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An Exposition Of The Gospels by The Most Rev. John Macevilly D.D.

In this chapter, we have an account of the arrival of the Magi at Jerusalem, attracted thither by the wonderful appearance of a star, which indicated the birth of the true King of the Jews (1–2). The trouble, which the intrepid announcement by the Magi caused Herod and all his followers (3). The convening of the Sanhedrim; the prophecy of Micheas relating to the birth-place of the Messiah (4–6). The hypocritical affectation of reverence on the part of Herod, for the infant King, on making inquiries regarding the apparition of the star (7–8). The reappearance of the star which conducted the Magi to Bethlehem, where, on entering the house indicated by the star, falling down they adore our Lord, presenting, at the same time, gifts expressive of their faith in His Divinity and humanity (9–11). The Divine intimation given to the Magi not to return to Herod, and to Joseph to fly with the child and his mother into Egypt, in order to baffle the wicked designs of Herod (12–13). Joseph’s prompt, unmurmuring obedience, thus verifying the prediction of the prophet (14–15). The slaughter of the holy innocents, and the completion of the prophecy of Jeremias (16–18). Herod’s death; Joseph’s return with the child and his mother to their native country, in obedience to the Divine injunction (19–21). His fears of Archelaus, Herod’s cruel son and successor; his departure for Nazareth, in obedience to the Divine admonition, whence resulted the fulfilment of a prophecy, relating to our Divine Lord (22–23).

1. “Therefore,” is resumptive of the preceding narrative, or rather, continues it, The Greek particle, δε, has sometimes this meaning. Hence, rendered “therefore.”

“Jesus,” the name given to the Son of God by Joseph, in obedience to the instructions from heaven (c. 1:21–25).

“Was born.” The circumstances of His birth are given (Luke 2), and passed over by St. Matthew.

“In Bethlehem of Juda,” refers to the Bethlehem situated in the portion assigned to the tribe of Juda, which, united with Benjamin, formed the kingdom of Juda, as distinguished from that of Israel. The Greek has (Ιουδαίας) “of Judea,” the reading followed by the Greek Fathers and by some Latins. St. Jerome says, “Judea” crept into the text instead of “Juda,” through the error of copyists. Moreover, we read (v. 6), “And thou, Bethlehem, the land of Juda.” However, it might be said as regards this latter reason, that Judea might mean only the portions assigned to Juda and, Benjamin, as it is said Archelaus reigned in Judea (v. 22); and many regard Judea as the correct reading as contradistinguished from Samaria and Galilee. It embraced Juda. “Of Juda,” distinguishes it from another Bethlehem, which was in the tribe of Zabulon in Galilee (Josue 19:15). The place, the time, and other circumstances of our Redeemer’s birth are mentioned by the Evangelist not alone for the sake of historical accuracy, but also to show that our Redeemer was born in the place, and at the time marked out in the ancient prophecies (Mich. 5:2; Gen. 49:10).

“In the days of Herod the king.” This was Herod the Great, surnamed ASCALONITES, a foreigner from Idumea. He was not a Jew, but only a proselyte to the Jewish religion. He was raised to the throne by the Romans. He is called “king” to distinguish him from other potentates of that name, as he was king not only of Judea, but of the adjacent districts. He is thus distinguished from his son, Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Galilee, who beheaded the Baptist, and mocked our Lord at His Passion (Luke 13:31; Matt. 14); and also from his grandson, Herod Agrippa, whom Claudius made king of Trachonitis, Galilee, and Iturea. It was by this Herod Agrippa that St. James the Greater was put to death, and St. Peter cast into prison. (Acts 12) The mention of “Herod the king” in this passage shows that the sceptre had now passed away from Juda, and the period for the birth of Christ had arrived (Gen. 49:10). This Herod, in whose lifetime, according to the Gospel narrative here, our Lord was born, died in the spring of the year 750, urbis conditæ. But the reckoning of the Christian era begins with the year (U.C.) 754. Hence, the Christian era is post-dated by, at least, four years.

“Behold,” shows the arrival referred to, to be an unexpected event; and also, that it occurred soon after our Redeemer’s birth.

“There came wise men.” The original for wise men, is, Magi. There is a great diversity of opinion regarding the profession, character, and number of these Magi.

As regards their profession, the more commonly received opinion seems to be, that among the nations of the East, particularly the Chaldeans and Persians, the Magi were their men of learning, whose profession was the study of astrology and the investigation of the truths of natural philosophy. The same class were termed Philosophers, among the Greeks, Brahmins among the Indians, Chaldeans, among the Babylonians, Hierophants, among the Egyptians, Druids, among the Celtic nations (Cicero, Lib. 1; de Divinit. Strabo, Lib. 16–9; Tertullian against Marcion 1). They were held in great consideration by their countrymen. From among them the kings were chosen, and they usually presided over and directed the councils of kings. Among the Persians, no one was raised to the kingly dignity, who was not first imbued in the science and discipline of the Magi. (Cicero, Lib. 1; de Divin. Plato Alcib. 1, &c.) Owing to the abuse made in subsequent ages of the profession of the Magi, the term, at first a title of honour and repute, became a term of disrepute subsequently, like the words, sophist, astrologer, tyrant, &c., which originally were terms of honour and repute, Hence, we find the reproachful epithet given to Simon Magus. The Magi who visited our Lord were, according to St. Jerome (in cap. 2 Danielis), “the philosophers of their own nation,” distinguished for their elevated position and learning.

As regards the CHARACTER or DIGNITY of the Magi, it is held by many, that they were kings. They were called such by some of the holy Fathers and ecclesiastical writers (St. Augustine, Lib. 3, de Mirabilibus Scripturæ; St. Cyprian de Baptismo Christi; St. Chrysostom de Nativitate Christi; St. Anselm, Theophylact, Bede, St. Thomas, hic. &c.) Most likely, they were not mighty potentates, ruling over extensive countries; but rather petty princes or kings of subordinate rank, in the districts wherein they resided. It is usual in Scripture to call such by the name of “kings,” as (Gen. 14) in the case of the four kings vanquished by Abraham, and of the friends of Job, also called kings. (Tobias 2:15, &c.)

Were they rulers of extensive districts, very probably, the Evangelist would make mention of it, as the visit of such to our Lord would redound to His glory. Moreover, Herod would seem to treat them as inferiors. “Sending them to Bethlehem … bring me word again,” &c. The words of Psa. 71, “The kings of Tharsis,” &c., and of Isa. 60, “Kings shall walk in the brightness of thy rising,” &c., applied by the Church to the event of the Epiphany, are not opposed to this opinion. For, the words quoted may be regarded as referring, in a general sense, to the conversion of the Gentiles and of their kings, who from every country would enter the fold of Christ, and pay our Redeemor divine honours. This general reference is applied by the Church to the Epiphany in particular, when the first fruits of the Gentiles were presented to our Lord. In truth, if strictly interpreted, the words would prove, that the Magi Were kings of Ethiopia, of Tharsis, of the Islands, of Saba and Arabia (Psa. 71; Isa. 60); nay, that all kings came to worship Him, in the stable. “And all kings of the earth shall adore Him” (Psa. 71:11).

