Main point summary
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem Ephrathah, peoples from the east 'worship' Messiah, the proper king of the Jews and God protects Messiah from Herod, the present king of the Jews.
Now h after Jesus was born in i Bethlehem of Judea
j in the days of Herod the king,
wise men 1 from k the east came to Jerusalem,
“Where is he
who has been born l king of the Jews?
For we saw m his star
when it rose 1
and have come
to n worship him.”
When Herod the king heard this,
he was troubled,
and all Jerusalem with him;
and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people,
he inquired of them
where o the Christ was to be born.
They told him,
“In Bethlehem of Judea,
for so it is written by the prophet:
p “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will q shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly
and ascertained from them
what time the star had appeared.
And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying,
“Go and search diligently for the child,
and when you have found him,
bring me word,
that I too may come and worship him.”
After listening to the king ,
they went on their way.
the star that they had seen when it rose went before them
until it came to rest over the place where the child was.
When they saw the star,
they rejoiced exceedingly
with great joy.
And going into the house
they saw the child with Mary his mother,
and they fell down
and worshiped him.
Then, opening their treasures,
r they offered him gifts, s gold and t frankincense and u myrrh.
And v being warned w in a dream
not to return to Herod,
they departed to their own country by another way.
Jdg 17:7, 9; 19:1–20; Ru 1:1–2; 1Sa 17:12 These seem to imply that "Bethlehem of Judah" was probably just a commonly repeated phrase. Else, it might be used to contrast Bethlehem in Zebulun (Jos 19:15). But within this context, it most likely is used to anticipate Mt 2:2 (king of the Jews) and ver 6, where the Hebrew 'Judah' is used instead of the Gk 'Judea'
Ge 35:19, 48:7 Ru 1:22–2:6 1Sa 16-17; 2Sa 23:13-17, cf. 1Ch 11:15-19
In this passage, what is the context of Jesus' birth? Why does Matthew record this? The anticipation of the fulfilment of Scripture What is said of the 'wise men'? What common legends are not spoken of? Where did the wise men come first? Why Jerusalem? What were they asking? What reasons did they give for their arrival? Jerusalem is where the king of the Jews should have been Read what the OT says about astrology (Isa 47:13–15; Da 1:20; 2:27; 4:7; 5:7; cf. Jer 10:1–2). Why then, does Matthew, include this? What does the Magi's question imply about Jesus' kingship? Where do we hear 'king of the Jews' in Matthew again? Mt 27:37 Why is what the Magi did so astonishing? What does it imply?
Rachel's death, Ruth's meeting Boaz and David's growing up years
Herod the Great, as he is now called, was born in 73 BC and was named king of Judea by the Roman senate in 40 BC. By 37 BC, he had crushed, with the help of Roman forces, all opposition to his rule. Son of the Idumean Antipater, he was wealthy, politically gifted, intensely loyal, an excellent administrator, and clever enough to remain in the good graces of successive Roman emperors. His famine relief was superb and his building projects (including the temple, begun in 20 BC) admired even by his foes. But he loved power, inflicted incredibly heavy taxes on the people, and resented the fact that many Jews considered him a usurper. In his last years, suffering an illness that compounded his paranoia, he turned to cruelty and in fits of rage and jealousy killed close associates, his wife Mariamne (of Jewish descent from the Maccabeans), and at least two of his sons (see Josephus, Ant. 14–18; S. Perowne, The Life and Times of Herod the Great [London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1956]; and esp. Abraham Schalit, König Herodes: Der Mann und sein Werk [Berlin: de Gruyter, 1969]). Carson, D. A.. Matthew (The Expositor's Bible Commentary) (pp. 223-224). Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition.
μάγος mag'-os /mágos/ Noun strongs: G3097 source: of foreign origin (רַב־מָג); a sorcerer, magician, wizard NET Study Note: The Greek term magi here describes a class of wise men and priests who were astrologers (L&N 32.40).
Da 1:20; 2:2; 4:7; 5:7, cf. Ac 8:9; 13:6, 8
The tradition that the Magi were kings can be traced as far back as Tertullian (d. ca. 225). It probably developed under the influence of OT passages that say kings will come and worship Messiah (cf. Pss 68:29, 31; 72:10–11; Isa 49:7; 60:1–6). The theory that there were three “wise men” is probably a deduction from the three gifts (2:11). Carson, D. A.. Matthew (The Expositor's Bible Commentary) (p. 225). Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition.
