In this chapter, we have the history of our Saviour’s infancy, where we find how early he began to suffer, and that in him the word of righteousness was fulfilled, before he himself began to fulfil all righteousness. Here is, I. The wise men’s solicitous enquiry after Christ, Matthew 2:1-8. II. Their devout attendance on him, when they found out where he was, Matthew 2:9-12.
The Wise Men Come to Jerusalem.
1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, 2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. 3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. 5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judea: for thus it is written by the prophet, 6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. 7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.
It was a mark of humiliation put upon the Lord Jesus that, though he was the Desire of all nations, yet his coming into the world was little observed and taken notice of, his birth was obscure and unregarded: herein he emptied himself, and made himself of no reputation. If the Son of God must be brought into the world, one might justly expect that he should be received with all the ceremony possible, that crowns and sceptres should immediately have been laid at his feet, and that the high and mighty princes of the world should have been his humble servants such a Messiah as this the Jews expected, but we see none of all this he came into the world, and the world knew him not nay, he came to his own, and his own received him not for having undertaken to make satisfaction to his Father for the wrong done him in his honour by the sin of man, he did it by denying himself in, and despoiling himself of, the honours undoubtedly due to an incarnate Deity yet, as afterward, so in his birth, some rays of glory darted forth in the midst of the greatest instances of his abasement. Though there was the hiding of his power, yet he had horns coming out of his hand (Habakkuk 3:4) enough to condemn the world, and the Jews especially, for their stupidity.
The first who took notice of Christ after his birth were the shepherds (Luke 2:15, &c.), who saw and heard glorious things concerning him, and made them known abroad, to the amazement of all that heard them, Matthew 2:17,18. After that, Simeon and Ann a spoke of him, by the Spirit, to all that were disposed to heed what they said, Luke 2:38. Now, one would think, these hints should have been taken by the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and they should with both arms have embraced the long-looked-for Messiah but, for aught that appears, he continued nearly two years after at Bethlehem, and no further notice was taken of him till these wise men came. Note, Nothing will awaken those that are resolved to be regardless. Oh the amazing stupidity of these Jews! And no less that of many who are called Christians! Observe,
I. When this enquiry was made concerning Christ. It was in the days of Herod the king. This Herod was an Edomite, made king of Judea by Augustus and Antonius, the then chief rulers of the Roman state, a man made up of falsehood and cruelty yet he was complimented with the title of Herod the Great. Christ was born in the 35th year of his reign, and notice is taken of this, to show that the sceptre had now departed from Judah, and the lawgiver from between his feet and therefore now was the time for Shiloh to come, and to him shall the gathering of the people be: witness these wise men, Genesis 49:10.
II. Who and what these wise men were they are here called Magoi—Magicians. Some that it in a good sense the Magi among the Persians were their philosophers and their priests nor would they admit any one for their king who had not first been enrolled among the Magi others think they dealt in unlawful arts the word is used of Simon, the sorcerer (Acts 8:9,11), and of Elymas, the sorcerer (Acts 13:6), nor does the scripture use it in any other sense and then it was an early instance and presage of Christ’s victory over the devil, when those who had been so much his devotees became the early adorers even of the infant Jesus so soon were trophies of his victory over the powers of darkness erected. Well, whatever sort of wise men they were before, now they began to be wise men indeed when they set themselves to enquire after Christ.
This we are sure of, 1. That they were Gentiles, and not belonging to the commonwealth of Israel. The Jews regarded not Christ, but these Gentiles enquired him out. Note, Many times those who are nearest to the means, are furthest from the end. See Matthew 8:11,12. The respect paid to Christ by these Gentiles was a happy presage and specimen of what would follow when those who were afar off should be made nigh by Christ. 2. That they were scholars. They dealt in arts, curious arts good scholars should be good Christians, and then they complete their learning when they learn Christ. 3. That they were men of the east, who were noted for their soothsaying, Isaiah 2:6. Arabia is called the land of the east (Genesis 25:6), and the Arabians are called men of the east, Judges 6:3. The presents they brought were the products of that country the Arabians had done homage to David and Solomon as types of Christ. Jethro and Job were of that country. More than this we have not to say of them. The traditions of the Romish church are frivolous, that they were in number three (though one of the ancients says that they were fourteen), that they were kings, and that they lie buried in Colen, thence called the three kings of Colen we covet not to be wise above what is written.
