem (Ruth 1:2). In Ruth 4:11 Bethlehem and Ephrathah are identified in poetic parallelism. It may be that Ephrathah was a clan name of a family in Bethlehem whose importance made the clan name a synonym for the city (HBD). In sending the Messiah, God chose not only the genetic line of David, but even his birthplace.
are by no means least: Grk. elachistos serves as a superlative of mikros, 'smallest,' hence 'to a lowest level or degree. This is a typical Hebraic manner of giving a compliment, that no matter what others think of you, you actually have much greater esteem with God. among the rulers: Grk. hēgemon may mean (1) leader or (2) head of a Roman province, governor. The first meaning applies here given the context of the cities of Israel. The current MT has pl. of Heb. eleph, "thousand" (BDB 48), which the CJB, ESV, HCSB, HNV, NASB, NIV, NRSV and RSV translate as "clans." The JPS, KJV, and NKJV translate the word lit. as "thousands."
of Judah; for out of you will come: Grk. exerchomai, fut. mid., to move away from a place or position; to go or come out. Micah clearly identifies Bethlehem as a point of origin. One ruling: Grk. hēgeomai, pres. mid. part., to function in a leadership capacity, to lead. There is an interesting irony here. The present tense can be used as a future tense and that is the point in the context of Micah. However, when the speaker in the narrative says the verb it literally means "is coming" or "the coming one." who will shepherd: Grk. poimainō, fut., to tend or shepherd a flock of sheep, but also used figuratively of leadership. This verb was omitted from the current MT and LXX, but the original text emphasized that the Messiah will exercise genuine pastoral care.
my people Israel: Grk. Israēl, a transliteration of the Heb. Yisrael, which means "God prevails" (BDB 975). The noun refers to both the covenant name of the chosen people and a corporate reference to the biological descendants of Jacob through the twelve tribes (Gen 32:28). The Jewish religious leaders of the time had no doubt as to the birthplace of the Messiah. This conviction would be later recorded in the Talmud: "The King Messiah... from where does he come forth? From the royal city of Bethlehem in Judah." (Jerusalem Talmud, Berakoth 5a, cited by Stern). Stern goes on to correctly point out that none of the Messianic pretenders down through history could claim birth in Bethlehem.
Ordinarily a speaker in a Bible narrative quoting Scripture implies, as customary to Jewish practice, the complete context. The rest of Micah 5:2 reads, "His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity." The LXX reads "His goings forth were from the beginning, from ages of days." Micah not only prophesied the birthplace of the Messiah but revealed that the Messiah had existed since before the beginning of creation. Whether the scribe in quoting Micah forgot to finish the verse or was unwilling to consider its implications cannot be determined, but this failure to acknowledge the divine part of the Messiah's story would later drive a wedge between Yeshua and Jewish leadership.
7 Then Herod having called the magi secretly and determined from them the exact time the star had appeared.
Then Herod: See verse 1 above. having called: Grk. kaleō, aor. part., to solicit participation, to call, summon or invite. One might ask how does a king call anyone secretly? The statement does not mean that Herod's secretary would not know, but that the private audience was conducted without the chief priests and scribes present. the magi: See verse 1 above. secretly: Grk. lathra, adv., without public exposure, secretly. and determined: Grk. akriboō, aor., to carefully determine something. Marshall has "inquired carefully." In other words, Herod presented his question tactfully with subterfuge so that the Magi would not guess his intent. from them the exact time: Grk. chronos, a span or period of time that would be defined by a calendar or a point or definite moment in time. the star: See verse 2 above.
had appeared: Grk. phainō, pres. mid. part., being in a state or condition of being visible or observed, to shine or to appear. It may strike the reader as odd that the verb is in the present tense. If the star was then shining, surely Herod wouldn't have asked the question. In fact, in the entire narrative story the Magi are the only ones who saw the star. Curiouser and curiouser. However, the present tense in Greek grammar can have a variety of meanings (DM 181-186). A present tense verb may indicate action in progress, habitual practice, or action at successive intervals in "present time." However, sometimes the present tense is used to indicate an event now occurring, a past event with vividness, an anticipated future event or an action purposed. Thus, here the verb refers to a past event.
Many interpreters assume that the exact time the star appeared to the Magi was two years earlier because of the ages of children slaughtered in verse 16. However, the text does not repeat what the Magi told Herod. His question may seem odd because the sign in the heavens should have been seen in Judea. However, as noted in verse 2 above there were multiple astronomical events from 7 BC to 1 BC, including conjunctions of planets, constellations, a comet, and a supernova. Herod could be asking, which one was it? Herod's motive had nothing to do with an interest in astronomy or astrology, but a desire to determine the present age of the would-be king.
8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search carefully for the child. And when you have found him, bring word back to me, so that I also having come may worship him."
And he sent: Grk. pempō, aor. part., to send in the sense of a dispatch of persons for a purpose. them to Bethlehem: Grk. Bēthleem. See verse 1 above. Go: Grk. poreuomai, aor. pass. part., to move from one area to another, to go or to make one's way. and search Grk. exetazō, aor. imp., to seek information, to inquire with the implication that the Magi will ask questions of local citizens. carefully: Grk. akribōs, adv., diligently or carefully, i.e., be really thorough. for the child: Grk. paidion, child, the age of whom may range from new-born to time of puberty. In general usage the term meant a young child beyond babyhood. The normal word for "baby" is Grk. brephos and it is used of the baby in Elizabeth's womb and the baby in the manger (Luke 1:41, 44; 2:12, 16). The age of the child Yeshua at this point would correlate to the time when the Magi saw the star.
And when you have found: Grk. euriskō, aor. subj., to come upon by seeking, to find or locate. him: The pronoun is not in the Greek text, but added for clarity. bring word back: Grk. apangellō, aor. imp., to report back in response to a directive with the assumption of an eyewitness account. to me: Herod desires another secret meeting. It's tantamount to saying, "Let's just keep this between us." so that: Grk. hopōs, conj., that, in order that. I also: Grk. kagō, formed from kai ("and") and egō ("I"); I also. having come: Grk. erchomai, aor. part., to come or arrive, which emphasizes the position from which movement began, i.e., Jerusalem. may worship: Grk. proskuneō, aor. subj., to pay homage to or to worship. See verse 2 above. him: Grk. autos, pers. pron. Whether the Magi understood at this point, Herod determined to use them to facilitate destruction of his rival.
Date: 25 December 2 B.C.
9 Now having heard the king, they went away. And, behold, the star which they saw in the east went before them, until having arrived it stood over where the child was.
