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Flight into Egypt and Slaughter of the Bethlehem Children.
(Bethlehem and Road Thence to Egypt, b.c. 4.)
A Matt. II. 13–18.
a 13 Now when they were departed [The text favors the idea that the arrival and departure of the magi and the departure of Joseph for Egypt, all occurred in one night. If so, the people of Bethlehem knew nothing of these matters], behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise [this command calls for immediate departure] and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt [This land was ever the refuge of Israel when fleeing from famine and oppression. One hundred miles in a direct line from Bethlehem would carry Joseph well over the border of Egypt. Two hundred miles would bring him to the river Nile. In Egypt he would find friends, possibly acquaintances. There were at that time about one million Jews in the Nile valley. In Alexandria, a city of 300,000, from one-fifth to two-fifths of the population were Jews, two of the five wards being given over to them; and the Talmud describes how, in its great synagogue, all the men of like craft or trade sat together. Thus Joseph might there find fellow-craftsmen, as did Paul in Corinth—Acts xviii. 3], and be thou there until I tell thee: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. [Thus joy at the honor of the magi's visit and worship gives place to terror at the wrath of Herod. The quiet days at Bethlehem are followed by a night of fear and flight. The parents of Jesus were experiencing those conflicting joys and sorrows which characterize the lives of all who have to do with Christ— Mark x. 30; II. Tim. iii. 12.] 5014 And he arose and took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt [What a criticism upon Israel when Egypt, the house of bondage, the seat of tyranny, the land of the immemorial enemies of God's people, was regarded as a place of refuge from its ruler. Jesus was saved by flight. God invariably prefers the ordinary to the extraordinary means]; 15 and was there until the death of Herod [as Herod died soon after the flight to Egypt, the sojourn of the family of Jesus in that land must have been brief, for they returned after his death]: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord [the message is the Lord's, the words and voice are the prophet's] through the prophet [see Hos. xi. 1], saying, Out of Egypt did I call my son. [This prophecy, no doubt, had a primary reference to the Exodus, and was an echo of the words of Moses at Ex. iv. 22, 23. In their type and antitype relationship the Old and New Testaments may be likened to the shell and kernel of a nut. Israel was Israel, and God's Son, because it included in itself the yet unformed and unborn body which was later to be inhabited by the spirit of the Word or Son of God. The seed of Abraham was called out of Egypt, that the promised seed enveloped within it might have a body and nature prepared in the land of liberty, and not in that of bondage. Israel was the outer shell, and Christ the kernel, hence the double significance of the prophecy—the twice repeated movement of the nation and the Man.] 16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked [the magi, no doubt, intended to return to Herod, and would have done so but for the dream, but when they failed to return, they seemed to Herod to have taken pleasure in deceiving him, and the very honesty of their conduct passed for the lowest depth of cunning] of the Wise-men, was exceeding wroth [wroth at being made sport of, and doubly wroth because of the serious matter as to which they presumed to jest], and sent forth [murderers, suddenly], and slew [Thus early did persecution attend those associated with Christ (Matt. x. 24, 25 ). This brutality was in keeping with 51Herod's character. Jealousy as to his authority led him to murder two high priests, his uncle Joseph, his wife, and three of his own sons, besides many other innocent persons. Fearing lest the people should rejoice at his departure, he summoned the leading citizens of all the cities of his realm, and, shutting them up in the circus grounds at Jericho, ordered his sister Salome and her husband to have them all put to death at the moment when he died, that the land might mourn at his death] all the male children that were in Bethlehem [As Bethlehem was not a large place, the number of martyrs could not have been large. It is variously estimated that from twelve to fifty were slain. Had the parents of Bethlehem known that Jesus was on the way to Egypt, they might have saved their own children by giving information as to the whereabouts of the right child; that is, if we may assume that they were being butchered], and in all the borders [Adjacent places; settlements or houses around Bethlehem. The present population of the town is fully five thousand; it was probably even larger in Christ's time] thereof, from two years old and under [According to Jewish reckoning this would mean all children from birth up to between twelve and thirteen months old, all past one year old being counted as two years old], according to the time which he had exactly learned of the Wise-men. [That is, he used their date as a basis for his calculations. It is likely that six months had elapsed since the star appeared, and that Herod doubled the months to make doubly sure of destroying the rival claimant. Not knowing whether the child was born before or after the appearing of the star, he included all the children of that full year in which the star came.] 17 Then was fulfilled [Verses 6, 15, and 18 give us three different kinds of prophecy. The first is direct, and relates wholly to an event which was yet future; the second is a case where an act described is symbolic of another later and larger act; the last is a case where words describing one act may be taken as fitly and vividly describing another later act, though the acts 52themselves may bear small resemblance. Matthew does not mean that Jeremiah predicted the slaughter at Bethlehem; but that his words, though spoken as to another occasion, were so chosen of the Spirit that they might be fitly applied to this latter occasion] that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet [Jer. xxxi. 15], saying, 18 A voice was heard in Ramah [This word means “highland” or “hill.” The town lies six miles north of Jerusalem. It was the birthplace and burial-place of the prophet Samuel. It is also supposed to be the Aramathea of the New Testament. See Matt. xxvii. 57], Weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children [Why these tearful mothers in Bethlehem? Because that which Christ escaped remained for his brethren, their children, to suffer. If he would escape death, all his brethren must die. But he died that all his brethren might live]; And she would not be comforted, because they are not. [The words here quoted were originally written concerning the Babylonian captivity (Jer. xxxi. 15). Ramah was a town of Benjamin (Josh. xviii. 25). Jeremiah was carried thither in chains with the other captives, but was there released by the order of Nebuchadnezzar (Jer. xl. 1; xxxix. 11, 12). Here he saw the captives depart for Babylon, and heard the weeping of the poor who were left in the land (xxxix. 10); hence the mention of Ramah as the place of lamentation. He represents Rachel weeping, because the Benjamites were descendants of Rachel, and, perhaps, because the tomb of Rachel was “in the border of Benjamin,” and not far away (I. Sam. x. 2). The image of the ancient mother of the tribe, rising from her tomb to weep, and refusing to be comforted because her children were not around her, is inimitably beautiful; and this image so strikingly portrayed the weeping in Bethlehem that Matthew adopts the words of the prophet, and says that they were here fulfilled. It was the fulfillment, not of a prediction, properly speaking, but of certain words spoken by the prophet.] 53
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