Commentary on St. Matthew - Chapter 2
Verse 1: There are four Herods mentioned in the New Testament:
1.) Herod the Great (or Herod I), from Ascalon and so sometimes called an Ascalonite (also called an Idumite). "On the recommendation of Antony, he became the first king of Judaea, after its' conquest." "He wished to be accounted the Messiah; and therefore he built a most magnificent temple for the Jews, and dedicated it on the anniversary of the day when he commenced his reign." He put several of his own children to death (Alexander and Aristobulus, and Antipater about five days before his own death), as well as being the murderer of the infants at Bethlehem. He ruled from 40 to 4B.C.. His son, Archelaus, succeeded as governor of half of his father's kingdom, and through fear of him the Holy Family went to reside in Nazareth (Matt 2:22);
2.) Herod Antipas (son of Herod I), beheaded John the Baptist and mocked Christ during His passion. He ruled from 4B.C. to 39A.D. as tetrarch (governor of one of four divisions of a province, a subordinate ruler) of Galilee and Perea. Four of Herods sons ruled the kingdom divided into four tetrarchies, so the rulers were called tetrarchs, not kings. Judaea was assigned to Archelaus, Galilee to this Herod (Antipas), the area of Trachonitis to their brother Philip, and the area of Abilene to Lysanias - Luke 3:1.
3.) Herod Agrippa I, who murdered James the Greater (Acts 12) and imprisoned Peter. His his friends included the infamous Emperor Caligula (37-41). He reigned from 37 to 44A.D.;
4.) Herod Agrippa II, who became titular King of Judea. He ruled at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, and after the fall went to Rome. Paul pleaded before him there.
Verse 1 cont.: Called "Magi" in Latin, they are often thought to be "magicians" or, because they followed a star, "astrologers", - See commentary in NAB. Magicians or astrologers would not be interested in the birth of a Saviour, relying instead on their own cunning and intelligence. Sorcerors (the next logical step from "magic" or "astrology") would not go give up their demonic power, but would wish to challenge and destroy the God-Man, as the devil later shows in the desert, Simon Magus will show in Acts 8:9-23 and Elymas withstood the apostles in Acts 13:8-11.
DEUTERONOMY 18:10-12: "Neither let there be found among you any one that shall expiate his son or daughter, making them to pass through the fire: or that consulteth soothsayers, or observeth dreams and omens. Neither let there be any wizard, Nor charmer, nor any one that consulteth pythonic spirits, or fortune tellers: or that seeketh the truth from the dead. For the Lord abhorreth all these things: and for these abominations he will destroy them at thy coming.
The latin word, Magis, means "of a higher degree" or "much more", but because Latin was a common language at the time, the word became corrupted by the time of Simon Magus.
St. Jerome in the Nicene Fathers: ". . . and Latin itself is daily undergoing changes through differences of place and time."
The Magi were most likely coming from Persia, India or Arabia - according to St. Justin, Tertullian, Cyprian, Epiphanius, and others. This answers best to the prophecy of Isaiah, who foretells (60:3-6) that the Sabeans, Midian, and Ephah, who are all Arabians, should come to Christ with presents. Tertullian first spoke of the magi as being kings, referring to Psalms 67:30, 71:10 and again, Isaiah 60:3. Sts. Cyprian, Basil, Chrysostom, Jerome, Hilary, Isidore and Bede follow Tertullians' belief. The Church has accepted this (Isaiah's prophecy), as we see it recited in the office for the Epiphany.
Although Matthew doesn't say how many magi there were, since the time of Origin it has been accepted that there were three.
Some groups of people would like to show the two beliefs (astrology and Christianity) to be compatible with one another, and not in contrast or contradictory.
Verse 2: Prefigured in Numbers 24:17, "I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not near. A star shall rise out of Jacob and a sceptre shall spring from Israel: and shall strike the chiefs of Moab, and shall waste all the children of Seth."
Because the coming of the magi was predicted here by Balaam, a magician, some early fathers conjectured the magi were also magicians, and actually descendants from Balaam, but this was never strongly held by any of them. If anything, they would have been astronomers, and, noticing a new star suddenly appear in the sky, remembered a prophesy of Eastern origin stating the Saviours' arrival would be known to the people of the East because a new star would miraculously appear in the heavens.