Now: Grk. de, conj. having heard: Grk. akouō, aor. part. See verse 3. the king: Grk. basileus. See verse 1 above. they went away: Grk. poreuō, aor. pass., to move from one area to another, to go or make one's way. And, behold: Grk. idou. See verse 1 above. the star: Grk. astēr. See verse 2 above. which they saw: Grk. horaō, aor., to perceive with the physical eyes or to experience extraordinary mental or inward perception. in the east: Grk. anatolē. See verse 1 above.
went before: proagō, impf., may mean (1) to bring from one position to another by taking charge or (2) to go or come before, to precede, which is the meaning here; lit. "was going." Since the Magi knew the child-king had been born in Bethlehem they didn't really need the star to lead them there, but the verb indicates definite movement on the part of the star. Nevertheless, they need a more specific kind of direction. them having arrived: Grk. erchomai, aor. part. See verse 1 above. The verb complements proagō to emphasize the physical movement through space. it stood: Grk. histēmi, aor. pass., to cause to be in a place or position; stand or stand still. over: Grk. epanō, prep., above or over.
where: Grk. hou, adv. of place; where, wherever. The adverb probably alludes to the village. the child: Grk. paidion. See verse 8 above. Based on the proposed scenario Yeshua would have been about 15 months old. was: Grk. eimi, impf. All the naturalistic suggestions for the star noted in verse 2 above for the star are inadequate to the action described here. Constellations, supernovas, stars, planets and comets can never mark a single building on the earth. Heavenly bodies do move, but such movement would be undetectable in a distance of only six miles. However, there was a phenomenal heavenly event on December 25th of 2 BC. above Bethlehem. There was a conjunction of Jupiter, Venus, the King star Regulus (the star of the Jewish Messiah) in Leo (the constellation of Judah), while the sun was then located in Virgo (the Virgin). Such a heavenly sight would have been a powerful message to the Magi.
As far as marking the specific house in which the baby Jewish king would be, two suggestions offer a possible solution. The first suggestion is that Magi saw a special miracle star or more likely an "angelic star" on this occasion (Gerardus D. Bouw, The Star of Bethlehem, The Biblical Astronomer, Fall 1998). The word "star" is used occasionally in Scripture as a figure of angels (Jdg 5:20; Job 38:7; Ps 148:3), perhaps because at times angels appear surrounded by an intense glory (Dan 10:4-8; Luke 2:9). The problem with this solution, as Timothy Unruh points out, is that this chapter of Matthew mentions both angels and the star without confusing the two. Luke's account of the narrative supports this distinction. (The Star of Bethlehem, What Was It? CSA News, Jan-Feb 2008).
Kasdan believes that the marking star here may be the Sh'khinah glory cloud that guided Israel from Egypt to Canaan and dwelled in the tabernacle and the later temple (20). The cloud of glory representing the very presence of God has a prominent place in the history of Israel (Ex 13:21-22; 16:10; 19:9-21; 24:15-17; 40:34-35; Num 9:16; 11:25; 1Kgs 8:10-11). And, the last manifestation of the cloud occurred on Mount Hermon to mark the days of the Messiah (Mark 9:7). Unruh concurs with the suggestion of the Sh'khinah glory.
Setterfield, also, while proposing a planetary conjunction for the star in the east, opts for the Sh'khinah in this context. He also believes that the "clouds of heaven," seen with the Messiah in Daniel 7:13 would be linked with the Sh'khinah in the minds of the Magi and satisfy the meaning of "star." The only argument against this suggestion is that just as Matthew does not confuse the terms "angel" and "star" the Tanakh never confuses the Sh'khinah for a heavenly body nor is the Sh'khinah ever identified with the Hebrew and Greek words for star. The Sh'khinah was always close at hand, never above the atmosphere.
The reader may be left wondering if the star of Bethlehem has been adequately explained. The fact that there are many suggestions perhaps illustrates as E.W. Maunder says in his ISBE article that the narrative has been purposely left incomplete for any astronomical conclusion to be drawn from it. If Matthew had just provided a little more information we could be sure whether it was a conjunction of the planets, a comet, a supernova, or a supernatural light like the pillar of fire in the wilderness. We may not know for sure what the star was, but we do know that the Magi left the comfort of their homes and traveled to Israel to meet the King of the Jews because of it. The physical nature of the star isn't really important. What is important is the example of the Magi. Will we bow down to the Messiah of Israel?
10 And when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great gladness.
Spotting the star at rest over a dwelling, the Magi were overwhelmed with joy. The goal of so many weeks of preparation and travel was literally in sight. One can only wonder what the local residents made of the contingent of Magi and their Parthian escort. Perhaps their first reaction would be fear or anxiety, but soon it gave way to curiosity and they gathered and waited for word of the reason for the Magi's visit.
11 And having come into the house they saw the child with his mother Miriam; and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And having come: Grk. erchomai, aor. part., lit. "and coming." into the house: Grk. oikos, a structure for habitation, house or home. Yeshua and his parents were no longer in the stable. The presence of the definite article, "the house," gives significance to the noun and may imply ownership. What may not be immediately apparent is that this was the second trip to Bethlehem for Joseph and Miriam. Luke 2:39 states categorically that the couple returned to Nazareth after they completed the Torah requirements of Brit Milah for Yeshua and the offering for Miriam to return to a clean status. Bouw believes the birth of Yeshua and the visitation of the Magi both occurred in 2 BC within a short time of one another, and offers this analysis:
"What of the wise men? When did they arrive? There are two possible times. First, they could have arrived at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles (October) and may have found Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem, at the house of friends or relatives. Second, it is not at all inconceivable that the wise men came later in 2 B.C., happening upon Joseph and Mary when they were visiting family and friends at the Feast of the Dedication (Hanukkah) in December. Old traditions indeed do report the visit of the wise men to have happened on December 25."
The suggestion of Bouw regarding the reason the holy family was in Bethlehem may be correct. However, it is more likely they were in Bethlehem with the intention of permanently settling there (see verses 21-22 below).
they saw the child: Grk. paidion. See verse 8 above. with his mother Miriam: The preposition indicates nearness between mother and child. She may have been holding him when the strangers entered the house. There is no mention of Joseph being present in this scene, but he still could have been there. and they fell down: Grk. piptō, aor. part., to drop from a relatively high position to a lower one, here to fall down on their knees (or even prostrate) as a worshipful gesture. and worshiped him: Grk. proskuneō. See verse 2 above. The two verbs belong together in terms of action sequence and the phrase could be lit. given as "and falling they worshipped" (Marshall). The Magi fulfilled their intention as expressed to Herod. Their action should not be taken in the sense of religious worship, but as a sign of their deepest respect and commitment to obey the child-king as their sovereign.
Then, opening: Grk. anoigō, aor. part., to open, used of doors and objects. their treasures: pl. of Grk. thēsauros, a place for safekeeping, container or chest. The Magi no doubt directed servants to bring in multiple chests. they presented him: Grk. prospherō, to cause movement of something or someone to a person or place, to bring or to present. gifts: pl. of Grk. dōron, a gift, often used of a sacrificial donation. of gold: Grk. chrusos, the precious metal known as gold, which could have been in the form of coins, jewelry or simple pieces of metal. frankincense: Grk. libanos, a fragrant resinous gum derived from certain trees in the balsam family. Frankincense was an ingredient used in making the perfume for the most holy place in the tabernacle (Ex 30:34). and myrrh: Grk. smurna, an aromatic gum resin having many uses in the Ancient Near East. Myrrh was traded along with spices (Gen 37:25), used as an ingredient in anointing oil (Ex 30:23), applied as perfume (Esth 2:12), placed in clothes to deodorize them (Ps 45:8), and used to anoint bodies for burial (John 19:39) (HBD).
It may have been the church father Origen who first saw symbolic meaning in the three gifts: "gold, as to a king; myrrh, as to one who was mortal; and incense, as to a God" (Against Celsus, I, 60). While other symbolic lessons might be drawn, the practical reality is that these gifts provided financial security for the coming months and perhaps the next few years.
12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their own country by another way.