As regards the time of their visit, there is a diversity of opinion. The commonly received opinion in the Church, as indicated in her arrangement of the festivals of the Epiphany and Purification, would seem to be, that they came shortly after our Lord’s birth, before the Purification and Presentation in the Temple. This opinion is well founded on the words of St. Matthew in this verse, which clearly convey, that the Magi made their appearance at Jerusalem very soon after our Lord’s birth. “When Jesus was born, behold,” &c. Others, however, fix the date of the arrival of the Magi after the Purification, and these differently assign different periods after it, more or less remote, according to the meaning attached by them to v. 16, and to the term of “two years and under” fixed on by Herod. The advocates of this opinion are chiefly influenced by the narrative of St. Luke (2:39) who states that our Lord and His parents returned to Nazareth immediately after His presentation, which took place, “according to the law of the Lord.” This narrative they cannot reconcile in the supposition that the visit of the Magi took place before the presentation, with that of St. Matthew (v. 13), who states that our Lord and His parents set out for Egypt by divine admonition, immediately after the visit of the Magi. Hence, as our Lord could not be presented in the Temple at the appointed time, “according to the law of the Lord” (Luke 2:39), if He left previously for Egypt, as St. Matthew says He did immediately after the departure of the Magi (v. 13), they conclude, that the visit of the Magi must be after the Purification and presentation in the Temple. The interval is more or less prolonged by the several advocates of the latter opinion. “We need not, however, depart from the commonly received opinion, which fixes the date of the visit of the Magi, before the presentation;” and the apparent discrepancy in the narratives of both Evangelists may be reconciled, by supposing that after the visit of the Magi, our Lord was presented in the Temple; and having proceeded thence, to Nazareth, Joseph was there admonished in sleep, and proceeded at once from Nazareth to Egypt (see 5:13, Commentary on). The supposition that the visit of the Magi occurred, on the occasion of one of the annual visits Joseph and Mary were wont to make to Jerusalem, is utterly gratuitous. The sacred text says, they visited Jerusalem (Luke 2:41). There is no mention of their having visited Bethlehem, which was out of the way, on their visit to Jerusalem. The difficulty founded on the term of two years fixed upon by Herod will be explained (5:16, see Commentary on).

As regards the COUNTRY whence they came there is also a great diversity of opinion. Some say, they came from Chaldea, where the science of the Magi flourished; others, among them St. Basil, from Mesopotamia; others, with Justin Martyr, Tertullian, St. Hilary, &c., from Arabia Felix, where the gifts presented were found in abundance; others, from Persia, where the name and profession of the Magi were celebrated, and the custom prevailed of presenting gifts to kings on the occasion of visiting them. All we can glean with certainty from the Gospel is that they came from some country “east” of Jerusalem. They came to Jerusalem, the capital of Judea, where they naturally expected to obtain the most authentic tidings of the place where the king of the Jews was born.

As regards their NUMBER, nothing certain can be known from the Gospel. The common opinion, however, has been that they were three in number. This is asserted by St. Leo the Great in his Sermons; St. Maximus of Turin; Ven. Bede, in Matthew 2; Origen, in Gen. Hom. xiv. § 3, &c. (See 5:3, commentary on.)

2. “Saying: Where is He that is born King of the Jews?” These words may mean: Where can we find that celebrated King of the Jews, that long expected Messiah referred to in their ancient prophecies (v. 4) who is now born; or, where is He who, unlike others, is not merely elected or assumed by men to be King of the Jews, as was Herod by the Romans, but is born such; is such, from His very nativity? One thing the Magi assert, without doubt or hesitation, viz., the fact of His birth; another thing they inquire about, viz., the place where He is to be found. They probably supposed the birth of their Messiah would be welcome news to all Jews and Jewish proselytes. It had been long expected. Most likely, they had no idea of the feelings it produced in the jealous mind of Herod, or if any such idea entered their minds, most probably, they courageously spurned it. Strengthened by the same divine grace that summoned them from home, and sustained them on their toilsome journey, they continue their search for the new born King, and fearlessly proclaim it in the very presence of Herod. Hence, St. Chrysostom (Expositio super Mattheum) remarks, “O happy Magi, who in the presence of a most cruel king, before they knew Christ, became confessors of Christ.” By manifesting Himself to the Magi, our Lord wished to receive testimony from the learned and exalted, as well as from the unlearned and lowly who bore it to Him at His nativity, from Gentiles as well as from Jews. The active, laborious faith of the distant Gentiles condemned the sloth and infidelity of the Jews, among whom He was born, and to whom He was first promised.

“For we have seen His star in the East.” Most likely, this was a luminous body more brilliant than the stars that belong to our system, having the appearance of a star, but not one in reality, as may be conjectured from its motion from east to west—the opposite of the course of our stars; from its brilliant appearance by day and by night; from its moving at one time, and continuing stationary at another; from its position in the lower regions of the atmosphere, so as to indicate localities; and especially, from its standing over the house where the divine infant was. The Magi, who were addicted to the study of astronomy, and observed the course of the heavenly bodies, were particularly struck with the unusual brilliancy of this star. Their attention was, probably, arrested the more on account of the prophecy of Balaam regarding the star that “would rise out of Jacob” (Num. 24:17), of which prophecy, they were probably made aware. For, the nations of the East, whence Balaam had sprung (he was brought “from Aram, from the mountains of the East,” Num. 23:7), were extensively imbued with his prophecy, in which it was declared that a star would indicate the birth of a mighty ruler, who, according to the belief in general circulation, was to arise in Judea. Seeing, then, the star in question, the Magi concluded, while the grace of God interiorily enlightened them, “giving intelligence to those who saw it” (St. Leo, Serm, de Epiph.), that it indicated the long expected birth of this great Ruler, regarding whom the traditions of the earth were so explicit and universal. (Tacitus Hist. Lib. v.; Suetonius in Vespasianum; Cicero de Divinit. Lib. 2; Virgil Eclog. iv.; Suidas, &c.) Hence, in Greek, the definite article is used before star, τον ἀστἑρα, “the star,” which was spoken of long before, as the index of His birth. (St. Chrysostom Hom. vi.) If this star were not long before expected, neither Herod nor the people of Jerusalem would have been so much moved; they would have treated the whole affair derisively, as an idle, unmeaning dream.

“In the East.” This may mean: We saw His star (which appeared in) the East, or we (being in the East) saw His star shining over Judea. Some expositors adopt the former meaning. These maintain that the star which appeared in the East moved on before the Magi, and guided them to Judea. This is the commonly received opinion, and it also accords best with the sense of the holy Fathers and of the Church, which, in her hymn, sings, “Stellam sequentes prœviam.” Others advocate the latter opinion, viz., that from the East they saw the star over Judea, and came directly thither to pay their homage.

“And are come to adore Him.” It may be that the Divinity of our Lord was made known to the Magi, and the honours they paid and the gifts they offered Him, in His lowly state, would, in a great measure, warrant this opinion. For, they could hardly venerate or honour Him as a mere earthly monarch, in the destitute condition in which they saw Him. However, the word “adore” does not, of itself, convey this; neither does the prostration which it involves. The word is often taken in Scripture to signify mere civil honour and respect paid by one man to another. Here, however, if we consider all the circumstances, it seems all but certain that the Magi meant to pay our Lord divine honour (see 5:11, commentary on).

