The Visit of the Wise Men
Two visitations are celebrated during the Christmas season, which we’ll be looking at over the next couple of weeks. Today, we will take a look at the visit of the Three Wise Men. The Wise Men are a very interesting group. The gospel of Matthew is the only source that tells their story. The name description of these individuals as “wise men” originates from the description of them in the original language of the New Testament. The word used for them in Greek is:
The term refers to the Persian priestly caste of Zoroastrianism, an ancient religion. As part of their religion, these priests paid particular attention to the stars and gained an international reputation for astrology, which was at that time highly regarded as a science. Their religious practices and use of astrology caused derivatives of the term Magi to be applied to the occult in general and led to the English term magic, although Zoroastrianism was in fact strongly opposed to sorcery. The King James Version translates the term as wise men; the same translation is applied to the wise men led by Daniel of earlier Hebrew Scriptures (Daniel 2:48). Although the Magi are commonly referred to as "kings," there is nothing in the account from the Gospel of Matthew that implies that they were rulers of any kind.
Matthew tells us that the Magi came from the East, with no country of origin listed. The Parthian Empire, centered in Persia, occupied virtually all of the land east of Judea and Syria (except for the deserts of Arabia to the southeast). Though tolerant of other religions, the dominant religion of the empire was Zoroastrianism, with its priestly magos class. The Magi give as the reason for their visit the story that they had seen the star of the King of the Jews in the East and that they had come to worship Him. Where did the Magi – men not from Israel get the idea of a Jewish King born, whose birth would be attended by the appearance of a star? The truth is: we’re not completely sure! But, here are a couple of possibilities.
Earlier, we saw that there were wise men led by Daniel. You may remember that Daniel was a part of the exile of the Jewish people by the Babylonians. He was carried away and prepared to learn the history and knowledge of the Babylonian people. Daniel interpreted the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar and was promoted to be the leader and ruler over the wise men of Babylon.
Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts; and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief administrator over all the wise men (magi) of Babylon. /// Daniel 2:48
Daniel remained in his position even after the conquest of Babylon by Persia. It would be normal as chief administrator that Daniel’s teachings, prophecies, and dictates would be recorded for history. The magi would have had access to the following prophecy of Daniel:
Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks. /// Daniel 9:25
Through the study of this prophecy, the magi would have known the time of the birth of the Messiah. But, what about the star? Why would they think a star would appear to signal the birth? Again, not sure. But, here’s a possibility: the book of Numbers tells us about a diviner named Balaam. Balak, king of Moab called Balaam to curse the children of Israel while they were in the land of Moab before they crossed the Jordan River. Balaam is said to have been from Pethor, which means “by the river of the land of the children of his people”. He was from the region east of Israel. As a matter of fact, in 1967, an inscription was found in a sanctuary located close to the Jordan River of a prophecy of Balaam. He apparently was a well known and well respected seer in this area. Numbers 24:15-17 records these words of Balaam:
The utterance of Balaam the son of Beor, and the utterance of the man whose eyes are opened; the utterance of him who hears the words of God, and has the knowledge of the Most High, who sees the vision of the Almighty, who falls down, with eyes wide open: I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A star shall come out of Jacob; a Scepter shall rise out of Israel, and batter the brow of Moab, and destroy all the sons of tumult.
It is reasonable to think that the magi would have known of the prophecies of Balaam. It is also reasonable that, since Daniel was their ruler, they would have known of the prophecies of Daniel and his reverence for the writings of Moses.
The account of the wise men in Matthew does not tell us how many wise men came to Jesus or when they came to Him. The Bible states that they came after Jesus was born and visited him at “the house” where they saw the child and Mary. Some traditions say that the wise men reached Jesus twelve days after His birth – the Twelve Days of Christmas!
But, it could have been much longer after that. Herod asked the wise men the exact time the star had appeared. When he found out the wise men were not coming back to reveal the location of Jesus, Herod ordered the death of every male child in the districts of Bethlehem from two years old and younger. Could the wise men have visited Jesus up to two years after His birth? Finally, we know the wise men brought gifts to Jesus. These gifts are prophetic in nature.
No matter how far away you are, the word of God will lead you to Jesus.
- Matthew 2:1-12
- Daniel 2:48
- Daniel 9:25
- Numbers 24:15-17
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