Matthew 2:1-2 Bethlehem was a small village on the outskirts of Jerusalem. The religious leaders knew that Bethlehem would be the birthplace of the Messiah from the prophecy of Micah, and they tell this to Herod in v. 5-6 (Mic. 5:2; John 7:42). Herod the Great referred to here ruled from 37–4 B.C. He was an Idumean, a descendant of the Edomites, who were the offspring of Esau. Herod loved oversaw grand building projects whose ruins can be seen today in modern Israel. His most notable project was the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem. The number of wise men or magi is not given. The traditional notion that there were three stems from the number of gifts they brought. The timing of this event is different from the events of Luke 2. The Shepherds of Luke 2 were present immediately following the birth of the Messiah. They were led to a stable and saw the Baby laying in a feeding trough. The Wise men saw a star when Jesus was born and only then began their journey to behold the King of Israel. When they arrived, they came to His house and the child is no longer described as an infant. Herod uses the Greek word “paidos”, which refers to a child beyond infancy. In V. 7 Herod asks the Magi when they saw the star. Shortly after that he sends soldiers to kill all children two years old and younger. The number of Magi by tradition is three likely from the three gifts mentioned. However, there could have been any number of wise men who came. There is nothing in Scripture to show that these wise men were kings. The word Magi is a Greek term for wise men or more specifically astrologers. Generally, when Scriptures refers to the east it is a reference to Assyria, or Babylon, which is today Iraq. How did these Babylonian astrologers know about a Jewish Messiah? What was this star? Since the star led them, and that it appeared and disappeared, it was likely not an ordinary star. The Greek word for star is “radiance” or “brilliance.” In all likelihood this was the Shechinah Glory of God’s presence. Ex. 19:18 & 40:38 which led the wise men to the Lord. These Astrologers likely were the descendants of the wisemen influenced by Daniel, Hannaiah, Azariah, Mishael & Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 1:19 20; 2:12 13,47; 4:7 9 5:11 12). These men were familiar with the book of Daniel and the prophecy concerning the timing of his coming. Balaam prophesied of a star coming from Judah that would be related to the Messiah in Num. 24:17. Balaam was from Pethor, a city on the banks of the Euphrates River in Babylon (Num. 22:5; Dt. 23:4). No doubt this Babylonian wise man or seer passed this information on to his colleagues. It was not the stars or astrology that led them to the truth of the Messiah but knowing God’s Word through his appointed prophets, and in the case of Balaam a false prophet would come under God’s judgment for his counsel to Balak (Josh. 13:22; Rev. 2:14).
Matthew 2:3-4 Herod was disturbed by this report of the birth of a child born that would have a claim on his throne. The people of Jerusalem were troubles as well because they feared Herod’s paranoid rage. In the past he killed his wife and sons to protect his rule and throne. The chief priests were those who oversaw the temple and the sacrifices. These were Sadducees who were the offspring of the Maccabees who had fought the Syrians who had defiled the Temple. The scribes were primarily Pharisees, who were trained in the art of making copies of the Scriptures and were experts on Jewish law they are often referred to as “lawyers”.
Matthew 2:5-6 Herod understood that the King of the Jews referred to the promised Messiah. Herod was and Idumean or Edomite and was considered Jewish as a result of his family’s conversion by the Maccabees under their rule over the Idumeans. Herod knew Jewish beliefs and customs that messianic expectations were for a political and military deliverer which was the initial belief of the disciples even after his resurrection (Acts 1:6). The high priest presided over the Sanhedrin, which consisted of seventy of the key Jewish religious leaders of Israel. This council consisted of Scribes, Sadducees and Pharisees. One of the chief priests was the captain of the Temple, who was appointed and answered to the high priest. Among his powers, approved by the Romans, was that of arrest and imprisonment. He therefore was allowed to have a contingent of Jewish soldiers, who acted as the Temple police. He ranked second to the high priest in authority. These Jewish religious leaders knew where His birth was predicted to be but showed no belief or interest in the announcement of the magi regarding the birth of the Messiah. The phrase “who will shepherd My people Israel, is not from Micah, but expresses the type of rule the Messiah will have. The idea of a shepherd is that of kind, tender care (Ps. 23), but also speaks of his authority and strength in leading his flock. The combination of ruler and shepherd speaks of something more than tender care but also divine dominance. The same Greek word is used in Revelation 2:27; 12:5; and 19:15 where the rule is “with a rod of iron” at that. Unlike Herod, Jesus not only would be a legitimate King of the Jews but would also be the final and perfect Ruler of Israel.
Matthew 2:7-8 When Herod questioned the wise men, he had already planned to murder Jesus. He needed the time when the star appeared that marked the birth of Jesus (2:16). The wise men gave Herod the information he needed. He also asked them to report to him the child’s location under the pretense of wanting to worship him as well. Then he sent them off to Bethlehem, a short journey from Jerusalem to the south.
