Luke 2Cesar Augustus; the Roman emperor. Cesar was the family name and Augustus an honorary appellation, meaning august or illustrious. These names were applied, in succession, to a long line of monarchs. The first was Julius Cesar, the great competitor of Pompey. The one here spoken of was Octavianus Cesar. The one in power when Paul appealed unto Cesar, was Nero. The Claudius, who commanded all Jews to depart out of Rome, (Acts 18:2,) was a Cesar.—All the world; probably the whole country of the Jews.
To be taxed; not to pay the money, but to be enrolled, as a step preliminary to actual taxation. The Jews were compelled to submit to these exactions of the Romans, much against their will. Hence the odium in which the publicans, or tax-gatherers, were held; and also the peculiar point of the question put to our Savior, on one occasion,—whether it was lawful to pay tribute to Cesar.
It is interesting to observe how the fulfilment of the simple prophecy that Christ should be born in Bethlehem, depended upon the political movements of the greatest power on the globe. Thus we see that all the affairs of human life are connected and intertwined, so as to form one vast and complicated system, all of which is under the complete control of the providence of God. The long journey from Nazareth, made in order that Joseph and Mary might present themselves for enrolment in the city of David, served to make the fact very conspicuous and prominent, that Jesus was descended from the royal family.
All the arrangements of the ancients, in respect to travelling, were so totally different from ours, that we can now form but a very imperfect idea of the precise situation of Mary and the infant, from the words used to describe it in the text. All the circumstances of their history conspire to show that, though in humble life, they were by no means in very poor and destitute circumstances, as is sometimes supposed.
Flocks were kept in ancient times, not by means of fences or enclosures, but by shepherds, who watched them in open pasture grounds.
Glory of the Lord; a supernatural light.
It cannot now be positively ascertained in what part of the year the birth of the Savior took place. In the absence of all certain information, however, the night before the 25th of December has been fixed upon, by a sort of common consent, and is celebrated in various ways, throughout almost all Christendom, as the anniversary of the Savior's birth night.
The law, in respect to these transactions, is recorded in Lev. 12: For an account of the original consecration of all the first-born to God's service, see Ex. 13:1, 2; also 14, 15. Afterwards the tribe of Levi was substituted for the first-born, in the service of the sanctuary, as shown in Num. 8:13-18, and provision was made for redeeming the first-born, Num. 18:15, 16.
Marvelled; that is, they were deeply impressed and affected.
Is set for the fall, &c. The Savior's coming shall be the occasion on which many shall fall into grievous sins, while others shall be raised, by means of it, to a new life of holiness and spiritual joy.—A sign, &c.; a mark for hatred and obloquy.
A sword, &c. This refers to the sufferings which Mary was to endure through her affection and sympathy for her son.—That the thoughts of many hearts, &c. This, of course, refers back, beyond the parenthesis, to the last words of the preceding verse. It shows us that Jesus did not force himself upon men, as their king. He presented himself before mankind, unarmed and defenceless, that men might be perfectly free to receive or to reject him; so that their conduct might be the true index of the thoughts of their hearts. Christianity itself stands in much the same attitude at the present day. It is left exposed and defenceless to the attacks of unbelievers, in many points in which, it would seem, it might have been easily guarded. While there is ample evidence to satisfy those honestly desirous of knowing and doing the will of God, there are abundant materials out of which excuses may be fabricated for rejecting it, by all those who wish to find them. While, therefore, we do all in our power to relieve honest doubts, we should not be too eager to answer the objections and difficulties made by cavilling unbelievers. Every thing in the providence of God, as indicated by the circumstances of our Savior's mission, by his preaching, and by the present condition of the argument for Christianity, shows that it is his design that those who wish to find excuses for rejecting Christ, should have the opportunity; so that the thoughts of men's hearts may be freely revealed.
Aser; Ashur. The reason why the same names are spelled so differently in the Old and New Testament, is that in the former they were written in Hebrew characters, and in the latter in Greek; and these characters are so different in respect to the sounds which they represent, that a name cannot be easily transferred from one language to the other without change.
Night and day; that is, with habitual constancy.
The flight of Joseph and Mary into Egypt, as recorded by Matthew, took place before their return to Nazareth. It is not easy to account for Luke's omitting all mention of so important a transaction, when we remember the words of his preface (Luke 1:3.)
For an account of the institution and mode of celebrating the passover, see Ex. 12: and Levit. 23:
Wist ye; knew ye.—About my Father's business. In the original, it is, About, that is, at my Father's; so that the meaning is this—How is it that you could not find me? Did you not suppose that I should be at my Father's?—meaning that the temple, the house of God, his Father, was his natural and proper home, and the place where they should have expected to find him. We must suppose that his being left behind by his parents was not designed on his part, both because he at once returned with his parents when found, and also because his remaining at Jerusalem intentionally, without his parents' knowledge or consent, could hardly be reconciled with his duty as a son. It was his principle, as he expressed it, to fulfil all righteousness; that is, to perform faithfully all the duties arising out of the human relations which he sustained.
The peculiar character of Mary's feelings towards her infant son is beautifully intimated to us in these and similar expressions, which show the strong affection of the mother, repressed and controlled by the mysterious sacredness with which the subject of it was invested. She observes every thing, watches every thing, but is silent in respect to what she sees, laying it up in her heart. It seems as if the sacred writers perceived the peculiar dramatic interest of her position; for every allusion to her is in keeping with it, and heightens the effect. Wherever she appears,—on this occasion, at the marriage in Cana of Galilee, in her attendance upon Jesus in his journeyings, and at his last hour, standing by his side, at the cross,—we seem to see in her look, her attitude, her tone of voice, and in the meaning of the few words she utters, that mingling of maternal pride and maternal anxiety,—of motherly fondness for a son, and of religious veneration for a Savior,—which we might almost have supposed to have been inconsistent with each other. Silent, unobtrusive, and retiring, but ever watchful, ever at hand, we know not which most to admire, the ardent affection which kept her near her son, even in his greatest dangers, or the singular quietness of spirit and reserve, through which she always keeps, in every scene, a position so becoming to the gentleness and modesty of woman. It is not surprising that in the dark and superstitious ages of the church, she was almost worshipped as divine.
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