Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
In those days - About the time of the birth of John and of Christ.
A decree - A law commanding a thing to be done.
Caesar Augustus - This was the Roman emperor. His first name was Octavianus. He was the nephew of Julius Caesar, and obtained the empire after his death. He took the name "Augustus - i. e., august," or honorable - as a compliment to his own greatness; and from him the month "August," which was before called "Sextilis," received its name.
That all the world - There has been much difficulty respecting this passage, from the fact that no such taxing of "all the world" is mentioned by ancient writers. It should have been rendered "the whole land" - that is, the whole land of Palestine. The "whole land" is mentioned to show that it was not "Judea" only, but that it included also "Galilee," the place where Joseph and Mary dwelt. That the passage refers only to the land of Palestine, and not to the whole world, or to all the Roman empire, is clear from the following considerations:
1. The fact that no such taxing is mentioned as pertaining to any other country.
2. The account of Luke demands only that it should be understood of Palestine, or the country where the Saviour was born.
3. The words "world" and "whole world" are not unfrequently used in this limited sense as confined to a single country.
See Mat 4:8, where Satan is said to have shown to Christ all the kingdoms of "the world," that is, of the land of Judea. See also Jos 2:3; Luk 4:25 (Greek); Luk 21:26; Act 11:28.
Should be taxed - Our word "tax" means to levy and raise money for the use of the government. This is not the meaning of the original word here. It means rather to "enroll," or take a "list" of the citizens, with their employments, the amount of their property, etc., equivalent to what was meant by census. Judea was at that time tributary to Rome. It paid taxes to the Roman emperor; and, though Herod was "king," yet he held his appointment under the Roman emperor, and was subject in most matters to him. Farther, as this "enrollment" was merely to ascertain the numbers and property of the Jews, it is probable that they were very willing to be enrolled in this manner; and hence we hear that they went willingly, without tumult - contrary to the common way when they were "to be taxed."
And this taxing was first made ... - This verse has given as much perplexity, perhaps, as any one in the New Testament. The difficulty consists in the fact that "Cyrenius," or "Quirinius," was not governor of Syria until 12 or 15 years after the birth of Jesus. Jesus was born during the reign of Herod. At that time "Varus" was president of Syria. Herod was succeeded by "Archelaus," who reigned eight or nine years; and after he was removed, Judea was annexed to the province of Syria, and Cyrenius was sent as the governor (Josephus, "Ant.," b. xvii. 5). The difficulty has been to reconcile this account with that in Luke. Various attempts have been made to do this. The one that seems most satisfactory is that proposed by Dr. Lardner. According to his view, the passage here means, "This was the "first" census of Cyrenius, governor of Syria." It is called the "first" to distinguish it from one "afterward" taken by Cyrenius, Act 5:37. It is said to be the census taken by "Cyrenius; governor of Syria; "not that he was "then" governor, but that it was taken by him who was afterward familiarly known as governor. "Cyrenius, governor of Syria," was the name by which the man was known when Luke wrote his gospel, and it was not improper to say that the taxing was made by Cyrenius, the governor of Syria," though he might not have been actually governor for many years afterward. Thus, Herodian says that to Marcus "the emperor" were born several daughters and two sons," though several of those children were born to him "before" he was emperor. Thus, it is not improper to say that General Washington saved Braddock's army, or was engaged in the old French war, though he was not actually made "general" until many years afterward. According to this Augustus sent Cyrenius, an active, enterprising man, to take the census. At that time he was a Roman senator. Afterward, he was made governor of the same country, and received the title which Luke gives him.
Syria - The region of country north of Palestine, and lying between the Mediterranean and the Euphrates. "Syria," called in the Hebrew "Aram," from a son of Shem Gen 10:22, in its largest acceptation extended from the Mediterranean and the river Cydnus to the Euphrates, and from Mount Taurus on the north to Arabia and the border of Egypt on the south. It was divided into "Syria Palestina," including Canaan and Phoenicia; "Coele-Syria," the tract of country lying between two ridges of Mount Lebanon and Upper Syria. The last was known as "Syria" in the restricted sense, or as the term was commonly used.
