The Word Made Fresh
1Jesus was born in the village of Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the reign of King Herod. Soon after, some astrologers from the east arrived in Jerusalem, 2and went around asking “Where is the newborn baby who is to be king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose, and we have come to pay him homage.”
3When King Herod heard about this, he was not happy, and the whole city was on edge. 4He called together the chief priests and the palace lawyers and asked them to research where the Messiah was to be born. 5They reported back to him: “Bethlehem in Judea is the birthplace, because it is in the records of the prophet Micah, who wrote:
6You, Bethlehem of Judah, are certainly not the least important among the towns of Judah, because out of you will come a ruler who will lead my people Israel.”
7Then Herod secretly called the foreign visitors and found out exactly when the star had been first seen. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, telling them, “Go and make a thorough search for the child, and when you have found him bring me word so that I can go and honor him.”
9So, after having met with the king, they set out for Bethlehem. The star they had seen rise in the East seemed to go ahead of them and lead them right to the place where the child was. 10When they realized that the star was standing over a certain place, they were overjoyed, 11and when they arrived at the house they went inside and saw the child with his mother, Mary. They knelt to honor the child. Then, opening their luggage, they presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12Then they left for their own county by a different route because they had been warned about Herod in a dream.
13After they had gone, an angel of the Lord came to Joseph while he dreamed and said, “Get up and take the child and his mother, and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you it is safe to return, because Herod is going to search for the child. He is determined to kill him.”
14Joseph arose immediately in the night and started the journey to Egypt with the child and Mary. 15They remained in Egypt until Herod died. So, what the Lord said through the prophet came to pass: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
16When Herod discovered that the astrologers had deceived him, he was outraged. He sent his palace guard to kill all the children in and around Bethlehem, all the children up to the age of two, a calculation he had made based on what the astrologers had told him. 17So, what the prophet Jeremiah had written came to pass: 18“A voice was heard in Ramah (Bethlehem): deep weeping and wailing as Rachel grieved for her children. She could not be comforted because they were gone forever.”
19But when Herod died, one of the Lord’s angelic messengers appeared suddenly in Joseph’s dreams while they were in Egypt, and said, 20“Wake up! Take the child and his mother and go back home to the land of Israel. Those who were trying to kill the child are gone now.” 21So, Joseph arose and took the child and his mother back to the land of Israel. 22But when he learned that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go through Jerusalem, but in a dream he was warned and he went around to the region of Galilee. In Galilee he settled in the town of Nazareth, and what the prophets had written came to pass: “He will be called a Nazarene.”
1-6: We can only imagine who the “wise men” were. Tradition holds that there were three of them, but the text only confirms that they brought three kinds of gifts to the baby Jesus (verse 11). That they were Persian astrologers seems the most likely guess, but their role in Matthew is to provide the background for Herod’s reaction and subsequent attempt to kill the child. Matthew is presenting a cosmic conflict between God and the powers of this world, and between good and evil. He also uses the opportunity to quote from the scriptures (Micah 5:2).
7-12: Herod, who is evil’s poster child, represents all the opposition to God’s will in this world. He is devious, deceitful, egotistical, paranoid, and murderous. The “wise men”, representing good, are determined, generous, open, and honest. They are not, however, altogether wise. Their avoidance of Herod’s trap is a result of God intervening in the story through a dream. Dreams were thought to be windows into the world beyond this world.
13-15: Again, God uses a dream to direct the course of events and escape Herod’s evil plans. Matthew has Joseph taking his family to Egypt, a sojourn not mentioned in the other gospels, but in Matthew’s view a necessary journey to fulfill another prophecy that he believes relates to the career of the coming Messiah (see Hosea 11:1).
16-18: Herod does his best to get rid of what he can only see as the competition. Although no other record of this awful event is known, it does fit what we know of Herod’s mental state during his last years. He died around 4 B.C. He suffered from paranoia and depression, and murdered some of his own children as well as his wife Miriamne. In addition, Matthew’s information about the “slaughter of the innocents” gives him another opportunity to authenticate Jesus’ claim to messiahship from the prophetic record (Jeremiah 31:15).
19-23: Once again God steps in to direct the action through the medium of dreams. Joseph takes his family to Nazareth, giving Matthew another connection with the ancient prophesies, although this one (“He will be called a Nazorean”) cannot be found in what we know as the Old Testament, at least not as a direct quote. However, the Hebrew word for “branch,” one of the words thought to refer to the coming Messiah, is “nezer,” which Matthew may have thought was a reference to Nazareth. Also, other sources mention Nazareth as Jesus’ hometown, (Luke 1:26, for example), so Matthew has to get him there, and his format calls for the mention of a prophecy (as at 2:6, 15, and 18). Archelaus, one of Herod’s sons, began his rule of Judea in 4 B.C.
God works through and around evil rulers like Herod and wicked leaders who use others for their own benefit. It will all work out in the end; God’s people will never be eradicated.