In this chapter, the Magi or wise men visit the newborn king; Herod is alarmed and is told that the child was born in Bethlehem. The wise men find Jesus and offer him gifts. Then they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod. Joseph is warned in a dream to leave Bethlehem and go to Egypt. Herod kills the children in and around Bethlehem. After Herod died, Joseph is instructed in a dream to return to Israel. The family settles in Nazareth.
As I write in the introduction to every chapter:
This translation and commentary is offered for free, gratis, across the worldwide web to Christians in oppressive (persecuting) or developing countries, who cannot afford printed commentaries or Study Bibles, though everyone can use the commentary and entire website, of course.
The commentary has a practical application (GrowApp) at the end of each section, for discipleship.
The Greek terms with brief definitions can be looked up at biblehub.com. However, I hope to bring different nuances to the few words I focus on. A pronunciation guide is also offered. But I keep things nontechnical.
The translation is mine. I do not offer it in competition with the excellent published ones or because I think mine is better or necessary. I wrote it to learn what the Greek text really says. The translation tends to be literal, but complete literalism and readability are impossible, so adjustments had to be made. If you would like to see other translations, please go to biblegateway.com.
Links are provided for further study.
The Visit of the Magi (Matt. 2:1-12)
1 Now, after Jesus had been born in Bethlehem in Judea in the days of Herod the king—look!—Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is the one who was born the king of the Jews? For we have seen his star rising and have come to pay homage to him.” 3 On hearing this, King Herod was alarmed, and all of Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he gathered together all the chief priests and teachers of the law of the people, he was inquiring from them where the Christ would be born. 5 They said, “In Bethlehem, for thus it is written through the prophet:
6 Even you Bethlehem, in the land of Judea–
You are in no way the least of the leading cities of Judea,
For from you shall come a leader
Who shall shepherd my people Israel.” [Mic. 5:2; cf. 2 Sam. 5:2]
7 Then Herod privately summoned the Magi to learn precisely from them the time when the star appeared. 8 And as he sent them to Bethlehem, he said, “Go and inquire closely about the child. When you find him, report to me, so that I myself may go and pay homage to him.” 9 On hearing the king, they went.
And look! The star, which they had seen at its rising, led them on until it went and stood over where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 When they went into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother and fell and paid homage to him and opened up their treasure boxes and offered him gifts: gold, incense, and myrrh. 12 Then receiving a revelation in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed by a different road into their own country.
This passage reflects the typology of Moses v. the Pharaoh. It is Jesus v. Herod, and in verses it is Herod’s son who persecute John the Baptists and by extension Jesus (Matt. 14:1-12). The Herodians challenge Jesus to a verbal sparring match about paying taxes to Caesar (Matt. 22:15-22).
As I noted in Matt. 1, in this passage, heaven comes down to earth, in the person of Jesus the Messiah. The curtains to heaven have been pulled back, if only a little, in order to reveal heaven’s plan and what the heavenly realm is like. Renewalists really do believe that we can open our hearts to Scripture and a revelation to our minds and hearts, if God in his sovereignty reveals it to us.
Here is how Turner sets up the first two chapters of Matthew (he’s getting this outline from R. E. Brown) (p. 53):
Jesus the Messiah is David’s and Abraham’s son
Genealogy: Jesus the Messiah culminates Israel’s history (Matt. 1:2-17)
Dream 1: Jesus is Immanuel. His virginal conception fulfills Isa. 7:14 (Matt. 1:18-25)
Magi: In David’s city, Bethlehem, Jesus fulfills Mic. 5:2 and is shown to be Abraham’s son by blessing Gentiles in spite of hostile, deceptive King Herod (Matt. 2:1-12)
Dream 2: Jesus, God’s Son, recapitulates the exodus, fulfilling Hos. 11:1 (Matt. 2:13-15)
Massacre: King Herod murders the boys of Bethlehem, fulfilling Jer. 31:15 (Matt. 2:16-18)
Dream 3: Jesus moves to Nazareth, again fulfilling biblical prophecy (Matt. 2:19-23)
Jesus was reported to be born in the last verse in Matt. 1. And now a new turn of events arises (note the translation, “Look!” and see v. 9 for more comments). Magi arrive. They were wise men or astrologers. In Acts 13:6, 8, they were magicians with a supernatural ability. They were found all over the Roman empire, but their famous origins were Babylon (France, p. 66). Their ability was not ordinary sleight-of-hand card tricks. Demons were behind the scene. However, these Magi were probably just star-gazers. I say they were from Babylon. (Persia is too far away.) A large community of Jews had settled there after the exile in 587/6 B.C. So were these Magi Jewish astrologers? Probably not, for they had to ask where the king of the Jews had to be born. They did not know it was Bethlehem. They used the title “King of the Jews” instead of our king. They are supposed to remind us of Balaam, but with good intentions. They speak of homage from other nations (Ps. 72:10-11; Is. 60:5-6). The Queen of Sheba brought great quantities of spices to Solomon (1 Kings 10:1-10).