III. What induced them to make this enquiry. They, in their country, which was in the east, had seen an extraordinary star, such as they had not seen before which they took to be an indication of an extraordinary person born in the land of Judea, over which land this star was seen to hover, in the nature of a comet, or a meteor rather, in the lowers regions of the air this differed so much from any thing that was common that they concluded it to signify something uncommon. Note, Extraordinary appearances of God in the creatures should put us upon enquiring after his mind and will therein Christ foretold signs in the heavens. The birth of Christ was notified to the Jewish shepherds by an angel, to the Gentile philosophers by a star: to both God spoke in their own language, and in the way they were best acquainted with. Some think that the light which the shepherds saw shining round about them, the night after Christ was born, was the very same which to the wise men, who lived at such a distance, appeared as a star but this we cannot easily admit, because the same star which they had seen in the east they saw a great while after, leading them to the house where Christ lay it was a candle set up on purpose to guide them to Christ. The idolaters worshipped the stars as the host of heaven, especially the eastern nations, whence the planets have the names of their idol-gods we read of a particular star they had in veneration, Amos 5:26. Thus the stars that had been misused came to be put to the right use, to lead men to Christ the gods of the heathen became his servants. Some think this star put them in mind of Balaam’s prophecy, that a star should come out of Jacob, pointing at a sceptre, that shall rise out of Israel see Numbers 24:17. Balaam came from the mountains of the east, and was one of their wise men. Others impute their enquiry to the general expectation entertained at that time, in those eastern parts, of some great prince to appear. Tacitus, in his history (lib. 5), takes notice of it Pluribus persuasio inerat, antiquis sacerdotum literis contineri, eo ipso tempore fore, ut valesceret oriens, profectique Judæ a rerum potirentur–A persuasion existed in the minds of many that some ancient writings of the priests contained a prediction that about that time an eastern power would prevail, and that persons proceeding from Judea would obtain dominion. Suetonius also, in the life of Vespasian, speaks of it so that this extraordinary phenomenon was construed as pointing to that king and we may suppose a divine impression made upon their minds, enabling them to interpret this star as a signal given by Heaven of the birth of Christ.
IV. How they prosecuted this enquiry. They came from the east to Jerusalem, in further quest of this prince. Wither shall they come to enquire for the king of the Jews, but to Jerusalem, the mother-city, whither the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord? They might have said, “If such a prince be born, we shall hear of him shortly in our own country, and it will be time enough then to pay our homage to him.” But so impatient were they to be better acquainted with him, that they took a long journey on purpose to enquire after him. Note, Those who truly desire to know Christ, and find him, will not regard pains or perils in seeking after him. Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord.
Their question is, Where is he that is born king of the Jews? They do not ask, whether there were such a one born? (they are sure of that, and speak of it with assurance, so strongly was it set home upon their hearts) but, Where is he born? Note, Those who know something of Christ cannot but covet to know more of him. They call Christ the King of the Jews, for so the Messiah was expected to be: and he is Protector and Ruler of all the spiritual Israel, he is born a King.
To this question they doubted not but to have a ready answer, and to find all Jerusalem worshipping at the feet of this new king but they come from door to door with this question, and no man can give them any information. Note, There is more gross ignorance in the world, and in the church too, than we are aware of. Many that we think should direct us to Christ are themselves strangers to him. They ask, as the spouse of the daughters of Jerusalem, Saw ye him whom my soul loveth? But they are never the wiser. However, like the spouse, they pursue the enquiry, Where is he that is born king of the Jews? Are they asked, “Why do ye make this enquiry?” It is because they have seen his star in the east. Are they asked, “What business have ye with him? What have the men of the east to do with the King of the Jews?” They have their answer ready, We are come to worship him. They conclude he will, in process of time, be their king, and therefore they will betimes ingratiate themselves with him and with those about him. Note, Those in whose hearts the day-star is risen, to give them any thing of the knowledge of Christ, must make it their business to worship him. Have we seen Christ’s star? Let us study to give him honour.