The scene fast forwards to that night as the Magi had gone to their encampment outside the city. And having been warned: Grk. chrēmatizō, aor. pass. part., to be enjoined or warned as a result of receiving revealed information. in a dream: Grk. onar, a series of thoughts, images or emotions occurring during sleep, a dream. For a history of God's use of dreams and visions for purposes of communication see my web article Revelation: A Book of Visions.) Just as Joseph received revelation from God via a dream in 1:20, so now the Magi benefit. not to go back: Grk. anakamptō, aor. inf., going back to a point of departure, to return. to Herod: The Magi may have had their suspicions, since Herod's reputation for ruthlessness was well known in the empire. Herod had given them a command to return to Jerusalem and one did not lightly ignore the dictates of a monarch.
The divine information helped the Magi to make up their minds. After all, they had already given their allegiance to Yeshua as their sovereign, so they owed nothing to Herod. they returned: Grk. anachoreō, to depart from this or that place, to withdraw, to go away or go off. The departure would have taken place most likely at first light as soon as the Magi and their entourage could break camp. Normally ancient peoples did not travel at night. to their own country: Grk. chora, a stretch of territory as contrasted with owned property, defined by national or place names as noted in the narrative context, here the homeland of the Magi. by another way: In other words the Magi did not return by the same trade route they used to travel to Jerusalem. Setterfield suggests that the Magi returned to Persia via the more southerly of the three routes across the desert to keep as far away from Herod and the Romans as possible.
13 Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream, saying, "Get up! Take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to kill Him."
Now: Grk. de is a conjunction that generally indicates either a slight contrast or a transition in staging of narrative or presentation of subject matter. In this case the conjunction shifts the scene from the Magi's encampment to the house in Bethlehem. when they had gone: Grk. anachoreō, aor. part., to depart. See the previous verse. The verb could be lit. "having departed." behold: Grk. idou. See verse 9 above. an Angel: Grk. angelos means messenger, whether human or heavenly (BAG). The corresponding Hebrew word is malak, which means messenger, representative, courier or angel. The decision to translate malak or angelos as angel or human relies primarily on the context. Given the double meaning of malak/angelos Scripture adds an appropriate description to confirm the messenger as angelic.
Often in the Tanakh and the Besekh angels are identified as of the Lord: Grk. kurios may mean either (1) 'one in control through possession,' and therefore owner or master; or (2) 'one esteemed for authority or high status,' thus lord or master. In the LXX kurios occurs over 9,000 times, principally to translate Heb. words for God. In the overwhelming majority of instances (over 6,000 times), kurios replaces the Hebrew tetragrammaton Yod-Hey-Vav-Hey (DNTT 2:511). The TLV renders kurios here with Adonai, assuming rightly that the title refers to the tetragrammaton YHVH, the name Jews were not to pronounce. See the note on 1:20 for more information.
appears: Grk. phainō, pres. mid., being in a state or condition of being visible or observed, to shine or to appear. to Joseph: Grk. Iōsēph, a transliteration of Heb. Yosef. See the note on Matthew 1:16. in a dream: See the previous verse. The present tense of the verb "appears" suggests that the dream Joseph experienced occurred simultaneously with the message to the Magi or shortly thereafter. This was likely the same angel that told him of Miriam's divine pregnancy. saying, Get up: Grk. egeiro, aor. pass. part., to rise from a recumbent position. Take: Grk. paralambanō, aor. imp., to take to one's side. The imperative mood is used three times in the angel's message in reference to Joseph's actions. This stewardship responsibility dictated by the angel especially emphasizes that Miriam married the right man to take care of her and her son.
the child: Grk. paidion. See verse 8 above. The age of Yeshua is emphasized again. and his mother: The phrasing here is deliberate considering the angel could have said "take your wife and son." and flee: Grk. pheugō, pres. imp., to make a decisive movement away, in this case to avoid a hazard, to flee. to Egypt: Grk. Aiguptos. The Hebrew name in the Tanakh is Mitzrayim (Mizraim in Christian Bibles), who was a son of Ham (Gen 10:6) and then the name was extended to his descendants in northwest Africa. The English word Egypt is essentially derived from the Greek word via Middle French "Egypte" and Latin "Aegyptus." Stay there: Grk. histēmi, pres. imp., to cause to be in a place or position and with the focus on being in a place, the verb may be rendered as 'be there.'
until I tell you: Grk. legō, aor. subj., to make an oral statement, lit. "until I say to you." The angel commands Joseph to take up residence in Egypt until he hears directly from this angel. The specific city was probably left to Joseph's discretion. A considerable population of Jews in numerous settlements could be found in Egypt at this time, so finding a place of hospitality should not have been a problem. He might have even had relatives there. The largest body of Jews outside of Israel was in Alexandria located on the Mediterranean coast. The religious center for Jews in Egypt was in Leontopolis, a district capital in Lower Egypt, where a replica of the Jerusalem Temple had been built in 160 BC by Onias, son of the high priest Onias III (Josephus, Ant. XIII, 3:1).
for Herod is about: Grk. mellō, pres. imp., a future-oriented verb with a pending aspect, 'to be about to.' It could also be translated as 'having in mind' or 'intending to.' It's likely Herod had a backup plan in case the Magi did not produce the child as he had commanded. to search: Grk. zēteō, pres. inf., to be on the search for in the sense of looking for someone or something one has difficulty in locating, to seek or to look for. for the child, to kill him: Grk. apollumi, pres. inf., to cause severe damage and in this case by eliminating, i.e., killing the rightful King of the Jews. Herod would not stand for any perceived opposition to his plans for the future of his kingdom.
Date: 26 December 2 B.C.
14 So he got up and took the child and his mother during the night, and went to Egypt.
Matthew repeats the key action verbs in the angel's instruction to indicate that Joseph obeyed as directed. The word "night" (Grk. nux) refers to a chronological period between sunset and sunrise. So, like the Magi he got up while it was still dark and packed for the trip to Egypt. The terse narrative says nothing of all that was involved in making such a long trip. A major trade route ran down the coast of Judea and the Sinai peninsula through the wilderness of Shur, then after crossing the Egyptian border it followed a generally southwest direction to Heliopolis, a major city in Lower Egypt.
The details of the trip are left to the imagination. The treasures presented by the Magi would have necessitated one or more beasts of burden, such as a donkey or even a camel, to carry them. There must have also been some precautions to assure their own personal safety and the security of their possessions while on the trip and in their new home in Egypt. Perhaps the Magi loaned a Parthian escort for the trip.
