Thursday, February 24, 2022

A Study of Matthew - Chapter 2 - Magi and Herod

Matthew 2:1 - The Magi and Herod

Mat 2:1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem


The Magi were from the east, probably Persia (Iran) or Babylon (Iraq). The prophet Daniel was an associate of these men.

Dan 2:13 So the decree was issued to put the wise men to death, and men were sent to look for Daniel and his friends to put them to death.

Daniel had interceded for their lives while in Babylon during the Captivity.

Dan 2:24 Then Daniel went to Arioch, whom the king had appointed to execute the wise men of Babylon, and said to him, "Do not execute the wise men of Babylon. Take me to the king, and I will interpret his dream for him."

The Magi were probably a mix of scientist and astronomer. It is possible that Daniel could have been the connection between the Magi and their understanding that the birth of the Jewish Messiah would be accompanied by an astronomical sign.

Num 24:17 "I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the people of Sheth.

It is significant that God revealed His coming to Gentiles, who then came in search of Him. Furthermore, God chooses not to announce the birth of Christ to the religious establishment nor to the political dynasty, choosing instead Jewish shepherds (Luk 2:8-20) and Gentiles.

Luk 2:8-21 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. (9) An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. (10) But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. (11) Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (12) This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." (13) Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, (14) "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests." (15) When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." (16) So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. (17) When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, (18) and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. (19) But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. (20) The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (21) On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.


King Herod founded the Idumaean dynasty and enjoyed Roman protection and support. He was not Jewish, although Rome had installed him as the "King of Judea" in 40 BC. He was a usurper.

Herod was a great city builder, and even built the second temple in Jerusalem that Jesus frequented, but he was also a man of great violence. He was extremely paranoid about loosing control over his kingdom, and even went so far as to kill his wife and sons to protect it.

Matthew 2:2-3 - The Magi and Herod (continued)

Mat 2:2 and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him." (3) When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.

The Magi would have expected the King of the Jews to be at the palace, so their arrival at the palace asking Herod where the "King of the Jews" was seen as a severe threat by Herod. Herod knew about the history of the Jews and their desire for their own king on the throne. Herod himself had taken the title "King of Judah" by force after the Romans had given him permission to do that.

Additionally, the Magi told Herod that they had seen "His star", indicating that it was unique to the King of the Jews. We don't have any information about how they made this connection, other than the possibility that they learned of it through their association with Daniel.

Regardless of how they learned about the star, what is significant is that these Gentile wise men had come to worship the King of the Jews. This reveals two things, first is the universal nature of Christ's kingdom, and second the apathy of the Jews towards their own king.

"All Jerusalem [being disturbed] with him" is an interesting statement, for why would the Jews by disturbed about the arrival of their coming King? Their concern shows the pressure they were under being subject to Herod the usurper king and the Romans. Any talk of a king that would overthrow either Herod or the Romans would be met with severely. Neither of them put up with rebellion, and Israel was known already as a rebellious people with fanatical heroes.

Act 5:36-37 Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. (37) After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.

Act 19:25-29 He called them together, along with the workers in related trades, and said: "You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. (26) And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. (27) There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty." (28) When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" (29) Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul's traveling companions from Macedonia, and all of them rushed into the theater together.

The fear on the part of the Jewish people is seen in their reaction to Pilate trying to set Jesus free. They did not wish to bring down the anger of the Romans on their heads.

Joh 19:12-15 From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, "If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar." (13) When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge's seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). (14) It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon. "Here is your king," Pilate said to the Jews. (15) But they shouted, "Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!" "Shall I crucify your king?" Pilate asked. "We have no king but Caesar," the chief priests answered.

The impact of having this caravan of Magi in the city of Jerusalem would have been troubling to the status quo. The talk of a "King of the Jews" would trigger both Herod and the Romans to respond violently. It was a tense time.

Matthew 2:4 - Birthplace of Messiah Queried

Mat 2:4 When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.

Now Herod was a cunning leader, and did not reveal his anger when the Magi asked about the King of the Jews. Instead, he determined to gather the Jewish leaders and determine from them where the Messiah was to be born.

It was Herod who used the term Messiah in place of King, showing the understanding that the Jewish King Jesus would be both King, the Son of David, to rule over the earth, and also Messiah, savior of the Jewish people from their sins.

