Category: Bible Understanding


The tearing of one’s clothes is an ancient tradition among the Jews, and it is associated with mourning, grief, and loss. The first mention of someone tearing his garments is in Genesis. “When Reuben returned to the cistern and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes” (Genesis 37:29). A short time later, “Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days” (Genesis 37:34) when he thought that Joseph had been killed.

Other biblical examples of men who tore their clothes to express pain and sorrow include David, when Saul and Jonathan were killed (2 Samuel 1:11–12); Elisha, when Elijah was taken up into heaven (2 Kings 2:11–12); Job, when he was bereft of all he possessed (Job 1:20); Jephthah, when he learned the result of his rash vow (Judges 11:34–35); Mordecai, when he learned of Haman’s plot to destroy the Jews (Esther 4:1); Ahab, when Elijah pronounced a judgment against him (1 Kings 21:27); and Paul and Barnabas, when the people of Lystra began to worship them (Acts 14:14).

Sometimes, the tearing of one’s clothes was accompanied by other signs of humility and grief, such as shaving one’s head (Job 1:20), throwing dust on oneself (Job 2:12), and wearing sackcloth (2 Samuel 3:31).

There were times when people should have torn their garments but did not. The prophet Jeremiah received the Word of God concerning a soon-coming judgment on Judah. Jeremiah faithfully wrote the prophecy in a scroll and delivered it to King Jehoiakim. The king listened to the first part of the prophecy, but then he took a knife, cut the scroll in pieces, and burned it in a brazier (Jeremiah 36:23). This impious act was met with chilling stoicism from his aides: “The king and all his attendants who heard all these words showed no fear, nor did they tear their clothes” (verse 24). If ever there was a time to tear one’s clothes, this was it; but these men had no fear of God, no remorse, no conviction of sin.

It is interesting that the high priest was not allowed to tear his clothes: “The high priest, the one among his brothers who has had the anointing oil poured on his head and who has been ordained to wear the priestly garments, must not . . . tear his clothes” (Leviticus 21:10). The special nature of the high priestly office dictated a separation from some of the common customs, including that of mourning.

Tearing one’s clothes was a public and powerful expression of grief in ancient times. The practice is continued today in the Jewish practice of keriah. Today’s ritual is less spontaneous and more regulated: the garment is cut by a rabbi at a funeral service, as the bereaved recite words relating to God’s sovereignty. One tradition says that the mourner must tear the clothing over the heart—a sign of a broken heart.

More important than outward shows of grief are true sorrow for sin and genuine repentance of the heart. The prophet Joel relayed God’s command: “Rend your heart and not your garments” (Joel 2:13). The One who sees the heart requires more than external ritual. And the command came with a promise: “Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity” (Joel 2:13; cf. Psalm 34:18).

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Biblical hermeneutics is the study of the principles and methods of interpreting the text of the Bible. Second Timothy 2:15 commands believers to be involved in hermeneutics: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who . . . correctly handles the word of truth.” The purpose of biblical hermeneutics is to help us to know how to properly interpret, understand, and apply the Bible.

The most important law of biblical hermeneutics is that the Bible should be interpreted literally. We are to understand the Bible in its normal or plain meaning, unless the passage is obviously intended to be symbolic or if figures of speech are employed. The Bible says what it means and means what it says. For example, when Jesus speaks of having fed “the five thousand” in Mark 8:19, the law of hermeneutics says we should understand five thousand literally—there was a crowd of hungry people that numbered five thousand who were fed with real bread and fish by a miracle-working Savior. Any attempt to “spiritualize” the number or to deny a literal miracle is to do injustice to the text and ignore the purpose of language, which is to communicate. Some interpreters make the mistake of trying to read between the lines of Scripture to come up with esoteric meanings that are not truly in the text, as if every passage has a hidden spiritual truth that we should seek to decrypt. Biblical hermeneutics keeps us faithful to the intended meaning of Scripture and away from allegorizing Bible verses that should be understood literally.

A second crucial law of biblical hermeneutics is that passages must be interpreted historically, grammatically, and contextually. Interpreting a passage historically means we must seek to understand the culture, background, and situation that prompted the text. For example, in order to fully understand Jonah’s flight in Jonah 1:1–3, we should research the history of the Assyrians as related to Israel. Interpreting a passage grammatically requires one to follow the rules of grammar and recognize the nuances of Hebrew and Greek. For example, when Paul writes of “our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” in Colossians 1:13, the rules of grammar state that God and Savior are parallel terms and they are both in apposition to Jesus Christ—in other words, Paul clearly calls Jesus “our great God.” Interpreting a passage contextually involves considering the context of a verse or passage when trying to determine the meaning. The context includes the verses immediately preceding and following, the chapter, the book, and, most broadly, the entire Bible. For example, many puzzling statements in Ecclesiastes become clearer when kept in context—the book of Ecclesiastes is written from the earthly perspective “under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:3). In fact, the phrase under the sun is repeated about thirty times in the book, establishing the context for all that is “vanity” in this world.

