« PreviousContinue »
§ VIII. The edict for taxing Judea. Jesus is born in Bethlehem Luke ii. 1,-7.
IN those days there went out a decree from Augustus Cæsar, that the whole land of Palestine should be taxed or enrolled. This was the enrollment of the Census, first practised by Servius Tullius, the sixth king of Rome, who ordained that the Roman people at certain seasons should upon oath give an account of their names, qualities, employments, wives, children, servants, estates, and places of abode. By this institution, Servius, designed to put those who had the administration of public affairs in a condition to understand the strength of every particular part of the community, that is, what men and money might be raised from it; and according to those assessments or estimates, men and money were levied afterwards as occasion required. Luke ii. 1. And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Cesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.-2. And this taxing was first made (carried into execution, see the first chronological dissertation) when Cyrenius was governor of Syria. When the Census was made in any country, the inhabitants were obliged to attend in the cities to which they belonged: see Livy, book xlii. c. 10. The reason was, without a precaution of this kind, the Census would have been excessively tedious, and people who were abroad might have been omitted, or set down among the inhabitants of other cities, where they would not have been found afterwards, or they might have been enrolled twice, which would have bred confusion in the registers.Herod, who it is probable executed the Census in his own dominions by appointment of Augustus, seems to have made a small alteration in the method of it. For, instead of ordering the people to appear as usual in the cities where they resided, or to whose jurisdictions the places of their abode belonged, he ordered them to appear according to their families; perhaps, because it was the ordinary way of classing the Jewish people, or because he desired to know the number and strength of the dependents of the great families in his dominions. 3. And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. So then Herod's order for the taxation, bearing that every one should repair to the city of his people to be enrolled, Joseph and Mary, the descendents of David, went from Nazareth, the place of their abode, to * Bethle
* Bethlehem was a town of great antiquity; for we read of it in Jacob's days when it was called Ephrath, Gen. xxxv. 19. In later times it was -called Bethlehem Judab, to distinguish it from another Bethlehem which was in Galilee, and belonged to the tribe of Zabulon, Josh. xix. 15. Anciently Bethlehem of Judah was but a village, though afterwards it obtained the title of a city, being enlarged and fortified by Rehoboam, 2 Chron. xi. 6. Yet it continued to be a sinall place, even after that reparation, as may be gathered from Micah's prophecy, quoted Matt. ii. 6. which is the
hem, the city where David and his ancestors were born, 1 Sam. xx. 6, 29. Accordingly, Booz, David's great grandfather, calls it the city of his people, Ruth iii. 11. 4. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem (because he was of the house and lineage of David)-5. To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife. The propriety of this expression appears from Matt. i. 25. where we are told, that Joseph knew not his wife till she had brought forth her first-born son. Being great with child. It may seem strange that Mary in this condition should undertake so great a journey. Perhaps the order for the Census. required that the wives as well as the husbands should be present. Or the persons to be taxed being classed in the roll according to their lineage, Mary might judge it proper on this occasion to claim her descent from David, in order to her being publicly acknowledged as one of his posterity; and the rather as she knew herself to be miraculously with child of the Messiah. 6. And so is was that while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. Whatever views Mary might have in going up to Bethlehem, it was brought to pass by the direction of God, in order that the Messiah might be born in Bethlehem, the city of David, agreeable to the prophecy of Micah, chap. v. 2. 7. And she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because the concourse of people was so great that there was no room for him in the inn. (See on Luke x. 34. 6 82.) Through the whole course of his life, Jesus despised the things most esteemed For though he was the Son of God, when he became man he chose to be born of parents in the meanest condition of life. Though he was heir of all things, he chose to be born in an inn, nay in the stable of an inn, where, instead of a cradle, he was laid in a manger. The angels reported the good news of his birth, not to the Rabbies and great men, but to shepherds, who being plain honest people, were unquestionably good witnesses of what they heard and saw. When he grew up, he wrought with his father as a carpenter. And afterwards, while he executed the duties of his ministry, he was so poor that he had not a place where to lay his head, but lived on the bounty of his friends. Thus, by going before men in the thorny path of poverty and affliction, he has taught them to be contented with their lot in life, however humble it may be ".
reason that it is called a village (zawa), John vii. 42. Eusebius, in his book of Hebrew places, tells us, that it stood six miles to the south of Jerusalem, on the road to Hebron, and upon his authority it is so placed in all the maps.
*The affair of the taxing is mentioned by Luke, not so much to mark the time of Christ's birth, as to prove two things: 1. That he was born in Bethlehem: 2. That his parents were at that time universally known to be X x 2
branches of the royal family of David. The importance of ascertaining these points arose from hence, that they were fixed by the prophets as express characters of the Messiah, John vii. 42. Hath not the scripture said, that Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David vas?-By the particular destination of Providence therefore, while Joseph and Mary were attending the enrollment at Bethlehem, Mary brought forth her son, and laid him in a manger, not being able to procure him better accommodation, at a time when the town was so exceedingly crowded.
§ IX. Angels appear to the shepherds of Bethlehem. Luke ii. 8,—20.
