on Matthew 2 :23
That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets - It is difficult to ascertain by what prophets this was spoken. The margin usually refers to Judges 13:5, where the angel, foretelling the birth of Samson, says, No razor shall come upon his head; for the child shall be a Nazarite (נזיר nezir) unto God from the womb. The second passage usually referred to is Isaiah 11:1 : There shall come forth a rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch (נצר netser) shall grow out of his roots. That this refers to Christ, there is no doubt. Jeremiah, Jeremiah 23:5, is supposed to speak in the same language - I will raise unto David a righteous Branch: but here the word is צמח tsemach, not נצר netser; and it is the same in the parallel place, Zechariah 3:8; Zechariah 6:12; therefore, these two prophets cannot be referred to; but the passages in Judges and Isaiah may have been in the eye of the evangelist, as well as the whole institution relative to the Nazarite (נזיר nezir) delivered at large, Numbers 6: where see the notes. As the Nazarite was the most pure and perfect institution under the law, it is possible that God intended to point out by it, not only the perfection of our Lord, but also the purity of his followers. And it is likely that, before St. Matthew wrote this Gospel, those afterwards called Christians bore the appellation of Nazarites, or Nazoreans, for so the Greek word, Ναζωραιος, should be written. Leaving the spiritual reference out of the question, the Nazarene or Nazorean here may mean simply an inhabitant or person of Nazareth; as Galilean does a person or inhabitant of Galilee. The evangelist evidently designed to state, that neither the sojourning at Nazareth, nor our Lord being called a Nazarene, were fortuitous events, but were wisely determined and provided for in the providence of God; and therefore foretold by inspired men, or fore-represented by significant institutions.
But how shall we account for the manner in which St. Matthew and others apply this, and various other circumstances, to the fulfillment of ancient traditions? This question has greatly agitated divines and critics for more than a century. Surenhusius, Hebrew professor at Amsterdam, and editor of a very splendid and useful edition of the Mishna, in six vols. fol. published an express treatise on this subject, in 1713, full of deep research and sound criticism. He remarks great difference in the mode of quoting used in the Sacred Writings: as, It hath been said - it is written - that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets - the Scripture says - see what is said - the Scripture foreseeing - he saith - is it not written? - the saying that is written, etc., etc. With great pains and industry, he has collected ten rules out of the Talmud and the rabbins, to explain and justify all the quotations made from the Old Testament in the New.
RULE I. Reading the words, not according to the regular vowel points, but to others substituted for them. He thinks this is done by Peter, Acts 3:22, Acts 3:23; by Stephen, Acts 7:42, etc.; and by Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:54; 2 Corinthians 8:15.
RULE II. Changing the letters, as done by St. Paul, Romans 9:33; 1 Corinthians 9:9, etc.; Hebrews 8:9., etc.; Hebrews 10:5.
RULE III. Changing both letters and vowel points, as he supposes is done by St. Paul, Acts 13:40, Acts 13:41; 2 Corinthians 8:15.
RULE IV. Adding some letters, and retrenching others.
RULE V. Transposing words and letters.
RULE VI. Dividing one word into two.
RULE VII. Adding other words to make the sense more clear.
RULE VIII. Changing the original order of the words.
RULE IX. Changing the original order, and adding other words.
RULE X. Changing the original order, and adding and retrenching words, which he maintains is a method often used by St. Paul.
Let it be observed, that although all these rules are used by the rabbins, yet, as far as they are employed by the sacred writers of the New Testament, they never, in any case, contradict what they quote from the Old, which cannot be said of the rabbins: they only explain what they quote, or accommodate the passage to the facts then in question. And who will venture to say that the Holy Spirit has not a right, in any subsequent period, to explain and illustrate his own meaning, by showing that it had a greater extension in the Divine mind than could have been then perceived by men? And has He not a right to add to what he has formerly said, if it seem right in his own sight? Is not the whole of the New Testament, an addition to the Old, as the apostolic epistles are to the narrative of our Lord's life and acts, as given by the evangelists?
Gusset, Wolf, Rosenmuller, and others, give four rules, according to which, the phrase, that it might be fulfilled, may be applied in the New Testament.
on Matthew 2 :23
And he came and dwelt - That is, he made it his permanent residence. The Lord Jesus, in fact, resided there until he entered on the work of his ministry until he was about 30 years of age.
In a city called Nazareth - This was a small town, situated in Galilee, west of Capernaum, and not far from Cana. It was built partly in a valley and partly on the declivity of a hill, Luke 4:29. A hill is yet pointed out, to the south of Nazareth, as the one from which the people of the place attempted to precipitate the Saviour. It was a place, at that time, proverbial for wickedness, John 4:46. It is now (circa 1880's) a large village, with a convent and two churches. One of the churches, called the Church of the Annunciation, is the finest in the Holy Land, except that of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
A modern traveler describes Nazareth as situated upon the declivity of a hill, the vale which spreads out before it resembling a circular basin encompassed by mountains. Fifteen mountains appear to meet to form an inclosure for this beautiful spot, around which they rise like the edge of a shell, to guard it against intrusion. It is a rich and beautiful field, in the midst of barren mountains.
