Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 12 October 2010; Revised 8 February 2021
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. See Abbreviations of Bible Versions. Most versions can be accessed on the Internet. Messianic Jewish versions are CJB, DHE, GNC, HNV, MJLT, 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).
Please see the article Witnesses of the Good News for background information on Matthew and his book.
Matthew continues the nativity story with four important events. First, a group of important men from the east, called Magi, came to Jerusalem seeking the newly born King of the Jews. This event occurred as much as a year after the events recorded in Luke 2:1-39. The Magi were directed to Bethlehem where they found the holy family and presented gifts of honor and worship. Having received divine direction not to return to Jerusalem the Magi departed for their homeland.
Since Herod the Great was enraged at the news of a claimant to the throne an angel of the Lord, perhaps Gabriel, warned Joseph to leave immediately for Egypt. Joseph obeyed the instruction and fled Bethlehem with his wife, Miriam, and son, Yeshua. The move to Egypt had the effect of fulfilling prophecy.
The third event Matthew records is the mass murder of young children that Herod ordered in Bethlehem and the vicinity. Matthew notes that this heinous act also fulfilled prophecy. The fourth event Matthew mentions is the return of the holy family from Egypt after the death of Herod the Great. Joseph wanted to take his family to Bethlehem, but the political situation prompted him to return his family to Nazareth, which Matthew notes also fulfilled prophecy.
Visit of the Magi, 2:1-12
Flight to Egypt, 2:13-15
Infanticide in Bethlehem, 2:16-18
Return from Egypt, 2:19-23
Date: December 2 B.C.
Visit of the Magi, 2:1-12
1 Now Yeshua having been born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King, behold, Magi from the rising arrived in Jerusalem,
Now: Grk. de, conj. marking the super-addition of a clause and may be 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) continuance of a thought, "and, also," sometimes with emphasis, "indeed," "moreover" (Thayer). The second meaning applies here. De never stands as the first word in a sentence or verse as kai ("and"), the standard conjunction for continuing a thought, often does.
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: Grk. en, prep. 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: Grk. en, prep. 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. Hérōdēs, from hēros, 'hero,' known as Herod the Great. Herod was born about the year 73 BC. According to Josephus, Herod was an Idumean (Edomite) 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: Grk. apo, prep. used to mark separation or source, here the latter; from. the east: Grk. anatolē (from anatellō, "to cause to rise"), may mean (1) rising, an astronomical term used of a heavenly body rising above the horizon; or (2) the east as a direction of the sun's rising, i.e., the dawn. In the LXX anatolē translates Heb. qedem (SH-6924), first in Genesis 2:8, which may be used as a noun to mean (1) a location, primarily east as a direction from a specific point; (2) a temporal reference, aforetime, ancient time; or an adverb to mean eastward or toward the east (BDB 869f). Here the direction is viewed as east of the city. The term is not used in the sense of the Orient.
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 country Persia is also due east of Jerusalem and the general consensus of commentators is that the Magi came from Persia. 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. that focuses on entrance, frequently in relation to direction and limit, here indicating the point reached or entered; in, into, to, towards. 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 the influence of this group 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). Members of the Magi also went to Athens and sacrificed to the memory of Plato (Seneca, Epistles 58:31).
The arrival date of these Magi in Bethlehem cannot be known with certainty, but early church traditions place it during the winter of 2 B.C., some believing it took place in December and others in January of 1 B.C. Christian tradition celebrates the Epiphany ("manifestation") of the Messiah to the Wise Men on January 6th. In any event, the Magi would have arrived shortly after Hanukkah, because that year Hanukkah was observed 22-30 November.
2 saying, "Where is the One having been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in its rising and have come to worship Him."
saying: Grk. legō, pl. pres. part., to make a statement or utterance, whether oral or in written form. In the LXX legō renders Heb. amar (SH-559), to utter, say, shew, command or think. The Greek verb "say" functions as quotation marks for the text following since ancient writings did not contain punctuation. 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: Grk. ho, definite article but used here as a demonstrative pronoun.
having been born: Grk. tiktō, aor. pass. part., to cause to come into being, to birth. The verb depicts the woman's role in childbirth. 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: pl. of Grk. Ioudaios (derived from Ioudas, "Judah"), originally meant one sprung from the tribe of Judah, or a subject of the kingdom of Judah, but used more generally in the Besekh of a descendant of Jacob. The term may be used as an adjective (Judean/Jewish) or a noun (Jew, Judean). In the LXX Ioudaios first occurs in the plural to translate Heb. Yehudim (pl. of Heb. Yehudi, SH-3064), citizens of the Kingdom of Judah (2Kgs 16:6; 25:25; Jer 34:9). The southern kingdom also included the tribes of Benjamin and Simeon (Josh 19:1; 1Kgs 12:21; 2Chr 15:9), so Mordecai of the tribe of Benjamin is identified as a Ioudaios (Esth 2:5; 6:10).
Among Gentiles the ethnic term did not distinguish between members of the twelve tribes of Israel or sects of Judaism. All of the people exiled from the land of Israel were called "Jews" (Esth 8:9, 11, 17; Ezra 4:12, 23; 5:1, 5; 6:7, 14; Dan 3:8, 12). After the exile Jewish literature continued this inclusive meaning of Ioudaioi to designate the covenant people as distinct from Gentiles (1Macc 2:23; 14:33; Letter of Aristeas 1:1 +34t; Josephus, Apion 1:1 +42t), often as the object of persecution and warfare (Philo, Flaccus IV.21 +26t; Josephus, Ant. X, 11:1; Wars VI, 1:2-8).
In the Besekh Ioudaios occurs 195 times and designates a person by belief and practice (cf. John 4:9). In Judea the term had on a particular sectarian meaning to distinguish "devout" (=Torah-observant) Jews from non-observant Jews (Acts 2:5). Simply stated the Ioudaioi were traditional Jews. The tenets and practices of their Judaism were governed by the Great Sanhedrin and the Pharisees, whose traditions they followed (Matt 23:2-3; Mark 7:3; Acts 10:28). Ioudaios is never used to identify Hellenistic Jews, Samaritan Jews or Qumran Jews (cf. John 4:9).