15 He stayed there until Herod's death. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called My Son."
The opening clause does not mean that Joseph's sojourn in Egypt ended precisely with the death of Herod. News might have reached him in Egypt of Herod's death in the normal manner, but he had been commanded to stay until the angel came back for him. It's also quite possible that the angel appeared to Joseph (verse 19) as soon as Herod died. Matthew goes on to explain why Joseph was directed to go to Egypt. After all he could have gone with the Magi back to Persia. Little did Joseph realize it, but his time in Egypt fulfilled prophecy. This was to fulfill: Grk. plēroō, aor. pass. subj., may mean (1) to make full (to fill full), (2) to complete a period of time or reach its end, (3) to bring something to completion or finish something already begun, (4) to fulfill by deeds a prophecy, obligation, duty or destiny, (5) complete, finish, bring to an end or (5) complete a number.
what was spoken: Grk. legō, aor. pass. part., to make a statement or utterance, whether oral or written, here the former. by the Lord: Grk. kurios may mean either (1) 'one in control through possession,' and therefore owner or master; or (2) 'one esteemed for authority or high status,' thus lord or master. In the LXX kurios occurs over 9,000 times, principally to translate Heb. words for God. In the overwhelming majority of instances (over 6,000 times), kurios replaces the Hebrew tetragrammaton YHVH (DNTT 2:511). The TLV renders kurios here with Adonai, assuming rightly that the title refers to the tetragrammaton YHVH. The importance of this clause is that Matthew puts the emphasis on the divine inspiration of the words recorded as Scripture.
through the prophet: Grk. prophētēs, one who is gifted with the ability for interpretation or revelation transcending normal insight or awareness, i.e., a prophet. See verse 5 above. Matthew does not identify the prophet, but he quotes from Hosea 11:1. Hosea, which transliterates Heb. Hoshea ("deliverance"), prophesied to the northern Kingdom of Israel about 753-716 BC during the reigns of Uzziah to Hezekiah and Jeroboam II. Hosea was directed to marry a harlot, Gomer. She bore him three children. This part of the story has been taken as offensive to many Christian scholars, but according to the Torah, the only men prohibited from marrying a prostitute were the priests. The narrative is clear that Hosea married a prostitute at God's command.
The message of Hosea was straightforward. The northern kingdom had been guilty of idolatry and he warned the leadership that rebellion would reap the whirlwind in the form of Assyria. He called Israel to repentance and promised restoration. Hosea's marriage was in reality an acted out parable. In this way, through his own tormented life Hosea could present a striking picture of the pain in God's heart because of the harlotries of his covenant people while at the same time Hosea's faithfulness to Gomer symbolized God's steadfast love for his people.
Out of Egypt I called My Son: This statement is the second half of a parallelism in which "Son" is synonymous with Israel in the first part of the verse. The people of Israel was collectively known very early as the son of God (Ex 4:22; cf. Isa 43:6; Hos 1:10). Some interpreters have questioned Matthew's statement that the flight of the holy family to Egypt and their eventual return fulfilled prophecy. After all the prophecies in Matthew 1:23 and 2:6 were fulfilled literally, but allusion to Hosea's prophecy seems inaccurate. Stern provides the answer by pointing out that Matthew is engaging in a typical method employed by rabbis to interpret Scripture. Rabbis employed four methods of biblical interpretation: (1) p'shat; (2) drash or midrash; (3) remez and (4) sod.
The p'shat ("simple") method of interpretation is to accept the plain literal sense of the text, which means to deduce what the Hebrew writer intended to say. The p'shat method gives due consideration to the historical setting, the grammar of the writing and the meaning of each individual word or idiomatic expression used by the writer, as defined in the vocabulary of the writer at the time of the writing. In following this method of exegesis every word of Scripture is important.
The second method midrash ("commentary," "exposition" or "interpretation" of Scripture) is taken from drash ("search" or "inquire"). A midrash may focus either on halakhah ("way to walk"), directing the Jew to specific patterns of religious practice, or on aggadah ("narrative"), dealing with theological ideas, ethical teachings, philosophy, and other interpretations of Scripture that are not halakhah. This method concerns determining the meaning of a text and making appropriate application. A midrash not only concerns itself with what a verse means in its context, but its meaning in the whole of scriptural revelation.
The third method remez ("hint") finds that a word, phrase or other element in the text hints at a truth not conveyed by the p'shat. The remez method assumes that God can hint at things of which the Bible writers themselves were unaware. Many Christian interpreters unwittingly use this method when they interpret the lament against the King of Tyre in Isaiah 14:12-15 as alluding to Satan. Many passages in the Tanakh give a hint of the triune nature of God, such as Genesis 1:1-2, 26 and Isaiah 48:16. A significant remez is contained in Genesis 35:11 in which God promised to make Jacob a "company of nations." The Hebrew kahal goyim can be translated a "congregation of Gentiles" and thus provides the basis for Paul's Olive Tree analogy in Romans 11.
The fourth method sod ("secret") finds a mystical or hidden meaning in the text, arrived at by considering the numerical values of the Hebrew letters, noting unusual spellings, transposing letters, and the like. For example, the original Hebrew of Genesis 1:1 consists of seven words and the seven words have a total of 28 letters. The three principal nouns (God, heavens and earth) have a combined numerical equivalent of 777. The numerical value of the verb "created" is 203 (29x7). The total number of letters for the two objects of creation (heaven and earth) equal seven. The value of the first, middle, and last letters in the sentence equals 133 or 19x7 and the value of the first and last letters of each of the words between is 896 or 128 x 7. Over and over God says his creative work was "very good," but from the first second that God spoke matter into existence it was perfect and complete.
The presuppositions underlying midrash, remez, and sod recognize that Scripture can have layers of meaning and that it is in the diligent search that a student of the Word can find its treasure (cf. Matt 13:52). Conversely, these methods, if they are not grounded in the p'shat method, can obviously be abused and result in really bizarre and even heretical interpretations. So, what method is Matthew employing in declaring Hosea 11:1 to be fulfilled in Yeshua? Some Bible critics would say that Matthew is just reading into the Hosea text what he wants to be there. Yet, Matthew's approach to interpreting Scripture was completely in accord with rabbinic practice in the first century.
Stern suggests that Matthew is giving a remez, a hint of a very deep truth. Israel is called God's son in Exodus 4:22. The Messiah is presented as God's son a few verses earlier in Matthew 1:18–25, reflecting Tanakh passages such as Psalm 2:7, Proverbs 30:4 and Isaiah 9:6-7. Thus the Son equals the son: the Messiah is equated with, is one with, the nation of Israel. Yeshua's coming from Egypt re-enacted in a spiritually significant way the Exodus of the Jewish people and thus he embodies Israel. This is the deep truth Matthew is hinting at by calling Yeshua's flight to Egypt a "fulfillment" of Hosea 11:1.
Matthew may also be engaging in a play on words. God had called Israel, His son, out of Egypt to be a covenant people, a kingdom of priests to share the light of God with the world. Instead of being God's voice to the nations Israel turned away from the living God to idols accompanied by every imaginable vice and thereby incurring God's wrath as God goes on to recount in Hosea 11. Together Israel and Yeshua form a parable of two sons, the unbelieving rebellious son and the righteous obedient Son who was willing to die to bring salvation, not only to Israel who needed deliverance from sin, but the rest of the world as well.
Matthew is also giving due consideration to the hermeneutical principle of the context of God's entire message to Hosea. Prior to the mention of the "son" coming out of Egypt God declared through Hosea that He would make a new covenant with His people, send them David their king and raise them up on the third day:
"In that day I will also make a covenant for them … 19 "I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, in lovingkindness and in compassion, 20 and I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness. Then you will know the LORD." (Hos 2:18-20)
"For the sons of Israel will remain for many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar and without ephod or household idols. 5 Afterward the sons of Israel will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king; and they will come trembling to the LORD and to His goodness in the last days." (Hos 3:4-5)
"Come, let us return to the LORD. For He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us. 2 "He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day, that we may live before Him." (Hos 6:1-2)
Only the son of David, the Messiah, as announced in Matthew 1:1 could accomplish all these things, and Yeshua is that person.
16 Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became furious. And sent and killed all boys in Bethlehem and all its surrounding area, from two years old and under, according to the time he had determined from the magi.
