Page images

23 Behold, a virgin shall be | Emmanuel, which being interprewith child, and shall bring forth a ted is, God with us.


24 Then Joseph, being raised

[ocr errors]

and they shall call his name That it might be fulfilled. "Liter- pure virgin shall bring forth a son, ally, that it might be verified. The before the house of David perish.' conjunction, in all such cases, denotes This was accomplished at the Saviour's no more than that there was as exact a birth. And it is remarkable, that alconformity between the event and the though the kingdom and house of passage quoted, as there could have David continued, in form at least, until been, if the former had been effected that event occurred, yet it then permerely for the accomplishment of the ished. The nation was utterly delatter. God does not bring about an stroyed and scattered to the four winds event because some prophet has fore- of heaven, by the Romans, and no one told it; but the prophet was inspired to pretends now to identify a single indiforetell it, because God had previously vidual of the posterity of David. ¶ Emdecreed the event."-Campbell. Be-manuel. God with us. This, like hold, a virgin, &c. When this proph- most Jewish names, is significant. See ecy was uttered, the Jewish nation, note on ver. 21. Thus, Elijah signifies under Ahaz, was in apparent danger of God the Lord; Eli, my Lord; Eleazar, utter destruction. The prophet Isaiah help of God; Isaiah, the salvation of was sent to encourage the people, in the Lord; Lemuel, God with them. their distress; and he then spake of this For the manner in which names were miraculous conception. Much differ- given to Jewish children, and the cirence of opinion has been expressed in cumstances to which they referred, see regard to the primary import of the Gen. xxx. 6, &c.; 1 Sam. iv. 21. Diprediction; some understanding it to vine assistance being foretold by the refer to an event which should be wit- prophet, he might well designate the nessed by Ahaz, as a sign of deliver-child, who was the promised sign, by ance, and others understanding it to refer directly and only to the manner of our Saviour's birth. The latter opinion, which on the whole appears the more reasonable, is thus expressed by Lightfoot. "King Ahaz was afraid lest the enemies, that were now upon him, might destroy Jerusalem, and utterly consume the house of David. The Lord meets this fear by a signal and most remarkable promise, namely, 'that sooner should a pure virgin bring forth a child, than the family of David perish.' And the promise yields a double comfort; namely, of Christ hereafter to be born of a virgin, and of their security from the imminent danger of the city and house of David. So that, although that prophecy, of a virgin's bringing forth a son, should not be fulfilled till many hundreds of years after, yet, at that present time, when the prophecy was made, Ahaz had a certain and notable sign that the house of David should be safe and secure from the danger that hung over it, as much as if the prophet had said, 'Be not so troubled, O Ahaz; does it not seem an impossible thing to thee, and that never will happen, that a pure virgin should become a mother? But I tell thee, a

the name of Emmanuel, God with us, or God helpeth us, and this in strict accordance with Jewish usage. Nevertheless, whether Jesus were human, superhuman, or divine, is a question which cannot be determined by the name alone. If the name were sufficient proof, it would be easy to find in the Old Testament a multitude of divinities; literally, lords many, and gods many, 1 Cor. viii. 5. ¶ Being interpreted. This expression is considered, by many, as sufficient proof that Matthew did not write his gospel in the Hebrew language. If he wrote in Hebrew, to Hebrews, for what reason, it is pertinently inquired, should he give interpretations of Hebrew names? But this he does, frequently; hence it is concluded that he wrote, not in Hebrew, but in some other language, probably the Greek, in which such interpretations were necessary, that the significant names of persons and places might be fully understood. But if he wrote first in Hebrew and afterwards in Greek, as others suppose, perhaps these explanations were added only in the Greek copy, which is doubtless the original of all the existing versions of his gospel.

from sleep, did as the angel of the

Lord had bidden him, and took




OW when

to him his wife her not till she N BethlehemJesus was born in

had brought forth her first-born son: and he called his name JESUS.

24. Joseph manifested a truly filial spirit. He believed his heavenly Father, and obeyed his command. He took to his house his espoused wife, > and sheltered her from the storms of obloquy and derision which she would else have encountered. He sought no further proof of her innocence; but, believing the divine testimony, he received her cheerfully, and thenceforth hoped and quietly waited for the salvation of the Lord. Lam. iii.


