Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
The decree of Augustus to enroll all the Roman empire, Luk 2:1, Luk 2:2. Joseph and Mary go to their own city to be enrolled, Luk 2:3-5. Christ is born, Luk 2:6, Luk 2:7. His birth is announced to the shepherds, Luk 2:8-14. They go to Bethlehem, and find Joseph, Mary, and Christ, Luk 2:15-20. Christ is circumcised, Luk 2:21. His parents go to present him in the temple, Luk 2:22-24. Simeon receives him: his song, Luk 2:25-35. Anna the prophetess, Luk 2:36-38. The holy family return to Nazareth, Luk 2:39, Luk 2:40. They go to Jerusalem at the feast of the passover, and leave Jesus behind in Jerusalem, Luk 2:41-44. They return seeking him, and find him in the midst of the doctors, Luk 2:45-47. His mother chides him, Luk 2:48. His defense of his conduct, Luk 2:49, Luk 2:50. They all return to Nazareth, Luk 2:51, Luk 2:52.
Caesar Augustus - This was Caius Caesar Octavianus Augustus, who was proclaimed emperor of Rome in the 29th year before our Lord, and died a.d. 14.
That all the world should be taxed - Πασαν την οικουμενην, the whole of that empire. It is agreed, on all hands, that this cannot mean the whole world, as in the common translation; for this very sufficient reason, that the Romans had not the dominion of the whole earth, and therefore could have no right to raise levies or taxes in those places to which their dominion did not extend. Οικουμενη signifies properly the inhabited part of the earth, from οικεω, to dwell, or inhabit. Polybius makes use of the very words in this text to point out the extent of the Roman government, lib. vi. c. 48; and Plutarch uses the word in exactly the same sense, Pomp. p. 635. See the passages in Wetstein. Therefore the whole that could be meant here, can be no more than that a general Census of the inhabitants and their effects had been made in the reign of Augustus, through all the Roman dominions.
But as there is no general census mentioned in any historian as having taken place at this time, the meaning of οικουμενη must be farther restrained, and applied solely to the land of Judea. This signification it certainly has in this same evangelist, Luk 21:26. Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth, τῃ οικουμενῃ this land. The whole discourse relates to the calamities that were coming, not upon the whole world, nor the whole of the Roman empire, but on the land of Judea, see Luk 21:21. Then let them that are in Judea flee to the mountains. Out of Judea, therefore, there would be safety; and only those who should be with child, or giving suck, in those days, are considered as peculiarly unhappy, because they could not flee away from that land on which the scourge was to fall: for the wrath, or punishment, shall be, says our Lord, εν τῳ λαῳ τουτῳ, On This Very People, viz. the Jews, Luk 21:23. It appears that St. Luke used this word in this sense in conformity to the Septuagint, who have applied it in precisely the same way, Isa 13:11; Isa 14:26; Isa 24:1. And from this we may learn, that the word οικουμενη had been long used as a term by which the land of Judea was commonly expressed. Ἡ γη, which signifies the earth, or world in general, is frequently restrained to this sense, being often used by the evangelists and others for all the country of Judea. See Luk 4:25; Jos 2:3.
It is probable that the reason why this enrolment, or census, is said to have been throughout the whole Jewish nation, was to distinguish it from that partial one, made ten years after, mentioned Act 5:37, which does not appear to have extended beyond the estates of Archelaus, and which gave birth to the insurrection excited by Judas of Galilee. See Josephus, Ant. book xx. c. 3.
This taxing was first made when Cyrenius, etc. - The next difficulty in this text is found in this verse, which may be translated, Now this first enrolment was made when Quirinus was governor of Syria.
It is easily proved, and has been proved often, that Caius Sulpicius Quirinus, the person mentioned in the text, was not governor of Syria, till ten or twelve years after the birth of our Lord.
St. Matthew says that our Lord was born in the reign of Herod, Luk 2:1, at which time Quintilius Varus was president of Syria, (Joseph. Ant. book xvii. c. 5, sect. 2), who was preceded in that office by Sentius Saturninus. Cyrenius, or Quirinus, was not sent into Syria till Archelaus was removed from the government of Judea; and Archelaus had reigned there between nine and ten years after the death of Herod; so that it is impossible that the census mentioned by the evangelist could have been made in the presidency of Quirinus.
Several learned men have produced solutions of this difficulty; and, indeed, there are various ways of solving it, which may be seen at length in Lardner, vol. i. p. 248-329. One or other of the two following appears to me to be the true meaning of the text.
1. When Augustus published this decree, it is supposed that Quirinus, who was a very active man, and a person in whom the emperor confided, was sent into Syria and Judea with extraordinary powers, to make the census here mentioned; though, at that time, he was not governor of Syria, for Quintilius Varus was then president; and that when he came, ten or twelve years after, into the presidency of Syria, there was another census made, to both of which St. Luke alludes, when he says, This was the first assessment of Cyrenius, governor of Syria; for so Dr. Lardner translates the words. The passage, thus translated, does not say that this assessment was made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria, which would not have been the truth, but that this was the first assessment which Cyrenius, who was (i.e. afterwards) governor of Syria, made; for after he became governor, he made a second. Lardner defends this opinion in a very satisfactory and masterly manner. See vol. i. p. 317. etc.
2. The second way of solving this difficulty is by translating the words thus: This enrolment was made Before Cyrenius was governor of Syria; or, before that of Cyrenius. This sense the word πρωτος appears to have, Joh 1:30 : ὁτι πρωτος μου ην, for he was Before me. Joh 15:18 : The world hated me Before (πρωτον) it hated you. See also Sa2 19:43. Instead of πρωτη, some critics read προ της, This enrolment was made Before That of Cyrenius. Michaelis; and some other eminent and learned men, have been of this opinion: but their conjecture is not supported by any MS. yet discovered; nor, indeed, is there any occasion for it. As the words in the evangelist are very ambiguous, the second solution appears to me to be the best.
And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city - The Roman census was an institution of Servius Tullius, sixth king of Rome. From the account which Dionysius of Halicarnassus gives of it; we may at once see its nature.
"He ordered all the citizens of Rome to register their estates according to their value in money, taking an oath, in a form he prescribed, to deliver a faithful account according to the best of their knowledge, specifying the names of their parents, their own age, the names of their wives and children, adding also what quarter of the city, or what town in the country, they lived in." Ant. Rom. l. iv. c. 15. p. 212. Edit. Huds.