Another traveler (circa 1880's) speaks of the streets as narrow and steep. The houses, which are flat-roofed, are about 250 in number, and the inhabitants he estimates at 2,000. The population of the place is variously stated. though the average estimate is 3,000, of whom about 500 are Turks, and the rest are nominal Christians.
As all testimony to the truth and fidelity of the sacred narrative is important, I will here introduce a passage from the journal of Mr. Jowett, an intelligent modern traveler, especially as it is so full an illustration of the passage of Luke already cited.
"Nazareth is situated on the side, and extends nearly to the foot, of a hill, which, though not very high, is rather steep and overhanging. The eye naturally wanders over its summit in quest of some point from which it might probably be that the people of this place endeavored to cast our Saviour down Luke 4:29, but in vain; no rock adapted to such an object appears here. At the foot of the hill is a modest, simple plain, surrounded by low hills, reaching in length nearly a mile; in breadth, near the city, 150 yards; but farther south, about 400 yards. On this plain there are a few olive and fig trees, sufficient, or rather scarcely sufficient, to make the spot picturesque. Then follows a ravine, which gradually grows deeper and narrower toward the south; until, after walking about another mile, you find yourself in an immense chasm, with steep rocks on either side, from whence you behold, as it were beneath your feet and before you, the noble plain of Esdraelon. Nothing can be finer than the apparently immeasurable prospect of this plain, bounded on the south by the mountains of Samaria. The elevation of the hills on which the spectator stands in this ravine is very great; and the whole scene, when we saw it. was clothed in the most rich mountain-blue color that can be conceived.
At this spot, on the right hand of the ravine, is shown the rock to which the men of Nazareth are supposed to have conducted our Lord for the purpose of throwing him down. With the New Testament in our hands we endeavored to examine the probabilities of the spot; and I confess there is nothing in it which excites a scruple of incredulity in my mind. The rock here is perpendicular for about 50 feet, down which space it would be easy to hurl a person who should be unawares brought to the summit, and his perishing would be a very certain consequence. That the spot might be at a considerable distance from the city is an idea not inconsistent with Luke's account; for the expression. thrusting Jesus out of the city, and leading him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, gives fair scope for imagining that in their rage and debate the Nazarenes might, without originally intending his murder, press upon him for a considerable distance after they had left the synagogue. The distance, as already noticed, from modern Nazareth to the spot is scarcely two miles; a space which, in the fury of persecution, might soon be passed over. Or, should this appear too considerable, it is by no means certain but that Nazareth may at that time have extended through the principal part of the plain, which I have described as lying before the modern town. In this case, the distance passed over might not exceed a mile. I can see, therefore, no reason for thinking otherwise than that this may be the real scene where our divine prophet Jesus received so great a dishonor from the people of his own country and of his own kindred."
Mr. Fisk, an American missionary, was at Nazareth in the autumn of 1823. His description corresponds generally with that of Mr. Jowett. He estimates the population to be from 3,000 to 5,000, namely, Greeks, 300 to 400 families; Turks, 200 families; Catholics, 100 families; Greek Catholics, 40 to 50 familis; Maronites, 20 to 30 families; say, in all, 700 families.
That it might be fulfilled which was spoken ... - The words here are not found in any of the books of the Old Testament, and there has been much difficulty in ascertaining the meaning of this passage. Some have supposed that Matthew meant to refer to Judges 13:5, to Samson as a type of Christ; others that he refers to Isaiah 11:1, where the descendant of Jesse is called "a Branch;" in the Hebrew נצר Nêtzer. Some have supposed that he refers to some prophecy which was not recorded, but handed down by tradition. But these suppositions are not satisfactory. It is much more probable that Matthew refers not to any particular place, but to the leading characteristics of the prophecies respecting him. The following remarks may make this clear:
1. He does not say "by the prophet," as in Matthew 1:22; Matthew 2:5, Matthew 2:15, but "by the prophets," meaning no one particularly, but the general character of the prophecies.
2. The leading and most prominent prophecies respecting him were, that he was to be of humble life; to be despised and rejected. See Isaiah 53:2-3, Isaiah 53:7-9, Isaiah 53:12; Psalm 22.
3. The phrase "he shall be called" means the same as he shall be.
4. The character of the people of Nazareth was such that they were proverbially despised and contemned, John 1:46; John 7:52. To come from Nazareth, therefore, or to be a Nazarene, was the same as to be despised, or to be esteemed of low birth; to be a root out of dry ground, having no form or comeliness. This was what had been predicted by all the prophets. When Matthew says, therefore, that the prophecies were "fulfilled," his meaning is, that the predictions of the prophets that he would be of a low and despised condition, and would be rejected, were fully accomplished in his being an inhabitant of Nazareth, and despised as such.
on Matthew 2 :23
2:23 He came and dwelt in Nazareth - (where he had dwelt before he went to Bethlehem) a place contemptible to a proverb. So that hereby was fulfilled what has been spoken in effect by several of the prophets, (though by none of them in express words,) He shall be called a Nazarene - that is, he shall be despised and rejected, shall be a mark of public contempt and reproach.