Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
These wise men were known as the magi from the Parthian Empire, which was one of the few political entities that could cause Rome to tremble for their fierce martial disciplines that routed Roman forces, not once or twice but repeatedly until internal corruption brought about their decline with a Roman victory sealing their fate.
They were known as a religious and priestly order of seemingly magical knowledge (thus the term magi, from which we also derive the term magistrate) that was involved in the selection process of their Kings. They were among other things, “King Makers”.
From an article by Koinonia House we have the following:Who Were The MAGI? The KING MAKERS
“The ancient Magi were a hereditary priesthood of the Medes credited with profound and extraordinary religious knowledge. After some Magi, who had been attached to the Median court, proved to be expert in the interpretation of dreams, Darius the Great established them over the state religion of Persia. (Contrary to popular belief, the Magi were not originally followers of Zoroaster. That all came later.)
It was in this dual capacity whereby civil and political counsel was invested with religious authority, that the Magi became the supreme priestly caste of the Persian Empire, and continued to be prominent during the subsequent Seleucid, Parthian, and Sasanian periods.”
Here is more on the Parthian Empire.
Being nobility in often hostile lands, it’s doubtful that these Magi made this long journey alone, but rather they were accompanied by an entourage of military guard sufficient to the task in protecting them from any and all dangers and enemies. Escorted by Parthian soldiers, these Magi made their way into the Roman Empire, into the province of Israel and made their way to Jerusalem where they came before Herod.
Herod was not Jewish ethnically but Idumean (Edomite) yet according to this source his father was a convert to Judaism, even though his son, Herod preferred the Greco-Roman culture and religious persuasions. His alliance was not with Israel, its Sanhedrin or the people, but rather staunchly with Rome that appointed him to power.
And on the fateful day of the Magi’s arrival, this Roman appointee is asked by these King Makers:
“Where is he that is born King of the Jews?” Between these nobles of a rival empire showing up in Palestine and then asking for one who was recently born, whose lineage (via the tribe of Judah, of the House of David) would grant him legitimate right as heir to the throne, its quite understandable why Herod “and all Jerusalem with him” were “troubled”! That is “to be agitated, troubled” because of these nobles that would pose a threat to Herod’s rule and perhaps commit to a border dispute with the Roman Empire over Palestine.
They claimed that they came from Parthia to worship this King of the Jews, who unbeknownst to Herod – or any one else for that matter – was located at that very moment in Bethlehem, the place of The Nativity of the Son of David!
King Herod went to the religious authorities to ascertain the exact location that Scripture indicated where the Messiah (Christ) would be born:
4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.
5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,
6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor that shall rule my people Israel.
Interesting that the name of the city that the prophet Micah indicated was Bethlehem or “house of bread”; a fitting place for the One Who referred to Himself as “the Bread of Life” (John 6:35, 48)!
But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.
Apparently there were two different cities named Bethlehem in ancient Israel, and so Micah had to specify which one would be the native place of the Messiah; we then understand that Bethlehem Ephratah located south, southwest of Jerusalem (in “Judah”) is the correct location (rather than the other city located far to the north (Galilee), near Nazareth.
Bethlehem was the scene of the story of Ruth, and hence the place where in later years David was born. It was at Bethlehem where David was anointed king by Samuel (1 Samuel 16:4-13). It was because of Jesus' ancestry to King David that Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem when He was born, at the time of the census ("enrollment").
According to the prophet Micah, this one born in Bethlehem, in the city of David, would be One whose “goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” or in other words, One who was eternal in nature, and also one who would be a Governor that would become ruler in Israel.
Yet the biblical account in the Gospels attributes the governorship of Jerusalem to Pilate, not to Jesus who after three years of ministry was nailed to a cross outside of Jerusalem and died among thieves.
Of course we realize that this declaration of prophecy has yet to be fulfilled, AND IT WILL when once the LORD Jesus Christ returns from our Father’s throne to establish His own in Jerusalem!
7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.
8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.