Matthew 2:5-6 - Birthplace of Messiah Answered

Mat 2:5-6 "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written: (6) "'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'"

In response to the query of Herod, the religious leaders answer that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem of Judea. The "of Judea" is an important detail, for it is in this Bethlehem that the King of the Jews, the Messiah would come. The religious leaders would have known this because they would have been familiar with the OT prophecies, in this case, loosely quoted again from Mic_5:2.

This is also where King David was born and lived. It is also interesting that Bethlehem was also the site for one of Herod's palaces.

Matthew 2:7-8 - Time of the Star Queried

Mat 2:7-8 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. (8) He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him."

After Herod had found out the birthplace of this King of the Jews, he met privately with the Magi, and inquired of them the exact time the Star had been seen.

Herod's plan to deal with the threat to his rulership was to just get rid of the one who was to be this King of the Jews. He now knew where the child was born, and presumably still was, since the Magi were on their way to see him there, and he knew when the Star had first appeared, indicating the time of the child's birth. All he needed now was to know who the child was.

Herod deceived the Magi into agreeing to reveal to him who exactly the child was once they found Him. Apparently the Magi were not aware of the trickery going on, as they were warned separately not to return the way they came.

Matthew 2:9-10 - The Magi Head to Bethlehem

Mat 2:9-10 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. (10) When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.

It would seem that the star had not been seen for a while. The Magi had apparently set off for Bethlehem without the star in view, as indicated by their joy when they saw it.

It is an interesting observation when one wonders why Gentiles would be so excited to visit a king born to a non-royal family in such a small and politically weak nation as Israel. They had just left Herod, King of Judah, with no interest other than finding the King of the Jews. They apparently had information about this King that excited their hearts.

Matthew 2:11 - The Magi Arrive in Bethlehem

Mat 2:11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Interestingly, the Magi here entered a "house", not a "stable" as the shepherds had, indicating that some time had past since the King was born.

The Magi believed Jesus to be a superior person to themselves, since they fell down and worshiped.

Matthew 2:12 - The Magi Warned

Mat 2:12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

The Magi themselves were in danger from Herod. There would be no allowing these men to travel back to their homeland to spread the word of a King of the Jews and Messiah to create a stir. God protected the Magi via a dream and sent them home circumventing Herod.

Matthew 2:13-15 - The Flight to Egypt

Mat 2:13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him."

Egypt was a safe place for the child, Mary and Joseph. Egypt had about 1 million Jews living in it. Although at the time it was a province of Rome, it was outside the jurisdiction of Herod.

The message was apparently given to Joseph very soon after the caravan of Magi left, and instructed him not to delay till morning. He was to urgently get the family up in the night and get on the road. The royal family was to remain in Egypt until God told Joseph it was safe to return to Israel.

Mat 2:14-15 a So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. ...

Joseph was again immediately obedient and the left during the night for Egypt, and they remained there until Herod died. The trip to Egypt from Bethlehem was about 75 miles to the border.

The family remained in Egypt for some years until Herod's death.

What does this story tell us about the way that God interacts with His creation? It is interesting to note that God could have protected the child in many different ways, not having the Magi stop at Herod's palace, supernaturally protecting the child, and so on. Yet He chose to move the child from place to place to avoid Herod.

One thing that doing things the way He did accomplished is that it raised the expectations of the people that the King had arrived and prophecy was being fulfilled.

What does Joseph's response tell us about his frame of mind and the level of belief and faith he had?

Mat 2:15 b ... And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son."

This is the second of four prophetic references in the 2nd chapter. The reference for this prophecy is in Hosea. Hosea is referring to the Exodus from Egypt.

When Israel was a young nation they were living in Egypt and had become slaves to the Egyptians. They cried out to God to free them from this oppression, and God called Moses to set His people free. Moses was in conflict with the Egyptian Pharaoh in which the 10 plagues occurred, with the result that Pharaoh conceded and set the people of Israel free. And as the story of the Exodus relates, Israel went out from Egypt, crossed the Red Sea, and traveled to Mt. Sinai where they received the Law of Moses, wandered in the wilderness for 40 years due to their grumbling and complaining, and eventually made it to the land of Canaan which is called Israel today.

Exo 12:40-41 Now the length of time the Israelite people lived in Egypt was 430 years. (41) At the end of the 430 years, to the very day, all the LORD's divisions left Egypt.

