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Matthew 2:1-23
Introduction to Messiah
Last Updated 3/3/00


Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way. And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son. Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not. But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child's life. And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.

2:1 Bethlehem

Bethlehem (Beit-Lechem, literally, "House of Bread,") refers to the verse in Micah 5:1. This can be interpreted in a strict literal sense in that the Messiah will be from Beit-Lechem. Also, it could be taken in a figurative sense (still in the "p'shat") as, Messiah will be of the lineage of David.

An interesting reference can be found in the Midrash Rabbah section on Lamentations (written well after Yeshua's time) that links Messiah to Bethlehem, stating the He died around the time the Temple was destroyed and upon His return it would be rebuilt:

Midrash Rabbah Lamentations I:51 - BECAUSE THE COMFORTER IS FAR FROM ME, EVEN HE THAT SHOULD REFRESH MY SOUL. What is the name of King Messiah? R. Abba b. Kahana said: His name is ‘the Lord’; as it is stated, And this is the name whereby he shall be called, The Lord is our righteousness (Jer. XXIII, 6). For R. Levi said: It is good for a province when its name is identical with that of its king, and the name of its king identical with that of its God. ‘It is good for a province when its name is identical with that of its king,’ as it is written, And the name of the city from that day shall be the Lord is there (Ezek. XLVIII, 35). ‘And the name of its king identical with that of its God,’ as it is stated, ’And this is the name whereby he shall be called, The Lord is our righteousness.’ R. Joshua b. Levi said: His name is ' Shoot ‘; as it is stated, Behold, a man whose name is Shoot, and who shall shoot up out of his place, and build the temple of the Lord (Zech. VI, 12). R. Judan said in the name of R. Aibu: His name is ‘Comforter’; as it is said, THE COMFORTER IS FAR FROM ME. R. Hanina said: They do not really differ, because the numerical value of the names is the same, so that ' Comforter ' is identical with 'Shoot." The following story supports what R. Judan said in the name of R. Aibu: It happened that a man was ploughing, when one of his oxen lowed. An Arab passed by and asked, ‘What are you?’ He answered, ‘I am a Jew.’ He said to him, ‘Unharness your ox and untie your plough’ [as a mark of mourning]. ' Why? ' he asked. ' Because the Temple of the Jews is destroyed.’ He inquired, ‘From where do you know this?’ He answered, ‘I know it from the lowing of your ox.’ While he was conversing with him, the ox lowed again. The Arab said to him, ‘Harness your ox and tie up your plough, because the deliverer of the Jews is born.’ ‘What is his name?’ he asked; and he answered, ‘His name is "Comforter".’ ‘What is his father's name?’ He answered, ' Hezekiah.’ ' Where do they live? ' He answered, ‘In Birath ‘Arba in Bethlehem of Judah.’ The man sold his oxen and plough and bought felt garments for children. He journeyed from one city to another and from one province to another until he reached that place. All the villagers came to buy garments from him, but the mother of that child made no purchase of him. He asked her, ‘Why do you not buy children's felt garments?’ She answered, ' Because a hard fate is in store for my child.’ ‘Why?’ he asked; and she answered, ‘Because close on his coming the Temple was destroyed.’ He said to her, ‘We trust in the Lord of the Universe that as close on his coming it was destroyed so close on his coming it will be rebuilt.’ He continued, ‘Take some of these felt garments for your child and after some days I will come to your house to collect the money.’ She took some and departed. After some days the man said, ‘I will go and see how the child is getting on.’ He came to the woman and asked, ' How is the child? ' She answered, ' Did I not tell you that a hard fate is in store for him? Misfortune has dogged him. From the time [you left] there have been strong winds and a whirlwind came and carried him off.’ He said to her, ' Did I not tell you at his coming [the Temple] was destroyed and at his coming it will be rebuilt?’ R. Abun said: Why should I learn this from an Arab when there is an explicit text wherein it is stated, And Lebanon shall fall by a mighty one (Isa. X, 34), which is followed by, And there shall come forth a shoot out of the stock of Jesse, and a twig shall grow forth out of his roots (ib. XI, 1)?

Another reference is found in the Targums - Aramaic language documents that contained Scripture and commentary together. They were commonly read and discussed in Yeshua's day:

Targum Jonathan: Micah 5:2 - Out of thee Beit-Lechem shall Messiah go forth before Me to exercise dominion over Israel. Who's Name has been spoken from old, from the day of eternity.

2:1 Herod was King

The Herodian dynasty ruled Israel and its surroundings from 37 BCE to 70 CE (the war). Herod was technically Jewish by birth as his family had been forced converts (from Edom) at the time of Macabees (2nd century BCE). Herod did not reflect anything Jewish in his character, having murdered countless people, including all but two leaders (Hillel and Shamai) of the religious Sanhedrin prior to the birth of Yeshua. He was a very paranoid person even having friends and family killed due to suspicion. The events of Matthew 2:1-17 are in line with his character.

Perhaps out of guilt for killing the Sanhedrin, Herod launched a massive campaign to reconstruct the Second Temple that had been built under Z’rubavel. This is the Temple we see Yeshua teaching in throughout the Gospels.

Click here for more information on the Religious & Political Background of Judea-Samaria during this time period.

2:1 Magi

These men came from Babylon or Persia. They were not sorcerers or magicians, but rather astrologer/astronomers. It is clear from the Gospels that the Magi knew what they were looking for, but this raises an interesting question. How would non-Jews in a foreign land know about the birth of the Messiah, know what sign to look for and know when and where to look for it?