3. Herod was very jealous in regard to the Royal power which he was anxious to transmit to his family. It was this feeling that prompted him, as Josephus informs us, to put to death all that belonged to the Royal race of the Machabees, and all who might have any claim whatever to the throne of Juda. Hence, he was seized with the greatest consternation at the announcement made by the Magi.

“And all Jerusalem with him.” The greater portion of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, content with their present state, feared any change. Addicted to earthly pleasures and sunk in the sleep of sin, they were insensible to the exalted blessings their long-expected Messiah had in store for them. All these were troubled, and sympathized with Herod. The few just dared not express their feelings of joy for fear of irritating a sanguinary jealous tyrant who, out of jealousy, regarding the preservation of his usurped power, had already committed the greatest deeds of cruelty, so that according to external appearances at least, they felt with Herod and seemed to feel as he felt.

4. “The chief priests,” may denote all those, who filled the office of High Priest among the Jews. In Herod’s time, the office was not for life; it became venal. It was vacated almost annually, and filled up by several persons in one lifetime. Or, more likely, the words denote the heads of the twenty-four sacerdotal families, according to the division made by David (1 Par. 24:4). Those were called “princes of the sanctuary and princes of God” (v. 5), “chiefs of the priests” (2 Par. 36:14). They constituted a portion of the Supreme Council among the Jews. Hence, Herod convoked them, as the most influential and learned among the priests, whom they represented. The sacerdotal body was too numerous to admit of all being called together.

“And Scribes of the people.” These were a class of men among the Jews whose peculiar office it was to preserve the sacred records, to announce and expound the SS. Scriptures to the people; and, in cases of doubt, to point out the bearing of the SS. Scriptures on such cases. Those who are designated “Scribes” by SS. Matthew and Mark, are called “Lawyers” by St. Luke (7:30; 11:46), although he also calls them Scribes (5:21). The term “Scribes” also designated learned men, like Esdras. Hence, it is said of him, “et ipse Scriba velox in lege Moysi” (Esdras 7:6); and our Redeemer speaks of “a Scribe instructed in the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matt. 13:52). The corresponding Hebrew word (Sopharim) according to etymology means, either those learned and well versed in books, or those whose duty it was to announce and narrate; the duty of the Scribe being to announce the SS. Scriptures to the people. These, with the heads of the priestly families, constituted the chief council over which the High Priest presided. Hence, they presided at the judgment of condemnation passed on our Divine Redeemer (Matt. 20:18; Mark 14:53; Luke 22:66). Against them, as the spiritual guides perverting the people by word and example, our Redeemer unsparingly hurls His heaviest denunciations. In the Old Law, and before the Babylonish captivity, their authority was very extensive, embracing military and forensic interests. But, in the time of our Lord, their office was confined to matters appertaining to religion, such as the reading, interpretation, and knowledge of the Law. Although each tribe had its “Scribes,” they were chiefly confined to the Tribe of Levi, whose exclusive duty it was to attend to religion (Calmet in hunc locum). It was because of the supreme authority which the Sanhedrim exercised in matters of religion, that Herod convered it to ascertain where the Messiah was to be born, according to the predictior of the ancient prophets. Hence, it appears he looked upon the “King of the Jews,” inquired after by the Magi as the Messiah or Christ, so long expected by the Jewish nation.

5. They all—the full council—unanimously declared, that it was in Bethlehem of Juda, He was to be born, according to the testimony of the prophet Micheas, whom they quote, as, in the following verse. It seems to have been the common opinion among the Jews, that it was in Bethlehem the Messiah was to be born (John 7:42). “For so it is written,” that is, written by the prophet as follows (v. 6), which places the matter beyond all cavil or dispute. The council quotes the prophet Micheas to leave Herod no cause for doubting the accuracy of their response.

6. “And thou Bethlehem, land of Juda,” &c. There is some difference in the reading found here in St. Matthew and Micheas (5:2). In Micheas we read, instead of “land of Juda,” “and thou Bethlehem, Ephrata.” Ephrata was another name for Bethlehem (Gen. 35:16, 19; 48:7), and the Evangelist, or the Scribes, &c., add the words, “land of Juda,” to distinguish it from another Bethlehem which was situated in the tribe of Zabulon (Josue 19:16). As regards this and other discrepancies between the reading of the passage, as found here and in the Prophet, St. Jerome (in Micheam) observes, that the Scribes, &c., quoted for Herod, not the precise words, of the prophet Micheas, but their meaning as agreed upon at the time; and St. Matthew records historically their words, and not precisely those of the Prophet. “Art not the least among the princes of Juda;” the contrary of this is read in Micheas, “art a little one among the thousands of Juda.” In order to reconcile these opposite readings, some read Micheas interrogatively thus, “art thou a little one, &c.”? the intended answer to which, “by no means,” coincides with the reading of St. Matthew. Others say, the meaning given in St. Matthew is implied in the reading of Micheas, as if the Prophet said, considering your edifices, number of citizens and material greatness, thou art, indeed, very small. But, if we look to the princes you gave, such as David, and art to give hereafter—the Messias—thou art, by no means, small or insignificant “among the princes,” which is interpreted thus, “in principibus,” that is, in giving princes to Juda. The Septuagint reading of Micheas (χιλίασιν) “thousands of Juda,” is substantially the same as in St. Matthew. The Hebrew word, Eleph, signifies both a prince and a thousand; because among the Israelites a prince governed a thousand (Jansenius Iprensis denies this meaning of Eleph. He contends that the Hebrew word, Alluph, and not, Eleph, signifies a thousand). But the meaning is the same; for the words signify “thou art by no means insignificant among the leading cities of Juda, inhabited by thousands, over which princes are appointed to rule,” or “thou art by no means small among the populous cities of Juda,” entitled from their thousands of inhabitants to be ruled by princes. The Hebrew people were divided by Moses into thousands of families, each of which thousand families had its own prince or ruler (Exod. 18:25; Judg. 6:15).

“Who shall rule.” The Greek word for “rule” (ποιμᾳινεῖ) is a pastoral expression, familiar even to Pagan writers. (Homer, &c.) It conveys an allusion to the pastoral and mild rule of the Messiah, who would rule His people not with “an iron rod” (Psa. 2:9), as He shall rule His Gentile enemies; but with the mild staff of pastoral authority. The words following these, quoted from Micheas, “and His going forth is from the beginning, from the days of eternity,” which show that the words of the Prophet can only apply to the Messiah, Man-God—are not quoted by the Scribes for Herod, as they had no immediate connexion with the question regarding the place of Christ’s nativity.

“My people Israel.” The words “my people” are not found in Micheas (5:2), where we only read, “who is to be the ruler in Israel.” The words “my people” were inserted by St. Matthew, or rather by the Scribes, whose words St. Matthew historically records, to convey an idea of the universal reign of the Messiah, not only over Juda, among whose cities Bethlehem, humanly speaking, was rather insignificant, but over the entire people of Israel, embracing all the peoples of the earth who were spiritually numbered in Israel, and born of Abraham, through Isaac, the heir of God’s promises.

7. “Then”—after ascertaining the birthplace of the Messiah, according to the prediction of the ancient prophecies—“privately calling the wise men.” He wished to know noiselessly all about the appearance of the star which indicated the birth of the Messiah, in order to compass his murderous designs the more securely, by removing all grounds for excitement among the people, which the public discussion of the particulars respecting the apparition of this miraculous star was calculated to produce in so large a city, and among a people who had been so long anxiously awaiting this happy event.

