Sun, Jan 5, 2020
I’ve read up through Matt 5:12 (the Beatitudes) so far. Can’t believe how much happens in just a few pages when you’re paying attention.
Matt 2:1-2: Magi from the East came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews? We saw his star in the East [or: when it rose] and have come to worship him.”
Okay, fodder for a million Christmas pageants, but listen to what’s going on here! We take from this that GENTILE scholars read the HEBREW scriptures (Daniel 9, Jeremiah 23:5, Numbers 24:17), did the math, and knew that the time of the Messiah was at hand. These Gentiles not only read the scriptures but believed them, so when they saw the “star” they knew what it was and traveled a great distance to greet the King they knew would be there.
But then read on to verse 3: When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. A) Why were they disturbed? And B) Why weren’t they looking or expecting for their own scripture to be fulfilled?
A) Well, why Herod was alarmed is obvious—he would hate and fear what he saw as a threat to his throne. We know that he was an Idumean (Edomite) and so had little if any Jewish blood, so he wasn’t a descendant of David and had no real right to the throne. He was really just a puppet king installed by Rome for their own purposes. So he wouldn’t feel secure on his throne, and we know from history he was paranoid and even murdered his own sons.
Why was all Jerusalem also disturbed? My guess is it wasn’t because they loved Herod so much. More likely they feared what Rome would do if it caught wind of a possible uprising. But we also see here that they weren’t looking for prophecy fulfillment and were taken by surprise. The chief priests and scholars hadn’t pointed out the star or what it meant, and did nothing until Herod asked them where the Messiah was to be born. Herod found out about the star from the Magi, not the Jewish scholars.
Side note: This ain’t no ordinary star! It moved ahead of them and stopped over the place where Jesus was (2:9). Reminds me of the presence of God in Exodus, that moved ahead of the Israelites in a cloud by day and pillar of fire by night, leading them where it wanted them to go and stopping when it wanted them to stop. Whatever the star was, it likely wasn’t a giant ball of gas billions of miles away.
The Magi — foreigners — were overjoyed. They worshipped Jesus and gave him expensive gifts. Up to this point no one had worshipped or felt joy at the presence of Jesus, except Mary’s cousin Elizabeth and her unborn baby John.
The history of the Jewish people is, in my opinion, a reflection on all of humanity at our best and our worst. And especially about how thick, stubborn and even ridiculous we can all be. We see it here. The entire history in the Bible of the Jewish people follows this same basic path: Rescued by God>Prosperity>Rebellion>Punishment>Repentance>Restoration. Repeat ad nauseum. After the return from the Babylonian exile the Jews were no longer idolators, but they got so caught up in obsessive observance of every letter of the law that they missed the big picture. They were for the most part oblivious to the greater truth of God in their midst, his purpose, and what he really wanted for them.
Which, if they had only realized, was more beautiful than anything they could have imagined in their wildest dreams.