A third law of biblical hermeneutics is that Scripture is always the best interpreter of Scripture. For this reason, we always compare Scripture with Scripture when trying to determine the meaning of a passage. For example, Isaiah’s condemnation of Judah’s desire to seek Egypt’s help and their reliance on a strong cavalry (Isaiah 31:1) was motivated, in part, by God’s explicit command that His people not go to Egypt to seek horses (Deuteronomy 17:16).

Some people avoid studying biblical hermeneutics because they mistakenly believe it will limit their ability to learn new truths from God’s Word or stifle the Holy Spirit’s illumination of Scripture. But their fears are unfounded. Biblical hermeneutics is all about finding the correct interpretation of the inspired text. The purpose of biblical hermeneutics is to protect us from misapplying Scripture or allowing bias to color our understanding of truth. God’s Word is truth (John 17:17). We want to see the truth, know the truth, and live the truth as best we can, and that’s why biblical hermeneutics is vital.

Simply put, illumination in the spiritual sense is “turning on the light” of understanding in some area. Throughout the ages, people in every culture and religion have claimed some kind of revelation or enlightenment from God (whether true or not). When that enlightenment deals with new knowledge or future things, we call it prophecy. When that enlightenment deals with understanding and applying knowledge already given, we call it illumination. Regarding illumination of the latter type, the question arises, “How does God do it?”

The most basic level of enlightenment is the knowledge of sin, and without that knowledge, everything else is pointless. Psalm 18:28 says, “You, O LORD, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.” Psalm 119, which is the longest chapter in the Bible, is a song about God’s Word. In verse 130, it says “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” This verse establishes the basic method of God’s illumination. When God’s Word enters the heart of a person, it gives light and understanding to them. For this reason, we are repeatedly told to study the Word of God. Psalm 119:11 says “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Verses 98 and 99 say “Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes.”

Regular study of the Word of God will give direction and understanding in the issues of life. This is the first method of God’s illumination and the starting point for us all. In Psalm 119 we also find another type of God’s illumination. Verse 18 says, “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.” These are not new revelations, but things which have been written and revealed long before, and just now understood by the reader (one of those “aha!” moments). Similarly, verse 73 says, “Your hands made me and formed me; give me understanding to learn your commands.” The plea is for personal understanding and application of God’s laws as they are studied by the individual. Fifteen times in this psalm, God is asked to teach or give understanding regarding His laws.

One passage that sometimes stirs controversy regarding illumination is John 14:26, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” Jesus was speaking to His disciples in the upper room, giving them last instructions before His death. This special group of men was to be responsible for spreading the good news of Jesus Christ to the whole world. They had spent three and a half years with Him, watching His miracles and hearing His teachings. They would relay those things to the rest of the world, and would need God’s special help remembering those things accurately. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would teach them and remind them of what had been said, so they could give it to others (including the writing of the Gospels). This verse does not teach that the Spirit will do so with all believers (though there are other verses that speak of the Spirit’s illuminating work).

What is the Holy Spirit’s illuminating work in believers? Ephesians 1:17-18 tells us that the Spirit gives wisdom and revelation concerning Jesus Christ, and opens the eyes of understanding so we can know God’s purposes in our lives. In 1 Corinthians 2:10-13, God has revealed His plans for us by His Spirit, who teaches us spiritual things. The context here points to the Word of God as that which has been revealed. The Spirit of God will always point us to the Word of God for our instruction. As Jesus told His disciples in John 16:12-15, the Spirit simply repeats what the Father and the Son have already said. This repetition helps us remember and fully hear what God has already told us. Sometimes we have to hear things several times before we actually hear them. That’s where the Spirit comes in.

One thing that is sometimes overlooked in the discussion of illumination is the purpose of it. To hear some arguments, it would seem that the whole purpose of illumination is an accurate and academic understanding of God’s Word. There is no question that God desires us to accurately understand what He has given us. Words have meaning, and we must pay attention to the details in those words. If, however, we stop there, we simply have an academic understanding of facts or philosophies, which do no one any good.

