Matthew 2Bethlehem; a small village, six miles from Jerusalem. The inhabitants still point out the place where they suppose the Savior was born. A church is erected over the spot.—Wise men; Magi,—a sort of religious philosophers, from Persia or Arabia.
Was troubled. This was old King Herod, the father and founder of the Herod family, of which three generations appear in the sacred history. He was a man of great talents, but distinguished still more for his cruelties and crimes. In the course of his life, he had brought many persons to a violent death, whom he had suspected of conspiring against his reign; and among others, his wife and several of his own sons. And now, though quite an old man, his jealous and suspicious temper was aroused by hearing that an infant king of the Jews had been born,—supposing that he was to be a temporal prince, and of course that his own throne was in danger.
Chief priests. The priests were divided into twenty-four classes; the leaders of these classes, and perhaps some others of particular distinction, were called chief priests. There was but one high priest.—Scribes; a class of men learned in theology and in the law, and often employed as writers. Of the chief priests and scribes, there was composed a council of seventy-two men, called the Sanhedrim which was the great council of the Jewish nation.—Where Christ should be born. Herod was a Jew, and a believer in the Old Testament Scriptures; and he wished that those who were best acquainted with the subject, should inform him where, according to the divine predictions, the Messiah should appear. His conduct, in this instance, was not, therefore, an ordinary case of political cruelty towards a human rival, but a high-handed and deliberate act of hostility against the of counsels of God. He calls upon the great religious tribunal of the nation to consult the sacred records, and inform him, with official solemnity, what God intended to do, in order that he might a adopt effectual measures, by means of violence and murder, to prevent its being done. That a man near seventy years of age and just ready to descend into the grave, should deliberately set himself at work to oppose by open violence, designs which he himself recognized as divine, and which had stood so recorded for seven hundred years, shows to what an extent human guilt and infatuation may sometimes proceed.
The prophet. (Micah 5:2.) Quotations from the Old Testament, in the New, give the sense, but not exactly the words, of the original.
Worshipped him; prostrated themselves before him, according to the Eastern custom of doing homage to kings.—Frankincense; a gum which, when burnt, produced a very fragrant smoke.—Myrrh; a very valuable gum, used in embalming the dead.
And was there, &c. The death of Herod took place two or three years after the birth of Christ.—By the prophet. (Hos. 11:1.) The declaration of God, in Hosea, was strikingly applicable to this event. The sacred writers quote from the Old Testament, not only those passages which predict the events at they are recording, but those also which may be aptly applied to them, though originally used with reference to other occurrences.
Jeremy; Jeremiah. (Jer. 31:15.)
Rama; a small, town near Bethlehem. The king of Babylon overran Judea, assembled the Jewish captives in Rama, and thence drove them, in chains, into Babylonish captivity. The prophet Jeremiah, in the passage here referred to, represents Rachel, the mother of Benjamin, as rising from the weeping over the woes of her descendants. The words are quoted here, not as prophetic language, originally referring to this case, but as strikingly applicable to it.
After old King Herod's death, his kingdom was divided. His son Archelaus reigned in Judea, the southern part, and another son, Herod Antipas, in Galilee, the northern part. Another portion still was assigned to Philip. Archelaus was of a savage and ferocious disposition, like his father. Herod Antipas was more mild, addicted rather to pleasure than to bloodshed and cruelty. His whole treatment of John the Baptist shows this, except the last act,—beheading him,—and this was committed mainly at the instigation of others, and under the excitement of wine. It was natural, therefore, that the parents of Jesus, knowing the characters of these princes, should feel it to be safest for them to return to their old home in Nazareth, which was a retired village among the mountains, within the dominions of Herod Antipas, a few miles from the Sea of Galilee. We observe that Joseph was not warned by a dream against Archelaus, as this was a danger which the use of his own faculties enabled him to perceive. Divine interpositions are never to be looked for as a substitute for human prudence and forethought.
A Nazarene; a proverbial term for one despised; because Nazareth an obscure and insignificant village. Thus Jesus, being of royal lineage, was a child of very high birth, but yet of very humble circumstances. In this twofold aspect of the Savior's worldly condition there may be a design to teach us, on the one hand, not to set too high a value upon the worldly advantages of wealth, rank, and station, and, on the other, not wholly to despise them.
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