25. Her first-born son. The perpetual virginity of Mary is an article of faith in the Romish church; and many Protestants have cherished the same belief. That she remained a virgin until Jesus was born, having no matrimonial connexion with her husband, seems to be distinctly asserted by the evangelist, and necessary to the fulfilment of the prediction. But that she continued so until the end of life, is not so clear. Matt. xiii. 55, 56, and other passages, as well as the phraseology in this verse, would seem to imply the contrary. It is not, I conceive, a question of very great importance. It is sufficient for us that the Saviour was born of a virgin. We may safely leave the subsequent condition of the mother, where the Scriptures have left it,-in doubt and obscurity. Jesus. The name before required to be given, ver. 21. Before this name was publicly given, at the circumcision on the eighth day, other circumstances occurred, some of them marvellous, and all very interesting, which are recorded by Luke, ii. 8-20.

Two general observations may not be out of place, at the close of this subject. (1.) When God brought his well-beloved Son into this world, he did not cause him to spring from the noble, or rich, or powerful. On the contrary, although his mother and his reputed father were of the house of David, > they were in humble life; and even the Pharisees afterwards taunted him, on |

days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

this account. Mark vi. 3; John vi. 42. Not even the most determined infidel, therefore, can allege that Jesus was presented to the Jewish nation as the promised Messiah, by a stratagem of state or ecclesiastical policy; for the rulers of both church and state were his most determined opposers continually. It remains to be considered by what power he accomplished the work, of which the Christian church is a monument, even to this day. If he were an impostor, let this mystery be satisfactorily solved. But if he were truly the Christ, the Son of God, there is no mystery in this matter. God helped him, and therefore he could do all things. I regard this fact as one of the strong proofs that the Lord Jesus Christ was the promised Messiah. (2.) He, who was appointed to save all others from sin, should himself be pure. A mere man, born in the ordinary manner, might have been absolutely and entirely sanctified, from his birth; but this would be no less a miracle, than the conception of Jesus by the divine energy. He partook of humanity so far as to be subject to pain and acquainted with grief. He was even subject to temptation. Yet he was without sin; holy, harmless, undefiled. Such a high priest became us; and such was the necessary qualification of one appointed to such a high and holy ministry. Heb. vii. 25-28.

[blocks in formation]

2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for

cised this delegated authority about thirty-seven years. It may be remarked, however, that he actually exercised a power of such a tyrannous and despotic nature, as would now be scarcely tolerated under even an absolute monarchy. Of this, there is sufficient evidence in this chapter alone. ¶ Wise men from the east. Campbell translates, Eastern magians; and observes, that the magians "were a particular class, party, or profession, among the orientals, as much as Stoics, Peripatetics, and Epicureans, were, among the Greeks;" hence the term, wise men, is too indefinite. "The studies of the magians seem to have been principally in astronomy, natural philosophy, and theology. It is from them we derive the terms, magic and magician; words which were doubtless used originally in a good, but are now always used in a bad, sense." Some have supposed that these wise men or magians, who came to seek for the newly born child, were Jews, who had long lived in the eastern regions, and had attached themselves to this sect; but retaining their faith in the Hebrew Scriptures, and believing that the ancient prophecies were about to be fulfilled, they hailed the appearance of the star as an omen of fulfilment. ¶ Jerusalem. The capital city of Judea; a city distinguished above all others, by the memorable events which occurred in it, by being the place where God peculiarly mani fested his presence in the temple, by the glories and miseries of its inhabitants, and by the circumstances connected with its destruction.