There is a lot of conjecture about what this ‘star’ really was; it apparently was bright enough that it could be seen during the daylight hours. Some suggest that it was two or three different stars or planets that came into alignment along the trajectory to planet Earth and would be seen by those in the Middle East as one giant star. Astronomers think it could have been a star gone nova (an exploding star) or perhaps even a comet. Others believe that this was simply the shekinah glory of God manifested to guide the magi to the location of the Messiah.
Skeptics and atheists have long held out that the Star of Bethlehem was nothing more than Christian mythology, but was it nothing more than this? Scientific evidence strongly supports that on the night of Christ’s birth and throughout the long journey of the Magi until they found the young Christ child, a heavenly body did in fact exist and shine brilliantly in the heavens.
For more on this please visit The Star of Bethlehem Project.
Herod asked the Magi when the star first appeared to them, and while Scripture doesn’t record their answer, we may safely assume that it was two years or less because when Herod finally learned that the Magi left Bethlehem on their journey homeward they neglected to bring Herod word about the exact location. So Herod was denied the opportunity to worship the new born King . . . perhaps with a sword!
This was why he ordered the death of all the children in Bethlehem and all of its borders from two years old and under!
No doubt, Herod was quite insecure about this new born King of the Jews usurping his place as ruler in Israel, but I believe he was satanically inspired by the god of this world who stood to lose far, far more than Herod, should this Babe in Bethlehem ever succeed in His mission!
We see here in microcosm how just as King Herod set himself against this ‘upstart’ so the world will one day oppose Christ in a very blatant sense (as recorded in Psalm 2:1-5) and while the LORD came meekly as a Lamb (with one or two exceptions) at His First Advent, its at His Second He will arrive as the LION of the TRIBE of JUDAH and then the kings of the earth will tremble with numbing fear and desire suicide rather than to face the wrath of the LAMB (Rev. 6:15-17)!
The Christmas nativity scene often brings a depth of warmth and love when we see this babe wrapped in swaddling clothes as the very and Supreme Gift of God that He is; yet this was more than simply the offering of a gift to humanity; it was a Holy Invasion, a military incursion of the Almighty come into enemy territory to wage the decisive war in all of history, the planet Earth being the central stage for the audience of the universe to behold the behemoth battle of all time! To read more on this subject, have a look at The CRUSADE That Was CHRISTMAS.
9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.
10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.
Again the Star appears to the Magi who rejoice to behold this wonder once again; in a stellar feat of Almighty engineering the LORD directs this heavenly body over the very place where His Son was dwelling! Another thing about this star is that many see, and with some justification, a prophecy in the book of Numbers that involves this sight:
17 I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth.
As is typical with prophecy, the Almighty One Who “inhabits eternity” (Isaiah 57:15) sees the past, present and future all at once, and so when we read the prophetic Scripture we cannot assume that events are contiguous. Such is the case here – for the Star appeared at the birth of Christ but the Sceptre, that is the Messiah Who will come to reign that will “. . . smite the corners of Moab. . .” is something related to His Second, not His First Advent.
Imagine the shock of Mary when she answered the door to find these austere and lavishly dressed Magi, kingly in their appearance, bearing such precious treasures as gifts – but NONE SO PRECIOUS AS THE GIFT THAT MARY HERSELF BORE IN HER OWN ARMS: THE CHRIST CHILD!!
She welcomes them in and that is when they see – not the babe that is so often the picture we see in films about the Nativity of Christ, but a small child, perhaps two years of age. They present their gifts, each of the three (it’s typically assumed that there were three magi because there are three gifts, but the Bible never states how many there were; there could have been three, or thirty for that matter) representing different aspects of the ministry of the Messiah – gold, frankincense and myrrh which symbolize the kingship, priesthood and sacrifice of the LORD. Note: There is no gift representing the office of prophet because unlike kings and priests, prophets came from various tribes of Israel, not just from Judah and Levi (as kings and priests did respectively).