Since the Magi came from Persia they would not have used Ioudaioi with its local sectarian meaning, but with the inclusive sense of the twelve tribes. The genitive phrase "of the Jews" could mean that the King is of Jewish lineage or that the King rules over the covenant people or both. The Magi obviously knew that Herod was the King when they arrived, but they insulted Herod by asserting that the one they were seeking was the Jewish monarch from birth, regardless of the fact that Herod still sat on the throne. Herod was hardly a legitimate king, being an Edomite. God had decreed that any king of Israel had to be a native Israelite and not a foreigner (Deut 17:15).
Moreover, God intended that with the appointment of David any king thereafter would be his descendant (2Sam 7:12-13; 22:51; 1Kgs 2:45; Isa 9:7; Ezek 34:23; 37:24-25). The Magi may have assumed that the one born would be Herod's successor, just as Herod was making preparations to turn the throne over to Archelaus. There is irony here. Herod certainly did not want to acknowledge the baby sought by the Magi as a king to rule the Jews. Yeshua would not own the title "King of the Jews" until his trial and crucifixion. (See my commentary on Mark 15.)
It might 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. Barclay omits comments of these three historians that the expectation referred to a Roman ruler. As the narrative continues the motivation of the Magi is explained.
For: Grk. gar, conj., a contraction of ge ("yet") and ara ("then"), and in a broad sense means "certainly it follows that; for." The conjunction has four uses: (1) explanatory, (2) expressive of astonishment, (3) causal and, (4) inferential. The first use is intended here. we saw: Grk. horaō, aor., to perceive physically with the eye, or in a fig. sense to experience something or to have extraordinary mental or inward perception. his: Grk. autos, personal pronoun used to distinguish a person or thing from or contrast it with another, or to give him (it) emphatic prominence. The pronoun may mean (1) self, (2) he, she, it, or (3) the same. The second meaning is intended here in reference to the King whom the Magi sought.
star: Grk. astēr, generally of a luminous heavenly body other than the sun, but in Greek literature had a broad usage including an individual planet such as Venus (Rev 2:28; 22:16), the chief star in a constellation (cf. LXX Gen 37:9; Jdg 5:20; Isa 13:10), a moving body such as a comet, meteor or asteroid (Jude 1:13; Rev 8:10); and a flame, light or fire (LSJ). In Scripture 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. kokav (SH-3556), star or heavenly body, first occurring in the creation narrative (Gen 1:16).
The noun kokav also conveys "light" and "brightness" (BDB 456), since the command to create the stars was "let there be lights (Heb. maor) in the firmament of the heavens" (Gen 1:14). Kokav shares the same root as kabod, glory or glorious, emphasizing the luminescence of the heavenly body. In the Tanakh kokav is generally used literally 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). It's important to remember that Matthew wrote his book in Hebrew and it was later translated into Greek. Thus, he would have used the noun kokav, which is significant for understanding the nature of "his star."
The command to create the lights in the heavens stated their first purpose was to serve as "signs." Some Bible interpreters suggest the purpose of the "signs" was to convey God's sovereign purpose of redemption of mankind. In modern times Evangelical Christians have theorized the details of this heavenly message, referred to as the "Gospel in the Stars." See my commentary on Romans 10:18 for a detailed explanation. Now in the nativity narrative the star is presented as a sign of the Messiah. In this regard the Magi likely knew of what was spoken by the Mesopotamian prophet Balaam, "For a star will come from Jacob, a scepter will arise from Israel" (Num 24:17 TLV).
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 (see my comment on Daniel 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: Grk. en, prep. its rising: Grk. ho anatolē, lit. "the rising." See the previous verse. Most versions translate the noun as "the east," but some have "its rising" (AMPC, CSB, GW, MRINT, NOG, NRSV, NTE, TPT, WE) or "when it rose" (EHV, ESV, NET, NIV, NLT). It is more likely the Magi were referring to the movement of the star in the sky. 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 Daystar ("A New Star," from Joseph Seiss, The Gospel in the Stars, p. 432f). It is a matter of record that a new and peculiar star did make its appearance in the first Decan of Virgo in the period immediately preceding Yeshua's birth, and that it was so bright as to be visible even in the daytime.
• An angel ( 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 Sh'khinah glory of God, due the mention of 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; 1Kgs 8:10-11) and once in the apostolic narratives (Mark 9:7). At times the glory cloud did serve as a travel guide. (Timothy Unruh, The Star of Bethlehem, What Was It? CSA News, Jan-Feb 2008.)
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 "star" is depicted as "rising," which means there was movement involved in its display. Second, specific heavenly bodies commonly associated by Jews with royalty and the Messiah were being seen over Persia in various conjunctions. 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. In November a similar conjunction of planets as in August occurred. The next year in 2 BC similar conjunctions of Jupiter and Regulus occurred in February 17th and May 8th. However, on August 27th a special heavenly event occurred. Jupiter (the King Planet), united with Venus (the Mother), then joined itself with 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 heavenly portents the Magi would have taken seriously.
and: Grk. kai, conj. that marks a connection or addition. Kai has three basic uses: (1) continuative – and, also, even; (2) adversative – and yet, but, however; or (3) intensive – certainly, indeed, in fact, really, verily, yea (DM 250f). The first use applies here. Kai is used in the LXX to translate the vav (ו) character added to words for conjunctive effect. 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 six 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: 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.
him: Grk. autos, personal pronoun. 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 Then King Herod having heard this, was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
Then: Grk. de, conj. King: Grk. ho basileus. See verse 1 above. Herod: Grk. Hrodēs. See verse 1 above. having 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. The third meaning applies here. In other words, the Magi were standing in front of Herod and he heard from their own lips, not via a messenger. was troubled: Grk. tarasso, 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: Grk. kai, conj. all: Grk. pas, adj., comprehensive in scope, but without statistical emphasis; all, every. Jerusalem: : Grk. Hierosoluma. See verse 1above. The phrase "all Jerusalem" is probably intended idiomatically of the chief priests and nobles, the leadership of the country. with: Grk. meta, prep., may be used (1) as a marker of association or accompaniment; with, among; or (2) as a sequential marker; after, behind. The first usage is intended here. him: Grk. autos, personal pronoun.