Summa, vol 4, page 2210 - "The Magi, who came to Christ on the thirteenth day after His birth, on which day is kept the feast of the Epiphany. For if they had come after a year, or even two years, they would not have found Him in Bethlehem, since it is written (Luke 2:39) that "after they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord" - that is to say, after they had offered up the Child Jesus in the Temple - "they returned into Galilee, to their city" - namely, Nazareth. In the third place, it was made known in the Temple to the righteous on the fortieth day after His birth, as related by Luke (Luke 2:22). The NAB has "after the time of the purification", .
Summa, cont.: III, q. 36, a.6, Reply OBJ 3: There are two opinions about the apparition of the star seen by the Magi. For Chrysostom, and Augustine in a sermon on the Epiphany (Hom. 131, 132), say that the star was seen by the Magi during the two years that preceded the birth of Christ: and then, having first considered the matter and prepared themselves for the journey, they came from the farthest east to Christ, arriving on the thirteenth day after His birth. Wherefore Herod, immediately after the departure of the Magi, "perceiving that He was deluded by them," commanded the male children to be killed "from two years old and under," being doubtful lest Christ were already born when the star appeared, according as he had heard from the Magi.
Summa cont. answer 7 - I answer that, As Chrysostom says (Hom. 6 in Matth.), it is clear, for many reasons, that the star which appeared to the Magi did not belong to the heavenly system. First, because no other star approaches from the same quarter as this star, whose course was from north to south, these being the relative positions of Persia, whence the Magi came, and Judea. Secondly, from the time (at which it was seen). For it appeared not only at night, but also at midday: and no star can do this, not even the moon. Thirdly, because it was visible at one time and hidden at another. For when they entered Jerusalem it hid itself: then, when they had left Herod, it showed itself again. Fourthly, because its movement was not continuous, but when the Magi had to continue their journey the star moved on; when they had to stop the star stood still; as happened to the pillar of a cloud in the desert. Fifthly, because it indicated the virginal Birth, not by remaining aloft, but by coming down below. For it is written (Matthew 2:9) that "the star which they had seen in the east went before them, until it came and stood over where the child was." Whence it is evident that the words of the Magi, "We have seen His star in the east," are to be taken as meaning, not that when they were in the east the star appeared over the country of Judea, but that when they saw the star it was in the east, and that it preceded them into Judea (although this is considered doubtful by some). But it could not have indicated the house distinctly, unless it were near the earth. And, as he (Chrysostom) observes, this does not seem fitting to a star, but "of some power endowed with reason." Consequently "it seems that this was some invisible force made visible under the form of a star."
Verse 3: Pope Leo says in a sermon on the Epiphany: "Herod was not so much troubled in himself as the devil in Herod. For Herod thought Him to be a man, but the devil thought Him to be God. Each feared a successor to his kingdom: the devil, a heavenly successor; Herod, an earthly successor." But their fear was needless: since Christ had not come to set up an earthly kingdom, as Pope Leo says, addressing himself to Herod: "Thy palace cannot hold Christ: nor is the Lord of the world content with the paltry power of thy scepter." That the Jews were troubled, who, on the contrary, should have rejoiced, was either because, as Chrysostom says, "wicked men could not rejoice at the coming of the Holy one," or because they wished to court favor with Herod, whom they feared; for "the populace is inclined to favor too much those whose cruelty it endures."
"All of Jerusalem" may have also been troubled because they were afraid of getting a ruler who was more blood-thirsty than Herod, which actually did happen with his son, Archaelaus (chap. 2:22)
Verse 8: Herod, of course, had no intention of adoring "the child" - he inquired from the chief priests and scribes, then privately inquired from the wise men, attempting to discern and discover the information for himself.
Verse 9: The star stood over where the child was. Obviously not a normal star.
Verse 11: They were in a stable, but for the Hebrews any place in which people live is called a house - Psalms 103:17 (not in NAB) - "there the sparrows shall make there nests. The highest of them is the house of the heron".
Luke 2:16 states clearly the magi found Jesus lying in a manger, which certainly wouldn't be found in a house - not even then.
Technically, Mary wasn't subject to the law of purification, just as Jesus didn't really need to be circumcised, but both were done out of obedience, to avoid scandal and as an example - God is not subject to His own laws, but follows them, in order to give good example, and so no one might say He was not perfectly just.
Verse 11 cont.: Theologians distinguish the worship due to God as latria, or worship, veneration of the saints as dulia, and veneration to the blessed Virgin as hyperdulia, or special veneration.
