on Matthew 2 :1
Bethlehem of Judea - This city is mentioned in Judges 17:7, and must be distinguished from another of the same name in the tribe of Zebulon, Joshua 19:15. It is likewise called Ephrath, Genesis 48:7, or Ephratah, Micah 5:2, and its inhabitants Ephrathites, Ruth 1:2; 1 Samuel 17:12. It is situated on the declivity of a hill, about six miles from Jerusalem. בית לחם Beth-lechem, in Hebrew, signifies the house of bread. And the name may be considered as very properly applied to that place where Jesus, the Messiah, the true bread that came down from heaven, was manifested, to give life to the world. But לחם lehem also signifies flesh, and is applied to that part of the sacrifice which was burnt upon the altar. See Leviticus 3:11-16; Leviticus 21:6. The word is also used to signify a carcass, Zephaniah 1:17. The Arabic version has Beet lehem, and the Persic Beet allehem: but lehem, in Arabic, never signifies bread, but always means flesh. Hence it is more proper to consider the name as signifying the house of flesh, or, as some might suppose, the house of the incarnation, i.e. the place where God was manifested in the flesh for the salvation of a lost world.
In the days of Herod the king - This was Herod, improperly denominated the Great, the son of Antipater, an Idumean: he reigned 37 years in Judea, reckoning from the - time he was created - king of that country by the Romans. Our blessed Lord was born in the last year of his reign; and, at this time, the scepter had literally departed from Judah, a foreigner being now upon the throne.
As there are several princes of this name mentioned in the New Testament, it may be well to give a list of them here, together with their genealogy.
Herod, the Great, married ten wives, by whom he had several children, Euseb. l. i. c. 9. p. 27. The first was Doris, thought to be an Idumean, whom he married when but a private individual; by her he had Antipater, the eldest of all his sons, whom he caused to be executed five days before his own death.
His second wife was Mariamne, daughter to Hircanus, the sole surviving person of the Asmonean, or Maccabean, race. Herod put her to death. She was the mother of Alexander and Aristobulus, whom Herod had executed at Sebastia, (Joseph. Antiq. l. xvi. c. 13. - De Bello, l. i. c. 17), on an accusation of having entered into a conspiracy against him. Aristobulus left three children, whom I shall notice hereafter.
His third wife was Mariamne, the daughter of Simon, a person of some note in Jerusalem, whom Herod made high priest, in order to obtain his daughter. She was the mother of Herod Philippus, or Herod Philip, and Salome. Herod or Philip married Herodias, mother to Salome, the famous dancer, who demanded the head of John the Baptist, Mark 6:22. Salome had been placed, in the will of Herod the Great, as second heir after Antipater; but her name was erased, when it was discovered that Mariamne, her mother, was an accomplice in the crimes of Antipater, son of Herod the Great. Joseph de Bello, lib. i. c. 18,19,20.
His fourth wife was Malthake, a Samaritan, whose sons were Archelaus and Philip. The first enjoyed half his father's kingdom under the name of tetrarch, viz. Idumea, Judea, and Samaria: Joseph. Antiq. l. xvii. c. 11. He reigned nine years; but, being accused and arraigned before the Emperor Augustus, he was banished to Vienna, where he died: Joseph. Antiq. l. xvii. c. 15. This is the Archelaus mentioned in Matthew 2:22.
His brother Philip married Salome, the famous dancer, the daughter of Herodias; he died without children, and she was afterwards married to Aristobulus.
The fifth wife of Herod the Great was Cleopatra of Jerusalem. She was the mother of Herod surnamed Antipas, who married Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, while he was still living. Being reproved for this act by John the Baptist, Matthew 14:3; Mark 6:17; Luke 3:19, and having imprisoned this holy man, he caused him to be beheaded, agreeable to the promise he had rashly made to the daughter of his wife Herodias, who had pleased him with her dancing. He attempted to seize the person of Jesus Christ, and to put him to death. It was to this prince that Pilate sent our Lord, Luke 13:31, Luke 13:32. He was banished to Lyons, and then to Spain, where both he and his wife Herodias died. Joseph. Antiq. l. xv. c. 14. - De Bello, l. ii. c. 8.
The sixth wife of Herod the Great was Pallas, by whom he had Phasaelus: his history is no ways connected with the New Testament.
The seventh was named Phoedra, the mother of Roxana, who married the son of Pheroras.
The eighth was Elpida, mother of Salome, who married another son of Pheroras.
With the names of two other wives of Herod we are not acquainted; but they are not connected with our history, any more than are Pallas, Phoedra, and Elpida, whose names I merely notice to avoid the accusation of inaccuracy.
