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in the east, and are come to worship him. 3 When Herod
ferent minds may feel differently as to the answer to this question. And, seeing that much has been said and written on this note in no friendly spirit, I submit that it is not for any man to charge another, who is as firm a believer in the facts related in the sacred text as he himself can be, with weakening that belief, because he feels an honest conviction that it is here relating, not a miracle, but a natural appearance. It is, of course, the far safer way, as far as reputation is concerned, to introduce miraculous agency wherever possible: but the present Editor aims at truth, not popularity.
Now we learn from astronomical calculations, that a remarkable conjunction of the planets of our system took place a short time before the birth of our Lord. In the year of Rome 747, on the 29th of May, there was a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the 20th degree of the constellation Pisces, close to the first point of Aries, which was the part of the heavens noted in astrological science as that in which the signs denoted the greatest and most noble events. On the 29th of September, in the same year, another conjunction of the same planets took place, in the 16th degree of Pisces: and on the 5th of December, a third, in the 15th degree of the same sign. Supposing the magi to have seen the first of these conjunctions, they saw it actually in the East; for on the 29th of May it would rise 3 hours before sunrise. If they then took their journey, and arrived at Jerusa lem in a little more than five months (the journey from Babylon took Ezra four months, see Ezra vii. 9), if they performed the route from Jerusalem to Bethlehem in the evening, as is implied, the December conjunction, in 15° of Pisces, would be before them in the direction of Bethlehem, 1 hour east of the meridian at sunset. These circumstances would seem to form a remarkable coincidence with the history in our text. They are in no way inconsistent with the word star, which cannot surely (see below) be pressed to its mere literal sense of one single star, but understood in its wider astrological meaning: nor is this explanation of the star directing them to Bethlehem at all repugnant to the plain words of vv. 9, 10, importing its motion from S.E. towards s.w., the direction of Bethlehem. We may further observe, that no part of the text respecting the star, asserts, or even implies, a miracle; and that the very slight apparent inconsis
tencies with the above explanation are no more than the report of the magi themselves, and the general belief of the age would render unavoidable. If this subservience of the superstitions of astrology to the Divine purposes be objected to, we may answer with Wetstein, "We must infer therefore that these men came to their conclusion from the rules of their art: which though beyond all doubt futile, vain, and delusive, might yet be sometimes permitted to hit on a right result. Hence appears the wonderful wisdom of God, who used the wickedness of men to bring Joseph into Egypt,-who sent the King of Babylon against the Jews by auguries and divinations (Ezek. xxi. 21, 22), and in this instance directed the magi to Christ by astrology."
It may be remarked that Abarbanel the Jew, who knew nothing of this conjunction, relates it as a tradition, that no conjunction could be of mightier import than that of Jupiter and Saturn, which planets were in conjunction A.M. 2365, before the birth of Moses, in the sign of Pisces; and thence remarks that that sign was the most significant one for the Jews. From this consideration he concludes that the conjunction of these planets in that sign, in his own time (A.D. 1463), betokened the near approach of the birth of the Messiah. And as the Jews did not invent astrology, but learnt it from the Chaldæans, this idea, that a conjunction in Pisces betokened some great event in Judæa, must have prevailed among Chaldæan astrologers.
It is fair to notice the influence on the position maintained in this note of the fact which seems to have been substantiated, that the planets did not, during the year B.C. 7, approach each other so as to be mistaken by any eye for one star: indeed not "within double the apparent diameter of the moon." I submit, that even if this were so, the inference in the note remains as it was. The conjunction of the two planets, complete or incomplete, would be that which would bear astrological significance, not their looking like one star. The two bright planets seen in the east,-the two bright planets standing over Bethlehem, these would on each occasion have arrested the attention of the magi; and this appearance would have been denominated by them his star. in the east] i. e. either in the Eastern country from which they came, or in the Eastern quarter of the heavens.
e here only in
the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the N.T. I Mace. 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 Judæa: for thus it is A MICAH V. 2. Written by the prophet, 6 d And thou Bethlehem, 8 [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. 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. 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,
E not expressed in the original.