The leading features in the physical aspect of Syria consist of the great mountainous chains of Lebanon, or Libanus and Anti-Libanus, extending from north to south, and the great desert lying on the southeast and east. The valleys are of great fertility, and yield abundance of grain, vines, mulberries, tobacco, olives, excellent fruits, as oranges, figs, pistachios, etc. The climate in the inhabited parts is exceedingly fine. Syria is inhabited by various descriptions of people, but Turks and Greeks form the basis of the population in the cities. The only tribes that can be considered as unique to Syria are the tenants of the heights of Lebanon. The most remarkable of these are the Druses and Maronites. The general language is Arabic; the soldiers and officers of government speak Turkish. Of the old Syriac language no traces now exist.
The city of David - Bethlehem, called the city of David because it was the place of his birth. See the notes at Mat 2:1.
Because he was of the house - Of the family.
And lineage - The "lineage" denotes that he was descended from David as his father or ancestor. In taking a Jewish census, families were kept distinct; hence, all went to the "place" where their family had resided. Joseph was of the "family" of David, and hence he went up to the city of David. It is not improbable that he might also have had a small paternal estate in Bethlehem that rendered his presence there more desirable.
Her first-born son - Whether Mary had any other children or not has been a matter of controversy. The obvious meaning of the Bible is that she had; and if this be the case, the word "firstborn" is here to be taken in its common signification.
Swaddling clothes - When a child among the Hebrews was born, it was washed in water, rubbed in salt, and then wrapped in swaddling clothes; that is, not garments regularly made, as with us, but bands or blankets that confined the limbs closely, Eze 16:4. There was nothing special in the manner in which the infant Jesus was treated.
Laid him in a manger - The word rendered "inn" in this verse means simply a place of halting, a lodging-place; in modern terms, a khan or caravanserai (Robinson's "Biblical Research in Palestine," iii. 431). The word rendered "manger" means simply a crib or place where cattle were fed. "Inns," in our sense of the term, were anciently unknown in the East, and now they are not common. Hospitality was generally practiced, so that a traveler had little difficulty in obtaining shelter and food when necessary. As traveling became more frequent, however, khans or caravanserais were erected for public use - large structures where the traveler might freely repair and find lodging for himself and his beast, he himself providing food and forage. Many such khans were placed at regular intervals in Persia. To such a place it was, though already crowded, that Joseph and Mary resorted at Bethlehem. Instead of finding a place in the "inn," or the part of the caravanserai where the travelers themselves found a place of repose, they were obliged to be contented in one of the stalls or recesses appropriated to the beasts on which they rode.
The following description of an Eastern inn or caravanserai, by Dr. Kitto, will well illustrate this passage: "It presents an external appearance which suggests to a European traveler the idea of a fortress, being an extensive square pile of strong and lofty walls, mostly of brick upon a basement of stone, with a grand archway entrance. This leads ...to a large open area, with a well in the middle, and surrounded on three or four sides with a kind of piazza raised upon a platform 3 or 4 feet high, in the wall behind which are small doors leading to the cells or oblong chambers which form the lodgings. The cell, with the space on the platform in front of it, forms the domain of each individual traveler, where he is completely secluded, as the apparent piazza is not open, but is composed of the front arches of each compartment. There is, however, in the center of one or more of the sides a large arched hall quite open in front ... The cells are completely unfurnished, and have generally no light but from the door, and the traveler is generally seen in the recess in front of his apartment except during the heat of the day ... Many of these caravanserais have no stables, the cattle of the travelers being accommodated in the open area; but in the more complete establishments ...there are ...spacious stables, formed of covered avenues extending between the back wall of the lodging apartments and the outer wall of the whole building, the entrance being at one or more of the corners of the inner quadrangle.
The stable is on the same level with the court, and thus below the level of the tenements which stand on the raised platform. Nevertheless, this platform is allowed to project behind into the stable, so as to form a bench ... It also often happens that not only this bench exists in the stable, forming a more or less narrow platform along its extent, but also recesses corresponding to these "in front" of the cells toward the open area, and formed, in fact, by the side-walls of these cells being allowed to project behind to the boundary of the platform. These, though small and shallow, form convenient retreats for servants and muleteers in bad weather ... Such a recess we conceive that Joseph and Mary occupied, with their ass or mule - if they had one, as they perhaps had tethered - in front ... It might be rendered quite private by a cloth being stretched across the lower part."
