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LUKE CHAPTER 2
Luke 2:1-5 Augustus taxes all the Roman empire: Joseph goeth with Mary to be taxed at Bethlehem.
Luke 2:6,Luke 2:7 The birth of Christ.
Luke 2:8-14 An angel bringeth news thereof to the shepherds: the heavenly host praise God.
Luke 2:15-20 The shepherds, finding it to be as the angel had said, glorify God.
Luke 2:21 The circumcision of Christ.
Luke 2:22-24 The purifying of Mary.
Luke 2:25-35 Simeon’s prophecy,
Luke 2:36-38 and Anna’s, concerning Christ.
Luke 2:39,Luke 2:40 Jesus groweth, and increases in wisdom.
Luke 2:41-50 At twelve years of age he goeth with his parents to Jerusalem, and questions with the doctors in the temple,
Luke 2:51,Luke 2:52 he is obedient to his parents.
Octavius Caesar (called Augustus, for his prosperous achievements) was the first Roman emperor properly so called, (for Julius Caesar had but the title of perpetual dictator), in the forty-second year of whose reign Christ was born, (Josephus saith, in the one and thirtieth year, Antiq. cap. 10.), Herod the Great being at that time king of Judea, being so declared by the senate of Rome near forty years before. It was the custom of the Romans to take a particular account of the numbers and qualities of all persons inhabiting countries under their jurisdiction, in order to the laying of taxes upon them. About the time of the birth of Christ there was a decree issued from the Roman emperor for such a census or account to be taken of the Jews, who, some think, are here only understood by the term, all the world; others think that it was a decree which reached all that part of the world which was subject to the Roman emperor. This trust it seemeth was committed to Cyrenius, governor of Syria; whether he was at that time governor, or afterwards made governor, and at this time only a commissioner for this business, is not agreed. That this Cyrenius was the same whom the Roman historians call Quirinius is pretty well agreed. Great endeavours are used to reconcile what Luke saith here to Josephus and the Roman historians, who make Varus, not Quirinius, at this time the president of Syria. Those who desire to be satisfied as to those things may read Mr. Pool’s Synopsis Criticorum upon this text, &c. Where civil historians differ from what we have in holy writ, we are obliged to believe them mistaken, not the penmen of holy writ, who were guided by an infallible Spirit. Leaving therefore those disputes, and in what sense this census is called the first, or is said to be first begun, when Cyrenius or Quirius was president, as being of no great concern, (for other historians grant Quirinius at this time a commissioner with Caius Caesar, and within ten years after president, in succession to Varus), let us rather herein observe the wonderful providence of God in the ordering of things for the fulfilling of his word, while we think of no such things, to which purpose doubtless this is premised by the evangelist. According to the counsel of God, declared by his prophets, Micah 5:2, Christ was to be born at Bethlehem, the metropolis of Judea; so the chief priests and scribes tell Herod, Matthew 2:5. Mary his mother, and Joseph his supposed father, lived at a great distance from Bethlehem, in Nazareth, a city of Galilee. God so ordereth it, that the Roman emperor (under whose power the Jews were at this time) orders a numbering of all his subjects, either in all his dominions at the same time, or at least in Judea, and an account to be taken of their persons and qualities, in order to the laying taxes upon them, to defray the charges of the empire. The account of the Jews being to be taken according to their tribes, those who belonged to each tribe were ordered to convene in the chief city belonging to the tribe of which they were. Joseph and Mary were both of the tribe of Judah. This occasion brings them both to Bethlehem, being the chief city of their tribe, to meet the emperor’s commissioners. So Christ came to be born in Bethlehem, according to the word of the Lord, from which a tittle shall not fail; and little Bethlehem becomes not the least amongst the thousands of Judah, one coming out of it to be a Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth were of old, even from everlasting.
