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Joseph is directed what to do to escape the danger.
66 Take the young child, and flee into Egypt." Thus early must Christ give an example to his own rule, (Matt. x. 23,) “ When they persecute you in one city, flee to another.” He that came to die for us, when his hour was not yet come, fled for his own safety. Self-preservation being a branch of the law of nature, is eminently a part of the law of God. Flee! but why into Egypt? Egypt was infamous for idolatry, tyranny, and enmity to the people of God: it had been a house of bondage to Israel, and particularly cruel to the infants of Israel : in Egypt, as much as in Ramah, Rachel had been weeping for her children ; yet that is appointed to be a place of refuge to the holy child Jesus. God, when he pleases, can make the worst of places serve the best of purposes ; for the earth is the Lord's. God, that made Moab a shelter to his outcasts, makes Egypt a refuge for his Son.
This exile may be regarded as a trial of the faith of Joseph and Mary: they might be tempted to think, if this child be the Son of God, as we are told he is, has he no other way to secure himself from man, that is a worm, than by such an inglorious retreat ? Cannot he summon legions of angels to be his life-guard, or cherubims with flaming swords to keep this tree of life? Cannot he strike Herod dead, or wither the hand that is stretched out against him? But we find not that they made any such objections. God had provided for the young child and his mother, in appointing Joseph into relation to them ; now the gold which the wise men brought would bear their charges. God foresees his people's distresses, and provides against them beforehand.
This may also be regarded as an instance of the humiliation of our Lord Jesus. As there was no room for him in the inn at Bethlehem, so there was no quiet room for him in the land of Judea. Thus was he banished from the earth by Canaan, that we, who for sin were banished from the heavenly Canaan, might not be for ever expelled. If we and our infants be at any time in straits, let us remember the straits of Christ in his infancy.
REV. MATTHEW HENRY.
But whither then? Oh whither dost thou carry that blessed burthen, by which thyself and the world are upholden? To Egypt, the slaughterhouse of God's people, the furnace of Israel's ancient affliction, the sink of the world. Out of Egypt have I called my Son, saith God. That thou calledst thy Son out of Egypt, O God, is no marvel: it is a marvel, that thou calledst him into Egypt; but that we know all earths are thine, and all places and men are like figures upon a table, such as thy disposition makes them.
What a change is here! Israel, the first-born of God, flies out of Egypt into the promised land of Judea ; Christ, the first-born of all creatures, flies from Judea into Egypt. Egypt is become the sanctuary, Judea the inquisition house, of the Son of God. He that is everywhere the same, makes all places alike to his : he makes the fiery furnace a gallery of pleasure; the lion's den, a house of defence ; the whale's belly, a lodging chamber; Egypt, a harbour.
Good Joseph, having his charge in the night, stays not till the morning: no sooner had God said Arise, than he starts up and sets forward. It was not diffidence, but obedience, that did so hasten his departure. The charge was direct; the business, important. He dares not linger for the light, but breaks his rest for the journey; and taking 'vantage of the dark, departs towards Egypt. How knew he this occasion would abide any delay? We cannot be too speedy in the execution of God's commands ; we may be too late.
Here was no treasure to hide, no hangings to take down, no lands to secure; the poor carpenter needs no more, but locks the doors and away. He goes lightly, that wants a load. If there be more pleasure in abundance, there is more security in a mean estate. The bustard or the ostrich, when he is pursued, can hardly get upon his wings; whereas, the lark mounts with ease. The rich hath not so much advantage of the poor in enjoying, as the poor hath of the rich in leaving.
Now is Joseph come down into Egypt. Egypt was beholden to the name; as that, whereto it did owe no less, than their universal preservation. Well might it repay this act of hospitality to that name and blood.
Many Jews had settled in Egypt; not only those who had fled thither in the time of Jeremiah, (see chap. xlviii,) but many others who had settled there also, on account of the temple which Onias had built at Heliopolis. Those who could speak the Greek tongue enjoyed many advantages in that country: besides, they had the Greek version of the Septuagint, which had been translated nearly three hundred years before this time. Egypt was now a Roman province, and the rage of Herod could not pursue the holy family to this place. DR. A. CLARKE.