“Learned diligently the time of the star,” &c. He concluded that the Messiah must have been born at the time of the star’s appearing; and having already ascertained the place, he would now ascertain the time of His birth, in order to ensure the success of his designs on the life of the child, so that if the Magi should proceed home without returning, he still would have secured all the necessary information to enable him successfully to effect his wicked purpose. Our Redeemer calls his son, who, no doubt, inherited his father’s vices, a fox “Go, tell that fox” (Luke 13:32).

8. The murderous hypocrisy displayed here may be easily seen from the steps he had taken to adore Him (v. 16). Of course, he meant to do away with Him. “After the child.” He could not bring himself to style Him the “the King of the Jews,” as the Magi had designated him. Perhaps he employs this simple form to conceal more effectually, by this affected indifference, his murderous designs. It was, possibly, from the same motive he omitted sending any person to accompany the Magi, lest the presence of his satellites might put either the people of Bethlehem or the parents and supposed attendants of the child on their guard. No doubt, be his wicked designs what they may, this was all arranged by the overruling providence of God, who is sure to compass His ends, sweetly, but infallibly. “Deus, cujus Providentia in sui dispositione non fallitur” (Dom. vii., Post Pentecost).

9. “Having heard the king,” of whose wicked designs and feelings on the occasion of the intelligence imparted by them, they were, doubtless, unconscious, “went their way” towards Bethlehem, whither he despatched them (v. 8).

“The star they had seen in the East.” From this, some expositors infer, contrary to the commonly received opinion, that the star did not move before them from the East guiding them on their journey. However, there seems to be no argument here against the common opinion; for, it is not denied that it did go before them.

“Went before them”—appeared in its original brilliancy. This would rather imply that the star did go before them in the previous part of their journey. It disappeared at Jerusalem, in order to force the Magi to prosecute their search by making inquiries through the ordinary human channels of information, and thus proclaim the birth of the child whom they came to seek.

“Stood over where the child was.” It moved no longer; so as to indicate to them that they had now reached the term of their journey. It is quite clear that this was not one of the stars belonging to our system, from its position in the lower regions of the air, otherwise, it could not indicate a particular place; from its motion from East to West, and from North to South—Bethlehem-was seven miles to the south-west of Jerusalem—also from its appearing, most likely, in the daytime; as, probably, it was in the daytime, the Magi left Herod for Bethlehem in search of the child; and also from its remaining stationary; the fixed stars in the firmament and the comets, which are in the upper regions of the atmosphere, being ever in motion.

10. The reappearance of the star filled them with exceedingly great joy. All their fears and doubts are banished; for, now they have a heavenly, divine indication assuring them of the prosperous issue of their journey. Now, by anticipation, they enjoy the well-earned reward of their toilsome journey, of their undoubting confidence in trusting themselves to the guidance of God’s unerring providence, in whom no one ever confided and was confounded. “In Te Domine, speravi, non confundar in æternum” (Psa. 30)—“In Thee, O Lord, have I hoped, let me never he confounded.”

11. “The house” is commonly understood by the holy Fathers, to refer to the stable where our Lord was born. This is called, a house, in accordance with Jewish usage, which gives the name of “house” to every dwelling place. Thus the Psalmist (103:17) calls the heron’s nest his house, “Herodii domus.” Others say it refers to some more commodious dwelling to which our divine Lord was transferred. Those who, with St. Epiphanius, &c., maintain that it was only two years after His birth the Magi adored our Lord at Bethlehem (v. 16), after sojourning in the meantime at Nazareth, are unanimous in asserting, that the place where the Magi saw our Lord was a house different from the stable where He was born. The same opinion is adopted by others who do not share in the views of St. Epiphanius, &c. But, the common opinion of almost all the holy Fathers and ancient writers is, that the word “house” refers to the stable in which our Redeemer was born.

“They found the child with Mary His mother.” Probably, Joseph was absent on some domestic business on this occasion, Providence so arranging it, lest the Magi, who might have learned from the Sybilline books, or from other sources, that the future deliverer of Juda was to be born of a virgin, should imagine he was the father of the child; and the Blessed Virgin, having brought forth our Lord without the throes of childbirth—the punishment of woman’s sin—was, in the absence of all attendants, able to mind her ordinary domestic duties; or, if Joseph was present, which is most likely—as it is hard to think, after all he suffered, he would be deprived of this consoling spectacle—he was designed in the phrase, “Mary, His mother,” since, with her, he was the guardian and protector of Jesus Christ.

The phrase, “Mary His mother” without being meant to exclude Joseph, conveys that Joseph and Mary so acted in the presence of the Magi that, by Divine instinct, these understood that our Lord was not begotten after the manner of other children, but by the power and operation of the Holy Ghost. Most likely, the Blessed Virgin, who was, doubtless, endowed with the gift of tongues, conversed with the Magi, and narrated to them the wonders connected with the birth of the adorable infant. Hence, interiorly enlightened by Divine faith, “falling down, they adored Him,” not merely as the tribute due to an earthly king, but as a homage due to the God of heaven.

Whatever may be the etymological meaning of the word “adore” (προσκυνεῶ)—which in the Scriptures of the Old Testament is sometimes used to designate mere civil respect and reverence (Gen. 23:7), in the New Testament, however, it has always reference to religious worship—it is the opinion of the holy Fathers generally, among them, Irenæus, Chrysostom, &c., that here the word denotes Divine honour, and that these Magi were enlightened by the Holy Spirit to believe in our Lord’s Divinity, and to adore Him, as God; and, indeed, the entire history of their coming to Jerusalem, with all its circumstances, would hardly leave us any grounds for arriving at any other conclusion. For, as Patrizzi well observes (Diss. xxvii. de Magis), it is clear the Magi regarded our Lord in a different light from other kings; for, how could it possibly happen, that one would proceed to venerate a foreign king hardly ushered into existence, and that from a far distant country, without any hope of emolument; nay, with manifest danger arising from the jealousy of another king? Arriving at Jerusalem, where they discovered that Herod reigned, if they thought of a mere earthly king, would they not have supposed Him to be Herod’s son; that the only place to find Him was the Royal Palace; why then cry out, “Ubi est qui natus est, &c.”? And although they find Him to be unknown to the Jews themselves; still, they have no doubt regarding Him. They perceive that the sources of information consulted are the oracles of the ancient Prophets, and the answer to their question to be given from that quarter. If there were question of a mere earthly king, could Herod’s offer to adore an infant king, born of his own subjects, in his own dominions, have any meaning? Although they discover Him without the ordinary insignia of royalty, in a state of humiliation, they still “fell down and adored Him.” Could this be so if they had only human ideas regarding Him? They must have regarded Him in the true light of a Man-God—the repairer of the human race, especially as it was not unlikely that the Spirit of God enlightened their minds, and that the Blessed Virgin disclosed to them the wondrous circumstances of His birth, &c., rather than as the carnal Jews expected Him as a temporal ruler, who was to subject to His sway all nations; for, viewed in this latter capacity, they should naturally entertain feelings of aversion for Him.

