1 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,
The star they saw was evidently not of the ordinary heavenly bodies. It was neither a "fixed star," a planet, nor a meteor. Its motion was local and slow and steady, and subject to an intelligent guidance, which caused it to
"stand over where the young child was."
This was a phenomenon entirely outside ordinary astrological occurrences. The idea that the star they saw was an appearance caused by the brilliant conjunction of leading planets at their perihelia, cannot be maintained if we are to accept Matthew's account (as to which we hold there can be no true question.)
...There is no reason why we should not take the narrative just as it stands. Its unusual or miraculous character need be no obstacle. The whole situation of which it forms a part was miraculous. The birth of Christ by a virgin -- the introduction of Emmanuel upon the scene -- the announcement thereof by an angel and its celebration by a multitude of the heavenly host -- the activity of the spirit of prophecy in Mary, Zacharias, Elizabeth, Simeon, &c. -- surely all was miraculous: and why not a miraculous star, if to divine wisdom it seemed necessary or suitable?
A cloud, which at night turned to radiance, went before Moses and the children of Israel when they came out of Egypt: why not a star in connection with the work of the prophet like unto Moses? There is nothing to be said against it except that it is strange and unusual, and apparently superfluous: but there is no weight in this against the testimony of Matthew whom the spirit guided into all truth, as Jesus promised.
These "wise men from the east" were evidently God-fearing men on the watch for the Messiah, whom many beside them in that age were expecting to appear, on the strength of Dan. ix. And this travelling star appears to have been given them as a sign. Even if it could be proved they were astrologers, this would not dispose of the attested fact that in this matter of looking for the promise, God had regard to them and communicated with them at a time when angelic communications on the subject were rife.
Balaam was a soothsayer, and yet was the subject of true revelation on a certain occasion when appropriate use could be made of him. So the witch of Endor was used to make known the truth of Saul's doom. There would have been nothing more incongruous in God employing a company of the kind of men that were popularly supposed to be learned in occult things, in garnishing the situation that witnessed the birth of his beloved Son.
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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.
Now, was it not fitting that at the very commencement of the life of him who was to be the Father's representative and manifestation, there should be a recognition of the kingly majesty veiled and involved?
The angels celebrated the event of his birth: and here we have the representatives of what was esteemed in that age the most honourable order of men upon earth, prostrating themselves in the presence of the child, and offering costly gifts. It is fitting; it is beautiful.
The impulse of all hearts in genuine sympathy with the work of God, will be that if they had been there, they would have taken joyful part with the wise men's adoration of the babe in whom was fulfilled the heart-stirring prophecy,
"Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called wonderful, counsellor, &c."
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14 When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt:
Joseph and Mary, having "performed all things according to the law of the Lord," "returned into Galilee to their own city Nazareth." So Luke informs us. Matthew seems to say they went to Egypt (ii. 14). Whence this apparent inconsistency? It evidently arises from Matthew omitting notice of the matters recorded by Luke, and speaking of a later occurrence. That it is a later occurrence of which he speaks is manifest from a comparison of the leading features of the two accounts.
In the case of Luke, all that is recorded happened within the first six weeks of the Lord's life. In the case of Matthew, the period was sufficiently extended to make Herod go as high as two years for the maximum age of the children to be slain ("two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men," Matt. ii. 16). The details require a considerably extended period.
It was "when Jesus was born in Bethlehem" that wise men came from the east. Their journey must have taken some time. They did not start till they had seen the star, and the appearance of the star coincided with the birth of Jesus, as would appear from Matt. ii. 7.
They enquired on their arrival at Jerusalem, "where is he that is born King of the Jews?" Their enquiry troubled all Jerusalem. This must have been a work of time; so must the summoning of the "chief priests and scribes" by Herod, to ascertain from them the locality of the birth of Christ according to the prophets; and the departure of the wise men to find the child.
All these things could not have come into the six weeks elapsing from the Lord's birth to his presentation in the temple. Therefore, they must have transpired afterwards. If it be asked, how could that be, seeing that the wise men found the child in Bethlehem when, according to Luke, it had been conveyed to Nazareth, there are two suggestions, either of which may yield the answer. Either of them would allow a place for Matthew's incidents in the narrative of Luke, viz: either in Luke ii. 39, or between 39 and 40.
The first is, that when Luke said "When they had performed all things according to the law," he only meant "after" they had "performed all things, &c.," without intending to indicate how soon after, and that, in fact they stayed a while, during which they received the visit of the wise men, and then went to Egypt, and then to Nazareth.
On this supposition, Luke simply leaves the Egyptian episode out of the record, as having been already fully narrated by Matthew, with whose Gospel he would be acquainted before he began to write his own; giving prominence rather to details of which Matthew says nothing. The room for it, on this view, would he in Luke's word "returned" in verse 39: they "returned" (via Egypt) on their journey to which, he deemed it superfluous to say anything.