A Roman census appears to have consisted of these two parts:
1. The account which the people were obliged to give in of their names, quality, employments, wives, children, servants, and estates; and
2. The value set upon the estates by the censors, and the proportion in which they adjudged them to contribute to the defense and support of the state, either in men or money, or both: and this seems to have been the design of the census or enrolment in the text.
This census was probably similar to that made in England in the reign of William the Conqueror, which is contained in what is termed Domesday Book, now in the Chapter House, Westminster, and dated 1086.
With Mary his espoused wife - There was no necessity for Mary to have gone to Bethlehem, as Joseph's presence could have answered the end proposed in the census as well without Mary as with her; but God so ordered it, that the prophecy of Micah should be thus fulfilled, and that Jesus should be born in the city of David; Mic 5:2.
Laid him in a manger - Wetstein has shown, from a multitude of instances, that φατνη means not merely the manger, but the whole stable, and this I think is its proper meaning in this place. The Latins use praesepe, a manger, in the same sense. So Virgil, Aen. vii. p. 275.
Stabant ter centum nitidi in praesepibus altis
"Three hundred sleek horses stood in lofty stables."
Many have thought that this was a full proof of the meanness and poverty of the holy family, that they were obliged to take up their lodging in a stable; but such people overlook the reason given by the inspired penman, because there was no room for them in the inn. As multitudes were going now to be enrolled, all the lodgings in the inn had been occupied before Joseph and Mary arrived. An honest man who had worked diligently at his business, under the peculiar blessing of God, as Joseph undoubtedly had, could not have been so destitute of money as not to be able to procure himself and wife a comfortable lodging for a night; and, had he been so ill fitted for the journey as some unwarrantably imagine, we may take it for granted he would not have brought his wife with him, who was in such a state as not to be exposed to any inconveniences of this kind without imminent danger.
There was no room for them in the inn - In ancient times, inns were as respectable as they were useful, being fitted up for the reception of travelers alone: - now, they are frequently haunts for the idle and the profligate, the drunkard and the infidel; - in short, for any kind of guests except Jesus and his genuine followers. To this day there is little room for such in most inns; nor indeed have they, in general, any business in such places. As the Hindoos travel in large companies to holy places and to festivals, it often happens that the inns (suraies) are so crowded that there is not room for one half of them: some lie at the door, others in the porch. These inns, or lodging-houses, are kept by Mohammedans, and Mussulmans obtain prepared food at them; but the Hindoos purchase rice, etc., and cook it, paying about a halfpenny a night for their lodging. Ward's Customs.
There were - shepherds abiding in the field - There is no intimation here that these shepherds were exposed to the open air. They dwelt in the fields where they had their sheep penned up; but they undoubtedly had tents or booths under which they dwelt.
Keeping watch - by night - Or, as in the margin, keeping the watches of the night, i.e. each one keeping a watch (which ordinarily consisted of three hours) in his turn. The reason why they watched them in the field appears to have been, either to preserve the sheep from beasts of prey, such as wolves, foxes, etc., or from freebooting banditti, with which all the land of Judea was at that time much infested. It was a custom among the Jews to send out their sheep to the deserts, about the passover, and bring them home at the commencement of the first rain: during the time they were out, the shepherds watched them night and day. As the passover occurred in the spring, and the first rain began early in the month of Marchesvan, which answers to part of our October and November, we find that the sheep were kept out in the open country during the whole of the summer. And as these shepherds had not yet brought home their flocks, it is a presumptive argument that October had not yet commenced, and that, consequently, our Lord was not born on the 25th of December, when no flocks were out in the fields; nor could he have been born later than September, as the flocks were still in the fields by night. On this very ground the nativity in December should be given up. The feeding of the flocks by night in the fields is a chronological fact, which casts considerable light upon this disputed point. See the quotations from the Talmudists in Lightfoot.
The time in which Christ was born has been considered a subject of great importance among Christians. However, the matter has been considered of no moment by Him who inspired the evangelists; as not one hint is dropped on the subject, by which it might be possible even to guess nearly to the time, except the chronological fact mentioned above. A late writer makes the following remark: "The first Christians placed the baptism of Christ about the beginning of the fifteenth year of Tiberius; and thence reckoning back thirty years, they placed his birth in the forty-third year of the Julian period, the forty-second of Augustus, and the twenty-eighth after the victory at Actium. This opinion obtained till a.d. 527, when Dionysius Exiguus invented the vulgar account. Learned and pious men have trifled egregiously on this subject, making that of importance which the Holy Spirit, by his silence, has plainly informed them is of none. Fabricius gives a catalogue of no less than 136 different opinions concerning the Year of Christ's birth: and as to his birth Day, that has been placed by Christian sects and learned men in every month in the year. The Egyptians placed it in January - Wagenseil, in February - Bochart, in March - some, mentioned by Clemens Alexandrinus, in April - others, in May - Epiphanius speaks of some who placed it in June - and of others who supposed it to have been in July - Wagenseil, who was not sure of February, fixed it probably in August - Lightfoot, on the 15th of September - Scaliger, Casaubon, and Calvisius, in October - others, in November - but the Latin Church, supreme in power, and infallible in judgment, placed it on the 25th of December, the very day on which the ancient Romans celebrated the feast of their goddess Bruma." See more in Robinson's Notes on Claude's Essay, vol. i. p. 275, etc. Pope Julius I. was the person who made this alteration, and it appears to have been done for this reason: the sun now began his return towards the northern tropic, ending the winter, lengthening the short days, and introducing the spring. All this was probably deemed emblematical of the rising of the Sun of righteousness on the darkness of this world, and causing the day-spring from on high to visit mankind.
The angel of the Lord came upon them - Or, stood over them, επεστη. It is likely that the angel appeared in the air at some little distance above them, and that from him the rays of the glory of the Lord shone round about them, as the rays of light are projected from the sun.
They were sore afraid - Terrified with the appearance of so glorious a being, and probably fearing that he was a messenger of justice, coming to denounce Divine judgments, or punish them immediately, for sins with which their consciences would not fail, on such an occasion, to reproach them.