“And opening their treasures,” &c., that is, the caskets in which they carried the precious gifts destined for the new-born King. It was a custom among the Easterns that no one would visit a king or prince, at least for the first time, without presenting gifts to him. The law of Moses prescribed “non apparebis in conspectu meo vacuus.” (Exod. 31, &c.) Thus we also find the Queen of Saba bringing costly gifts to Solomon, and receiving costlier still (2 Par. 9:12). The Magi present to our Lord “gold,” &c., gifts with which their country abounded. We are informed by Ezechiel (27:22) and by Pliny (Lib. xii. c. 14) that these gifts were found in great abundance in Arabia, from which the Magi, most likely, had come. In the time of St. Epiphanius (Expositio Cath. Fid.) it was a tradition among the Jews, that Abraham gave his children, by Cetura, gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and now the Magi, their descendants, after his example, present the same gifts to the infant God. Whether they believed Him to be the Man-God (which is most likely) or not, those gifts are interpreted by the holy Fathers to have a very marked and significant adaptation for expressing this belief. Even though they did not understand this significance, still the holy Fathers are almost unanimous in asserting that the providence of God arranged those gifts so as to convey this meaning, just as the anointing of our Lord’s feet by Magdalene had reference to His death and burial (“ad sepeliendum me fecit”), although, probably, she never meant it. “Gold” is a present suited for a king, or to express royal dignity; frankincense, which was used in sacrifice, was a suitable gift to be offered to God; and “myrrh,” which was used for preserving and embalming bodies, suited as a present to Him as a mortal man; so that these presents were a real and practical profession of belief in His kingly dignity, in His Divine and Human natures. This was well expressed by an ancient writer, the poet Juvencus: “Aurum, thus, myrrham regique hominique Deoque dona ferunt.” These gifts denote that this was He of whom the Prophets sung (Isa. 40; Psa. 71), “Omnes de Saba venient aurum et thus deferentes;” “Reges Tharsis et Insulæ munera offerent, reges Arabum,” &c. These gifts signified the offerings we should present to God: of charity, symbolized by gold; of prayer and devotion, by frankincense; of mortification, by myrrh. They also denote the three kinds of good works most agreeable to God. Almsdeeds (“gold”), by which we assist our neighbour; prayer—“frankincense,” by which, we invoke and worship God—sacrifice is included; fasting—“myrrh,” by which we regulate our passions and affections. We thus offer to God all we have or are: by alms, our works and our substance; by prayer, our souls; by fasting, our bodies.

It is uncertain whether they all offered these three gifts, or one offered one gift, another a different one—one “gold,” another “frankincense,” and a third “myrrh.” From this triple form of gift, some infer that the Magi, who certainly numbered more than one (for the Evangelist calls them in the plural, Magi), were three in number. Others maintain, whatever their number may have been, that each presented this triple form of gifts, “gold, frankincense,” &c., as a public protestation of their faith in our Lord’s kingly dignity, signified by “gold” in his Divinity; and Humanity signified by the “frankincense and myrrh.” This would seem to be the more probable opinion. The first who held their number to be three was St. Leo (Sermons xxx. de Epiph.), if we, perhaps, except Maximus of Turin. Origen, it is almost certain, was of this opinion (in Gen. Hom. xiv. § 3). The ancient pictures or sculptures in use in the Roman Church, ages before St. Leo, always represented the number of Magi as three, and three only, which shows the opinion prevalent among the faithful of their time.

12. “Having received an answer in sleep,” it may be that the Magi consulted God in prayer as to their future course, and that they received an answer what to do, in order not to expose themselves or the holy infant to danger. The Greek word for “answer” (χρηματισθεντες) however, merely signifies that they were favoured with a divine oracle, or intimation of the divine will, irrespective of their having consulted God or not on the subject. God, whether directly, as St. Jerome understands the Greek word always to mean, or through an angel, notified to them His will. This was a mode of ascertaining with certainty the divine will not unusual in the dealing of God with His creatures, as recorded in the Old Testament and the New. Whenever God is pleased thus to communicate His will, He places beyond all doubt, in whatever way may seem best to His infinite wisdom, that it is He that thus reveals Himself, so as to distinguish such communications from delusive phantoms or the other devices of the spirit of error. In obedience to the divine instructions, the Magi returned to their own country by a different route from that by which they came. It is remarked by expositors of SS. Scripture that this shows us how we are to return to our heavenly country, viz., in a way different from that by which we came, infected with the sin of the old Adam. The Magi ascend gradually higher in the scale of divine favour. First, they are conducted by a star of unusual brilliancy; next, they receive instruction through the oracles of the ancient Prophets; and finally, from God Himself.

13. “And after they were departed,” &c. There is a great diversity of opinion among commentators and critics regarding the time which intervened between the departure of the Magi and the flight into Egypt. Indeed all the hypotheses advanced hardly, at best, exceed probable conjecture. (vide Patrizzi, Lib. iii., Dissert, xxx., &c., de Evangelis. Mandiut, Dissert. iv., &c.) The most probable arrangement, and the one that will most easily reconcile the apparent discrepancy between St. Matthew here, and St. Luke (2:22–39), is effected by inserting in this place all that is described by St. Luke in the above passage relative to the purification. After the purification, the holy family retired to Nazareth, their native place (Luke 2:39). It was there the Angel appeared to Joseph, and from thence they fled into Egypt, in obedience to the Angel’s admonition, in order, among a variety of other reasons, to be altogether outside the dominions of Herod. There is no real discrepancy between St. Matthew here and St. Luke; as the one only omits what the other describes. St. Matthew says nothing of the purification. St. Luke, on the other hand, says nothing of the flight into Egypt, described here by St. Matthew; one supplies what the other omits; without the slightest contradiction or discrepancy.

On this subject St. Augustine observes, “that each Evangelist so interweaves his narrative as to present the appearance of a connected series of events, so arranged as to seem to omit nothing. For, while omitting what he means to pass over, he so connects what he wishes to express, that one event would seem to follow closely on the track of the other” (De Comm. Evan. c. 5). At the same time, the Evangelist does not assert, that the events described immediately followed one another, or that other events did not intervene.

“An Angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph.” Whenever God deigns to manifest His divine will in sleep, or through the medium of dreams (a mode of making known the divine will, not unusual in the Old Testament), He so arranges it, that no doubt whatever of the real nature of the communication exists (see v. 20).

“Arise, and take the child and His mother.” On a former occasion, he called her “thy wife,” at the time when Joseph had suffered much anxiety on account of her as his spouse. Now, all this anxiety being over, the Angel calls the Virgin mother by a higher and more exalted title, that of “mother” of the child, “His mother,” Mother of God.

“And fly into Egypt.” Egypt was chosen as the place of safety, because being not very far from Palestine to the south, it was completely outside Herod’s jurisdiction, and enjoyed an independent government, and also in order to the fulfilment of the prophecy of Ozee referred to (in v. 15). For, the Israelites to whom the prophecy of Ozee directly refers, had dwelt in Egypt 200 years, and having been brought forth from thence by Moses, were a type and figure of our Lord when brought from Egypt, and this typical relation is the more clearly perceived from the circumstance that it was through the blood of the Paschal Lamb they were delivered, which was a most expressive type of Christ. There are several other reasons for preferring Egypt for this honour of receiving our Lord, mentioned by commentators, which it is not necessary to refer to here in detail.