Going back to Psalm 119, we find purpose statements connected with the illumination verses. “I will meditate on your wonders” (v. 27), “I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart” (v. 34), “that I may understand your statutes” (v. 125), “that I may live” (v. 144). The illumination always points to action. Why does God help us understand His Word? So we are able to live in its light. First John 1:6 challenges us, “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.” We could paraphrase it to say, “If we say we’ve been enlightened, but still walk in the dark, we lie about understanding God’s Word.” The Spirit of God, who enlightens us to hear and understand God’s Word, then takes that knowledge and guides us in living it. Romans 8:14 says “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” The illuminating and leading work of the Holy Spirit in our lives is a confirmation that we are indeed children of God.

  It’s important to study Bible passages and stories within their context. Taking verses out of context leads to all kinds of error and misunderstanding. Understanding context begins with four principles: literal meaning (what it says), historical setting (the events of the story, to whom is it addressed, and how it was understood at that time), grammar (the immediate sentence and paragraph within which a word or phrase is found) and synthesis (comparing it with other parts of Scripture for a fuller meaning). Context is crucial to biblical exegesis in that it is one of its most important fundamentals. After we account for the literal, historical, and grammatical nature of a passage, we must then focus on the outline and structure of the book, then the chapter, then the paragraph. All of these things refer to “context.” To illustrate, it is like looking at Google Maps and zooming in on one house.

Taking phrases and verses out of context always leads to misunderstanding. For instance, taking the phrase “God is love” (1 John 4:7-16) out of its context, we might come away thinking that our God loves everything and everyone at all times with a gushing, romantic love. But in its literal and grammatical context, “love” here refers to agape love, the essence of which is sacrifice for the benefit of another, not a sentimental, romantic love. The historical context is also crucial, because John was addressing believers in the first century church and instructing them not on God’s love per se, but on how to identify true believers from false professors. True love—the sacrificial, beneficial kind—is the mark of the true believer (v. 7), those who do not love do not belong to God (v. 8), God loved us before we loved Him (vv. 9-10), and all of this is why we should love one another and thereby prove that we are His (v. 11-12).

Furthermore, considering the phrase “God is love” in the context of all of Scripture (synthesis) will keep us from coming to the false, and all-too-common, conclusion that God is only love or that His love is greater than all His other attributes, which is simply not the case. We know from many other passages that God is also holy and righteous, faithful and trustworthy, graceful and merciful, kind and compassionate, omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient, and many, many other things. We also know from other passages that God not only loves, but He also hates.

The Bible is the Word of God, literally “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16), and we are commanded to read, study, and understand it through the use of good Bible study methods and always with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to guide us (1 Corinthians 2:14). Our study is greatly enhanced by maintaining diligence in the use of context because it is quite easy to come to wrong conclusions by taking phrases and verses out of context. It is not difficult to point out places that seemingly contradict other portions of Scripture, but if we carefully look at their context and use the entirety of Scripture as a reference, we can understand the meaning of a passage. “Context is king” means that the context often drives the meaning of a phrase. To ignore context is to put ourselves at a tremendous disadvantage.

Not only can we take the Bible literally, but we must take the Bible literally. This is the only way to determine what God really is trying to communicate to us. When we read any piece of literature, but especially the Bible, we must determine what the author intended to communicate. Many today will read a verse or passage of Scripture and then give their own definitions to the words, phrases, or paragraphs, ignoring the context and author’s intent. But this is not what God intended, which is why God tells us to correctly handle the Word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).

One reason we should take the Bible literally is because the Lord Jesus Christ took it literally. Whenever the Lord Jesus quoted from the Old Testament, it was always clear that He believed in its literal interpretation. As an example, when Jesus was tempted by Satan in Luke 4, He answered by quoting the Old Testament. If God’s commands in Deuteronomy 8:3, 6:13, and 6:16 were not literal, Jesus would not have used them and they would have been powerless to stop Satan’s mouth, which they certainly did.

The disciples also took the commands of Christ (which are part of the Bible) literally. Jesus commanded the disciples to go and make more disciples in Matthew 28:19-20. In Acts 2 and following, we find that the disciples took Jesus’ command literally and went throughout the known world of that time preaching the gospel of Christ and telling them to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). Just as the disciples took Jesus’ words literally, so must we. How else can we be sure of our salvation if we do not believe Him when He says He came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10), pay the penalty for our sin (Matthew 26:28), and provide eternal life (John 6:54)?