This was the occasion of Joseph’s coming to Bethlehem, who either for fear of Herod, or for the convenience of his trade, (though he belonged to the tribe of Judah), was removed into Galilee; but he yieldeth obedience to the civil magistrates, and cometh to be enrolled in the court books belonging to the Roman empire, to which by this action he acknowledgeth himself a subject; he also by this act publicly declared both himself and Mary his wife to have been of the tribe of Judah, and of the family of David. We are told it was the custom of the Romans to enrol both women and children; however, Mary’s personal attendance upon this homage might have been excused by her being great with child, had not the counsel of God so ordered it, that Christ should be born there; this doubtless carried Mary along with Joseph, he having now (according to the angel’s direction, Matthew 1:20,Matthew 1:24), took her unto him as his wife. While they were there, Mary’s time of childbearing was
accomplished: we have the like phrase Genesis 25:24.
It is Bucer’s note, that in the Greek it is not her firstborn Son, but τον υιον αυτης τον πρωτοτοκον, her Son, the firstborn; he was truly her Son, and her Son firstborn, but he was not called προωτοτοχος upon that account merely, for he was the firstborn of every creature, Colossians 1:15; he was the firstborn also of Mary, but it cannot be from thence concluded she had more sons, for where there is but one son he is the firstborn.
And wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, &c. Whether the inn was in the city, or in the suburbs adjoining near to the city, is not material for us to know; nor, considering the occasion of meeting at Bethlehem at that day, and the numbers who upon that occasion must be there, is it at all strange, that a person of no higher visible quality than a carpenter should not find a room in the inn, but be thrust into a stable; nor was it unusual in those countries for men and women to have lodgings in the same rooms where beasts were kept, it is no more than is at this day in some places even in Europe. Here the virgin falls into her labour, brings forth her Son, and lodgeth him in a manger; God (by this) teaching all Christians to despise the high and gay things of this world. He who, though he was in the form of God, and thought it not robbery to be equal with the Father, thus making himself of no reputation; and being found in fashion as a man, thus humbling himself, as the apostle speaks, Philippians 2:6-8.
Bethlehem was a place about which were pastures for sheep, as appears from 1 Samuel 17:15. There were shepherds abroad in the night (for so the word signifieth) watching over their flocks; whether the phrase signifieth (as some think) successive watches, such as are kept by soldiers, and by the priests, I cannot say. This maketh some think, that it is hardly probable that our Saviour was born in December in the midst of the winter, that being no time when shepherds use in the night to be keeping their flocks in the field.
Christ was promised to men who by their occupation were shepherds, Genesis 47:3. He himself was the chief Shepherd, and the true Shepherd, John 10:11. The first publication of his birth is made to shepherds; not to shepherds that were idle, but busied in their honest vocations, keeping their flocks. This publication of his birth is made by an angel, whether the angel Gabriel before mentioned, or another, is not certain. This angel surprises the shepherds, cometh upon them thinking no such thing, but only minding their business. The angel comes in a glorious appearance, probably an extraordinary light, for it is said, it
shone round about them: such an appearance of extraordinary light is Luke 9:31,Luke 9:32. That
they were sore afraid was but natural; we are naturally affected at sudden and unusual appearances with fear and amazement.
Though God, in his appearances to his people, was wont so to appear, as to show them cause to revere his majesty, yet he always supported them, that their spirits might not fail under those apprehensions and consternations. The angel bids them not to fear, for they had no reason to be afraid, he came not to bring them any frightening tidings, but
tidings of joy, and that not to them alone, but to all people, both Jews and Gentiles, for to that latitude the text may be expounded. What was that?
Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. You have heard of the promises of the Messias, of a Christ that should come, and of the house of David. The promises of that nature are this day fulfilled, he is
born this very day; unto you, but not to you alone; he had before told them that his tidings of joy should extend to all nations.
And this shall be a sign unto you, by this you shall know the truth of what I say, and you shall know also where to find him; in
the city of David (that is, Bethlehem, as was said before)
ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. Where you find such a babe, that is he, therefore be not offended at his low and mean condition, let that be no stumbling block to you, I give it you as a sign by which you shall know him.