Then when Herod saw: Grk. horaō, aor. part., to perceive with the eye. that he had been tricked: Grk. empaizō, aor. pass., to make an object of ridicule, to ridicule, mock or make a laughingstock. by the magi: pl. of Grk. magos. See verse 2 above. Herod obviously didn't see the Magi, but when they didn't immediately return he may have either seen people being amused by the Magi's chutzpah in disobeying Herod or perhaps a spy had followed the Magi and then reported back after the Magi left for Persia.
he became furious: Grk. thumoō, aor. pass., to be enraged. The Magi obviously didn't fear Herod as the resident Jews did and his lack of control over them could only fuel his wrath. And sent: Grk. apostellō, to send with authority to accomplish a mission. Herod sent out a contingent of soldiers to accomplish his malevolent revenge. and killed: Grk. anaireō, to remove by causing death, to kill. all boys: pl. of Grk. pais, a male infant. in Bethlehem: Grk. Bēthleem. See verse 1 above. and all its surrounding area: pl. of Grk. orion, a defined geographical area, region, district or part. In ancient times cities claimed a specified area around itself as under its authority and protection, which could be several miles.
from two years old and under: The under part would not be a problem for identification sake, but how would all the soldiers know a two year old from two and a half year old or a three year old? A two year old has developed intellectual and motor skills. He has a limited vocabulary and is very active. It's very likely that if a solder was in doubt as to the age of a boy he was killed anyway.
according to the time: Grk. chronos. See verse 7 above. The time alluded to here pertains to an astronomical event. he had determined: Grk. akriboō. See verse 7 above. from the magi: See verse 2 above. The text does not say that the heavenly portent occurred two years previously. The fact that Herod had all the boys under age two killed suggests that he added extra time as a "fudge factor." The heavenly event might have been several months to over a year earlier.
17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet, saying,
Then was fulfilled: Grk. plēroō. See verse 15 above. This is the second mention in this chapter of Scripture being fulfilled. what was spoken: Grk. legō. See verse 15 above. Matthew repeats the formula that emphasizes the divine inspiration of Scripture. God spoke and man wrote. through Jeremiah: Grk. Ieremias, which attempts to transliterate the Heb. Yirmeyahu ("YHVH has uplifted or loosened").
The name shares the translation history of other words beginning with "J" in Christian Bibles. The Latin Vulgate (AD 405) translated the name as Hieremiam and the Wycliffe Bible (1395) translated the Latin name into Jeremye. The earliest English Bibles translating from the Greek (Tyndale and Coverdale) rendered the name as Ieremy. The Bishops Bible (1568) went with Ieremie, but the Geneva Bible (1587) rendered the Greek name literally as Ieremias. The KJV-1611 followed the Bishop's Bible with Ieremie (although it has Ieremiah in the Tanakh), but the Mace New Testament (1729) used Jeremy. It was John Wesley who gave Christianity the name Jeremiah to the prophet in his New Testament (1755). The KJV (1767) followed this spelling throughout the Tanakh, but inexplicably translated this name in this verse as Jeremy as in the Mace New Testament.
the prophet: Grk. prophētēs. See verse 15 above. Jeremiah prophesied in the Kingdom of Judah about 627-585 BC during reigns of Josiah to Gedaliah. He was the son of a priest, Hilkiah, from Anathoth in Benjamin, but forbidden to marry or have children (16:2). Some would say that he was a depressed prophet, forced to deliver terrible news of God's judgment to his people, who regarded him as a traitor. True to his prediction Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians in 586 BC. Yet he soars to heights of future hope and Messianic prophecy.
The prophetic phrase "days are coming" occurs 16 times in Jeremiah whereas it occurs only 5 times elsewhere in the Bible. Sometimes the "days" would bring judgment (7:32; 9:25; 19:6; 31:29-30), but in other passages the "days" would bring good news, including the promise of the Davidic Messiah (23:5-6; 30:8-9, 21-24; 33:14-26), the return of exiles (16:14; 23:7-8; 30:3; 31:1-14; 32:36-37), renewal of the Land (31:27-28; 32:42-44), the New covenant (31:31-34; 32:38-40), the rebuilding of Jerusalem (31:38-40) and God's judgment on the enemies of Israel (48:12-13; 49:2; 51:47-52).
18 "A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and loud wailing, Rachel sobbing for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more."
Matthew then quotes Jeremiah 31:15. A voice: Grk. phōnē may mean (1) an auditory impression, such as sound or noise; or (2) the faculty of producing an auditory impression, voice. is heard: Grk. akouō, aor. pass., to hear with the ears. The opening phrase emphasizes in a dramatic manner the vocal response to the terror unleashed by Herod. in Ramah: Grk. Rama which transliterates the Heb. Ramah ("high"), the name of six places in the Bible, but here associated with Bethlehem.
weeping: Grk. klauthmos, crying. and loud: Grk. polus, much or great. wailing: Grk. odurmos, lamentation, mourning. The LXX has three nouns to describe the grief and has Grk. thrēnos ("lamentation, wailing"). Matthew apparently substituted polus for thrēnos to convey the same sense. In Hebrew culture grief was openly and vocally expressed with passion. In the context of Jeremiah the quotation refers to the slaughter of the northern tribes of Israel by the Assyrians. Three of the six places identified as Ramah were located in the northern kingdom.
Rachel: Grk. Rachēl which transliterates the Heb. Rachel ("ewe"). She was the younger daughter of Laban, the second wife and cousin of Jacob, and the mother of Joseph and Benjamin. sobbing: Grk. klaiō, pres. part., to express grief or sorrow aloud. This was no silent dropping of tears, but loud weeping and speaking grief. for her children: pl. of Grk. teknon, child and collectively descendants or posterity. and refusing: Grk. ouk thelō, impf., lit. "not wishing." to be comforted: Grk. parakaleō, aor. pass. inf., to hearten in time of trouble, to comfort or console. because they are no more: lit. "because they are not." Herod had wiped out a generation in the area of Bethlehem, an unspeakable atrocity.
Stern suggests that since Jeremiah 31:15 does not refer directly to the Messiah Matthew employs a remez here by making use of the traditional burial-place of Jacob's wife Rachel, which is in Ramah, just outside Bethlehem. Indeed, one can visit what is called "Rachel's Tomb" there today. Just as Rachel in her grave mourns for her posterity descended from her son Joseph (the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh), so the many women of nearby Bethlehem mourn for their slain infants.
Date: February — April 1 B.C.
19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt,
But Herod: See verse 1 above. having died: Grk. teleutaō, aor. part., to come to an end, to die. The form of the verb indicates that the revelation to Joseph was not coincidental with the death of Herod, but some time later. At the end of his life Herod suffered a horrible disease, perhaps a cancer-like affliction called Fournier's gangrene, that slowly consumed his body. Ever since the publication of Emil Schurer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ in 1885 Christian scholars have generally believed that Herod died in the Spring of 4 BC. The Bible commentaries consulted for my research on Matthew and Luke (Barclay, Edersheim, Geldenhuys, Kasdan, Liefeld and Stern) hold this view. Nevertheless, other scholars in the past twenty years have challenged the generally accepted view and posit 1 BC as the time of his death.
The case for the 1 BC date rests primarily on two arguments, the date of an eclipse and the assertions of the church fathers. First, according to Josephus, Herod died after a lunar eclipse and before the following Passover (Ant. XVII, 6:4). Commentators routinely say that Josephus identified 13 March 4 BC as the date of the eclipse and there was a partial eclipse on that night. Passover would have been on 11 April. However, Josephus does not identify the year of Herod's death, but only that he had reigned thirty-seven years from the time of his appointment as king by the Romans (Ant. XVII, 8:1).