Of these three gifts, only gold and frankincense will be given to the KING when He returns; not myrrh because His atoning sacrifice will have been behind Him at that point; Isaiah 60:1-6.
The following articles have to do with this glorious event of such importance that it has cleft history in twain between B.C. and A.D.
The CHRISTMAS GIFT OF PEACE DECLINED
The HUMBLE KING and The LITTLE DRUMMER BOY
12 And being warned of God in a dream that they [the Magi] should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
13 And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.
14 When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt:
15 And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.
16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.
17Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying,
18 In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.
Dreams are sometimes employed of the LORD to communicate to His own, and these must be of a particular quality so as to not be confused with dreams of the usual sort. These were akin to prophetic visions that the LORD would give to His seers and prophets. The book of Joel states as much:
And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:
Of course the church today is led of the Spirit of the LORD (Rom. 8:14) in compliance to the full revelation of canon and every assumed leading must be measured by the standard of Holy Writ to verify its veracity.
There is the fact though that the immediacy of the situation required obedience by those who received such dreams, and particularly for those who belong to the LORD, whether in vision, or dream or word, His sheep know His voice (John 10:27).
Verse 15 of Matthews 2nd chapter speaks of a prophetic fulfillment of Hosea 11:1, and yet if one reads this verse superficially, it would seem that the context of this passage refers to the nation of Israel who did in fact depart from Egypt in the great exodus led by Moses. It’s rightfully stressed that any verse must be understood in the context of the over all passage and to provide the proper exegesis, this rule must constantly be employed.
Yet we sometimes find in Scripture a deeper meaning than what is initially apparent.
It’s not until the Holy Spirit led Levi Matthias to pen this verse that we are taught by the LORD that this verse not only refers to the servant nation of Israel, but also on a deeper level* (remez) the Servant Son of David, the Son of God Who would likewise depart from Egypt on the day appointed.
[*On a side note and peripheral to this study - Hebrew scholars of antiquity who were involved in the writing of the Talmud (interpretive works on the Torah, commentaries on various Old Testament books) speak of the PaRDeS which is a kind of acronym referring to the various levels of interpretation, that is: Pshat – simple understanding; Remez – hinted meaning; Drush – allegorical explanation; Sod – esoteric understanding. There are elements of PaRDeS that involve Kabalistic interpretations (Jewish mysticism) on the Sod (esoteric) level and for this reason the Christian must be cautious when accessing such hermeneutics from the PaRDeS view point. For more on this, particularly where the “remez” is concerned, see the following site Mashiach in Remez].
Again we see the wrath of Satan working in the human agency of Herod, who himself was “exceeding wroth” because he was “mocked of the wise men” and committed a heinous act – the slaying of all the children in and about Bethlehem, two years old and younger.
The heart cry of mothers in that region ascended upwards to the very throne of God Who hears and sees all. We can sometimes wonder why atrocities are perpetrated in this world of perdition unimpeded and question, “Where was God?”
We cannot answer all the whys and wherefores of the Almighty, or why He allows certain things to transpire; all we know is that this world is under the curse of sin and because of this, terrible things are bound to happen; crimes, injustices, offenses and all sorts of lawless and evil deeds occur on a daily basis (I think of the innumerable partial birth abortions that are performed on a nearly assembly line basis under the authorization of our current administration). When I would read about such things my blood would boil at the outrage of it all, but a long time ago, the LORD whispered in my heart, “There is no such thing as eternal injustice!”
No evil deed will go unpunished even though such punishment seems grievously delayed (from our point of view – such delay of justice is justice denied) but in the eyes of God Who exists outside of time in the Holy Halls of Eternal Justice such souls are seen as already judged and sentenced and consigned to everlasting punishment and what He sees from His vantage point, we shall one day likewise behold and declare:
And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.
Let us examine the last few verses of our chapter . . .
MATTHEW 2: 19-23
19 But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt,
20 Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child's life.
21 And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel.
22 But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee:
23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene*.
