You are equally led away by the sound of names, when you so understand the riches of Damascus, and the spoils of Samaria, and the king of Assyria, as if they portended that the Creator's Christ was a warrior, not attending to the promise contained in the passage, |For before the Child shall have knowledge to cry, My father and My mother, He shall take away the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria before the king of Assyria.| You should first examine the point of age, whether it can be taken to represent Christ as even yet a man, much less a warrior. Although, to be sure, He might be about to call to arms by His cry as an infant; might be about to sound the alarm of war not with a trumpet, but with a little rattle; might be about to seek His foe, not on horseback, or in chariot, or from parapet, but from nurse's neck or nursemaid's back, and so be destined to subjugate Damascus and Samaria from His mother's breasts! It is a different matter, of course, when the babes of your barbarian Pontus spring forth to the fight. They are, I ween, taught to lance before they lacerate; swathed at first in sunshine and ointment, afterwards armed with the satchel, and rationed on bread and butter! Now, since nature, certainly, nowhere grants to man to learn warfare before life, to pillage the wealth of a Damascus before he knows his father and mother's name, it follows that the passage in question must be deemed to be a figurative one. Well, but nature, says he, does not permit |a virgin to conceive,| and still the prophet is believed. And indeed very properly; for he has paved the way for the incredible thing being believed, by giving a reason for its occurrence, in that it was to be for a sign. |Therefore,| says he, |the Lord himself shall give you a sign; behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son.| Now a sign from God would not have been a sign, unless it had been some novel and prodigious thing. Then, again, Jewish cavillers, in order to disconcert us, boldly pretend that Scripture does not hold that a virgin, but only a young woman, is to conceive and bring forth. They are, however, refuted by this consideration, that nothing of the nature of a sign can possibly come out of what is a daily occurrence, the pregnancy and child-bearing of a young woman. A virgin mother is justly deemed to be proposed by God as a sign, but a warlike infant has no like claim to the distinction; for even in such a case there does not occur the character of a sign. But after the sign of the strange and novel birth has been asserted, there is immediately afterwards declared as a sign the subsequent course of the Infant, who was to eat butter and honey. Not that this indeed is of the nature of a sign, nor is His |refusing the evil;| for this, too, is only a characteristic of infancy. But His destined capture of the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria before the king of Assyria is no doubt a wonderful sign. Keep to the measure of His age, and seek the purport of the prophecy, and give back also to the truth of the gospel what you have taken away from it in the lateness of your heresy, and the prophecy at once becomes intelligible and declares its own accomplishment. Let those eastern magi wait on the new-born Christ, presenting to Him, (although) in His infancy, their gifts of gold and frankincense; and surely an Infant will have received the riches of Damascus without a battle, and unarmed.
For besides the generally known fact, that the riches of the East, that is to say, its strength and resources, usually consist of gold and spices, it is certainly true of the Creator, that He makes gold the riches of the other nations also. Thus He says by Zechariah: |And Judah shall also fight at Jerusalem and shall gather together all the wealth of the nations round about, gold and silver.| Moreover, respecting that gift of gold, David also says: |And there shall be given to Him of the gold of Arabia;| and again: |The kings of Arabia and Saba shall offer to Him gifts.| For the East generally regarded the magi as kings; and Damascus was anciently deemed to belong to Arabia, before it was transferred to Syrophoenicia on the division of the Syrias (by Rome). Its riches Christ then received, when He received the tokens thereof in the gold and spices; while the spoils of Samaria were the magi themselves. These having discovered Him and honoured Him with their gifts, and on bended knee adored Him as their God and King, through the witness of the star which led their way and guided them, became the spoils of Samaria, that is to say, of idolatry, because, as it is easy enough to see, they believed in Christ. He designated idolatry under the name of Samaria, as that city was shameful for its idolatry, through which it had then revolted from God from the days of king Jeroboam. Nor is this an unusual manner for the Creator, (in His Scriptures ) figuratively to employ names of places as a metaphor derived from the analogy of their sins. Thus He calls the chief men of the Jews |rulers of Sodom,| and the nation itself |people of Gomorrah.| And in another passage He also says: |Thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother an Hittite,| by reason of their kindred iniquity; although He had actually called them His sons: |I have nourished and brought up children.| So likewise by Egypt is sometimes understood, in His sense, the whole world as being marked out by superstition and a curse. By a similar usage Babylon also in our (St.) John is a figure of the city of Rome, as being like (Babylon) great and proud in royal power, and warring down the saints of God. Now it was in accordance with this style that He called the magi by the name of Samaritans, because (as we have said) they had practised idolatry as did the Samaritans. Moreover, by the phrase |before or against the king of Assyria,| understand |against Herod;| against whom the magi then opposed themselves, when they refrained from carrying him back word concerning Christ, whom he was seeking to destroy.