By the way, there is no word on how many Magi there were. The number three probably came about because of the three kinds of gifts (v. 11).
Repeat: the magi were Gentiles because they had to ask where the king of the Jews was to be born (2:4).
Stay away from those things. They are satanic and can snare your mind.
Bethlehem: It is about five miles (eight km) south of Jerusalem, the birthplace of King David. Some scholars say that because there is a Bethlehem of Galilee, it is more likely that Jesus was born there. However, the text clearly says the Bethlehem where Jesus was born was in Judea. Luke 2:4 says that Joseph and Mary traveled down to Judea and to his family town of Bethlehem because Joseph was of the lineage of David. I follow the biblical text.
Herod the king: he ruled from 37 to 4 BC, so now we know Jesus was born before 4 BC. As he grew older, he became increasingly paranoid about threats against his person and throne. He had numerous sons, wives, and others close to him put to death because he feared plots to overthrow him. After frequent disputes with Caesar Augustus, the emperor uttered his famous pun that he would rather be Herod’s pig (hys) than his son (huios) (Blomberg, comment on 2:1-2). You can google more about Herod, if you wish.
If we compare v. 7 with v. 16, it looks like about two years have passed. This means that Jesus was probably born about 6 B.C.
For further study in systematic theology on what it means for the Son of God to become a man:
“star rising”: BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, and it says of the noun anatolē (pronounced ah-nah-toh-lay): (1) “upward movement of celestial bodies, rising”; (2) “the position of the rising sun, east, orient”; (3) “a change from darkness to light in the early morning, the dawn.” All three translations would work, but I decided to take grammarian Olmstead’s advice and translate it “rising.” I really like the image of changing from darkness to light, however. This is a perfect image of the purpose of the birth of the Messiah.
In commenting on the rising star, Osborne writes: “the miraculous moment when God revealed the star to them. Jesus is called a rising sun / star in Luke 1:78; 2 Pet. 1:19; Rev. 22:16” (comment on 2:2).
“pay homage” could be translated as “worship him.” Osborne thinks that worship fits here (comment on 2:2). Since Matthew has a high Christology, “worship” is implied (2:2, 8, 11; 14:33; 28:9) (Turner, comment on 2:2).
“star”: BDAG says it means “a luminous body (other than the sun) visible in the sky, star, single star, planet.” Those possible translations in italics are merely suggestions based on what people knew back then and today. People have looked for the convergence of stars around the time of Jesus’s birth, but nothing definitive comes out of their good-faith efforts, which I appreciate. Commentator France mentions that Chinese astronomer spotted a super-nova (an exploding star that is bright for a few months) which was visible for seventy days in 5/4 B.C. This date fits the timeframe shortly before the death of Herod (p. 69). However, I believe the “star” was an angel because it is about to guide them forward and stand above the place where Jesus and his mother Mary were staying (v. 9). Stars don’t ordinarily move like that.
It is easy to see why King Herod and all of Jerusalem were troubled or disturbed or upset—all possible translations of the verb, which I rendered as alarmed. They were jolted out of their religious security and even slumber. The new king had just been born. Why Jerusalem? Matthew is signaling how the Jerusalem establishment will respond. As the story unfolds, they will unite in opposition to Jesus (15:1; 16:21; 20:17-18; 21:1, 10; 23:37). His rejection by Jerusalem at his birth foreshadows his rejection by Jerusalem at the end of his ministry (Blomberg, comment on 2:3-6).