to worship him] i. e. to do homage to him, in the Eastern fashion of prostration. 3. was troubled] Josephus represents these troubles as raised by the Pharisees, who prophesied a revolution. Herod, as a foreigner and usurper, feared one was born King of the Jews: the people, worn away by seditions and slaughters, feared fresh tumults and wars. There may also be a trace of the popular notion that the times of the Messiah would be ushered in by great tribulations. 4. when he had gathered] i. e. says Lightfoot, he assembled the Sanhedrim. For the Sanhedrim consisting of seventy-one members, and comprising Priests, Levites, and Israelites, under the term chief priests" are contained the two first of these, and under "scribes of the people" the third. the chief priests are most likely the High Priest and those of his race,-any who had served the office, and perhaps also the presidents of the twenty-four courses (1 Chron. xxiv. 6). the scribes consisted of the teachers and interpreters of the Divine law, the lawyers of St. Luke. But the elders of the people are usually mentioned with these two classes as making up the Sanhedrim. See ch. xvi. 21; xxvi. 3, 59. Possibly on this occasion the chief priests and scribes only were summoned, the question being one of Scripture learning. 6. And thou] This is a free paraphrase of the prophecy in Micah
It must be remembered that though the
among the princes." out of thee shall come] It has been remarked that the singular expression, which occurs both in Tacitus and Suetonius (see above), "there should go forth from Judæa," may have been derived from these words of the LXX. 9.] stood over may mean over that part of Bethlehem where the young child was,' which they might have ascertained by enquiry. Or it may even mean, 'over the whole town of Bethlehem.' If it is to be understood as standing over the house, and thus indicating to the magi the position of the object of their search, the whole incident 2. must be regarded as miraculous. But this
they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
ISA. lx. 6.
* presented unto him gifts; 'gold, and frankincense, e PSA. xxii. 10. and myrrh. 12 And being warned of God in a dream that they 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
h render, an.
is not necessarily implied, even if the
Purification, which itself may have taken
13-23.] FLIGHT INTO EGYPT.
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 i coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, 18 h In Rama was there a voice heard, [lamentation and] weeping, and great mourning, Rachel i render, borders: see ch. iv. 13, where the word in the original is the same. komit.
h JER. XXXI. 15.
g Hos. xi, 1.
13.] The command was immediate; and Joseph made no delay. He must be understood, on account of "by night" below, as having arisen the same night and departed forthwith. Egypt, as near, as a Roman province and independent of Herod, and much inhabited by Jews, was an easy and convenient refuge. 15. Out of Egypt] This citation shews the almost universal application in the N. T. of the prophetic writings to the expected Messiah, as the general antitype of all the events of the typical dispensation. We shall have occasion to remark the same again and again in the course of the Gospels. It seems to have been a received axiom of interpretation (which has, by its adoption in the N. T., received the sanction of the Holy Spirit Himself, and now stands for our guidance), that the subject of all allusions, the represented in all parables and dark sayings, was He who was to come, or the circumstances attendant on His advent and reign.-The words are written in Hosea of the children of Israel, and are rendered from the Hebrew. -A similar expression with regard to Israel is found in Exod. iv. 22, 23. that it might be fulfilled must not be explained away: it never denotes the event or mere result, but always the purpose. 16.] Josephus makes no mention of this slaughter; nor is it likely that he would have done. Probably no great number of children perished in so small a place as Bethlehem and its neighbourhood. The modern objections to this narrative may be answered best by remembering the monstrous character of this tyrant, of whom Josephus asserts, "a dark choler seized on him, maddening him against all." Herod had marked the way to his throne, and his reign itself, with blood; had murdered his wife and three sons (the last just about this time); and was likely enough, in blind fury, to have made no enquiries, but given the savage order
at once.-Besides, there might have been a reason for not making enquiry, but rather taking the course he did, which was sure, as he thought, to answer the end, without divulging the purpose. The word "privily" in ver. 7 seems to favour this view. was mocked] The Evangelist is speaking of Herod's view of the the borders thereof] The word coasts is the common rendering of the Greek horia in the A. V. It does not imply any bordering on a sea shore, but is an old use for parts, or neighbourhood, as côte in French. See margin of A. V.