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: Grk. kai, conj. having gathered: Grk. sunagō, aor. part., to bring together in a collective manner; assemble, gather together. all: pl. of Grk. pas, adj. See the previous verse. the chief priests: pl. of Grk. ho 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 ruling 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: Grk. kai, conj. scribes: pl. of Grk. ho grammateus, refers to a specialist in legal matters. In the LXX grammateus translates primarily sophêr, participle of saphar, "to count, recount" (SH-5608; BDB 708), secretary or scribe, used for a king's official (2Sam 8:17 1Kgs 4:3; Esth 3:12), but also a class of learned men such as Jonathan, David's uncle (1Chr 27:32), Baruch, scribe for Jeremiah (Jer 36:26, 32) and Ezra the priest (Ezra 7:6; Neh 8:1). Scribes generally came from the tribe of Levi. After the return from Babylonian 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).
In the Besekh the term generally has its Jewish meaning of one learned in Torah. Scribes were clearly influential. They were secretaries, teachers, lawyers, judges, priests and some were members of the temple ruling council (Matt 16:21). Scribes were always preferred for appointment as judges due to their knowledge of the law (Jeremias 237). For more information on the history, education and work of the scribes see my commentary on Mark 1:22.
of the people: pl. of Grk. laos, a group of humans, understood geographically or ethnically and in Scripture often viewed in contrast with the ruling class. The term corresponds to the Heb. am-ha'aretz, "people of the land," i.e., the people of Israel. In the LXX a reference to the grammateis "of the people" occurs a few times (Num 11:16; Deut 20:5; Josh 1:10; and 1Macc 5:42), translated as "officers." Bengel comments that the "scribes of the people are spoken" of in contradistinction to the chief priests and thus were private men or doctors, well versed in the Scriptures.
Gill comments that the scribes of the people are meant a sort of letter learned men, whose business it was to keep and write out copies of the law, and other things, for "the people;" they were chosen from among the people, from any other tribe, and not from the tribe of Levi, from whom the priests were; so that one seems to indicate the "clergy," and the other the laity, in this assembly.
he began to inquire: Grk. punthanomai, impf. mid., to inquire or to learn as a result of inquiry, lit. "was inquiring." from: Grk. para, prep., with the root meaning of beside (DM 108), conveys association between persons, things, or circumstances, which may denote (1) a point of origin, from; or (2) a close association or proximity, with, beside, in the presence of. The first usage applies here. them: pl. of Grk. autos, personal pronoun. where: Grk. pou, adv. See verse 2 above. the Messiah: Grk. Christos, (from chriō, "anoint with olive oil"), the expected fulfiller of the hopes of Israel for an end-time deliverer, the Messiah.
The English "Christ" transliterates the Greek title, but does not translate it. In Greek culture christos had no religious connotation at all. Jewish translators of the LXX chose Christos to render Heb. Mashiach (SH-4899), "anointed, Anointed One," and in so doing infused new meaning into the Greek word. Mashiach is used in the Tanakh for the Messiah (Ps 2:2; Dan 9:25-26) and this usage defined the term among Jews in the first century. Biblical prophecies speak of Messiah's rule over Israel from David's throne in Jerusalem.
Yeshua recounted these prophecies to his disciples after his resurrection (Luke 24:44-47). Jews eagerly anticipated the coming of the Messiah to deliver them from their enemies and establish His kingdom on the earth (Luke 1:69-75). Thus, "Messiah" has special meaning as the hope of Israel, whereas the word "Christ" has an alien and even negative meaning to Jews (Stern 1-2). For a discussion of Jewish hope and expectation of the Messiah see my article The Messiah.
was to be born: Grk. gennaō, pres. pass. See verse 1 above. The present tense is used here to refer to a past event with vividness. In other words, the Magi's original question assumed the new King of the Jews had been born and Herod wants to know where the birth would have taken place according to Scripture. The Magi probably knew the answer to Herod's question, but he did not ask them.
5 Then they said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
Then: Grk. de, conj. they: pl. of Grk. ho, definite article but used here as a demonstrative pronoun. Luke does not specify the identity of "they," but representatives of the two groups agreed on the answer to his question. said: Grk. legō, aor., 3p-pl. See verse 2 above. to him: Grk. autos, personal pronoun. The plural verb might indicate simultaneous speaking or one person confirming what another person said. In: Grk. en, prep. 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: Grk. gar, conj. so: Grk. houtōs, adv., thus, so, in keeping with, in this manner, in this way. it has been written: Grk. graphō, perf. pass., to write or inscribe on something capable of receiving writing. The verbal phrase, sometimes 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.
by: Grk. dia, prep. used as a prefix to a statement, which may express (1) instrumentality; through, by means of; or (2) causality; on account of, because of. The first usage applies here. the prophet: Grk. ho prophētēs, one who is gifted with the ability for interpretation or revelation transcending normal insight or awareness, i.e., a prophet. The definite article emphasizes a particular 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). In Scripture the term refers to one who spoke on God's behalf, whether in foretelling or forth-telling.
The record of the Tanakh indicates considerable variance in the activity and ministry of Hebrew prophets. The Hebrew prophets were a diverse group with different personalities, vocations and manner of ministry, but they all spoke for God under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2Pet 1:21). The literary works of the prophets in the Tanakh are authoritative Scripture (Matt 5:17-19; Luke 24:44-45; 2Tim 3:16-17). 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. The mention of the prophet affirms that the information Herod sought was not to be found in the Torah.