Matthew 2:9-12 The star guiding them was not a star as we know it as this star was able to move and guide them and then stand over the house where Jesus and His family were living as in Exodus 40:34–38. The magi were overwhelmed with joy that they were being led to the place where the Messiah was born. They were led to house as they were no longer in a stable. When they entered the home, they bow down and worshiped Him. They presented their gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh to the child. Their gifts were an expression of worship, to the child and to the Heavenly Father who led them. Gold continues to be the most precious of metals and the universal symbol of value and wealth. It was used in the construction of the Temple (1 Kings 6–7, 9: 2 Chron. 2–4). It was also a symbol of nobility and royalty (Gen. 41:4; 1 Kings 10:1–13). Frankincense was a fragrant incense used in the offerings at the Tabernacle and Temple (Lev. 2:2, 15–16. Myrrh was also a valuable perfume also used as an anesthetic (Mark 15:23) and mixed with other spices it was used in preparing bodies for burial as in the case of Jesus’ body (John 19:39). With their mission completed, the magi left but were warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod and departed for home by another way.
Matthew 2:13-15 God knew what the reaction of Herod would be and so He instructed Joseph to take Miriam and Jesus to Egypt. Joseph probably went to Alexandria where there was large Jewish community where he would find work, fellowship and support. The period in Egypt was probably no more then three years until Herod died. The reason given was to fulfill the prophecy of Hosea 11:1. Israel was God’s son Ex 4:22-23 and as Yeshua was a second Adam so too was He a second Israel, The perfect son that nation failed to be. In a sense Jesus was in Egypt with Israel at the time of Moses as Heb. 7:10 cites. We too become sons of God by virtue of our relationship to Jesus. Sons who will never be totally forsaken. Disciplined, but not cast off.
Matthew 2:16-18 Herod thought he was king of the Jews and feared any wind that might blow ill of him or his family. He had killed his own children and wife on the suspicion they were plotting against him, how more a religious pretender to his throne. In order to be safe, he doubled the time from when the Magi told him they had first seen the star’s appearing. In quoting Jer. 31:15 which originally expressed the lament of mothers who grieved over sons sent into exile. Matthew here implies that Israel was again in exile, estranged from God, and in need of redemption. This passage by Jeremiah includes weeping and concludes with the promise that God would establish a new covenant with His people and forgive their sins and write His law on their hearts. Matthew links the massacre in Bethlehem and the coming of the Messiah. Just as the weeping mothers preceded the promise of the new covenant in Jer. 31, so now the weeping of mothers preceded the establishment of the new covenant through Jesus. Matthew sees not only Rachel crying over her children as they were brought into captivity. The tears that began with the end of the Davidic rule with the Babylonian captivity, is now ending with the arrival of the new Son of David, the Messiah.
Matthew 2:19-23 As Israel was protected in Egypt until the fullness of the Amorite as prophesied to Abraham in Gen. 15:16, so also Jesus protected in Egypt until the fullness of Herod. He was directed to Nazareth because Archelaus was nearly as cruel as Herod. Archelaus was one of Herod’s sons, and Herod had willed him the title of king. However, Archelaus was as evil as his father and the Jewish leadership sent a delegation to Rome to protest his crowning. Augustus Caesar agreed and made Archelaus an ethnarch over half of his father’s kingdom. Joseph knew that his family were no safer under Archelaus than they had been under Herod the Great. God spoke to Joseph in a dream, and he took his family North to Nazareth, which had been their home earlier (Matt. 2:19–20). Matthew points out that this too was foretold in the Scriptures. Matthew did not refer to only one prophet but says “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets” (plural). There is no specific prophecy that called Jesus a “Nazarene.” The term Nazarene was one of derision (John 1:46). Many Old Testament prophecies spoke of the Messiah’s rejection and scorn and be what Matthew had in mind (Ps. 22; Isa. 53:2–3, 8). The term “Nazarene” was applied both to Jesus and His followers (Acts 24:5); and He was often called “Jesus of Nazareth” (Matt. 21:11; Mark 14:67; John 18:5, 7).
The name Nazareth comes from the same Hebrew word (netzer) that was used in Isaiah 11:1 to describe the Messiah. He would be the “shoot” that would spring out of the stump of Jesse. Isaiah was the first to predict the coming of the Messiah as a “shoot” or “branch” (11:1). Jeremiah also announced a coming day when God would “raise up for David a righteous Branch” who would “reign as king” (Jer. 23:5). Zechariah also announced the coming of “my servant the Branch” (Zech. 3:8) whom he later described as “the man whose name is ‘the Branch’” (Zech. 6:12). The Messiah needed to be the netzer or shoot, and Matthew saw Nazareth as the town of the “branch”.