Granting Matthew’s informed devotion to the OT, he surely knew that the OT mocks astrologers (Isa 47:13–15; Da 1:20; 2:27; 4:7; 5:7) and forbids astrology (Jer 10:1–2). Nevertheless, it was widely practiced in the first century, even among Jews (cf. Albright and Mann). Matthew neither condemns nor sanctions it; instead, he contrasts the eagerness of the Magi to worship Jesus, despite their limited knowledge, with the apathy of the Jewish leaders and the hostility of Herod’s court—all of whom had the Scriptures to inform them. Formal knowledge of the Scriptures, Matthew implies, does not in itself lead to knowing who Jesus is. Carson, D. A.. Matthew (The Expositor's Bible Commentary) (p. 227). Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition.
Matthew uses language almost certainly alluding to Numbers 24:17: “A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.” This oracle, spoken by Balaam, who came “from the eastern mountains” (Nu 23:7), was widely regarded as messianic (Tg. Ps.-J.; Tg. Onq.; CD 7:19–20; 1QM 11:6; 1QSb 5:27; 4QTest 12–13; T. Jud. 24:1). Both Matthew and Numbers deal with the king of Israel (Nu 24:7), though Matthew does not resort to the uncontrolled allegorizing on “star” frequently found in early postapostolic Christian writings (cf. Jean Danielou, The Theology of Jewish Christianity [London: Darton, Longman, 1964], 214–24). Carson, D. A.. Matthew (The Expositor's Bible Commentary) (p. 226). Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition.
The person born was king of the Jews, just like Mt 1:1-17 established. His kingly status began at his birth, not merely later on.
“Worship” (see Notes [below]) need not imply that the Magi recognized Jesus’ divinity; it may simply mean “do homage” (Broadus). Their own statement suggests homage paid royalty rather than the worship of Deity. But Matthew, having already told of the virginal conception, doubtless expected his readers to discern something more—namely, that the Magi “worshiped” better than they knew. The verb προσκυνέω (proskyneō, “worship,” GK 4686) occurs three times in this pericope (cf. vv.8, 11) and ten other times in Matthew. Carson, D. A.. Matthew (The Expositor's Bible Commentary) (p. 227, 232). Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition.
Why were the Magi rejoicing with great joy? What did the Magi probably mean when they 'worshiped'? What do we as readers of Matthew's gospel see? Compare Ps 2 and this passage. How are the two related? Why does Matthew record the dream? Who do the Magi listen to? The real king Why does Matthew record this pericope (look for repeated words)? 1. Jesus the king demands worship 2. God keeps his promises in Scripture (Is 60:3) 3. God supernaturally ensures that nothing will hinder his work (the protection of the Son) 4. Jesus' faced hostility and resentment from birth through the cross 5. Gentiles are included in God's great plan, and by their actions judge the more privileged (Mt 8:11-12, 12:41-42, 28:16-20)
What does Matthew tell us about Herod? What does this indicate about his personality? Why was the rest of Jerusalem troubled as well? He was 'the king' and was troubled He felt threatened He would, as a result of his paranoia, inflict some new cruelty on the residents of Jerusalem What is Herod's response? What does he ask? Based on ver 2-4, who is the 'Christ'? The King of the Jews What is the answer he gets? On what basis is the answer given? What does it tell us of the scribes and chief priests? In what ways do you see mere knowledge of Scripture as dangerous? What is a purpose of Scripture, in its fulfilment, based on this passage? Note 'written by the prophet', implying that the prophet was only a means of a greater authority. Considering that there is no 'shepherding' language in Mic 5:2, why does Matthew include it in his recording? To ensure beyond doubt that it is the promised Davidic seed that is in view (2Sa 5:2, cf. Eze 34) What is the response of 'the people of Israel'? How does this fulfil themes long promised? See Ps 68:28–35; Isa 18:1–3, 7; 45:14; 60:6; Zep 3:10 What does Herod ask the Magi to do? Why? What does he fail to anticipate? The working of God What implied contrasts do we see Matthew making within this passage? Why is this significant? 1. 23:2-7 - false shepherds and the True 2. Herod the king vs Messiah in their authority and manner 3. Israel and the Gentiles 4. Knowing vs Obeying Scripture 5. Apathy vs worship Who did the Magi listen to?
“Chief priests” refers to the hierarchy, made up of the current high priest and any who had formerly occupied this post (since Herod, contrary to the law, made fairly frequent changes in the high priesthood), and a substantial number of other leading priests (cf. Josephus, Ant. 20.180 [8.8]; J.W. 4.159–60 [3.9]; the same Greek word (archiereus) is used for “high priests” and “chief priests”). Carson, D. A.. Matthew (The Expositor's Bible Commentary) (p. 228). Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition.
The “teachers of the law,” or “scribes” as other EV call them, were experts in the OT and in its copious oral tradition. Their work was not so much copying out OT manuscripts (as the word “scribes” suggests) as teaching the OT. Because much civil law was based on the OT and the interpretations of the OT fostered by the leaders, the “scribes” were also “lawyers” (cf. 22:35: “expert in the law”). Carson, D. A.. Matthew (The Expositor's Bible Commentary) (p. 228). Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition.