6 'And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come out one leading, who will shepherd my people Israel.'"
The quotation is from Micah 5:2 (Christian versions), but is taken from a variant text, since the quotation diverges from the current LXX and MT in three places.
MT: "1 But you in Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth were from the beginning, from eon of days."
LXX: "1 And you, Beth-lehem, of the house of Ephrata, are very few being among thousands of Judah; from out of you to me, shall come forth the one being for ruler of Israel; and his goings forth were from the beginning, [even] from eternity."
And: Grk. kai, conj. you: Grk. su, second person pronoun. Bethlehem: Grk. Bēthleem. See the previous verse. land: Grk. gē can mean (1) soil (as in receiving seed), (2) the ground, (3) land as contrasted with the sea, (4) the earth in contrast to heaven or (5) land enclosed within fixed boundaries, a tract of land, territory, region. The last meaning is intended here. The LXX uses gē more than 2,000 times and translates the Heb. word 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 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, which 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). It may be that Ephrathah was a clan name of a family in Bethlehem (cf. Ruth 1:2; 4:11) 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: Grk. eimi, pres. See verse 2 above. by no means: Grk. oudamōs, adv. expressing total negation; not even one, by no means, not at all. The adverb occurs only here in the Besekh. least: Grk. elachistos, adj., 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: Grk. en, prep. the leaders: pl. of Grk. ho hēgemōn 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.
In the LXX hēgemōn primarily translates Heb. alluph (SH-441), "chief, leader of a thousand" (BDB 49), and is used of clan or tribal chieftains among various ethnic peoples (Gen 36:17-43; Ex 15:15; 1Chr 1:51). The MT of Micah 5:1 (2) has the plural of Heb. eleph, "thousand" (BDB 48), and the LXX translates with the plural of chilias ("thousand"), which some versions translate as "clans" (CJB, CSB, ESV, HNV, NASB, NET, NIV, NRSV, RSV, TLV). The JPS, KJV, and NKJV substitute the Hebrew word for the Greek word with "thousands."
Most versions translate hēgemōn in this verse as "rulers," which is problematic since Bethlehem was not a center for political authority in Judea at this time. The contrast in this verse is of Bethlehem compared to other cities, particularly Jerusalem and Hebron. Some versions endeavor to present this contrast, such as AMPC with "chief cities."
of Judah: Grk. Ioudas. for: Grk. gar, conj. out: Grk. ek, prep. of you: Grk. su. shall come out: 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 leading: 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: Grk. hostis, relative pronoun used as a generalizing reference to the subject of a verb or a preceding entity; who, which. will shepherd: Grk. poimainō, to tend or shepherd a flock of sheep, but also used figuratively of leadership. This verb is not found in the MT and LXX, but the original text emphasized that the Messiah will exercise genuine pastoral care.
my: Grk. egō, first person pronoun, used possessively. people: Grk. ho laos. See verse 4 above. 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. Micah not only prophesied the birthplace of the Messiah but the last clause 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 summoned the Magi secretly, inquired exactly from them the time of the appearing of the star.
Then: Grk. tote, adv., then, at that time. Herod: Grk. Hrodēs. See verse 1 above. having summoned: Grk. kaleō, aor. part., may mean (1) express something aloud; say, call; (2) call for, summon; (3) solicit participation; call, invite; or (4) identify by name or give a term to, call. The second meaning applies here. One might ask how does a king summon 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: pl. of Grk. ho magos. See verse 1 above. secretly: Grk. lathra, adv., without public exposure, secretly.
inquired exactly: Grk. akriboō, aor., to carefully determine something. Marshall has "inquired carefully." from: Grk. para, prep. them: pl. of Grk. autos, personal pronoun. the time: Grk. ho chronos, a span or period of time that would be defined by a calendar or a point or definite moment in time. of the appearing: Grk. phainō, pres. mid. part., being in a state or condition of being visible or observed, to shine or to appear. of the star: Grk. astēr. See verse 2 above. Herod presented his question tactfully with subterfuge so that the Magi would not guess his intent.
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. He likely interpreted "his star" to mean a heavenly portent such as a conjunction of planets. His question may seem odd because such a sign in the heavens should have been seen in Judea. However, as noted in verse 2 above there were multiple astronomical events going back to 7 BC. 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 having sent them to Bethlehem, he said, "Having gone, search carefully concerning the child; then when you have found him, bring a report to me, so that I also having come may worship him."
And: Grk. kai, conj. having sent: Grk. pempō, aor. part., to send in the sense of a dispatch of persons for a purpose. them: pl. of Grk. autos, personal pronoun. to: Grk. eis, prep. Bethlehem: Grk. Bēthleem. See verse 1 above. The sending probably included directions to the village. Whatever route the Magi had taken to reach Jerusalem had not taken them through Bethlehem. Having gone: Grk. poreuomai, aor. pass. part., to move from one area to another, to go or to make one's way. 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. Just because the child was supposed to have been born in Bethlehem did not mean that he would still be there. concerning: Grk. peri, prep. with an orientational aspect relating to being near or having to do with something; in behalf of, about, concerning. the child: Grk. ho 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). Herod no doubt thought the age of the child correlated to the time when the Magi saw the star.
then: Grk. de, conj. when: Grk. epan, conj., after, when, as soon as. you have found him: Grk. euriskō, aor. subj., 2p-pl., to come upon by seeking, to find or locate. The subjunctive mood reflects a hypothetical situation; i.e., "if the search should confirm his presence." bring a report: Grk. apangellō, aor. imp., to report or announce, and used here to mean to share the result of personal experience, observation or other source of information; relate, report, declare.
