The Gospels

(Volume 5 of the Numerical Bible: The Fifth Pentateuch of the Bible)

F. W. Grant.


Scope and Divisions of Matthew.

Christ, the King, and His Kingdom: which, offered to Israel, and rejected by them, is seen prophetically to take on its present "mystery" form, and pass over to the Gentiles. This, too, is seen in its whole course as committed to the hands of men in the absence of the King, and lapsing more and more into disorder, until His coming as the Son of man ends it in judgment. The principles characterizing it throughout are given and the events connected with His coming again. Finally we have His life given up as the Trespass-offering, in which He sells all that He has to possess Himself, whether of the Church or Israel, and, rising from the dead, all power in heaven and in earth is given into His hand.

Matthew has seven divisions: ―
1. (Matt. 1, 2.) The King, as promised.
2. (Matt. 3 ― 7.) The Announcement of the Kingdom and the King.
3. (Matt. 8 — 12.) The manifestation of the King, which manifests also the people's heart towards Him.
4. (Matt. 13 — 20:28.) The Kingdom in the hands of men.
5. (Matt. 20:29 — 23.) The Governmental Presentation, and the End as to Israel.
6. (Matt. 24, 25.) The putting down of evil at the consummation of the age.
7. (Matt. 26 — 28.): The completed purchase.


Matthew, the tax-gatherer of his own people under Roman despotism, is the one called of God to write the story of the true King, the "gift of Jehovah" to His people, and thus to fulfil the significance of his name. Rejecting the gift, Israel may indeed remain under the tax-gatherer for their sins, but the gift itself will not on that account lose its blessedness or be recalled by the "Eternal" from whom it comes, and with whom there is no repentance, ― "no shadow of turning." The King shall yet reign in righteousness, and Israel too be His people, and Matthew himself shows us this; while in the meantime His grace shall not lack expression, nor His kingdom be taken from the earth.

The special designation of it, which is peculiar to Matthew is ―

"The Kingdom of Heaven"

or "of the heavens," as following the Hebrew, the expression always is. In this form it is founded upon the book of Daniel, and was in common use among the Jews of our Lord's day. "According to the Rabbinic views of the time," says Edersheim, "the terms 'Kingdom,' 'Kingdom of heaven,' and 'Kingdom of God' (in the Targum on Micah 4:7, 'Kingdom of Jehovah')were equivalent. In fact, the word 'heaven' was very often used instead of 'God,' so as to avoid unduly familiarizing the ear with the Sacred Name. This probably accounts for the exclusive use of the expression, 'Kingdom of Heaven,' in the Gospel by St. Matthew. And the term did imply a contrast to earth, as the expression the Kingdom of God did to this world. The consciousness of its contrast to earth or the world was distinctly expressed in Rabbinic writings."*

{*"Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah." (1:266).}

This will hardly suffice, however, as to the Gospel of Matthew, in which the constant use of this term must be sought beyond mere Rabbinism or Jewish usage. The Old Testament furnishes us also with its roots, rather than with the exact expression; but the place in which we find them is significant from its connection with a significant period in Israel's history.

In the book of Daniel we are in the "times of the Gentiles," and his prophecies have all reference to these, which he traces to their end in the coming of the Son of man (Dan. 7:13.) But these "times of the Gentiles" imply the subjection of Jerusalem to them, ― the throne of God in Israel given up, therefore. Ezekiel has in fact already shown us this, the glory of the Lord removing from Jerusalem, as necessitated by the idolatrous abominations practised there (Ezek. 10:18-19, Ezek. 11:22-23). The destruction of the city by Nebuchadnezzar is the sequel of this, and the carrying away of the mass of the people captive to Babylon. A significant phrase comes into constant use at this time; when the ark took its place in Jordan to lead them into the land, it was said to them: "Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth passeth over before you" (Joshua 3:11); now in the hooks of Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, and the last chapter of Chronicles, God, having left the throne of His kingdom in Israel, is become in the lips of His people as afar off ― "the God of heaven."

It is as this that He gives Nebuchadnezzar the throne of earth (Dan. 2:37-38), alas, only to find him rebellious to the Hand that has set him on it. In consequence of which we find him sentenced shortly to be driven to the beasts "till thou know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will." This is paraphrased in the next verse by an expression which seems to imply the very thing of which Matthew so often speaks: ― "after that thou shalt have known that the heavens do rule" (Dan. 4:25-26).