Herod 'the usurper' was not liked by the Jews, be it Sadducee (chief priests) or Pharisee (predominant chunk of scribes). But Pharisees and Sadducees didn't get along very well either. This in turn meant that they wouldn't work together to make a fool of him. In all likelihood, he called them as separate groups to avoid them colluding.
i.e. King of the Jews (ver 2), cf. 26:63, 27:37
Mic 5:2-4; 2Sa 5:2, 1Ch 11:2
Ps 72:10-12; Is 60:1-6
Frankincense is a glittering, odorous gum obtained by making incisions in the bark of several trees; myrrh exudes from a tree found in Arabia and a few other places and was a much-valued spice and perfume (Ps 45:8; SS 3:6) used in embalming (Jn 19:39). Commentators, ancient (Origen, Cels. 1.60) and modern (Hendriksen), have found symbolic value in the three gifts—gold suggesting royalty, incense divinity, and myrrh the passion and burial. This interpretation demands too much insight from the Magi. The three gifts were simply expensive and not uncommon presents and may have helped finance the trip to Egypt. The word “treasures” probably means “coffers” or “treasure boxes” in this context. Carson, D. A.. Matthew (The Expositor's Bible Commentary) (pp. 231-232). Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition.
1. What is our response when we see a star pointing to Jesus? 2. What is our response to the authority of Scripture? How is it different from Herod and the ‘people of Israel’? 3. Compare Ps 2 with Mt 2:1-12. What is your response to the ‘Son’? What will the consequence be? 4. Who do you look down upon? What is Jesus’ response to you, as a Gentile? 5. Who is king over your kingdom? What are you scared of losing? What keeps you from seeing what you will gain?
cf. Mt 23:2-7
2:1a Matthew establishes the context of Jesus’ birth Bethlehem of Judea Ge 35:19; 48:7; Ru 1:22–2:6; 1Sa 16-17; 2Sa 23:13-17; cf. 1Ch 11:15-19 Rachel’s death after Benjamin’s birth The setting for providence of God in Naomi, Ruth and Boaz’s life King David’s hometown Judea was the Gk form of the Hebrew Judah (Mt 2:6) Matthew’s purposes, while recording this seem to point backward and forward to: The ‘king of the Jews’ in Mt 2:2 The birthplace of Messiah in Mt 2:6 (Mic 5:2) Herod the ‘king’ Nicknamed ‘Herod the usurper’, Herod the Great he clearly enjoyed Roman patronage, seen by his sitting on a throne under Roman rule. He was born in 73 BC, was named king of Judea by the Roman senate in 40 BC. In three years, by 37 BC, he had crushed, with the help of Roman forces, all opposition to his rule. He rebuilt the temple (Mt 24:1-3), beginning in 20 BC Yet because of his Idumean heritage, as opposed to a Davidic lineage and because of Roman support, he was probably hated by the Jews He appears to be paranoid and insecure and thus extremely cruel (Mt 2:13ff) But he loved power, inflicted incredibly heavy taxes on the people, and resented the fact that many Jews considered him a usurper. In his last years, suffering an illness that compounded his paranoia, he turned to cruelty and in fits of rage and jealousy killed close associates, his wife Mariamne (of Jewish descent from the Maccabeans), and at least two of his sons (see Josephus, Ant. 14–18; S. Perowne, The Life and Times of Herod the Great [London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1956]; and esp. Abraham Schalit, König Herodes: Der Mann und sein Werk [Berlin: de Gruyter, 1969]). Carson, D. A.. Matthew (The Expositor's Bible Commentary) (pp. 223-224). Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition. 2:1-2 Matthew records with a ‘behold’, something rather astonishing —that wise-men (Magi were probably a class of magicians/astrologers/) from the east (probably Babylon) travelled all the way to Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, they were asking around as to where the ‘king of the Jews’ (cf. Mt 27:11, 29, 37; cf. Jn 19:19-21) was born, indicating that Jesus’ kingly status was not thrust upon him later on, but was from birth. The reason for their coming was because they ‘saw his star’ as it ‘rose’ —perhaps an allusion to Baalaam’s final oracle from Nu 24:17 “A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.” We cannot say for certain what this astrological phenomenon was, but we can say that this was supernatural and divinely orchestrated. We also need not conclude that they followed the star from the east to Jerusalem. Matthew records that they saw the star and came to Jerusalem. But what is all the more astonishing is the purpose for which they came — ‘to worship him’. They probably just meant paying homage (since they were visiting the king of the Jews), but there is probably more to this than meets the eye, especially considering Mt 1. Perhaps they worshiped better than they thought. On Magi, see Da 1:20; 2:2; 4:7; 5:7, cf. Ac 8:9; 13:6, 8 2:3-4 