The nativity of our Saviour was published first by one angel, but it must be celebrated by a multitude of angels, who appear praising God upon this occasion. These are called the Lord’s host, Psalms 103:20,Psalms 103:21, not only because he useth them as his arms, to destroy his enemies, but also because of the order which is amongst them. How they praised God is expressed Luke 2:14, they sang
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men. The words may be taken either judicatively, as signifying that was come to pass that day, by which God would have glory, men would have peace, and the good will of God to the sons of men was unspeakably declared: or precatorily, the angels desiring God might have glory, and that peace might be on earth, and the goodwill of God published to the sons of men. But the Vulgar Latin is most corrupt, that rendereth these words, peace to men of good will. When we consider that the heavenly host was here praising God, it will appear very reasonable to interpret these words judicatively; the angels hereby declaring their apprehensions, and the truth concerning this act of providence, no act more declaring the glory of God’s power, wisdom, or goodness; nor more declaring his good will towards men, and more conducing to peace upon the earth, whether by it we understand the union of the Jews and Gentiles, or that peace of particular souls which floweth from a justification by faith in Christ; for though the text seemeth to speak of three things,
glory to God, peace on earth, and good will toward men, yet indeed they are but two; the two latter differing only as the cause and the effect; the good will of God is the cause, peace with or amongst men is the effect, Romans 5:1; Ephesians 2:14,Ephesians 2:15,Ephesians 2:17.
It was night, yet they delayed not to go and make a search, according to the revelation of the angel; and not in vain, they
found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe. Divine revelations never deceive the soul that gives credit to them. Heaven and earth may pass away, but nothing which God hath spoken shall pass away without its accomplishment.
When they had seen it, they made known the saying, &c: they had no charge of secrecy upon them, so did well in publishing what was of such universal concern for men to know. Spiritual morsels ought not to be ate alone. The effect of their relation, in the generality of the people that heard it, was the same which we have often met with upon the people’s seeing of Christ’s miracles, viz. amazement and astonishment; we read nothing of their faith. The first was a natural effect of a strange relation. The other must have been the special operation of God.
The different effect of these things upon the generality of the people, upon Mary, and upon the shepherds, is worthy of our notice. The people only wondered, thinking the story of the shepherds a strange story. Mary suffereth them not to pass out of her thoughts, nor entertains them with a mere passion, which suddenly is extinguished; but she pondereth them in her heart, both those things she had learned from her husband, and what herself had heard from the angel, and this also, which was related to her of or by the shepherds. The shepherds return, that is, to the care of their flocks. Religion gives none a discharge from their secular duties: the disciples had a special call and command, that left their nets, and their parents, and followed Christ. The shepherds were only made occasional preachers, pro hac vice; they return, but
glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them; which argued that they gave a firm and full assent to them, and that they were the first fruits of believers under the gospel dispensation. True faith produces great joy and thanksgiving to God, and needs must produce joy, because of the union it maketh betwixt a soul and its desired object.
The time prescribed by the Divine law for circumcision was the eighth day. Genesis 17:12; Leviticus 12:3. He was indeed the lawgiver, and as such not tied to the observance of the law. But he was also made of a woman, made under the law, Galatians 4:4; and the law was, Leviticus 12:2, that if a woman had conceived seed, and borne a man child, in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin should be circumcised. He was to make himself appear the Son of Abraham; and so this was God’s covenant, Genesis 17:10, with Abraham and his seed after him; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. This law Christ was bound to fulfil, and by the fulfilling of it in this point he showed himself a debtor to do the whole law, Galatians 5:3, and by his observance of it he was to teach us our duty. He was to be a minister of the circumcision, Romans 15:8, and to the circumcision, which they would never have allowed him to be, had not he himself been circumcised; upon which account Paul took Timothy, and circumcised him, Acts 16:3. By his circumcision also we were to be circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, Colossians 2:11. It was therefore reasonable and necessary that Christ should be circumcised the eighth day.
His name was called Jesus; it was in circumcision before witnesses publicly declared to be so, for God by his angel had given him his name, Matthew 1:21. We read of four under the Old Testament, to whom God gave names before they were born; Isaac, Genesis 17:19, Josiah, 1 Kings 13:2, Ishmael, Genesis 16:11, Cyrus, Isaiah 44:28; and in the New Testament to John the Baptist, and to Jesus Christ. Which lets us know the certainty to God of future contingencies; for though the parents of Ishmael, and Isaac, John the Baptist, and Christ, imposed those names in obedience to the command of God, and there was but a small time betwixt the giving of these four their names and their birth, yet the case was otherwise as to Josiah and Cyrus.