the borders thereof will betoken the insulated houses, and hamlets, which belonged to the territory of Bethlehem. from two years old] This expression must not be taken as any very certain indication of the time when the star did actually appear. The addition and under implies that there was uncertainty in Herod's mind as to the age pointed out; and if so, why might not the jealous tyrant, although he had accurately ascertained the date of the star's appearing, have taken a range of time extending before as well as after it, the more surely to attain his point? 17. that which was spoken by Jeremy] Apparently, an accommodation of the prophecy in Jer. xxxi. 15, which was originally written of the Babylonish captivity. We must not draw any fanciful distinction between "then was fulfilled" and " that might be fulfilled," but rather seek our explanation in the acknowledged system of prophetic interpretation among the Jews, still extant in their rabbinical books, and now sanctioned to us by N. T, usage; at the same time remembering, for our caution, how little even now we understand of the full bearing of prophetic and typical words and acts. None of the expressions of this prophecy must be closely and literally pressed. The link of connexion seems to be Rachel's sepulchre, which (Gen. xxxv. 19: see also
weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not. 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 Judæa 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.
1 render, over.
1 Sam. x. 2) was 'in the way to Bethlehem; and from that circumstance, perhaps, the inhabitants of that place are called her children. We must also take into account the close relation between the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, which had long subsisted. Ramah was six miles to the north of Jerusalem, in the tribe of Benjamin (Jer. xl. 1: "Er-Ram, marked by the village and green patch on its summit, the most conspicuous object from a distance in the approach to Jerusalem from the South, is certainly Ramah of Benjamin."" Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, p. 213; so that neither must this part of the prophecy be strictly taken. 20. for they are dead] The plural here is not merely idiomatic, nor for lenity and forbearance, in speaking of the dead; but perhaps a citation from Exod. iv. 19, where the same words are spoken to Moses, or betokens, not the number, but the category. Herod the Great died of a dreadful disease at Jericho, in the seventieth year of his age, and the thirtyeighth of his reign, A.U.c. 750. 22.] ARCHELAUS was the son of Herod by Malthace, a Samaritan woman he was brought up at Rome; succeeded his father, but never had the title of king, only that of Ethnarch, with the government of Idumæa, Judæa, and Samaria, the rest of his father's dominions being divided between his brothers Philip and Antipas. But, (1) very likely the word reign is here used in the wider meaning:-(2) Archelaus did, in the beginning of his reign, give out and regard himself as king: (3) in ch. xiv. 9, Herod the Tetrarch is called the King.
i see note.
m render, and.
In the ninth year of his government Archelaus was dethroned, for having governed cruelly the Jews and Samaritans, who sent an embassy to Rome against him, and he was banished to Vienne, in Gaul. This account gives rise to some difficulty as compared with St. Luke's history. It would certainly, on a first view, appear that this Evangelist was not aware that Nazareth had been before this the abode of Joseph and Mary. And it is no real objection to this, that he elsewhere calls Nazareth "His country," ch. xiii. 54, 57. It is perhaps just possible that St. Matthew, writing for Jews, although well aware of the previous circumstances, may not have given them a place in his history, but made the birth at Bethlehem the prominent point, seeing that his account begins at the birth (ch. i. 18), and does not localize what took place before it, which is merely inserted as subservient to that great leading event. If this view be correct, all we could expect is, that his narrative would contain nothing inconsistent with the facts related in Luke; which we find to be the case.-I should prefer, however, believing, as more consistent with the fair and conscientious interpretation of our text, that St. Matthew himself was not aware of the events related in Luke i. ii., and wrote under the impression that Bethlehem was the original dwelling-place of Joseph and Mary. Certainly, had we only his Gospel, this inference from it would universally be made. turned aside must not be pressed into the service of reconciling the two accounts by being rendered returned;' for the same word is used (ver. 14) of the journey to