“For it will come to pass,” &c. Our Lord might have saved His Son from Herod’s cruelty, by an effort of His power. Hence, as St. Fulgentius remarks, it was not from fear or necessity His flight proceeded, “fugit non humana formidine sed dispensatione divina. Fugit, non necessitate, sed potestate. (Fulgentius de Epiph). But the economy of God’s wisdom would have it otherwise. He wished to give a proof of the human nature of His Son, which the exercise of Divine power in His infancy might give some grounds for doubting. He wished to show His power by weakness. His wisdom by folly, &c. (1 Cor. 1)

14. “By night.” The very same moment he received the Divine mandate, he obeyed, without any previous preparation for his journey. We see here the commendable faith, the blind, unhesitating, unmurmuring, unquestioning obedience of Joseph, his humble submission to, and reliance on, God’s providence. Some expositors say it was to the event here recorded, the words of Isaias (19:1) mystically refer: “Behold the Lord will ascend upon a swift cloud, and will enter into Egypt, and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at His presence,” &c. These words, however, more appropriately refer to the threat of the Lord to punish the Egyptians by means of the Assyrians, whom He would send to execute vengeance, and utterly destroy their idols. Mystically, Egypt signifies the world, as St. Jerome teaches, in which idolatry was destroyed by Christ; and in the mystical sense, the passage quoted may be said to refer to our Lord’s entrance into Egypt on this occasion, which may be said to denote that He would be received by the idolatrous nations, and that their false worship would be destroyed by Him. The fruits of mature sanctity, which so long distinguished Egypt in the numerous hermits, anchorites, and holy monks—these angels in the flesh—who peopled its deserts, such as the Pauls, the Antonies, the Macariuses, &c., may be fairly attributed to the early visit of the infant God to that country, which, together with Babylon, formed the great centre of infidelity and vice in ancient times. Historians and ecclesiastical writers narrate several wonderful occurrences which took place in Egypt on the occasion of this visit of the infant God. Among the rest, it is related by St. Jerome (in Isaiam xix. 1), that the idols of Egypt crumbled to pieces, at the entrance of our Saviour. The same is referred to by Rufinus and Palladius, as a very ancient tradition.

14. “Till the death of Herod.” Herod’s death occurred after a reign of thirty-four years, from the death of Antigonus, and thirty-seven from the date of his appointment as king by the Romans (Josephus Antiq. Lib. xviii. c. 8; do Bello, Lib. c. 33). Nothing certain can be determined regarding the time our Lord spent in Egypt. Some say, three years; others, five; others, seven; others, eight.

15. “That it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke … Out of Egypt have I called my Son.” The quotation referred to in this verse is taken from the prophet Ozee (11:1), according to the Hebrew version, and the words immediately and literally refer to the Hebrew people, when leaving Egypt. Elsewhere, also, the Almighty calls the Hebrew people, His son. “Israel is my son, my first-born” (Exod. 4:22) These words are not fulfilled in our Lord in the sense of their having originally and literally referred to Him, as the words of Micheas are fulfilled in Him, “Et tu Bethlehem, terra Juda,” &c., because it was to Him these words of Micheas refer, directly and exclusively; nor in the sense either that they mystically referred to Him, as the words, “ego ero illi in patrem,” &c., although originally referring to Solomon, were, in a mystical and more principal sense, fulfilled in Christ, in which sense also the words, “os non comminuetis ex eo,” mystically referred to Christ, and were principally intended by the sacred writer to be understood so. But, they were fulfilled in this sense, that what is said of “Israel” applies still more strictly and more accurately to Christ, inasmuch as He was, by excellence, “the Son of God,” just as the words spoken by Isaias of the hypocrites of his time, “populus hic labiis,” &c., were verified in the hypocrites in the days of Christ, although Isaias did not directly refer to them. In the same way, the prophecy of Isaias (Mat. 13:14), “hearing you shall hear,” &c., although meant for the obstinate Jews of the days of Isaias, was literally and equally true of the Jews, in the time of Christ. Hence, said to be predicted of them and verified in them. In this latter sense, the words, “out of Egypt,” &c., were fulfilled in the person of Christ; and in His recall from Egypt Israel may be also said to be in a certain sense, a type of Christ; and hence in this sense also, the prophecy might be said, in some respects, to be typically verified in Him.

16. Herod, seeing that the Magi did not return, very likely, conjectured that they saw through his wicked designs regarding the Divine infant. Ignorant of the heavenly guidance that directed them, he became exceedingly angry, and sending his executioners, he “killed all the men children,” &c. Most likely, for greater security’ sake, he was influenced in extending the age of his intended victims to the period of “two years,” &c.—as he extended the place or area not only to Bethlehem, but to “all the borders thereof”—lest possibly the infant of whom so much was said in the prophecy of Micheas, and by Simeon and Anna at His presentation in the temple (Luke 2:25–38), might have attained a size and an amount of strength not attained ordinarily by children of His age. Probably Herod, engaged in important State business, either did not mind the lapse of many days, and the delay in the return of the Magi; or, if he did, most likely he thought that, disappointed in their search, they returned home without calling on him, according to promise, in order to escape the ridicule to which their disappointment in their foolish search might subject them. But when the account of the wonderful things that occurred at the presentation (Luke 2, &c.), reached his ears, he then clearly saw he was baffled by the Magi, who may have seen through his wicked designs, and this caused him to be enraged. Sending his soldiers or executioners, he slew all the male children that were in Bethlehem and in all its confines, including all those who had been two years old and under, up to the time he had ascertained the star to have appeared, according to the diligent inquiries made of the Magi. Probably, as Herod had extended the district, “and all the confines thereof,” so he also extended the age of his intended victims to the period of two years, for greater security’ sake, lest, possibly, the infant might escape of whom so much was said both in the prophecy of Micheas, and by Simeon and Anna, on the occasion of the Purification. He may have imagined that, possibly, the holy infant might have attained a size and strength too great for His age. Perhaps, He would be equal in both to children born nearly two years before Him. From the words of this verse, some commentators suppose that the star appeared to the Magi, two years before, the infant was born. But, manifestly, the Magi regarded the star as the sign of the King already born, rather than of one to be born, “qui natus est rex,” &c. Others say, the Magi did not reach Bethlehem for two years after the apparition of the star, which was the cause why Herod fixed on the period of “two years.” But it is very unlikely that Mary and Joseph remained so long in Bethlehem; although, indeed, we are not bound by anything mentioned in the Gospels to believe that the Magi adored him in Bethlehem any more than at Nazareth. For, although Herod directed them to go to Bethlehem, it may be that the guiding star led them elsewhere. However, the common opinion is, that the Magi came shortly after our Lord’s birth, and the murder of the children; “and two years old” may be accounted for on the grounds already assigned. The words, “according to the time,” &c., are to be connected not with the words of preceding sentence, “from two years old,” but, rather with the words, “and under,” as if he said; he slew all the children who were two years old and under that age, up to the time that, by diligent inquiry, he ascertained from the Magi that the star appeared, so that, as he regarded the apparition of the star as a certain sign that the infant was then born, fierce as he was, he did not indulge in the gratuitous cruelty of slaughtering all the male children of Bethlehem, including those who were only a few days old. He excepted from this, the children born after the appearance of the star. Hence, the words, “according to,” &c., mean, up to, the time he ascertained the star to have appeared. Although this cruel deed on the part of Herod is passed over in silence by Josephus, it is mentioned by Celsus, against whom Origen wrote (Contra Celsum, Lib. i. n. 48), by Justin, in his Dialogue with Typhron the Jew. Josephus himself admits that Herod was becoming every day more suspicious and cruel. He slew his son-in-law, Josippus; his beloved wife, Mariamne; his sons, Alexander and Aristobulus; his third son, Antipater. The omission on the part of Josephus cannot be of any weight against the positive testimony of St. Matthew, who described this cruel deed shortly after it occurred. Macrobius also (Lib. ii. Saturnal, c. 10) mentions, among the many witty sayings of Augustus, that on hearing that, together with the children whom Herod killed in Syria from two years old, he ordered his own son Antipater to be put to death (he had already slain Alexander and Aristobulus), Augustus observed, “it was better to be Herod’s hog than his son,” in allusion to the law among the Jews regarding unclean meats, swine’s flesh among the rest.