It may be remarked that the fact that Joseph and Mary were in that place, and under a necessity of taking up their lodgings there, was in itself no proof of poverty; it was a simple matter of necessity there was "no room" at the inn. Yet it is worthy of our consideration that Jesus was born "poor." He did not inherit a princely estate. He was not cradled, as many are, in a palace. He had no rich friends. He had virtuous, pious parents, of more value to a child than many riches. And in this we are shown that it is no dishonor to be poor. Happy is that child who, whether his parents be rich or poor, has a pious father and mother. It is no matter if he has not as much wealth, as fine clothes, or as splendid a house as another. It is enough for him to be as "Jesus" was, and God will bless him.
No room at the inn - Many people assembled to be enrolled, and the tavern was filled before Joseph and Mary arrived.
The same country - Round about Bethlehem.
Shepherds - Men who tended flocks of sheep.
Abiding in the field - Remaining out of doors, under the open sky, with their flocks. This was commonly done. The climate was mild, and, to keep their flocks from straying, they spent the night with them. It is also a fact that the Jews sent out their flocks into the mountainous and desert regions during the summer months, and took them up in the latter part of October or the first of November, when the cold weather commenced. While away in these deserts and mountainous regions, it was proper that there should be someone to attend them to keep them from straying, and from the ravages of wolves and other wild beasts. It is probable from this that our Saviour was born before the 25th of December, or before what we call "Christmas." At that time it is cold, and especially in the high and mountainous regions about Bethlehem. But the exact time of his birth is unknown; there is no way to ascertain it. By different learned men it has been fixed at each month in the year. Nor is it of consequence to "know" the time; if it were, God would have preserved the record of it. Matters of moment are clearly revealed; those which "he" regards as of no importance are concealed.
Keeping watch ... - More literally, "tending their flocks "by turns" through the night watches."
The glory of the Lord - This is the same as a "great" glory - that is, a splendid appearance or "light." The word "glory" is often the same as light, Co1 15:41; Luk 9:31; Act 22:11. The words "Lord" and "God" are often used to denote "greatness" or "intensity." Thus, "trees of God" mean great trees; "hills of God," high or lofty hills, etc. So "the glory of the Lord" here means an exceedingly great or bright luminous appearance perhaps not unlike what Paul saw on the way to Damascus.
This shall be a sign ... - The evidence by which you shall know the child is that you will find him wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
Glory to God - Praise be to God, or honor be to God. That is, the praise of redeeming man is due to God. The plan of redemption will bring glory to God, and is designed to express his glory. This it does by evincing his love to people, his mercy, his condescension, and his regard to the honor of his law and the stability of his own government. It is the highest expression of his love and mercy. Nowhere, so far as we can see, could his glory be more strikingly exhibited than in giving his only-begotten Son to die for people.
In the highest - This is capable of several meanings:
1. In the highest "strains," or in the highest possible manner.
2. "Among" the highest that is, among the angels of God; indicating that "they" felt a deep interest in this work, and were called on to praise God for the redemption of man.
3. In the highest heavens - indicating that the praise of redemption should not be confined to the "earth," but should spread throughout the universe.
4. The words "God in the highest" may be equivalent to "the Most High God," and be the same as saying, "Let the most high God be praised for his love and mercy to people."
Which of these meanings is the true one it is difficult to determine; but in this they all agree, that high praise is to be given to God for his love in redeeming people. O that not only "angels," but "men," would join universally in this song of praise!
On earth peace - That is, the gospel will bring peace. The Saviour was predicted as the Prince of peace, Isa 9:6. The world is at war with God; sinners are at enmity against their Maker and against each other. There is no peace to the wicked. But Jesus came to make peace; and this he did,
1. By reconciling the world to God by His atonement.
2. By bringing the sinner to a state of peace with his Maker; inducing him to lay down the weapons of rebellion and to submit his soul to God, thus giving him the peace which passeth all understanding.