Aristobulus, the son of Herod the Great by Mariamne, a descendant of the Asmoneans, left two sons and a daughter, viz. Agrippa, Herod, and Herodias, so famous for her incestuous marriage with Antipas, in the life-time of his brother Philip.
on Matthew 2 :1
When Jesus was born - See the full account of his birth in Luke 2:1-20.
In Bethlehem of Judea - Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ, was a small town about six miles south of Jerusalem. The word "Bethlehem" denotes "house of bread" - perhaps given to the place on account of its great fertility. It was also called Ephrata, a word supposed likewise to signify fertility, Genesis 35:19; Ruth 4:11; Psalm 132:6. It was called the city of David Luke 2:4, because it was the city of his nativity, 1 Samuel 16:1, 1 Samuel 16:18. It was called Bethlehem of Judea, to distinguish it from a town of the same name in Galilee, Joshua 19:15. The soil of Bethlehem was noted for its fertility. Ancient travelers frequently spoke of its productions. The town is situated on an eminence, in the midst of hills and vales. At present (circa 1880's) it contains about 200 houses, inhabited chiefly by Christians and Muslims, who live together in peace. About 200 paces east of Bethlehem the place is still shown where our Saviour is supposed to have been born. There is a church and a convent there; and beneath the church a subterranean chapel, which is lighted by 32 lamps, which is said to be the place where was the stable in which Jesus was born, though no certain reliance is to be placed on the tradition which makes this the birthplace of the Saviour.
Herod the king - Judea, where our Saviour was born, was a province of the Roman Empire. It was taken about 63 years before his birth by Pompey, and placed under tribute. Herod received his appointment from the Romans, and had reigned at the time of the birth of Jesus for 34 years. Though he was permitted to be called king, yet he was, in all respects, dependent on the Roman emperor. He was commonly called "Herod the Great" because he had distinguished himself in the wars with Antigonus and his other enemies, and because he had evinced great talents in governing and defending his country, in repairing the temple, and in building and ornamenting the cities of his kingdom. He was, however, as much distinguished for his cruelty and his crimes as he was for his greatness. At this time Augustus was Emperor of Rome. The world was at peace. A large part of the known nations of the earth was united under the Roman emperor. Contact between different nations was easy and safe. Similar laws prevailed. The use of the Greek language was general throughout the world. All these circumstances combined to render this a favorable time to introduce the gospel, and to spread it through the earth; and the providence of God was remarkable in preparing the nations in this manner for the easy and rapid spread of the Christian religion.
Wise men - The original word here is μάγοι magoi, from which comes our word magician, now used in a bad sense, but not so in the original. The persons here denoted were philosophers, priests, or astronomers. They lived chiefly in Persia and Arabia. They were the learned men of the Eastern nations. devoted to astronomy, to religion, and to medicine. They were held in high esteem by the Persian court, were admitted as counsellors, and followed the camps in war to give advice.
From the east - It is not known whether they came from Persia or Arabia. Both countries might be denoted by the word East that is, east from Judea.
Jerusalem - The capital of Judea. As there is frequent reference in the New Testament to Jerusalem; as it was the place of the public worship of God; as it was the place where many important transactions in the life of the Saviour occurred, and where he died; and as no Sunday school teacher can intelligently explain the New Testament without some knowledge of that city, it seems desirable to present, a brief description of it. A more full description may be seen in Calmet's Dictionary, and in the common works on Jewish antiquities. Jerusalem was the capital of the kingdom of Judah, and was built on the line dividing that tribe from the tribe of Benjamin. It was once called "Salem" Genesis 14:18; Psalm 76:2, and in the days of Abraham was the home of Melchizedek. When the Israelites took possession of the promised land, they found this stronghold in the possession of the Jebusites, by whom it was called Jebus or Jebusi, Joshua 18:28.
The name "Jerusalem" was probably compounded of the two by changing a single letter, and calling it, for the sake of the sound, "Jerusalem" instead of "Jebusalem." The ancient Salem was probably built on Mount Moriah or Acra - the eastern and western mountains on which Jerusalem was subsequently built. When the Jebusites became masters of the place, they erected a fortress in the southern quarter of the city, which was subsequently called Mount Zion, but which they called "Jebus"; and although the Israelites took possession of the adjacent territory Joshua 18:28, the Jebusites still held this fortress or upper town until the time of David, who wrested it from them 2 Samuel 5:7-9, and then removed his court from Hebron to Jerusalem, which was thenceforward known as the city of David, 2 Samuel 6:10, 2 Samuel 6:12; 1 Kings 8:1. Jerusalem was built on several hills Mount Zion on the south, Mount Moriah on the east, upon which the temple was subsequently built (see the notes at Matthew 21:12), Mount Acra on the west, and Mount Bezetha on the north.
