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p. 48.) to Jerusalem, 2. saying, Where is he that is born king of the Jews? or rather, Where is the king of the Jeaus that is born? Where is the king of the Jews whom the world has long been expecting, agreeably to the traditions and prophecies current concerning him, and who we are certain is now born-for we have seen his star in the east; in our own country we have
east, that it was written in the books of the Fates, that some coming out of Judea at that time should obtain the empire of the world. This, which as the event afterward shewed was foretold of a Roman emperor, the Jews applying to themselves, rebelled." In like manner, Tacitus Hist. B. v. L. 13. "Many were persuaded, that it was written in the ancient books of the priests, that at that very time the east should recover strength, and that certain coming out of Judea should obtain the empire of the world; which mysterious prediction foretold Vespasian and Titus. But the common people, (he is speaking of the Jews) according to the usual bias of human passions, interpreting this mighty fortune as designed for themselves, could not be brought to understand the truth by their calamities." Josephus also, Bell. B. vi. c. 5. 4. has these remarkable words: " But that which chiefly pushed them on to the war, was an ambiguous oracle found in their sacred books, that at that time one from their own country should rule the world."
What the original was of this uncommon expection, which now prevailed among such different and widely distant nations, is not difficult to ascertain. Among the Jews it took its rise from the prophecies concern ing the Messiah, contained in their sacred books, as Josephus and Tacitus insinuate. Among the Arabians it was derived from the promise made to Abraham, whose descendents they were by Ishmael. Of this promise they preserved a traditional knowledge, as is evident from the words of the Arabian prophet Balaam, Numb. xxiv. 17. There shall come a Star out of Jacob, &c. which the LXX. interpret thus: EλEVOSTαι artę WOS EX TH σπερματος αυτ8, και κυριεύσει εθνον πολλων, και υψωθήσεται ἡ Γωγ βασιλεία Avtɣ, xai avğndnottai ǹ baochua; i. e. A man shall come forth of his (Jacob's) seed, and shall rule many nations, and his kingdom shall be exalted above Gog, (the name of the kings of the Scythick nations) and it shall be increased. And even in later times the words of this prophecy by most interpreters are applied to the Messiah. Among the other eastern nations, the expecta tion above mentioned owed its original to their commerce with the Jews and Arabians, but especially with the Jews, who in their several captivities being dispersed through the east, spread the knowledge of their prophecies, together with their religion, wherever they came; and begat that expecta tien, which was so universal, that it merited to be taken notice of even by the Roman historians. To conclude, we are told that Zoroastres or Zerdusht, the celebrated reformer of the magian discipline and worship in Persia, was servant to the prophet Daniel, who had particular revelations made to him concerning the coming of the Messiah. If so, it will not seem at all improbable, that the expectation of his arising in Judea, should have remained so strongly imprinted in the belief of the disciples of Zoroastres, that on the appearing of a new star, three of them should have been moved to undertake this journey, in order to be witnesses of the truth of its ac complishment.
* Ver. 2. We have seen his star.] That the heathens thought the rise of a new star, or the appearance of a comet, portended the birth of a great person, has been proved by Origen, contra Cels. lib. 1. See likewise Grotius. Farther, it appears from Virgil, that it was commonly imagined the Gods sent stars to point out the way to their favourites, in difficult and
seen a new star, which we know portends his birth, and which has directed us hither, and are come to worship him: to prostrate ourselves before him, to do him homage, and to offer him gifts. It was the opinion of some of the ancients, that the star which the Magi saw in their own country was the Holy Spirit; others suppose it was an angel; others a new star in the firmament; others a comet; others some luminous appearance in the air. Lightfoot thinks it was the glory that shone round the angels who appeared to the Bethlehem shepherds on the night of the nativity. Probably it was a bright meteor, which at its first appearance was high in the air; afterwards it descended so low as to conduct the magi to Bethlehem. But whatever this star was, both the thing signified by it, and the course which the philosophers were to pursue, seem to have been explained to them by revelation. See verse 12.
The arrival of the wise men, and their errand, being quickly noised abroad in Jerusalem, soon reached Herod's ears. Or these strangers may have got themselves introduced at court immediately upon their coming. Whatever way it happened, the news which they brought, and the enquiry which they made, gave great uneasiness to Herod and to the whole of the people in Jerusalem. 3. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and * all Jerusalem with him. In the midst of this general consternation, the tyrant, who was more deeply concerned than them all, concealing his uneasiness, seemed to hear the magi with pleasure, and shewed them abundance of respect for that he might return a proper answer to their question, he assem
bled perplexed cases; and that the ancients called globes of fire appearing in the air stars.
