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Bible: What Does Matthew 2 Teach Us About Jesus' Early Years?

Updated on September 15, 2016



The Magoi from the East


Matthew 2: Providential Dreams and Jesus' Early Years

Verse 1 provides Jesus’ birthplace (Bethlehem of Judea: a small village five miles south of Jerusalem), the time of his birth (in the days of Herod the king), and the appearance of magoi (Gk) from the East in Jerusalem.

A few points of interest need explanation:

(1) Matthew deals with the Bethlehem prophecy later (vv. 5-6);

(2) Herod the Great, who was not truly Jewish, ruled Israel from 40-4 B.C.;

(3) These magoi may have been three kings; however, we must keep in mind that tradition (not historical fact) forms the basis for this assertion.

The term “magoi” could be short for magicians, for they were primitive astronomers/astrologers (students of the cosmos); the culture would likely designate them “magicians.”



The Star of Bethlehem

What was the "Star" of Bethlehem?

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After having seen a “star” in the East, these magoi travel a great distance and finally arrive in Jerusalem, asking a troubling question (at least for Herod and all Jerusalem it is [v. 3]) regarding the birth of the real Jewish king whom they had come to worship (v. 2).

Examining this verse in detail reveals that this “star” is an unknown quantity; it may have been an actual star or perhaps a comet appointed by God to aid the magoi in their quest to find the King.

If this phenomenon appeared long before the birth of Christ, then Jesus was still an infant when the magoi first saw Him.

However, if it began shining when the Lord was born, then Jesus may have been a few years old when the men entered “the house” (v. 11).

Herod’s decree to kill male children in Bethlehem “two years old and under according to the time which he had determined from the wise men” constitutes another clue that Jesus may have been a toddler by this time (v. 16; cf. also v. 7).

A second notable observation indicates that the magoi recognized the newborn King of the Jews as worthy of worship (i.e., divine).

All of the Jewish religious leaders, as well as the Edomite Herod, know about the Christ (Messiah) from Old Testament prophecy, but the latter does not recall His birthplace (v. 4).

The spokesman cites Micah 5:2 to indicate Bethlehem as the site out of which “a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel” would come (vv. 5-6).

This verse also testifies to the belief that this Ruler would be divine; the text in Micah supports this view (“whose goings forth are from old, from the days of eternity”).

Filled with great deceit, Herod commissions the magoi to find the “young Child,” so that he may come and worship Him, too (vv. 7-8).

It seems transparent –but it may only appear as such because of the familiarity of the story—that this Edomite had no such intentions.

Still, the magoi needed a divine warning in a dream—whether or not the dream came to one or all, the text does not say—to avoid reporting Jesus’ location to the Child’s would-be murderer (vv. 12-13).

The wise men, overjoyed by the star’s marvelous appearance and perhaps by what it portended (v. 10), follow this heavenly guide to where Jesus was (v. 9).

There they enter the house in which He abides with Mary His mother—nothing is said of Joseph, but he was surely there, for God had sent him a dream of warning shortly after the magoi departed [v. 13])—and worshiped Him there (v. 11).

Their gifts to Him bespeak costliness, but they also may have a symbolic, even prophetic element to them.

“Gold” points to Jesus’ deity, “frankincense” to His purity, and “myrrh” to His death (v. 11).

Fulfilled Prophecy

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Joseph obeys the dream and takes his family into Egypt to escape Herod’s persecution (vv. 13-14).

Their flight to this foreign land fulfills Hosea 11:1, a verse that recalls the time Yahweh saved His son, Israel, when Egypt held him captive in the early days (v. 15; see also Walter Kaiser'sThe Uses of the Old Testament in the New for an in-depth discussion of Matthew’s complex usage of this view).

Ironically, the deceiver (Herod) is deceived by the magoi; actually, God gets the better of him (v. 16).

Enveloped in the mystery of the divine will, the Lord’s allowing Herod to issue and execute the “Slaughter of the Innocents” decree—the “fulfillment” of Jeremiah 31:15 (vv. 17-18)—remains a difficult concept for the believer to accept.

During the Exile, the weeping prophet had recorded that “Rachel” (figurative for the southern kingdom or Judah) suffered a similar massacre at the hands of the Babylonians.

Two more dreams—a fourth and a fifth—occur in the next passage (vv. 19-23).

The fourth instructs Joseph to return to Israel, because the would-be threat to his foster Son is dead (vv. 19-20).

In response to Joseph’s fear of Archelaus, Herod’s successor, God sends a fifth dream, warning this good man to settle in Galilee rather than in Judah (vv. 21-22).

Joseph’s obedience results in the fulfillment of another prophecy—seemingly a conflation (a composite picture painted by more than one prophet)—that the Messiah would be “called a Nazarene” (v. 23).

No single prophetic verse contains these words.

© 2012 glynch1


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