3: Wise Men’s Visit and Escape to Egypt (Mt 2:1-23)
After the birth
of Jesus, wise men from distant foreign land came to worship the King of the
Jews. However, Herod, who was set up by the Roman authorities as the king of
the Jews, sought to remove Jesus in fear of a possible threat to his throne.
His vicious attempt to take the infant’s life also foreshadows how Jesus would
likewise eventually be rejected and killed by his own people.
“But you, Bethlehem, in the
land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you
shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel” (2:6)
Did You Know…?
Bethlehem (2:1): A village
about five miles (8 km) south of Jerusalem, which was the hometown of David,
Israel’s greatest king (1 Sam 16:1, 19). 1/1412-1413
King Herod (2:1): Herod the
Great, as he is now called, was born in 73 b.c. and was named king of Judea
by the Roman Senate in 40 b.c. By 37 b.c. he had crushed, with the help
of Roman forces, all opposition to his rule. Son of the Idumean
Antipater, he was wealthy, politically gifted,
intensely loyal, an excellent administrator, and clever enough to remain in the
good graces of successive Roman emperors. His famine relief was superb and his
building projects (including the temple, begun 20 b.c.) admired even by his foes. But he loved power,
inflicted incredibly heavy taxes on the people, and resented the fact that many
Jews considered him a usurper. In his last years, suffering an illness that
compounded his paranoia, he turned to cruelty and in fits of rage and jealousy
killed close associates, his wife Mariamne (of Jewish
descent from the Maccabeans), and at least two of his
Herod was a descendent of Esau
and therefore an Edomite. The Idumeans,
who were of the line of Edom,
were considered “half Jews” by the Jews.
Wise men/magi (2:1): Probably
astrologers, perhaps from Persia
or southern Arabia, both of which are east of Palestine. 8/1437
Chief priests (2:4): The chief
priests, the highest Jewish religious leaders, were in charge of the temple. 1/1413
Scribes/teachers of the law
(2:4): The Jewish scholars of the day, professionally
trained in the development, teaching and application of OT law. Their authority
was strictly human and traditional. 8/1437
Micah had prophesied 700 years
earlier that Bethlehem
would be the birthplace of the promised King and Savior (Mic
Contrary to tradition, the Magi
did not visit Jesus at the manger on the night of his birth as did the
shepherds. They came some months later and visited him as a “child” in his
Bringing gifts was particularly
important in the ancient East when approaching a superior (cf. Gen 43:11; 1Sam
9:7-8; 1 Kings 10:2). 6/89
Frankincense (2:11) is a
glittering, odorous gum obtained by making incisions in the bark of several
Myrrh (2:11) exudes from a tree
found in Arabia and a few other places and was a much-valued spice and perfume
(Ps 45:8; S of Songs 3:6) used in embalming (John 19:39). 6/89
Ramah (2:18) was located about
5 miles north of Jerusalem.
It was one of the towns that the people passed through when taken in exile to Babylon (see Jeremiah
Archelaus (2:22): This son of Herod the Great ruled over Judea and Samaria for only ten
years (4 B.C.-A.D. 6). He was unusually cruel and tyrannical and so was
deposed. Judea then became a Roman province,
administered by prefects appointed by the emperor. 8/1439
Galilee (2:22): Galilee, about
30 miles wide and 60 miles long, was the populous northernmost region of the
three divisions of Palestine; Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. 12/104
Nazareth (2:23): A
rather obscure town, nowhere mentioned in the OT. It
was Jesus’ hometown (13:54-57; see Lk 2:39; 4:16-24; Jn 1:45-46).
“He shall be called a Nazarene”
(2:23): These exact words are not found in the OT and probably refer to several
OT prefigurations and/or predictions (note the
plural, “prophets”) that the Messiah would be despised (e.g., Ps 22:6; Isa 53:3), for in Jesus’ day “Nazarene” was virtually a
synonym for “despised” (see Jn 1:45-46). Some hold
that in speaking of Jesus as a “Nazarene,” Matthew is referring primarily to
the word “Branch” (Hebrew ne.ser) in Isa 11:1. 8/1439
What was the impact of the news
from the wise men? What could have caused the reaction?
What can you learn about Herod
from this story?
What does the prophecy of
Jesus’ birth teach us about Jesus and His ministry?
What is the significance of the
wise men’s visit?
Compare the wise men and Herod.
What do their actions and attitudes teach us about worshipping God?
Have you ever felt threatened
like Herod by God’s will and plan? What would it take to overcome such fear?
Why do you think that the
killing of the infants fulfilled the prophecy about the weeping in Ramah? Could
there be a connection between weeping in Bethlehem
and its vicinity and the weeping of exile in Jeremiah’s time?
What qualities can we learn