Who can behold Herod under the agitation of such a barbarous rage, and not see the vanity even of royal dignity, when the man that sways the sceptre over others, hath no rule over his own spirit? Surely none of the innocent victims of Herod's wrath, felt so much from the sword of their barbarous murderers, as the guilty mind of the tyrant from its own unnatural transports. The agony of a few moments transmitted these oppressed innocents to peace and joy; while the impotent rage of Herod only heaped on his own head, guilt, infamy, and horror. He conceived mischief, and he brought forth vanity —Job xv. 35: and, while he studied to prevent the establishment of the Messiah's kingdom, and set himself with impious rage against the Lord, and against his Anointed, He that sitteth in the heavens did laugh, yea, the Lord had him in derision—Psalm ii. 2, 4. That God, who discerns every secret purpose of his enemies, and foresees every intended assault, knows how, whenever he pleases, by a thought, by a dream to baffle it.
The preservation of the holy child Jesus in Egypt, may be considered as a figure of God's care over his Church in its greatest danger. God doth not often, as he easily could, strike their persecutors with immediate destruction ; but he provides a hiding-place for his people, and, by methods not less effectual, though less pompous, preserves his chosen seed from being swept away, even when the enemy comes in like a flood.
Egypt, that was once the seat of persecution and oppression to the Israel of God, is now a refuge to his Son: and thus all places will be to us what Divine Providence will be pleased to make them. When, like Joseph and Mary, we are cut off from the worship of his temple, and perhaps removed to a strange land, he can be a little sanctuary to us, and give us, in his gracious presence, a rich equivalent for all that we have lost.
Jesus survived his persecutors, and returned into the land of Israel again; but such was his condescension, that he abode at Nazareth, which seems to have been allotted him as the most humble station. Let us never be unwilling to bear reproach for him, who from his infancy endured it for us; nor take offence at the meanness of his condition, whose removes were directed by angelic messengers, as immediate envoys to the God of heaven!
Herod, misnamed the Great, had a numerous offspring by his different wives, though their number was reduced by his unnatural cruelty in putting many of them to death. He is characterized by Josephus as a person of singular courage and resolution, liberal, and even extravagant in his expenditure, magnificent in his buildings, especially in the temple of Jerusalem, and apparently disposed to promote the happiness of every one. But under this specious exterior he concealed the most consummate duplicity ; studious only how to attain and secure his own dignity, he regarded no means, however unjustifiable, which might promote that object of his ambition ; and, in order to supply his lavish expenditure, he imposed oppressive burdens on his subjects. Inexorably cruel, and a slave to the most furious passions, he imbrued his hands in the blood of his wife, his children, and the greater part of his family; such, indeed, was the restlessness and jealousy of his temper, that he spared neither his people, nor the richest and most powerful of his subjects, not even his very friends. It is not at all surprising that such a conduct should procure Herod the hatred of his subjects, especially of the Pharisees, who engaged in various plots against him: and so suspicious did these conspiracies render him, that he put the innocent to the torture, lest the guilty should escape. These circumstances sufficiently account for Herod and all Jerusalem with him being troubled at the arrival of the Magi, to inquire where the Messiah was born.—Matt. ii. 1-3. The Jews, who anxiously expected the Messiah, " the Deliverer,” were moved with an anxiety made up of hopes and fears, of uncertainty and expectation, blended with a dread of the sanguinary consequences of new tumults; and Herod, who was a foreigner and usurper, was apprehensive lest he should lose his crown by the birth of a rightful heir. Hence we are furnished with a satisfactory solution of the motive that led him to command all the male children to be put to death, who were under two years of age, in Bethlehem and its vicinity.—Matt. ii. 16.
Rev. T. H. HORNE.
When Herod had gained possession of Jerusalem by the assistance of the Romans, and his rival Antigonus was taken prisoner, and in the hands of the Roman general Sosius, and by him carried to Mark Antony, Herod, by a large sum of money, persuaded Antony to put him to death. Herod's great fear was, that Antigonus might sometime revive his pretensions, as being of the Asmonean family. Aristobulus, brother of his wife Mariamne, was murdered by his direction at eighteen years of age, because the people at Jerusalem had shown some affection for his person. In the seventh year of his reign, from the death of Antigonus, he put to death Hyrcanus, the grandfather of Mariamne, then eighty years of age, and who had saved Herod's life when he was prosecuted by the Sanhedrim ; a man, who in his youth, and in the vigour of his life, and in all the revolutions of his fortune, had shown a mild and peaceable disposition. His beloved wife, the beautiful and virtuous Mariamne, had a public execution, and her mother Alexandra followed soon after. Alexander and Aristobulus, his two sons by Mariamne, were strangled in a prison, by his order, upon groundless suspicions, as it seems, when they were at man's estate, were married, and had children. I say nothing of the death of his eldest son, Antipater. If Josephus's character of Herod be just, he was a miscreant, and deserved the worst death that could be inflicted; in his last sickness, a little before he died, he sent orders throughout Judæa, requiring the presence of all the chief men of the nation at Jericho.
