New Defender's Study Bible Notes
2:1 Bethlehem. This statement fulfills the prophecy of Micah 5:2, given some seven hundred years earlier.
2:1 wise men. The “wise men” were actually Magi, members of the priestly caste in Persia, who were experts in astronomy and astrology, well versed also in the Old Testament.
2:2 King of the Jews. Herod considered himself “King of the Jews.” These Persian magi were very important and powerful leaders in the great Persian empire, which had never been subjugated by Rome. They probably appeared in Jerusalem with a large entourage and thus gained quick access to Herod’s court. In fact, there are some historical indications that Persia was at this time threatening Rome along the eastern boundaries of the Roman Empire. No wonder Herod was “troubled, and “all Jerusalem with him” (Matthew 2:3) at the suggestion that Persia might be about to throw its support to a new Jewish king.
2:2 his star. This “star” has been the subject of much speculation. Many have argued that it was a conjunction in 7 B.C. of Jupiter and Saturn (and possibly Mars also) in the constellation Pisces (traditionally associated with Israel). Such a conjunction, however, could not be called a “star.” Others have argued that it was a comet, but these are frequent and would hardly be associated with Israel or the Messiah. Most modern evangelicals probably take it as a special supernatural light of some kind that guided the wise men from Persia to Jerusalem. This theory, however, does not explain why they followed it at all; there was little reason to connect a sudden, slow-moving light in the sky with the promised Jewish king. The magi, expert astronomers as they were, would hardly call such a light a star.
A more likely possibility is that it was a supernova star, shining brightly for a year or more, then fading out again. Such a nova may have appeared in the constellation Virgo, and the magi, familiar already with such Scriptures as Genesis 3:15 (the promised “seed of the woman”), Numbers 24:17 (the promised “Star out of Jacob”), Isaiah 7:14 (the promised virgin-born “God with us”) since the days of both Daniel and Mordecai with their profound influence on the Persian kings could reasonably conclude that this spectacular star was, indeed, “His star,” and thus would prepare a mission to Jerusalem.
2:7 Herod. Herod, sometimes called Herod the Great, was the son of Antipater, a part-Jew of Edomite descent. He was the procurator of Judaea from 47 B.C. until he died in 4 B.C., soon after the flight of Joseph and Mary with the infant Jesus into Egypt (Matthew 2:19). This indicates, of course, that Christ must have been born in 4 B.C. or earlier.
2:7 the star appeared. Evidently, the star had appeared to the wise men only while they were still “in the east” (Matthew 2:2). Even though they probably knew (from Micah 5:2) that He would be born in Bethlehem (a village six miles away from Jerusalem), they would naturally travel first to Jerusalem as a courtesy to the king. They would also assume that the arrival of the long-awaited King would be an occasion for rejoicing, and by the time they could complete their long pilgrimage from Persia, He would surely have been brought to the capital to be worshiped by His people. How wrong they were about that!
2:10 saw the star. Apparently, the wise men had only seen the star “in the east.” However, as they left Herod to go to Bethlehem, they suddenly saw at again, and rejoiced, for it was standing directly over Bethlehem. During the intervening months, it had been hidden from view, probably because the constellation of which it was a part was in the daytime sky during those months. But now it once again appeared in the evening sky, and from where they stood outside Herod’s palace, the star appeared straight ahead above Bethlehem. This must be the sense in which it “stood over where the young child was.” Not even the special light that many have assumed to be the “star” could have been close enough to the ground to pinpoint a particular house. Bethlehem was a small village, however, and it would be easy enough once they were there to ascertain where the babe was.
2:11 the house. The overcrowded situation, which existed in Bethlehem when Mary and Joseph arrived there, was well dissipated, with the tax registration finished. The family had now found a suitable house to live in, instead of the manger where Christ was born, or the inn where they had first sought lodging (Luke 2:7). It had been many months since His birth, possibly almost two years. Herod, after inquiring “diligently what time the star appeared” to the wise men, ordered all the young children in and around Bethlehem up to two years of age to be slain (Matthew 2:7,16).
2:11 worshipped him. As great as they were in the eyes of men, these wise men knew that this babe was greater—even “God with us”—and so fell down before Him.
2:11 gifts. These Magi, correctly recognizing the special witness of “His star” (Matthew 2:2) fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 60:3, which foretold that “Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.” In Persian society, the Magi were honored as royalty, and they brought gifts appropriate for another King. The fact that they brought three gifts—gold, indicating Christ’s future reign; frankincense, indicating His priestly intercession for them, and myrrh, indicating His coming death for them—has given rise to the tradition that there were just three wise men, but there may well have been many more.
2:15 death of Herod. The remains of an ancient wine jar found at Masada contained the inscription: “Herod, King of the Jews.” It is not surprising that Herod “was troubled” when the wise men came inquiring about the newborn “King of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2-3).
2:15 Out of Egypt. This prophecy is found in Hosea 11:1, where the context clearly indicates that it was the whole nation of Israel which had been called out of Egypt as God’s young “son.” The children of Israel had been born in the land promised to them by God, but nevertheless had to leave it and sojourn in the pagan land of Egypt for a while before being brought back home by their Father. Christ lived through the same experience—born in Judaea, then sojourned in Egypt for a time before He was called back home. Whether or not Hosea could discern that Israel’s experience would also be that of their Messiah, Matthew could certainly see the parallel.
2:18 Rachel. Rachel, Jacob’s beloved wife, died in Bethlehem (Genesis 35:19) and thus the grieving mothers of Bethlehem’s slaughtered children are all personified in her name. Rachel was the mother of Benjamin, whose descendants were still associated with the town.
Since the slaughter of the children is evidently not recorded in secular history, some have denied that it really happened. However, Bethlehem was a small village, with relatively few young children. In view of Herod’s notorious cruelty (he even put one of his wives and his three oldest sons to death), this occurrence was quite in character and probably was accorded little secular notice outside the affected community. The event was prophesied in Jeremiah 31:15, but the prophet also exhorted them to “refrain…from weeping” because the slain children are safe with the Lord and “shall come again from the land of the enemy” (Jeremiah 31:16).
2:21 the land of Israel. Joseph apparently intended to return to the house in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:9) where they had been living before their quick flight to Egypt. Instead, in response to another divine warning (Matthew 2:22), he took the family back to Nazareth, where they had lived before journeying to Bethlehem. The parallel account in Luke makes no mention of the visit of the Magi or of the flight to Egypt. It simply notes that they returned to Nazareth after a short visit to Jerusalem to dedicate Jesus to the Lord and to offer the appropriate sacrifice after his mother’s month of purification (note Luke 2:21-24, 39; Leviticus 12:1-8). They evidently had returned to Bethlehem from Jerusalem, which was only a few miles away, by the time that the Magi came several months later.
2:23 spoken by the prophets. No one prophet is mentioned here, but rather “the prophets” in general. As far as known, the despised town of Nazareth did not even exist in the days of the prophets, so it may be that this is a generic summary of the teaching of the prophets that the Messiah would be “despised and rejected of men” (Isaiah 53:3). Some have suggested Isaiah 11:1, where He is called a “rod” (Hebrew netzer) out of the “stem” (or, apparently dead stump) of Jesse’s family tree. However, see the note on Zephaniah 1:14, which, slightly modified, would yield a reading very closely akin to Matthew’s quote.