What does Matthew 2:12 mean?
ESV: And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
NIV: And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
NASB: And after being warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.
CSB: And being warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their own country by another route.
NLT: When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.
KJV: And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
NKJV: Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.
Verse Commentary:
The wise men had fulfilled their quest. They had found the Christ of Israel, the child born to be the "King of the Jews." Their study of the Jewish Scriptures and their tracking of a strange star had been validated at last by the opportunity to worship this long-promised savior of Israel (Matthew 2:1–2).

Their arrival in Jerusalem, however, had alerted the current political king to a potential threat to his own power. He sent the Magi to Bethlehem to find the child with instructions to let him know if they did so. He claimed to want to worship the boy himself (Matthew 2:3–8). His true motives become clear in the following verses. Herod wants to eliminate even the possibility of a threat to his own Rome-backed reign over Israel.

The wise men might have been entirely unaware of this plot by Herod. Based on this verse, they probably planned to go straight back to Herod and announce they had found the new "King of the Jews." God interrupted that plan in a similar way to his interference in Joseph's plan to break off his betrothal to Mary when he learned she was pregnant: a dream (Matthew 1:20).

We're not told whether an angel was involved in this dream or how many of the wise men experienced it. All we know is that it was convincing enough to cause them to leave town without returning to Jerusalem or King Herod. The wise men not only kept Jesus' location secret from Herod, they left secretly so he would not even know how long they had been gone.

God supernaturally intervened to protect Jesus during His youth, and He will do so again in the following verse.
Verse Context:
Matthew 2:1–12 describes the arrival in Jerusalem of a group of wise men, sometime after Jesus' birth. They are responding to the sight of a ''star'' in the night sky, leading them to conclude the ''king of the Jews'' had been born. King Herod is troubled by this news and sends them to Bethlehem. His deceitful orders are for the wise men to return and tell him where the child is. The travelling scholars are overjoyed to find the Christ, at last. They worship Him by bowing and presenting expensive gifts. Warned not to return to Herod, after all, they slip away by another route.
Chapter Summary:
King Herod is surprised and troubled by the arrival of wise men from the east. They have come looking for a newborn king of the Jews. Herod directs the men to Bethlehem to find the boy for him. The wise men find and worship Jesus. Rather than cooperating with the wicked Herod, the wise men slip away. An angel warns Joseph to flee to Egypt with his family before Herod kills all the boys in Bethlehem two years old and younger to protect his throne. After Herod's death, an angel sends Joseph back to Israel and then God directs him to settle with Mary and Jesus in Nazareth in the region of Galilee.
Chapter Context:
Chapter 1 established the genealogy and miraculous conception of Jesus Christ. Sometime after Jesus' birth, a group of wise men from the east arrive in Jerusalem. They have been tracking a star that points to the birth of the king of the Jews. They find and worship Jesus, then leave without telling the wicked king, Herod, where to find the boy. Warned by an angel, Joseph flees with Jesus and Mary to Egypt before Herod orders the execution of all the boys in Bethlehem two years old and younger. When notified by an angel again, they return to Israel and settle in Nazareth, in the northern region of Israel known as Galilee. This leads into chapter 3, which leaps forward to Jesus' adulthood, and the ministry of John the Baptist.
Book Summary:
The Gospel of Matthew clearly shows the influence of its writer's background, and his effort to reach a specific audience. Matthew was one of Jesus' twelve disciples, a Jewish man, and a former tax collector. This profession would have required literacy, and Matthew may have transcribed some of Jesus' words as they were spoken. This book is filled with references to the Old Testament, demonstrating to Israel that Jesus is the Promised One. Matthew also includes many references to coins, likely due to his former profession. Matthew records extensive accounts of Jesus' teaching, more than the other three Gospels.
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