Matthew records the response of Herod ‘the king’ to the Magi searching for ‘the king’ of the Jews —troubled. Jerusalem is troubled as well, knowing that questions like the Magi’s are what might introduce a fresh stream of cruelty from the paranoid ‘king’. Meanwhile, Herod calls the Pharisees (scribes) and Sadducees (chief priests) —perhaps separately to avoid them collaborating and tricking him— to find out where the Messiah was to be born. Herod knew that the Messiah was in fact the ‘king of the Jews’, as made clear by the question he asks the scribes and chief priests. In all of this, we see Matthew slowly drawing out contrasts which are worth laying out at the end. 2:5-6 The scribes and chief priests base their answer on ‘what was written [by God] through the prophet’ and quote a combination of Micah 5:2-4 (alluding to perhaps 2Sa 5:2 and Eze 34). In quoting Micah 5, Matthew makes a few changes: Bethlehem Ephrathah becomes Bethlehem in the land of Judah (Judea is the Gk. form, used elsewhere in this pericope) Matthew adds a strong negative “by no means”, to emphasise a strong concessive —Bethlehem is a small and insignificant place, apart from Messiah. Matthew adds the shepherding language from Mic 5:4, to make it clear that the king in question is great David’s greater Son. It is attractive to think of contrasting the false ‘shepherds’ of Israel with the Davidic Messiah who is the good and true Shepherd of his people. Matthew draws this out later in Matthew 23. 2:7-9a It seems that Herod had already hatched a plan to kill the boys of Bethlehem (Mt 2:16ff) and the secret meeting with the Magi is primarily to ascertain the age-range of the boys. With hypocritical piety, he ‘sends’ them [he or He?] to Bethlehem and asks the Magi to find out the child and pass the information along to him, so he might ‘worship’. They listen to the ‘king’, the Magi go on their way. But the ‘king’ miserably fails to anticipate the work of YHWH, the sovereign King, by whose hand Herod sends the Magi to Bethlehem. 2:9b-11 As they go toward Bethlehem, the Magi are bolstered by the sight of the same star they saw earlier when it rose. It rests over ‘the place where the child was’. Now having information from the Scripture of the Jews, they see confirmation in the star and rejoice exceedingly with great joy (perhaps shouting with excitement). They enter the house and see the child with Mary his mother (always in that order; see 2:11, 13, 14, 20, 21), and their response is ‘falling down’ in worship (better than they knew) —see Isa 60:1-6 and Ps 72:10-12. The wise men then present expensive gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. There are many who suggest royalty, divinity and burial. These were expensive gifts, and may have financed the family escape to Egypt. 2:12 Another dream (cf. Mt 1:20, 2:13) is God’s means to intervene to protect the promised Son of David, the Son of Abraham. The Magi listen to YHWH the King (cf. 2:9) and don’t return to Herod and go back another way. Implied Contrasts in Mt 2:1-12 The Magi’s response of worship, despite no Scripture is laid in sharp contrast with the response of the people of Israel (represented by the chief priests and scribes) to their own Scripture —apathy. In addition, we see the response of Herod to accessible Scripture which was to try and stop its fulfilment —this was his idea of ‘worship’ (2:8). The one who was born King of the Jews (2:2) is nothing like Herod the king (2:3). If the reader was reading Matthew’s gospel a second time, he would see one King giving his life as a ransom for many, and the other slaughtering many lives to vainly preserve his own. The false shepherds of Israel who have provided sound answers but no leadership (cf. 23:2–7) are in flat opposition to Jesus, the true Shepherd of his people Israel. Jesus is the promised hope to Israel as well as to all nations (cf. Ps 68:28–35; Isa 18:1–3, 7; 45:14; 60:6; Zep 3:10), but it is a wonder that Israel’s leaders seem to reject him (Mt 23:37ff), right from birth and culminating in their crucifying their King. The Magi are seen listening to king Herod but finally listen in obedience to king YHWH The futility of man’s efforts (like Herod) to stop God’s promises and plan rise up to the top here. Perhaps meditating on Ps 2:1-12 might help worship and warn us. God keeps his promises. APPLICATION 1. What is our response when we see a ‘great light’ pointing to Jesus? 2. What is our response to the authority of Scripture? How is it different from Herod and the ‘people of Israel’? 3. Compare Ps 2:1-12 with Mt 2:1-12. What is your response to the ‘Son’? What will the consequence be? 4. Who do you look down upon? What is Jesus’ response to you, as a Gentile? 5. Who is king over your kingdom? What are you scared of losing? What keeps you from seeing what you will gain?