It was also called Ephratah. Ruth iv. Herod was called king, though in fact 11; Micah v. 2. This name also de- he was no more than a king's deputy or notes abundance or fruitfulness. It viceroy. Judea had been conquered by may have been originally applied, and the Romans, and was at this time a Bethlehem also, on account of the fer- province of that mighty empire, which, tility of the soil. This place was about under Augustus Cæsar, extended over six miles southerly from Jerusalem, the known world. Herod held his apwhere there still remains a village con-pointment from the emperor, and exertaining about ten or twelve hundred inhabitants, Christians and Mahometans, who are said to live quietly together. It is on elevated ground, and from the eastward may be seen at a very considerable distance. Here David was born; and hence it is called the city of David. Luke ii. 4. Tradition points out the exact spot where Jesus was born, over which stands a monastery. The tradition may be correct, and it may not. Little reliance can be placed on the accuracy of minute details, at such a distance of time, when they are afforded by tradition alone. It would be gratifying, doubtless, to know the precise spot where the birth, labers, miracles, sufferings, crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and ascension, of our Lord occurred. But it should be remembered, that his mission was not of a local nature; it was designed, not for the exclusive benefit of any particular city or country, but for the general good of the whole human race. If, therefore, we were not informed even on what continent he was born, still his precepts and promises would be equally important and precious. And we may well suppose that what is revealed, in regard to localities, was so revealed, not because these circumstances were of great importance in themselves, but rather to convince men, especially the Jews, that the ancient prophecies had their fulfilment circumstantially as well as generally; and thus to confirm their faith both in the predictions and their accomplishment. T In the days. In the time, or, during the reign; a form of speech not yet entirely obsolete, but seldom used at present. Herod the king. This was the Herod, generally denominated the Great. So far as greatness depends on notorious wickedness, this appellation might justly belong to Herod. Yet we shall do well to remember that there is a vast difference between the Great and the Good.

2. King of the Jews. At this period a very general opinion prevailed in the east, that a remarkable person was about to appear in Judea, who should obtain the empire of the world. It was natural that the Jews should entertain this opinion; because their prophets had so accurately defined the period when the Messiah should appear, and

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

we have seen his star in the | heard these things, he was troubled, east, and are come to worship and all Jerusalem with him.


3 When Herod the king had

had spoken of his reign in language similar to that which is used in describing earthly power and glory. Josephus, the Jewish historian, in describing the violent opposition of his countrymen against the Romans, says, "What did the most elevate them, in undertaking this war, was an ambiguous oracle that was found also in their sacred writings, how about that time one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth." That the same opinion was entertained by others, besides Jews, is evident from the testimony of the Roman historians, Tacitus, Suetonius, and others. It is very probable that these eastern magians cherished the same expectation. And when they witnessed the sign in the heavens, they supposed this powerful prince had appeared. They naturally went to the chief city of the Jews, to inquire for him. His star. The ancients had much regard to astrology, and believed that new stars often appeared at the birth or death of eminent men. The comet which blazed forth, about the time when Julius Cæsar was assassinated, was supposed to have some mysterious connexion with that event. And it is related that a new star or comet appeared when Augustus became emperor, which he called the star of his nativity. The magians made astronomy (which was then intimately connected with astrology) one of their principal studies, and probably entertained the common opinion of their class in regard to new stars. In the east. That is, while we were in the east, we saw his star. They came from the east; had they seen the star eastward from themselves, and followed it, they would have travelled from Jerusalem, not towards it. To worship him. To reverence, or honor him. The honors paid to sovereigns were anciently denominated worship. The original indicates merely prostration in token of honor and submission. Whether or not divine honor, such as the word worship now implies, ought to be rendered to Christ by his disciples, there is no evidence that the magians supposed him to be more than an earthly prince, or that they

4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of

designed to render any other worship than was customarily paid to such princes.


3. Had heard these things.-He had not yet seen the wise men. But their inquiries concerning such a subject, at such a time, would doubtless occasion much excitement, and Herod could not long remain ignorant of it. ¶ Was troubled. Herod had been guilty of much wickedness, and knew that he was hated by his subjects. They hated him, because he was appointed by the Romans, their conquerors and oppressors, to rule over them; they hated him, for his own oppressions; they hated him, for his cruel and sanguinary disposition. They were ready to rebel against him at any moment. All this Herod well knew. He also knew that they were in constant expectation_of deliverer, who should break the Roman yoke, and exalt their nation to the highest dignity. He was greatly agitated, therefore, at the intelligence, that wise men had seen the sign of this expected monarch, and that they were inquiring publicly concerning him. The least he could reasonably expect was a violent outbreak or insurrection among the Jews, which might perhaps shake the foundation of his throne. ¶ And all Jerusalem with him. The excitement was very general. Herod's friends, those who were dependent on him for places of honor and profit, were partakers of his fears. His opposers, and those who had been oppressed and afflicted by him, rejoiced in hope of deliverance, and perhaps feared that he would be guilty of renewed iniquity, in consequence of the prevailing excitement. The whole city was disturbed; some being agitated by hope, some by fear, and some by both together.

