Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Matthew Chapter 2

A Tumultuous Beginning

A new paraphrase.

1-2. Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the Jewish region of Judea while Herod the Great was King. After his birth, astrologers, who are called Magi, [1] came from the east to Jerusalem. They asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star and have come to worship him.”

3-4. Herod was disturbed when he heard this and all the people of Jerusalem with him. When he had gathered all the chief priests and Jewish Bible scholars, he asked them where this “Christ” was supposed to be born.

4-6. They told him that he would be born in Bethlehem of Judea because that is what the prophet wrote: “Bethlehem in the land of Judah, you are in no way the least among the cities of Judah. From you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.” [2]

Streets of Bethlehem in 1880. Things have changed since Joseph and Mary walked this way. Yet, in many villages of the Middle East some things never change. This street scene might not be too different from the streets of first century Bethlehem.

7-8. Herod called the Magi to meet with him, but he did this secretly without the knowledge of the priests or scholars. Herod wanted to find out when they had first seen the star. Then he sent them to Bethlehem. He commanded, “Go and find the child, and then come back and tell me, so I too can go and worship him.”

9-12. The Magi listened to Herod and went to Bethlehem. The star they had seen while they had been in the East showed them the way and finally came to rest above the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. They entered the house and saw the child with his mother Mary, and having found the child they knelt down and worshiped him. They opened the gifts they had brought – gold and frankincense and myrrh. But having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their own country avoiding Jerusalem.

13-15. After the Magi left Mary and the child, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him, “Get up. Take the child and Mary and leave right away for Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” Joseph immediately got up and took the child and Mary that night and left for Egypt. He stayed there until Herod died. This fulfilled the prophet’s words: “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” [3]

16. When Herod realized he had been tricked by the Magi, he was very angry. He ordered that all the boys who were two years old and younger in Bethlehem and in the whole region around Bethlehem be killed. He decided on that age because of what the Magi had told him about the first appearing of the star.

17-18. That fulfilled the words of the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice could be heard in Ramah, crying with loud wails of grief, Rachel crying for her children; and she would not be comforted because her children were dead.” [4]

19-23. After several years, however, Herod died, and an angel came again to Joseph in a dream. The angel told Joseph, “Take the child and Mary and return to the land of Israel. Those who tried to kill the child are dead.” So Joseph did what the angel said, returning with the child and Mary to Israel. But when they arrived he heard that Archelaus, Herod’s son, was king in Judea, and Joseph was afraid. However, he was directed in a dream to find a home in the region of Galilee, and he took the child and Mary there to a small village called Nazareth. This fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophets that the Messiah would be a Nazarene. [5]

Footnotes

[1] Magi were professional astrologers or astronomers who were part of a priestly class in Persia. The wise men who advised Nebuchadnezzar in the book of Daniel were probably of this class. Daniel may have been considered among the Magi, and it may have been through Daniel that these Magi in Matthew came to know of the star that was to come out of Judah. See Numbers 24:17.

[2] Micah 5:2, 4

[3] Jeremiah 31:15

[4] Hosea 11:1

[5] There is no direct quote in the Old Testament for this reference. Some think that Matthew is making a play on words, something like what we would call a pun, since Nazarene is close to the word Nazirite. A Nazirite was a person dedicated to God. Samson, for example, was a man dedicated from birth to God. See Judges 13:7.