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eastern nations, the expectation 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 cast, spread the knowledge of their prophecies, together with their religion, wherever they came, and begat that expectation which was so universal, that it merited to be taken notice of even by Roman historians. To eonclude: we are told that Zoroastres, or Zordusht, 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 udea 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 accomplishment.
It was the opinion of some of the antients, 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 coinet; 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.
The arrival of the wise men, and their errand, being quickly noised abroad, 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. 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 assembled the supreme. counsel of the nation, and enquired of them where the Messiah should be born. And when he had gathered the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he de-, manded 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 heads of the courses of priests. appointed by David. The scribes were the interpreters of the law, and the public. teachers of the nation. All these being illustrious for their learning and station, were consulted upon this important question. They replied, that the antient 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. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judea; for thus it is written by the prophet: 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.
If this quotation be compared with Micah v. 2, there will be perceived a variation of expression, but a coincidence of meaning. They may, either of them, be paraphrased thus: 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 dignity, one of the greatest ities, 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 sen the tagi to Bethlehem. 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 after, was born. He naturally judged, that Messiah's parents would conceal him; for which reason, he found 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, pro-fessing great respect for this infant king.
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. 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 straitway entered, and falling down before him 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.
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 seasonablɛ 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.
But to return though Herod's real designs, with respect to the king of the Jews, were hid from men, they did not elude the knowledge of God, who, foreseeing what the tyrant's cruelty would lead him to do, warned Joseph, by an angel, to flee with his family into Egypt. And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph, in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word, for Herod. will seek the young child to destroy him When he arose. he took the young chid and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt. And was there untu the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, ying, out of Egypt have I called my son.
This prophecy, as it stands, Hosea xi. I. seems to have been spoken originally of
the Israelites. Nevertheless, the application which the evangelist has made of it to Christ is just, as will appear from what follows. The bringing of people into Egypt was a proverb for laying them under great hardships, and took its rise from the attictions which the Israelites sustained in that country. The threatening [Deut. xxviii. 68.] that the Israelites should be sent back again into Egypt, affords a proof of this prover ial use of the expression; for we do not find the Israelites carried back into Egypt, s the punishment of the first instances of their rebellion, but into Assyria and Babylon, captivities which have ever been looked upon as the execution of that threatening But if the carrying of people into Egypt was a proverbial expression for laying them under great hardships, by parity of reason, any singular interposition of providence, in behalf whether of a person or nation, might be termed a calling them out of Egypt, the Israelites having been delivered from the Egyptian bondage by visible and most astonishing exertions of the divine power. Agreeably to this remark, we find the return of the Jews from Assyria and Babylon, represented by the prophet Zechariah, x. 10, 11, under the figure of bringing them again out of Egypt. But that no reader might mistake his meaning, he adds, I will gather them out of Assyria. At the same time, he adumbrates the interpositions of divine providence, for accomplishing their deliverance from Assyria, by the miracles that were formerly wrought, to bring about the antient deliverance from Egypt. And he shall pass through the sea with affliction, and shall smite the waves of the sea, and all the depths of the river shall dry up. And the pride of Assyria shall be brought down, and the sceptre of Egypt shall depart away. See Psalm Ixviii. 22. It is replicd, indeed, that in latter times, the Jews were carried captives into Egypt by the Ptolemies, and that this is a prediction of their deliverance from thence. But the answer is, that if the one part of the prophecy is to be understood literally, the other must be so likewise. Nevertheless, we do not find the Jews of later times brought out of Egypt by any signal interposition of providence at all, as was the case when they were made to return from the castern captivities; much less were they brought out by God's smiting the waves of the sea, and drying up the deeps of the river, and making the sceptre of Egypt to depart away. It is much more proper, therefore, to interpret this prophecy of the deliverance from Babylonish captivity, effected by the destruction of the Babylonish empire, to accomplish which, Cyrus was raised up. If so, the prophecy, in this sense, affords us a proverbial use of God's bringing, or calling, his people out of Egypt, applicable to the present case for as Christ's flying into Egypt, from the wrath of Herod, happened in consequence of a message from heaven, and was the means of saving his life; it might fitly. have the prophetical and proverbial expression, Out of Egypt have I called my Son,. applied to it. And what confirms this remark is, that we find the prophecy, or proverb, rather applied, not to Christ's coming out of Egypt, but his going thither.
Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, In Ramah was there a voice heard, lamentation and, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be.. comforted, because they are not. This prophecy, and its application, differ in two particulars. 1. The persons spoken of in the prophecy, were not put to death in the history; for, [Jer. xxxi. 16, 17,] we find them coming again from the land of the enemy, to their own border: Thus saith the Lord, refrain thy voice from weeping, &c.' 2. The lamentation described by the prophet was in Ramah, whereas, that mentioned by the evangelist was in Bethlehem. Now we learn from Judges xix. 2, 10, 13. that