Behold, I bring you good tidings - I am not come to declare the judgments of the Lord, but his merciful loving-kindness, the subject being a matter of great joy. He then declares his message. Unto you - to the Jews first, and then to the human race. Some modern MSS. with the utmost impropriety read ἡμιν, us, as if angels were included in this glorious work of redemption; but St. Paul says, he took not upon him the nature of angels, but the seed of Abraham, i.e. the nature of Abraham and his posterity, the human nature; therefore the good news is to you, - and not to yourselves exclusively, for it is to all people, to all the inhabitants of this land, and to the inhabitants of the whole earth.
A Savior, which is Christ the Lord - A Savior, σωτηρ, the same as Jesus from σωζειν, to make safe, to deliver, preserve, to make alive, thus used by the Septuagint for החיה hecheiah, to cause to escape; used by the same for פלט to confide in, to hope. See the extensive acceptations of the verb in Mintert, who adds under Σωτηρ: "The word properly denotes such a Savior as perfectly frees us from all evil and danger, and is the author of perpetual salvation." On the word Jesus, see Joh 1:29 (note).
Which is Christ. Χριστος, the anointed, from χριω to anoint, the same as משיה Messiah, from משח mashach. This name points out the Savior of the world in his prophetic, regal, and sacerdotal offices: as in ancient times, prophets, kings, and priests were anointed with oil, when installed into their respective offices. Anointing was the same with them as consecration is with us. Oil is still used in the consecration of kings.
It appears from Isa 61:1, that anointing with oil, in consecrating a person to any important office, whether civil or religious, was considered as an emblem of the communication of the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit. This ceremony was used on three occasions, viz. the installation of prophets, priests, and kings, into their respective offices. But why should such an anointing be deemed necessary? Because the common sense of men taught them that all good, whether spiritual or secular, must come from God, its origin and cause. Hence it was taken for granted,
1. That no man could foretell events, unless inspired by the Spirit of God. And therefore the prophet was anointed, to signify the communication of the Spirit of wisdom and knowledge.
2. That no person could offer an acceptable sacrifice to God for the sins of men, or profitably minister in holy things, unless enlightened, influenced, and directed by the Spirit of grace and holiness. Hence the priest was anointed, to signify his being divinely qualified for the due performance of his sacred functions.
3. That no man could enact just and equitable laws which should have the prosperity of the community and the welfare of the individual continually in view, or could use the power confided to him only for the suppression of vice and the encouragement of virtue, but that man who was ever under the inspiration of the Almighty.
Hence kings were inaugurated by anointing with oil. Two of these offices only exist in all civilized nations, the sacerdotal and regal; and in some countries the priest and king are still consecrated by anointing. In the Hebrew language, משח mashach signifies to anoint; and המשיח ha-mashiach, the anointed person. But as no man was ever dignified by holding the three offices, so no person ever had the title ha-mashiach, the anointed one, but Jesus the Christ. He alone is King of kings, and Lord of lords: the king who governs the universe, and rules in the hearts of his followers; the prophet to instruct men in the way wherein they should go; and the great high priest, to make atonement for their sins.
Hence he is called the Messias, a corruption of the word המשיח ha-mashiach, The anointed One, in Hebrew; which gave birth to ὁ Χριστος, ho Christos, which has precisely the same signification in Greek. Of him, Melchizedek, Abraham, Aaron, David, and others, were illustrious types; but none of these had the title of The Messiah, or the Anointed of God: This does, and ever will, belong exclusively to Jesus the Christ.
The Lord. Κυριος, the supreme, eternal Being, the ruler of the heavens and the earth. The Septuagint generally translate יהוה Yehovah by Κυριος. This Hebrew word, from היה hayah, he was, properly points out the eternity and self-existence of the Supreme Being; and if we may rely on the authority of Hesychius, which no scholar will call in question, Κυριος is a proper translation of יהוה Yehovah, as it comes from κυρω, - τυγχανω, I am, I exist. Others derive it from κυρος, authority, legislative power. It is certain that the lordship of Christ must be considered in a mere spiritual sense, as he never set up any secular government upon earth, nor commanded any to be established in his name; and there is certainly no spiritual government but that of God: and indeed the word Lord, in the text, appears to be properly understood, when applied to the deity of Christ. Jesus is a prophet, to reveal the will of God, and instruct men in it. He is a priest, to offer up sacrifice, and make atonement for the sin of the world. He is Lord, to rule over and rule in the souls of the children of men: in a word, he is Jesus the Savior, to deliver from the power, guilt, and pollution of sin; to enlarge and vivify, by the influence of his Spirit; to preserve in the possession of the salvation which he has communicated; to seal those who believe, heirs of glory; and at last to receive them into the fullness of beatitude in his eternal joy.
This shall be a sign (or token) unto you - You shall find this glorious person, however strange it may appear, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a stable! It is by humility that Christ comes to reign; and this is the only way into his kingdom! Pride is the character of all the children of Adam: humility the mark of the Son of God, and of all his followers. Christ came in the way of humility to destroy that pride which is the root of evil in the souls of men. And thus, according to the old medical aphorism, "Opposites are destroyed by their opposites."
Suddenly there was with the angel, etc. - this multitude of the heavenly host had just now descended from on high, to honor the new-born Prince of peace, to give his parents the fullest conviction of his glory and excellence, and to teach the shepherds, who were about to be the first proclaimers of the Gospel, what to think and what to speak of him, who, while he appeared as a helpless infant, was the object of worship to the angels of God.
Glory to God in the highest - The design of God, in the incarnation, was to manifest the hidden glories of his nature, and to reconcile men to each other and to himself. The angels therefore declare that this incarnation shall manifest and promote the glory of God, εν ὑψιστοις not only in the highest heavens, among the highest orders of beings, but in the highest and most exalted degrees. For in this astonishing display of God's mercy, attributes of the Divine nature which had not been and could not be known in any other way should be now exhibited in the fullness of their glory, that even the angels should have fresh objects to contemplate, and new glories to exult in. These things the angels desire to look into, Pe1 1:12, and they desire it because they feel they are thus interested in it. The incarnation of Jesus Christ is an infinite and eternal benefit. Heaven and earth both partake of the fruits of it, and through it angels and men become one family, Eph 3:15.
