I am studying the Book of the Bible called Matthew, the first book in the New Testament. The style of study I am using is called the Inductive Study Method. In this chapter, there were many questions that I had to dig into other sources to find the answers to. Now, some of these questions did not need to be answered in order to know what was going on at this time. However, some of the answers that I found enriched the text and allowed me to understand the weight that this text carried.
First, I wanted to understand who Herod was. I found a slew of information. Herod was called “Herod the Great”. He was the king of Judea at this time. He is the son of Antipater. Antipater was made Procurator of Judea by Julius Ceasar in 47 BC. A procurator is the official Roman title of the chief ruler of a district or an officer of the Roman empire entrusted with management of the financial affairs of a province and often having administrative powers as agent of the emperor or king. Herod was made governor of Galilee by his father when he was 25 years old and was made king of Judea by the Romans in 37 BC when his father died and his brother committed suicide after being taken captive by the Parthians. Rough.
During Herod’s reign, it seems that there was a lot of building going on. He rebuilt the Jewish temple, some aqueducts, a theater, expanded Jerusalem’s fortification walls, rebuilt some fortresses, and other building ambitions were continued. In John 2:2, when it says “it has taken forty-six years to build this temple,” this was talking about the amount of time it took to rebuild the Jewish Temple. He was attempting to build his name, his legacy. He was working with the Romans collecting taxes, which showed the relationship he had between the Romans, Jews, and other non-Jewish people. He was keeping his power by doing what the Romans wanted, naming some of his building endeavors after Roman names, and keeping the Jewish-Roman relationship semi-intact. His motives were of fame and glory for himself. So if he could appear great to the various people in power, then he could continue to hold power.
He respected the Jewish religion, but he wanted the glory, the power, and the praise. So when word came from the wise men – Magi – he was afraid that it would overshadow him. Also, by this time in his life, he was getting sicker and sicker from severe health problems that affected his internal organs. Eventually, he died. Then, his son Herod Antipas reigned over Galilee and Perea after him. He is the one that had John the Baptist killed. But before Herod died, he took on this infamous role as “the killer of the innocents”. We’ll get to that in a minute.
The magi were some men that were from somewhere in the east. They were men who knew prophecies, explained omens and signs, and were the “wise men” of their region. They knew the prophecy of Micah 5:2, and they saw the star. Rather than waiting to hear about the news of the new ruler as prophesied, impatiently, they rushed to go meet Him and worship and adore Him. In Daniel, these men were the ones with wisdom and understanding, which comes from God. Daniel and his friends were the wise men that were “ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers” (Daniel 1:20). So this information that these wise men had from the prophecies was given to them by God ultimately.
The wise men came to Herod because he was the ruler of Judea (Judah), and they were seeking out what was spoken of in prophecy upon seeing the star. Herod had his chief priests and scribes confer with him and confirm what the wise men were saying was true. He was scared of it. His priests and scribes were copyists and interpreters of the Scriptures and laws of Israel, keepers of all records, and were the lawyers and school masters in Israel. They knew the prophecies. They knew where it was foretold that the Messiah would come. In Micah 5:2, it says, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting. (italics mine)” When they said, “One to be Ruler in Israel,” Herod began to hatch a plan in his head to try and thwart God’s plan of salvation through Jesus. He told the wise men to tell him if they find the One in the prophecies, and if they did, come tell him where he can be found so that he can “worship Him”, which he wasn’t going to worship Him. He wanted to kill Him, and thereby keep his authority and position.
The wise men, being warned of God, did not tell him where Jesus was. Instead they went home a different way, which enraged Herod. Someone didn’t do what the king said to do? How dare they! But understandably they listened to God, the Almighty, the Everlasting, the One with all authority and dominion and power, instead of a temporal king that is actively dying.