Although we take the Bible literally, there are still figures of speech within its pages. An example of a figure of speech would be that if someone said “it is raining cats and dogs outside,” you would know that they did not really mean that cats and dogs were falling from the sky. They would mean it is raining really hard. There are figures of speech in the Bible which are not to be taken literally, but those are obvious. (See Psalm 17:8 for example.)

Finally, when we make ourselves the final arbiters of which parts of the Bible are to be interpreted literally, we elevate ourselves above God. Who is to say, then, that one person’s interpretation of a biblical event or truth is any more or less valid than another’s? The confusion and distortions that would inevitably result from such a system would essentially render the Scriptures null and void. The Bible is God’s Word to us and He meant it to be believed—literally and completely.

I came across this today. It was posted by a friend of mine,  Angela Digman,  and I wanted to share '~  Do Barbers Exist?</p><br /><br /><br />
<p>A old cowboy went to a barbershop to have his hair cut and his beard trimmed. As the barber began to work, they began to have<br /><br /><br /><br />
a good conversation. They talked about so many things and various subjects. When they eventually touched on the subject of God, the barber said: "I don't believe that God exists."</p><br /><br /><br />
<p>"Why do you say that?" asked the cowboy. </p><br /><br /><br />
<p>"Well, you just have to go out in the street to realize that God doesn't exist. Tell me, if God exists, would there be so many sick people? Would there be abandoned children? If God existed, there would be neither suffering nor pain. I can't imagine a loving God who would allow all of these things." </p><br /><br /><br />
<p>The cowboy thought for a moment, but didn't respond because he didn't want to start an argument. The barber finished his job and the cowboy left the shop. Just after he left the barbershop, he saw a man in the street with long, stringy, dirty hair and an untrimmed beard. He looked dirty and unkempt.</p><br /><br /><br />
<p>The cowboy turned back and entered the barber shop again and<br /><br /><br /><br />
he said to the barber: "You know what? Barbers do not exist."</p><br /><br /><br />
<p>"How can you say that?" asked the surprised barber. "I am here, and I am a barber. And I just worked on you!</p><br /><br /><br />
<p>"No!" the cowboy exclaimed. "Barbers don't exist because if they did, there would be no people with dirty long hair and untrimmed beards, like that man outside."</p><br /><br /><br />
<p>"Ah, but barbers DO exist! What happens, is people do not come<br /><br /><br /><br />
to me."</p><br /><br /><br />
<p>"Exactly!"- affirmed the cowboy. "That's the point! ....<br /><br /><br /><br />
God, too, DOES exist! What happens, is, people don't go to Him and do not look for Him. That's why there's so much pain and suffering in the world." </p><br /><br /><br />
<p>* God bless and keep sharing the Good News !!!! ~ C4C'it with all of you. It is originally from “Cowboy’s -4- Christ” on facebook. It is meaningful and I  enjoy it. Thank you, Angela, for making it available.

A old cowboy went to a barbershop to have his hair cut and his beard trimmed. As the barber began to work, they began to have a good conversation. They talked about so many things and various subjects. When they eventually touched on the subject of God, the barber said: “I don’t believe that God exists.”

“Why do you say that?” asked the cowboy.

“Well, you just have to go out in the street to realize that God doesn’t exist. Tell me, if God exists, would there be so many sick people? Would there be abandoned children? If God existed, there would be neither suffering nor pain. I can’t imagine a loving God who would allow all of these things.”

The cowboy thought for a moment, but didn’t respond because he didn’t want to start an argument. The barber finished his job and the cowboy left the shop. Just after he left the barbershop, he saw a man in the street with long, stringy, dirty hair and an untrimmed beard. He looked dirty and unkempt.

The cowboy turned back and entered the barber shop again and
he said to the barber: “You know what? Barbers do not exist.”

“How can you say that?” asked the surprised barber. “I am here, and I am a barber. And I just worked on you!

“No!” the cowboy exclaimed. “Barbers don’t exist because if they did, there would be no people with dirty long hair and untrimmed beards, like that man outside.”

“Ah, but barbers DO exist! What happens, is people do not come to me.”

“Exactly!”- affirmed the cowboy. “That’s the point! ….
God, too, DOES exist! What happens, is, people don’t go to Him and do not look for Him. That’s why there’s so much pain and suffering in the world.”

* God bless and keep sharing the Good News !!!!