“teachers of the law”: they can also be called scribes.
They were the Watchdogs of Theology and Behavior (David E. Garland, Luke: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament [Zondervan, 2011], p. 243). The problem which Jesus had with them can be summed up in Eccl. 7:16: “Be not overly righteous.” He did not quote that verse, but to him they were much too enamored with the finer points of the law, while neglecting its spirit (Luke 11:37-52; Matt. 23:1-36). Instead, he quoted this verse from Hos. 6:6: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matt. 9:13; 12:7). Overdoing righteousness, believe it or not, can damage one’s relationship with God and others.
“the Christ”: this is the Greek version or translation of the “Messiah.” It means the Anointed One. See my post on this title:
These learned men tell Herod where the Messiah was to be born, quoting from Micah 5:2. Jesus is fulfilling these prophecies, page by page in Matthew’s Gospel. We should never get rid of the Old Testament, as some advocate doing. This is short-sighted. Jesus fulfills not only isolated verses, which the NT authors quote here and there; he also and more deeply fulfills the patterns and concepts and theology of the OT. The quoted verses are focal points to teach us about his fulfilling the entire OT.
Blomberg on Matthew quoting Micah:
Discerning Jewish readers would have known the wording of the original text and would have recognized that Matthew’s addition was not a mistake in quoting the Scriptures but an interpretative explanation. Other changes to the text are minor and do not affect the overall meaning. Nevertheless, Matthew’s rendering of the Old Testament is more paraphrastic here than in 1:23 and probably reflects his independent translation of the Hebrew rather than dependence on the LXX. This in fact is Matthew’s consistent practice in citing Scripture … (comment on 2:3-6)
In other words, Matthew was inspired to paraphrase OT texts. Incidentally, the LXX stands for Septuagint (pronounced sep-too-ah-gent), a third to first century Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.
“Israel”: In no place does the NT refer to Palestine. In fact, the term never appears in the entire OT. Why would it? Israel was a nation–I say a major player–in the Mediterranean world. Robust and active Jerusalem was its well-known capital. There was no geo-political confusion in the way that there is today. It was the land where Jews resided. They were also called Israelites.
Herod needs to find out when the star rose, so he could calculate which age-range of the babies he could murder. He figured he would go for the two-year-olds and younger.
Some critics say that Jesus was one Messiah among many and his fulfillment of Scripture was fake. However, Jesus did not choose his place of birth. Then some critics could charge Matthew of making up the whole thing. But these critics read these wonderful texts in bad faith. Matthew is not the only one to see the fulfillment of Scripture. The life of Jesus the Messiah conformed to the OT, in its patterns and concepts and themes and theologies and even genealogies. The authors of the Gospels did not intend to deceive and plagiarize, as the sneering skeptics, who read with bad faith, claim.
Of course, Herod’s words to the Magi were false. He had a plot of his own. He was not going to pay homage to him, but kill the recently born king of the Jews. No one could know that Jesus’s kingship was going to save people from their sins (1:21). He was not going to rescue Israel from the Romans or cruel rulers like Herod, by raising a powerful military made up of pious soldiers. That had been done before with the Maccabees and will be repeated with the Bar Kokhba revolt. They are not the best solution over the long haul. They ended when a more powerful empire took the revolts down. Changed and redeemed hearts are. Then people’s behavior changes.
This verse leads me to believe that the star was an angel. It stood above the house where Jesus and Mary were staying. Natural stars don’t stand over a house. “[T]he star led the way, and this language fits none of the celestial phenomena suggested in 2:2b. It must have been a supernatural manifestation, for it not only ‘went before’ them but also stopped and ‘stood’ above the home in which Jesus was staying. The language is reminiscent of the pillar of fire and the cloud in the wilderness that ‘went ahead of’ Israel to guide them along the way (Exod. 13:21; 40:38). God is still in control” (Osborne, comment on 2:9). I agree with him.