to me: Grk. egō, first person pronoun. 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, personal pronoun. 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 the ones 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. the ones: pl. of Grk. ho, definite article, but used here as a demonstrative pronoun in reference to the Magi. having heard: Grk. akouō, pl. aor. part. See verse 3 above. the king: Grk. basileus. See verse 1 above. At this point the Magi probably intended to carry out the instructions of Herod. they went away: Grk. poreuomai, aor. pass., 3p-pl., to move from one area to another, to go or make one's way. The Magi with their Parthian escort left Jerusalem and headed south for Bethlehem. and: Grk. kai, conj. behold: Grk. idou, aor. imp. See verse 1 above. Matthew enhances the narrative with the Hebraic interjection.
the star: Grk. ho astēr. See verse 2 above. The departure from Jerusalem would probably have taken place early in the day, although most Bible commentators assume a night-time departure due to the mention of the star. which: Grk. hos, relative pronoun used to give significance to the mention of a person, thing, or piece of information that precedes; who, which, what, that. they saw: Grk. horaō, aor., to perceive with the physical eyes or to experience extraordinary mental or inward perception. in: Grk. en, prep. its rising: Grk. ho anatolē. See verse 2 above. preceded: proagō, impf., may mean (1) to bring from one position to another by taking charge; lead, bring out; or (2) to go or come before; precede. The second meaning is intended here.
them: pl. of Grk. autos, personal pronoun; used of the Magi. The description does not mean the star led the Magi to Bethlehem. They knew the route to the village and it was only five miles. until: Grk. heōs, prep., a marker of limit, here of time; till, until. having arrived: Grk. erchomai, aor. part. See verse 1 above. The verb complements proagō to emphasize the physical movement into the village. 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. The preposition emphasizes the position of the observer on the ground. The star was directly overhead.
where: Grk. hou, adv. of place; where, wherever, in what place. the child: Grk. paidion. See verse 8 above. was: Grk. eimi, impf. See verse 2 above. Matthew's description means that the star was already present over the village when the Magi arrived. The presence of the star served as confirmation that the child was indeed in the village. The prophecy of Isaiah could have special application here, "Nations shall come to your light, kings to the brilliance of your rising" (Isa 60:3 TLV). The Hebrew word for "rising" is zerach (SH-2225), a dawning, shining. Being December 25th it was the Winter Solstice, and the Daystar was in Coma (the second Decan of Virgo) overhead at dawn (Olson).
Commentators are divided over the meaning of the phrase "where the child was," some suggesting it only refers to the village of Bethlehem (Barclay, Edersheim) and others to the house in which the child was found (Gill, Meyer). However, Matthew does not mention the house until verse 11 below and he does not actually say how the Magi found the right house. The reality is that light reflected from a heavenly body would not mark a single building on earth, although God could have shone a light on the house. In any event, it would have been daytime.
Some commentators suggest that the Magi had very specific help in identifying the house and two proposals have been made. First, Bouw suggests that the star on this occasion was an angel. 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). Second, Kasdan believes that the star is the Sh'khinah glory cloud that guided Israel from Egypt to Canaan and dwelled in the tabernacle and the later temple (20). The fiery cloud of glory representing the very presence of God has a prominent place in the history of Israel (Ex 3:2-3; 13:21-22; 16:10; 19:9-21; 24:15-17; 40:34-35).
Setterfield, also, while recognizing the planetary conjunction for the star in verse 2 above, opts for the Sh'khinah in this context. Unruh concurs with this statement:
"Throughout the Bible the Shekinah was an accompaniment that indicated the presence of the Lord and guided people as the Lord directed. … The extraordinary supernatural light of the Shekinah glory of God is the only theory that completely fulfills all the data presented in Matthew 2:1-12. On this occasion particularly, this special light was a most appropriate manifestation of divine majesty."
Of course, these two proposals are probably overthinking the problem. In a village as small as Bethlehem the Magi could have found the right house by a helpful leading of the Spirit and a simple inquiry. In any event the important truth is that the Magi found the object of their search. Perhaps more important than the star is the example of the Magi. They heeded the message of the star to find the King of the Jews, and God made sure they were successful in their quest. The goal of so many weeks of preparation and travel was now before their eyes.
10 And having seen the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.
And: Grk. de, conj. having seen: Grk. horaō, pl. aor. part. See the previous verse. the star: Grk. ho astēr. See verse 2 above and the previous verse. they rejoiced: Grk. chairō, aor., 3p-pl., may mean (1) to be in a state marked by good feeling about an event or circumstance; be happy, glad, delighted, rejoice; or (2) an expression of greeting that is normally tantamount to assuring the other of one's good will, a kind of introductory social ointment; greetings, hail. The first meaning is intended here.
with exceedingly: Grk. sphodra, adv., high on a scale of intensity; exceedingly, greatly, very much. great: Grk. megas, adj., large or great in extent and used (1) of any extension in space in all directions; or (2) fig. of measure, whether of age, quantity, intensity, importance or social position (BAG). The adjective is used here to emphasize intensity and enthusiasm. joy: Grk. chara, joy as an emotional response that may be experienced in a variety of circumstances or of sharing in a celebration.
This verse implies that the star was hidden from view while the Magi were in Jerusalem. God was not going to share the revelation of the star with Herod. The reappearance of the star after departing Jerusalem for Bethlehem increased the anticipation of the Magi for success, and this anticipation gave way to unbounded gladness upon reaching their destination.
11 And having come into the house they saw the child with Miriam, his mother; and having fallen down they worshiped him. And, having opened their treasures, they offered to him gifts: gold and frankincense and myrrh.
And: Grk. kai, conj. having come: Grk. erchomai, aor. part. See verse 2 above. into: Grk. eis, prep. the house: Grk. ho 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.