Intonuit lævum, & de cælo lapsa per umbras
Stella facem ducens multa cum luce cucurrit, &c. Æneid. ii. ver. 692. Ver. 3. All Jerusalem, &c.] If by all Jerusalem is meant the courtiers, the officers, the dependents, the friends, and the well-wishers of Herod, their trouble was of the same kind with his; but if the inhabitants of Je-" rusalem in general are meant, their trouble proceeded from a different cause. The advent of their king could not be disagreeable to the Jews in itself considered; only being ignorant of what had actually happened, they had no proof of his being born; and dreaded the consequences of a rumour of this kind, which, considering the jealous and cruel disposition of their sovereign who was alarmed at it, might prove fatal to the children of many families. Thus Herod quas troubled, and all Jerusalem with him, in the strictest propriety of the expression; for their emotion, though proceeding from a different cause, was an emotion of fear and grief, as his was. Some however affix a middle sense to the word tragan in this passage, according to its frequent use in the reek language. For Tagarra denotes any commotion of mind proceeding whether from good or bad news. According to this sense of the word the Evangelist's meaning will be, that all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were moved; some with one kind of passion, others with another, agreeably to the views which they had of this mighty
bled the supreme council of the nation, and enquired of them where the Messiah should be born. 4. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. The chief priests were either those who had enjoyed the dignity of the high priesthood, which was now become elective and temporary, or the chiefs of the sacerdotal classes, the head of the courses of priests appointed by David. The scribes were the interpreters of the law, and the public teachers of the nation. (See § 87.) All these being illustrious for their learning and station, were consulted upon this important question. They replied, that the ancient prophecies had assigned the honour of Messiah's nativity to Bethlehem of Judea. And by their answer they have shewed what the general opinion of the nation at this time was, concerning the place of Messiah's nativity. 5. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judea: for thus it is written by the prophet; 6.* And thou Bethlehem in the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Judah, for out of thee shall come a governor that shall rule my people Israel. Though the quality of thy inhabitants is such, that thou canst not be reckoned as one of the principal thousands of Judah, thou art by no means among the least of these thousands. On the contrary, thou art, in point of
* Ver. 6. And thou Bethlehem, &c.] Seeing the Evangelist professedly gives here the answer, which the chief priests and scribes returned to He rod's question concerning the place of Messiah's nativity, the words which he set down are theirs, not his. Nor is this unworthy of our notice. It is one of the many instances which prove, that not the Evangelists' only, but the most learned of the Jews, in making citations from the Old Testa ment, regarded the sense rather than the words of the passages which they quoted. In Micah v. 2. whence the citation under examination is made, the original words are baɔ nunb Tyy, i. e. Little to be among the thousands. In the Evangelist, the words are daμws eraxisn u ev tois nyqusosv, i. e. Thou art by no means the least among the leaders. But the sense of both passages is the same. In the prophecy the words are elliptical, and must be sup plied thus: Art thou little to be numbered among the thousands? Art thou too small in respect of people to make one of the thousands of Israel? an interrogation which implies a strong negation; and therefore it is well rendered by the scribes, Thou art by no means the least. Farther, what the prophet calls the thousands of Judah, the scribes call the leaders of Judab. But the meaning here likewise is the same. The Israelites fit to bear arms were classed into tens, hundreds, and thousands, each of which divisions had proper officers who commanded them. But each thousand being formed of the inhabitants of a particular district, it naturally followed that of these thousands, some were more remarkable than others for their power, courage, riches, and influence in the state. For example, the thousands formed out of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, or any other chief city, were of much more consideration, than those furnished by small remote villages. The thousands composed of persons of greatest rank and influence, were called leading or ruling thousands. It is evident, therefore, that the scribes in their citation gave a just representation of the prophets meaning, Thou art by no means the least among the leaders; thou art rather the greatest in point of dignity, even among the principal thousands of Judah.