“Look!”: translates the older “behold!” Matthew is telling us that we must pay attention. The unexpected is happening. Yes, Matthew is borrowing from the OT’s “behold,” and he too moves his narrative along by the verb. Clearly the Gospel was meant to be read out loud, to interest the listeners. “Something unexpected or exciting is happening. Pay attention!”
I really like the reaction of the Magi. They fell and paid him homage. Once again, the verb ordinarily can be translated “worship.” They must have sensed something special emanating from the boy. It could not be his surroundings; it was not a palace or a gold-plated crib. He did not wear a tiny golden crown. Clearly God was in and around the boy. Systematic theology says he was God in the flesh (see the links, above).
They entered a house; the family left the stable and manger behind. It must have belonged to Joseph’s family. Luke says Joseph and Mary stayed in a barn attached to a house and laid him in the manger (2:7). Why didn’t they stay in the house? The simple and straightforward answer is that it could have been stuffed with Joseph’s extended family, and they arrived late. Why not just settle for the night in a barn and manger?
“The family would remain in the stable for only a short time. Moreover, the idea of a separate stable is wrongheaded. Palestinian homes at that time had mangers at the edge of the living area with the animals, kept either downstairs or (in a one-room home) in one end of the house. So this could be the same home in which Jesus was born” (Osborne, comment on 2:11).
Turner writes: “Matthew’s ‘house’ is not a contradiction to the ‘manger’ of Luke 2:7 … since perhaps as much as two years have passed since Jesus was born (Matt. 2:16).”
The three gifts correspond to Ps. 72:10-11 and Is. 60:6. Bringing gifts to one’s superior was important in the Greater Middle East.
“incense”: it could be translated as frankincense. It is a glittering, odorous gum. It is made by making incisions in the bark of several trees: myrrh comes from a tree in Arabia. It could be used in embalming. Commentators found symbolic meaning in the three gifts: gold = royalty; incense = divinity; and myrrh = passion and burial. This is clever, but I don’t like to outsmart the inspired biblical authors. If Matthew had intended the symbols, he might have dropped a few hints. So the three kinds of gifts were well-known but expensive presents (Carson).
God can give dreams to pagans like these Magi. This verse really does call it a revelation. God intended to protect his son and his earth-parents. They were excellent because their obedience was instant. The verb chrēmitazō (pronounced khray-mee-tah-zoh) is often used for divine communication (Luke 2:26; Acts 10:22; Heb. 8:5; 11:5: 12:25). This dream came from God. So God could communicate with nonbelievers to get his purposes accomplished.
The Magi, meanwhile, just disobeyed Herod’s devious and unjust request or demand. It is right to disobey an unjust command or request when God gives you permission. Herod was intending to kill the boy. Therefore it is better to obey God than evil man.
GrowApp for Matt. 2:1-12
A.. It is good to bring gifts to the king. What have you brought to Jesus? Your life? Your time? Your money? What?
The Flight to Egypt (Matt. 2:13-15)
13 After they departed, look! An angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph, saying, “Get up and take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt and be there until I tell you, for Herod is about to seek the child, to destroy him.” 14 Then he got up and took the child and his mother at night and departed for Egypt. 15 And he was there until Herod died, so that the word spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled, saying, “Out of Egypt I have called my Son” [Hos. 11:1].
As I noted in the initial comments in vv. 10-12, heaven is opening up, just a little. We can see how God communicates with his people, through dreams and an angel. Renewalists (Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Neo-Charismatics) believe that God still speaks in dreams. He even sends angels to appear in dreams.
The ones who departed are the Magi.
Look!” see v. 9 for more comments.
Osborne, referring to a first-century Jewish writer named Philo in Egypt, says that there was a large Jewish population in Egypt: one million according to Philo (comment on 2:13). Even if one million were cut by half or two-thirds, the number is still large. Joseph could find refuge and safety there.
For a quick review in the area of systematic theology:
(a). Are messengers (in Hebrew mal’ak and in Greek angelos);
(b). Are created spirit beings;
(c). Have a beginning at their creation (not eternal);
(d). Have a beginning, but they are immortal (deathless).