Old traditions dated the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem on December 25th, which in 2 BC coincided with the celebration of Hanukkah, Kislev 25-Tevet 2, year 3760 of the Hebrew calendar, and December 22-29 on the Julian calendar. While Joseph and Miriam might have come to Bethlehem to attend the temple festival of Hanukkah and celebrate with relatives, it is more likely they were in Bethlehem with the intention of permanently settling there (see verses 21-22 below). In any event the meeting in the house was a providential appointment.
they saw: Grk. horaō, aor., 3p-pl. See verse 9 above. the child: Grk. paidion. See verse 8 above. Based on the proposed scenario Yeshua would have been from one to two years old. He was no longer a baby (Grk. brephos, Luke 2:12, 16). See verse 16 below. with: Grk. meta, prep. Miriam: Grk. Maria, fem. name, an attempt at transliterating the Heb. Miryam (Miriam in English). The meaning of the name is not known for certain. The best interpretation is offered at BehindtheName.com which says that Miriam "was most likely originally an Egyptian name, perhaps derived in part from mry "beloved" or mr "love."
The translation history of Miriam is strange. The first mention of the name of Miriam is the sister of Moses, which occurs 16 times in the LXX and every time is spelled in Greek as Mariam, which the lexicons agree is an indeclinable name. Yet, lexicons and Greek texts treat Mariam as a grammatical derivative of Grk. Maria. Of the 54 times the name appears in the Greek New Testament, the spelling is about evenly divided between Maria, Marias and Mariam. The use of "Mary" in English Bibles began with the Tyndale New Testament (1525) and Christians have called this Jewish woman by this name ever since.
The choice of English translators to use "Mary" instead of her Hebrew name "Miriam" can only be to minimize her Jewish identity. David Stern offers this apt observation:
"This unfounded and artificial distinction produced by translators subtly drives a wedge between Yeshua's mother and her own Jewishness … the name "Mary" evokes in the reader's thinking an otherworldly image of "Madonna and Child," complete with haloes, beatific smiles and angels in array, instead of the New Testament's portrayal of a down-to-earth Jewish lady in an Israel village managing her wifely, maternal and other social responsibilities with care, love and faith." (3)
Little is known of Miriam of Nazareth and many curious points are left unexplained. The popular image of Miriam as a very young teenage girl is extremely unreliable. The image of Miriam presented by Matthew and Luke is of a mature and capable woman. his: Grk. autos, personal pronoun. mother: Grk. mētēr, a mother and fig. one who is like a mother. 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 the house, and being daytime he could have been elsewhere in the village engaged in work. However, the excitement in the village at such a large group of foreigners being present would have brought him back to the house.
and: Grk. kai, conj. having fallen down: Grk. pipto, pl. 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. they worshiped: Grk. proskuneō, aor., 3p-pl. 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). him: Grk. autos. 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.
And: Grk. kai. having opened: Grk. anoigō, pl. aor. part., to open, used of doors and objects. their: pl. of Grk. autos. treasures: pl. of Grk. thēsauros, a place for safekeeping, container or chest. The Magi no doubt directed servants to bring in multiple chests. they offered: Grk. prospherō, to cause movement of something or someone to a person or place, to bring or to present, characteristically to offer gifts or sacrifices. to him: Grk. autos. gifts: pl. of Grk. dōron, a gift, often used of a sacrificial donation. gold: Grk. chrusos, the precious metal known as gold, which could have been in the form of coins, jewelry or simple pieces of metal.
and: Grk. kai. 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: Grk. kai. 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 embalm bodies (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. The gift-giving could also be viewed as an example for future observances of Hanukkah by Messianic Jews.
12 And having been divinely warned according to a dream not to return to Herod, they withdrew into their country by another route.
The scene fast forwards to that night as the Magi had gone to their encampment outside the city. And: Grk. kai, conj. having been warned: Grk. chrēmatizō, aor. pass. part., to be enjoined or warned as a result of receiving revealed information. according to: Grk. kata, prep., the root meaning is "down," but with the noun following being in the accusative case the preposition means "according to" or "by means of." a dream: Grk. onar, a series of thoughts, images or emotions occurring during sleep, a dream. In Scripture God frequently used dreams and visions to communicate His will, provide personal guidance and to portend the future.
not: Grk. mē, adv., a particle of qualified negation, not. It differs from the other standard negative particle, oú, in that oú is objective, dealing only with facts, while mē is subjective, involving will and thought (DM 265). to return: Grk. anakamptō, aor. inf., going back to a point of departure, to return. to: Grk. pros, prep., lit. "near or facing" and conveys motion toward; to, toward, with. Herod: Grk. Hrodēs. See verse 1 above.
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 withdrew: Grk. anachōreō, aor., 3p-pl., 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. into: Grk. eis, prep. their: pl. of Grk. autos, personal pronoun. 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: Grk. dia, prep. another: Grk. allos, adj., used to distinguish from one or more other entities; one, other (of two), another.
route: Grk. hodos, with the focus on the concept of going the word typically has the sense of a route for traveling, hence a way, a road or a highway. 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.
Flight to Egypt, 2:13-15
13 Now they having departed, behold, an angel of the LORD appeared to Joseph according to a dream, saying, "Having arisen, take the child and his mother and flee into Egypt, and remain there until anyhow I should tell you; for Herod is about to seek the child, to destroy him."
Now: Grk. de, conj. Here the conjunction shifts the scene from the Magi's encampment to the house in Bethlehem. they: pl. of Grk. autos, personal pronoun; i.e., the Magi. having departed: Grk. anachōreō, aor. part., to depart. See the previous verse. behold: Grk. idou, aor. imp. See verse 9 above. an angel: Grk. angelos means messenger, whether human or heavenly (BAG 7). In the LXX angelos translates Heb. malak (SH-4397), which means messenger, representative, courier or angel, first in Genesis 16:7. 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. See my article The Host of Heaven.
