Study Guide: The Plot (Matthew 2:1-12)

Micah 5:2-4

Study Notes

  • This is the prophecy of the prophet Micah. At the time it was written (between 750 and 687 B.C.) Judah faced a growing threat from the neo-Assyrian Empire. Micah interpreted the impending invasion as a wake-up call from God and a just punishment for the many injustices committed by the nation’s leaders. Yet even in the midst of impending disaster, God promised redemption and restoration for his people through a Messianic figure whom we now know to be Jesus.
    • “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah though you are small among the clans of Judah out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
      • Bethlehem was located within the district of Ephrathah. It was a very small, insignificant town. It was most known for being the birthplace of King David. According to Micah, Bethlehem would be the birthplace of an even greater king than David.
      • As Christians, we believe God exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All have existed from eternity past (John 1). Micah prophesied that the Messiah’s origins are “from old”. Jesus existed before time. Yet Jesus is also human. The phrase “whose origins are from old” highlights Jesus’ divinity – his eternal existence without origin – and the ancient royal lineage of David which culminated in the birth of Jesus the Messiah.
    • Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor bears a son, and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites.
      • Judah would be conquered by the Assyrians and subjugated by a number of foreign nations for the next several hundred years. At the time of Jesus’ birth, the people of Israel were under Roman rule. God’s people were expecting the Messiah to be a warrior-king who would overthrow their enemies, take back the nation, and restore lasting peace. What they got instead was a baby born in a barn.
    • He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.
      • The Prophets often depicted the corrupt, lazy, selfish Israelite kings as irresponsible shepherds who abandoned their sheep to be devoured by lions (in this case, the Assyrians). The Messiah, however, would be a good shepherd in whom God’s people could rest securely. He would not just be a shepherd to Israel – he would be a source of peace “to the ends of the earth” (c.f. Jeremiah 33:1-16).

Matthew 2:1-12

Study Notes

  • Israel was not its own nation – they were under Roman rule. So, Herod was not exactly a king. He was appointed by the Romans to govern the land of Israel and Judah. His title was “King of the Jews”, but he functioned as more of a puppet king who did the bidding of Caesar. One of his main accomplishments was rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem, probably to gain the allegiance of the Jewish people. But he was notoriously brutal, narcissistic, and violent. He murdered several members of his own family, and, as we’re about to see, he attempted to murder Jesus as a newborn. He died shortly after Christ’s birth. Fun fact: archaeologists discovered his tomb and his body in 2007.
    • “Wise men” were pagan priests probably from Babylon or Persia. They were involved in occult practices like astrology, magic, and dream interpretation. They were obviously familiar with some of the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah because they were aware that one of the promised signals of the Messiahs arrival would be a star over Israel (Numbers 24:17). There were plenty of Jews in Babylon and Persia at the time, so the wise men would likely have heard the prophecies about the Messiah at some point from them. They believed in the Messiah enough to travel from their homeland to Bethlehem – a journey that would have taken a couple of weeks at least.
    • When Herod heard talk of a new “King of the Jews” he was upset. This probably does not come as a surprise. What’s interesting is that Herod gathered the Jewish priests and scribes together and used the Scriptures about the Messiah to track down the place where Jesus was born. Perhaps this wasn’t as simple as Herod misunderstanding who Jesus was, and being jealous that his people were worshipping another person as King of the Jews. It looks like even Herod believed the Scriptures pointing to Jesus as God’s promised Messiah. Herod knew exactly what he was trying to do.
    • Herod found the wise men and told them to search for the newborn Jesus around Bethlehem. When they found the baby, Herod instructed them to notify him. However, God warned the wise men in a dream to defy Herod’s orders and get out of Bethlehem immediately.

In this story, we see two different reactions to the news of Jesus: Herod’s anger, bitterness, and rejection sharply contrast with the humble faith, submission, and worship of the wise men. In an ironic twist, the Jews, who had been expecting the coming of their Messiah since the days of the prophets, were disturbed by the news of Christ’s birth. Israel’s misguided expectations of who they wanted Jesus to be blinded them to who Jesus really was. The wise men – pagan priests who, for all intents and purposes, had no knowledge of the God of Israel – responded to the news of Jesus’ birth with joy, faith, and worship. In the the nativity story, we see God’s blessing extend beyond Israel to the nations (Genesis 12:3, anyone?). These were residents of a foreign nation whom God invited to be some of the very first witnesses to the fulfillment of his eternal promises. Praise God, that his grace extends even to those who seem farthest from him – you and I included!

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