(e). Have moral judgment;
(f). Have a certain measure of free will;
(g). Have high intelligence;
(h). Do not have physical bodies;
(i). But can manifest with immortal bodies before humans;
(j). They can show the emotion of joy.
See my posts about angels:
But we have to be careful about how we interpret dreams. Dream interpreters go way overboard, saying things like, “Write down your dreams! You may forget them!” I have never forgotten a dream that God has given me. I can recall every one, when needed. If you forget your dream when you wake up and throughout the day, then God never gave it to you. You may forget it right after you wake up (I have), but then the dream comes back sometime that day or the next. God won’t let you forget his dreams he gives you.
But don’t go overboard in interpreting them, as some teachers advocate. Most of your dreams which you believe come from God need to be “put on the shelf.” Don’t obsess over them. Seek Jesus in his Word.
The angel issued commands to Joseph, or one verb functions as a command, “Getting up, take the child ….” “Take” is imperative, “getting up,” is not quite, but it adds up to the same thing—“Do as I say! Your life depends on it!”
“be there”: it really is the command form of the verb “to be.” Joseph was not just going to waste time by simply existing in Egypt. He was going to “be there.” A command, an imperative.
I really like how the angel says to Joseph that Jesus is “the child” and then “and his mother.” The angel does not say, “Get up and take your wife and child.” It seems Joseph is simply the watcher or caretaker of the mother and her child. Biologically, the child was not his, so the angel is being precise here. It takes special grace and revelation to care for a child that is not your own. Joseph does not think twice about it. I’m really learning in these two chapters in Matthew’s Gospel that Joseph was a special man. He deserves our respect. I wish I could clone him by millions of men around the globe!
Matthew repeats word for word what the angel said, except he changes from the command or imperative form to a report. “Then Joseph got up and took the child and his mother.” Once again, it is precisely pointed out that the child belongs to his mother, not to Joseph. He is the silent partner in all of this. He is a man of instant obedience. As noted in Matt. 1, This instant obedience contrasts with Zechariah’s (John the future Baptist’s father) reluctance (Luke 1:18-23).
Grammarian Olmstead notes the parallels between vv. 13-14 and Exod. 2:15, which reads: “When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian” (Exod. 2:15). The circumstances were different because Moses had just killed an Egyptian. But the kings were seeking to kill both of the heroes of the story, and they had to “depart” (in the Greek version of Exod. 2:15).
And Matthew reports that Joseph “was there.” No mere existence. I wonder what job he got while he was in Egypt? How did they get food? He was a foreigner in a foreign land. He just received costly gifts from the Magi, so he may have lived off of them.
Jesus, through his father Joseph, went in the reverse direction of the Israelites, who came out of Egypt. Then he too would come out, as the fulfillment of the Exodus. He was no slave, thankfully. He will soon liberate all slaves to their sin.
Matthew has a high view of Scripture. The Lord spoke through the prophet Hosea.
The prophecy was about God’s son Israel being called and guided out of Egypt during the Exodus. You can read the first fifteen chapters of the book of Exodus, to see the wonderful escape of millions of people. Now Matthew does not deny the first fulfillment, but Jesus is Israel’s redeemer, so he is the ultimate fulfiller of this prophecy. As noted, he is about to call people out of spiritual Egypt—out of their spiritual bondage (John 8:34-36).
GrowApp for Matt. 2:13-15
A.. Without taking the symbolism too far, Egypt speaks of slavery and spiritual bondage, your past life. Jesus, though sinless, identifies with your past. However, he is now about to call everyone everywhere to leave their own “Egypt.” How has God set you free from your own “Egypt”?
The Slaying of the Infants (Matt. 2:16-18)
16 Then Herod, seeing that he was tricked by the Magi, was very angry, and commissioned men to kill the children in Bethlehem and in its boundaries from two years and below, according to the time which he learned from the Magi. 17 Then the word spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled, saying:
18 A sound in Rama was heard,
Much weeping and mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children;
And she did not want to be comforted,
Because they do not exist. [Jer. 31:15]
Herod was a cruel ruler. His purpose was to eliminate a potential king–a rival, a replacement.