That surely seems to give us the root-idea of the "Kingdom of heaven," while yet it is as plain that nearly six centuries after this, John the Baptist was only announcing in the wilderness of Judea the Kingdom to be "at hand." The "rule" spoken of to Nebuchadnezzar is only the providential one which has always existed over all the earth and through all dispensations, but without other avouchment of it upon earth than in its acts, and these often unrecognized as such by men, and indeed an enigma to men of faith; for here "clouds and darkness are round about" God still, if "justice and judgment are the habitation of His throne." In the New Testament, on the other hand, the kingdom is in the open sight of men at least, though unbelief may still mock at it and deny it. This is only the form it assumes before it is set up in power as the prophets from of old prophesied of it, though not under the name in Matthew. These two forms are distinguished in the New Testament as "the Kingdom and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ" and "the Kingdom and glory" (Rev. 1:9; 1 Thess. 2:12). The former is the kingdom of a rejected King, as such gone in the meantime from the earth, and committing authority to men who act for Him in His absence; but this leaves room for failure to come in consequence of their unfaithfulness, and a perverted form of the kingdom itself, which is carefully forewarned of, but awaits rectification at the coming of the King (Matt. 13.) The parables of the Kingdom are its "mysteries" (ver. 35), hidden from the prophets of old, and which now being told out make the scribe who is now instructed in the kingdom of heaven, like one who "brings out of his treasures things new as well as old" (ver. 52).

The Old Testament form is a manifest Kingdom, set up in power, in the hands of Messiah, Son of David, but Immanuel. (Isa. 9:6; 11, 12.) Judgment introduced this kingdom, which is characterized by power exercised in righteousness and mercy. Peace prevails on earth, which shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. Israel regathered and restored, after disciplinary judgment has done its necessary work, becomes the centre of blessing and refreshment for the earth, the glory of the Lord being once more, but beyond all past manifestation, revealed in Zion, and His throne established there. (Isa, 2:1-4; Isa. 4:2-6; Zech. 14, etc.)

In both these forms it is spoken of in Matthew as the Kingdom of heaven; in the first having no display of power on earth, the sentence of Lo-ammi pronounced on Israel at the Babylonish captivity being confirmed by their rejection of Messiah when He came. Christ, gone up on high, sits upon the Father's throne instead of on His own (Rev. 3:21). Faith in the unseen is thus the very principle of the kingdom now, as by and by everything will be manifest to sight, heaven and earth being openly united (John 1:51), the heavenly city in sight (Rev. 21:10, 26), and the very judgment of the rebellious shown in that which is used in the New Testament to describe hell itself (comp. Isa. 66:24; Mark 9:43-48). But thus it will still be the Kingdom of heaven (Matt. 8:11-12), ― even manifestly so.

"Heaven" is here in antithesis to earth, as in the "Kingdom of God" God is to man. There is no other difference: some of the parables of the Kingdom of heaven in Matthew being found in the other synoptic Gospels as parables of the Kingdom of God. (Comp. Matt. 13:1-9, with Luke 8:5-10; Matt. 13:31-32 with Mark 4:30-32, and Luke 13:18-19 Matt. 13:33 with Luke 13:20-21.) The term in Matthew is broader and dispensationally applied, while the Kingdom of God implies more its spiritual features (Rom. 14:17; Matt. 6:33). The term "Kingdom of heaven" occurs 32 times in the Gospel, the "Kingdom of God" only 5 times: the dispensational aspect of the Kingdom characterizes the book.

Division 1. (Matt. 1, ― 2.)

The King, as promised.

Naturally, therefore, we begin with the coming of the King Himself, carefully shown in connection with His genealogical title, and the prophecies that announced His higher glory. But these had also foretold His rejection by His people, which begins accordingly at once to be accomplished. The magi from the east bring Him the homage of the Gentiles, but only "trouble" Jerusalem with their loyalty to its King, and the new-born Christ is sought by Herod to be put to death. But this only carries Him to Egypt, where as the Representative of His people He begins anew their history under the eye of God.

He is thus called out of it by God to fulfil His predestined course as the Branch of David, netzer, the slip or scion of the fallen house, which, growing up in an obscurity which is once more the presage of rejection, finds its suited place in Netzareth (Nazareth), ― small enough to be despised of men, and yet in it all the hope, not merely of David or of Israel, but of the human race. Thus on both sides had the prophets prophesied of Him.

Subdivision 1. (Matt. 1.)

Identified as such.

In the first subdivision we have the King identified: in the first place by His legal descent; in the second by His supernatural birth. As the King of Israel He needed the one; as the King of the Kingdom of heaven He needed the other. But the King is also in Scripture the representative-head of his people before God, and here is One whose representation of them will be surely of divine significance: it means much for Himself ― it means everything for them; thus His name is called Jesus, because He shall save His people from their sins.

Section 1.

The Lord is introduced in a double character, ― as Son of David, and as Son of Abraham. As Son of David He is King of Israel; as Son of Abraham He is not necessarily King at all; but He has a promise of widest blessing, which is on the principle of faith to all the families of the earth. It is not hindered, therefore, by Israel's rejection of Him and the consequent delay of the Davidic Kingdom: this only affects the expression of it, not the fact; which may even find a higher expression, as it has actually found one in Christianity.