There are two different periods given for Herod's reign. Josephus explains that Herod went to Rome and with the sponsorship of Antony the Senate approved Herod as king over Judea (Ant. XIV, 13:1; 14:5; Wars I, 12:5; 20:1). The Roman historians Appian of Alexandria (AD 95-165), The Civil Wars V, 8:75, and Cassius Dio (AD 164 - c. 234), Roman History, Book 49, 22:6, also credit Antony for Herod's appointment, but they don't pinpoint a year. The last Hasmonean king, Antigonus, was still in power, but the Roman Senate condemned him as unworthy of the throne and gave its sanction for removing him. This action occurred in the 184th Olympiad (Ant. XIV, 14:5).
The Olympiad system is based on the 4 year cycle of the Olympic Games and began in Athens on the first of July 776 BC (Finegan 93). (To convert an Olympiad date to Julian simply multiply the Olympiad number by four and subtract from 776.) The 184th Olympiad ran from July 1, 44 BC to June 30, 40 BC (Finegan 97). Josephus does not give a year in the 184th Olympiad, as he sometimes does (e.g., Ant. XIV, 1:2, third year), so scholars assume it was the fourth year of that quadrennium. In terms of actual regnal years, Josephus provides this specific information.
"having reigned since he procured Antigonus to be slain, thirty-four years; but since he had been declared king by the Romans thirty-seven." (Ant. XVII, 8:1. These numbers are repeated in Wars I, 33:8.)
While Josephus reports the Senate's approval of Herod as king in 40 BC, the years of his reign are not determined from that point. Two factors impact the determination of Herod's regnal years. First, kings do not share the throne simultaneously. Herod's regnal years could not begin until Antigonus was dead, which occurred in the third year after Herod was appointed, 38/37 BC (Ant. XIV, 15:14). Second, in Judea, following Seleucid practice, a new regnal year started on Tishri 1 (Sept-Oct), as was customary for non-Israelite kings (Rosh Hashanah 3a; cf. Neh 1:1; 2:1). In addition, the Seleucid method of counting years did not include the accession year (Geldenhuys 134).
So, while Herod's appointment may have occurred in the 184th Olympiad (which ended on 30 June 40 BC), his regnal years did not begin until 1 Tishri 38 BC. The statement of Josephus that Herod had reigned thirty-seven years would then mean a completed number ending in 30 August 2 BC and his death the following Spring occurred in his 38th year. Another problem with the 4 BC date for Herod's death is that Josephus sets the date a short time after a lunar eclipse. For a list of eclipses relevant to this period see the article Lunar Eclipses: 100 BCE to 1 BCE, NASA Eclipse Web Site, 2011. In 4 BC there were two lunar eclipses (March and September), both partial. Considering the drama of Herod's final days a total eclipse would be much more significant as a sign of divine displeasure and judgment than a partial eclipse. For more detailed discussion of the eclipse issue see the article by Martin.
The day before the eclipse Herod had two prominent and popular Jewish rabbis burnt alive for tearing down a golden eagle he had erected over the temple's eastern gate. The day after the eclipse Herod's chronic illness worsened and his physicians tried many remedies but were not able to reverse his decline. After Herod's death there were funeral arrangements, an official mourning period of seven days, then a feast held in Herod's honor, the beginning of the reign of Archelaus and the quelling of a sedition against Archelaus. Then came Passover (Ant., XVII, 8:1—9:3). During this time there would also have been a 30-day mourning period observed by the Jews for Matthias, a priest whom Herod had executed on the night of the eclipse.
behold: Grk. idou. See verse 9 above. an angel of the Lord: Grk. kurios. See verse 13 above. According to the previous mention this would be the same angel that warned Joseph to flee Bethlehem. appeared: Grk. phainō, pres. mid. See verse 13 above. in a dream: Grk. onar. See verse 12 above. to Joseph in Egypt: The angel appeared again while Joseph was dreaming in the night. No indication is given of how long Joseph and his family waited in Egypt. Nevertheless, he was faithful to God's instructions and when the angel wanted to bring him the good news of Herod's death, he knew where to find him.
20 saying, "Having arisen, take the Child and His mother and go into the land of Israel, for those seeking the life of the Child have died."
saying: Grk. legō, pres. part. See verse 14 above. Here the verb "saying" functions here as quotation marks for the text following since ancient writings did not contain punctuation. Having arisen: Grk. egeirō, aor. pass. part., to rise from a recumbent position. The verb is not a command as translated. It would be lit. "getting up" or idiomatically "when you get up." There is no urgency in this verb, because there was no threat to the family's safety. take: Grk. paralambanō, aor. imp., to receive to one's side; take, receive; or to cause to go along; take. the Child: Grk. paidion. See verse 8 above. and: Grk. kai, conj. His: Grk. autos, personal pronoun. mother: Grk. mētēr, properly a female birth parent, but also a woman who exercises the control, influence and authority of a mother.
and go: Grk. poreuō, pres. mid. imp., to move from one area to another, to go or make one's way. In verse 13 Joseph was commanded to flee. Now he is told to travel in a normal manner. There would be preparations to make for the trip, including locating a caravan going to Judea, so the departure might not be for a few days. into: Grk. eis, prep. the land: Grk. gē can mean soil (in receiving seed), the ground, land (as contrasted with the sea), the native land of a people group, and the earth in contrast to heaven (BAG). The LXX uses gē more than 2,000 times and primarily translates the Heb. erets (SH-776), first in Genesis 1:1 (DNTT 1:517). In the Tanakh erets designates either (a) the earth in a cosmological sense, or (b) "the land" in the sense of a specific territorial area, primarily the Land of Israel (BDB 75).
of Israel: Grk. Israēl. See verse 6 above. The use of the name Israel for the land is significant. Regardless of the provincial names imposed by the Romans God still saw the land as the land of Israel. The land was certainly not Palestine as frequently occurs on Christian Bible maps. See my web article The Land is Not Palestine. for: Grk. gar, conj. those: pl. of Grk. ho, definite article but used here as a demonstrative pronoun. seeking: Grk. zēteō, pres. part. See verse 13 above. the life: Grk. psuchē, may mean (1) a quality without which a body is physically dead; life; (2) that which possesses vital being; person; or (3) that which is integral to being a person beyond mere physical function; life (inner) self, soul. In the LXX psuchē corresponds to the Heb. nephesh (SH-53-15), that which "breathes" air (Gen 1:20). Nephesh is in the "blood" (Lev 17:11; Deut 12:23). Nephesh also represents the inner self and the seat of desires, passions, appetites, and emotion.
of the child: Grk. paidion. have died: Grk. thnēskō, perf., 3p-pl., to die physically. The perfect tense points back to a point in the past. This statement certainly refers to Herod as his death is reported in verse 19, but the plural form of the verb "those seeking" suggests that others involved in killing the children of Bethlehem apparently died also. God not only brought judgment on Herod, but on his servants who did his lethal bidding.
21 So, having arisen, he took the Child and His mother, and went into the land of Israel.
So: Grk. de, conj. having arisen: Grk. egeirō, aor. pass. part. See the previous verse. took: Grk. paralambanō, aor. imp. See the previous verse. the Child and His mother: See the previous verse. and: Grk. kai, conj. went: Grk. eiserchomai, aor., to go or enter into a geographical area, manufactured structure or other place defined in the context. into: Grk. eis, prep. the land of Israel: See the previous verse. This obedient response of Joseph reflects the character of so many Bible characters, that when God gave clear guidance and instructions they were diligent to carry out those instructions.