3. By diffusing in the heart universal good-will to people - "disposing," people to lay aside their differences, to love one another, to seek each other's welfare, and to banish envy, malice, pride, lust, passion, and covetousness - in all ages the most fruitful causes of difference among people. And,
4. By diffusing the principles of universal peace among nations. If the gospel of Jesus should universally prevail, there would be an end of war. In the days of the millennium there will be universal peace; all the causes of war will have ceased; people will love each other and do justly; all nations will be brought under the influence of the gospel. O how should each one toil and pray that the great object of the gospel should be universally accomplished, and the world be filled with peace!
Good will toward men - The gift of the Saviour is an expression of good-will or love to people, and therefore God is to be praised. The work of redemption is uniformly represented as the fruit of the love of God, Joh 3:16; Eph 5:2; Jo1 4:10; Rev 1:5. No words can express the greatness of that love. It can only be measured by the "misery, helplessness," and "danger" of man; by the extent of his sufferings here and in the world of woe if he had not been saved; by the condescension, sufferings, and death of Jesus; and by the eternal honor and happiness to which he will raise his people. All these are beyond our full comprehension. Yet how little does man feel it! and how many turn away from the highest love of God, and treat the expression of that love with contempt! Surely, if God so loved us "first," we ought also to love him, Jo1 4:19.
Unto Bethlehem - The city of David, where the angel had told them they would find the Saviour. These shepherds appear to have been pious people. They were waiting for the coming of the Messiah. On the first intimation that he had actually appeared they went with haste to find him. So all people should without delay seek the Saviour. When told of him by the servants of God, they should, like these shepherds, forsake all, and give no rest to their eyes until they have found him. We may "always" find him. We need not travel to Bethlehem. We have only to cast our eyes to heaven; to look to him and to believe on him, and we shall find him ever near to us, and forever our Saviour and friend.
When they had see it - When they had satisfied themselves of the truth of the coming of the Messiah, and had ascertained that they could not have been mistaken in the appearance of the angels. There was evidence enough to satisfy "them" that what the angels said was true, or they would not have gone to Bethlehem. Having seen the child themselves, they had now evidence that would satisfy others; and accordingly they became the first preachers of the "gospel," and went and proclaimed to others that the Messiah had come. One of the first duties of those who are newly converted to God, and a duty in which they delight, is to proclaim to others what they have seen and felt. It should be done in a proper way and at the proper time; but nothing can or should prevent a Christian recently converted from telling his feelings and views to others - to his friends, to his parents, to his brothers, and to his old companions. And it may be remarked that often more good may be done then than during any other period of their life. Entreaties then make an impression; nor can a sinner well resist the appeals made to him by one who was just now with him in the way to ruin, but who now treads the way to heaven.
Mary kept all these things - All that happened, and all that was said respecting her child. She "remembered" what the angel had said to "her;" what had happened to Elizabeth and to the shepherds - all the extraordinary circumstances which had attended. the birth of her son. Here is a delicate and beautiful expression of the feelings of a mother. A "mother" forgets none of those things which occur respecting her children. Everything they do or suffer - everything that is said of them, is treasured up in her mind; and often she thinks of those things, and anxiously seeks what they may indicate respecting the future character and welfare of her child.
Pondered - Weighed. This is the original meaning of the word "weighed." She kept them; she revolved them; she "weighed" them in her mind, giving to each circumstance its just importance, and anxiously seeking what it might indicate respecting her child.
In her heart - In her mind. She "thought" of these things often and anxiously.
The shepherds returned - To their flocks.
Glorifying ... - Giving honor to God, and celebrating his praises.
Eight days ... - This was the regular time for performing the rite of circumcision, Gen 17:12.
Called Jesus - See the notes at Mat 1:21.
Days of her purification - Among the Hebrews a mother was required to remain at home for about forty days after the birth of a male child and about eighty for a female, and during that time she was reckoned as impure - that is, she was not permitted to go to the temple or to engage in religious services with the congregation, Lev 12:3-4.
To Jerusalem - The place where the temple was, and where the ordinances of religion were celebrated.
