Matthew 2 Bible Commentary

McGarvey and Pendleton

(Read all of Matthew 2)
2:1  Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem1 of Judaea2 in the days3 of Herod4 the king5, behold, Wise-men from the east7 came to Jerusalem8, saying, EASTERN WISE-MEN, OR MAGI, VISIT JESUS, THE NEW-BORN KING. (Jerusalem and Bethlehem, B.C. 4.) Matthew 2:1-12
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. It lies five miles south by west of Jerusalem, a little to the east of the road to Hebron. It occupies part of the summit and sides of a narrow limestone ridge which shoots out eastward from the central chains of the Judean mountains, and breaks down abruptly into deep valleys on the north, south, and east. Its old name, Ephrath, meant "the fruitful". Bethlehem means "house of bread". Its modern name, Beitlaham, means "house of meat". It was the home of Boaz and Ruth, of Jesse and David. The modern town contains about five hundred houses, occupied by Greek-church Christians. Over the rock-hewn cave which monks point out as the stable where Christ was born, there stands a church built by the Empress Helena, A.D. 325-327, which is the oldest monument to Christ known to men. Bethlehem was a suitable birthplace for a spiritual king; as suitable as Rome would have been a temporal king. We do not know when the town received its name, nor by whom the name was given, but as God had chosen it as the birthplace of Jesus for many centuries before the incarnation, he may have caused it to be named Bethlehem, or "house of bread", with prophetic reference to Him who is the "Bread of Life".
Of Judaea. Called thus to distinguish it from Bethlehem of Zebulon (Joshua 19:15).
In the days. It is difficult to determine the exact year of Christ's birth. Dionysus the Small, an abbot at Rome in A.D. 526, published an Easter cycle, in which he fixed the birth of Christ in the year 754 of the city of Rome (A.U.C.). This date has been followed ever since. But Jesus was born before the death of Herod, and Josephus and Dion Cassius fix the death of Herod in the year 750 A.U.C. Herod died that year. just before the Passover, and shortly after an eclipse of the moon, which took place on the night between the 12th and 13th of March. Jesus was born several months previous to the death of Herod, either toward the end of the year 749 A.U.C. (B.C. 5) or at the beginning of the year 750 (B.C. 4).
Of Herod. This man was born at Ascalon, B.C. 71, and died at Jericho, A.D. 4. His father was an Edomite, and his mother an Ishmaelite. He was a man of fine executive ability and dauntless courage, but was full of suspicion and duplicity, and his reign was stained by acts of inhuman cruelty. He enlarged and beautified the temple at Jerusalem, and blessed his kingdom by many other important public works. See Luke 1:5.
The King. The life of Herod will be found in Josephus' Antiquities, Books 14-17. He was not an independent monarch, but a king subject to the Roman Empire.
Wise men. The word designates an order, or caste, of priests and philosophers (called magi), which existed in the countries east of the Euphrates, from a very remote period. We first find the word in Scripture at Jeremiah 39:13, in the name "rab-mag", which signifies chief magi. This class is frequently referred to in the Book of Daniel, where its members are called magicians, and it is probable that Daniel himself was a rab-mag (Daniel 5:11). The order is believed to have arisen among the Chaldeans and to have come down through the Assyrian, Medean, and Persian kingdoms. The magi were, in many ways, the Levites of the East; they performed all public religious rites, claimed exclusive mediatorship between God and man, were the authority on all doctrinal points, constituted the supreme council of the realm, and had charge of the education of the royal family. The practiced divination, interpreted auguries and dreams, and professed to foretell the destinies of men. They were particularly famous for their skill in astronomy, and had kept a record of the more important celestial phenomena, which dated back several centuries prior to the reign of Alexander the Great. They were probably originally honest seekers after truth, but degenerated into mere impostors, as the Bible record shows (Acts 8:9-11; Acts 13:8). Nothing is said as to the number who came nor as to the country whence they came. The number and quality of the gifts have become the foundation for a tradition that they were three kings from Arabia, and during the Middle Ages it was professed that their bodies were found and removed to the cathedral at Cologne. Their shrine is still shown there to credulous travelers, and their names are given as Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar.
From the east. Probably from Persia, the chief seat of the Median religion. Jews dwelling in Persian provinces among the Parthians, Medes, and Elamites (Acts 2:9) may have so prepared the minds of the magi as to set them looking for the star of Bethlehem. But in addition to the knowledge carried by captive Israelites, the men of the East had other light. The great Chinese sage, Confucius (B.C. 551-479), foretold a coming Teacher in the West, and Zoroaster, the founder of the Persian religion, who is thought to have been a contemporary of Abraham, had predicted the coming of a great, supernaturally begotten Prophet. To these Balaam had added his prophecy (Numbers 24:17). Moreover, the Septuagint translation made at Alexandria about 280 B.C. had rendered the Old Testament Scriptures into Greek, the language of commerce and had carried the knowledge of Hebrew prophecy into all lands, and had wakened a slight but world-wide expectation of a Messiah. The Roman writers, Suetonius (70-123 A.D.) and Tacitus (75-125 A.D.) bear witness to this expectation that a great world-ruling king would come out of Judea. But all this put together cannot account for the visit of the magi. They were guided directly by God, and nothing else may have even influenced them.
Came to Jerusalem. They naturally sought for the ruler of the state at the state's capital. They came to Jerusalem after Jesus had been presented in the temple, and taken back to Bethlehem, and, therefore, when the infant Jesus was more than forty days old. They must have come at least forty days before the death of Herod, for he spent the last forty days of his life at Jericho and the baths of Callirrhoe; but the wise men found him still at Jerusalem. Jesus must, therefore, have been at least eighty days old when Herod died.

