After the birth of Jesus, wise men from distant foreign land came to worship the King of the Jews. However, Herod, who was set up by the Roman authorities as the king of the Jews, sought to remove Jesus in fear of a possible threat to his throne. His vicious attempt to take the infant’s life also foreshadows how Jesus would likewise eventually be rejected and killed by his own people.
Did You Know...?
- Bethlehem (2:1): A village about five miles (8 km) south of Jerusalem, which was the hometown of David, Israel’s greatest king (
1 Sam 16:1, 19). [ref]
- King Herod (2:1): Herod the Great, as he is now called, was born in 73 B.C. and was named king of Judea by the Roman Senate in 40 B.C. By 37 B.C. he had crushed, with the help of Roman forces, all opposition to his rule. Son of the Idumean Antipater, he was wealthy, politically gifted, intensely loyal, an excellent administrator, and clever enough to remain in the good graces of successive Roman emperors. His famine relief was superb and his building projects (including the temple, begun 20 B.C.) admired even by his foes. But he loved power, inflicted incredibly heavy taxes on the people, and resented the fact that many Jews considered him a usurper. In his last years, suffering an illness that compounded his paranoia, he turned to cruelty and in fits of rage and jealousy killed close associates, his wife Mariamne (of Jewish descent from the Maccabeans), and at least two of his sons…. [ref]
- Herod was a descendent of Esau and therefore an Edomite. The Idumeans, who were of the line of Edom, were considered “half Jews” by the Jews.
- Wise men/magi (2:1): Probably astrologers, perhaps from Persia or southern Arabia, both of which are east of Palestine. [ref]
- Chief priests (2:4): The chief priests, the highest Jewish religious leaders, were in charge of the temple. [ref]
- Scribes/teachers of the law (2:4): The Jewish scholars of the day, professionally trained in the development, teaching and application of OT law. Their authority was strictly human and traditional. [ref]
- Micah had prophesied 700 years earlier that Bethlehem would be the birthplace of the promised King and Savior (Mic 5:2).
- Contrary to tradition, the Magi did not visit Jesus at the manger on the night of his birth as did the shepherds. They came some months later and visited him as a “child” in his “house.” [ref]
- Bringing gifts was particularly important in the ancient East when approaching a superior (cf. Gen 43:11;
1Sam 9:7-8; 1 Kings 10:2). [ref]
- Frankincense (2:11) is a glittering, odorous gum obtained by making incisions in the bark of several trees. [ref]
- Myrrh (2:11) exudes from a tree found in Arabia and a few other places and was a much-valued spice and perfume (Ps 45:8; S of Songs 3:6) used in embalming (John 19:39). [ref]
- Ramah (2:18) was located about 5 miles north of Jerusalem. It was one of the towns that the people passed through when taken in exile to Babylon (see Jeremiah 40:1).
- Archelaus (2:22): This son of Herod the Great ruled over Judea and Samaria for only ten years (4 B.C.-A.D. 6). He was unusually cruel and tyrannical and so was deposed. Judea then became a Roman province, administered by prefects appointed by the emperor. [ref]
- Galilee (2:22): Galilee, about 30 miles wide and 60 miles long, was the populous northernmost region of the three divisions of Palestine; Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. [ref]
- Nazareth (2:23): A rather obscure town, nowhere mentioned in the OT. It was Jesus’ hometown (13:54-57; see Lk 2:39, 4:16-24; Jn 1:45-46).
- “He shall be called a Nazarene” (2:23): These exact words are not found in the OT and probably refer to several OT prefigurations and/or predictions (note the plural, “prophets”) that the Messiah would be despised (e.g., Ps 22:6; Isa 53:3), for in Jesus’ day “Nazarene” was virtually a synonym for “despised” (see Jn 1:45-46). Some hold that in speaking of Jesus as a “Nazarene,” Matthew is referring primarily to the word “Branch” (Hebrew nes.er) in Isa 11:1. [ref]
What was the impact of the news from the wise men? What could have caused the reaction?Hide Answer
King Herod, along with all Jerusalem, was disturbed by the news. It is obvious that Herod felt threatened by the birth of this “King of the Jews,” since he himself was supposed to be the king. The reaction of the people could have come from a mix of uncertainty about the outcome of this event and an eager expectation of the promised Shepherd of Israel.
What can you learn about Herod from this story?Hide Answer
He was crafty; he tricked the wise men into believing that he also wanted to worship the child king. He had no concern for the people whom he was ruling over. Because of his lust for power and selfishness, he would rather kill all the innocent infants than give up his throne.
What does the prophecy of Jesus’ birth teach us about Jesus and His ministry?Hide Answer
He was the ruler from Judah (6). He brought justice and truth to His people and established God’s kingdom on earth. He carried authority and power, and people of all nations will worship Him. He was the Shepherd. He tended his flock with love and compassion. He came to seek the lost and provide healing (Isa 40:11; Ezek 34:11-16). According to Jn 10, He was the good shepherd who even laid down his life for the sheep.
What is the significance of the wise men’s visit?Hide Answer
Ps 72:10-11 and Isa 60:6 prophesied that foreign kings would come and bow down to the King of Israel and bring Him tribute. The writer probably has this prophecy in mind when he records this visit. The wise men must have also understood the extraordinary nature of this king’s birth. The universal reign and influence that Jesus would have on this world explains the wise men’s diligent and persistent efforts to travel long distances to seek and worship this king.
Compare the wise men and Herod. What do their actions and attitudes teach us about worshipping God?Hide Answer
Herod actually had no intention whatsoever to worship Christ. So he did not even make an effort to look for Jesus. Instead, he simply asked the wise men to report his whereabouts. The wise men, on the contrary, earnestly and persistently inquired of the people and sought for the king until they finally reached the house where Jesus was. It was to such people that God provides guidance and revelation in their search.
Have you ever felt threatened like Herod by God’s will and plan? What would it take to overcome such fear?Hide Answer
Because God’s will in our lives often runs contrary to our personal wants and interests, we may feel threatened to allow God to work. We have to remove our pride, selfishness, or pleasure and humbly submit to God regardless of the cost. Such self-denial, required of all the followers of Christ, is what it takes to remove the obstacles in obeying God.
Why do you think that the killing of the infants fulfilled the prophecy about the weeping in Ramah? Could there be a connection between weeping in Bethlehem and its vicinity and the weeping of exile in Jeremiah’s time?Hide Answer
In this story, the people of Bethlehem wept just as the Israelites wept when they passed through Ramah during exile. Incidentally, Herod’s atrocity and the weeping of the people could be representative of the evil of sin and the captivity of God’s people under sin. Therefore, the citation of Jeremiah’s prophecy was appropriate not only because of the weeping that had occurred but also its connection to the condition of God’s people. According to Jeremiah’s prophecy (Jer 31:16-17), the people will be comforted when God brings the people back from exile. Likewise, God’s people will also be comforted when Jesus, the true King of the Jews, delivers them from their sins.
What qualities can we learn from Joseph?Hide Answer
We can learn from his unconditional obedience and quick response to God’s word. Although he was the head of the house, he submitted to the Lord’s guidance. Throughout the story, he never spoke a word. Instead of reasoning with God, he simply trusted God in every incident.