Peace, good will toward men - Men are in a state of hostility with Heaven and with each other. The carnal mind is enmity against God. He who sins wars against his Maker; and
"Foe to God was ne'er true friend to man."
When men become reconciled to God, through the death of his Son, they love one another. They have peace with God; peace in their own consciences; and peace with their neighbors: good will dwells among them, speaks in them, and works by them. Well might this state of salvation be represented under the notion of the kingdom of God, a counterpart of eternal felicity. See on Mat 3:2 (note).
Let us now go even unto Bethlehem - Διελθωμεν, let us go across the country at the nearest, that we may lose no time, that we may speedily see this glorious reconciler of God and man. All delays are dangerous: but he who delays to seek Jesus, when the angels, the messengers of God, bring him glad tidings of salvation, risks his present safety and his eternal happiness. O, what would the damned in hell give for those moments in which the living hear of salvation, had they the same possibility of receiving it! Reader, be wise. Acquaint thyself now with God, and be at peace; and thereby good will come unto thee. Amen.
They made known abroad the saying - These shepherds were the first preachers of the Gospel of Christ: and what was their text? Why, Glory to God in the highest heavens, and on earth peace and good will among men. This is the elegant and energetic saying which comprises the sum and substance of the Gospel of God. This, and this only, is the message which all Christ's true pastors or shepherds bring to men. He who, while he professes the religion of Christ, disturbs society by his preachings or writings, who excludes from the salvation of God all who hold not his religious or political creed, never knew the nature of the Gospel, and never felt its power or influence. How can religious contentions, civil broils, or open wars, look that Gospel in the face which publishes nothing but glory to God, and peace and good will among men? Crusades for the recovery of a holy land so called, (by the way, latterly, the most unholy in the map of the world), and wars for the support of religion, are an insult to the Gospel, and blasphemy against God!
And pondered them in her heart - Συμβαλλουσα, Weighing them in her heart. Weighing is an English translation of our word pondering, from the Latin ponderare. Every circumstance relative to her son's birth, Mary treasured up in her memory; and every new circumstance she weighed, or compared with those which had already taken place, in order to acquire the fullest information concerning the nature and mission of her son.
The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising - These simple men, having satisfactory evidence of the truth of the good tidings, and feeling a Divine influence upon their own minds, returned to the care of their flocks, glorifying God for what he had shown them, and for the blessedness which they felt. "Jesus Christ, born of a woman, laid in a stable, proclaimed and ministered to by the heavenly host, should be a subject of frequent contemplation to the pastors of his Church. After having compared the predictions of the prophets with the facts stated in the evangelic history, their own souls being hereby confirmed in these sacred truths, they will return to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for what they had seen and heard in the Gospel history, just as it had been told them in the writings of the prophets; and, preaching these mysteries with the fullest conviction of their truth, they become instruments in the hands of God of begetting the same faith in their hearers; and thus the glory of God and the happiness of his people are both promoted." What subjects for contemplation! - what matter for praise!
When eight days were accomplished - The law had appointed that every male should be circumcised at eight days old, or on the eighth day after its birth, Gen 17:12; and our blessed Lord received circumcision in token of his subjection to the law, Gal 4:4; Gal 5:3.
His name was called Jesus - See on Mat 1:21 (note) and Joh 1:29 (note).
Days of her purification - That is, thirty-three days after what was termed the seven days of her uncleanness - forty days in all: for that was the time appointed by the law, after the birth of a male child. See Lev 12:2, Lev 12:6.
The MSS. and versions differ much in the pronoun in this place: some reading αυτης, Her purification; others αυτου, His purification; others αυτων, Their purification; and others αυτοιν, the purification of Them Both. Two versions and two of the fathers omit the pronoun, Αυτων, their, and αυτου, his, have the greatest authorities in their support, and the former is received into most of the modern editions. A needless scrupulosity was, in my opinion, the origin of these various readings. Some would not allow that both needed purification, and referred the matter to Mary alone. Others thought neither could be supposed to be legally impure, and therefore omitted the pronoun entirely, leaving the meaning indeterminate. As there could be no moral defilement in the case, and what was done being for the performance of a legal ceremony, it is of little consequence which of the readings is received into the text.
The purification of every mother and child, which the law enjoined, is a powerful argument in proof of that original corruption and depravity which every human being brings into the world. The woman to be purified was placed in the east gate of the court, called Nicanor's gate, and was there sprinkled with blood: thus she received the atonement. See Lightfoot.
And to offer a sacrifice - Neither mother nor child was considered as in the Lord's covenant, or under the Divine protection, till these ceremonies, prescribed by the law, had been performed.
A pair of turtle doves, etc. - One was for a burnt-offering, and the other for a sin-offering: see Lev 12:8. The rich were required to bring a lamb, but the poor and middling classes were required to bring either two turtle doves, or two pigeons. This is a proof that the holy family were not in affluence. Jesus sanctified the state of poverty, which is the general state of man, by passing through it. Therefore the poor have the Gospel preached unto them; and the poor are they who principally receive it.
Though neither Mary nor her son needed any of these purifications, for she was immaculate, and He was the Holy One, yet, had she not gone through the days of purification according to the law, she could not have appeared in the public worship of the Most High, and would have been considered as an apostate from the faith of the Israel of God; and had not He been circumcised and publicly presented in the temple, he could not have been permitted to enter either synagogue or temple, and no Jew would have heard him preach, or had any intercourse or connection with him. These reasons are sufficient to account for the purification of the holy virgin, and for the circumcision of the most holy Jesus.
And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem - This man is distinguished because of his singular piety. There can be no doubt that there were many persons in Jerusalem named Simeon, besides this man; but there was none of the name who merited the attention of God so much as he in the text. Such persevering exemplary piety was very rare, and therefore the inspired penman ushers in the account with behold! Several learned men are of the opinion that he was son to the famous Hillel, one of the most celebrated doctors and philosophers which had ever appeared in the Jewish nation since the time of Moses. Simeon is supposed also to have been the Ab or president of the grand Sanhedrin.