In these verses is a record of the virgin’s obedience to two laws, the one concerning the purification of the woman after child birth; the other concerning the presenting of the male child before the Lord. We have the law concerning purification, Leviticus 12:1-8 throughout. The sum was, That if a woman had brought forth a male child, she should be unclean seven days, and after that continue in the blood of her purifying thirty-three days. If she brought forth a female, she was to be unclean fourteen days, and afterward to continue in the blood of her purifying sixty-six days. So that the time of the woman’s purification after the birth of a female was fourscore days, for a male (which was the present case) forty. After the expiration of which time, she was to bring a lamb of a year old for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtle dove for a sin offering, to the priest to the tabernacle, who was to offer it for her, and to make an atonement. If she were poor, and not able to bring a lamb, (which seems the present case), then she was to bring only two turtle doves, or two young pigeons, the one for a burnt offering, the other for a sin offering. The evangelist takes no notice of any lamb, but only
a pair of turtle doves, or two young pigeons; which lets us know she was poor, and so obliged by the law no further. Mary, after her forty days were expired, cometh up to the temple, to yield obedience to this law. And not so only, but also to present her child before the Lord. This depended upon two laws. We find the one Exodus 13:2, where, in remembrance of God’s sparing the Israelites, when he smote the first born of the Egyptians, he gave the Israelites this law: Sanctify unto me all the first born, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is mine. So Exodus 22:29; Exodus 34:19. Instead of these, God took the Levites, as appears by Numbers 8:16; yet were the first born to be presented before the Lord, and redeemed by the payment of five shekels apiece, for all those who were above the number of the Levites, as appeareth by Numbers 3:44-47; and five shekels was the redemption price of any male upon a singular vow, Leviticus 27:6. For these two ends, after six weeks, Joseph, and Mary, and, Jesus come up to Jerusalem.
Interpreters have spent much pains in fortifying their conjectures (for they can be no more) that this Simeon was Rabban Simeon, the son of Hillel, the father of Gamaliel, but to what purpose I cannot tell; it can hardly be thought that a man of that note should do such a thing as this so openly, and no more notice be taken of him. That which Calvin, and Brentius, and other Reformed divines do think is much more probable, that he was some ordinary, plain man, of an obscure quality as to his circumstances in the world. There was a general expectation of the Messias at this time, but very few had a right notion of him, but lived in a vain expectation of I know not what secular prince, who should bring them a temporal deliverance. These few were scarce any of them of their rabbis or rabbans, but a poor despised sort of people, whom those great doctors counted accursed, John 7:48,John 7:49. The revelations of Christ were to none of the Pharisees, but to Joseph, a carpenter, to Mary, a despised virgin, though of the house of David, to an ordinary priest, Zacharias, to shepherds; and why we should fancy this Simeon a principal doctor I cannot tell. The evangelist gives him his highest title,
A just man, and devout, and one that waited
for the consolation of Israel. One of the remnant, according to the election of grace, mentioned by the apostle; a holy and righteous man, one who waited for the consolation of Israel. Which is the same in sense with the character given of Joseph of Arimathea, Luke 23:51, that waited for the kingdom of God. Simeon waited for Christ, that is meant by the consolation of Israel. For it is very observable, that the prophets ordinarily comforted the people of God amongst the Jews, against all their sad tidings they brought them, with the prophecies of the coming and kingdom of Christ, Isaiah 66:13; Jeremiah 31:13; Zechariah 1:17. Herein old Simeon showed the truth of his piety and devotion, that he believed and waited for the coming of Christ; he had a true notion of the Messiah promised, he believed that he should come, and he waited for his coming.
And it was revealed unto him, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ: God by the Holy Ghost gave him this special revelation, as the reward of his faith and the answer of his prayers, that he should live to see Christ born. The same Holy Spirit moved him to go into the temple, at that very time when Joseph and Mary brought in Christ, to present him to the Lord according to the law, and (though it be not expressed) certainly the same Spirit did intimate to him that that Child was the Lord’s Christ. The old man takes him up in his arms, blesseth God, and saith, Luke 2:29-32
The song consists of an eulogium of Christ, whom Simeon here calls:
1. The Lord’s salvation;
2. A light to lighten the Gentiles;
3. The glory of Israel;
and a petition, that now the Lord would let him depart in peace. But I shall take the words in order.
