Matthew 2:1. Now when Jesus was born It is matter of great doubt when the following remarkable occurrence happened. The received time of celebrating the Epiphany imports that it was within thirteen days of the birth of Christ. But as it is not likely that the star made its appearance till he was born, so it does not seem at all probable that the wise men could have prepared for and accomplished so long a journey in so short a space of time, especially as they tarried some days, at the least, at Jerusalem, on their way to Bethlehem. Add to this that immediately after their departure, (Matthew 2:13,) Joseph, with his wife and the child, are sent away into Egypt, which could not have been before the end of the forty days of Mary’s purification. But although this visit of the wise men did not happen so soon after the birth of Christ as the calendar supposes, it might happen before Jesus was presented in the temple. For it is certain, when they came to Bethlehem they found Jesus and his mother there; but according to Luke 2:22, when the days of Mary’s purification were ended, they brought the child Jesus to present him to the Lord; and we never read of their returning with him to Bethlehem. On the contrary, we are told, when they had performed all things according to the law, they returned together to their own city Nazareth. According to this hypothesis, Jesus was brought to Jerusalem while Herod was waiting for the return of the wise men, and the angel appeared to Joseph there to command him to flee into Egypt with the young child and his mother, which they might do the very night after Jesus was presented in the temple.
In Bethlehem of Judea Judea here means the district so named from the tribe of Judah, under which, however, the tribe of Benjamin was comprehended; and it is distinguished from Samaria, Peræa, Trachonitis, and both Galilees. It must be observed, there was another Bethlehem in the tribe of Zabulon, in the lower Galilee. In the days of Herod the king Viz., Herod the Great, the son of Antipater, born at Ascalon, about 70 years before Christ. According to some, he was a native Jew; according to others, an Idumean by the father’s side, and by the mother’s an Arabian. The most probable opinion is, that he was originally an Idumean; but that his ancestors had, for some ages, been proselytes to the Jewish religion. The Jews being at that time in subjection to the Romans, he was made king of Judea by the Roman senate. At his death, which happened soon after this, he divided his dominions by his last will among his sons, appointing Archelaus, mentioned Matthew 2:22, to succeed him as king of Judea; Herod Antipas, mentioned chap. 14., to be tetrarch of Galilee and Peræa; and Philip, mentioned Luke 3:0., to be tetrarch of Trachonitis and the neighbouring countries. Herod Agrippa, mentioned Acts 12:0., was his grandson. It is to be observed, that the history of the New Testament begins with Herod the Great, and ends with Agrippa, the last king of the Jews. Behold! The evangelist calls our attention by this word to the following very memorable occurrence. There came wise men Probably Chaldean or Arabian astronomers, who, by divine grace, had been led from the knowledge of nature, to that of nature’s God. Although they are termed in the original, μαγοι , magi, we must not imagine that they were what we call magicians, or sorcerers; for the appellation was by no means appropriated in ancient times to such as practised wicked arts, but was frequently given to philosophers, or men of learning, particularly those that were curious in examining the works of nature, and observing the motions of the heavenly bodies. Came from the east It is impossible to determine absolutely from what part of the East they came; although it is probable it was from Arabia, rather than Chaldea, for it lay east of Judea, and is mentioned by Tacitus as its boundary eastward, and certainly was famous for gold, frankincense, and myrrh, commodities which (see Mat 2:11 ) they brought with them. Myrrh, according to Grotius, is not produced save in Arabia, where, if we may believe Pliny, it is found in such abundance, with other spices, that no other kinds of wood are in use, not even to make fires of, but such as are odoriferous. Neither is frankincense found save among the Sabæans, a part of Arabia. And as to gold, another commodity which they brought, this is well known to be produced in such great abundance in Arabia Felix, that the furniture of the whole nation shines with it. David and Solomon, to whom the promise of the land of Canaan was fully made good, extended their dominions over those countries, even to the Euphrates, and the inhabitants of them were chiefly the seed of Abraham. Now it is more likely that these first fruits of the Gentiles should be brought to do homage to the King of the Jews, from a country that had done as much to David and Solomon, the types of Christ, than from a foreign and more remote nation; and that they should be of the seed of Abraham rather than of another race. Add to this, that Arabia abounded with magi, and was anciently so famous for wisdom, that, according to Porphyry, Pythagoras himself travelled thither to acquire it. Nay, if we may credit the learned Dr. Alix, the Jews were of opinion that there were prophets in the kingdoms of Saba and Arabia, and that they prophesied or taught successively, in the name of God, what they had received by tradition from the mouth of Abraham, of whose posterity they were, by Keturah. In the Old Testament it is frequently called the East, as Judges 6:3; Job 1:3; whereas Chaldea lay not so properly to the east as to the north of Judea, and is often spoken of in Scripture in that light. See Jeremiah 1:14-15; Jeremiah 6:22; Joel 2:20. Had these wise men been, as some have supposed, a deputation from all the magi in Persia, Media, Arabia, and Chaldea; or had they been kings, as the papists fancy; so grand a circumstance as either of these would, in all probability, have been expressly recorded. To Jerusalem The capital of the kingdom, and the seat of learning. For it seems these wise men did not suppose that so illustrious a king would be born in an ignoble village, but that he must be sought for in the royal city, in the palace itself, and in the family which then reigned. It was, however, no doubt, by the divine providence that they were directed to Jerusalem, as well that the Jews might be left without excuse, as that the birth of Christ the King might be announced by the Gentiles before he was acknowledged by the Jews, lest the testimony of the Jews concerning their own King should come under suspicion.
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