22 But having heard that Archelaus reigned over Judaea in place of his father Herod, he became afraid to go there. Then having been warned in a dream, he withdrew into the region of Galilee.
But: Grk. de, conj. having heard: Grk. akouō, aor. part., to hear with the ears information from another person. There is no mention of the angel so this could simply be news shared by someone traveling from Judea. that: Grk. hoti, conj. Archelaus: Grk. Archelaos, a name formed from the adjective archelaos ("leading the people"). Herod the Great was a polygamist and had ten wives. Archelaus was the son of Herod's sixth wife, Malthace, a Samaritan, who also bore him Antipas. If the name was chosen by the mother as sometimes occurred in the Tanakh then it may reflect Malthace's desire that one day her son would be king. reigned: Grk. basileuō, pres., to be king or to rule. The latter meaning is intended here. The fact that Archelaus is not identified as "king" is significant.
over Judaea: Grk. Ioudaia. See verse 1 above. The area under the rule of Archelaus included Idumea and Samaria. in place of: Grk. anti, prep. used to indicate an entity or person replaced by or exchanged for another; instead of, in place of. his: Grk. autos, personal pronoun. father: Grk. patēr, normally of a male biological parent or ancestor. Herod: Grk. Hrodēs, See verse 1 above. Herod had three sons (Archelaus, Antipas and Philip), but according to Herod's last will Archelaus was to be king. Archelaus was proclaimed king by the army, but he declined to assume the title until he had submitted his claims to Caesar Augustus in Rome. Before setting out, he quelled with the utmost cruelty a sedition of Jews, killing three thousand of them (Josephus, Ant. XVII, 9:1-3). In Rome he was opposed by Antipas, who felt entitled to the throne, and by many of the Jews, who feared his cruelty.
Augustus allotted to him the greater part of the kingdom (Samaria, Judea, and Idumea) with the title of ethnarch (ruler of a half) but was promised the title of King if he reigned virtuously (Ant. XVII, 11:4). Archelaus violated Jewish law in many respects, and oppressed the Samaritans and Jews through brutal treatment. In revolt, the people sent deputations to Caesar to have Archelaus denounced. His rule ended in A.D. 6 when the Roman government banished him to Gaul and added his territory to Syria. Pontius Pilate was then appointed as governor. Meanwhile the Romans gave a Tetrarchy (ruler of a third) over Galilee and Perea to Antipas and the northeastern district of Gaulanitis to Philip.
he became afraid: Grk. phobeō, aor. pass., to be in a state of apprehension. The verb covers a range of emotions from anxiety to terror. In the circumstances fear was a healthy emotion to have. to go: Grk. aperchomai, aor. inf., to be in movement from a position with or without mention of a destination, to go, depart or leave. there: Grk. ekei, adv., in that place. This statement implies two things. First, Joseph intended to go back to Bethlehem, perhaps because when they had visited during the time of Hanukkah there seemed to be a good opportunity for employment and there were relatives with whom they could share their lives. Second, Joseph's fear indicates that this point in the narrative occurred before Archelaus departed for Rome for official recognition. The present unrest in Judea made it a dangerous place. While Joseph's sympathies might well be have been in favor of those revolting against Archelaus, the safety of his wife and child had to come first.
Then: Grk. de, conj. having been warned: Grk. chrēmatizō, aor. pass. part., to be enjoined or warned as a result of receiving revealed information. in a dream: Grk. onar, a series of thoughts, images or emotions occurring during sleep, a dream. In biblical times God spoke to the patriarchs and prophets of Israel in visions and dreams (Num 12:6). God used dreams to communicate His will, provide personal guidance and to portend the future. Scripture records 14 different people experiencing prophetic dreams. Invariably such dreams had a bearing on the welfare of Israel or God's sovereign plan for Israel. The mention of a dream indicates a night spent en route to Judea. This is the third revelatory dream that Joseph had, ostensibly involving the same angel as before. The angel confirmed Joseph's worst fears and instructed him to continue north.
he withdrew: Grk. anachoreō, to depart from this or that place, to withdraw, go away or off. into: Grk. eis, prep. the region: Grk. meros, a piece or segment of a whole, sometimes used in a geographical sense of a part of an area. of Galilee: Grk. Galilaia from the Heb. Galil, lit. "circle" or "region." Galilee was the northern part of Israel above the hill country of Ephraim and of Judah and encompassed the areas originally given to the tribes of Naphtali, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, and Dan. In the time of Yeshua Galilee was a Roman province measuring about 40 miles north to south and about 30 miles east to west. Galilee was bounded by the Province of Syria on the west and north, the River Jordan and Sea of Galilee on the east and the Province of Judea on the south.
23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets, that he will be called Netzer.
And he went: Grk. erchomai, aor. part., to come or arrive, with implication of a position from which action or movement takes place. and lived: Grk. katoikeō, to live or stay as a resident, to make a specific locale or area of residence, thus to dwell, reside or live in. in a city: Grk. polis, a population center, whose size or number of inhabitants could range broadly. The point is that the destination was no small village. called: legō, pres. pass. part., to call or to name in reference to identifying persons, places or towns.
Nazareth: Grk. Nazaret (sometimes Nazara or Nazareth), which transliterates the Heb. Natzeret. Nazareth was located about seventy miles northeast of Jerusalem in lower Galilee about halfway between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea. It lay in the hill country north of the Plain of Esdraelon. The hills formed a natural basin with three sides, but open toward the south. The city was on the slopes of the basin, facing east and southeast. A Roman road from Capernaum westward to the coast passed near Nazareth. The small town does not appear in the Tanakh at all and only came to prominence because of its association with Yeshua.
to fulfill what was spoken: See verse 15 above. This is the third time Matthew uses this formula in the chapter. through the prophets: pl. of Grk. prophētēs. See verse 15 above. This time the mention of "prophets" is plural indicating more than one. The word prophētēs here refers to the Hebrew prophets who were called by God and communicated God's words to their generation. Matthew uses the idiomatic phrase to emphasize the Jewish view of inspiration. God spoke and man wrote. The majority of the Tanakh was written by those identified as prophets. The record of the Tanakh indicates considerable variance in the activity and ministry of Hebrew prophets.
Some prophets left literary works that later became Scripture. Others left no writings. Some gave advice to kings. Some prophesied in worship settings. Some saw visions. Some proclaimed a message in startling symbolic actions. Some were gentle, some were fiery, some were confrontational, some worshipful, some full of joy, others full of sadness. But, they all spoke for God under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2Pet 11). The apostolic writings continually assert the authority of biblical prophecy, which was replaced in Rabbinic Judaism by the authority of the Sages (B.B. 12a; cf. John 8:53).
that: Grk. hoti, an adverb that serves as a link between two sets of data, generally introducing a subordinate clause and is translated as "that." Hoti is sometimes used to introduce a direct quotation, but generally in a reference to a prophetic message in the Tanakh the verb "saying," usually follows (e.g., Matt 1:22 and 2:17). The omission of "saying" in this verse suggests that Matthew had no specific Tanakh quotation in mind; indeed, the following words are found nowhere in the Tanakh (Carson).
he will be called: Grk. kaleō, fut. pass., to identify by name or give a term to. It's not accidental that Matthew does not repeat legō, although the two verbs function as a parallelism. The use of kaleō here implies either a type of something as the title Immanuel referred to in 1:23 or a reputation that he will gain. Netzer: Grk. Nazōraios, which Danker says is associated with the name Natzeret or Nazareth and occurs 13 times. Matthew does not identify Yeshua here as a resident of Nazareth (Grk. apo Nazareth, "from Nazareth") as he is twice referred to elsewhere (John 1:45; Acts 10:38). The word that connected Yeshua more directly with his hometown is Nazarēnos, which occurs six times (Mark 1:24; 10:47; 14:67; 16:6; Luke 4:34; 24:19).