One wonders why God did not send down an angel to stop Herod, so Jesus and his parents could stay in Bethlehem. However, God has given some freedom to the world systems, and people are free moral agents. They have a significant degree of free will. God does not turn modern bullets into foam rubber when the gun is fired. He does not create a hedonistic paradise down here on earth. Mammals can attack, and humans are mammals with a soul and free will. They sometimes act as predators. God was training Joseph and Mary, the mother of Jesus, to be good parents.
They had to flee for their lives, for their son’s life. Prophecy also had to be fulfilled. He had to go down into Egypt.
In fact, all of us are training for reigning in the next world. This is why we go through tough times. Everything will be redeemed.
“men”: it was added for clarity.
Two years and younger or below (the Greek says “below”): Jesus was between six and twenty months old, at this time (Carson).
Why Rachel weeping? Rachel’s tomb is nearby, and when the Judeans were deported in 587/6, Jeremiah depicts Rachel mourning as the Judeans leave their homeland. Rachel is the idealized matriarch of the Israelites. Turner carefully argues that Jer. 31:15 is not a prophecy that had to be fulfilled as some sort of fate; rather, this verse reflects the same weeping that happened in Jeremiah’s day and happened here (comment on v. 17). It’s about “patterned” fulfillment.
“they do not exist” means they are no longer around. Literally, “they are not.” Originally, the clause signified that the ancient Israelites were not in their homeland because of the exile, but here Matthew is speaking of the children’s death, so once more Rachel is weeping.
Even the killing of one child like this is awful, but Bethlehem and its surroundings did not have many children two years and younger. So the number was low.
This same child killing was done in Egypt, when the Hebrew midwives were told to kill the boys. This was Satanic, because Satan intended to kill Israel’s deliverer, Moses. Now the same Satanic spirit is manifesting against the life of Jesus. Murderous rage is also at work in the abortion of babies around the world. Killing children is intended to wipe out humanity, and Satan hates humanity.
The main message in this pericope (pronounced puh-RIH-koh-pea) or section or unit is that Jesus by his parents escaped and is about to return to rescue his people as the soon-to-be-revealed Messiah. He is their Messianic hope. The exiles returned from Babylon; Jesus will soon return to his homeland. Recall that Matthew’s genealogy mentions the deportation, and the return is implied. Jesus is Israel’s hope; maybe they will accept him as God’s Messiah. David’s throne will be occupied through the true Son of God. Even if Jesus’s generation of Israelites do not accept him, then Jesus is still reigning on the throne next to God. This is also the throne that God promised to David, which would last forever. Jesus takes his place on it, instead of David, and in fulfillment of the everlasting promise.
GrowApp for Matt. 2:16-18
A.. Are you prepared for persecution on some level? Today, Muslims kill Christians in Nigeria. How does one recover from unjust death?
B.. Do you pray for or support persecuted people?
The Return from Egypt (Matt. 2:19-23)
19 When Herod died, look! an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Get up and take the child and his mother and go to Israel, for those seeking the life of the child and his mother have died.” 21 Then arising and taking the child and his mother, he entered Israel. 22 On hearing that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to pass by there. But having received a revelation in a dream, he departed into the region of Galilee. 23 Going there, he settled in a town called Nazareth, in order that the word through the prophets might be fulfilled that he would be called a Nazarene.
See my initial comments on vv. 1-12. Heaven is unveiling itself, a little. Let’s look inside, as far as Scripture allows.
Once again, “look!” updates the old “behold.” It means to pay attention; something significant or supernatural is about to happen. See v. 9 for more comments.
So the Lord appeared to Joseph in another dream; this one imparts information that kept the family safe. He is instructed to return, in the same wording that the angel used in the previous section. “Arise” or “get up” and “take.”
Once again, Matthew does not say, “Take your child and wife,” but “take the child and his mother.” Jesus is Mary’s child in a very precise sense. Matthew is careful to note it.
“Israel”: see v. 6, for more comments.