To present him to the Lord - Every first-born male child among the Jews was regarded as "holy" to the Lord, Exo 13:2. By their being ""holy unto the Lord" was meant that unto them belonged the office of "priests." It was theirs to be set apart to the service of God - to offer sacrifice, and to perform the duties of religion. It is probable that at first the duties of religion devolved on the "father," and that, when he became infirm or died, that duty devolved on the eldest son; and it is still manifestly proper that where the father is infirm or has deceased, the duty of conducting family worship should be performed by the eldest son. Afterward, God chose "the tribe of Levi in the place" of the eldest sons, to serve him in the sanctuary, Num 8:13-18. Yet still it was proper to present the child to God, and it was required that it should be done with an offering.
As it is written ... - Exo 13:2.
And to offer a sacrifice ... - Those who were able on such an occasion were required to offer a lamb for a burnt-offering, and a pigeon or a turtle-dove for a sin-offering. If not able to bring a "lamb," then they were permitted to bring two turtle-doves or two young pigeons, Lev 12:6, Lev 12:8.
Turtle-doves - Doves distinguished for having a plaintive and tender voice. By Mary's making this offering she showed her poverty; and our Saviour, by coming in a state of poverty, has shown that it is not dishonorable to be poor. No station is dishonorable where "God" places us. He knows what is best for us, and he often makes a state of poverty an occasion of the highest blessings. If "with" poverty he grants us, as is often the case, peace, contentment, and religion, it is worth far more than all the jewels of Golconda or the gold of Mexico. If it be asked why, since the Saviour was pure from any moral defilement in his conception and birth, it was necessary to offer such a sacrifice: why was it necessary that he should be circumcised, since he had no sin, it may be answered:
1. That it was proper to fulfil all righteousness, and to show obedience to the law, Mat 3:15.
2. It was necessary for the future usefulness of Christ. Unless he had been circumcised, he could not have been admitted to any synagogue or to the temple. He would have had no access to the people, and could not have been regarded as the Messiah.
Both he and Mary, therefore, yielded obedience to the laws of the land, and thus set us an example that we should walk in their steps. Compare the notes at Mat 3:15.
Whose name was Simeon - Some have supposed that this Simeon was a son of the famous "Hillel," a distinguished teacher in Jerusalem, and president of the Sanhedrin; but nothing is certainly known of him but what is here related. He was an aged man, of distinguished piety and reputation, and was anxiously expecting the coming of the Messiah. Such an "old age" is especially honorable. No spectacle is more sublime than an old man of piety and high character looking for the appearing of the Lord, and patiently waiting for the time to come when he may be blessed with the sight of his Redeemer.
Just - Righteous before God and man; approved by God as a righteous man, and discharging faithfully his duty to man.
Devout - This word means "a religious man," or a "pious" man. The original expresses the idea of "good reputation, well received," or of high standing among the people.
Waiting for the consolation of Israel - That is, waiting for the "Messiah," who is called "the consolation of Israel" because he would give comfort to them by his appearing. This term was often applied to the Messiah before he actually appeared. It was common to swear, also, by "the consolation of Israel" - that is, by the Messiah about to come. See Lightfoot on this place.
The Holy Ghost ... - He was a holy man, and was "divinely inspired" respecting the Messiah about to appear.
And it was revealed unto him - In what way this was done we are not informed. Sometimes a revelation was made by a dream, at others by a voice, and at others by silent suggestion. All we know of this is that it was by the Holy Spirit.
Not see death - Should not die. To "see" death and to "taste" of death, was a common way among the Hebrews of expressing death itself. Compare Psa 89:48.
The Lord's Christ - Rather "the Lord's Anointed." The word "Christ" means "anointed," and it would have been better to use that word here. To an aged man who had been long waiting for the Messiah, how grateful must have been this revelation - this solemn assurance that the Messiah was near! But this revelation is now given to every man, that he need not taste of death until, by the eye of faith, he may see the Christ of God. He is offered freely. He has come. He waits to manifest himself to the world, and he is not willing that any should die forever. To us also it will be as great a privilege in our dying hours to have seen Christ by faith as it was to Simeon. It will be the only thing that can support us then - the only thing that will enable us to depart in peace.
By the Spirit - By the direction of the Spirit.
Into the temple - Into that part of the temple where the public worship was chiefly performed - into the court of the women. See the notes at Mat 21:12.
The custom of the law - That is, to make an offering for purification, and to present him to God.
Blessed God - Thanked or praised God.