The statement “the Bible is our only rule for faith and practice” appears in many doctrinal statements. Sometimes, it takes a similar form, stating that the Bible is “the final authority,” “the only infallible rule,” or “the only certain rule.” This sentiment, whatever the wording, is a way for Bible-believing Christians to declare their commitment to the written Word of God and their independence from other would-be authorities.

The statement that the Bible is the “only rule for faith and practice” is rooted in the sufficiency of Scripture, as revealed in 2 Timothy 3:16–17: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Because God is sovereign, His Word is the absolute authority in our lives, and by it God equips us for His service. As A. A. Hodge wrote, “Whatever God teaches or commands is of sovereign authority. . . . The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the only organs through which, during the present dispensation, God conveys to us a knowledge of his will about what we are to believe concerning himself, and what duties he requires of us” (Outlines of Theology, chapter 5).

When we say, “The Bible is our only rule for faith and practice,” we mean that we hold the Bible, God’s Holy Word, to be our ultimate guide for what we believe (“faith”) and what we do (“practice”). We mean that the Bible trumps man’s authority, church tradition, and our own opinions. We mean we will allow nothing that opposes God’s Word to dictate our actions or control our thinking. We mean that we agree with the Reformers’ cry of sola scriptura.

When the Bible clearly reveals a truth, we believe it with all our hearts. When the Bible clearly commands us to do something, we make sure we are doing it. For example, the Bible says that Jesus is coming back again (John 14:3; Revelation 19:11–16). Since the Bible is our “only rule for faith,” we have no choice but to believe that Jesus is returning some day. Also, the Bible says that we are to “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18). Since the Bible is our “final authority for practice,” we are bound to abstain from immorality (as defined by the Bible).

We believe following the Bible as our only rule of faith and practice is the safest position, theologically. Fidelity to Scripture keeps us from being “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching” (Ephesians 4:14). As the noble Bereans taught us (Acts 17:11), all doctrines are to be examined in light of the Bible, and only what conforms to biblical truth should be accepted.

Following the Bible is also the most sensible position, because the Word of God “is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens” (Psalm 119:89) and “the law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7).

The first of the Dead Sea Scroll discoveries occurred in 1947 in Qumran, a village situated about twenty miles east of Jerusalem on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. A young Bedouin shepherd, following a goat that had gone astray, tossed a rock into one of the caves along the seacliffs and heard a cracking sound: the rock had hit a ceramic pot containing leather and papyrus scrolls that were later determined to be nearly twenty centuries old. Ten years and many searches later, eleven caves around the Dead Sea were found to contain tens of thousands of scroll fragments dating from the third century B.C. to A.D. 68 and representing an estimated eight hundred separate works.

The Dead Sea Scrolls comprise a vast collection of Jewish documents written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, and encompassing many subjects and literary styles. They include manuscripts or fragments of every book in the Hebrew Bible except the Book of Esther, all of them created nearly one thousand years earlier than any previously known biblical manuscripts. The scrolls also contain the earliest existing biblical commentary, on the Book of Habakkuk, and many other writings, among them religious works pertaining to Jewish sects of the time

The legends of what was contained in the Dead Sea Scrolls are far beyond what was actually there. There were no lost books of the Bible or other literature that there was not already other copies of. The vast majority of the Dead Sea Scrolls were simply copies of books of the Old Testament from 250-150 B.C. A copy or portion of nearly every Old Testament book was found in Qumran. There were extra-biblical and apocryphal books found as well, but again, the vast majority of the scrolls were copies of the Hebrew Old Testament. The Dead Sea Scrolls were such an amazing discovery in that the scrolls were in excellent condition and had remained hidden for so long (over 2000 years). The Dead Sea Scrolls can also give us confidence in the reliability of the Old Testament manuscripts since there were minimal differences between the manuscripts that had previously been discovered and those that were found in Qumran. Clearly this is a testament to the way God has preserved His Word down through the centuries, protecting it from extinction and guarding it against significant error.

http://lifetoday.org/video/into-the-world-2

Christine Caine, one of Australia’s greatest speakers on Christianity and Christ presents “Into The World.” This video is exactly what Christians need to hear TODAY. Her message of being salt and light is well worthy of listening to. Christine points out what a Christian should be doing in today’s world. Are you doing Christ’s work….. really doing it? This is a message for today when bringing a revival is so necessary.
The question rises: “Are we “in” the world and not of it”? Or are we “of this world and claiming not to be in it?”