V. How this enquiry was treated at Jerusalem. News of it at last came to court and when Herod heard it he was troubled, Matthew 2:3. He could not be a stranger to the prophecies of the Old Testament, concerning the Messiah and his kingdom, and the times fixed for his appearing by Daniel’s weeks but, having himself reigned so long and so successfully, he began to hope that those promises would for ever fail, and that his kingdom would be established and perpetuated in spite of them. What a damp therefore must it needs be upon him, to hear talk of this King being born, now, when the time fixed for his appearing had come! Note, Carnal wicked hearts dread nothing so much as the fulfilling of the scriptures.
But though Herod, an Edomite, was troubled, one would have thought Jerusalem should rejoice greatly to hear that her King comes yet, it seems, all Jerusalem, except the few there that waited for the consolation of Israel, were troubled with Herod, and were apprehensive of I know not what ill consequences of the birth of this new king, that it would involve them in war, or restrain their lusts they, for their parts, desired no king but Herod no, not the Messiah himself. Note, The slavery of sin is foolishly preferred by many to the glorious liberty of the children of God, only because they apprehend some present difficulties attending that necessary revolution of the government in the soul. Herod and Jerusalem were thus troubled, from a mistaken notion that the kingdom of the Messiah would clash and interfere with the secular powers whereas the star that proclaimed him king plainly intimated that his kingdom was heavenly, and not of this lower world. Note, The reason why the kings of the earth, and the people, oppose the kingdom of Christ, is because they do not know it, but err concerning it.
VI. What assistance they met with in this enquiry from the scribes and the priests, Matthew 2:4-6. Nobody can pretend to tell where the King of the Jews is, but Herod enquires where it was expected he should be born. The persons he consults are, the chief priests, who were teachers by office and the scribes, who made it their business to study the law their lips must keep knowledge, but then the people must enquire the law at their mouth, Malachi 2:7. It was generally known that Christ should be born at Bethlehem (John 7:42) but Herod would have counsel’s opinion upon it, and therefore applies himself to the proper persons and, that he might be the better satisfied, he has them altogether, all the chief priests, and all the scribes and demands of them what was the place, according to the scriptures of the Old Testament, where Christ should be born? Many a good question is put with an ill design, so was this by Herod.
The priests and scribes need not take any long time to give an answer to this query nor do they differ in their opinion, but all agree that the Messiah must be born in Bethlehem, the city of David, here called Bethlehem of Judea, to distinguish it from another city of the same name in the land of Zebulun, Joshua 19:15. Bethlehem signifies the house of bread the fittest place for him to be born in who is the true manna, the bread which came down from heaven, which was given for the life of the world. The proof they produce is taken from Micah 5:2, where it is foretold that though Bethlehem be little among the thousands of Judah (so it is in Micah), no very populous place, yet it shall be found not the least among the princes of Judah (so it is here) for Bethlehem’s honour lay not, as that of other cities, in the multitude of the people, but in the magnificence of the princes it produced. Though, upon some accounts, Bethlehem was little, yet herein it had the pre-eminence above all the cities of Israel, that the Lord shall count, when he writes up the people, that this man, even the man Christ Jesus, was born there, Psalm 87:6. Out of thee shall come a Governor, the King of the Jews. Note, Christ will be a Saviour to those only who are willing to take him for their Governor. Bethlehem was the city of David, and David the glory of Bethlehem there, therefore, must David’s son and successor be born. There was a famous well at Bethlehem, by the gate, which David longed to drink of (2 Samuel 23:15) in Christ we have not only bread enough and to spare, but may come and take also of the water of life freely. Observe here how Jews and Gentiles compare notes about Jesus Christ. The Gentiles know the time of his birth by a star the Jews know the place of it by the scriptures and so they are capable of informing one another. Note, It would contribute much to the increase of knowledge, if we did thus mutually communicate what we know. Men grow rich by bartering and exchanging so, if we have knowledge to communicate to others, they will be ready to communicate to us thus many shall discourse, shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.
VII. The bloody project and design of Herod, occasioned by this enquiry, Matthew 2:7,8. Herod was now an old man, and had reigned thirty-five years this king was but newly born, and not likely to enterprise any thing considerable for many years yet Herod is jealous of him. Crowned heads cannot endure to think of successors, much less of rivals and therefore nothing less than the blood of this infant king will satisfy him and he will not give himself liberty to think that, if this new-born child should be indeed the Messiah, in opposing him, or making any attempts upon him, he would be found fighting against God, than which nothing is more vain, nothing more dangerous. Passion has got the mastery of reason and conscience.