Abraham is the depositary of blessing, and therefore with Abraham the genealogy begins. Since title is conveyed by the descent, the stream runs down through the centuries. We find in Luke a very different meaning conveyed by a reverse order: the stream runs back. The style and manner of Scripture have importance as well as its statements, and we may miss the matter by not attending to the manner.

The genealogy is divided for us into three parts, which are specially emphasized as consisting of fourteen generations each. The fact that some links in the genealogic chain have to be omitted, in order that there may be just this number, still further shows that there must be importance in it. The number must be itself significant, and probably that of the parts as well as of the generations contained in each.

In fact, the first part of the genealogy embraces both the heads of promise ― both Abraham and David. The second begins at once with one in whom departure from God manifested itself, one whose heart went after other gods than the One Only God, whose special favor had been shown him. After which there is a general history of decline, three descendants of the apostate murderess, Athaliah, being blotted out of the list altogether; while the Babylonish captivity, which was the giving up of the nation as the openly acknowledged people of God, ends the story in this part.

The third part has in it but one significant name, that of Zorobabel; after which the line lapses into utter obscurity. All is ruined and hopeless, save for God, till suddenly by a manifest divine intervention Jesus is born ― a true resurrection, which justifies this third part as real numerical symbolism.

The genealogy shows the ruin hopeless but to God, in that Joseph, the last of the line here before Christ, is shown by it to be Jeconiah's son; and against Jeconiah prophecy had denounced (Jer. 22:30) that he should be (as to the throne) "childless, … for no man of his seed should prosper, sitting upon the throne of David, and ruling any more in Judah." The consequence was pressed, as far back as Irenaeus, that here the direct line of descent is smitten with a curse, while yet it was not deprived of the legal title: it could hand on to another, therefore, that which could be of no advantage to itself. The marriage of Joseph and Mary was, in the wisdom of God, the means of accomplishing this. The Lord's birth from Mary made Him the real Son of David (Luke 1:32) while the marriage of His mother made Him David's legal heir.*

{*There are different ways of understanding this, and it is a difficulty that Zorobabel and Salathiel (or Shealtiel) appear also in Mary's genealogy in Luke, which we may indeed assume, with Lange, to be simply a coincidence of similar names, as with Jacob and Joseph in the list in Matthew, though these are of common occurrence. Zorobabel, "born in Babel," may be conjectured to have been also a name common at that period, though we have no proof of this. The names before and after have no similarity; and it is not easily seen how, if the lines come together here, they should have been separate before this meeting.

There is another difficulty in these names coming together in a line of natural descent, such as that in Luke is allowed to be, that the Zerubbabel of the returned captives was not the natural son of Shealtiel, but of Pedaiah (1 Chron. 3:18-19); and of Shealtiel, it is supposed, only according to the levirate law (Deut. 25:5-6).}

The genealogy thus shows the ruin of man in the fullest way, while the grace and power of God are declared abundantly. The number 14, thus stamped upon it three times over, is certainly the number of witness (2) combined with that of completeness (7), if we interpret it by its natural factors; if on the other hand we take the dekatessares (ten-four) of the Greek, then the testing of responsible man is what is indicated; and assuredly that would be the substance of the testimony given by the genealogy all through. It is in fact the testimony of the ages up to Christ, which were the ages of human probation as characterized by that "Old Covenant," as books of which the records have come down to us. If the common chronology be admitted, its 4,000 years of human history to its centre in the birth of Jesus is only the "ten-four" in a more emphatic way. (10^3x4), while if we apply it to the birth of him of whom our Isaac was the undoubted Antitype, it is the 100 years of Abraham's age at which, after the utter failure of nature, the promised seed was born, multiplied by 40, the symbol of perfect probation. Thus by different pathways the same result is reached: God has stamped His meaning on all this too deep for erasure. Paul sums it up substantially for us in his declaration that, "when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly" (Rom. 5:6). This is the moral on man's side of preparation for Christ: we have to be brought down, not up, to receive Him; and all God's previous dealings with man enforce this conclusion.

So much then as to the Son of David; but we have still to see Him in this genealogy also as Son of Abraham ― the Isaac, therefore, whose name means "laughter;" His advent "glad tidings of great joy which shall be to all people." In this way we shall find a feature of the register here appeal to us of which as yet we have taken no notice, but which would strike a Jew at once.

