Matthew 2:1-12 Wednesday, Jan 3
The star-like light of God’s presence guides mystics from far away to come to worship the newborn king
1-2 Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”
- The tradition of three comes from the three gifts of tribute from the baggage train mentioned in v.11. The ‘wise men’ were not rulers but of a priestly caste from that were well versed in astrology and associated a rising star with a significant birth, and a falling star (like a comet) with a ruler’s death. It is possible that they were Jews originally from the Babylon deportation who had remained in the east, or at least those who knew Jews and had studied the Jewish Scriptures which foretold the birth of a Messiah.
3-4 King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”
- Herod the Great, so named because of his building projects, not his character, was not a Jew but an Idumean (Edomite) appointed by the Romans to rule over the four districts of Jerusalem, Judea, Galilee in the north and Idumea in the south (in present day Jordan). Hence his uncertainty about the foretold Messiah and the Scriptures.
5-6 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:
‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’ ”
- As foretold by Micah, Mic. 5:2. Bethehem in Judea, half a day’s walk from Jerusalem (although climbing to 2,000 feet) was sometimes simply called ‘Judah’ from its associations with that tribe. Also foretold by Balaam’s prophecy long before was that “a star will rise from Jacob”, Numbers 24:17.
7-8 Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”
- A non-Jew appointed by the Empire to rule over the Jews was an insecure position. History records this Herod as a murderer of anyone who looked like a threat, even his own wife and family. He would have been much troubled by the report of the birth of another ruler, brought by the arrival of visitors from afar who had been alerted by a ‘rising star’ light in the sky, and reinforced by his own political advisors nervously citing their own writings.
9 After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was.
- This was close guidance on a journey of a few miles: not a distant supernova.
- Despite theories of planets in conjunction and comets orbiting close, a ‘star’ that moves, and then rests over a specific place, is different – and supernatural. God who made a pillar of luminous cloud and fire to give guidance to the desert journey, created another kind of guiding light on this occasion.
10-11 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
- These were gifts of considerable value – providential in view of the 100-mile+ journey of escape to Egypt (outside Herod’s jurisdiction) that the visit prompted.
- This was up to two years after the birth, and it was a visit to a home, not a stable. The wise men, if they came from Babylon, would have had a 40-day 800-mile journey and would have needed to bring considerable supplies, accompanied by their servants and guards.
- How much they understood of Jesus’ divine nature, we cannot know – perhaps they were receiving more revelation than reason would suggest (and also v.12), because their actions were wholly appropriate, as well as foreshadowing the worship of Jesus by all the non-Jewish nations that was to come.
12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.
We are so aware of what can and can’t be done in our worldview that we easily forget that God is not restricted by our experience or even imagination. In this short account of 12 verses, He has caused revelation to come to men in a distant land and different religion, such that they embarked on a long and dangerous journey to bring costly gifts of devotion. He produced a visible, guiding light to bring them hundreds of miles and then take them cross country to a precise location in a remote village. Joseph, Mary and family had a timely warning that they needed to up sticks quickly and head over the border, out of harm’s way. The wise men were warned in a dream to return by a different route. This is a reminder that God does what He has purposed to do – and also tells His servants what He is doing, Amos 3:7.
For reflection and discussion
3. Good science is good – but are you tempted to seek explanations from within our knowledge and experience, and fit the narrative accordingly? Why do we need to try to do this?