2:2  Where is he1 that is born King of the Jews2? for we saw3 his star4 in the east5, and are come6 to worship him7.
Where is he. They seem to have expected to find all Jerusalem knowing and worshiping this new-born King. Their disappointment is shared by many modern converts from heathendom who visit so-called Christian countries, and are filled with astonishment and sadness at the ignorance and unbelief which they discover.
That is born King of the Jews. These words were calculated to startle Herod, who was by birth neither king nor Jew. This title was accorded to Jesus by Pilate, who wrote it in his inscription, and caused it to be placed over the head of Christ upon the cross. None has borne the title since; so Jesus has stood before the world for nearly two thousand years as the last and only king of the Jews. The king of the Jews was the prophetically announced ruler of all men.
For we saw. Those in the pagan darkness of the East rejoiced in the star. It was as "a light that shineth in a dark place" (2 Peter 1:19). But those in Jerusalem appear not to have seen it, and certainly ignored it.
His star. The great astronomer Kepler, ascertaining that there was a conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn in 747 A.U.C., to which conjunction the planet Mars was also added in the year 748, suggested that this grouping of stars may have formed the so-called star of Bethlehem. But this theory is highly improbable; for these planets never appeared as one star, for they were never nearer to each other than double the apparent diameter of the moon. Moreover, the magi used the word "aster" (star), not "astron" (a group of stars). Again, the action of the star of Bethlehem forbids us to think that it was any one of the heavenly bodies. It was a specially prepared luminous orb moving toward Bethlehem as a guiding sign, and resting over the house of Joseph as an identifying index.
In the east. The magi were in the east; the star was in the west.
And are come. If the reign of Edomite Herod began to fulfill the first part of Jacob's prophecy by showing the departure of the scepter from Judah (Genesis 49:10), the coming of the Gentile magi began the fulfillment of the second part by becoming the firstfruits of the gathering of the people.
To worship him. Was their worship a religious service or a mere expression of reverence for an earthly king? More likely the former. If so, the boldness with which they declared their purpose to worship proved them worthy of the benediction of Him who afterwards said, "And blessed is [he], to whom I shall not give cause to stumble" (Luke 7:23).