It was a mark of humiliation put upon the Lord Jesus that, though he was the Desire of all nations, yet his coming into the world was little observed and taken notice of, his birth was obscure and unregarded: herein he emptied himself, and made himself of no reputation. If the Son of God must be brought into the world, one might justly expect that he should be received with all the ceremony possible, that crowns and sceptres should immediately have been laid at his feet, and that the high and mighty princes of the world should have been his humble servants; such a Messiah as this the Jews expected, but we see none of all this; he came into the world, and the world knew him not; nay, he came to his own, and his own received him not; for having undertaken to make satisfaction to his Father for the wrong done him in his honour by the sin of man, he did it by denying himself in, and despoiling himself of, the honours undoubtedly due to an incarnate Deity; yet, as afterward, so in his birth, some rays of glory darted forth in the midst of the greatest instances of his abasement. Though there was the hiding of his power, yet he had horns coming out of his hand (Hab. 3:4) enough to condemn the world, and the Jews especially, for their stupidity.

The first who took notice of Christ after his birth were the shepherds (Luke 2:15), who saw and heard glorious things concerning him, and made them known abroad, to the amazement of all that heard them, Matt. 2:17, 18. After that, Simeon and Ann a spoke of him, by the Spirit, to all that were disposed to heed what they said, Luke 2:38. Now, one would think, these hints should have been taken by the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and they should with both arms have embraced the long-looked-for Messiah; but, for aught that appears, he continued nearly two years after at Bethlehem, and no further notice was taken of him till these wise men came. Note, Nothing will awaken those that are resolved to be regardless. Oh the amazing stupidity of these Jews! And no less that of many who are called Christians! Observe,

I. When this enquiry was made concerning Christ. It was in the days of Herod the king. This Herod was an Edomite, made king of Judea by Augustus and Antonius, the then chief rulers of the Roman state, a man made up of falsehood and cruelty; yet he was complimented with the title of Herod the Great. Christ was born in the 35th year of his reign, and notice is taken of this, to show that the sceptre had now departed from Judah, and the lawgiver from between his feet; and therefore now was the time for Shiloh to come, and to him shall the gathering of the people be: witness these wise men, Gen. 49:10.

II. Who and what these wise men were; they are here called MagoiMagicians. Some that it in a good sense; the Magi among the Persians were their philosophers and their priests; nor would they admit any one for their king who had not first been enrolled among the Magi; others think they dealt in unlawful arts; the word is used of Simon, the sorcerer (Acts 8:9, 11), and of Elymas, the sorcerer (Acts 13:6), nor does the scripture use it in any other sense; and then it was an early instance and presage of Christ’s victory over the devil, when those who had been so much his devotees became the early adorers even of the infant Jesus; so soon were trophies of his victory over the powers of darkness erected. Well, whatever sort of wise men they were before, now they began to be wise men indeed when they set themselves to enquire after Christ.

This we are sure of, 1. That they were Gentiles, and not belonging to the commonwealth of Israel. The Jews regarded not Christ, but these Gentiles enquired him out. Note, Many times those who are nearest to the means, are furthest from the end. See Matt. 8:11, 12. The respect paid to Christ by these Gentiles was a happy presage and specimen of what would follow when those who were afar off should be made nigh by Christ. 2. That they were scholars. They dealt in arts, curious arts; good scholars should be good Christians, and then they complete their learning when they learn Christ. 3. That they were men of the east, who were noted for their soothsaying, Isa. 2:6. Arabia is called the land of the east (Gen. 25:6), and the Arabians are called men of the east, Jdg. 6:3. The presents they brought were the products of that country; the Arabians had done homage to David and Solomon as types of Christ. Jethro and Job were of that country. More than this we have not to say of them. The traditions of the Romish church are frivolous, that they were in number three (though one of the ancients says that they were fourteen), that they were kings, and that they lie buried in Colen, thence called the three kings of Colen; we covet not to be wise above what is written.

