Bethlehem of Judea: Since there was another Bethlehem, in the territory of Zebulun (Jos 19:10, 15), the town in Judah (Judea) was often referred to as “Bethlehem in Judah” (Jg 17:7-9; 19:1, 2, 18). The earlier name of this town was evidently Ephrath, or Ephrathah, explaining why Mic 5:2 says that the Messiah would come from “Bethlehem Ephrathah.”
Herod: Refers to Herod the Great.
astrologers: Greek maʹgoi (plural of maʹgos), most likely referring to experts in astrology and other occult practices condemned in the Holy Scriptures. (De 18:10-12) The Bible does not indicate the number. The same Greek term is rendered “sorcerer” at Ac 13:6, 8 and is used in the Septuagint as an equivalent for the Hebrew and Aramaic words rendered “conjurer” at Da 2:2, 10.
star: Most probably not a real star or a conjunction of planets. Only the astrologers “saw” the star.
when we were in the East: The Greek word rendered “East” literally means “rising.” In this context, the expression evidently refers to the location of the astrologers when they saw the star, though some have understood it to mean that the astrologers saw the star on the eastern sky or as it was “rising,” or appearing.
do obeisance: Or “bow down.” When the Greek verb pro·sky·neʹo is used to refer to the worship of a god or a deity, it is rendered “to worship.” In this context, however, the astrologers were asking for “the one born king of the Jews.” So it is clear that it refers to obeisance or homage to a human king, not a god. A similar usage is found at Mr 15:18, 19, where the term is used of the soldiers who mockingly “bowed down” to Jesus and called him “King of the Jews.”
chief priests: The Greek term is rendered “high priest” when it is singular and refers to the chief representative of the people before God. Here the plural refers to principal men of the priesthood, including former high priests and, possibly, the heads of the 24 priestly divisions.
scribes: This term originally referred to copyists of the Scriptures, but during Jesus’ time, it referred to those who were experts in the Law and teachers of it.
the Christ: Here the title “Christ” is preceded by the definite article in Greek, evidently as a way of emphasizing Jesus’ office as the Messiah.
by no means the most insignificant: The prophecy at Mic 5:2 here quoted shows that Bethlehem, although insignificant in population (called a village at Joh 7:42) and governing power, would become very significant because the greatest governing one would come from there to shepherd God’s people Israel.
do obeisance to him: Or “honor him; pay him homage.” Here Herod is claiming that he wants to perform an act of respect to a human king, not to worship a god.
house: The reference to a house shows that the astrologers did not visit Jesus when he was a newborn baby in a manger.
gifts: When presenting Jesus at the temple 40 days after his birth (Lu 2:22-24; Lev 12:6-8), Joseph and Mary were poor, indicating that these gifts were given sometime after that occasion. The gifts may have been timely, useful for financing the family’s stay in Egypt.
frankincense: See Glossary.
myrrh: See Glossary.
look!: The Greek word i·douʹ, here rendered “look!,” is often used to focus attention on what follows, encouraging the reader to visualize the scene or to take note of a detail in a narrative. It is also used to add emphasis or to introduce something new or surprising. In the Christian Greek Scriptures, the term occurs most frequently in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke and in the book of Revelation. A corresponding expression is often used in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Egypt: At this time, Egypt was a Roman province and home to a large Jewish population. Bethlehem was about 9 km (6 mi) SSW of Jerusalem, so Joseph and Mary could travel SW to Egypt without passing through Jerusalem, where Herod issues his murderous edict.
went into Egypt: From Bethlehem to Egypt was probably a distance of at least 120 km (75 mi).
death of Herod: Herod died likely in the year 1 B.C.E.
fulfilled what was spoken by Jehovah through his prophet: This and similar expressions occur many times in Matthew’s Gospel, apparently to emphasize to the Jewish audience Jesus’ role as the promised Messiah.
had all the boys . . . killed: Historians have recorded other similar acts of violence committed by Herod the Great. He murdered at least 45 supporters of one rival. Suspicion led him to cause the murder of his wife Mariamne (I), three sons, his wife’s brother, her grandfather (Hyrcanus), several who had been his best friends, and many others. To minimize the rejoicing that was sure to accompany his own death, he is said to have ordered that the principal men of the Jews be killed when he himself died.
Ramah: A city in the territory of Benjamin, N of Jerusalem. It appears that when Jerusalem was destroyed in 607 B.C.E., the Jews taken captive were assembled at Ramah before being moved to Babylon. Some scholars have concluded that such an assembling of Jews (perhaps accompanied by the slaughtering of some there) was referred to at Jer 31:15, quoted here.
Rachel: Mentioned as a symbol of all mothers in Israel. In Jeremiah’s prophecy, Rachel, whose tomb was near Bethlehem, figuratively weeps over her sons taken into exile to the land of the enemy. Jeremiah’s prophecy also contains the comforting promise of a return from enemy territory. (Jer 31:16) Matthew’s inspired application of this prophecy has been understood to refer to a return from death, man’s enemy, by means of a resurrection.
life: This is the first occurrence of the Greek word psy·kheʹ, rendered “soul” in some Bible translations. Here it refers to a person’s life. The expression seeking the life of someone can also be rendered “seeking [wanting] to kill” someone.
Archelaus: A cruel ruler who, like his father, Herod the Great, was unpopular with the Jews. In quelling a riot, he had 3,000 slain within the temple grounds. Joseph was warned by God about the danger when returning from Egypt, so he settled his family in Nazareth of Galilee, outside Archelaus’ jurisdiction.
Nazareth: Probably meaning “Sprout-Town.” Nazareth was the town in Lower Galilee where Jesus lived most of his earthly life.
prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene”: Evidently referring to the book written by the prophet Isaiah (Isa 11:1), in which the promised Messiah is referred to as ‘a sprout [Hebrew, neʹtser] out of the roots of Jesse.’ Since Matthew speaks of “prophets” in plural, he may also have been referring to Jeremiah, who wrote about “a righteous sprout” as an offshoot of David (Jer 23:5; 33:15), and to Zechariah, who describes a king-priest “whose name is Sprout” (Zec 3:8; 6:12, 13). The term “Nazarene” became an epithet applied to Jesus and later to his followers.
Jesus could not have been born in December because the weather in Bethlehem is typically cold and rainy from November to March. In winter, snow may fall in this region. During this time of the year, shepherds would not be living out of doors, keeping watch over their flocks in the fields at night. (Lu 2:8) Bethlehem is located some 780 m (2,550 ft) above sea level in the Judean highlands.