At what time this infanticide took place is disputed. Some say, shortly after the departure of the Magi, towards the next Pasch, which occurred in March, for it was then, they say, Herod died in the thirty-seventh year of his reign, having a few (five) days previously put his son, Antipater, to death on a charge of plotting against himself and his reign. Others, and among them A. Lapide, say, it occurred fully twelve months and more after they departed, about the fifteenth month of our Lord’s age, and these say that the words, “a bimatu et infra,” mean, that Herod put to death only the children who attained the second year of their age or thereabouts, more or less, say, fifteen months, according to the time he ascertained the star to have appeared to the Magi.

17. “Then was fulfilled,” &c. The words of Jeremias (31:15), here quoted, are not so much “a prophecy” in regard to the event to which they originally referred, viz., the abduction of the ten tribes into captivity, as a narrative of a past event. In the prophecy of Jeremias, mention is made of the tribe of Ephraim only, from which Jeroboam, their first king, had sprung. It was the chief of the ten tribes that were carried into captivity. Rachel, the grandmother of Ephraim, then in her grave, is, by a bold figure of speech, represented by Jeremias, as deploring and loudly bewailing her children as they passed by her tomb into captivity, in order to convey an idea of the sad fate and misfortunes that awaited them in a strange land. Here the Evangelist, accommodating the words of Jeremias to his present purpose, says his words are fulfilled in the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, inasmuch as a similar, or rather a greater, cause for mourning has arisen in Israel under Herod, more calculated still to cause lamentation than the abduction of the ten tribes—the cause of the lamentation referred to by Jeremias. St. Matthew compares what happened now under Herod, with what happened on the occasion referred to by Jeremias. Between both there existed the mere relation of similarity. Under the type of the former calamity, the Holy Ghost wishes, in that passage of Jeremias, to denote the slaughter of all the martyrs, and the wailing of their mother, the Church—signified by Rachel—over the first fruits, or rather flowers, as the Church terms them, of all the martyrs put to death for Christ. “Salvete flores martyrum” (Hymn in Festo SS. Innocentium).

“Rachel,” the mother of Benjamin, was buried near Bethlehem, on the confines of Juda and Benjamin; and as the people of Juda and Benjamin were interspersed in that district, near Bethlehem, Rachel, although not the mother of Juda, is still said to mourn all the children; of whom those of Benjamin, “in the confines of Bethlehem,” formed a part. Moreover, both Juda and Benjamin formed one kingdom, so that what happened one might be said to be common to the other.

Rachel “would not be comforted, because they are not.” These words mean, in reference to the Israelites led into captivity, that those taken away were to remain in captivity, far away from the land of their fathers. In reference to the Holy Innocents, they mean, without taking at all into account the crowns of immortal glory in store for them, “that they are not in life, having been put to death.” In both the Hebrew and Septuagint of Jeremias, we have “lamentation, and weeping, and mourning”—three terms. In St. Matthew only two—“lamentation and great mourning.” Probably, St. Matthew, only quoted the substance of Jeremias, and the word “great” may be said to convey the idea of “weeping” expressed in Jeremias.

“In Rama.” “Rama” means “high.” Hence, St. Jerome, understanding it of any high place, makes it a common noun—“a voice was heard on high” (Jer. 31:15). The Greek interpreter of St. Matthew, following the Septuagint on Jeremias, makes a proper name—“a voice was heard in Rama”—a city in the tribe of Benjamin, seven miles from Bethlehem, near Gabaa, on the confines of Juda and Benjamin. The words convey an idea of the loud wail which was heard seven miles off, reaching from Juda to Benjamin, showing their common grief. The version of St. Jerome conveys the same idea—A wail was heard on high, and ascended aloft. It may be allusive to the usages of the Jews, who, on mourning occasions, were wont to ascend high mountains, to wail and express their deep grief.

19. “But when Herod was dead.” The period of our Lord’s sojourn in Egypt must depend on the period of Herod’s death. This is very uncertain. Josephus (De Bel. Jud. Lib. i. c. 33), says that he reigned thirty-seven years, from the time he was first appointed king by the Romans, and thirty-four, from the time he slew Antigonus. From this, some infer that whereas Christ was born in the thirty-second year of Herod’s reign, and, most likely, went into Egypt in the first year of His birth, He remained about five years in Egypt, and returned the fifth or sixth of His age. These several epochs are disputed by others. Hence, we can determine nothing with absolute certainty on this point. After Herod, no one else was appointed king of Judea—it would seem, by Divine dispensation, the true King of the Jews being now born, who returns to His kingdom on the death of the intruder, by whom was wielded the sceptre which had now passed away from Juda. Herod’s end was most frightful. He died of a complication of most loathsome diseases, and the excruciating tortures in which he closed his wicked life must be regarded as a just punishment for his crimes. Josephus describes his last days (De Antiq. Lib. xvii. c. 6.; De Jud. Lib. i. c. 33). The same historian informs us that, shortly before his death, he meditated a horrible deed of cruelty. He caused to be collected all the chief men among the Jews into one place, called the Hippodrome, and had them guarded there. He then gave instructions to his sister, Salome, and to her husband, Alexas, to have them all slaughtered immediately after his death, so that all Judea and every family among the Jews, to whom he suspected his death would be the cause of great joy, would be plunged into mourning on that occasion (Josephus de Bel. Jud., Lib. i. c. 31).

20. The Angel does not tell Joseph into what part of “the land of Israel” he is to go, in order that, being left still in doubt, he would have occasion to consult God, and be consoled by the further manifestation of the care which God had of himself and the child.

“They are dead.” He refers to Herod, as is clear from the words (v. 19), “Now Herod being dead.” It is to him the Angel refers. The plural, by a Hebrew idiom, is used for the singular, a thing quite common in the SS. Scriptures. Thus (Exod. 32:4), we find, “hi sunt Dei tui,” &c., although only one golden calf was made. Also (Exod. 4), the Lord, addressing Moses, says, “mortui sunt qui quærunt animam tuam,” although, as we are told (c. 2), only Pharao sought his life. Similar words are employed by the Lord, in calling back His Son from Egypt, to those addressed to Moses, who, as a deliverer, was an expressive type of Christ. Similar is the phrase, “dedit terra ranas in penetralibus regum ipsorum” (Psa. 104), although there is question of Pharao only. Also “scriptum est in prophetis; erunt doeibiles Dei,” found in one prophet only (Isa. 54:13, and in the Acts 13:41). What is spoken by only one prophet, Habacuc (1:5), is said to be spoken “in the prophets.” So it is also here in the case of Herod.