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word. He desireth to die, having now lived to see what alone he desired life for. It is a speech much like Jacob’s, Genesis 46:30, when he had seen Joseph, whom he thought lost, but spoken here upon a much more weighty consideration. The word translated
depart, signifies to absolve, and forgive, Luke 6:37; to dismiss, and to deliver as from bondage and misery. It is used to express the death of good men, by the Septuagint, Genesis 15:15; Numbers 20:29; and the noun from it is used so by the apostle, 2 Peter 1:15. Simeon owns God to be the Lord of his life, who had the power of it, and could alone dismiss him; and signifieth himself to be an old man, satisfied with days, willing to be at rest from the miseries of this life; but he begs to be dismissed, and to die in peace, that is, happily: see Genesis 15:15; 2 Kings 22:20; Psalms 4:8.
According to thy word, that is, thy promise, mentioned Luke 2:26. But the putting of these words in before those words
in peace, seems to import that he could not die in peace before he had seen God’s word fulfilled to him, in which he had made him to hope.
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, that is, thy Christ, according to the revelation I had from thee. Simeon had a special revelation of a corporeal sight of Christ; he could not die happily till he had had that. None of us can die in peace, till we have seen the Lord’s salvation with a spiritual eye, and made application of the promises of the gospel, in the more general revelation of his word.
Thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; that is, the author of salvation, for there is no salvation in any other, Acts 4:12. Simeon declares that this salvation was prepared for all people. Isaiah 11:10, he was prophesied of as an ensign for the people, to it shall the Gentiles seek. So Isaiah 52:10, The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. So Psalms 98:2. Simeon speaks the same thing more particularly, Luke 2:32,
A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. All the people mentioned Luke 2:32 were either Gentiles or Jews. Simeon here prophesieth, that Christ should lighten the Gentiles. The state of the Gentiles (by whom were understood all the people in the world except the Jews) is often in Scripture expressed under the notion of darkness, both in respect of the ignorance of the true God which was amongst them, and of their idolatry and superstition, and their lewd and wicked lives, much proportioned to their religion. Hence Paul is said to be sent to the Gentiles, to turn them from darkness to light, Acts 26:18. Christ is called light; John 8:12, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. So John 9:5. Conformable to the old prophecies: Isaiah 60:1-3, Arise, shine, for thy light is come. Behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people; but the Lord shall arise upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light. And speaking of Christ, Isaiah 49:6, I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth. So Isaiah 42:6, And give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles. See Psalms 98:3; Acts 13:47.
And the glory of thy people Israel. All the earth is the Lord’s, but Israel is called his son, his first born, Exodus 4:22. Christ was the minister of the circumcision, Romans 15:8. To them it was that he was promised, of them it was that he was born, Romans 9:5. Amongst them it was that he preached and wrought miracles: He came unto his own, John 1:11. It was said of old, I will place salvation in Zion for Israel my glory, Isaiah 46:13. Christ is the glory of any people; the preaching of Christ, the owning and professing of Christ, a living up to his rules, this is a people’s glory. And as some do this more and better than others, so in God’s account they differ from others in what is true glory.
Brentius notes on this text, Non admirantur quia non credunt, sed quia credunt ideo admirantur, They did not admire because they did not believe, but because they believed therefore they marvelled. They had revelations what Christ was; the angel had appeared to Joseph, to Mary, to Zacharias, and Elisabeth; the wise men had come from the east (if, as some think, they came so soon); yet they marvelled; they did not contemn and mock at these things, but certainly neither did they fully understand them, but in the general believed the Divine revelation. I do doubt whether, before Christ was declared to be the Son of God with power, by his resurrection from the dead, Romans 1:4, either Mary or Christ’s own disciples did steadily and firmly believe, that Christ was the eternal Son of God; though it was clear that before that time they believed him to be sent of God, and a great Prophet, nay, the promised Messias, the Christ of God, and generally believed that what was spoken of the Messias and the Christ belonged to him, but whether they did rightly understand that the Messiah was to be God man I cannot tell. John Baptist seemeth clearest in the case. Peter also made a famous confession of it, but many things we read of Peter afterward which speak even Peter’s faith in the case rather the embryo of faith than a fixed and perfect faith. But I impose nothing here on my reader, let him judge as he seeth reason; supposing a fixed firm faith in this case, yet they might marvel, for Christ is to be admired of them that believe.