Now lettest - Now thou "dost" let or permit. This word is in the indicative mood, and signifies that God was permitting him to die in peace, by having relieved his anxieties, allayed his fears, fulfilled the promises, and having by the appearing of the Messiah, removed every reason why he should live any longer, and every wish to live.
Depart - Die.
According to thy word - Thy promise made by revelation. God never disappoints. To many it might have appeared improbable, when such a promise was made to an old man, that it should be fulfilled. But God fulfils all his word, keeps all his promises, and never disappoints those who trust in him.
Thy salvation - Him who is to procure salvation for his people; or, the Saviour.
Before the face of all people - Whom thou hast provided for all people, or whom thou dost design to "reveal" to all people.
A light to lighten the Gentiles - This is in accordance with the prophecies in the Old Testament, Isa. 49; Isa 9:6-7; Psa 98:3; Mal 4:2. The Gentiles are represented as sitting in darkness that is, in ignorance and sin. Christ is a "light" to them, as by him they will be made acquainted with the character of the true God, his law, and the plan of redemption. As the darkness rolls away when the sun arises, so ignorance and error flee away when Jesus gives light to the mind. Nations shall come to his light, and kings to the brightness of his rising, Isa 60:3.
And the glory ... - The first offer of salvation was made to the Jews, Joh 4:22; Luk 24:47. Jesus was born among the Jews; to them had been given the prophecies respecting him, and his first ministry was among them. Hence, he was their glory, their honor, their light. But it is a subject of special gratitude to us that the Saviour was given also for the Gentiles; for:
1. We are Gentiles, and if he had not come we should have been shut out from the blessings of redemption.
2. It is he only that now.
"Can make our dying bed.
Feel soft as downy pillows are,
While on his breast we lean our head,
And breathe our life out sweetly there."
Thus our departure may be like that of Simeon. Thus we may die in peace. Thus it will be a blessing to die. But,
3. In order to do this, our life must be like that of Simeon. We must wait for the consolation of Israel. We must look for his coming. We must be holy, harmless, undefiled, "loving" the Saviour. Then death to us, like death to Simeon, will have no terror; we shall depart in peace, and in heaven see the salvation of God, Pe2 3:11-12. But,
4. Children, as well as the hoary-headed Simeon, may look for the coming of Christ. They too must die; and "their" death will be happy only as they depend on the Lord Jesus, and are prepared to meet him.
Simeon blessed them - Joseph and Mary. On them he sought the blessing of God.
Is set - Is appointed or constituted for that, or such will be the effect of his coming.
The fall - The word "fall" here denotes "misery, suffering, disappointment," or "ruin." There is a plain reference to the passage where it is said that he should be "a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence," Isa 8:14-15. Many expected a temporal prince, and in this they were disappointed. They loved darkness rather than light, and rejected him, and fell unto destruction. Many that were proud were brought low by his preaching. They fell from the vain and giddy height of their own self-righteousness, and were humbled before God, and then, through him, rose again to a better righteousness and to better hopes. The nation also rejected him and put him to death, and, as a judgment, "fell" into the hands of the Romans. Thousands were led into captivity, and thousands perished. The nation rushed into ruin, the temple was destroyed, and the people were scattered into all the nations. See Rom 9:32-33; Pe1 2:8; Co1 1:23-24.
And rising again - The word "again" is not expressed in the Greek. It seems to be supposed, in our translation, that the "same persons would fall and rise again; but this is not the meaning of the passage. It denotes that many would be ruined by his coming, and that many "others" would be made happy or be saved. Many of the poor and humble, that were willing to receive him, would obtain pardon of sin and peace - would "rise" from their sins and sorrows here, and finally ascend to eternal life.
And for a sign ... - The word "sign" here denotes a conspicuous or distinguished object, and the Lord Jesus was such an object of contempt and rejection by all the people. He was despised, and his religion has been the common "mark" or "sign" for all the wicked, the profligate, and the profane, to curse, and ridicule, and oppose. Compare Isa 8:18, and Act 28:22. Never was a prophecy more exactly fulfilled than this. Thousands have rejected the gospel and fallen into ruin; thousands are still falling of those who are ashamed of Jesus; thousands blaspheme him, deny him, speak all manner of evil against him, and would crucify him again if he were in their hands; but thousands also "by" him are renewed, justified, and raised up to life and peace.
