March 21, 2015

A Game of Thrones, Part I: A Tale of Two Kings

I've just completed studying Matthew 2 and the striking thing that jumped out at me was the fact that it is a tale of kings and kingdoms...or a Game of Thrones if you will. Please note these are my observations and they become a bit thin at spots because my study focused more on the idea of kingdoms once I realized that premise kept arising in Matthew 2. Over the next two posts I will post the main points I pulled out of my studies.

Matthew 2:1-6

1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem

From the first verse we see the birth of Christ is attached to an historical person. God literally entered time and space at a historical reference point. We know from the Bible and historians that Herod wasn't a true king he had been appointed by Rome. It had been 450 years since a true king of Israel had reigned.

The Magi in Persia were a special class who gave themselves to the study of the stars and to that of the occult arts generally. In Egypt and in Babylon they formed a recognised and highly honoured class (Genesis 41:8; Daniel 2). It is clear from Matthew's Gospel that these men clearly had knowledge of Old Testament prophecies and may have been descendants of Jewish Babylonian exiles during the time of Daniel and Ezekiel or were influenced by the likes of Daniel and Ezekiel.

Regardless, they came to worship. The implication is that they were foreign pagans that had most likely become converts or believers based on the supernatural signs in the heavens which were General Revelation outlined in Romans 1. Perhaps not with a full understanding of who Jesus was but they understood enough to desire to worship infant Jesus. It is an ironic foreshadowing of Jesus' future minstry that this "Star in the East" or the Star of Bethlehem was manifested to Gentiles and laymen (the shepherds in the field), the exact people Jesus would save when his own people, the Jews, would reject Him.

2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

The wise men came to see who would be born king of the Jews. The key word here is born and this is exactly why Matthew has placed this story here immediately after the genealogy of Chapter 1 a list of births. It is to show the lineage of Christ has been specifically engineered by God to produce salvation in His son. The Magi would have become familiar with Balaam’s prophecy in Numbers 24:17: “A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel”. This is a blatant mention of Old Testament prophecy.

There is an irony here. As Jesus is born as a King of the Jews. Herod is appointed as a king later in life and isn't even a Jew, he was a Nabatean/Edomite. The half-breed pretender tries to "off" the legitimate anointed of God here (similar to King Saul and King David).

It is here we see that men appoint other men who are fools and the world sees God's appoint King as a fool or nothing. The paradox is staggering in its complexity and completeness. It is done intentionally to show the contrast between holy God and unrighteous men. It also says a lot about people who the world thinks are nobodies. In the story of Jesus' birth we see the importance of the little things making huge differences. In this way God teaches even great men...humility. Good grief people, the Son of God came as a defenseless infant. God teaches the correct perspective to view life. It teaches us not to be ashamed of the downtrodden and those of low station in life. It teaches us not to favor one person over another...because one of those people might be you master. God cannot stand a proud and haughty heart.

1 Cor 1:27 ~ But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

God sent Jesus the King to save the children of Israel (and the world) through His own selfless death. Herod who is men's king slaughters the children of Israel and causes the death of others to selfishly save himself. In the beginning of Jesus' life he would be dependent on everyone for life. At the end of his everyone would be dependent on Him for life.

It is one of the great paradoxes of Christianity. The manifestation of greatest power of divinity comes in the profoundly weakest form...that of a defenseless infant. This divine infant grows like common man and by the end of his life, He changes the course of history forever. He manages to do it in weakness and submission to the will of God in the Crucifixion. Conversely, all the powers of Hell and man are turned on this infant in a concerted effort to annihilate Him and fail horrendously. Even in death, Christ reigns supreme. All those involved in this murderous attempt are only remembered for their evil and wrong-doing.

Thereby, Herod's kingdom represents a flawed political worldly kingdom. Conversely, Jesus' Kingdom represents the spiritual and holy kingdom always meant to reign on earth. Herod is the imposter, Jesus is the legitimate King. One king acts in hatred and fear, the other will act in mercy and grace. Herod is ruthless in his desire to control. Jesus manages to control through people's desire for Him.

3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.

The word for disturbed is ἐταράχθη/etaraxthe which means he was so upset that he was visibly shaken and confused. Its in the aorist or past tense so the nervousness and confusion is adding to an already existing state from the past. Herod was already known as a loose cannon so it is easy to see why all of Jerusalem would've been nervous. Herod was a homicidal maniac on the loose.  Josephus was even quoted as saying that Herod was, "a man of great barbarity and and a slave to his passions." Herod is nervous not only because he is a slave to his passions, he also understands that he only has a loose grip on his kingdom because he was appointed to it by Rome.

4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: 6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

This is the second blatant reference to prophecy or God having entered history and foretold of the coming of the Messiah. The chief priests and a scribes are mentioning Micah....

Micah 5:2: "But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days."

This ironically goes even farther back to the time of David and 2 Samuel 5:2: "In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the LORD said to you, 'You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.'"

So we see that the story of two kings interestingly parallels the tale of two other kings: Saul and David. One obedient king and another that is disobedient and murderous. We will see that this story-line goes even deeper into Israelite history to the dawn of the Israelite nation in Moses and Pharaoh as we will read later in the next post.

[Concluded In Part II]

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