“divinely instructed.” This is a fascinating word—chrematizō #5537 χρηματίζω). Its basic meaning is “to make known a divine revelation from God” (Louw-Nida Greek-English Lexicon Based on Semantic Domains). The word is usually translated “warn,” yet its full meaning is much richer than that. We have translated the term “divine instruction,” in accordance with the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament: “In the NT the verb denotes divine instruction by revelation.” The translation of the NT done by Nelson Darby also has “divinely instructed.”
Outside the New Testament, chrematizō is used as a response of those seeking an oracle—it therefore designates the answer given to someone who is seeking a divine answer. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon defines the word: “to give a response to those consulting an oracle… to give a divine command or admonition, to teach from heaven.” Likewise Bullinger writes in his lexicon, “spoken of a divine response, to give response, to speak as an oracle, speak or warn from God.” The only example of the noun form in the New Testament follows this definition. In Romans 11:2-4, Elijah makes intercession to God about Israel (Rom. 11:2) and God gives back a “divine answer” (Rom. 11:4); it is not meant as a warning, but an answer from God to Elijah’s appeal.
Chrematizō is used nine times in scripture: four times to indicate the divine instruction given in response to an implied seeking of God (Matt. 2:12; 2:22; Luke 2:26; Acts 10:22), three times to indicate the message from God with emphasis on warning (Heb. 8:5; 11:7; 12:25), and twice it is used in its second definition, “to be called, designated as” (Acts 11:26; Rom. 7:3).
When applied here in Matthew 2:12, chrematizō shows us that the Magi asked God what to do, and God instructed them to leave for home by another route and not to go back to Jerusalem and speak with Herod. These men were godly and smart. They did not need to be “warned” that Herod was corrupt and evil—that was well known. The absurdity of Herod’s claim that he would come and worship the Christ would have been very apparent to them. Would Herod, who was so paranoid about losing his throne that he had close relatives executed, really prostrate himself before a would-be usurper of his throne? Never. The Magi did not need a warning; what they needed was divine instruction as to what to do about their situation, and that prompted them to seek advice from God. Concerning this verse Meier writes in his commentary, “the question that preceded [the dream] is presupposed” (Meyer’s Commentary on the New Testament; Matt. p. 63). Similarly, Vincent writes, “The verb means to give a response to one who asks or consults… [it] therefore implies that the wise men had sought counsel of God” (Word Studies, p. 21).
This same reasoning can be applied in Matthew 2:22. Joseph already heard of Archelaus and was afraid to go to Judea, so to translate the verb “he was warned” does not fit the situation, but “divinely instructed” does. Joseph, along with the Magi (Matt. 2:12), Simeon (Luke 2:26), and Cornelius (Acts 10:22), were spiritually discerning and seeking council from God, and thus were divinely instructed in what path to take.
“by another road.” The magi came to see the Messiah at great personal risk and sacrifice. They likely never knew that at least the start of their trip home would likely be as dangerous as any other part of their journey. Herod was furious at them for not telling them who and where the new king was, and Herod was a very vengeful person. For example, near his death he ordered that a large group of distinguished men in his kingdom be killed on the day he died so that the day of his death would be a day of mourning, not rejoicing (when Herod died, however, the men were released). Herod had palace fortresses in many places that covered the roads the magi would have normally taken home. The Bible does not tell us what route the magi took home, but whichever it was, they had to be very judicious about it.
In this video John Schoenheit looks at the Magi and their task of going to see the newborn Christ.