The presence of women's names in a genealogy was thoroughly exceptional. As links in the chain of descent they might be needed, as where there were different wives and it was needful to indicate from which of these a title was derived. Now in the first part here there are three women mentioned, of whom two at least cannot be on this account ― Rahab and Ruth; which naturally would imply that in the case of the other ― Tamar ― this was not the reason either. In her case also the twin-birth of Zerah is referred to, as if to remind us of the history connected with her; as, again, in the case of Bathsheba afterwards, who is not called by her name, but as "her of Urias:" which flashes upon us a history worse than Tamar's, both for the actors and the relationships involved.

Indeed these names are not what we should expect in such a list ― in a register of descent of the King of Israel ― the great King foretold. They are all probably, three certainly, Gentiles; two are Canaanites ― of a race under the curse.

Here, then, the Abrahamic blessing begins to unfold to us: just in the most indisputable part of the genealogy, where no Jew could contest their right to a place in the ancestry of his Messiah, these women's names are found. What a light they shed, with all their misery and wretchedness, upon His title as the Son of Abraham! But there is more than this: apart from their birth-heritage, three out of the four are marked out by the sins of their own lives. Tamar, the first of all, actually finds her place here through her sin ― her place in connection with the Saviour of sinners! Is it not what we all do? is it not our first claim upon Him that we are sinners and He the Saviour of sinners? Thus we find our title, through His grace, in that which would otherwise drive us to despair, ― in that which involves no labor on our part to reach, a title as to which it is not possible to deceive ourselves, which it cannot be presumption on our part to plead. Would we take our place even with Tamar? Then Tamar's name given here may be our encouragement ― Tamar's name as one of whom He is not ashamed!

The second name is that of Rahab, drawn out of the obscurity in which in the Old Testament her later history is involved, and brought forward in strange connection with a princely family of the house of Judah. As wife of Salmon and mother of Boaz she takes her place here in the genealogy of the Lord; and we may surely say, in view of the epistle to the Hebrews, and the epistle of James, that salvation by faith is the lesson of her history. Thus we have the second great principle of the gospel proclaimed in her.

Ruth is morally a very different person from Tamar and Rahab. She is a beautiful example of faith that lives and roots itself against every wind of adversity. We know her history well, for the Spirit of God has dwelt upon it at large for our edification and encouragement: against her, whatever personally she might be, stood the sentence of the law that "an Ammonite or a Moabite shall not come into the congregation of the Lord: even to their tenth generation they shall not come into the congregation of the Lord forever" (Deut. 23:3).

Thus she is legally excluded from the very people with whom her faith unites her. But grace is sovereign in her case as in every other. She and her children come into the congregation of the Lord. It is interesting to see that in the rigid observance of this law, David himself, only third in succession, would have been excluded, the reign of law would have excluded the saviour-king himself; so also would it have been as to his great Antitype.

The only woman that remains at this end of the line is not mentioned by her name but as "her of Uriah," her history being thus fully, if concisely indicated. In this case grace reigns, even with regard to a saint's transgression; and this completes the gospel as we find it in the genealogy. The salvation which it brings is for sinners, by faith, apart from law, and eternal. Thus Christ as the Seed of Abraham is fully declared.

Mary's name at the end of the genealogy has another meaning: it shows us Christ as the Seed of the Woman, out of weakness manifesting strength, out of passiveness, the energy of the Overcomer, the Conqueror who with His bruised heel stamps down the serpent.

The genealogy of Jesus Christ tells us, therefore, much of Him. It is more than possible that, had we only eyes to see it, every name in this list would prove itself significant, and have its own story to tell in connection with Him. But it is not mine to attempt this: yet of these so carefully numbered generations, I cannot believe there is one that is not worthy of being so cared for. If we had worked believingly in this direction, how would the work have been repaid!

2. But we are now to look at the Lord in another character, in which no genealogy can tell Him out. Here He is Son of God, the suited King of a Kingdom. greater far than that of David, though that of David is included in it. Necessarily then the fact of His divine Sonship has a large place in Matthew, by which this Gospel connects more with John than the other Synoptic Gospels do. The claim of it becomes the great and critical point in His presentation to Israel, and is that which, more than anything else, brings about His rejection.

As in the case of the genealogy, however, it is still Joseph who is prominent here. We have his conflict with himself, the visit of the angel to him which dispels his doubts, his marriage and naming of the child by which he accepts it as his own. Joseph is here in all this manifestly what the genealogy makes him, the legal heir of David's line, and the representative of its hopes and responsibilities. In Luke, the Gospel of the Manhood, it is on the other hand, and as naturally, Mary who is in the forefront, and Joseph is only outlined among the figures in the background.