In the Greek text Nazōraios has no definite article and in my view should not be identified as "a Natzrati" or "a Nazarene" (as found in Christian Bibles), as if he were one among many. No one would translate Matthew 1:23 as "he will be called an Immanuel." The phrase is lit. "he will be called Nazōraios." This is a significant name based on its later usage.
· This was a name by which Yeshua was recognized by the public (Matt 26:71; Luke 18:37; Acts 6:14).
· This was the name by which he was identified in the Garden of Gethsemane (John 18:5, 7).
· This was the name that Pilate had inscribed on the plaque nailed to the cross (John 19:19)
· This was the name that Peter used to identify Yeshua as divinely empowered to work miracles (Acts 2:22; 3:6; 4:10).
· This was the name Yeshua used to identify himself to Saul on the Damascus Road and with which Paul later identified his Messiah (Acts 22:8; 26:9).
· This was the name given to disciples of Yeshua (Acts 24:5).
The issue for commentators is to explain what Matthew meant by fulfillment of a name spoken by the prophets since there is no specific verse in the Tanakh that says the Messiah will be called Natzrati (Nazōraios). This name, as well as Nazareth, does not occur in the LXX at all, although similar spellings for "Nazarite" do occur: Naziraion (Judg 13:5), Nazēraion (Judg 13:7), Nazēraios (Judg 16:17) and Nazaraioi (Lam 4:7). This occurrence has led some to suggest that Yeshua would be called a Nazarite, which has no basis in Scripture, nor did Yeshua live as a Nazarite (cf. Luke 7:33-34).
Carson and Stern suggest one possible interpretation may be based on the common low opinion of Nazareth (John 1:46; 7:42, 52). It's no accident that Yeshua is constantly identified as "Yeshua of Nazareth" instead of "Yeshua of Bethlehem." Stern suggests that Matthew may be referring to the many Tanakh prophecies that say the Messiah would be despised (e.g., Ps 22, Isa 52:13–53:12) and affirms that these prophecies would be fulfilled, in part, by his being known as Natzrati, i.e., a resident of Natzeret. Carson thinks that when disciples were referred to in Acts 24:5 as the "Nazarene sect," the expression was meant to belittle. On the other hand it could mean that the character of the disciples mirrored the Messiah (cf. Acts 4:13).
Kasdan, as well as Stern, suggests that Matthew is engaging in a midrash and finds a link with the Heb. netzer, since both Nazareth and netzer mean "branch, sprout or shoot" (BDB 666). Netzer is derived from the verb natzar, which means to watch, guard or keep (BDB 665). Natzeret and netzer share a common root in Hebrew (Nun-Tsade-Resh). Natzeret simply adds the letter Tav. Taking then the meaning of netzer Matthew can say "prophets" (plural) because the prophets use netzer, as well as the synonym tzemach (sprout, growth, BDB 855), in Messianic prophecies.
"I will make a king sprout [atzmiach] there from David's line and prepare a lamp for my anointed one." (Ps 132:17 CJB)
"Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a branch [netzer] from his roots will bear fruit." (Isa 11:1)
"But you have been cast out of your tomb like a rejected branch [netzer], clothed with the slain who are pierced with a sword, who go down to the stones of the pit like a trampled corpse." (Isa 14:19)
"Then all your people will be righteous; they will possess the land forever, the branch [netzer] of My planting, the work of My hands, that I may be glorified." (Isa 60:21; cf. Acts 24:5)
"Behold, the days are coming," declares the LORD, "When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch [tzemach]; And He will reign as king and act wisely And do justice and righteousness in the land." (Jer 23:5)
"In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch [tzemach] of David to spring forth; and He shall execute justice and righteousness on the earth." (Jer 33:15)
"Now listen, Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who are sitting in front of you--indeed they are men who are a symbol, for behold, I am going to bring in My servant the Branch [tzemach]." (Zech 3:8)
"Then say to him, `Thus says the LORD of hosts, "Behold, a man whose name is Branch [tzemach], for He will branch out [yitzmach] from where He is; and He will build the temple of the LORD." (Zech 6:12)
It could well be that Matthew has both of these interpretations in mind, although the connection to the Branch of David would be the most likely explanation. Matthew is telling his readers that Yeshua did not make his entrance into the world with the pomp and circumstance commonly associated with ancient monarchs, but he came from humble origins and was presented as the despised servant of the Lord.
BAG: Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. trans. W.F. Arndt & F.W. Gingrich. The University of Chicago Press, 1957.
Barclay: William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series. Revised Ed., 16 Vols. The Westminster Press, 1975-76.
BDB: The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Oxford University Press, 1907. Reprinted by Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc., 1981. Online.
Bouw: Gerardus D. Bouw, The Star of Bethlehem. The Biblical Astronomer, Fall 1998.
Carson: D.A. Carson, Matthew, Vol. 8, Expositor's Bible Commentary, Software version 2.6. Zondervan Corp, 1989-1999.
Danker: Frederick William Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. The University of Chicago Press, 2009.
DNTT: Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3 Vols. Colin Brown, ed. Zondervan Publishing House, 1975.
Edersheim: Alfred Edersheim (1825-1889), The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah(1883). New Updated Edition. Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1993. Also online.
Finegan: Jack Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology: Principles of Time Reckoning in the Ancient World and Problems of Chronology in the Bible. Rev. ed. Hendrickson Publishers, 1998.
Geldenhuys: Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke. William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1951. (NICNT)
HBD: Holman Bible Dictionary. Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1991. Online.
ISBE: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Ed. James Orr. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1939. Website HTML, 2011. Online.
Kasdan: Barney Kasdan, Matthew Presents Yeshua, King Messiah: A Messianic Commentary. Lederer Books, 2011.
Lane: William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark. William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1974. (NICNT)
Martin: Earnest L. Martin, The Star of Bethlehem. Associates for Scriptural Knowledge, 1996. Chapter 9, The Lunar Eclipse of Josephus.
Santala: Risto Santala, The Messiah in the New Testament in the Light of Rabbinical Writings. Trans. William Kinnaird. Keren Ahvah Meshihit, 1992. Online.
Setterfield: Barry Setterfield, The Christmas Star, 1998, 2004. DVD (2007) available from Genesis Science Research. See also his supplementary articles on The Christmas Star, Technical Notes and Discussion, that contain more information on the date of the nativity.
Stern: David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary. 5th ed. Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., 1996.
TDSS: The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation. Rev. ed. Trans. Michael Wise, Martin Abegg Jr. and Edward Cook. HarperOne, 2005.
Unruh: Timothy Unruh, The Star of Bethlehem, What Was It? CSA News, Jan-Feb 2008.
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