The same man was just - He steadily regulated all his conduct by the law of his God: and devout - he had fully consecrated himself to God, so that he added a pious heart to a righteous conduct. The original word ευλαβης, signifies also a person of good report - one well received among the people, or one cautious and circumspect in matters of religion; from ευ, well, and λαμβανω, I take: it properly denotes, one who takes any thing that is held out to him, well and carefully. He so professed and practised the religion of his fathers that he gave no cause for a friend to mourn on his account, or an enemy to triumph.
Several excellent MSS. read ευσεβης, pious or godly, from ευ, well, and σεβομαι, I worship; one who worships God well, i.e. in spirit and in truth.
Waiting for the consolation of Israel - That is, the Messiah, who was known among the pious Jews by this character: he was to be the consolation of Israel, because he was to be its redemption. This consolation of Israel was so universally expected that the Jews swore by it: So let me see the Consolation, if such a thing be not so, or so. See the forms in Lightfoot.
The Holy Ghost was upon him - He was a man divinely inspired, overshadowed, and protected by the power and influence of the Most High.
It was revealed unto him - He was divinely informed, κεχρηματισμενον - he had an express communication from God concerning the subject. The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him. The soul of a righteous and devout man is a proper habitation for the Holy Spirit.
He should not see death - They that seek shall find: it is impossible that a man who is earnestly seeking the salvation of God, should be permitted to die without finding it.
The Lord's Christ - Rather, the Lord's anointed. That prophet, priest, and king, who was typified by so many anointed persons under the old covenant; and who was appointed to come in the fullness of time, to accomplish all that was written in the law, in the prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning him. See the note on Luk 2:11.
He came by the Spirit into the temple - Probably he had in view the prophecy of Malachi, Mal 3:1, The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple. In this messenger of the covenant, the soul of Simeon delighted. Now the prophecy was just going to be fulfilled; and the Holy Spirit, who dwelt in the soul of this righteous man, directed him to go and see its accomplishment. Those who come, under the influence of God's Spirit, to places of public worship, will undoubtedly meet with him who is the comfort and salvation of Israel.
After the custom of the law - To present him to the Lord, and then redeem him by paying five shekels, Num 18:15, Num 18:16, and to offer those sacrifices appointed by the law. See Luk 2:24.
Then took he him up in his arms - What must the holy soul of this man have felt in this moment! O inestimable privilege! And yet ours need not be inferior: If a man love me, says Christ, he will keep my word; and I and the Father will come in unto him, and make our abode with him. And indeed even Christ in the arms could not avail a man, if he were not formed in his heart.
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace - Now thou dismissest, απολυεις, loosest him from life; having lived long enough to have the grand end of life accomplished.
According to thy word - It was promised to him, that he should not die till he had seen the Lord's anointed, Luk 2:26; and now, having seen him, he expects to be immediately dismissed in peace into the eternal world; having a full assurance and enjoyment of the salvation of God. Though Simeon means his death, yet the thing itself is not mentioned; for death has not only lost its sting, but its name also, to those who have, even by faith, seen the Lord's anointed.
Thy salvation - That Savior which it became the goodness of God to bestow upon man, and which the necessities of the human race required. Christ is called our salvation, as he is called our life, our peace, our hope; i.e. he is the author of all these, to them who believe.
Which thou hast prepared - Ὁ ἡτοιμασας, which thou hast Made Ready before the face, in the presence, of all people. Here salvation is represented under the notion of a feast, which God himself has provided for the whole world; and to partake of which he has invited all the nations of the earth. There seems a direct allusion here to Isa 25:6, etc. "In this mountain shall the Lord of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things," etc. Salvation is properly the food of the soul, by which it is nourished unto eternal life; he that receiveth not this, must perish for ever.
A light to lighten the Gentiles - Φως εις αποκαλυψιν εθνων - A light of the Gentiles, for revelation. By Moses and the prophets, a light of revelation was given to the Jews, in the blessedness of which the Gentiles did not partake. By Christ and his apostles, a luminous revelation is about to be given unto the Gentiles, from the blessedness of which the Jews in general, by their obstinacy and unbelief, shall be long excluded. But to all true Israelites it shall be a glory, an evident fulfillment of all the predictions of the prophets, relative to the salvation of a lost world; and the first offers of it shall be made to the Jewish people, who may see in it the truth of their own Scriptures indisputably evinced.
Joseph and his mother marvelled - For they did not as yet fully know the counsels of God, relative to the salvation which Christ was to procure; nor the way in which the purchase was to be made: but to this Simeon refers in the following verses.
This child is set for the fall - This seems an allusion to Isa 8:14, Isa 8:15 : Jehovah, God of hosts, shall be - for a stone of stumbling and rock of offense to both houses of Israel; and many among them shall stumble and fall, etc. As Christ did not come as a temporal deliverer, in which character alone the Jews expected him, the consequence should be, they would reject him, and so fall by the Romans. See Rom 11:11, Rom 11:12, and Matthew 24. But in the fullness of time there shall be a rising again of many in Israel. See Rom 11:26.
And for a sign - A mark or butt to shoot at - a metaphor taken from archers. Or perhaps Simeon refers to Isa 11:10-12. There shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an Ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: - intimating that the Jews would reject it, while the Gentiles should flock to it as their ensign of honor, under which they were to enjoy a glorious rest.
That the thoughts (or reasonings) of many hearts may be revealed - I have transposed this clause to the place to which I believe it belongs. The meaning appears to me to be this: The rejection of the Messiah by the Jewish rulers will sufficiently prove that they sought the honor which comes from the world, and not that honor which comes from God: because they rejected Jesus, merely for the reason that he did not bring them a temporal deliverance. So the very Pharisees, who were loud in their professions of sanctity and devotedness to God, rejected Jesus, and got him crucified, because his kingdom was not of this world. Thus the reasonings of many hearts were revealed.
Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also - Probably meaning, Thou also, as well as thy son, shall die a martyr for the truth. But as this is a metaphor used by the most respectable Greek writers to express the most pungent sorrow, it may here refer to the anguish Mary must have felt when standing beside the cross of her tortured son: Joh 19:25.
Anna, a prophetess - It does not appear that this person was a prophetess in the strict sense of the word, i.e. one who could foretell future events; but rather a holy woman; who, from her extensive knowledge and deep experience in Divine things, was capable of instructing others; according to the use of the word προφητευω, Co1 14:3 : He that prophesieth, speaketh unto men to edification, and to exhortation, and to comfort. So we find this holy widow proclaiming Jesus to all who looked for redemption in Jerusalem, Luk 2:38.