Hosea looked back on this time in a passage that reveals God's love for Israel. Hosea saw God's love for Israel in the Exodus and how God called them out from Egypt.

Hos 11:1 "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.

Matthew is correlating Hosea's statement with what happened with the King, in that the King also sojourned in Egypt for a time and was called from Egypt to go to the land of Israel after Herod's death. Matthew's purpose is to validate the Messianic role of this child as King of Israel by tying together the calling of Israel and the King out of Egypt. In both of these events, God's purpose was to preserve the life of the King. If Israel had died in Egypt under oppression, or Herod had been able to kill the king, God's purposes in Jesus would have been thwarted.

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Matthew 2:16-18 - Herod Kills the Children

Mat 2:16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.

This event shows the violent nature of the usurper king Herod, and his great fear of loosing his power and control over Israel. This is a man who had killed wife and sons to preserve his grip on the throne, and killing children was not beyond his means.

To put things in perspective, Bethlehem was a small town with a population of about 1000, and so there would not have been many children in that age range of two years old and younger. There would have been perhaps 20 of them. Those that were male would reduce the number further. At this point in history, Jesus would have been somewhere between a few months and a year and half old. Although this event was a great tragedy, Herod was known for far worse.

Mat 2:17-18 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: (18) "A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more."

This brings us to the third prophetic reference in this chapter. This passage comes from Jeremiah the prophet.

Jer 31:15 This is what the LORD says: "A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more."

Rachel is considered to be the mother of the Israelites, due to her relationship as the wife of Jacob. At the time of the Assyrian Captivity, many of the Israelite children were killed by the Assyrians, and Rachel is said to have wept for them from her grave. She died in childbirth with Benjamin and was buried near Ramah.

In the context of Jeremiah's statement, the Lord was encouraging Israel, saying that in spite of appearances, the Israeli's will eventually be rewarded.

Jer 31:16-18 This is what the LORD says: "Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded," declares the LORD. "They will return from the land of the enemy. (17) So there is hope for your descendants," declares the LORD. "Your children will return to their own land. (18) "I have surely heard Ephraim's moaning: 'You disciplined me like an unruly calf, and I have been disciplined. Restore me, and I will return, because you are the LORD my God.

Matthew is showing that the death of the children at the hands of Herod represent the destruction of the Israelites by the Assyrians. When Matthew quotes Jeremiah 31, he is indicating that the fulfillment includes the blessings that follow, and that the King is the fulfillment of those promised blessings. The Israelites will return from the lands of their enemies to their own land and be restored now that the King and Kingdom is at hand.

Matthew 2:19-23 - The Return to Nazareth

Mat 2:19-21 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt (20) and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child's life are dead." (21) So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.

Joseph again receives a dream, and in the dream, an angel tells Joseph that Herod and his assassins have died and it is safe to resume travel back to Israel. Dreams were a common method of communication in Old Testament and early Christian times. As mentioned earlier, this fulfills the passage from Hos_11:1 that speaks of Messiah being called out of Egypt.

Mat 2:22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, (23a) and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth.

Following the death of Herod, his son Archelaus was put into power over Judea. The Jews feared him more than Herod. Archelaus was so evil that even Rome hated him and had him removed from power after 10 years.

When Joseph and his family arrived back in Israel, they had heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea. Joseph was afraid to go there, and having had another dream in which he was warned about Archelaus, the family set out for Nazareth in the district of Galilee.

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Mat 2:23 b So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.

Interestingly, there is no record of any prophet stating that Jesus would be called a Nazarene. Note that this is not a quotation, but Matthew is drawing from a composite of several comments in prophetic literature. The sense here is that as Nazareth was a despised city, so also the King would be despised.

Joh 1:43-46 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, "Follow me." (44) Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. (45) Philip found Nathanael and told him, "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote--Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." (46) "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" Nathanael asked. "Come and see," said Philip.

Act 24:5-6 "We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect (6) and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him.

Concluding Thoughts

This chapter shows that Israel had lost sight of their promises. They were involved in living for the day, and prophetic hope was not in view. They were living for the seen and not the unseen. How do you compare to this?

Being too involved in the day to day living in politics and tradition installs barriers to revelation and we can suffer spiritual dullness.

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