Joseph’s obedience was once again instant. He “got up” or “arose” and “took the child and his mother” on their journey back to Israel. Joseph is the silent partner in the guidance, but no doubt he and Mary had conversations as they traveled along or shortly after he got his dream. “Mary, God spoke to me to return to Israel.” So she got the things ready for the journey, and Jesus was kept safe with the parents whom God gave him. What a wonderful family! What wonderful parents! So compliant and so willing to follow orders. So surrendered to God!
“dream”: see v. 13 for a link on how to interpret them.
Grammarian Olmstead notes the parallels in Greek between Matt. 2:20 and Exod. 4:19, in the Greek version of Exodus (called the Septuagint, pronounced sep-too-ah-gent, which is the third to first century, B.C. translation of the Hebrew into Greek). Those “seeking” “the life” “have died.” The bottom line in Olmstead’s observation is that Jesus is similar to Moses, but of course better.
“angel”: see v. 13 for more comments.
Herod gave to his son Archelaus the rulership over Judea, Samaria, and Idumea. Augustus Caesar agreed and honored him with the title of Ethnarch. He could receive the title king, if he earned it. But he was a bad ruler and was removed in A.D. 6. Rome ruled the south by a procurator. By then Joseph had settled his family in Nazareth in Galilee, which was ruled by Herod Antipas, another son of Herod (see Matt. 14:1-10).
“having received a revelation in a dream” could be translated “being warned in a dream” or “being revealed in a dream.” Joseph had five dreams, and here in v. 22, he got his fifth one. Once again, please see v. 13 for a link, if you get dreams and need to know how to interpret them.
Joseph chose Nazareth, which was his former hometown (Luke 1:26-27; 2:39; Matt. 13:53-58). Keener estimates that around five hundred people lived there (p. 113). Nazareth was a despised place, even among the Galileans (John 1:46; 7:42, 52). In John 1:46, Nathaniel asked Philip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” So, Matthew’s Christian readers would have instantly picked up on Jesus being despised (see Pss. 22:6-8, 13; 69:8. 20-21; Is. 11:1; 49:7; 53:2-3, 8; Dan. 9:26). Matthew carries forward the theme of Jesus’s being despised (see Matt. 8:20; 11:16-19; 15:7-8). So Matthew gives us the substance of OT passages, and not a direct quotation. Note how Matthew writes” by the prophets” (plural).
Further, Matthew is also referring to the neṣer (“branch” and pronounced neh-tzair) in Is. 11:1-2, which says:
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
2 And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. (Is. 11:1-2, ESV)
Jeremiah also prophesied a righteous Branch would be raised up:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land (Jer. 23:5, ESV)
Zechariah prophesies a branch to high priest Joshua, but Joshua is not the one:
Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. (Zech. 3:8)
Jesus’s name in Hebrew is Joshua. He is a branch from the royal line of David. He was despised, but ironically, the people who despise him are wrong. So Matthew is capitalizing on the similarity of the sound neṣer and Nazarene. France concludes:
Jesus captured just what some of the prophets had predicted—a Messiah who came from the wrong place, who did not conform to the expectations of Jewish tradition, and who as a result would not be accepted by his people. Even the embarrassment of an origin in Nazareth is thus turned to advantage as part of the Scriptural model which Matthew has worked so hard to construct in this introductory section of his account of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. (p. 95)
Turner says that there is no contradiction between Matthew’s and Luke’s view of Galilee (Nazareth is located up north, in larger Galilee). He writes:
Many have noticed the difference between Matthew and Luke regarding Galilee. According to Luke 1:26-27; 2:1-7, Mary and Joseph originally lived in Nazareth. Although one would not gather this from Matthew, nothing said by Matthew contradicts it. Matthew simply picks up the story after Joseph and Mary have arrived in Bethlehem to register for Augustus’s census. Another difference is the sojourn in Egypt., mentioned by Matthew but not by Luke. Still, Luke’s account does nothing to contradict Matthew’s Egyptian visit, which may be fitted into Luke 2 at some time prior to the return to Nazareth, described in Luke 2:39. Evidently, the presentation of Jesus in the temple (Luke 2:21-38; cf. Lev. 12:2-8) should be viewed as historical background for the arrival of the magi some time later. Popular messianic speculation would likely be stirred by both events. At any rate, both of these difficulties are examples of the selectivity of the Gospel authors in omitting material that does not fit their individual literary and theological interests. (his comment on Matt. 2:22)
Many commentators find a contradiction in these verses with Luke because Matthew seems to know nothing of Mary’s and Joseph’s original residence in Nazareth. But Matthew narrates only that which is relevant to his fulfillment quotations. He certainly says nothing that would exclude a previous residence in Galilee. Probably Mary and Joseph had intended to resettle in Bethlehem in their ancestral homeland and now have to change their plans and go north once again. Joseph has yet another dream, and as in v. 12 it is a warning. The angel does not explicitly appear, though his presence may be presupposed. (comment on 2:21-23)
So don’t let critics of Scripture tear down your faith in the reliability of the Gospels. Begin a series on the topic, by reading the conclusion with short summaries and links back to each part:
Jesus fulfills the OT by patterns and themes, as well as by quoted verses.