dignity, one of the greatest cities; for thou shalt give birth to the governor of my people, whose going forth hath been of old: thou shalt give birth to Messiah. This answer of the Jewish senate was acquiesced in by Herod as indubitable; for he immediately sent the magi to Bethlehem. 7. Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared first: For by that circumstance he could form a probable conjecture, how long it was since the child, concerning whom they enquired, was born. He naturally judged that Messiah's parents would conceal him, for which reason he formed a project of killing all the children of Bethlehem of such an age, that there might be no possibility of his escaping. In the mean time, to hide his bloody purpose from the wise men, he desired them as soon as they found the child to let him know, that he also might have an opportunity of worshipping him, professing great respect for this infant king. 8. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go, and search diligently for the young child, and when ye have found him, bring me word again, * that I may come and worship him also. (See verse 2.)
The magi having received these instructions, departed by themselves under the guidance of the star, which had led them all the way from their own country, but had stood still, or disappeared, on their arrival in Judea. 9. When they had heard the king, they departed, and lo, the star which they saw in the east went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. 10. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. The disappearing of the star, or even its standing still, laid the strangers under a necessity of going to the capital for farther information, which the wisdom of God thus brought about, in order that their errand might be the better published. Accordingly, when that end was obtained, and they were departing from Jerusalem, the star appeared again, or began to move, going before them till it came to Bethlehem, where, to their exceeding joy, it stood over the house in which the new born king was lodged. They straightway entered, and falling down before him
* Ver. 8. That I may come and worship him also.] This profession of respect was mere dissimulation; Herod's intention, as afterwards appeared, being to kill the infant king, who he imagined was to be a temporal prince, and was to wrest the crown from him or his descendents. For he had no notion that the Messiah's empire was of a spiritual nature.-The wisdom and power of the divine Providence appeared conspicuously on this occasion in the preservation of Christ. Herod neither accompanied the magi in person, nor yet under pretence of doing honour to these learned strangers, did he send a guard to escort them, with secret orders to kill the child and his parents; but he acted a'together carek ssly in the affair, quite contrary to his known character. Perhaps he imagined that if he had gone in person, of sent a guard, it might have alarmed the Messiah's parents, and made them flee with their infant son to some distant region, where his power could not reach them.
with the most profound reverence, offered him gifts of considerable value; probably after having explained the occasion of their coming, as they had done before in Jerusalem. And at night, being warned by God in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned into their own country by another way. 11. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down prostrate on the ground, according to the custom of the east, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts, geld, frankincense, and myrrh. 12. And being warned of God in a dream, that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
This visit which the magi, under the divine direction, made to the Son of God at his entrance into the world, answered several valuable purposes. 1. The principal thing was to shew succeeding generations what expectations of him were entertained at this very time among the Gentiles, and thereby to confirm in latest ages, the existence of those prophecies which had raised such a general hope in the breasts of mankind. 2. It is far from being absurd to suppose, that these philosophers, by the tidings which they carried home concerning the king of the Jews, might prepare their countrymen for becoming his subjects in due time. For if their report was remembered by the succeeding generation, it must have contributed not a little to their cheerful reception of the gospel when it was preached to them. 3. The coming of the magi occasioned the answer of the sanhedrim, wherein it was declared to be the unanimous opinion of the most learned Jewish doctors then living, that, by the designation of heaven, Bethlehem was to be the place of their Messiah's nativity. 4. The seasonable beneficence of those learned strangers, put Joseph in a condition to subsist his family in Egypt, whither he was soon to be sent from the wrath of the king t.
• Ver. 11. They presented unto him gifts ] The eastern people never came into the presence of their prince without offering him gifts, which generally were the choicest productions of their country. From the three sorts of things which ths wise men offered, it has been conjectured that they were three in number: but without the least foundation. And that they were kings is a notion equally unsupported. If they had been persons of this dignity, the Evangelists probably would have mentioned it; and Herod would have treated them with more ceremony.
The time of the coming of the magi has been much disputed by harmony-writers; some fixing it within the forty days of the purification, which Joseph and Mary passed at Bethlehem immediately after Christ's birth; others supposing that they did not come till he was more than a year old. Those who espouse the former opinion, think that the year of Herod's death, compared with our Lord's age at his baptism, (Luke iii. 23.) determines the coming of the magi to the period of the purification. But as this difficulty arises from a wrong sense of the passage quoted, nothing can be concluded from it. Luke does not say that Jesus began to be