III. What induced them to make this enquiry. They, in their country, which was in the east, had seen an extraordinary star, such as they had not seen before; which they took to be an indication of an extraordinary person born in the land of Judea, over which land this star was seen to hover, in the nature of a comet, or a meteor rather, in the lowers regions of the air; this differed so much from any thing that was common that they concluded it to signify something uncommon. Note, Extraordinary appearances of God in the creatures should put us upon enquiring after his mind and will therein; Christ foretold signs in the heavens. The birth of Christ was notified to the Jewish shepherds by an angel, to the Gentile philosophers by a star: to both God spoke in their own language, and in the way they were best acquainted with. Some think that the light which the shepherds saw shining round about them, the night after Christ was born, was the very same which to the wise men, who lived at such a distance, appeared as a star; but this we cannot easily admit, because the same star which they had seen in the east they saw a great while after, leading them to the house where Christ lay; it was a candle set up on purpose to guide them to Christ. The idolaters worshipped the stars as the host of heaven, especially the eastern nations, whence the planets have the names of their idol-gods; we read of a particular star they had in veneration, Amos 5:26. Thus the stars that had been misused came to be put to the right use, to lead men to Christ; the gods of the heathen became his servants. Some think this star put them in mind of Balaam’s prophecy, that a star should come out of Jacob, pointing at a sceptre, that shall rise out of Israel; see Num. 24:17. Balaam came from the mountains of the east, and was one of their wise men. Others impute their enquiry to the general expectation entertained at that time, in those eastern parts, of some great prince to appear. Tacitus, in his history (lib. 5), takes notice of it; Pluribus persuasio inerat, antiquis sacerdotum literis contineri, eo ipso tempore fore, ut valesceret oriens, profectique Judaea rerum potirentur—A persuasion existed in the minds of many that some ancient writings of the priests contained a prediction that about that time an eastern power would prevail, and that persons proceeding from Judea would obtain dominion. Suetonius also, in the life of Vespasian, speaks of it; so that this extraordinary phenomenon was construed as pointing to that king; and we may suppose a divine impression made upon their minds, enabling them to interpret this star as a signal given by Heaven of the birth of Christ.

IV. How they prosecuted this enquiry. They came from the east to Jerusalem, in further quest of this prince. Wither shall they come to enquire for the king of the Jews, but to Jerusalem, the mother-city, whither the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord? They might have said, “If such a prince be born, we shall hear of him shortly in our own country, and it will be time enough then to pay our homage to him.” But so impatient were they to be better acquainted with him, that they took a long journey on purpose to enquire after him. Note, Those who truly desire to know Christ, and find him, will not regard pains or perils in seeking after him. Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord.

Their question is, Where is he that is born king of the Jews? They do not ask, whether there were such a one born? (they are sure of that, and speak of it with assurance, so strongly was it set home upon their hearts); but, Where is he born? Note, Those who know something of Christ cannot but covet to know more of him. They call Christ the King of the Jews, for so the Messiah was expected to be: and he is Protector and Ruler of all the spiritual Israel, he is born a King.

To this question they doubted not but to have a ready answer, and to find all Jerusalem worshipping at the feet of this new king; but they come from door to door with this question, and no man can give them any information. Note, There is more gross ignorance in the world, and in the church too, than we are aware of. Many that we think should direct us to Christ are themselves strangers to him. They ask, as the spouse of the daughters of Jerusalem, Saw ye him whom my soul loveth? But they are never the wiser. However, like the spouse, they pursue the enquiry, Where is he that is born king of the Jews? Are they asked, “Why do ye make this enquiry?” It is because they have seen his star in the east. Are they asked, “What business have ye with him? What have the men of the east to do with the King of the Jews?” They have their answer ready, We are come to worship him. They conclude he will, in process of time, be their king, and therefore they will betimes ingratiate themselves with him and with those about him. Note, Those in whose hearts the day-star is risen, to give them any thing of the knowledge of Christ, must make it their business to worship him. Have we seen Christ’s star? Let us study to give him honour.

V. How this enquiry was treated at Jerusalem. News of it at last came to court; and when Herod heard it he was troubled, Matt. 2:3. He could not be a stranger to the prophecies of the Old Testament, concerning the Messiah and his kingdom, and the times fixed for his appearing by Daniel’s weeks; but, having himself reigned so long and so successfully, he began to hope that those promises would for ever fail, and that his kingdom would be established and perpetuated in spite of them. What a damp therefore must it needs be upon him, to hear talk of this King being born, now, when the time fixed for his appearing had come! Note, Carnal wicked hearts dread nothing so much as the fulfilling of the scriptures.

But though Herod, an Edomite, was troubled, one would have thought Jerusalem should rejoice greatly to hear that her King comes; yet, it seems, all Jerusalem, except the few there that waited for the consolation of Israel, were troubled with Herod, and were apprehensive of I know not what ill consequences of the birth of this new king, that it would involve them in war, or restrain their lusts; they, for their parts, desired no king but Herod; no, not the Messiah himself. Note, The slavery of sin is foolishly preferred by many to the glorious liberty of the children of God, only because they apprehend some present difficulties attending that necessary revolution of the government in the soul. Herod and Jerusalem were thus troubled, from a mistaken notion that the kingdom of the Messiah would clash and interfere with the secular powers; whereas the star that proclaimed him king plainly intimated that his kingdom was heavenly, and not of this lower world. Note, The reason why the kings of the earth, and the people, oppose the kingdom of Christ, is because they do not know it, but err concerning it.