GrowApp for Matt. 2:19-23
A.. Joseph received five dreams in Matt. 1-2. How have you been guided to carry out God’s will in your life, like a marriage partner or a place to live?
Summary and Conclusion
At the end of Matt. 2, commentator Turner offers us this summary of the infancy narrative:
In retrospect it is clear that the message of the so-called infancy narratives in Matt. 1-2 has little to do with Jesus’ infancy. Rather, they trace his ancestry, miraculous conception, early worship and opposition and residence in Nazareth. All this is interwoven with biblical-historical patterning and prophetic prediction. Jesus is the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. He is the culmination of biblical history and prophecy. As the son of David, he is the genuine king of Israel, contrasted with the wicked usurper Herod. As the son of Abraham, he brings the blessing of God to the gentile magi … “Jesus culminates Israel’s history in chapter 1; in chapter 2 he repeats it.” (comment on 2:23b).
In the last quoted sentence Turner is referring to two other commentators. His point is that Jesus is the fulfillment of Israel’s history and the answer to Israel’s longing for deliverance. Jesus is the apex of the story of Israel. I add: but this deliverance will not be as the Jerusalem establishment and Jewish leaders and the populace demands. We know that his people will officially reject him.
Once again, God’s providence or watching over his Son is prominent in this chapter. God ordered the angelic being—the Greek word for “star” can be more generic than just a star as science knows it today.
The Magi—the text never says three—worship or pay homage to the king. Jesus is still sought by wisemen, as the bumper-sticker says. He is worthy of worship. He is, after all, God in the flesh.
Jesus is the king of the world, not just the king of the Jews. Yes, he first reaches out to his own people, but they reject him. Then their rejection opens the door to the Gentiles—you and me.
When Herod attacks the children, he is hell-bent and hell-sent to wipe out the Savior. But God spoke to Joseph to flee. This flight may not seem victorious, but on their return, Jesus and his parents are like the people of God returning after their deportation or exile into Babylon. In leaving Egypt, he is fleeing the past and will, in about thirty years, embark on his mission.
Certain people oppose God and his children. Herod was such a one. He failed to kill the baby because of the Spirit at work in Joseph. However, despite the evil, God is still willing to save evil people, if they truly repent. Jesus offer salvation. His very name means salvation; that was his mission (1:21).
Osborne, pp. 92-93, 103-05
I refer to a community of Bible scholars. They are excellent, but also very technical. I hope I have simplified things. I also write from a Renewal perspective.
Blomberg, Craig L. Matthew. The New American Commentary. Vol. 22 (Broadman, 1992).
Carson, D. A. Matthew: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. Ed. by Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland. Vol. 9. (Zondervan, 2010).
France, R. T. The Gospel of Matthew: New International Commentary on the New Testament. (Eerdmans 2007).
Garland, David E. Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Smyth and Helways, 2001).
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (United Bible Society, 1993).
Keener, Craig. A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. (Eerdmans 1999).
Olmstead, Wesley G. Matthew 1-14: A Handbook on the Greek Text. (Baylor UP, 2019).
Osborne, Grant R. Matthew: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. (Zondervan, 2010).
Turner, David L. Matthew: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Baker Academic, 2008).