The tribe of Asher - This was one of the ten tribes of the kingdom of Israel, several families of which had returned from their idolatry unto God, in the time that Hezekiah proclaimed the passover in Jerusalem, which is mentioned Ch2 30:1-11. Though her family might have been a distinguished one in Jerusalem, yet we find that it was her very exemplary piety that entitled her to be thus honourably mentioned in the sacred history. It is an honorable thing indeed to have one's name written in the sacred records; but to be written in the book of life is of infinitely greater moment.
Seven years - She was a pure virgin when married, was favored with her husband but seven years, and was now in all, taking in the time of her virginity, marriage, and widowhood, eighty-four years of age. At such an age, it might be supposed she was reasonably exempted from performing the severer duties of religion; but her spirit of piety continued still to burn with a steady and undiminished fame.
Departed not from the temple - Attended constantly at the hours of prayer, which were nine in the morning and three in the afternoon. See Act 2:15; Act 3:1. It does not appear that women had any other functions to perform in that holy place.
With fastings - She accompanied her devotion with frequent fastings, probably not oftener than twice in the week; for this was the custom of the most rigid Pharisees: see Luk 18:12.
Coming in that instant - Αυτῃ τῃ ὡρᾳ, at that very time - while Simeon held the blessed Redeemer in his arms, and was singing his departing and triumphal song.
Gave thanks likewise - She, as well as Simeon, returned God public thanks, for having sent this Savior to Israel.
Spake of him - Of the nature and design of his mission; and the glory that should take place in the land.
To all them that looked for redemption - As Daniel's seventy weeks were known to be now completed, the more pious Jews were in constant expectation of the promised Messiah. They were expecting redemption, λυτρωσιν; such a redemption as was to be brought about by an atonement, or expiatory victim, or ransom price. See on Luk 1:68 (note).
In Jerusalem - It is probable she went about from house to house, testifying the grace of God. In the margin of our common version, Israel is put instead of Jerusalem, which the translators thought was nearly as eligible as the word they received into the text. This marginal reading is supported by several MSS., all the Arabic and Persic versions, the Vulgate, and most copies of the Itala. Were this reading to be received, it would make a very essential alteration in the meaning of the text, as it would intimate that this excellent woman traveled over the land of Israel, proclaiming the advent of Christ. At all events, it appears that this widow was one of the first publishers of the Gospel of Christ, and it is likely that she traveled with it from house to house through the city of Jerusalem, where she knew they dwelt who were expecting the salvation of God.
They returned into Galilee - But not immediately: for the coming of the wise men, and the retreat of Joseph with his family into Egypt, happened between this period of time, and his going to Nazareth in Galilee. - Bp. Pearce. But it is very likely, that as soon as the presentation in the temple, and the ceremonies relative to it, had been accomplished, that the holy family did return to Galilee, as St. Luke here states, and that they continued there till Herod's bloody purpose was discovered to them by the Lord; which probably took some time to bring it to its murderous crisis, after the departure of the magi. After which, they fled into Egypt, where they continued till the death of Herod; and it is probable that it is of a second return to Nazareth that St. Matthew speaks, Luk 2:23.
The child grew - As to his body - being in perfect health.
Waxed strong in spirit - His rational soul became strong and vigorous.
Filled with wisdom - The divinity continuing to communicate itself more and more, in proportion to the increase of the rational principle. The reader should never forget that Jesus was perfect man, as well as God.
And the grace of God was upon him - The word χαρις, not only means grace in the common acceptation of the word, (some blessing granted by God's mercy to those who are sinners, or have no merit), but it means also favor or approbation: and this sense I think most proper for it here, when applied to the human nature of our blessed Lord; and thus our translators render the same word, Luk 2:52. Even Christ himself, who knew no sin, grew in the favor of God; and, as to his human nature, increased in the graces of the Holy Spirit. From this we learn that, if a man were as pure and as perfect as the man Jesus Christ himself was, yet he might nevertheless increase in the image, and consequently in the favor, of God. God loves every thing and person, in proportion to the nearness of the approaches made to his own perfections.
His parents went - every year - This was their constant custom, because positively enjoined by the law, Exo 23:17. But it does not appear that infants were obliged to be present; and yet all the men-children are positively ordered to make their appearance at Jerusalem thrice in the year, Exo 34:23. And our Lord, being now twelve years old, Luk 2:42, accompanies his parents to the feast. Probably this was the very age at which the male children were obliged to appear before the Lord at the three public festivals - the feast of unleavened bread, of weeks, and of tabernacles. According to the Jewish canons, it was the age at which they were obliged to begin to learn a trade.
Had fulfilled the days - Eight days in the whole: one was the passover, and the other seven, the days of unleavened bread. See on Mat 26:2 (note).
Supposing him to have been in the company - Some have supposed that the men and women marched in separate companies on these occasions, which is very likely; and that sometimes the children kept company with the men, sometimes with the women. This might have led to what otherwise seems to have been inexcusable carelessness in Joseph and Mary. Joseph, not seeing Jesus in the men's company, might suppose he was with his mother in the women's company; and Mary, not seeing him with her, might imagine he was with Joseph.
Went a day's journey - Knowing what a treasure they possessed, how could they be so long without looking on it? Where were the bowels and tender solicitude of the mother? Let them answer this question who can.
And they sought him - Ανεζητουν, They earnestly sought him. They are now both duly affected with a sense of their great loss and great negligence.
Kinsfolk and acquaintance - Those of the same family and neighborhood went up to Jerusalem together on such occasions.
I have frequently been reminded, says Mr. Ward, when reading this history, of the crowds going to some place in Bengal, to an idol feast. Men, women, and children, in large companies, may be seen travelling together, with their bedding, etc., on their heads. They cook and prepare their victuals in some shady place near a town, where they can purchase the necessaries they want, and, after remaining two or three days at the festival, return in companies as they went.
Seeking him - Ζητουντες αυτον - or rather, seeking him diligently, αναζητουντες. This is the reading of BCDL, six others, Vulgate, and nine copies of the Itala. If they sought earnestly when they first found him missing, there is little doubt that their solicitude and diligence must be greatly increased during his three days' absence, therefore the word which I have adopted, on the above authority, is more likely to be the true reading than the ζητουντες of the common text, which simply signifies seeking; whereas the other strongly marks their solicitude and diligence.