Mary is seen at the beginning in question, if not under reproach. The singular honor which God's grace has conferred on her, is too great to be received unhesitatingly, even by the people of God themselves. We cannot believe for joy: the thing is too good to be true; the will to believe is not sufficient to accomplish faith. For so far is this from being credulity, that it requires all the more decisive proof, the more that for which we seek it awakens all the desire of our hearts. This is all the truth, (whatever the amount may be) contained in the strong assertion of the poet. ―
"There lives more faith in honest doubt,
Believe me, than in half the creeds:"
although the last line can scarcely express his thought accurately. Joseph here, as a righteous man, but in perplexity, thinks of a half measure: he will give her a writing of divorce without statement of the cause, and put her away. But the appearance of an angel to him in a dream resolves his doubt and changes his purpose.

It is quite in character with the distance maintained in Matthew's Gospel, that the angel appears only in a dream. It is so again with the Magi afterwards, and with Joseph himself once more, in Egypt., In Luke, on the contrary, the angel appears openly, to Zacharias as well as to: Mary. The difference does not seem founded upon a personal one, as Zacharias exhibits more unbelief than Joseph. It may be connected with the failure of David's house, and especially of Jeconiah's line which Joseph represents; and the blessing comes to him in a veiled form answering to this. Mary is not and could not be of Jeconiah's line, and his connection with Jesus is only by his marriage with her. Yet grace gives him in this way a place of unspeakable blessing.

The angel addresses him as son of David with the confirmatory announcement of the divine origin of the Child that is to be born, and whose work requires no less than a divine Person to perform. His name, Jesus, or Joshua ("Jehovah the Saviour") is declared to be no mere name, or indicative of some abstract truth, or of some principle to be developed in relation to His history. Nay, Jehovah's people are His people, and He therefore is Jehovah and Saviour, He is the full reality of His name: "He shall save His people from their sins."

Prophecy had already declared the wondrous truth as to His Person; the primal one as to the woman's Seed had been supplemented by one more distinct which plainly referred to it and filled it out. "The virgin" of Isaiah, who was to be with child, and whose Son was to be called Emmanuel, points back to and defines what had long been a hope in the hearts of men. The woman's Seed would indeed be that, without the co-partnership with man ordained by the Creator for the continuance of the race; and this by no mere miracle which would still leave the child to be a man merely, though of superhuman birth. No: his name Emmanuel would be the explanation of the unique fact; "God" would in Him be "with us;" which the angel's words declare to mean "Jehovah," come to deliver us from that which was the necessary barrier to intimacy, and in Himself to bring God and man together!

And Emmanuel is distinctly in the prophecy the King of David's line, upon whose shoulder the government should be (Isa. 9:5-6). We see that the prophecy belongs rather to Matthew's picture of the Lord than John's, as we might have thought it; although evidently these come near together here. As King He is at once the Representative of His people, and "Mighty God" who as "Father of eternity"* shall settle all things upon everlasting foundations ― Power alone cannot accomplish this: God must become man, the King must be crowned with thorns and be the Saviour. The whole circle of truth is needed here: the Highest must become the lowest; it is His glory: only the Highest could come down so low.

{*Not, as in our common version, "Everlasting Father."}

Joseph, awaked out of His sleep, does as the angel of the Lord has bidden him, and takes his wife. The divine intervention does not set aside the Creator's ordinance, nor God put His seal upon human asceticism. Judaism, in fact, knew nothing of this dishonor done to the God of nature. The Child is born and named; and "David in spirit" once more calls his Son his Lord.

Subdivision 2. (Matt. 2.)

Borne witness to and rejected: the Nazarene.

So the King has come ― the true King, for whom all is waiting, for whom all still waits: for He came but to be rejected, and immediately He has come, we find Him rejected, by the very people who for centuries had been taught to expect Him, and carefully prepared to receive Him. He is worshipped by those from afar but when He comes to His own, they have no heart for Him; and this is discovered before He has even been personally before their eyes. There is but the announcement that He has come, and we see at once what afterwards they formally declare, that they have "no king but Caesar." There is no help but to leave them, then, to Caesar.

Gentiles indeed receive and worship Him: yes, Gentiles, but not the Gentiles. The special link between God and Israel is broken by their unbelief, and now the question is to be asked, "Is He not the God of the Gentiles also?" From God's side this can only be answered as the apostle answers it (Rom. 3:29), that He surely is. But in fact only a remnant really receive the Lord, and these are the subjects of a divine work in their souls. This, however, is John's testimony and not Matthew's; while in Matthew the worship of the magi, while Jerusalem is but "troubled" at their coming, shows the impending dispensational change.

Already the end of Judah's "sceptre" ― her tribal rod of authority ― as predicted by Jacob, is fairly within sight, and the Edomite Herod reigns over the land. The true King is forced out of it, but only to renew from the beginning in Egypt the history of the people in the sight of God, that He may (as He will yet) show them His grace. But this involves much more for Him through whom the blessing is to come to them, and is no release to Him from the path which ends but at Calvary. He returns, after Herod is dead, to the land of Israel, only to find Archelaus in the place and reigning in the spirit of his father Herod, and to take His own place at Nazareth as the "Branch of Jesse," returning to the lowliness out of which David sprang, but with the hopes of much more than David's house resting upon Him. But we must look at all this more in detail.