4. Chief priests and scribes of the people. The Jewish Sanhedrim is probably here meant. This was the highest tribunal among the Jews, having both civil and ecclesiastical power. It was composed of priests and others, to the number of seventy or seventy-two, the high priest being always one of them. "When the Sanhedrim consisted of Priests, Levites, and Israelites,

the people together, he demanded | Bethlehem of Judea for thus it is written by the prophet,

of them where Christ should be born.

5 And they said unto him, In

as Maimonides teacheth, under the word chief priests, are comprehended the two former,-namely, whosoever of the clergy were members of the Sanhedrim; and under the scribes of the people, are comprehended all those of the Sanhedrim who were not of the clergy."Lightfoot. The scribes were so called, from the fact that their occupation was altogether of a literary character. They were much engaged in writing. They kept the public registers, wrote contracts and divorces, and expounded the law. Especially they were the "fathers of the traditions," held in as much reverence by them, and by the Jews generally, as the written law. They were not a religious sect, but only a distinct class or profession. Some of them were Pharisees, some Sadducees. They are called lawyers, Luke vii. 30, and doctors of the law, Luke v. 17. Of this class and of the priests, the Sanhedrim was composed; and hence this body was considered competent to decide any question, civil or spiritual. Herod therefore appealed to this assembly for information, in this season of perplexity; calling them together for the special purpose of hearing and answering his question. Where. It is observable that Herod did not inquire when the Messiah or Christ should be born. He well knew it was the settled opinion of the priests and scribes, and all who professed to understand and believe the prophecies, that the time had come; and all were in daily expectation of his appearance. The only question which remained was, where he should be born; and this question only was proposed. Herod doubtless concealed from the Sanhedrim his intention; else he could not have expected to receive a true answer. He could not suppose them ignorant of the circumstances which had troubled him; and there is no evidence that they were less anxious than others for the accession and reign of the promised deliverer. Like many other wicked men, he assumed the guise of sanctity, and endeavored to persuade the Sanhedrim, as afterwards the magians, that he desired to know the place

6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least

where Christ should be born, that he might be among the first to pay him due homage.

5. They said. There was no hesitation in answering Herod's question. The language of the prophecy was so plain, and the subject had already been considered with such frequency and interest, that the answer was ready at once. The prophet. Micah v. 2. The prophecy is very express, both as to the character of Christ, and the place of his birth. It was well understood, even among the common people, that Christ should be born in Bethlehem; insomuch, that some were unwilling to believe that Jesus was the Christ, notwithstanding his mighty works, merely because they thought he was not born in that place. John vii. 42.

6. The quotation from the prophet is by no means exact. The difference of phraseology is even greater than usual. But the main point, so far as it had reference to Herod's question, is preserved; the place is distinctly indicated. And it has been observed, that Matthew is not responsible for the inaccuracy of the quotation. He reports the answer as given by the Sanhedrim. This is all he professes to do. He does not pronounce their quotation accurate or inaccurate. This was the answer they gave; and it seems to have been satisfactory to Herod. ¶ Art not the least. Or, though thou be little. This place had not been altogether obscure and undistinguished; for here David was born, and his name had given honor to it. It was called the city of David. But it was destined to yet higher honor. It was to become the birth-place of a greater than David,-even David's Lord. Ps. cx. 1; Luke xx. 44. The birth of a distinguished individual, or the occurrence of an important event, was always supposed to confer honor on the place. Witness the pilgrimages of Christians to Jerusalem, and of Mahometans to Mecca. And, in the present age, what American does not feel an unusual thrill of emotion, when he stands in Faneuil Hall, or on Bunker Hill, and remembers that the birth of his political freedom

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »