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  • Writer's pictureBrian O'Kelly

60 - Eastern Wisdom – Following a Star

1.       2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

a.       These were men from outside of Jerusalem. The were not Jews as far as we know although they might have been. All we know is they are from the east.

b.       Jews had been scattered around the world and the story of a coming King of the Jews was widely known. This coming King, the Messiah, was expected to be different from the Kings that people knew who had risen to power through either violence and conquest or through nepotism or other means of gaining favor with another larger ruler. This King was a King sent by God and was expected to be a greater King than all others. This would be the reason that the Magi sought to worship him.

c.       One of the reasons that I believe the star was not a normal star but rather a supernatural phenomenon is that the normal kind of stars are too high in the heavens be followed with any specificity. They also do not move, at least not in a way that is perceptible from earth nor in a way that they could be “leading” with men “following”.

d.       Some suggest that this was a planet as those can be seen to move in the night sky although a journey from the east may have taken many months to complete and planets are not visible for months at a time since their orbits around the sun and the earth’s orbit around the sun are not synchronized.

e.       The star as nearly as we can tell must have disappeared once they arrived in Jerusalem, reappearing later as we will see. It didn’t lead them directly to the manger. Sometimes we get the idea that it led them on a continuous path to the manger. It led them to Jerusalem or to Judea where they went to Jerusalem. It’s likely they went to Jerusalem because it was the capital city and a new King would be expected to be there. They went to the city officials or the officials of the synagogue, we don’t know exactly to whom to inquire about the new King.

2.       3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.

a.       Who was Herod?

                                                               i.      Herod was an Edomite although his grandmother was Jewish. His father was an Edomite and his mother was a Nabatean. His father’s family although Edomite had converted to Judaism and Herod was raised a Jew. This was not enough for the Jewish leadership as in the mind of many of them, Jewish ethnicity was as important or more important than Jewish practice.

                                                             ii.      He rose to power primarily because of his father’s good relationship with Julius Caesar. He was appointed governor of Galilee first where he was successful in farming the taxes of the Roman Senate and met with success in ridding the region of bandits and opponents of Rome. Both qualities were highly valued by the Senate.

                                                           iii.      Later after a series of Judean governors in his family, uncles, cousins, and others he was deposed from his post in Galilee and fled to Rome to plead for another man Hyrcanus II to be restored to power over Judea hoping to get his post back. Instead in a surprise move, he was appointed King of the Jews by the Roman Senate.

                                                           iv.      The Romans considered Jerusalem and Judea to be theirs to control as part of their empire it was considered by the Romans to be a key link to the wealth of Syria and Egypt.

                                                             v.      As a practical matter it was controlled by the Sanhedrin and the Chief Priest. As such, the Romans weren’t receiving the taxation they required and had difficulty getting the goods and money they wanted out of Egypt and Syria.  The Zealots, an opposition group, were growing in strength. Judas, the betrayer of Jesus, was a member of the zealot party. In 37 BC, Herod brought a large army with Sosius the governor of Syria and captured Jerusalem and brought it under his sole control.

                                                           vi.      He had seen the kingdom change hands through treachery and betrayal and was determined to retain his grip on power by any means necessary. He was paranoid about possibly being deposed and even executed several members of his own family and anyone else who he considered threats to his rule. Herod was a brutal tyrant who was feared for his merciless treatment of lawbreakers and of anyone he perceived as an enemy. He wanted to rule through fear and succeeded in that effort.

                                                          vii.      He had secret police and outlawed any protests. He had a bodyguard of 2000 soldiers including some who had been part of the bodyguard of Cleopatra and was modeled on the personal bodyguard of Augustus Caesar.

                                                        viii.      The Jews hated him because Rome had appointed him King of Judea and he had taken it by force and deposed the Sanhedrin and the chief priest from their roles as governors of Judea.

                                                            ix.      His brutality caused many to question his commitment to Judaism, so it was not only his ethnicity, but his behavior that cause him to be hated by the Jews.

                                                             x.      He placed a Golden Eagle, a symbol of Rome at the entrance to the temple.

                                                            xi.      He was also known for his building projects and was somewhat of a genius builder. He built the second temple and the western wall in Jerusalem still stands today, the fortress at Masada and used hydraulic cement to build underwater to construct the Harbor at Caesarea Maritima.