1. The King, the Lord of glory, is come into the world, and has to be announced among His own people by men from afar ― by Gentiles. Yet not only had prophets from long since prophesied of Him, and the scribes could put their finger upon the place of His birth, but Daniel had predicted the exact time of His coming. Heaven had been recently giving its witness also, immediately before and at His coming. Zacharias and Elizabeth had announced in their own child His fore-runner. An angelic vision had brought the shepherds to the manger where He lay. Simeon had blessed God for His salvation seen, and with Anna had spoken of Him to many in Jerusalem itself. And yet the city is only startled for a moment from its slumber when "magi from the East" come with the inquiry, "Where is He that is born King of the Jews?" and with the declaration that a star had been seen by them as the sign of His birth, ― a sign so fully believed on their part that here they were, from their own far off land, to seek and to worship Him.

The magi were the great natural observers of their day, though this connected itself largely with practices which from them have got the name of "magic." They were men of occult science, the astrologers and soothsayers, the interpreters of dreams and auguries. True knowledge in them was variously mingled with imposture and with superstition; so that they figure as variously. No doubt, we may find in those who were real among them the affecting expression of minds that, having lost hold of primitive revelation, turned to search the dim border land of the unseen, to dreams and omens, and the face of the far off heavens, to find that God who was not far off but nigh at hand; and here in these travelers we may see one supreme example of God meeting such in their own way, to lift them out of such groping into the light indeed.

They had heard of a "King of the Jews" and assuredly something more than merely that. Though He were King of the Jews, yet His coming had to do with them, awakening expectant joy and reverence in their hearts. The prophecy of Balaam is the only one of which we know, which could in their minds connect such an one with a "star;" but this, though of a Gentile and to Gentiles, if it were traditionally known to them, must have come through 1600 years of most uncertain conveyance to reach them thus. Besides the Jews scattered through the East, furnished a more direct means of knowledge. Balaam had said nothing about a star to herald the King: it was the King himself who was to be the star. Yet the prophecy was couched in terms natural to one of the magi; a class to which the seer himself seems clearly to have belonged; and the appearance of a supernatural star to men of this kind, accustomed to see portents in the heavens, might naturally connect itself with such a representation. The star was surely supernatural. No conjunction of planets, such as Kepler pointed out, could be spoken of as a star, nor have begotten so perfect a conviction in the minds of men well acquainted with the heavens. It was, in fact, a beautiful witness of the God of nature to the men of nature, ― of One not under bondage to the uniformity in general so necessary to us, that we may have a stable world to reckon on. But this is only a suited back-ground on which the more plainly to display Himself as the Living and Almighty God transcending far the universe He has made, and willing in love so to display Himself.

What messengers these from among the Gentiles, to awaken, if it might be, Israel to jealousy. They come to Jerusalem, expecting, doubtless, at the capital city, to find all men ready to greet the inquirer with a gospel message. They come to find an Edomite on the throne of Israel, and with all the old Edomite hatred in his heart, craftily though he may hide it, and even gather the chief priests and elders together, to hasten them on the way. These, too, can tell all about the place of Christ's birth textually. They give a response which must have stricken the blood-stained tyrant to the heart; but of faith in God they show nothing. They answer that Christ is to be born "in Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet: And thou, Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art in no wise least among the princes of Juda; for out of thee shall come a Ruler, who shall be a shepherd to my people Israel."

Such, literally, are the words they use: and one might suppose that in using them they meant to inflict a wound that Herod should not be able to impute to them, but which should come home to him as the voice of God Himself. And so it was, though the words are not found in Micah just as they quote them here. For Hebrew was not any more the language of Israel as a whole; and it was quite the custom to paraphrase, rather than quote literally a scripture appealed to. The Hebrew, besides smaller differences, does not give "shepherd" in this passage, but simply "Ruler." The Greek of the Septuagint follows the Hebrew: so that the variation is their own. And yet who can deny that the one word is God's thought as to the other? He who had sent Moses to the sheepfolds to learn how to guide His people in the wilderness ― He who in the land had chosen David and "taken him from following the ewes great with young" (demanding therefore, the tenderest care) to feed and guide with no less tenderness, the flock of His pasture ― He had indeed consecrated the "shepherd" as the picture of the Ruler whom He had appointed and would raise up. There is but One who has out-done this picture.