“ When Herod was dead.”—Herod had nine wives, and by them many children. Three of his sons he put to death. Antipater being returned from Rome into Judæa, was convicted of his treasonable designs for the poisoning of his father, had sentence of condemnation passed upon him ; which being confirmed by Augustus, he was accordingly put to death upon it: and, five days after that execution, died Herod himself, in the seventieth year of his age, after he had reigned, from the time of his being declared king at Rome, thirty-seven years, and from the death of Antigonus thirtyfour.
Knowing the hatred the Jews had for him, he concluded aright, that there would be no lamentation at his death, but rather gladness and rejoicing for it all the country over. To prevent this, he framed a project and resolution in his mind, which was one of the most horrid, and most wicked, perchance, that ever entered into the heart of man. For having issued out a summons to all the principal and most eminent Jews in his kingdom, commanding their appearance at Jericho, where he then lay, on pain of death, at a day appointed, on their arrival thither, he shut them all up in the circus, and then sending for Salome his sister, and Alexas her husband, commanded them that, as soon as he was dead, they should send in the soldiers upon them, and put them all to the sword; “ for this,” said he, “ will provide mourning for my funeral all over the land, and make the Jews in every family thereof lament at my death ;” and when he had adjured them thereto, some hours after he gave up the ghost, and died.
But Salome and Alexas not being wicked enough to do what they had been made solemnly to promise, rather chose to break their obligation, and therefore, as soon as Herod was dead, they opened the circus, and permitted all to return again every man to his own home. The history of this his most wicked design takes off all objection to the truth of his murdering the innocents.
Herod's disease grew yet more and more bitterly violent; God exacting this vengeance upon him for the punishment of the many great enormities he had been guilty of. He had a slow fever, not showing itself so much to the outward touch and feeling, as more grievously burning him within. Moreover, he had a strong canine appetite for meat, which nothing could satisfy. His bowels were ulcerated, especially the colon gut, from whence he suffered grievous pains. His feet being swollen, from thence issued forth a phlegmatic and shining humour. Moreover, the disease had seized the lower part of his belly, and an ulcer broke out, breeding worms and lice; besides he had a shortness of breath, and that very stinking and unsavoury. He had also a troublesome flux of rheum with it, and an asthmatic difficulty of breathing. And the patient not having strength enough to bear all this, there followed a convulsion of all parts of his body.
JOSEPHUS, the Jewish Historian.
“ That it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my Son.” Israel was a type of Christ, as being by God called his “ Son,” his “ First-born,” (Exod. iv. 22); and God bearing the relation of “a Father to Israel,” (Jer. xxxi. 9): hence Israel is put for Christ, (Isai. xlix. 3,) in these words, “ Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified;" and what is in the Hebrew, “ Behold my servant whom I uphold, mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth,” (Isai. xlii. 1,) is in the Chaldee, “ My servant the Messiah,” and in the Greek, “ Jacob my servant, and Israel mine elect.” Now as a prophetical prediction is then fulfilled when what was foretold is come to pass ; so a type is then fulfilled, when that is done in the anti-type which was done in the type.
St. Matthew cites only these words of Hosea, “ Out of Egypt have I called my Son,” as words to be fulfilled in Christ, and not any more, making Israel a type of Christ only in this regard, that they were called out of Egypt, as he was to be so; so that it doth not hence follow that
any other words in this prophecy are to be referred to Christ, and so, no argument taken from the following words, which do not belong to him, can be of
any validity to prove that these do not, which here the Holy Ghost applieth to him. Nor is it any objection against what hath been said, that the Jews could not understand this intendment of these words, for they were not concerned to understand it till the completion of these words in Christ; and then, sure, they, who abounded with mystical interpretations of the law and the prophets, could not reasonably object against this application of these words to God's calling his own Son out of Egypt.