Yea, a sword ... - The sufferings and death of thy Son shall deeply afflict thy soul. And if Mary had not been thus forewarned and sustained by strong faith, she could not have borne the trials which came upon her Son; but God prepared her for it, and the holy mother of the dying Saviour was sustained.
That the thoughts ... - This is connected with the preceding verse: "He shall be a sign, a conspicuous object to be spoken against, that the thoughts of many hearts may be made manifest - that is, that they "might show" how much they hated holiness. Nothing so "brings out" the feelings of sinners as to tell them of Jesus Christ. Many treat him with silent contempt; many are ready to gnash their teeth; many curse him; all show how much by nature the heart is opposed to religion, and thus are really, in spite of themselves, fulfilling the scriptures and the prophecies. So true it that "none can say that Jesus is Lord but by the Holy Ghost," Co1 12:3.
Of the tribe of Aser - The tribe of Aser, or Asher, dwelt in the northern part of the land of Canaan. Why Anna was called a prophetess is not known. It might be because she had been the wife of a prophet, or because she was employed in celebrating the praises of God (compare Ch1 25:1-2, Ch1 25:4; Sa1 10:5), or because she herself had foretold future events, being inspired.
And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years - That is, she was about 84 years of age. It does not mean that she had been a widow for that long time.
Fastings and prayers - Constant religious service. pending her time in prayer, and in all the ordinances of religion.
Night and day - Continually - that is, at the usual times of public worship and in private. When it is said that she departed not from the temple, it is meant that she was "constant" and "regular" in all the public services at the temple, or was never absent from those services. God blesses those who wait at his temple gates.
They returned into Galilee - Not immediately, but after a time. Luke has omitted the flight into Egypt recorded by Matthew; but he has not denied it, nor are his words to be pressed as if he meant to affirm that they went immediately to Nazareth. A parallel case we have in the life of Paul. When he was converted it is said that he came to Jerusalem, as if he had gone there immediately after his conversion Act 9:26; yet we learn in another place that this was after an interval of three years, Gal 1:17-18. In the case before us there is no improbability in supposing that they returned to Bethlehem, then went to Egypt, and then to Galilee.
Strong in spirit - In mind, intellect, understanding. Jesus had a human soul, and that soul was subject to all the proper laws of a human spirit. It therefore increased in knowledge, strength, and character. Nor is it any more inconsistent with his being God to say that his soul expanded, than to say that his body grew.
Filled with wisdom - Eminent for wisdom when a child - that is, exhibiting an extraordinary understanding, and "wise" to flee from everything sinful and evil.
And the grace of God ... - The word "grace" in the New Testament commonly means unmerited favor shown "to sinners." Here it means no more than favor. God showed him favor, or was pleased with him and blessed him.
It is remarkable that this is all that is recorded of the infancy of Jesus; and this, with the short account that follows of his going to Jerusalem, is all that we know of him for thirty years of his life. The design of the evangelists was to give an account of his "public ministry," and not his private life. Hence, they say little of him in regard to his first years. What they do say, however, corresponds entirely with what we might expect. He was wise, pure, pleasing God, and deeply skilled in the knowledge of the divine law. He set a lovely example for all children; was subject to his parents, and increased in favor with God and man.
Twelve years old - All males among the Hebrews were required to appear three times a year before God, to attend on the ordinances of religion in the temple, and it is probable that this was the age at which they first went up to Jerusalem, Exo 23:14-17; Deu 16:16.
To Jerusalem - Where the feasts of the Jews were all held. This was a journey from Nazareth of about 70 miles.
After the custom of the feast - According to the usual manner of the feast.
Had fulfilled the days - The days of the Passover. These were eight days in all - one day for killing the paschal lamb, and seven days for the observance of the feast of unleavened bread, Exo 12:15; Lev 23:5-6.
Supposing him to have been in the company - It may seem very remarkable that parents should not have been more attentive to their only son, and that they should not have been assured of his presence with them when they left Jerusalem; but the difficulty may be explained by the following considerations:
1. In going to these great feasts, families and neighbors would join together, and form a large collection.
2. It is not improbable that Jesus was "with" them when they were about to start from Jerusalem and were making preparations. Seeing him then, they might have been certain as to his presence.