The scribes show, then, in their variation from the letter their acquaintance with the character of Messiah as prophecy reveals Him. But we hear no more of them. They cite the text for Herod; and they do it well; but they have no heart for the. One they testify to. They are like signposts upon a road on which they do not move an inch. They pass on the word those who value it; Herod himself also becoming the instrument in guiding worshipers to the feet of Jesus. They only, obedient to the Word, turn their faces toward. Bethlehem; and as they do so, the star which they had lost by the way, appears again and goes before them, until it comes and stands over where the young child is. It does not leave them now till they are face to face with Him they seek.

Then they worship. It is but a humble house, we may be sure, and there are in it but a young mother and her babe. But they worship, ― worship, not the mother but the Babe. Divinely taught, they pour out their gifts at His feet, "gold and frankincense and myrrh." The Church of old seems almost unitedly to have interpreted them as, in the gold, the recognition of His royalty; in the frankincense, the acknowledgement of His Deity; while the myrrh, used afterwards at His burial, was taken thus to be the anticipation of His death. We might be disposed, from the use of these things in Scripture, to take the gold as the recognition of His divine glory; the frankincense as the fragrance of a life lived, as none other ever was, for God. But to some of these things as we, know, His disciples were long after strangers, nor could we argue that the magi knew the real significance of what they did. But the worship was real, and the great joy with which they had greeted the star on its reappearance, was we may be sure, more than justified in the result.

They are divinely instructed in a dream not to return to Herod; God again thus meeting them in their own peculiar way, and they return by another road to the place from which they came.

2. And now Joseph also is warned by an angel of the Lord of impending danger at the hands of Herod, and flees by divine direction with the young child and His mother into Egypt. There is no manifest display of power made. The angels that appeared, to announce a Saviour, do not encircle with chariots and hosts the infant King. Everything marks that He has come to take no exceptional place in this way from the common lot of men. Nay, it is a necessity of the work which He has come to do that He should stoop to this; and in subjection to these human conditions, manifest His exaltation above fallen man.

Prophecy, however, has marked out His course all through; and it is that this may be fulfilled that He goes down to Egypt. But just here we find what calls for special examination. The prophecy to be fulfilled is that of Hosea 11:1: "Out of Egypt have I called My Son;" but this does not, at first sight, appear to be a prophecy at all; and certainly not a prophecy of Christ. Any one looking at it would say that it was simply a rebuke of Israel as a nation, for repaying with apostasy and Baal-worship the love which God had shown in their redemption of old. He had them taken out of the misery of their bondage, and called them to adoption as His own family among the families of the earth. "When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called My son out of Egypt." But how had they repaid it? "As they [the prophets] called them, so they went from them: they sacrificed to the Baalim, and burned incense to graven images." This, of course, could only speak of Israel as a nation.

And yet the application of the first verse to the Lord is no mere application. It is not that such a thing took place now in relation to Him who was Son of God by a fuller title, as corresponded to that which had taken place of old in regard to God's "first-born," Israel. The manner of quotation is much too precise for that: the Lord going down into Egypt definitely to fulfil what is spoken by Hosea. Evidently there is here something deeper in the way of fulfilment than we are accustomed to. It is common to say that we have here an example of typical prophecy; but we must understand what we mean, if we say this. For certainly it could only be in fragments of the national history that there could be any typical reference to the Lord; and what follows in the prophet indicates only entire and emphatic contrast, as we have seen. We must, therefore, have some guiding principle to enable us to discern, with any certainty, what is typical from what is not.

Now in Isaiah 49 we have such a principle: for of whom is it written: "Jehovah hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath He made mention of my name, … and said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified?" This, one would say, must be the nation; but immediately we hear a voice that is not the nation's: "Then I said, I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nought and in vain; yet surely my judgment is with Jehovah, and my work with my God."

Now notice the claim: "And now saith Jehovah, that formed ME from the womb to be His Servant, to bring Jacob again to Him: Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in Jehovah's eyes, and my God shall be my strength. And He said, It is a light thing that Thou shouldest be my Servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will also give Thee for a light to the Gentiles, that Thou mayest be My salvation to the ends of the earth."

Here, to a Christian, there can be no doubt of the application: it is Christ alone who fulfils this. But then He is also the true Servant, formed from the womb to be this, and the Israel in whom God will be glorified: Here Christ and Israel are both identified and distinguished at the same time. Israel, that had failed utterly, ― failed even in hearing this glorious Person when He came, ― Israel comes to fulfil its destiny only in and through Christ, who comes of Israel; who is (according to the prophetic language) the lowly "Shoot" from the cut down "stem of Jesse," and the "Branch" that should "grow out of his roots;" and upon whom, in full complacency and in seven-fold power, "the Spirit of Jehovah" was to "rest" (Isa. 11). In Him, the "Son born" to them, Israel nationally, is yet to revive. His glory involves their blessing. He begins anew for God their history, purged of its failure and its shame; and hence conies the necessary application of such passages as that in Hosea, "Out of Egypt have I called My son."