Sitting in the midst of the doctors - The rabbins, who were explaining the law and the ceremonies of the Jewish religion to their disciples.
Asking them questions - Not as a scholar asks his teacher, to be informed; but as a teacher, who proposes questions to his scholars in order to take an occasion to instruct them.
In the time of Josephus, the Jewish teachers were either very ignorant or very humble: for he tells us that, "when he was about fourteen years of age, the chief priests, and the principal men of the city, were constantly coming to him to be more accurately instructed in matters relative to the law." See his Life, sect. ii. If this were true, it is no wonder to find them now listening, with the deepest attention, to such teaching as they never before heard.
Answers: - The word αποκρισις here seems not to mean answers only, but what Jesus said by way of question to the doctors, Luk 2:46. So in Rev 7:13, one of the elders is said to have answered, saying - when he only asked a question. Bp. Pearce.
Why hast thou thus dealt with us? - It certainly was not his fault, but theirs. Men are very apt to lay on others the blame of their own misconduct.
How is it that ye sought me? - Is not this intended as a gentle reproof? Why had ye me to seek? Ye should not have left my company, when ye knew I am constantly employed in performing the will of the Most High.
My Father's business? - Εν τοις του πατρος μου, My Father's concerns. Some think that these words should be translated, In my Father's house; which was a reason that they should have sought him in the temple only. As if he had said, Where should a child be found, but in his father's house? This translation is defended by Grotius, Pearce, and others; and is the reading of the Syriac, later Persic, and Armenian versions. Our Lord took this opportunity to instruct Joseph and Mary concerning his Divine nature and mission. My Father's concerns. This saying, one would think, could not have been easily misunderstood. It shows at once that he came down from heaven. Joseph had no concerns in the temple; and yet we find they did not fully comprehend it. How slow of heart is man to credit any thing that comes from God!
Was subject unto them - Behaved towards them with all dutiful submission. Probably his working with his hands at his reputed father's business, is here also implied: see on Luk 2:41 (note). No child among the Jews was ever brought up in idleness. Is not this the carpenter? was a saying of those Jews who appear to have had a proper knowledge of his employment while in Joseph's house. See the note on Mat 13:55.
Jesus increased in wisdom - See on Luk 2:40 (note).
The following remarks, taken chiefly from Mr. Claude, on the foregoing subject, are well worth the reader's attention.
I. The birth of Christ is announced to the shepherds.
1. God causes his grace to descend not only on the great and powerful of the world, but also upon the most simple and inconsiderable; just as the heavens diffuse their influence not only on great trees, but also on the smallest herbs.
2. God seems to take more delight in bestowing his favors on the most abject than in distributing them among persons of elevated rank. Here is an example: for while he sent the wise men of the east to Herod, he sent an angel of heaven to the shepherds, and conducted them to the cradle of the Savior of the world.
3. In this meeting of the angels and shepherds, you see a perpetual characteristic of the economy of Jesus Christ; wherein the highest and most sublime things are joined with the meanest and lowest. In his person, the eternal Word is united to a creature, the Divine nature to the human, infinity to infirmity, in a word, the Lord of glory to mean flesh and blood. On his cross, though he appears naked, crowned with thorns, and exposed to sorrows, yet at the same time he shakes the earth, and eclipses the sun. Here, in like manner, are angels familiar with shepherds; angels, to mark his majesty; shepherds, his humility.
4. This mission of angels relates to the end for which the Son of God came into the world; for he came to establish a communion between God and men, and to make peace between men and angels: to this must be referred what St. Paul says, Col 1:20, It pleased the Father, by him, to reconcile all things to himself.
5. However simple and plain the employments of men may be, it is always very pleasing to God when they discharge them with a good conscience. While these shepherds were busy in their calling, God sent his angels to them.
6. God does, in regard to men, what these shepherds did in regard to their sheep. He is the great Shepherd of mankind, continually watching over them by his providence.
II. The glory of the Lord shone round the shepherds.
1. When angels borrow human forms, in order to appear to men, they have always some ensigns of grandeur and majesty, to show that they are not men, but angels.
2. The appearance of this light to the shepherds in the night, may very well be taken for a mystical symbol. Night represents the corrupt state of mankind when Jesus came into the world; a state of ignorance and error. Light fitly represents the salutary grace of Christ, which dissipates obscurity, and gives us the true knowledge of God.
III. The shepherds were filled with great fear.
1. This was the effect of their great surprise. When grand objects suddenly present themselves to us, they must needs fill us with astonishment and fear, for the mind, on these occasions, is not at liberty to exert its force; on the contrary, its strength is dissipated, and during this dissipation it is impossible not to fear.
2. This fear may also arise from emotions of conscience. Man is by nature a sinner, and consequently an object of the justice of God. While God does not manifest himself to him, he remains insensible of his sin; but, when God discovers himself to him, he awakes to feeling, and draws nigh to God as a trembling criminal approaches his judge. See this exemplified in the case of Adam, and in that of the Israelites when God appeared on the mountain: hence that proverbial saying, We shall die, for we have seen God.
3. The shepherds had just reason to fear when they saw before them an angel of heaven, surrounded with the ensigns of majesty, for angels had been formerly the ministers of God's vengeance. On this occasion, the sad examples of Divine vengeance, recorded in Scripture, and performed by the ministry of angels, might, in a moment, rise to view, and incline them to think that this angel had received a like order to destroy them.
IV. Observe the angel's discourse to the shepherds.
1. The angels say to them, Fear not. This preface was necessary to gain their attention, which fear, no doubt, had dissipated. The disposition which the angel wishes to awaken in them comports with the news which he intended to announce; for what has fear to do with the birth of the Savior of the world?
2. The angel describes,
1st, The person of whom he speaks, a Savior, Christ, the Lord; see before on Luk 2:11 (note). See,
2dly, What he speaks of him; he is born unto you.
3dly, He marks the time; this day.
4thly, He describes the place; in the city of David.
5thly, He specifies the nature of this important news; a great joy which shall be unto all people. See Claude's Essay, by Robinson, vol. i. p. 266, etc.