3. A part of the company might have left before the others, and Joseph and Mary may have supposed that he was with them, until they overtook them at night and ascertained their mistake.
Kinsfolk - Relatives.
Acquaintances - Neighbors who had gone up with them in the same company to Jerusalem.
After three days - This means, probably, "on the third day" after they had left Jerusalem - that is, the first day they went toward Galilee, on the second they returned to Jerusalem, and on the third they found him. Compare Mat 27:63; Mar 8:31.
In the temple - In the "court" of the temple, for Jesus, not being a Levitical priest, could not enter into the temple itself. See Mat 21:12.
In the midst of the doctors - The "teachers," the "rabbis," who were the instructors of the people in matters of religion.
Asking them questions - Proposing questions to them respecting the law and the prophets. There is no reason to suppose that this was for the purpose of perplexing or confounding them. The questions were doubtless proposed in a respectful manner, and the answers listened to with proper deference to their age and rank. Jesus was a child, and religion does not teach a child to be rude or uncivil, even though he may really know much more than more aged persons. Religion teaches all, and especially the young, to treat others with respect, to show them the honor that is due, to venerate age, and to speak kindly to all, Pe1 2:17; Pe1 3:8, Pe1 3:9; Exo 20:12; Mat 23:3; Rom 13:7.
Why hast thou thus dealt with us? - Why hast thou given us all this trouble and anxiety, in going so far and returning with so much solicitude?
Thy father - Joseph was not the "real" father of Jesus, but he was "legally" so; and as the secret of his birth was not commonly known, he was called his father. Mary, in accordance with that usage, also called him so.
Sorrowing - Anxious, lest in the multitude he might not be found, or lest some accident might have happened to him.
How is it ... - "Why" have ye sought me with so much anxiety? "Mary" should have known that the Son of God was safe; that his heavenly Father would take care of him, and that he could do nothing amiss.
Wist ye not - "Know ye not." You had reason to know. You knew my design in coming into the world, and that design was "superior" to the duty of obeying earthly parents, and they should be willing always to give me up to the proper business for which I live.
My Father's business - Some think that this should be translated "in my Father's house" - that is, in the temple. Jesus reminded them here that he came down from heaven; that he had a higher Father than an earthly parent; and that, even in early life, it was proper that he should be engaged in the work for which he came. He did not enter, indeed, upon his public work for eighteen years after this; yet still the work of God was "his" work, and always, even in childhood, it was proper for him to be engaged in the great business for which he came down from heaven.
They understood not ... - It is remarkable that they did not understand Jesus in this, but it shows how slow persons are to believe. Even his parents, after all that had taken place, did not seem to comprehend that "he" was to be the Saviour of people, or if they did, they understood it in a very imperfect manner.
Went down with them - Down from Jerusalem, which was in a high, mountainous region.
Was subject unto them - Performed the duty of a faithful and obedient child, and not improbably was engaged in the trade of Joseph - that of a carpenter. Every Jew was required to learn some trade, and there is every reason to think that our Saviour followed that of his reputed father. And from this we learn:
1. That obedience to parents is a duty. Jesus has set an example in this that all children should follow. Though he was the Son of God, and on proper occasions was engaged in the great work of redemption, yet he was also the "son of Mary," and he loved and obeyed his mother, and was "subject" to her.
2. It is no dishonor to be a mechanic, or to be brought up in an obscure employment. Jesus has conferred honor on virtuous industry, and no man should be ashamed of industrious parents, though poor, or of a condition of life that is far from ease and affluence. Industry is honorable, and virtuous poverty should not be regarded as a matter of reproach. The only thing to be ashamed of, in regard to this matter, is when people are idle, or when children are too proud to hear or speak of the occupation of their parents, or to follow the same occupation.
In favour with God - That is, in proportion to his advance in wisdom. This does not imply that he ever lacked the favor of God, but that God regarded him with favor in proportion as he showed an understanding and spirit like his own. Happy are those children who imitate the example of Jesus - who are obedient to parents who increase in wisdom - who are sober, temperate, and industrious, and who thus increase in favor with God and people.