Before the wise men went home, they sought out “the One to be Ruler in Israel” and worship Him. The Scriptural prophecy stated that the birthplace was Bethlehem, which was true. However, they followed the star which showed up when Jesus showed up. It took time for them to load up, make the trip to Judea, inquire, and then follow the star presumably at night to where Jesus was. Mary and Joseph did not stay in the manger until the Magi came. The Magi did not show up the night Jesus was born. That is not how it went. They did not instantaneously appear at the various places, nor did they have a car, bus, train, or plane to get to these various places quickly. They more than likely rode on camels with a bunch of stuff. They more than likely set up camp every once and a while and stayed put for a time to do what they do – checking the sky for changes in the stars, checking the holy texts, praying or meditating, asking around for information from others. So in that time, Joseph and Mary took Jesus back home to Nazareth, which according to Matthew was fulfilling a spoken prophecy (Matthew 2:23) as none were written that stated this.
So the wise men brought their treasures of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Some hold to a more significant meaning of these three gifts than simply expensive highly sought after gifts. They offered gold, as a king, paying Him tribute; frankincense, as God, for they honored God with the smoke of incense; and myrrh, as a Man that should die, for myrrh was used in embalming dead bodies [Matthew Henry]. This is yet another trinity of things that is strewn about throughout the whole of the Bible.
Then, after the wise men’s visit, Joseph was warned by God in a dream that he should go down to Egypt because Herod is about to go on a rampage and kill every little one in a 10 mile radius of this place. There was a prophecy in Jeremiah 31:15 that was fulfilled by the children being slaughtered and their mothers weeping in lament over their children no longer being with them. It says, “Thus says the Lord: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.'” Matthew Henry says that this was accomplished in Jeremiah’s time (Jer. 40:1), but now the prophecy is again fulfilled in the great sorrow that was for the death of these infants. Rachel’s sepulcher was close to Bethlehem. These mothers were like Rachel. They lived near Rachel’s grave, and many of them descended from Rachel; therefore their lamentations are represented by Rachel’s weeping because their children are no longer in the land of the living.
Once Herod dies, Joseph is told in another dream from God, that he is to come up out of Egypt, out of hiding, and to take Jesus and Mary back to Israel. When he got word that Herod’s son, Archelaus, was ruling in the stead of Herod, Joseph headed to the area around Galilee, north of Samaria, and settled in Nazareth. Here is another instance of Joseph being obedient to God. His character highlighted here again.
The application, or take away, that I get from this chapter is in life, as long as I remain with my focus on God, looking to Jesus as my guiding “star” if you will, then I am going the right direction and God’s plans will come to pass in one way or another. For me, things that were meant to harm me were ultimately detoured or transformed into something beneficial.
I decided to go through the entire chapter this time because I was coming up empty handed a couple of days ago looking for a deeper meaning behind the wise men and Herod. But what ended up happening was that God was telling me in those (and these) moments that His word and message is simple. I don’t need to search out mystical or mysterious ulterior meanings behind the events that happened.
The question I most need answered is: “What does this passage tell you about who God is, and what does this passage tell you about your sin and need for a Savior?” In answering this, I need to look at Herod, who for me represents my pride. He was prideful and afraid of God’s plans changing his plans. Where in my life am I trying to do what I want to do knowing that God wants me to do something else? Am I speaking to someone to do something else knowing that if they do this thing that it will shed a good light on me? Am I volunteering to get the recognition or to have a genuine desire for God to get the recognition and help my fellow people? Where am I cutting off God’s blessings, in effect chasing them away “to Egypt”, when I am in most need of His presence? Are there people in my life reminding me of God’s promises like the wise men? Am I listening to them in anticipation, waiting for them to come to pass? Or am I trying to think of some way to get around it or change the outcome of what is soon to happen? Am I going on a rampage and hurting others in an attempt at getting what I want? Am I remaining completely obedient, like Joseph? Am I listening to God and immediately doing what He asks of me? He can keep me safe, as he did Joseph, Mary, and Jesus.
Ultimately, keeping my focus on God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is the main outcome of this study, generally speaking. Specifically, keeping my pride and heart in check, making sure that my motives are right in my actions, because all actions begin as thoughts and desires of the heart.
Gotta go fill up my cup…