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The Visit of the Wise Men


In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:


‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler

who is to shepherd my people Israel.’ ”

7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

The Escape to Egypt

13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

The Massacre of the Infants

16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:


“A voice was heard in Ramah,

wailing and loud lamentation,

Rachel weeping for her children;

she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

The Return from Egypt

19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20“Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”


16. Then Herod when he saw Matthew speaks according to what Herod felt and thought about the matter. He believed that the Magi had deceived him, because they did not choose to take part in his wicked cruelty. He was rather taken in his own trickery, — in his base pretense, that he too intended to pay homage to the new King.

Josephus makes no mention of this history. The only writer who mentions it is Macrobius, in the Second Book of his Saturnalia, where, relating the jokes and taunts of Augustus, he says: When he heard that, by Herod’s command, the children in Syria under two years of age had been slain, and that his own son had been slain among the crowd, “I would rather,” said he, “have been Herod’s hog than his son.” But the authority of Matthew alone is abundantly sufficient for us. Josephus certainly ought not to have passed over a crime so worthy of being put on record. But there is the less reason to wonder that he says nothing about the infants; for he passes lightly over, and expresses in obscure language, an instance of Herod’s cruelty not less shocking, which took place about the same time, when he put to death all the Judges, who were called the Sanhedrim, that hardly a remnant might remain of the stock of David. It was the same dread, I have no doubt, that impelled him to both of these murders.

There is some uncertainty about the date.211211     “Toutefois on ne sait pas certainement si ce fut en mesme temps.” — “However, it is not known certainly if it was at the same time.” Matthew says, that they were slain from two years old and under, according to the time which he had inquired at the Magi: from which we may infer that Christ had then reached that age, or at least was not far from being two years old. Some go farther, and conclude that Christ was about that age at the time when the Magi came. But I contend that the one does not follow from the other. With what terror Herod was seized when the report was widely spread about a new king who had been borne,212212     “Quand les premieres nouvelles vindrent de la naissance du nouveau Roy, et que le bruit en commenca a courir;” — “when the first news arrived of the birth of the new King, and when the noise about it began to spread.” we have lately seen. Fear prevented him at that time from employing a traitor, in a secret manner, to make an investigation.213213     “La crainte l'empescha lors d'envoyer secretement quelque traistre pour espier comme tout alloit;” — “fear prevented him at that time from employing some traitor to spy how all went.” There is no reason to wonder that he was restrained, for some time, from the commission of a butchery so hateful and shocking, particularly while the report about the arrival of the Magi was still recent. It is certainly probable, that he revolved the crime in his mind, but delayed it till a convenient opportunity should occur. It is even possible, that he first murdered the Judges, in order to deprive the people of their leaders, and thus to compel them to look upon the crime as one for which there was no remedy.214214     “Et pent estre qu'il a premierement mis a mort les Juges, afin qu'apres avoir oste au poure peuple ses conducteurs, il peust sans contredit luy tenir le pie sui la gorge, et en faire a son plaisir.” — “And perhaps he first put the Judges to death, that, after having deprived the wretched people of their leaders, he might without opposition, set his foot on their throat, and do with them at his pleasure.”

We may now conclude it to be a frivolous argument, on which those persons rest, who argue, that Christ was two years old when he was worshipped by the Magi, because, according to the time when the star appeared, Herod slew the children who were a little below two years old. Such persons take for granted, without any proper ground, that the star did not appear till after that the Virgin had brought forth her child. It is far more probable, that they had been warned early, and that they undertook the journey close upon the time of the birth of Christ, that they might see the child when lately born, in the cradle, or in his mother’s lap. It is a very childish imagination that, because they came from an unknown country, and almost from another world, they had spent about two years on the road. The conjectures stated by Osiander215215     Andrew Osiander, (grandfather of Dr Andrew Osiander, a Lutheran divine,) author of several works which gained him not a little celebrity, among which is Harmonia Evangelica Ed. are too absurd to need refutation.

But there is no inconsistency in the thread of the story which I propose, — that the Magi came when the period of child-bearing was not yet over, and inquired after a king who had been born, not after one who was already two years old; that, after they had returned to their own country, Joseph fled by night, but still in passing discharged a pious duty at Jerusalem, (for in so populous a city, where there was a constant influx of strangers from every quarter, he might be secure from danger;) that, after he had departed to Egypt, Herod began to think seriously about his own danger, and the ulcer of revenge, which he had nourished in his heart for more than a year and half, at length broke out. The adverb then (τότε) does not always denote in Scripture uninterrupted time,216216     “Sans qu'il y ait rien entre-deux;” — “without there being anything between the two,” but frequently occurs, when there is a great distance between the events.

18. A voice was heard in Ramah It is certain that the prophet describes (Jeremiah 31:15) the destruction of the tribe of Benjamin, which took place in his time: for he had foretold that the tribe of Judah would be cut off, to which was added the half of the tribe of Benjamin. He puts the mourning into the mouth of Rachel, who had been long dead. This is a personification, (προσωποποιϊα,) which has a powerful influence in moving the affections. It was not for the mere purpose of ornamenting his style, that Jeremiah employed rhetorical embellishments. There was no other way of correcting the hardness and stupidity of the living, than by arousing the dead, as it were, from their graves, to bewail those divine chastisements, which were commonly treated with derision. The prediction of Jeremiah having been accomplished at that time, Matthew does not mean that it foretold what Herod would do, but that the coming of Christ occasioned a renewal of that mourning, which had been experienced, many centuries before, by the tribe of Benjamin.

He intended thus to meet a prejudice which might disturb and shake pious minds. It might be supposed, that no salvation could be expected from him, on whose account, as soon as he was born, infants were murdered; nay more, that it was an unfavorable and disastrous omen, that the birth of Christ kindled a stronger flame of cruelty than usually burns amidst the most inveterate wars. But as Jeremiah promises a restoration, where a nation has been cut off, down to their little children, so Matthew reminds his readers, that this massacre would not prevent Christ from appearing shortly afterwards as the Redeemer of the whole nation: for we know that the whole chapter in Jeremiah, in which those words occur, is filled with the most delightful consolations. Immediately after the mournful complaint, he adds,

“Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord, and they shall come again from the land of the enemy. And there is hope in thine end, saith the Lord, that thy children shall come again to thine own border,” (Jeremiah 31:16, 17.)

Such was the resemblance between the former calamity which the tribe of Benjamin had sustained, and the second calamity, which is here recorded. Both were a prelude of the salvation which was shortly to arrive.217217     “C'est que l'une et l'autre a est, comme le message apportant les nouvelles du salut qui approchoit.” — “It is, that both were, as it were, the message bringing the tidings of the salvation which was approaching.”

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