VI. What assistance they met with in this enquiry from the scribes and the priests, Matt. 2:4-6. Nobody can pretend to tell where the King of the Jews is, but Herod enquires where it was expected he should be born. The persons he consults are, the chief priests, who were teachers by office; and the scribes, who made it their business to study the law; their lips must keep knowledge, but then the people must enquire the law at their mouth, Mal. 2:7. It was generally known that Christ should be born at Bethlehem (John 7:42); but Herod would have counsel’s opinion upon it, and therefore applies himself to the proper persons; and, that he might be the better satisfied, he has them altogether, all the chief priests, and all the scribes; and demands of them what was the place, according to the scriptures of the Old Testament, where Christ should be born? Many a good question is put with an ill design, so was this by Herod.

The priests and scribes need not take any long time to give an answer to this query; nor do they differ in their opinion, but all agree that the Messiah must be born in Bethlehem, the city of David, here called Bethlehem of Judea, to distinguish it from another city of the same name in the land of Zebulun, Josh. 19:15. Bethlehem signifies the house of bread; the fittest place for him to be born in who is the true manna, the bread which came down from heaven, which was given for the life of the world. The proof they produce is taken from Mic. 5:2; where it is foretold that though Bethlehem be little among the thousands of Judah (so it is in Micah), no very populous place, yet it shall be found not the least among the princes of Judah (so it is here); for Bethlehem’s honour lay not, as that of other cities, in the multitude of the people, but in the magnificence of the princes it produced. Though, upon some accounts, Bethlehem was little, yet herein it had the pre-eminence above all the cities of Israel, that the Lord shall count, when he writes up the people, that this man, even the man Christ Jesus, was born there, Ps. 87:6. Out of thee shall come a Governor, the King of the Jews. Note, Christ will be a Saviour to those only who are willing to take him for their Governor. Bethlehem was the city of David, and David the glory of Bethlehem; there, therefore, must David’s son and successor be born. There was a famous well at Bethlehem, by the gate, which David longed to drink of (2 Sam. 23:15); in Christ we have not only bread enough and to spare, but may come and take also of the water of life freely. Observe here how Jews and Gentiles compare notes about Jesus Christ. The Gentiles know the time of his birth by a star; the Jews know the place of it by the scriptures; and so they are capable of informing one another. Note, It would contribute much to the increase of knowledge, if we did thus mutually communicate what we know. Men grow rich by bartering and exchanging; so, if we have knowledge to communicate to others, they will be ready to communicate to us; thus many shall discourse, shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.

VII. The bloody project and design of Herod, occasioned by this enquiry, Matt. 2:7, 8. Herod was now an old man, and had reigned thirty-five years; this king was but newly born, and not likely to enterprise any thing considerable for many years; yet Herod is jealous of him. Crowned heads cannot endure to think of successors, much less of rivals; and therefore nothing less than the blood of this infant king will satisfy him; and he will not give himself liberty to think that, if this new-born child should be indeed the Messiah, in opposing him, or making any attempts upon him, he would be found fighting against God, than which nothing is more vain, nothing more dangerous. Passion has got the mastery of reason and conscience.

Now, 1. See how cunningly he laid the project (Matt. 2:7, 8). He privily called the wise men, to talk with them about this matter. He would not openly own his fears and jealousies; it would be his disgrace to let the wise men know them, and dangerous to let the people know them. Sinners are often tormented with secret fears, which they keep to themselves. Herod learns of the wise men the time when the star appeared, that he might take his measures accordingly; and then employs them to enquire further, and bids them bring him an account. All this might look suspicious, if he had not covered it with a show of religion: that I may come and worship him also. Note, The greatest wickedness often conceals itself under a mask of piety. Absalom cloaks his rebellious project with a vow.

2. See how strangely he was befooled and infatuated in this, that he trusted it with the wise men, and did not choose some other managers, that would have been true to his interests. It was but seven miles from Jerusalem; how easily might he have sent spies to watch the wise men, who might have been as soon there to destroy the child as they to worship him! Note, God can hide from the eyes of the church’s enemies those methods by which they might easily destroy the church; when he intends to lead princes away spoiled, his way is to make the judges fools.