Vv 1-12: The visit of the wise men. The firstfruits of the
Gentiles. "Kings of Sheba" (Psa 72:10) -- together with Isa 60:6,7 (about the
Arabian peoples, which also mentions kings: v 3) -- suggests that the "wise men"
of the east who brought presents to the child Jesus were not from Babylon or
Persia, but from Edom and Arabia (perhaps from Yemen, where kings professed
Judaism: LTJM 1:203). Popular opinion has generally favored those regions
further east, where "magi" or wise men were well-known; but the Scriptural
evidence all points in another direction. One cannot refrain from musing that
wise men from the same areas today would bring the precious gift (at least to
the industrialized world) of oil. On further reflection, such a thought might
not be so far-fetched after all. History could well repeat itself in the
twentieth-first century, when the King of the Jews returns to Israel. Both Psa
72 and Isa 60 mention that the Gentiles were kings. In this case, the common
Christmas tradition has some basis in Scripture.
WHERE IS THE ONE WHO HAS BEEN BORN KING...?: The first
question of the NT.
WHO HAS BEEN BORN: An ironic allusion to Herod's
unlawful seizure of throne: some are "born" kings; others steal their
STAR: The problem of the star (Gr "aster") has taxed
the ingenuity of countless scholars, who might have done better to spend the
time on more spiritually beneficial questions. Their suggestions include a
comet, a meteor, a planetary conjunction (several choices offered), and a
supernova or star explosion. Each of these natural phenomena proves deficient
when the facts of the narrative are considered. What do we know, for certain,
about the star?
It was seen by the wise men, and could be followed to Judea. This argues
for some sign which would have remained in the heavens for a considerable time,
and rules out meteors and most comets.
The star led them first to Jerusalem
(v 1). It is difficult to see how some ordinary star could lead followers to a
precise location. Still less do the above suggestions mesh with the other
details listed below.
The star was apparently not seen by Herod (v
It disappeared from the wise men's view after they reached Jerusalem (v
8), then reappeared suddenly when they started toward Bethlehem (v 9).
the star changed direction. First it moved westward, and then southward.
was a moving object. It "went ahead of" the wise men (v 9), leading them as a
Then it stopped (v 9).
This sequence, carefully analyzed, rules out every natural
explanation. The details of the activity of the star, however, call to mind a
miracle, from the OT. The star, sometimes visible and sometimes invisible, led
its followers, changed direction, and at times stopped. This is exactly what the
"Shekinah" Glory of Yahweh -- the pillar of fire and cloud -- did for the
children of Israel in the wilderness. It led them, changing direction, sometimes
stopping for long periods; finally, of course, it disappeared. Here, then, is a
simple, Bible-based explanation of the star of Bethlehem.
IN THE EAST: Or, "at its rising".
Other "star" prophecies: Num 24:17; Mat 24:30; Rev 16:12;
21:22-26. "A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel...
Edom will be conquered; Seir, his enemy, will be conquered, but Israel will grow
strong" (Num 24:17,18): Herod was an EDOMITE!
When King Herod is disturbed, EVERYBODY IS DISTURBED! Because
the common people would know the hatred and murderous rages of Herod, and could
imagine what the consequences might be for others. The Jewish capital is
disturbed, but wise men of other nations rejoice exceedingly (v 10).
All Jews, in all lands, were -- at the time of Jesus' birth --
expecting Messiah to come (cp Joh 1:20,25; 10:24; 12:34; Mat 21:9; 26:63). In
some measure, many Gentiles were also affected (because of the widely-scattered
Jewish nation, and the LXX read among Gentiles.
BETHLEHEM: Out of the "house of bread" came the "bread
WHERE THE CHILD WAS: Apparently, the family had now
taken up residence in Bethlehem, or else they would have been in no danger from
Herod (v 13; cp v 22n).
The bringing of gifts by the Magi is probably the origin of
the modern custom of gift giving at Christmas. Significantly, however, the gifts
were given to Jesus and to no one else. The gifts which the wise men gave to
Jesus, along with their loving adoration, are figurative of the service we can
all give to our Lord:
(1) Gold is used by the Apostle Peter in his exhortation (1Pe
1:7) as representing the preciousness of a tried faith. Faith, until it has been
purified by experience, persecution, and hard choices, is of little value. Our
faith at the end of the journey will be a worthy gift to lay before Christ,
precisely because it will have been perfected in the fiery trials of our
(2) Frankincense represents the prayers of the saints (Psa
141:2; Rev 5:8; 8:4) which, like the clouds of smoke from the altar of incense,
rise in praise to God. No greater gift can we give to God than our thanks and
(3) Myrrh speaks of self-sacrifice. It is bitter, yet also
purifying, soothing, and cleansing.
The gifts given to Jesus were also indicative of his mission
in life, and revealed an awareness of this on the part of the givers. In reverse
order the three gifts foreshadow the three stages of Christ's redemptive work:
(1) the myrrh: his death (Mar 15:23; John 19:39); (2) frankincense: his
mediatorship, interceding for the saints in their prayers to God, and (3) gold:
his kingship, at his second coming.
