“Wise Men From the East”
Sunday, January 3, 2016
During the Christmas season I was reading Daniel. I came across the words “wise men” (Dan 2:24). I thought of Matthew’s magi story. Matthew tells us the magi are from the east. I wondered, how did these travelers from far away know of and anticipate the birth of this king of the Jews? So I dug. These travelers, these magi, were a scholarly, priestly class that served as advisors to Babylonian and Persian rulers. Daniel lived when Jerusalem was besieged and Judah was carried off into captivity in Babylon. Daniel is also taken to Babylon, where he was selected and trained for three years in language, literature, all matters of wisdom and understanding, and entered the king’s service.
As we will see next it is quite likely Daniel told them about the savior from God – the God who the Persian ruler so respected.
“In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men[a] from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising,[b] and have come to pay him homage.” -Matthew 2:1-2
The founding prophet of the religion in Babylon was a sorcerer-astrologer (Zoroaster), and indeed, historians tell us he was the “inventor” of both magic and astrology.
Cyrus the Great came into power to become king of Persia. Cyrus is mentioned twenty-two times in the Old Testament—an evidence of his prominence in the biblical scheme of things in those declining days of Judah’s history. When Cyrus overthrew the Babylonian regime in 539 B.C. and became king, he was disposed quite favorably toward the Jews.
Exactly how the Lord “stirred up the spirit” of Cyrus no one is able to say precisely. But there is an interesting possibility. Josephus, 37 – 100AD, the famous Hebrew historian who had access to historical records long since lost, stated that Cyrus was exposed to the prophecies of Isaiah (44:26-45:7), who, more than 150 years earlier, had called the Persian monarch by name, Cyrus, and had announced his noble role in releasing the Hebrews from captivity and assisting in the rebuilding of the Jewish temple (Josephus XI.I.2). It is a fact that Daniel was still living in the early years of Cyrus’ reign.
There has been considerable speculation on what the star was that the magi saw in the East; some say a curious conjunction of planets, others a comet and other possibilities. Whatever it was, it is significant that God was meeting them in their own medium. Scripture tells us He guides the astronomers by a star.
It was revealed to Daniel by the angel, Gabriel, the exact day the
Messiah would come (Dan 9:25). So it is possible the magi were
looking for the event; the advent of God into creation.
The wise men come first to Jerusalem, assuming that the leaders of the Jews would be aware of, and excited about, the birth of their Messiah; they are about to find that this isn’t the case at all.
The magi seem to have not come on the birth night, but much later; the star reappeared for them a second time; they came to a house not a manger.
The magi came bearing gifts. An explanation of the symbolism of the three gifts. Gold – a gift for kings. Frankincense – the Jewish/Christian authors interpreted as honor to Christ’s divinity. Myrrh – used for embalming.
The magi presented their gifts when Jesus was about two years old. (Matthew 2:16)
Misconceptions and legends abound about these wise men.
They were not kings, but wise men – magicians and astronomers. There were not only three, but probably a great company. It was not safe to travel such a distance with just three men carrying such valuable treasures. Three wise men are assumed because three gifts were given. These ancient scientists from Persia were on an important mission. They probably had been alerted to the prophetic significance of their times by Daniel, who instructed them to watch for the Messiah through the generations. Messianic expectation was not limited to Israel!
Indeed! What child is this, of whom angels sing, shepherds worship, and magi from the East travel a great distance to bring him gifts suitable for a king. Jesus is born! Amen