The other suggestion is that if Luke meant that Joseph and Mary returned to Nazareth immediately after the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, then they must have returned to Bethlehem sometime afterwards (possibly to complete the business of the family enrolment.) There is no record of a second visit having been made; but Matt. ii. is evidence of it, if they departed to Nazareth when Jesus was six weeks old; because it shows them in Bethlehem when he must have been an infant of months
"according to the time which Herod had diligently enquired of the wise men."
One or other of these hypotheses is necessitated: either Joseph and Mary did not return to Nazareth immediately, or they came back from Nazareth to Bethlehem after having returned.
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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.
At first sight, it is difficult to understand how a historical allusion to the exodus can be a prophecy with reference to Christ. ... Matthew wrote the words undoubtedly, and that, too, by the inspiration of the Spirit of God, which rested on and guided all the apostles to the end, as Christ promised.
The question is, on what principle can two meanings be conveyed in one form of words? It is not a question of two opposite meanings, or two dissimilar meanings, but of two cognate and related meanings in the terms employed by inspiration. There is a first and proximate meaning to all the facts and statements recorded in Moses and the Prophets, but was there not a secondary meaning, congruous to the first -- not apparent at the time of the first meaning, but latent and left for future elucidation?
However repugnant such an idea may be to limited human intellect, it is impossible to deny that such is the teaching of the New Testament concerning the writings of inspiration. That teaching is not confined to isolated instances like the quotation about the exodus. It runs throughout the apostolic writings.
It is peculiarly a New Testament revelation that there was in the scope of Old Testament events, institutions, and statements, a meaning not obvious to those who stood immediately related to them. Of family incidents in the life of Abraham, Paul says,
"which things are an allegory" (Gal. iv. 24.)
We should not have known this otherwise. He tells us that in the law of Moses existed
"the form of knowledge and of the truth" (Rom. ii. 18);
that it was
"a shadow of good things to come, whose substance was of Christ" (Col. ii. 16. 17.)
We should not have known this had we listened only to Moses.
Christ speaks in the same way. He says that not one jot or tittle could pass from the law till all was fulfilled (Matt. v. 18; Luke xvi. 17.) He said he had come to fulfil it, and that
"all things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses ... concerning him" (Luke xxiv. 44).
We should not have known there was anything in the law of Moses to fulfil if Christ had not spoken thus, and Paul after him.
...It is characteristic of high mentality even in its human manifestation, to delight in analogies and involved meanings: to hit off two significances in the same expression. That this should prove to be an attribute of the Eternal mind, not only need be no difficulty, but it is both to be expected and will excite admiration. Analogy and type and double entendre run through the whole history of divine doings upon earth.
... The Spirit of God's own way is the best; and although its ways are often hard to see through, they improve with acquaintance, and, become more lucid and beautiful as we master them.
Israel was the Son of God, as Moses was commanded to say to Pharaoh:
"Israel is my son, even my first-born.... let my son go that he may serve me" (Ex. iv. 22, 23).
By this, Israel was a prophecy of Christ, as the plant is a prophecy of the flower. The two were connected. The one came out of the other. Israel became the son of God for the working out of God's purpose in Christ, the ultimate and real son; and one pattern running through the whole work made it possible to foreshadow the one in the other, and make the one a prophecy of the other.
In calling the one out of Egypt, the fact became, and was intended to be, a prophecy of the other, coming out of Egypt as well; for the one was the other drawn to a focus as it were.
... Topographical coincidences run through the whole plan.
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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 enquired of the wise men.
This barbarous edict was thoroughly carried out by the willing instruments always at the disposal of a despotic government. Thereupon arose a wail rarely heard upon earth -- the wail of a multitude of bereaved mothers.
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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.
It is impossible to conceive acuter natural agony than that inflicted on the mothers of Bethlehem. As no human affection is stronger than that of a mother for her child, so no suffering could be greater than that caused by this cruel slaughter.
... It is one of the most harrowing episodes in the story of human suffering -- a long, dark, dreadful story. Then was indeed fulfilled, in its most literal and striking manner, that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying
"In Ramah was there a voice heard, lamentation and weeping and great mourning."
The primary application of this prophecy was to the removal of Israel in captivity from the land, but the richness and depth of the mind of God are often seen in two or more analogous coming events being covered in the same prophecy.
Had Joseph and Mary and "the young child" been in Bethlehem at the time, nothing short of a miracle would have saved the child from Herod's executioners. A miracle, no doubt, would in that case have been performed; but God does not work miracles unless they are absolutely necessary.
He shielded His Son from harm by having him removed beforehand [the descent into Egypt v 15]. He has other sons who may hope for similar providential favour; for all His sons are precious to Him.
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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:
Herod's son, Archelaus, was in power, and fearing that the son might retain the feelings of the father in reference to "the young child," he went northwards, and "turned aside" to Nazareth
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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.