                                                          xii.      Josephus stated that Herod was so concerned that no one would mourn his death that he commanded a large group of distinguished men to come to Jericho, and he gave an order that they should be killed at the time of his death so that the displays of grief that he craved would take place; his brother-in-law Alexas and his sister Salome did not carry out this wish. They didn’t mourn his death either.

b.       Now we have context for the last part of the verse where it says that “all Jerusalem was disturbed with him”. Any competitor to Herod for the throne would have been a target for the brutal King and the cause of much trouble for the city.

3.       4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.

5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for out of you will come a ruler

who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

a.       This is a quote from Micah 5:2

b.       It appears that Herod himself was unfamiliar with where the Messiah was to be born. This might add to the idea that he wasn’t very serious about his Judaism. It also might add to the idea that the Magi also were not Jewish.

c.       Bethlehem was the city of David which was where the Messiah was to be born. It was the birthplace of David as well of the David didn’t spend his life there spent in Jerusalem and elsewhere.

4.       7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

a.       Herod was lying to the Magi. He had no intention of worshiping a new King. We know from Herod’s paranoia that he was very sensitive to all rivals independent of their age. What he wanted from the Magi was the location of his rival more likely than not so he could have his rival executed as he had done with every other rival.

5.       9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.

a.       The star returns at this point. This was probably not immediately upon departing from Herod although it might’ve been. It was likely on the way to Bethlehem for them. The reappearance of the star as a guide was welcomed by the Magi.

b.       Or start a stop over the place where the child was in a way that they could locate Jesus would have indicated a low altitude. The star was probably more like a leading phenomenon such as the cloud and pillar of fire during the Exodus.

6.       11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

a.       The Magi did not come to the manger, but to a house. Jesus is described here as a child not as a baby and since it was a house it’s likely that Jesus was a toddler less than two years old at this point. Joseph and Mary had apparently taken up residence in Bethlehem.

b.       We also don’t read in this verse a reference to three Magi but instead we have a reference to three separate kinds of gifts from which people assume that it was three Magi. It may have been any number of Magi but at least it was more than one because we have a plural term to describe them.

7.       12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

a.       We don’t know whether the Magi will warned of Herod’s plans to given instructions not to go back to him.

8.       13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” 14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

a.       This is from Hosea 11:1 and as a another example of the double fulfillment. This refers to God calling his people Israel out of Egypt at the Exodus and goes on to describe how God frees people and heals them and has mercy on them.

b.       We see this echoed in 1 Peter 2:9-10 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.

9.       16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,

weeping and great mourning,

Rachel weeping for her children

and refusing to be comforted,

because they are no more.”

a.       It probably took about a year for Herod to realize that the Magi hadn’t reported back. Perhaps it took as much as two years. We know that Jesus was a child not an infant and that Herod was likely to have gone back further than the appearance of the Magi because of his paranoia.

10.   19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

11.   21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.

a.       Archelaus was known to be as brutal as his father and had learned from Herod that brutality and paranoia with the keys to maintaining power.

b.       When it says that Jesus would be called a Nazarene as “was said through the prophets”, you won’t find a prophet who says that the Messiah would come out of Nazareth.

c.       You will find several references to the idea that Jesus would be despised and rejected.

d.       Nazareth was a small town about 55 miles north of Jerusalem. Galilee was looked down upon by the Judeans and Nazareth was especially despised. The Nazarenes were the object of scorn.

e.       Because Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience it’s doubtful that he would reference the prophets with an inaccurate statement. It’s more likely that he was using the term Nazarene to refer to one who was rejected and scorned. This is similar to the way we use the word cretin to describe someone today. Originally cretin referred to those from Crete and was a term of derision toward its residents.

f.        One of the names of the early Christians was “Nazarenes” and the term “Nasara” meaning “Nazarene” is still used today my Muslims to identify a Christian. When Isis captured Mosul in Iraq they began putting the Arabic letter “N” on the homes and businesses of Christians. This was a signal saying convert, pay the Dimi tax, or be killed.

12.   This concludes our study of chapter 2 of Matthew.


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