What happened to the gifts? Since they were very valuable, it
is possible they all served an immediate purpose in financing the unplanned
flight to Egypt and the sojourn there. But the myrrh, at least, so eminently
testified of Jesus' eventual sacrifice that it can easily be imagined that it
was kept for that purpose. The mind flashes forward thirty-three years to
Golgotha, where Mary -- a sword piercing her own soul -- looks from afar upon
her crucified son. What more fitting than the thought that she carried with her
that myrrh given to Jesus so long before. "To this end was (he) born", and now
the gift of the Magi sealed in death the perfect life whose beginning they had
witnessed in Bethlehem.
COMING TO THE HOUSE: A more permanent dwelling. This
was some time after the birth itself: as much as one or 1 1/2 years (cp v
Like the OT Joseph, this Joseph had a dream and then went down
EGYPT: Where there were very populous and wealthy
Jewish communities, esp in Alexandria.
OUT OF EGYPT HAVE I CALLED MY SON: The Exodus (Isa
11;15; Rev 11:8). God took a "vine" out of Egypt (Psa 80:15,17).
This atrocity is entirely in character for Herod, who had
already murdered 2 of his own sons (Alexander and Aristobulus) because he feared
they would usurp his throne. Once again "Esau" persecuted "Jacob".
TWO YEARS OLD AND UNDER: Evidently, Herod had checked
as to time when star first appeared (prob 1 to 1 1/2 years earlier), and to be
on safe side he had extended the target period to 2 years.
Life and death are never far apart in this present state.
God's Son is born into the world, bringing the hope of eternal life to all men,
but with him there comes death as well -- a sword for others, foreshadowing the
"sword" marked for him. Life there will be, in all its abundance, but first
there must be death. The whole creation is subject to vanity, groaning in
travail to be delivered from its bondage by the manifestation of God's Son. Set
alongside the coming of God's Son there is, graphically expressed in these
brutal murders, the reason for his coming. The picture is deeper and more
profound than it may first appear. The atrocity of Bethlehem was tragic, but no
more so than countless other instances of suffering in that age, and before, and
since. "Thorns and thistles" have sprung from the soil ever since the sin of our
first parents, along with greed and hatred and murder; never will it be any
different until God's Kingdom comes. Many "Rachels" have wept for many children,
and husbands, brothers, and fathers, because Israel rejected her God and her
king. The only bright spot in the bleak picture is that there remains a final
hope for Israel: "I will not completely destroy you. I will discipline you but
only with justice" (Jer 30:11), says God, indicating a limit to His punishment.
And, eventually, "He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over
his flock like a shepherd... 'Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes
from tears... [for] there is hope,' declares the Lord. 'Your children [the
scattered remnant of Israel] will return from the land of the enemy' " (Jer
Cp Athaliah's massacre of all the royal seed: 2Ki
// Exo 4:19 (LXX).
IN PLACE OF: Gr "anti", instead of, not necessarily
HE WAS AFRAID TO GO THERE: Did Joseph (and Mary) wish
to raise their child near Jerusalem, because of proximity of temple, teachers,
schools, feasts, and other opportunities?
NAZARETH: Their old home-town (Luk 1:26,27). Cp Luk
WHAT WAS SAID: But not necessarily written (NR
"Jesus was poor. He was from Nazareth, a village of between
200 to 2000 people, about 7 km [4 mi] away from Sepphoris, a city of 40,000. And
He would have gone through the process of socialization which anyone does who
lives in a village under the shadow of the big town. He is described as a tekton
or manual worker ('carpenter' in many translations). 'A tekton was at the lower
end of the peasant class, more marginalized than a peasant who owned a small
piece of land. We should not think of a tekton as being a step up from a
subsistence farmer; rather, a tekton belonged to a family that had lost its
land' (Geza Vermes, 'Jesus the Jew'). So Jesus was himself marginalized, the
poorest of the poor, in one of the poorest corners of the Roman empire. The poor
needn't think of Jesus as so heavenly that he doesn't know their crises; the
crises that come from not having food or money, the problems of drought, the
worry about the weather, the rains not coming, the problem of broken equipment
and worn out clothes and shoes, the distress that a little brother is sick, and
there's medicine in the nearby town, but no money for it... he knows. He really
does. He can and does relate to all this. And it's why he is so especially
watchful, according to his own teaching, of how we respond to those in such
need. It means a lot to him; because as a poor man, he must have known what it
was to receive charity, to be given a few eggs by a neighbour, some milk from a
kind woman down the street. When he taught 'Blessed are the poor... the hungry',
he immediately had a realness and credibility. For all the poor want to be
better off. But he was so self-evidently content with who he was. The poor also
want a bit more security for the future than just knowing that they have enough
food for today. Yet Jesus could teach people to pray only for the food they
needed for each day. And they were to forgive their debtors. This was radical
stuff for people who lived a generally hand to mouth existence as day labourers
and subsistence farmers. Only if Jesus was real and credible would people have
flocked to hear him and taken his teaching seriously" (DH).