Simeon blessed them: some may question how it was that Simeon blessed Christ, whereas the apostle tells us, The less is blessed of the better, Hebrews 7:7. But we must distinguish between:
1. A prophetical blessing, as Jacob blessed his sons, which was nothing but a prediction how God would bless them.
2. An authoritative blessing, as the priests blessed the people in the name of the Lord, Numbers 6:1-27; which is nothing but a pronouncing them blessed by authority from God, whom God hath blessed.
3. A charitable or precatory blessing; praying God to bless them.
Thus inferiors may bless superiors, as well as superiors may bless inferiors. The first or last, or both those, is to be understood here, not the second.
And said unto Mary his mother; not to Joseph, who he knew was not his natural, but legal and reputed, father.
Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel. That by the fall and rising again is here meant the salvation and damnation of many is doubted by no valuable interpreters. The apostle so applies Isaiah 8:14,Isaiah 8:15, where he is said to be for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken. So doth Peter, 1 Peter 2:8. Neither is it more than Christ telleth us, John 9:39, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind. Accordingly the apostle saith, 2 Corinthians 2:16, that they were to some the savour of death unto death, to others the savour of life unto life. The reason is, because they that believe in him shall be saved, they that believe not shall be damned, Mark 16:16; John 3:18,John 3:36. This is now granted on all hands, that Christ will be the occasion of many people’s damnation, even all that reject and oppose him, and believe not in him; and the cause of many people’s salvation, even all that shall be saved: for there is no other name given under heaven, by which any can be saved, Acts 4:12; see Matthew 21:44; 1 Peter 2:4,1 Peter 2:5. And it is observable, that the salvation of souls by Christ is expressed by the term rising; so as all are, fallen, Ephesians 2:1, and have need of the application of a greater power to them for their salvation, than an under propping of the innate power of their wills. But the great question is about χειται, is set, whether it signifieth only an event, or some counsel and ordination of God. Let us compare it with other texts where the same word is used, Philippians 1:17; 1 Thessalonians 3:3. How such great issues of providence should happen without the foreknowledge of God, or how God should have any such foreknowledge without a previous act of his will determining the thing, let any one consider; in the mean time it is freely granted, that the intervening of men’s unbelief, and malice, and opposition to Christ and his gospel, is the proximate meritorious cause of the fall of any soul by occasion of him.
It follows, and for a sign which shall be spoken against; such a mark as Job speaks of, Job 16:12; or such a sign as Isaiah speaks of, Isaiah 8:18. Simeon here prophesieth, that Christ, and his ministers and people, should be ridiculed, and all the arrows of ungodly men should be shot against him; which proved true in that age as to Christ and his apostles, and in succeeding ages as to all that derive from him, and will so hold to the end of the world.
Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also; as the irons entered into the soul of Joseph, Psalms 105:18. He tells the virgin her soul should be wounded with the reproaches and indignities which should be offered to this blessed babe, as it proved afterwards, when she heard him reviled, and saw him crucified.
That the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. The gospel times, especially times of persecution, will discover whom God hath chosen, and whom he hath not, by discovering the thoughts of their hearts; it will then be seen who will receive and who will reject the Messias, who is on his side and who will be against him. The term that doth denote the consequent, not the effect. The preaching of the gospel is the Lord’s fan, by which he purgeth his floor. Persecution is the Lord’s sieve, by which he winnoweth churches, and separateth the dirt, and darnel, and tares from the wheat. Gospel times and times of persecution are both of them times which make great discovery of men’s spirits.