2:3  And when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him2.
When Herod the king had heard it. His evil heart, full of suspicions of all kinds, caused him to keep Jerusalem full of spies; so that knowledge of the magi soon reached his ears.
He was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Herod was troubled because his succession to the throne was threatened, and Jerusalem was troubled because it dreaded a conflict between rival claimants for the throne. A short time before this, certain Pharisees had predicted that "God had decreed that Herod's government should cease, and his prosperity should be deprived of it". In consequence, six thousand Pharisees had refused to take the oath of allegiance to Herod, and a great commotion had ensued (Josephus 17:2,4). Herod was determined to maintain his rule at any cost. To secure himself against the claims of the house of the Maccabees, he had slain five of its princes and princesses, including his favored wife Mariamne, thus extirpating that line of pretenders. Of course, prophecy predicted that Messiah should have the kingdom; but Herod's sinful heart hoped that these prophecies would not be fulfilled in his own time. Modern Herods know concerning Christ's second coming, but hope that it will be postponed till their own career is finished. Modern Jerusalemites prefer their Herods with peace to Messiah with revolution. Multitudes rest under the dominion of Satan, because they fear the revolutionary conflict and struggle necessary to enthrone the Christ in his stead. Christ is the peace of the righteous, the trouble of the wicked. Imperfect knowledge of him troubles, but perfect knowledge and love cast out fear (1 John 4:18).

2:4  And gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people1, he inquired of them2 where the Christ3 should be born4.
All the chief priests and scribes of the people. This is one of several expressions which designate the whole of or a portion of the Sanhedrin or Jewish court. This body consisted of 71 or 72 members, divided into three classes; namely, chief priest, scribes, or lawyers, and elders, or men of age and reputation among the people. The Sanhedrin was probably formed in imitation of the body of elders appointed to assist Moses (Numbers 11:16). It is thought to have been instituted after the Babylonian captivity. As the scribes transcribed the Scriptures, they were familiar with their contents, and well skilled in their interpretation.
He inquired of them. Herod shows that common but strange mixture of regard and contempt for the Word of God which makes men anxious to know its predictions, that they may form their plans to defeat him. The first inquirers for Jesus were shepherds, the second were wise men, the third was a king, the fourth were scribes and priests. He wakens inquiry among all classes; but each uses a different means of research. The shepherds are directed by angels; the wise men by a star; the scribes by Scriptures; the king by counselors.
Where the Christ. The fact that these foreigners came thus wondrously guided, coupled with the fact that the King they sought was one by birth (David's line having been so long apparently extinct), led Herod to the conclusion that this coming King could be none other than the Messiah.
Should be born. Thus by light from different sources, king and priests and people were informed of the fact that Messiah was newly born into the world, and the very time and place of his birth were brought to notice. God gave them the fact, and left them to make such use of it as they would.

2:5  And they said unto him, In Bethlehem1 of Judaea: for thus it is written through the prophet,
In Bethlehem. It was generally known that Christ should be born in Bethlehem (John 7:42). The very body or court which officially announced the birthplace of Jesus subsequently condemned him to death as an impostor.

2:6  And thou Bethlehem1, land of Judah, art in no wise least among the princes of Judah: for out of thee shall come forth a governor, who shall be shepherd of my people Israel.
And thou Bethlehem, etc. The quotation is taken from Micah 5:2-4, but freely translated. The translation sets the words of Micah in the language of the times of Herod, and therefore resembles some of our modern attempts at Biblical revision. The use which the scribes made of this prophecy is very important, for it shows that the Jews originally regarded this passage of Scripture as fixing the birthplace of Messiah, and condemns as a fruit of bigotry and prejudice the modern effort of certain rabbis to explain away this natural interpretation.

2:7  Then Herod privily called the Wise-men1, and learned of them exactly2 what time the star appeared.
Then Herod privily called the Wise-men. Herod did not wish to give the infant claimant the honor and prestige of an open and avowed concern about him. Moreover, had he openly professed a desire to worship the new King, all Jerusalem would have been conscious of his hypocrisy, and some would have found it hard to keep silent.
And learned of them exactly. Though Herod sought Christ from improper motives, yet he used the best methods. He asked aid of those versed in the Scriptures, and also of those proficient in science.
What time the star had appeared. That he might ascertain, if possible, exactly on what night Christ had been born.

2:8  And he sent them to Bethlehem1, and said, Go and search out exactly concerning the young child; and when ye have found [him,] bring me word, that I also may come and worship him2.
And he sent them to Bethlehem. Thus answering their question asked in Matthew 2:2.
That I also may come and worship him. His meaning was, That I may come with my Judas kiss to betray and to destroy. Duplicity was a well- known characteristic of Herod. He had Astribulus, the high priest, drowned by his companions while bathing, though they seemed to be only ducking him in sport. In this case Herod concealed fraud beneath an appearance of piety. Religion is one of the favorite masks of the devil (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). It is as hard for the ambitious to avoid hypocrisy as it is for the rich to shun avarice.