Now, 1. See how cunningly he laid the project (Matthew 2:7,8). He privily called the wise men, to talk with them about this matter. He would not openly own his fears and jealousies it would be his disgrace to let the wise men know them, and dangerous to let the people know them. Sinners are often tormented with secret fears, which they keep to themselves. Herod learns of the wise men the time when the star appeared, that he might take his measures accordingly and then employs them to enquire further, and bids them bring him an account. All this might look suspicious, if he had not covered it with a show of religion: that I may come and worship him also. Note, The greatest wickedness often conceals itself under a mask of piety. Absalom cloaks his rebellious project with a vow.
2. See how strangely he was befooled and infatuated in this, that he trusted it with the wise men, and did not choose some other managers, that would have been true to his interests. It was but seven miles from Jerusalem how easily might he have sent spies to watch the wise men, who might have been as soon there to destroy the child as they to worship him! Note, God can hide from the eyes of the church’s enemies those methods by which they might easily destroy the church when he intends to lead princes away spoiled, his way is to make the judges fools.
The Wise Men Worship Christ.
9 When they had heard the king, they departed and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. 11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
We have here the wise men’s humble attendance upon this new-born King of the Jews, and the honours they paid him. From Jerusalem they went to Bethlehem, resolving to seek till they should find but it is very strange that they went alone that not one person of the court, church, or city, should accompany them, if not in conscience, yet in civility to them, or touched with a curiosity to see this young prince. As the queen of the south, so the wise men of the east, will rise up in judgment against the men of that generation, and of this too, and will condemn them for they came from a far country, to worship Christ while the Jews, his kinsmen, would not stir a step, would not go to the next town to bid him welcome. It might have been a discouragement to these wise men to find him whom they sought thus neglected at home. Are we come so far to honour the King of the Jews, and do the Jews themselves put such a slight upon him and us? Yet they persist in their resolution. Note, We must continue our attendance upon Christ, though we be alone in it whatever others do, we must serve the Lord if they will not go to heaven with us, yet we must not go to hell with them. Now,
I. See how they found out Christ by the same star that they had seen in their own country, Matthew 2:9,10. Observe, 1. How graciously God directed them. By the first appearance of the star they were given to understand where they might enquire for this King, and then it disappeared, and they were left to take the usual methods for such an enquiry. Note, Extraordinary helps are not to be expected where ordinary means are to be had. Well, they had traced the matter as far as they could they were upon their journey to Bethlehem, but that is a populous town, where shall they find him when they come thither? Here they were at a loss, at their wit’s end, but not at their faith’s end they believed that God, who had brought them thither by his word, would not leave them there nor did he for, behold, the star which they saw in the east went before them. Note, If we go on as far as we can in the way of duty, God will direct and enable us to do that which of ourselves we cannot do Up, and be doing, and the Lord will be with thee. Vigilantibus, non dormientibus, succurit lex–The law affords its aid, not to the idle, but to the active. The star had left them a great while, yet now returns. They who follow God in the dark shall find that light is sown, is reserved, for them. Israel was led by a pillar of fire to the promised land, the wise men by a star to the promised Seed, who is himself the bright and morning Star, Revelation 22:16. God would rather create a new thing than leave those at a loss who diligently and faithfully sought him. This star was the token of God’s presence with them for he is light, and goes before his people as their Guide. Note, If we by faith eye God in all our ways, we may see ourselves under his conduct he guides with his eye (Psalm 32:8), and said to them, This is the way, walk in it: and there is a day-star that arises in the hearts of those that enquire after Christ, 2 Peter 1:19. 2. Observe how joyfully they followed God’s direction (Matthew 2:10). When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. Now they saw they were not deceived, and had not taken this long journey in vain. When the desire cometh, it is a tree of life. Now they were sure that God was with them, and the tokens of his presence and favour cannot but fill with joy unspeakable the souls of those that know how to value them. Now they could laugh at the Jews in Jerusalem, who, probably, had laughed at them as coming on a fool’s errand. The watchmen can give the spouse no tidings of her beloved yet it is but a little that she passes from them, and she finds him, Song of Song of Solomon 3:3,4. We cannot expect too little from man, nor too much from God. What a transport of joy these wise men were in upon this sight of the star none know so well as those who, after a long and melancholy night of temptation and desertion, under the power of a Spirit of bondage, at length receive the spirit of adoption, witnessing with their spirits that they are the children of God this is light out of darkness it is life from the dead. Now they had reason to hope for a sight of the Lord’s Christ speedily, of the Sun of righteousness, for they see the Morning Star. Note, We should be glad of every thing that will show us the way to Christ. This star was sent to meet the wise men, and to conduct them into the presence chamber of the King by this master of ceremonies they were introduced, to have their audience. Now God fulfills his promise of meeting those that are disposed to rejoice and work righteousness (Isaiah 64:5), and they fulfill his precept. Let the hearts of those rejoice that seek the Lord, Psalm 105:3. Note, God is pleased sometimes to favour young converts with such tokens of his love as are very encouraging to them, in reference to the difficulties they meet with at their setting out of the ways of God.