The gold, frankincense, and myrrh offered as gifts were symbolic - the gold signified the tribute they paid to him as their king, the incense, that he was God, and the myrrh (used to embalm dead bodies) recognized that He was also become a mortal man (not mortal in the sense that the perfect Man could die a natural death, but that He would die). And unless anyone would assume that three gifts would naturally explain three kings, it is believed by some historians that each king brought the three gifts, because of their own traditions.
The prophets and Psalms foretold that the kings of the earth would pay homage to God at this time (Isaiah 49:23). They would offer him their treasures (Is. 60:5) and adore him (Ps. 72:10-15). Gold is not used in magical incantations.
Verse 12: Had the Magi sought Christ as an earthly King, they would have remained with Him when they found Him; but they only worship, and go their way. After returning to their homeland, it is believed they continued in the worship of the 1 True God and taught many of their land. Later, the apostle Thomas reached their country, and followed his teaching. This is also established by the fact that in the 15th century, the Portuguese arrived in India and encountered a Christian community claiming to have been founded by the Apostle Thomas. (Do you own research for more on that!)
Verse 13: As Joseph is the head of the family, it is he alone who receives Divine guidance for his family. Egypt, mostly desert except for the major cities like Alexandria, was a popular place to run to when people were being pursued. We later find the first hermits living there, some having been pursued by different pagan rulers, or family members - St. Paul, the first hermit, is one example.
Verse 14: Osee (Hosea) 11:1, "As the morning passes, so has the king of Israel passed away. Because Israel was a child, and I loved him and I called my son out of Egypt." Luke doesn't mention their flight into Egypt.
Verse 16: Some think from the Apocalypse that the number of children slain was 144,000. Others think the number was closer to 14,000. Because it was a relatively small town (about 1000), the more approximate guess would be about 30 to 40 male children. In 1940, Bethlehem had a population of about 7,000, and children 2 years and under numbered 561 - 262 were male.
In calling these children martyrs for Christ, many people make the mistake of teaching they were saved through the "baptism of blood". This is incorrect and misleading, as these infants died and were martyrs under the Old Law - baptism was not instituted until much later (Pentecost) - their justification was still through circumcision.
However, they may still be considered martyrs.
Verse 18: Jeremiah 31:15 - The Evangelist shows the greatness of the mourning, by saying that even the dead Rachel was roused to mourn her sons, and would not be comforted because they were not, meaning they were not comforted in the present life. Rachel was buried near Bethlehem in Ephrata, and was regarded as the mother, because her remains was there, and many were her descendants. "Rachel was buried near Bethlehem. Since her grave was nearby and the property belonged to her son Benjamin, the children beheaded in Bethlehem could reasonably be called Rachel's children." - Chrysostom. Her tomb was still extant at the time of St. Jerome and he acknowledged its authenticity.
Verse 19: The Jewish historian Josephus says about five days later.
Verse 22: Joseph wasn't disobedient to the angelic warning, but did as he was told. The Angel had not fixed the exact place in Israel, so Joseph hesitates. He may have been headed directly for Jerusalem, since the temple was there, and assumed that was where the angel meant, until he realized who was ruling there. In Galilee (where Nazareth was located - Luke 2:39), his other son, Herod, was tetrarch, but he apparently held no threat to the family at that time.
Verse 23: Note the previous references to prophet - 1:22, 2:5 and 2:17. Suddenly Matthew says prophets, but none of them specifically refer to the Messiah as being called a Nazarene. The name Nazarene doesn't occur once in the Old Testament.
Matthew is referring to a passage in Isaiah 11:1 - "And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root." "In the strict letter of the Hebrew" (Catena, page 90), "There shall come a Rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Nazarene shall grow out of His roots." Depending on how Nazarene is spelt, nazir, nozeri, it means separate, holy, consecrate, crowned, religious. If it was spelled with tsade, it means full of flowers, or guarded.
Isaiah 11:1 is a figure in which Christ shall spring from the blessed Virgin for the salvation of mankind. The Jews agreed that this prediction regarded the Messias.
Nazareth was a tiny Palestinian village, and critics used Nazarene as a term of abuse when Jesus began His mission. Even St. Paul tried to humiliate the Christians by calling them Nazarenes in Acts 24:5, "We have found this to be a pestilent man and raising seditions among all the Jews throughout the world: and the author of the sedition of the sect of the Nazarenes".
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