2:9  And they, having heard the king, went their way1; and lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them2, till it came and stood3 over where the young child was4.
And they, having heard the king, went their way. No scribes were with them. The scribes were content with the "theory" as to the place of Christ's birth, but desired no practical knowledge of the Babe himself.
And lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them. Guiding them.
Till it came and stood. Thus stopping them.
Over where the young child was. A real or ordinary star would have stood indiscriminately over every house in Bethlehem, and would have been no aid whatever toward finding the right child. For planets to stand over any place, they must be in the zenith and have an altitude of 90 degrees. This star, therefore, could not have been a conjunction of planets, for their altitude at Bethlehem is 57 degrees, and seen that this angle they would have led the magi on down into Africa. The magi were undoubtedly favored with a special revelation as to the Babe and the star. It was probably given in a dream similar to that spoken of in Matthew 2:12. The star, as one of the temporary incidentals of Christianity, faded away; but the Sun of righteousness which took its place in the spiritual firmament shines on, and shall shine on forever.

2:10  And when they saw the star, they rejoiced1 with exceeding great joy2.
And when they saw the star, they rejoiced. A comfort restored is a comfort multiplied.
With exceeding great joy. The return of the star assured them that God would lead them safely and surely to the object of their desires. Their joy was such as comes to those who come from seasons of dark doubt to the glories of light and faith. The star enabled them to find Jesus without asking questions, and bringing such public attention to him as would aid Herod in preventing his escape. Since the magi were guided by a star, they were forced to enter Bethlehem by night, and this contributed to the privacy of their coming and the safety of Jesus.

2:11  And they came into the house 1and saw the young child with Mary his mother2; and they fell down3 and worshipped him4; and opening their treasures they offered unto him gifts5, gold and frankincense6 and myrrh7.
And they came into the house. The humble house of the carpenter might have shook their faith in the royalty of the son, but the miraculous honors accorded him in the star and the Scripture raised him in their estimation above all the humiliation of external circumstances.
And saw the young child with Mary his mother. She was the only attendant in this King's retinue--the retinue of him who became poor that we, out of his poverty, might be made rich.
And they fell down. The usual Oriental method of showing either reverence or worship.
And worshipped him. It is safe to think that the manner in which they had been led to Jesus caused them to worship him as divine. Their long journey and their exuberant joy at its success indicate that they sought more than the great king of a foreign nation. The God who led them by a star would hardly deny them full knowledge as to the object of their quest. Had their worship been mere reverence, Mary would, no doubt, have been included in it. We should note their faith. They had known Christ but one day; he had performed no miracles; he had none other to do him homage; he was but a helpless Babe, yet they fell down and worshiped him. Their faith is told for a memorial of them. They worshiped him not as one who must win his honors; but as one already invested with them. When we come to Christ, let us come to worship, not to patronize, not to employ him for sectarian uses, not to use him as an axiom on which to base some vapid theological speculation.
And opening their treasures they offered unto him gifts. Oriental custom requires that an inferior shall approach his superior with a gift. These gifts probably contributed to the sustenance of the parents and the child while in Egypt.
Frankincense. A white resin or gum obtained by slitting the bark of the Arbor thuris. The best is said to come from Persia. It is also a product of Arabia. It is very fragrant when burned.
Myrrh. It is also obtained from a tree in the same manner as frankincense. The tree is similar to the acacia. It grows from eight to ten feet high, and is thorny. It is found in Egypt, Arabia, and Abyssinia. "Myrrh" means bitterness. The gum was chiefly used in embalming dead bodies, as it prevented putrefaction. It was also used in ointments, and for perfume; and as an anodyne [a medicine that relieves pain] it was sometimes added to wine.

2:12  And being warned [of God] in a dream that they should not return to Herod,1 they departed into their own country another way2.
And being warned [of God] in a dream that they should not return to Herod. This suggests that as they came by night, so they were aroused and caused to depart by night, that their coming and going might, in no way, betray the whereabouts of the infant King.
They departed into their own country another way. They took the road from Bethlehem to Jericho, and this passed eastward without returning to Jerusalem.