II. See how they made their address to him when they had found him, Matthew 2:11. We may well imagine their expectations were raised to find this royal babe, though slighted by the nation, yet honourably attended at home and what a disappointment it was to them when they found a cottage was his palace, and his own poor mother all the retinue he had! Is this the Saviour of the world? Is this the King of the Jews, nay, and the Prince of the kings of the earth? Yes, this is he, who, though he was rich, yet, for our sakes, became thus poor. However, these wise men were so wise as to see through this veil, and in this despised babe to discern the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father they did not think themselves balked or baffled in their enquiry but, as having found the King they sought, they presented themselves first, and then their gifts, to him.
1. They presented themselves to him: they fell down, and worshipped him. We do not read that they gave such honour to Herod, though he was in the height of his royal grandeur but to this babe they gave this honour, not only as to a king (then they would have done the same to Herod), but as to a God. Note, All that have found Christ fall down before him they adore him, and submit themselves to him. He is thy Lord, and worship thou him. It will be the wisdom of the wisest of men, and by this it will appear they know Christ, and understand themselves and their true interests, if they be humble, faithful worshippers of the Lord Jesus.
2. They presented their gifts to him. In the eastern nations, when they did homage to their kings, they made them presents thus the subjection of the kings of Sheba to Christ is spoken of (Psalm 72:10), They shall bring presents, and offer gifts. See Isaiah 60:6. Note, With ourselves, we must give up all that we have to Jesus Christ and if we be sincere in the surrender of ourselves to him, we shall not be unwilling to part with what is dearest to us, and most valuable, to him and for him nor are our gifts accepted, unless we first present ourselves to him living sacrifices. God had respect to Abel, and then to his offering. The gifts they presented were, gold, frankincense, and myrrh, money, and money’s-worth. Providence sent this for a seasonable relief to Joseph and Mary in their present poor condition. These were the products of their own country what God favours us with, we must honour him with. Some think there was a significancy in their gifts they offered him gold, as a king, paying him tribute, to Cæ sar, the things that are Cæ sar’s frankincense, as God, for they honoured God with the smoke of incense and myrrh, as a Man that should die, for myrrh was used in embalming dead bodies.
III. See how they left him when they had made their address to him, Matthew 2:12. Herod appointed them to bring him word what discoveries they had made, and, it is probable, they would have done so, if they had not been countermanded, not suspecting their being thus made his tools in a wicked design. Those that mean honestly and well themselves are easily made to believe that others do so too, and cannot think the world is as bad as it really is but the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation. We do not find that the wise men promised to come back to Herod, and, if they had, it must have been with the usual proviso, If God permit God did not permit them, and prevented the mischief Herod designed to the Child Jesus, and the trouble it would have been to the wise men to have been made involuntarily accessory to it. They were warned of God, chrematisthentes—oraculo vel responso accepto–by an oracular intimation. Some think it intimates that they asked counsel of God, and that this was the answer. Note, Those that act cautiously, and are afraid of sin and snares, if they apply themselves to God for direction, may expect to be led in the right way. They were warned not to return to Herod, nor to Jerusalem those were unworthy to have reports brought them concerning Christ, that might have seen with their own eyes, and would not. They departed into their own country another way, to bring the tidings to their countrymen but it is strange that we never hear any more of them, and that they or theirs did not afterwards attend him in the temple, whom they had worshipped in the cradle. However, the direction they had from God in their return would be a further confirmation of their faith in this Child, as the Lord from heaven.
From Matthew Henry’s Exposition of the Old and New Testaments.
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