Herod learned his lesson too late, and the hardest way one can – that no one can oppose God and come out as a winner, just as it says:
2 I know it is so of a truth: but how should man be just with God?
3 If he will contend with him, he cannot answer him one of a thousand.
4 He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength: who hath hardened himself against him, and hath prospered?
Pharaoh of Egypt, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, Haman of Persia and countless others have fought against the LORD and have lost deplorably – even the very Leader of this new world order: Satan himself will be forced down upon his knees and confess that JESUS is LORD (Rom. 14:11) and face the truth that he has, after several millennia, finally lost the war in every way conceivable!
On the other hand, those that will embrace the LORD and His Truth by faith, receive Christ as LORD and Savior for the forgiveness of sins and the Spirit of God that indwells all believers – these are “more than conquerors” (Rom. 8:37), and the eternal champions of the LORD Who won our victory over sin and death Himself at the Cross!
The LORD informed Joseph that Herod the Great was now Herod the Goner! He and his family were free to return into the land of Israel, but He doesn’t specify where, so naturally one would assume that they would return to their own home. However, Joseph learned that the son of Herod, Archelaus reigned in his father’s place! So the husband of Mary detoured and decided to live in Nazareth, far to the north. Little did Joseph know that this was also a fulfillment of prophecy (Isaiah 11:1)!* The word “Branch” in this passage is “netzer” which is associated with Nazareth, the little town in Galilee.
And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:
2 And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD;
3 And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears:
4 But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth: with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.
5 And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.
6 The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.
7 And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' den.
9 They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
In the passage above Isaiah speaks of the Messiah at His First Advent, His seven fold ministry as the Spirit of the LORD rested upon Him, a glimpse of the Battle of Armageddon (2 Thess. 2:3,8) and subsequent judgments upon unruly nations during the Millennium (Zech. 14:16-18) and also a portrayal of the Second Advent and the establishment of the Kingdom of heaven on Earth.
*Schofield’s notes on the related Scripture to Isaiah 11:1 found in Isaiah 4:2:
”He shall be called a Nazarene (netzer or ‘branch’)”
A name of Christ, used in fourfold way:
(1) "The Branch of Jehovah" (Isa 4.\:2), that is, the "Immanuel" character of Christ Isaiah 7:14 to be fully manifested to restored and converted Israel after His return in divine glory Mt 25:31.
(2) the "Branch of David" Isaiah 11:1 Jeremiah 23:5 33:15 that is, the Messiah, "of the seed of David according to the flesh" Rom 1:3 revealed in His earthly glory as King of kings, and Lord of lords;
(3) Jehovah's "Servant, the Branch" Zech 3:8 Messiah's humiliation and obedience unto death according to Isaiah 52:13-15; 53:1-12; Phil 2:5-8.
(4) the "man whose name is the Branch" Zech 6:12,13 that is His character as Son of man, the "last Adam," the "second Man" 1 Cor 15:45-47 reigning, as Priest-King, over the earth in the dominion given to and lost by the first Adam.
Matthew is the Gospel of the "Branch of David"; Mark of "Jehovah's Servant, the Branch"; Luke of "the man whose name is the Branch"; John of "the Branch of Jehovah."
For other great commentaries on this passage, visit this page from the website www.biblecommentator.com
Here we see the sovereignty of God in His foreknowledge and predestination working that which was foreordained in eternity, hand in hand with the free will of man – in this case, Joseph’s decision to travel north to Nazareth and live there. Prophecy is a testimony of the piercing eyes of the LORD Who alone declares the end from the beginning – and everything else in between for that matter!
9 Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me,
10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:
So ends this chapter as we prepare to venture into the next section where the public revelation of the Messiah occurs. At this point, the obscurity of the LORD Jesus is evident, so that when He is known publicly, the religious authorities discount His qualification of a prophet, much less the Messiah of Israel because of their mistaken assumption of the place of His nativity (somewhere in Galilee and not in truth, in Bethlehem, the prophesied location of the Messiah’s place of birth).