God took care that our Saviour’s nativity should be fully attested. To the testimony of the angels, the wise men, the shepherds, Simeon, here is added another. It is that of Anna, who is described here by her tribe and by her father. She was
of the tribe of Aser, one of the meanest tribes, and of those ten tribes that were carried into the captivity of Assyria, having before made a defection (under the conduct of Jeroboam) both from the house of David and from the true worship of God. But though the generality did so, yet many particular persons removed, to enjoy the true worship of God, and joined themselves to Judith. Jeremiah 1:4, it was prophesied, that the children of Israel should come, they and the children of Judah together, going and weeping, to seek the Lord their God. What her father
Phanuel was we read not. She is also further said to be
a prophetess. Such there were amongst the Jews; we read of Deborah, and Miriam, and Huldah, to whom king Josiah sent. They were called prophets and prophetesses who revealed the will of God unto the people; but in the Old Testament it most generally signified, such as God enabled to foretell things which were to come. The spirit of prophecy had much failed amongst the Jews for four hundred years before Christ; about Christ’s coming it began to revive. This woman seems to have been upwards of a hundred years old, if we account the eighty-four years here mentioned from her widowhood; not so, if we count them from her birth. She was but seven years married, all the rest of her life she had spent in widowhood. She
departed not from the temple night or day; that is, she was frequently there, giving up herself wholly to religious exercises, prayer, and fasting, that she might be more fit for prayer. This woman
coming in at that instant where Simeon took up Christ in his arms, &c.,
gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to such as she knew in Jerusalem,
who looked for the redemption of Israel. There is no place where God hath had a name, but, however it be corrupted and debauched, hath a number that keep close to God. God in Ahab’s time had seven thousand in Israel; and in this most corrupt time there was a Simeon and an Anna, and also others, who had a true notion and expectation of the Messiah; and these the Holy Ghost taketh more notice of than of all the Jewish doctors, all the scribes and Pharisees, whose names are enrolled, while what these persons said and did shall remain for a memorial of them wherever the gospel shall be preached to the end of the world.
If the wise men, mentioned Matthew 2:1, had been with Herod before this time, it is more than probable that Herod would have made an end of Christ at this time, therefore certainly it was after this time. Luke saith nothing of what we have Matthew 2:13-15,Matthew 2:19-23, of Joseph going into Egypt upon the admonition of the angel, nor his coming back; but both Matthew and Luke agree in their dwelling at Nazareth, which he calleth
their own city, for there Joseph dwelt, Luke 2:4. How after this the wise men came to find him at Bethlehem, Matthew 2:1-12, the Scripture hath not told us. It is very idle for any to say Joseph dwelt there, for then he would not have taken up his inn there, nor been put to such a stress as to have his wife bring forth in a stable; besides, it is apparent from Luke 2:4 and this verse, and from Matthew 2:23, that he dwelt at Nazareth. God, who ordered the motion of the wise men, and their instructions to be sent to Bethlehem to look for Christ, could easily find Joseph some business to be done there at that time, whether some business of his trade, or some visit to his friends, we cannot say.
This verse shortly sums up all that we have in the Gospel of the history of the first twelve years of our Saviour’s life. Though there could be no accession to the perfection of the Divine nature in Christ, yet as to his human nature he was (as we are) capable of accession of habits, and wisdom and knowledge; for though the Divine nature was personally united to the human nature, yet there was no communication of properties.
The law of God enjoined all the males of the Israelites to appear at Jerusalem before him three times each year, of which the feast of unleavened bread was one; but the women seem not to have been all under the same obligation, but many of them went, of which Mary was one, but we read not of Christ’s going till he was twelve years old. Some think that the women used to go once in a year, we read that Elkanah’s wife went, 1 Samuel 1:5-7, but whether they generally did so or not the Scripture saith not. One thing is observable: the Pharisees, and scribes, and priests had in those days much corrupted the worship of God by their traditions, yet they retained the substance of God’s institutions; we find both our Saviour and his disciples, and other people of God, not wholly forsaking the Jewish church because of its corruptions, yet we cannot think they joined with them in any thing of their will worship; from whence we may learn a tenderness as to a total separation from a church, and the lawfulness of attending divine ministrations, though attended with usages which we approve not of, provided there be no idolatry in the service.