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 sacred name YHVH (DNTT 2:511). The CJB and TLV translate kurios here with ADONAI (for YHVH), which in Hebrew would not have the definite article. appeared: Grk. phainō, pres. mid., being in a state or condition of being visible or observed, to shine or to appear. The present tense of the verb might suggests that the instruction to Joseph 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.
to Joseph: Grk. Iōsēph, a transliteration of Heb. Yosef, which is explained in Genesis 30:24 and means "he adds, increases." Almost all that is known about Joseph of Nazareth is given in the nativity narratives, but later Matthew mentions that Joseph was a carpenter by trade (Matt 13:55). There is a divine connection to the history of Israel in that Joseph's father was named Jacob (Matt 1:16). The first Joseph in the Bible was the son of Jacob the patriarch. The first Joseph became renowned, because through him deliverance came to the entire family of Jacob, as well as the nation of Egypt. So too, the Joseph of the nativity would be part of God's plan to again bring deliverance to His people and the world, but a much more significant deliverance, freedom from sin.
according to: Grk. kata, prep. See the previous verse. a dream: Grk. onar. See the previous verse. saying: Grk. legō, pres. part. See verse 2 above. Having arisen: Grk. egeirō, aor. pass. part., to rise from a recumbent position. take: Grk. paralambano, 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. ho paidion. See verse 8 above. The age of Yeshua is emphasized again. and: Grk. kai, conj. his: Grk. autos. mother: Grk. mētēr. See verse 11 above. The phrasing here is deliberate considering the angel could have said "take your wife and son."
and: Grk. kai. flee: Grk. pheugō, pres. imp., to make a decisive movement away, in this case to avoid a hazard, to flee. into: Grk. eis, prep. Egypt: Grk. Aiguptos, a land in northeastern Africa, home to one of the earliest civilizations. In contrast to the modern nation, ancient Egypt was confined to the Nile River valley, a long, narrow ribbon of fertile land (the "black land") surrounded by uninhabitable desert (the "red land"). Egypt proper, from the first cataract of the Nile to the Mediterranean, is some 750 miles long. 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.
and: Grk. kai. remain: Grk. eimi, pres. imp. See verse 2 above. there: Grk. ekei, adv., there, in that place. until: Grk. heōs, conj. anyhow: Grk. an, a disjunctive particle that nuances a verb with contingency or generalization; would, ever, might, in that case, anyhow. HELPS says the particle indicates what could occur under certain conditions, and the context determines the limits of those conditions. The particle is often not translated. I should tell: Grk. eipō (from eipon, 2 aor. of legō, "say"), aor. subj., to bid, bring word or command (SECB). you: Grk. su, second person pronoun.
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: Grk. gar, conj. Herod: Grk. Hrodēs. See verse 1 above. 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 seek: 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. The present tense implies Herod would not cease searching. the child: Grk. ho paidion.
to destroy: Grk. apollumi, aor. inf., to cause severe damage and in this case by eliminating, i.e., to kill. him: Grk. autos. Herod's goal was not merely to kill the child but destroy the fulfillment of Scripture. 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. See verse 13 above. 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.
Infanticide in Bethlehem, 2:16-18
16 Then Herod having seen that he had been tricked by the Magi, he became furious. And having sent he 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 Herod having seen: 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 having sent: Grk. apostellō, aor. part., to send with authority to accomplish a mission. Herod sent out a contingent of soldiers to accomplish his malevolent revenge. he killed: Grk. anaireō, aor., 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: pl. of Grk. magos. 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.
Return from Egypt, 2:19-23
19 But Herod having 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.
And having come: Grk. erchomai, aor. part., to come or arrive, with implication of a position from which action or movement takes place. he lived: Grk. katoikeō, aor., 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, which transliterates the Heb. Natzeret. A likely Hebrew root for Nazareth is the verb natzar (SH-5341), to watch, guard or keep (Merrill 116). The verb in its participial form (notzerat, "one guarding") alludes to the prominent hill near Nazareth (Luke 4:29). Merrill suggests the city may have taken its name from the name of the hill. Nazareth was located about seventy miles northeast of Jerusalem about halfway between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea. Nazareth is situated among the hills of Galilee which constitute the south ridges of Lebanon, just before they sink down into the plain of Esdraelon (Smith).
A Roman road from Capernaum westward to the coast passed near Nazareth, over which Roman legions frequently traveled. While not mentioned in the Tanakh or Josephus, Nazareth was a city of some importance and considerable antiquity, and not so insignificant as has been represented. The city is formed on a prominent hill or mountain that overlooks a vast area of land and sea. In the time of Yeshua the city had a population of 15,000 to 20,000 inhabitants.
so that: Grk. hopōs, adv. it should be fulfilled: Grk. plēroō, aor. pass. subj. See verse 15 above. that: Grk. ho, definite article, but used here as a relative pronoun. having been spoken: Grk. legō, aor. pass. part. See verse 15 above. This is the third time Matthew uses this formula in the chapter. through: Grk. dia, prep. the prophets: pl. of Grk. ho 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. In particular Matthew makes reference to prophets that foretold the Messiah. The Tanakh includes many specific predictions of the Messiah. See my article Prophecies of the Messiah.
While Jewish rulers contended that no prophet was expected from Galilee (John 7:52), Matthew will later argue the opposite by quoting from Isaiah 9:1,
15 "Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations— 16 the people sitting in darkness have seen a great light, and those sitting in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned." (Matt 4:15-16 TLV)
that: Grk. hoti, conj., that, because. 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. The use of kaleō here implies either a type of something such as the title Immanuel referred to in 1:23 or a reputation that he will gain.
Nazarene: Grk. Nazōraios, Nazarene or Nazorean (BAG, Danker). Nazōraios does not occur in the LXX, nor any earlier or contemporary Jewish literature, nor any Greek literature. The noun is found only in the apostolic narratives. Danker and Mounce define the noun as an inhabitant of Natzeret (Nazareth), the city where Yeshua spent his growing up years (Luke 2:39-40, 51). Stern also suggests that Natzrati refers to a resident of Nazareth. However, BAG points out that Nazōraios meant something different before it was connected with Nazareth, and linguistically the transition from Nazaret to Nazōraios is difficult (534).