2:13  Now when they were departed1, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt3, and be thou there until I tell thee: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him4. FLIGHT INTO EGYPT AND SLAUGHTER OF THE BETHLEHEM CHILDREN. (Bethlehem and Road thence to Egypt, B.C. 4.) Matthew 2:13-18
Now when they were departed. The text favors the idea that the arrival and departure of the magi and the departure of Joseph for Egypt, all occurred in one night. If so, the people of Bethlehem knew nothing of these matters.
Arise . . . and flee. This command calls for immediate departure.
Into Egypt. This land was ever the refuge of Israel when fleeing from famine and oppression. One hundred miles in a direct line from Bethlehem would carry Joseph well over the border of Egypt. Two hundred miles would bring him to the river Nile. In Egypt he would find friends, possibly acquaintances. There were at that time about one million Jews in the Nile valley. In Alexandria, a city of 300,000, from one-fifth to two-fifths of the population were Jews, two of the five wards being given over to them; and the Talmud describes how, in its great synagogue, all the men of like craft or trade sat together. Thus Joseph might there find fellow-craftsmen, as did Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:3).
For Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. Thus joy at the honor of the magi's visit and worship gives place to terror at the wrath of Herod. The quiet days at Bethlehem are followed by a night of fear and flight. The parents of Jesus were experiencing those conflicting joys and sorrows which characterize the lives of all who have to do with Christ (Mark 10:30; 2 Timothy 3:12).

2:14  And he arose and took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt1;
And departed into Egypt. What a criticism upon Israel when Egypt, the house of bondage, the seat of tyranny, the land of the immemorial enemies of God's people, was regarded as a place of refuge from its ruler. Jesus was saved by flight. God invariably prefers the ordinary to the extraordinary means.

2:15  and was there until the death of Herod1: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord2 through the prophet3, saying, Out of Egypt did I call my son4.
And was there until the death of Herod. As Herod died soon after the flight to Egypt, the sojourn of the family of Jesus in that land must have been brief, for they returned after his death.
Which was spoken by the Lord. The message is the Lord's, the words and voice are the prophets.
Through the prophet. See Hosea 11:1.
Out of Egypt did I call my son. This prophecy, no doubt, had a primary reference to the Exodus, and was an echo of the words of Moses at Exodus 4:22,23. In their type and antitype relationship the Old and New Testaments may be likened to the shell and kernel of a nut. Israel was Israel, and God's Son, because it included in itself the yet unformed and unborn body which was later to be inhabited by the spirit of the Word or Son of God. The seed of Abraham was called out of Egypt, that the promised seed enveloped within it might have a body and nature prepared in the land of liberty, and not in that of bondage. Israel was the outer shell, and Christ the kernel, hence the double significance of the prophecy--the twice repeated movement of the nation and the Man.

2:16  Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the Wise-men1, was exceeding wroth2, and sent forth3, and slew4 all the male children that were in Bethlehem5, and in all the borders thereof6, from two years old and under7, according to the time which he had exactly learned of the Wise-men8.
Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the Wise-men. The magi, no doubt, intended to return to Herod, and would have done so but for the dream, but when they failed to return, they seemed to Herod to have taken pleasure in deceiving him, and the very honesty of their conduct passed for the lowest depth of cunning.
Was exceeding wroth. Angry at being made sport of, and doubly angry because of the serious matter as to which they presumed to jest.
And sent forth. Murderers, suddenly.
And slew. Thus early did persecution attend those associated with Christ (Matthew 10:24,25). This brutality was in keeping with Herod's character. Jealousy as to his authority led him to murder two high priests, his uncle Joseph, his wife, and three of his own sons, besides many other innocent persons. Fearing lest the people should rejoice at his departure, he summoned the leading citizens of all the cities of his realm, and, shutting them up in the circus grounds at Jericho, ordered his sister Salome and her husband to have them all put to death at the moment when he died, that the land might mourn at his death.
All the male children that were in Bethlehem. As Bethlehem was not a large place, the number of martyrs could not have been large. It is variously estimated that from twelve to fifty were slain. Had the parents of Bethlehem known that Jesus was on the way to Egypt, they might have saved their own children by giving information as to the whereabouts of the right child; that is, if we may assume that they were being butchered.
And in all the borders thereof. Adjacent places; settlements or houses around Bethlehem. The present population of the town is fully five thousand; it was probably even larger in Christ's time.
From two years old and under. According to Jewish reckoning this would mean all children from birth up to between twelve and thirteen months old, all past one year old being counted as two years old.
According to the time which he had exactly learned of the Wise-men. That is, he used their date as a basis for his calculations. It is likely that six months had elapsed since the star appeared, and that Herod doubled the months to make doubly sure of destroying the rival claimant. Not knowing whether the child was born before or after the appearing of the star, he included all the children of that full year in which the star came.

