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MATTHEW Chapter 2

Verse 1. When Jesus was born. See the full account of his birth in Lu 2:1-20.

In Bethlehem of Judaea. Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ, was a small town about six miles south of Jerusalem. The word Bethlehem denotes "house of bread"—-perhaps given to the place on account of its great fertility. It was also called Ephratah, a word supposed likewise to signify fertility, Ge 35:19; Ru 4:11; Ps 132:6.

It was called the city of David, (Lu 2:4) because it was the city of his nativity, 1 Sa 16:1,18. It was called Bethlehem of Judea, to distinguish it from a town of the same name in Galilee, Jos 19:15. The soil of Bethlehem was noted for its fertility. Ancient travellers frequently spoke of its productions. The town is situated on an eminence, in the midst of hills and vales. At present it contains about 200 houses, inhabited chiefly by Christians and Mohammedans, who live together in peace. About 200 paces east of Bethlehem, the place is still shown where our Saviour is supposed to have been born. There is a church and a convent there; and beneath the church a subterranean chapel, which is lighted by thirty-two lamps, which is said to be the place where was the stable in which Jesus was born. No reliance is, however, to be placed on this tradition.

Herod the king. Judea, where our Saviour was born, was a province of the Roman empire. It was taken about sixty-three years before, by Pompey, and placed under tribute. Herod received his appointment from the Romans, and had reigned, at the time, of the birth of Jesus thirty-four years. Though he was permitted to be called king, yet he was in all respects dependent on the Roman emperor. He was commonly called Herod the Great, because he had distinguished himself in the wars with Antigonus, and his other enemies, and because he had evinced great talents, as well as great cruelties and crimes, in governing and defending his country; in repairing the temple; and in building and ornamenting the cities of his kingdom. At this time Augustus was emperor of Rome. The world was at peace. All the known nations of the earth were united under the Roman emperor. Intercourse between different nations was easy and safe. Similar laws prevailed. The use of the Greek language was general throughout the world. All these circumstances combined to render this a favourable time to introduce the gospel, and to spread it through the earth; and the Providence of God was remarkable in fitting the nations in this manner for the easy and rapid spread of the Christian religion among all nations.

Wise men. The original word here is magoi from which comes our word magician, now used in a bad sense, but not so in the original. The persons here denoted were philosophers, priests, or astronomers. They dwelt chiefly in Persia and Arabia. They were the learned men of the eastern nations, devoted to astronomy, to religion, and to medicine. They were held in high esteem by the Persian court, were admitted as counsellors, and followed the camps in war, to give advice.

From the east. It is unknown whether they came from Persia or Arabia. Both countries might be denoted by the word east—that is, east from Judea.

Jerusalem. The capital of Judea. As there is frequent reference in the New Testament to Jerusalem; as it was the place of the public worship of God; as it was the place where many important transactions in the life of the Saviour occurred, and the place where he died; and as no Sabbath-school teacher can intelligently explain the New Testament without some knowledge of that city, it seems desirable to present a brief description of it. A more full description may be seen in Calmet's Dictionary, and in the common works or Jewish Antiquities. Jerusalem was the capital of the kingdom of Judah, and was built on the line dividing this tribe from the tribe of Benjamin. It was once called Salem, (Ge 14:18; Ps 76:2) and, in the days of Abraham, was the abode of Melchizedek. When the Israelites took possession of the promised land, they found this stronghold in the possession of the Jebusites, by whom it was called Jehus or Jebusi, Jos 18:28. The name Jerusalem was compounded probably of the two, by changing a single letter, and calling it, for the sake of the sound, Jerusalem instead of Jebusalem. The ancient Salem was probably built on Mount Moriah or Acra—the eastern and western mountains on which Jerusalem was subsequently built. When the Jebusites became masters of the place, they erected a fortress in the southern quarter of the city, which was subsequently called Mount Zion, but which they called Jebus; and although the Israelites took possession of the adjacent territory, (Jos 18:28) the Jebusites still held this fortress or upper town until the time of David, who wrested it from them, (2 Sa 5:7-9,) and then removed his court from Hebron to Jerusalem, which was thenceforward known as the city of David, 2 Sa 6:12; 1 Ki 8:1. Jerusalem was built on several hills—Mount Zion on the south, Mount Moriah on the east—on which the temple was subsequently built, (See Barnes "Mt 21:12") Mount Acra on the west, and Mount Betheza on the north. Mount Moriah and Mount Zion were separated by a valley called, by Josephus, the Valley of Cheesemongers, over which there was a bridge, or raised way, leading from the one to the other. On the south-east of Mount Moriah and between that and Mount Zion, there was a bluff or high rock, capable of strong fortification, called Ophel. The city was encompassed by hills. On the west there were hills which overlooked the city; on the south was the valley of Jehoshaphat, or the valley of Hinnom, (See Barnes "Mt 5:22") separating it from what is called the Mount of Corruption; on the east was the valley or the brook Kedron, dividing the city from the Mount of Olives; and on the north the country was more level—though it was a broken or rolling country. To the south-east, the valleys of the Kedron and Jehoshaphat united, and the waters flowed through the broken mountains in a south-east direction to the Dead Sea, some fifteen miles distant. The city of Jerusalem stands in 30" 50' north latitude, and 35" 20' east longitude from Greenwich. It is thirty-four miles south-easterly from Jaffa, the ancient Joppa, (which is its seaport,) and one hundred and twenty miles south-westerly from Damascus. The best view of the city of Jerusalem is from Mount Olivet on the east, (See Barnes "Mt 24:3") the mountains on the east being somewhat higher than those on the west. The city was anciently enclosed within walls, a part of which are still standing. The position of the walls has been at various times changed, as the city has been larger or smaller, or as it has extended in different directions. The wall on the south formerly included the whole of Mount Zion, though the modern wall runs over the summit, including about half of the mountain. In the time of the Saviour, the northern wall enclosed only Mounts Acra and Moriah north; though, after his death, Agrippa extended the wall so as to include Mount Bezetha on the north. About half of that is included in the present wall. The limits of the city on the east and the west, being more determined by the nature of the place, have been more fixed and permanent. The city was watered in part by the fountain of Siloam on the east, for a description of which See Barnes "Lu 13:4"