It is said by those who are learned in the Jewish writings, that till a child was of this age he was not obliged by the law to go. We have in Scripture nothing to ascertain us in the case; it is certain that our Saviour went at this age,
after the custom of the feast, that is, so as to be there about the fourteenth day of the month Nisan.
The feast of the passover, and of unleavened bread, held seven days, during which time Joseph and Mary stayed in Jerusalem, and then returned. They usually both went to and returned from these feasts in great troops, or companies. Christ tarried behind; Mary, thinking he had been in the company, missed him not; they return to Jerusalem to seek him.
What was the subject matter of the doctors’ and Christ’s discourses is vainly questioned, only in the general we may be assured it was something about the Divine law; what the particular themes or subjects were is not material for us to inquire. Our Saviour so answered their questions, as they were all astonished.
Though something must be allowed to a woman’s passions and a mother’s indulgence, yet one would think that, especially considering where they found him, and what doing, she should not have spoken thus unto him, had she had a clear and distinct knowledge of his Divine nature, in union with her flesh: she speaks to him with the authority of a mother,
Why hast thou thus dealt with us?
Some read it—that I must be in my Father’s house? Then the sense must be, why did you seek me in any other place than the temple, that is, my Father’s house, there lieth my business. But the phrase seemeth rather to signify as we translate it. He doth here signify that God was his Father: that Mary might have known, not only from the revelation of the angel, but because she had not known man; but she did not yet fully understand his Divine office as Mediator, and the great Prophet promised, that should reveal the will of God to people; much less did she yet fully and distinctly understand, that he was by nature the eternal Son of God: she believed so much as was revealed to her clearly concerning Christ.
It is said,
they understood not the saying which he spake unto them; they had not a clear and distinct understanding of it. In the mean time, from these words of our Saviour, and this fact of his, we may learn, that inferiors are not in all things under the power of their most natural superiors; particularly not in such things wherein they cannot yield obedience to them without a disobedience unto God. There are some cases wherein, instead of obeying, we are bound to hate both father and mother by our Saviour’s precept.
We left him at Nazareth, after Mary’s purification, Luke 2:39; we find him at Nazareth now at twelve years old. We shall now read no more of him till Luke 3:23, when he came to be about thirty years of age. What he did in the mean time is a business of too much curiosity for us to inquire, and of very little significance to us if we knew. Some think he wrought with his father upon his trade. As I cannot tell how to prove it, so I know nothing against it. It is not likely he was sent to any of the schools of their prophets, as he who could argue with the doctors pertinently at twelve years of age, and to whom the Spirit was given not by measure, had no need of their instructions: so their academies were not such as we can reasonably think that Joseph and Mary should seek any education for him in them; and I know no reason why we should think, that he who abhorred not the womb of the virgin, nor a stable, nor a manger, should abhor the works of an honest vocation, and not much more abhor an idle life. But we dispute about these things in vain, being such as to which we can never be satisfied (God having hidden them from our knowledge); what is for our instruction is told us, he was subject unto his parents. This teacheth the greatest and highest mortals to honour their fathers and mothers; which (saith the apostle) is the first commandment with promise. Solomon honoured his mother, and behold a greater than Solomon is here, paying his homage also both to the womb that bare him, and to his (supposed) father that provided for him, and protected him.
But his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. Mary was no forgetful hearer, some things she did not yet clearly understand, but she kept them in her heart; and those who do so as to God’s word shall in time understand them.
If any ask how he, who was the eternal Wisdom of the Father, (who is the only wise God), increased in wisdom, they must know that all things in Scripture which are spoken of Christ, are not spoken with respect to his entire person, but with respect to the one or the other nature united in that person; he increased in wisdom, as he did in age, or stature, with respect to his human, not to his Divine nature. And as God daily magnified his grace and favour toward him, so he gave him favour with the neighbourhood, and people of Galilee, so as that when he came forth to be a public minister, he came forth as a bishop (the chief Bishop of souls especially) ought to do, having a good repute even of those who were without. And thus we leave our Saviour’s history, for about eighteen years of which the history of the gospel tells us nothing.
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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Luke 2". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20