He shall be called a Nazarene
"Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" (John i. 46).
It is evident from this that it was a place of no repute -- we might almost say a place of bad repute -- a place at all events that could lend no human lustre to Christ.
Why should such a place be chosen? Why not Jerusalem, Hebron, or Cesarea? The answer is doubtless to be found in the principle defined by Paul, that receives such frequent illustration throughout the course of Scripture: "God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty ... that no flesh should glory in his presence" (I Cor. i. 27, 29).
Nazareth was among the "weak things" of the age. It could give no prestige to the work that God was about to do. Therefore that work would come before men without human claims or recommendations.
The glory of God alone would be seen.
... It is in the universal disposition of men to lean towards influence and respectability in their enterprises, and to avoid everything of a damaging or even questionable association. The very word Nazareth thus becomes a symbol of the divine nature and origin of the work of Christ; and of the principle upon which divine ends are achieved.
Wherein God may have a work on earth at this time, it will be found that the same principle has been adopted. America has given us the gospel which venerable and learned England was alone supposed to be possessed of learning enough to discover. And it is in the hands of the poor and the unlearned that its work is being done.
Nazareth was off the highway of human traffic. It stands in a secluded part of the Holy Land in its northern section. The seclusion is obtained by the formation of a circle of hills in the heart of the mountain range that bounds the plain of Esdraelon on its northern side.
Access to this circle of hills (forming a natural amphitheatre) is obtained from the plain by a narrow pathway, which strikes through a cleft in the side of the mountain.
The pathway gradually opens out into a valley, which increases in width as the traveller advances, until at last it opens out into an amphitheatre of hills, on the northern side of which lies Nazareth, well to the top of one of the hills -- a straggling village now -- probably greatly reduced from what it was in the days of Christ, having shared in the shrinkage that has befallen everything in the Lord's land in this the day of its desolation.
In this secluded nook there was greater quiet and simplicity of life than in the busier centres and channels of human activity, in more southerly parts of the land. It was fitting that such a quiet place should be chosen as the sphere of the Lord's human life in probation. It was more adapted to the culture of a divine state of mind than the activity of a great city.
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He shall be called a Nazarene
Herod's son, Archelaus, was in power, and fearing that the son might retain the feelings of the father in reference to "the young child," he went northwards, and "turned aside" to Nazareth, "that it might be fulfilled," says Matthew,
"which was spoken by the prophets, he shall be called a Nazarene."
There is no prophecy in these terms to be found in any of the prophets. It is evident from the way it is introduced that it was not intended as a citation of express words. It is introduced as something "spoken by the prophets;" this is not the way an exact prophecy would be referred to. It is a way of alluding to some general sense of what the prophets have said. What have they said that would connect his name with Nazareth? This depends upon the meaning attached to Nazareth.
There are two meanings, both of which would yield some analogy to what is predicted of Christ "by the prophets." The first is that which is yielded by the Hebrew root of the name Nazareth, netzer. Though its primary meaning is to reserve, preserve, it comes by derivation, as a noun, to signify
"a plant, sucker, or young tree springing from the old root and reserved or preserved when the tree is cut down,"
therefore, a branch, as translated in Is. xi. 1, and other places: "a branch shall grow out of his roots."
Scholars suggest that the reason of Nazareth being called by a name having this meaning was the exuberance of its foliage. However this may be, there was a fitness in the man who was to be known as the Branch of David, being brought up in a city having that idea in its name, however derived.
It would in that case be one of the many correspondences with which divine ways and things abound as we have seen; and Christ's transference to a place with such a name would be an incipient commencement of the fulfilment of the prediction that his name would be the Branch.
The second meaning would be found in the unfavourable impression conveyed to the popular mind in Matthew's day, by a man being known as one brought up at Nazareth. This sense is expressed in the question put by Nathaniel when he heard that the Messiah had been found in Jesus of Nazareth:
"Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?"
Nazareth was in poor repute; it was a despised place. To be a Nazarene was to be a despised man. Now this is what was "spoken by the prophets" that Jesus was to be -- a man despised and rejected -- a Nazarene in the sense attachable to the epithet at the time of Christ's birth.
There is a third meaning for which there is something to be said, though its fitness is not so apparently complete as in the other two cases, viz., the possible correspondence of the name of Nazareth with the Nazarite law which prefigured Christ as much as all other parts of the law which have their "substance" in him.
He was to be a separated and holy one unto God after the type of the Nazarite; and this general prophecy may have been taken as corresponding with the name of the city where he was to be brought up; or, indeed, as required by the law of correspondences already glanced at, that he should be brought up in a city so named.
Finally, it is possible that in the far-reaching and richly involved operations of divine wisdom in the arrangement of these matters, the whole three meanings were intended to converge in the name of that particular spot upon earth which was to be honoured as the mortal home of Earth's Immortal Lord and Owner.
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