The answer is that hundreds of years earlier, Daniel had been in Babylon and made head of the "magicians." He evidently taught them about God's ways, including prophecies of the Messiah. The Magi passed these along for generation after generation, until the time came for Yeshua to be born.

2:2 "His star"

A "Star" is associated with Messiah in Midrash Rabbah:

Midrash Rabbah - Deuteronomy I:20 - He said to him: ‘I have yet to raise up the Messiah,’ of whom it is written, For a child is born to us (Isa. IX, 5). Until I come unto my Lord unto Seir (Gen. XXXIII, I4). R. Samuel b. Nahman said: We have searched all the Scriptures and we have nowhere found [it stated] that Jacob ever came together with Esau at Seir. What then is the meaning of, 'Unto Seir’? Jacob [meant] to say to him: 'I have yet to raise up judges and saviours to exact punishment from you.’ Whence this? For it is said, And saviours shall come up on mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau (Obad. I, 21). Israel asked God: ‘Master of the Universe, how long shall we remain subjected to him?' He replied: 'Until the day comes of which it is written, There shall step forth a star out of Jacob and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel (Num. XXIV, 17); when a star shall step forth from Jacob and devour the stubble of Esau.’

Midrash Rabbah - Lamentations II:4 - R. Johanan said: Rabbi used to expound There shall step forth a star (kokab) out of Jacob (Num. XXIV, 17), thus: read not ’kokab but kozab (lie). When R. Akiba beheld Bar Koziba he exclaimed, ‘This is the king Messiah!’

See also: Numbers 24:17, 2 Peter 1:19, Rev 22:16.

Rabbi Akiva named the false Messiah, Bar-Kosiba, the "son of the star" at the time of the second Jewish war with Rome (132 CE).

2:4 Priests, Scribes, Pharisees and Saducees

There were two main factions among the religious authority of Yeshua's day -- Pharisees and Saducees. Unfortunately, the term "Pharisee" has become a synonym for an evil person or hypocrite. This is due to an improper understanding of history and Scripture as taught in most churches and Bible Studies. No one would say that Paul and Nicodemus were evil, yet they were Pharisees until the day they died.

I can’t imagine anyone saying Yeshua gave bad advice, but He told the people to follow what the Pharisees taught. In fact much of what Yeshua Himself says in the Gospels is a reiteration of teachings already established and taught by the Pharisees, especially Hillel, the grandfather of Gamliel, who taught Paul.

The Pharisees came about as a populist movement shortly after the Saducees gained power. The Saducees were the original Temple authority, made up of priests and Levites, developed around Zadok and his priests who gained control after the return from the exile (Ezra’s time period). By the time of Yeshua, the Saducees had lost much of their power to the Pharisees. (The history of the Pharisees and Saducees will be covered later, where we study the rise and fall of the Hasmonians – a Saducean family that rose up to control Temple when Judas Macabee fought the Selucid Greeks and restored the Temple and priesthood around 130 BCE.)

Yeshua Himself could best be described as teaching as a Pharisee and holding favor with the Essenes. The former is true as he supported the Scriptural doctrines of the Pharisees, told the people to obey them, and upheld their authority. (More on all this later.) The latter was true because He had the approval of John the Baptist, who was a leader in the Essene community. John had Scriptural authority as well, as he was from the tribe of Levi and destined to be a priest.

It was because of Yeshua’s relationship with these two groups (who did not necessarily think highly of each other) that he was able to hold together a coalition of His own followers made up of people from each camp (along with the Zealots, who were more political and action-oriented). This new alliance became known as the Nazarenes, or the Way.

These are the people whom we also refer to as the early or original, "Messianic community." Their faith was not "Christian," it was a continuation of the faith of Israel recognizing Yeshua as the promised Messiah.

2:11  Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh

There is probably a deeper meaning to these gifts - beyond the scope of this study. The gold could speak of His Deity, the frankincense of His purity and the myrrh of His death. All three, like Yeshua are associated with the Temple and/or priesthood.

2:15 "Out of Egypt I have called my son"

This is an example of a Remez - a hint of a very deep truth, in this case the relationship between the Messiah and Israel, as both are called "God’s son." The verse being quoted refers to Israel and not the Messiah. Matthew is understanding that the primary meaning of this passage (from Hosea) is true in an allegorical sense - Israel is "God's son." He takes this allegorical concept of Israel being the Son of God and says Messiah is literally the first born Son of God.

2:18 "A voice was heard in Ramah ..."

Another Remez is seen here, as this verse does not refer to Messiah but to the slaughter of the northern tribes by the Assyrians. Just as Rachel from her tomb in Ramah grieves for those lost lives, so the women of Beit-Lechem mourn for their slain infants.

There is also a deeper mystical meaning in this verse (at the sod level) where Rachel is compared to the Shekinah (God's presence in this world) who grieves for her children (of Israel). This type of interpretation will be discussed in our Revelation study.

2:23 "... that He should be called a Nazarene."

On a literal level, this would clearly be another error on Matthew's part, as no prophet ever made this prediction. A possible explanation is that Isaiah refers to the Messiah as "branch" (netzer) which is word play on Nazarene (Natzeret).

Note: The Hebrew, Aramaic and Syrian versions of Matthew all have the singular "prophet" in this verse, whereas the Greek has the plural "prophets."