Moreover, Matthew says "he will be called Nazarene," not "he will be from Nazareth" (cf. apo Nazaret, Matt 21:11). Most Messianic Jewish versions translate the title as Natzrati. Yet, Stern interprets the meaning of Natzrati as based on the supposition that Nazareth was a place people made fun of due to the comment of Nathanael, "Can anything good be of Nazareth?" (John 1:46). Carson also assumes a common negative opinion based on misapplication of John 7:42, 52. He fails to recognize that Nazareth is not specifically criticized in those two verses.
Morris says of Nazareth "It was not a famous city, but we have no reason for thinking it infamous" (165). Merrill contends the supposed common low opinion of Nazareth in the time of Yeshua is not supported by a single fact (114), so we should not suppose that this incorrect viewpoint has anything to do with the meaning of Natzrati. We must deduce the significance of Nazōraios by other means. While the Greek noun in this verse has no definite article, the term should not be translated as "a Nazarene" (as found in most Christian Bibles), as if he were one among many.
No one would translate Matthew 1:23 as "he will be called an Immanuel." Imagine the word "NAZARENE" in upper case, which gives emphasis to the noun. Matthew seems to make a connection between going to live in Nazareth and the word of prophets being fulfilled. Yet, no Messianic prophecy names Nazareth or any other Galilean town as the residence of the Messiah. Since Bethlehem was the prophesied birthplace of the Messiah, Jews would naturally assume that Judea would be the focus of his activity. Some commentators find the connection between "Nazareth" and "Nazarene" in the Hebrew root of these two nouns, Nun-Tsade-Resh.
Meyer suggests the root of Nazōraios is the noun netzer (SH-5342), branch, sprout or shoot, found in Isaiah 11:1 where it is used to refer to the branch of Jesse, the father of David. Since Matthew originally wrote his narrative in Hebrew he may have used netzer. Smith in his definition of "Nazarene," says that the noun represented "the filling out of the predictions in which the promised Messiah is described as a netser, i.e. a shoot or sprout, of Jesse, a humble and despised descendant of the decayed royal family." Stern also sees a link between Nazōraios and netzer prophesied by Isaiah. Gruber concurs with this view translating Nazōraios with "a netzer."
Describing the Messiah as a branch of Jesse emphasizes his humanity and Davidic origin. Isaiah lauds the descendant of Jesse with compliments that David exhibited in part, but will be seen in perfection in the Messiah. He will be full of the Spirit and endowed with wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge and the fear of God. He will judge others according to the righteousness defined by Torah and exhibit faithfulness to all that God desired. All of this is contained in the promise of the angel to Miriam, "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David" (Luke 1:32 BR).
The connection of Nazōraios with the Isaiah promise of the netzer may be seen in two passages. First, the supposed pejorative viewpoint of Nathaniel about Nazareth (John 1:46) is followed by his declaration to Yeshua, "You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" (John 1:49). In Jewish culture "Son of God" was a title for the Davidic king. Second, the connection is made explicit in the story of the healing of Bartimaeus:
35 As He drew near Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the road begging. 36 Hearing a crowd passing by, he inquired what this meant. 37 "Jesus the Nazarene is passing by," they told him. 38 So he called out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" (Luke 18:35-38 HCSB)
In the nativity story Yeshua is the netzer, the King of the Jews who will rule on the throne of David and shepherd the people of Israel (Matt 2:2, 6; Luke 1:32-33). It is no accident that Yeshua is identified as the "son of David" three times more frequently in Matthew than in any of the other apostolic narratives. Moreover, the "kingdom of heaven," so frequently mentioned in Matthew is not a kingdom in heaven, as Christians generally assume, but the kingdom that Heaven promised to David (2Sam 7:12-16).
Matthew will present "the Nazarene" as a humble servant of the Lord, who emulated the life of David by faithfully living by the expectations of Torah (cf. Matt 5:17-20; 19:17; 22:16; 27:19). Yet, the significance of the title Nazōraios may be deduced from its association with suffering, both in the sense of one who had compassion on those who suffered (Luke 18:37; Acts 3:6; cf. Acts 10:38), and one was made to suffer by being persecuted, rejected and crucified (Matt 26:71; John 18:5, 7; 19:19; Acts 2:22; 4:10; 6:14; 22:8; 26:9).
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 Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1. Revised Ed. The Westminster Press, 1975. The Daily Study Bible Series, 16 Vols.
Bengel: Johann Albrecht Bengel (1687-1752), Gnomon of the New Testament (1742). 5 vols. Trans. by Marvin Vincent. T&T Clark, 1860. Online.
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.
Clarke: Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Holy Bible (1826). Ed. Ralph Earle. Baker Book House, 1967. Also online.
Danker: Frederick William Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. The University of Chicago Press, 2009.
Delitzsch: Franz Delitzsch (1813-1890), Hebrew New Testament. Leipzig, 1877. Online. (Translation into biblical Hebrew.)
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. (New International Commentary on the New Testament)
Gruber: Daniel Gruber, The Messianic Writings. Elijah Publishing, 2011. Translation of the Majority Text and commentary notes by the author.
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. (New International Commentary on the New Testament)
Martin: Earnest L. Martin, The Star of Bethlehem. Associates for Scriptural Knowledge, 1996. Chapter 9, The Lunar Eclipse of Josephus.
Merrill: Selah Merrill, Galilee in the Time of Christ. Religious Tract Society, 1891. Online.
Meyer: Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer (1800-1873), Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (1859). 21 vols. T&T Clark, 1880. Online.
Morris: Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John. William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1971. (New International Commentary on the New Testament)
Olson: Ross Olson, Dates of Significant Astronomical Events. Twin Cities Creation Science Association, nd.
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.
Smith: Sir William Smith, A Dictionary of the Bible. John Murray, 1893. Online.
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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