Yet how differently is it fulfilled in these two cases! For Him there could be no captivity, no house of bondage. For them this had been the discipline needed, the "furnace," because of the dross that the Refiner must purge out. Typically, for us all, it speaks of the bondage to sin in our natural state, out of which a divine voice alone can "call" us. For Him, of all this there was nothing, and could be nothing. Egypt shelters, not ensnares, nor takes captive. He has no natural state to be delivered from. The world of nature, had He desired it, would have yielded Him all it had. The Voice that called Him out of it called Him but to the work for which He had come; and so the "favor," even "with man" was exchanged for rejection, as also for one dread hour, the "favor with God" seemed to be eclipsed in the darkness of abandonment, only to shine out, however, immediately in the glory of His resurrection and return to heaven.

All, then, should be clear as to the application of Hosea. The next quotation that we find here, which is from Jeremiah, and which speaks of Rachel weeping over her dead, is introduced after a very different manner, "then was fulfilled," not "that it might be." This is really but an application. When Bethlehem mourned her babes slaughtered by Herod, then it was as if Rachel from her grave close by were repeating her lamentation. But Rachel must be comforted here also, in a deeper way than in the prophet. He had escaped, who by and by would freely offer Himself to redeem from the power of the grave, and bring back to a better life the heirs of death.

3. But the days of the Edomite were drawing to an end; and soon the angel of the Lord appeared once more to Joseph in a dream, with words that bring back those that set the face of Moses the deliverer toward the people to whom he was commissioned: "they are dead that sought the young child's life." But only had one tyrant succeeded another, so that they do not return to Judea, where Archelaus had begun his short but cruel reign, but into Galilee, and they came and dwelt in Galilee in a city called Nazareth. In this, too, prophecy was to be fulfilled, ― not a specific one, but the tenor of the prophets generally: "He shall be called a Nazarene."

Galilee means "circle" or "circuit;" and here was the place in which, though but for a short time through the unbelief that rejected Him, Israel's lost blessings were to return more gloriously. Part of Israel's inheritance as it was, it was now called, as elsewhere stated, "Galilee of the Gentiles," because so full of Gentiles. There the ruin of the people was most plainly to be seen; and thus it was the fitting place for grace to be shown; it would be grace there most manifestly. So, when the Child returns, the land is claimed, as it were, once more: it is the only place in the New Testament where the expression is used, "the land of Israel." Such it shall be yet, when owned in the future as Emmanuel's land (Isa. 8:8)

And this connects with what we have had before, and with that to which our attention is once again and more distinctly directed in this summing up of various prophecies . "He shall be called a Nazarene." This was, of course, a name actually given to the Lord, and generally in scorn, from the place to which in general His birth was accredited, and in which so large a proportion of His life on earth was spent. Nazareth was, it seems, nowhere in very good repute, but especially among the Pharisees and traditionalists. It had no history, no memories, was consecrated by no great names; and its own name, which seems to have been but a feminine form of netzer, a "sprout" or "shoot," may even refer to this. It was thus expressive of lowliness, if yet of life, and identical with the word in Isaiah 11:1, where Messiah is spoken of as the "rod" or "shoot out of the stem of Jesse;" and here His greatness and His lowliness are seen together.

The stem has been cut down; it is better characterized as that of Jesse than of David, for royalty no more attaches to it: and thus the Son of David comes into no outward state or glory, but the opposite. And yet Jesse bears witness in his name also that "Jehovah exists;" and He is the God of resurrection. The Sprout, if lowly, has yet the energy of life in it. In Him the cut down tree is to revive, and to eclipse all its former glories. He is the "righteous branch" of Jeremiah (Jer. 23:5, Jer. 33:15), and Zechariah's Branch, Jehovah's Servant, who is to build the temple of Jehovah, and bear the glory (Zech. 6:12). His lowliness is but the stooping of strength in love and to service, ― even to death, because His work is resurrection. How great and wonderful is this lowliness, when once we penetrate its real character! how necessary, when once we have understood the need which He came to relieve.

Here then is the key to His position; and it is manifestly the one in which we find Him throughout Matthew's Gospel. For this Branch is to reign, and be a Priest upon His throne. Not only Israel's burden is He lifting, but our own. For Israel in their long probation, in which they failed so utterly, were only the representatives of men — all men ― our own: and therefore ours also is the royal Saviour. And this expression implies all this. Nazarene He may be called from opposite sides, for opposite reasons. Those who would dishonor, those who honor Him, here unite together. The Cross is a death of shame, but it is His glory. Up in the glory of heaven, amid the universal homage there, when the apostle turns to see the "Lion of the tribe of Judah," he beholds what might seem but the entire contrast to it ― "a Lamb as it had been slain."