Mount Moriah and Mount Zion were separated by a valley, called by Josephus the Valley of Cheesemongers, over which there was a bridge or raised way leading from the one to the other. On the southeast of Mount Moriah, and between that and Mount Zion, there was a bluff or high rock capable of strong fortification, called Ophel. The city was encompassed by hills. On the west there were hills which overlooked the city; on the south was the valley of Jehoshaphat, or the valley of Hinnom (see the notes at Matthew 5:22), separating it from what is called the Mount of Corruption; on the east was the valley or the brook Kedron, dividing the city from the Mount of Olives. On the north the country was more level, though it was a broken or rolling country. On the southeast the valleys of the Kedron and Jehoshaphat united, and the waters flowed through the broken mountains in a southeasterly direction to the Dead Sea, some 15 miles distant.
The city of Jerusalem stands in 31 degrees 50 minutes north latitude, and 35 degrees 20 minutes east longitude from Greenwich. It is 34 miles southeasterly from Jaffa - the ancient Joppa which is its seaport, and 120 miles southwesterly from Damascus. The best view of the city of Jerusalem is from Mount Olivet on the east (compare the notes at Matthew 21:1), the mountains in the east being somewhat higher than those on the west. The city was anciently enclosed within walls, a part of which are still standing. The position of the walls has been at various times changed, as the city has been larger or smaller, or as it has extended in different directions. The wall on the south formerly included the whole of Mount Zion, though the modern wall runs over the summit, including about half of the mountain. In the time of the Saviour the northern wall enclosed only Mounts Acra and Moriah north, though after his death Agrippa extended the wall so as to include Mount Bezetha on the north.
About half of that is included in the present wall. The limits of the city on the east and the west, being more determined by the nature of the place, have been more fixed and permanent. The city was watered in part by the fountain of Siloam on the east for a description of which, see the Luke 13:4 note, and Isaiah 7:3 note), and in part by the fountain of Gihon on the west of the city, which flowed into the vale of Jehoshaphat; and in the time of Solomon by an aqueduct, part of which is still remaining, by which water was brought from the vicinity of Bethlehem. The "pools of Solomon," three in number, one rising above another, and adapted to hold a large quantity of water, are still remaining in the vicinity of Bethlehem. The fountain of Siloam still flows freely (see the note at Isaiah 7:3)}}, though the fountain of Gihon is commonly dry. A reservoir or tank, however, remains at Gihon. Jerusalem had, probably, its highest degree of splendor in the time of Solomon. About 400 hundred years after, it was entirely destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. It lay utterly desolate during the 70 years of the Jewish captivity.
Then it was rebuilt, and restored to some degree of its former magnificence, and remained about 600 years, when it was utterly destroyed by Titus in 70 a.d. In the reign of Adrian the city was partly rebuilt under the name of AElia. The monuments of Pagan idolatry were erected in it, and it remained under Pagan jurisdiction until Helena, the mother of Constantine, overthrew the memorials of idolatry, and erected a magnificent church over the spot which was supposed to be the place of the Redeemer's sufferings and bruial. Julian, the apostate, with the design to destroy the credit of the prophecy of the Saviour that the temple should remain in ruins Matthew 24, endeavored to rebuild the temple. His own historian, Ammianus Marcellinus (see Warburton's Divine Legation of Moses), says that the workmen were impeded by balls of fire coming from the earth, and that he was compelled to abandon the undertaking.
Jerusalem continued in the power of the Eastern emperors until the reign of the Caliph Omar, the third in succession from Mohammed, who reduced it under his control about the year 640. The Saracens continued masters of Jerusalem until the year 1099, when it was taken by the Crusaders under Godfrey of Bouillon. They founded a new kingdom, of which Jerusalem was the capital, which continued eighty-eight years under nine kings. At last this kingdom was utterly ruined by Saladin; and though the Christians once more obtained possession of the city, yet they were obliged again to relinquish it. In 1217 the Saracens were expelled by the Turks, who have continued in possession of it ever since . Jerusalem has been taken and pillaged 17 times, and millions of people have been slaughtered within its walls. At present there is a splendid mosque - the mosque of Omar - on the site of the temple . The present population of Jerusalem (circa 1880's) is variously estimated at from 15,000 to 30,000 Turner estimates it at 26,000; Richard son, 20,000; Jowett, 15,000; Dr. Robinson at 11,000, namely, Muslims 4,500; Jews 3,000, Christians 3,500. - Biblical Researches, vol. ii. p. 83, 84.
The Jews have a number of synagogues. The Roman Catholics have a convent, and have the control of the church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Greeks have twelve convents; the Armenians have three convents on Mount Zion and one in the city; the Copts, Syrians, and Abyssinians have each of them one convent. The streets are narrow, and the houses are of stone, most of them low and irregular, with flat roofs or terraces, and with small windows only toward the street, usually protected by iron grates. The above description has been obtained from a great variety of sources, and it would be useless to refer to the works where the facts have been obtained.
on Matthew 2 :1