21. “And came into the land of Israel.” He came first to that portion of it nearest Egypt, viz., a portion of the tribe of Dan or Simeon.

22. Archelaus was appointed king in his father’s will, subject to the approval of Augustus Cæsar, who constituted him ethnarch of one-half of the country over which Herod, his father, ruled, with a promise of making him king hereafter, if he deserved it. The other half, Cæsar divided, and gave to two other of Herod’s sons, Philip and Antipas. It was this Antipas, that disputed with Archelaus for the whole kingdom (Josephus Ant., Lib. xvii. c. 11). When, then, the Evangelist says, “he reigned in Judea,” it merely signifies that he exercised supreme civil power there, although he had not at the time the name or title of king. “In Judea”—inhabited by Juda and Benjamin; so called to distinguish it from the kingdom of Israel, inhabited by the ten separated tribes. The fact of his being constituted king in his father’s will, and being saluted as such by the soldiers and people, on his father’s death, would warrant the impression that he reigned there.

It may be that Joseph returned from Egypt shortly after Herod’s death, before Archelaus set out for Rome to see Cæsar, to justify his conduct, and obtain the ratification by Cæsar of his father’s will. It was not unusual with Hebrew and Greek writers to designate those as “kings,” in a wider signification of the term, who enjoyed any principality, even beneath the kingly dignity. Archelaus was ultimately banished by Cæsar into Gaul.

“He was afraid to go thither.” It may be that Joseph, on his return, was desirous to go to the Temple of Jerusalem, to return God thanks, before finally returning to his native dwelling-place of Nazareth. But, owing to the well-known cruel disposition of Archelaus, which afterwards cost him his crown (Josephus Antiq., Lib. xvii. c. 15), he feared to go there. It might be that Joseph, in his anxiety and apprehension for the safety of his heavenly charge, feared that the child would be recognised, owing to the occurrences which took place at Bethlehem and Jerusalem at his presentation; and he could expect no mercy from the wicked Archelaus, the worthy heir and rival of his father’s cruelties. Joseph naturally feared, he would not be safe anywhere within the dominions of Archelaus. It is related, as an instance of Archelaus’ cruelty, that he put to death, or rather cut to pieces, several thousands of the Jews in the temple, at the Paschal festival (Josephus, Lib. xvii. c. 9). Hence, being “warned in sleep” (χρηματισθείς means, receiving a Divine oracle), “Joseph retired into the quarters of Galilee,” where Herod Antipas, a prince of milder disposition, ruled, and where the circumstances of the child’s birth were not so well known.

23. “Nazareth”—an obscure town at the foot of Mount Thabor, where nothing was known of the extraordinary events connected with the birth of our Lord, and where He could not be suspected of being one of the infants sought for in Bethlehem. This was supposed to be the birth-place of the Blessed Virgin, where she resided when she received the message of the Angel (Luke 1:26), and where our Saviour “was brought up” (Luke 4:16). No cause for jealousy on the part of the Herods could be apprehended from this quarter, out of which it was not thought anything good could come (John 1:46). It was a fit asylum for the infant Saviour.

“That it might be fulfilled … that He shall be called a Nazarite.” “That,” denotes the event or consequence, as if he said, from this resulted the fulfilment of the words of the prophets regarding Him, “That he shall be called,” &c. This passage has been a source of perplexity to commentators, who cannot find, either in the writings of the Prophets in general, or of any one amongst them in particular, that our Redeemer would be called a Nazarene or Nazarite at all, or that He would be called so from the place of His education. St. Jerome (Epist. xx. ad Damasum), says, “We cannot find it either in the Greek or Latin copies.” He writes to the same effect (in Isa. 11), and in his commentary on this passage (Matthew 2), he says, “that the Evangelist, by using the word ‘Prophets’ in the plural number, unmistakeably conveys, that he quotes not the exact words, but the sense of the prophecies which regarded Christ.”

The question which creates the great difficulty here is, where was it prophesied of Christ that “He would be called a Nazarene?” Commentators are divided in accounting for this. One class say, if the original Hebrew word for “Nazarene” be written with a Zain (ז) Nezir, then the word Nazarene will signify holy, consecrated, or set apart. Now, throughout the entire Scriptures, particularly the prophetical writings, our Lord is spoken of as holy by excellence. Thus, St. Jerome (in hunc locum) says, “Nazarene” is interpreted, holy. The appellation of Nazarene was given to the most distinguished types of our Lord—Samson (Judg. 15), Joseph (Gen. 49:26)—on account of their being separated from the people by their distinguished virtues, and, as such, types of Christ. According to these interpreters, it was the result of God’s wonderful providence that our Lord, by reason of His education at Nazareth, would be called “a Nazarene.” He was called so, no doubt, out of contempt by the Jews. But it was a title of dignity given by God, expressive of His incomparable sanctity, His eternal consecration in the intrinsic nature of the Divinity by which His human nature was assumed to a personal union. This interpretation is adopted by Tertullian. (Lib. iv. Adversus Marcionem; Eusebius Demon. Evangel.; St. Jerome in c. ii. Matt., &c.) To this interpretation might be added, that the appellation of “Nazarene” applied to Samson, &c., who were types of Christ, was verified and fulfilled in Him, as the antitype, when, from the place of His education, He was called a Nazarene, sometimes out of contempt.

The generality of commentators, however, understand the allusion to be to the words of Isaias (11:1), “There shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root.” The holy Fathers, all Catholics, the most distinguished Jewish expositors of Scripture, the chiefs of the Rationalistic school, among them Rosenmuller, say, these words refer to Christ. St. Jerome tells us that in the original the word for “flower” signifies a Nazarite, so that the passage should be literally and strictly rendered, “a rod … and a Nazarite (Netzer) from his root.” In this the word is written not by Zain (ז) Nezir, as is supposed in the former interpretation, but by Psade (צ) Netzer, a flower or other “bud.” It, moreover, is against the former interpretation, that the word “Nazarene,” as applied to the types of our Lord, Samson, &c., is written in the Septuagint, Ναζαραιος; whereas, as applied to Christ, it is everywhere written in the New Testament with an ῶ, Ναζῶραιος. Hence, in this interpretation, the Evangelist means to convey that our Lord had chosen Nazareth for his dwelling and place of education, in order that from this would appear that the title or epithet of “flower” or bud (Netzer) given Him by the prophet Isaias (11:1), was fully verified in Him. The Jews called Him a “Nazarene,” out of contempt, as a term of reproach. But, to the believers who saw in the appellation a fulfilment of what was, in substance at least, if not in express terms, predicted of Him by the Prophets, it served as a further confirmation of their faith. The word, Prophets, although, according to this latter interpretation, referring to Isaias only, is, according to Jewish usage, used in the plural for the singular. The words, “to be called,” are frequently used to express, and are synonymous with, “shall be” (Eccles. 6:10; Isa. 14:20; Luke 2:23). Hence, here the words mean, “He shall be a Nazarene,” as was predicted by Isaias regarding Him.








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