Concerning Simeon, three things deserve to be especially noted: 1. His faith. 2. His song. And 3. His prophecy.
I. His faith.
1. He expected the promised Redeemer, in virtue of the promises which God had made; and, to show that his faith was of the operation of God's Spirit, he lived a life of righteousness and devotedness to God. Many profess to expect the salvation which God has promised only to those who believe, while living in conformity to the world, under the influence of its spirit, and in the general breach of the righteous law of God.
2. The faith of Simeon led him only to wish for life that he might see him who was promised, and, be properly prepared for an inheritance among the sanctified. They who make not this use of life are much to be lamented. It would have been better for them had they never been born.
3. The faith of Simeon was crowned with success. Jesus came; he saw, he felt, he adored him! and, with a heart filled with the love of God, he breathed out his holy soul, and probably the last dregs of his life, in praise to the fountain of all good.
II. Simeon's song. By it he shows forth: -
1. The joy of his own heart. Lord, now thou dismissest thy servant; as if he had said: "Yes, O my God, I am going to quit this earth! I feel that thou callest me; and I quit it without regret. Thou hast fulfilled all my desires, and completed my wishes, and I desire to be detained no longer from the full enjoyment of thyself." O, how sweet is death, after such an enjoyment and discovery of eternal life!
2. Simeon shows forth the glory of Christ. He is the Sun of righteousness, rising on a dark and ruined world with light and salvation. He is the light that shall manifest the infinite kindness of God to the Gentile people; proving that God is good to all, and that his tender mercies are over all his works.
He is the glory of Israel. It is by him that the Gentiles have been led to acknowledge the Jews as the peculiar people of God; their books as the word of God, and their teaching as the revelation of God. What an honor for this people, had they known how to profit by it!
3. He astonished Joseph and Mary with his sublime account of the Redeemer of the world. They hear him glorified, and their hearts exult in it. From this Divine song they learn that this miraculous son of theirs is the sum and substance of all the promises made unto the fathers, and of all the predictions of the prophets.
III. Simeon's prophecy.
1. He addresses Christ, and foretells that he should be for the ruin and recovery of many in Israel. How astonishing is the folly and perverseness of man, to turn that into poison which God has made the choicest medicine; and thus to kill themselves with the cure which he has appointed for them in the infinity of his love! Those who speak against Jesus, his ways, his doctrine, his cross, his sacrifice, are likely to stumble, and fall, and rise no more for ever! May the God of mercy save the reader from this condemnation!
2. He addresses Mary, and foretells the agonies she must go through. What must this holy woman have endured when she saw her son crowned with thorns, scourged, buffeted, spit upon - when she saw his hands and his feet nailed to the cross, and his side pierced with a spear! What a sword through her own soul must each of these have been! But this is not all. These sufferings of Jesus are predicted thirty years before they were to take place! What a martyrdom was this! While he is nourished in her bosom, she cannot help considering him as a lamb who is growing up to be sacrificed. The older he grows, the nearer the bloody scene approaches! Thus her sufferings must increase with his years, and only end with his life!
3. He foretells the effects which should be produced by the persecutions raised against Christ and his followers. This sword of persecution shall lay open the hearts of many, and discover their secret motives and designs. When the doctrine of the cross is preached, and persecution raised because of it, then the precious are easily distinguished from the vile. Those whose hearts are not established by grace, now right with God, will turn aside from the way of righteousness, and deny the Lord that bought them. On the other hand, those whose faith stands not in the wisdom of man, but in the power of God, will continue faithful unto death, glorify God in the fire, and thus show forth the excellency of his salvation, and the sincerity of the profession which they had before made. Thus the thoughts of many hearts are still revealed.
The design of our blessed Lord in staying behind in the temple seems to have been twofold.
1st. To prepare the Jews to acknowledge in him a Divine and supernatural wisdom: and
2dly. To impress the minds of Joseph and Mary with a proper idea of his independence and Divinity.
Their conduct in this business may be a lasting lesson and profitable warning to all the disciples of Christ.
1st. It is possible (by not carefully watching the heart, and by not keeping sacredly and constantly in view the spirituality of every duty) to lose the presence and power of Christ, even in religious ordinances. Joseph and Mary were at the feast of the passover when they lost Jesus!
2dly. Many who have sustained loss in their souls are kept from making speedy application to God for help and salvation, through the foolish supposition that their state is not so bad as it really is; and, in the things of salvation, many content themselves with the persuasion that the religious people with whom they associate are the peculiar favourites of Heaven, and that they are in a state of complete safety while connected with them.
They, supposing him to be in the company, went a day's journey.
3dly. Deep sorrow and self-reproach must be the consequence of the discovery of so great a loss as that of the presence and power of Christ. Joseph and Mary sought him sorrowing.
4thly. When people are convinced, by the light of the Lord, that their souls are not in a safe state, and that unless they find the Redeemer of the world they must perish, they are naturally led to inquire among their kinsfolk and acquaintance for him who saves sinners. But this often proves fruitless; they know not Jesus themselves, and they cannot tell others where to find him.
They sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance, and found him not.
5thly. When people perceive that they have proceeded in a certain course of life for a considerable time, without that salvation which God promises in his word, they should first stop and inquire into their state, and when they find that they have been posting into eternity, not only without a preparation for glory, but with an immense load of guilt upon their souls, they should turn back, and, as their time may be but short, they should seek diligently.
They turned back to Jerusalem, earnestly seeking him.
6thly. The likeliest place to find Jesus and his salvation is the temple. The place where his pure unadulterated Gospel is preached, the sanctuary where the power and glory of God are seen in the conviction, conversion, and salvation of sinners. They found him in the temple, among the doctors.
7thly. Trials, persecutions, and afflictions are all nothing, when the presence and power of Christ are felt; but when a testimony of his approbation lives no longer in the heart, every thing is grievous and insupportable. The fatigue of the journey to Bethlehem, the flight from the cruelty of Herod, and the unavoidable trials in Egypt, were cheerfully supported by Joseph and Mary, because in all they had Jesus with them; but now they are in distress and misery because he is behind in Jerusalem. Reader, if thou have lost Jesus, take no rest to body or soul till thou have found him! Without him, all is confusion and ruin: with him, all is joy and peace.