On the night in which the Son of God was born, a multitude of angels, dispatched from the seats of the blessed, found the shepherds who were to be honoured with the news of his nativity, watching their flocks in the fields near Bethlehem. An inex pressible splendour surrounding these heavenly beings, terrified the shepherds, exceedingly, at the same time that it gave them. notice of their arrival. Therefore to calm their fears, one of the angels bade them take courage, because he was come on a friendly errand, namely, to inform them that the Messiah, who should bless all nations, was born in Bethlehem. Moreover, he mentioned the particular place where they should find him, and gave them marks to distinguish him by. 8. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. Φυλασσοντες φυλακας της νυκτός επι την ποίμνης KUTW, watching the watches of the night over their flocks. It seems there were a number of them together; for they watched by turns. 9. And lo the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord, a very bright light, shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10. And the angel said unto them, Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11. For to you is born this day
Ver. 11. To you is born this day, &c.] Almost all the Greek fathers, after the fourth century, thought our Lord was born the 6th of January; but the Latins fixed his birth to the 25th of December. However, the principles upon which both the one and the other proceeded, clearly prove their opinion to be without foundation. They imagined that Zacharias, John Baptist's father, enjoyed the dignity of high-priest, and that he was burning incense on the day of expiation, when the angel appeared to him in the temple. And as the national expiation was always made on the roth of Tizri, answering to the 25th of September, they fixed Eliza beth's pregnancy to that day, and supposed that Gabriel appeared to Mary precisely six months after; so that reckoning nine months forward, they brought the birth of Christ exactly to the 25th of December. The Greek fathers, though they proceeded upon the very same principles, were not so exact in their calculations, making the birth to happen ten days later. But the uncertainty, or to express it better, the fallacy of these principles, has induced Scaliger, Calvisius, and most learned men since their time, to maintain, in opposition to the ancient doctors of both churches, that our Lord was born in September. The writers mentioned, support their opinion by the following calculation. When Judas Maccabeus restored the
in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ, your long expected Messiah, (see on John xii. 2. end of the note, § 110.) the Lord. 12. And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. For the shepherds to have found Messiah lying in a manger, might have scandalized them. It was therefore very proper, that the angel should forewarn them of this circumstance, and make it the sign whereby they should distinguish him. The welcome news being published, the heavenly host were heard celebrating in songs and hymns divine, the praises of almighty God on account of his unspeakable mercy to men, 13. And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying;
There may be translated singing; for so the word is used often in Anacreon's odes. Hence Hesychius joins the following words together as synonymous, ide, üpveiv, adeiv, Abyeiv. 14. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men. They sang with ravishing melody, Δόξα εν υψίσοις Θεω, και επί γης eignen sy ardgames, sudoxia. Glory to God in the highest heavens, or among the highest orders of beings. Let the praises of God (so the word Glory signifies, Psal. 1. 23. whoso offereth praise glorifieth me) be eternally celebrated by the highest orders of beings, notwithstanding they are not the immediate objects of this instance of his infinite goodness-and on earth peace among men. On earth let all manner of happiness (so Peace signifies in the Hebrew language) from henceforth prevail among men for ever, because the designs of the devil against them are utterly overthrown. And as they departed, they shouted in the sweetest, most sonorous, and most seraphic strains, BENEVOLENCE; expressing the highest admiration of the goodness of God, which now began to shine with a brighter lustre than ever, on the arrival of his Son to save the world. As soon as the celestial choir had ended their hymn, the shepherds went in quest of the Saviour of mankind. 15. And it came to pass as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, probably they saw them ascend: the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Beth
temple worship, on the zoth of the month Casleu, answering to the beginning or middle of our December, the course of Joarib, or first course of priests, according to 1 Chron. xxiv. 7. began the service, the rest succeeding in their turns. By making computations, according to these suppositions, it is found, that the cou se of Abia, to which Zacharias belonged, served in the months of July or August, at which time the conception of the Baptist happened. And as Mary had her vision in the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy, that is to say about the beginning of January, she conceived so as to bring forth our Lord in the September following. To this agrees the circumstance of the shepherds lying out in the fields the night of the nativity, which might happen in the month of September, but not in Jannary. So likewise the taxation at Christ's birth, which might be executed more conveniently in autumn, than in the depth of winter, especially as the people were obliged to repair to the cities of their ancestors, which were often at a great distance from the places of their abode.
lehem, and see this thing (enua) which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 16. And they came with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. Though it is not mentioned, it looks as if the angel had described to them the particular inn in Bethlehem where Messiah was born. And having found the child lying where the angel had said, they were by that sign fully confirmed in their belief, and with boldness declared both the vision which they had seen, and the things which they had heard pronounced by the angel and the heavenly host with him. 17. And when they had seen the child, they made known abroad, they declared without reserve to all present, and to all their acquaintance afterward, the saying which was told them concerning this child; namely, that he was Christ the Lord, and the Saviour of the Jews; that a vision of angels had given them this information, and that they had heard the heavenly host praising God on account of his birth. 18. And all they that heard it, wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. Joseph and Mary, with the people of the inn who attended them, and such of their relations as were come up to Bethlehem to be taxed, and happened to be with them on this occasion, were exceedingly astonished at the things which the shepherds openly declared; and the rather because they could not understand how one born of such mean parents could be Messiah. In the mean time, Mary was greatly affected with, and thought upon the shepherds words, the sense of which she was enabled to fathom, by what had been revealed to herself. She said nothing however, being more disposed to think than to speak, which was an excellent instance of modesty and humility in so great a conjuncture. 19. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. 20. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them. They returned home, and by the way praised God, expressing their gratitude to him for having condescended, by a particular revelation, to inform them of so great an event as the birth of Messiah, and because they had seen the signs by which the angel in the vision pointed him out to them.
X. Jesus is circumcised in Bethlehem, and about a month after that, is presented in the temple. Luke ii. 21,-39.
OUR Lord being now eight days old, they circumcised him in Bethlehem, according to the institutions of Moses, and called him Jesus, which was the name that had been given him by Gabriel before he was conceived, Luke ii. 21. And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was call
Ver. 21. The circumcising of the child] Among the Jews it was reckoned dishonourable to keep company with persons uncircumcised, Acts