2:17  Then was fulfilled1 that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet2, saying,
Then was fulfilled. The verses Matthew 2:6,15,18 give us three different kinds of prophecy. The first is direct, and relates wholly to an event which was yet future; the second is a case where an "act" described is symbolic of another later and larger act; the last is a case where WORDS describing another later act, though the acts themselves may bear small resemblance. See Matthew 2:23. Matthew does not mean that Jeremiah predicted the slaughter at Bethlehem; but that his words, though spoken as to another occasion, were so chosen of the Spirit that they might be fitly applied to this latter occasion.
That which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet. See

2:18  A voice was heard in Ramah1, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children2; And she would not be comforted, because they are not3.
In Ramah. This word means "highland" or "hill". The town lies six miles north of Jerusalem. It was the birthplace and burial place of the prophet Samuel. It is also supposed to be the Arimathea of the New Testament. See Matthew 27:57.
Weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children. Why these tearful mothers in Bethlehem? Because that which Christ escaped remained for his brethren, their children, to suffer. If he would escape death, all his brethren must die. But he died that all his brethren might live.
And she would not be comforted, because they are not. The words here quoted were originally written concerning the Babylonian captivity (Jeremiah 31:15). Ramah was a town of Benjamin (Joshua 18:25). Jeremiah was carried thither in chains with the other captives, but was there released by the order of Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 40:1; Jeremiah 39:11,12). Here he saw the captives depart for Babylon, and heard the weeping of the poor who were left in the land (Jeremiah 39:10). Hence the mention of Ramah as the place of lamentation. He represents Rachel weeping, because the Benjaminites were descendants of Rachel, and, perhaps, because the tomb of Rachel was "in the border of Benjamin", and not far away (1 Samuel 10:2). The image of the ancient mother of the tribe, rising from her tomb to weep, and refusing to be comforted because her children were not around her, is inimitably beautiful; and this image so strikingly portrayed the weeping in Bethlehem that Matthew adopts the words of the prophet, and says that they were here fulfilled. It was the fulfillment, not of a prediction, properly speaking, but of certain "words" spoken by the prophet.

2:19  But when Herod was dead1, behold, an angel of the Lord2 appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt3, saying, THE CHILD JESUS BROUGHT FROM EGYPT TO NAZARETH. (Egypt and Nazareth, B.C. 4.) Matthew 2:19-23; Luke 2:39
But when Herod was dead. He died in the thirty-seventh year of his reign and the seventieth of his life. A frightful inward burning consumed him, and the stench of his sickness was such that his attendants could not stay near him. So horrible was his condition that he even endeavored to end it by suicide.
Behold, an angel of the Lord. Word did not come by the infant Jesus; he was "make like [his] brethren" (Hebrews 2:17), and being a child, he "spoke as a child" (1 Corinthians 13:11), and not as an oracle.
Appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt. Joseph had obeyed the command given at Matthew 2:13, and God kept the promise contained therein. God ever keeps covenant with the obedient.

2:20  Arise and take the young child and his mother1, and go into the land of Israel2: for they3 are dead that sought the young child's life4.
Arise and take the young child and his mother. Happy Joseph! His path was ordered of God. Let us also seek such ordering. See Proverbs 3:6.
Go into the land of Israel. The phrase "land of Israel" originally meant all Palestine, but during the period of the kingdom of the ten tribes it was restricted to their portion of the country. After the captivities and the return of Judah from Babylon the phrase resumed its original meaning, and hence it is here used to include all Palestine. As Jesus was "not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 15:24), it was fitting that he return thither from Egypt.
For they. "They" is doubtless the plural of majesty; though it may include others unknown to us, who were employed by him or advised him.
Are dead that sought the young child's life. How prophetic the words! Christ's enemies die, but he lives on. How innumerable this host of opposers! Persecutors, oppressors, infidels, critics, literatures, organizations, principalities, and powers, a vast and motley array of forces, have sought the life of Jesus, have made a great noise in the world, and died away in silence. Pharoahs, Neros, Diocletians, many a Charles, Torquemada, and Bloody Mary have come up and gone down, but the king of Israel lives on.