See Barnes "Lu 13:4, See Barnes "Isa 7:3"

and in part by the fountain of Gihon, on the west of the city, which flowed into the vale of Jehoshaphat; and in the time of Solomon by an aqueduct, part of which is still remaining, by which water was brought from the vicinity of Bethlehem. The "pools of Solomon," three in number, one rising above another, and adapted to hold a large quantity of water, are still remaining in the vicinity of Bethlehem. The fountain of Siloam still flows freely, (See Barnes "Isa 7:3") , though the fountain of Gihon is commonly dry. A reservoir or tank, however, remains at Gihon. Jerusalem had, perhaps, its highest splendour in the time of Solomon. About four hundred years after, it was wholly destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. It lay utterly desolate during the seventy years of the Jewish captivity. Then it was rebuilt, and restored to some degree of its former magnificence, and remained about six hundred years, when it was utterly destroyed by Titus, A.D. 70. In the reign of Adrian, the city was partly rebuilt under the name of AElia. The monuments of pagan idolatry were erected in it; and it remained under pagan jurisdiction until Helena, the mother of Constantine, overthrew the memorials of idolatry, and erected a magnificent church over the spot which was supposed to be the place of the Redeemer's sufferings and burial. Julian, the apostate, attempting to destroy the credit of the prophecy of the Saviour that the temple should remain in ruins, (Matthew 25.) endeavoured to rebuild the temple.

His own historian, Ammianus Marcellinus, (see Warburton's Divine Legation of Moses,) says that the workmen were impeded by balls of fire coming from the earth, and that he was compelled to abandon the undertaking. Jerusalem continued in the power of the eastern emperors till the reign of the caliph Omar, the third in succession from Mohammed, who reduced it under his control about the year 640. The Saracens continued masters of Jerusalem until the year 1099, when it was taken by the crusaders under Godfrey of Bouillon. They founded a new kingdom, of which Jerusalem was the capital, which lasted eighty-eight years under nine kings. At last this kingdom was utterly ruined by Saladin; and though the Christians once more obtained possession of the city, yet they were obliged again to relinquish it. In 1217 the Saracens were expelled by the Turks, who have ever since continued in possession of it. Jerusalem has been taken and pilaged seventeen times, and millions of men have been slaughtered within its walls. At present there is a splendid mosque—the mosque of Omar—on the site of the temple. It is a city containing a population variously estimated at from 15,000, to 50,000, (though probably not far from 20,000,) comprising Jews, Turks, Arabs, Armenians, Greeks, and Papists: The Jews have a number of synagogues. The Catholics have a convent, and have the control of the church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Greeks have twelve convents; the Armenians have three convents on Mount Zion, and one in the city; the Copts, Syrians, and Abyssinians have each of them one convent. The streets are narrow, and the houses are of stone, most of them low and irregular, with flat roofs or terraces, and with small windows only towards the street, usually protected by iron grates. The above description has been obtained from a great variety of sources, and it would be useless to refer to the works where the facts have been obtained. As a reference to Jerusalem often occurs in the New Testament, and as it is very important to possess a correct view of the site of the ancient and modern city, a view is annexed to the second vol. It is by Catherwood, and is probably the most exact view of the city that has been published.

{*} "Now when Jesus was born" "4th year before the account called A.D."

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