2:21  And he arose and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel1.
And came into the land of Israel. The length of his sojourn in Egypt is uncertain. It is variously estimated at from two weeks to more than seven months.

2:22  But when he heard1 that Archelaus was reigning over Judaea2 in the room of his father Herod3, he was afraid to go thither4; and being warned [of God] in a dream5, he withdrew6 into the parts of Galilee7,
But when he heard. Joseph heard this on entering Palestine. As he knew of Herod's death by revelation, and hence before any one else in Egypt, there was no one there to tell him who succeeded Herod.
That Archelaus was reigning over Judaea. By his last will and testament Herod divided his kingdom among three of his sons, and Augustus Caesar consented to the provision of this will. Archelaus, under the title of Ethnarch, received Judea, Idumea, and Samaria; Antipas, under the title of Tetrarch, received Galilee and Perea; and Philip, under the title of Tetrarch, received Trachonitis (with Iturea), Batanea, and Auranitis. Each of these sons bore the name of Herod, like their father. Augustus withheld from Archelaus the title of king, promising it to him "if he governed that part virtuously". But in the very beginning of his reign he massacred three thousand Jews at once, in the temple, at the time of the Passover, because they called for justice upon the agents who performed the barbarities of his father's reign. Not long after this a solemn embassy of the Jews went to Rome, and petitioned Augustus to remove Archelaus, and make his kingdom a Roman province. After a reign of nine years, Archelaus was banished to Vienne, in Gaul, where he died in A.D. 6. After him Judea had no more native kings, and the scepter was clean departed from Judah. The land became a Roman province, and its governors were successively Quirinius, Coponius, Ambivius, Annius Rufus, Valerius Gratus, and Pontius Pilate.
In the room of his father Herod. These words sound like an echo of those employed by the embassy just referred to, for it said to Augustus concerning this man, "He seemed to be so afraid lest he should not be deemed Herod's own son, that he took special care to prove it".
He was afraid to go thither. As Matthew has spoken of Joseph residing at Bethlehem (and he did reside there for quite a while after the birth of Jesus), the use of word "there" implies that Joseph planned to return to that town. Mary had kindred somewhere in the neighborhood (Luke 1:36,39,40), and doubtless both parents thought that David's city was the most fitting place for the nurture of David's heir.
And being warned [of God] in a dream. God permitted Joseph to follow the bent of his fear. Joseph's obedience shows him a fit person for the momentous charge entrusted to him.
He withdrew. From the territory of Archelaus to that of Antipas, who was a man of much milder disposition. As the brothers were on no good terms, Joseph felt sure that in no case would Antipas deliver him and his to Archelaus.
Into the parts of Galilee. It means "circuit". It is the northern of the three divisions of the Holy Land. Its population was very dense, and was a mixture of Jews and Gentiles. Hence all Galileans were despised by the purer Jews of Judea.

2:23  and came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth1; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophets2, that he should be called a Nazarene3.
Nazareth. See Luke 2:39.
The prophets. Matthew uses the plural "prophets" because this prophecy is not the actual words of any prophet, but is the general sense of many of them. We have noted three kinds of prophecy; this is the fourth kind, viz.: one where the very trend or general scope of Scripture is itself a prophecy. See Matthew 2:17.
That he should be called a Nazarene. The Hebrew word "netzer" means "branch" or "sprout". It is used figuratively for that which is lowly or despised (Isaiah 17:9; Ezekiel 15:1-6; Malachi 4:1). See also John 15:6 Romans 11:21. Now, Nazareth, if derived from "netzer", answered to its name, and was a despised place (John 1:45,46), and Jesus, though in truth a Bethlehemite, bore the name Nazarene because it fitly expressed the contempt of those who despised and rejected him.