(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)
The story of the wise men traveling from the east to find “…He who has been born King of the Jews…” is very much a part of the Christmas story. Here is just some of that story from Matthew 2, verses 1 and 2, and verses 9 and 10:
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”...behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.
I left out their meeting in Jerusalem with King Herod because I wanted to emphasize the star, often called ‘The star of Bethlehem’! Also, this installment of The Prophesies Of Christmas is posted four days after Christmas! It is fitting because the wise men didn’t show up at the stable to worship the newborn babe lying in the manger! They arrived up to two years after Jesus’ birth! More on this a bit later.
How did the wise men know to follow the star to Bethlehem? Although all the information is not directly given in Scripture, we can surmise their reasoning and put together the time line.
- It goes back 14 centuries to when Israel was about to enter the Promised Land of Canaan. This was forty years after their Exodus from Egypt under the leadership of Moses. In Numbers 22:1 we are told, “Then the children of Israel moved, and camped in the plains of Moab on the [eastern] side of the Jordan across from Jericho.” The king of Moab, Balak, and all the Moabites were “…exceedingly afraid of the people [of Israel] because they were many, and Moab was sick with dread….” After all, Israel had recently conquered two powerful kings and their kingdoms, “…Sihon king of the Amorites…” (see Numbers 21:21-24), and “…Og king of Bashan…” (see Numbers 21:33-35). So King Balak sent an embassy to the city of Pethor in northern Mesopotamia to summon the renown prophet Balaam, telling him:
Look, a people has come from Egypt. See, they cover
the face of the earth, and are settling next to me!
Therefore please come at once, curse this people for
me, for they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall
be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land,
for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he
whom you curse is cursed.
(Numbers 22:5, 6).
But Balaam, who turned out to be a false prophet in the end, would not curse Israel, but blessed them instead three different times! So King Balak sent him packing back to Pethor! But before he departed, Balaam gave a prophesy concerning the future of Israel, Moab, and other kingdoms, including an amazing oracle recorded in Numbers 24:17:
I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; a Star shall come out of Jacob; a Scepter shall arise out of Israel, and batter the brow of Moab, and des- troy all the sons of tumult.
This proved to be a prophesy of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ! And a Star was to be involved in His appearance!
- Forward 800 years. Because of the sins of the split kingdoms of Israel and Judah, both were sent into captivity – Israel by Assyria (see II Kings 17:5, 6), and Judah by Babylon in three deportations (see II Kings 24:1-4; 10-16; 25:8-11). And when the Jews went, they carried their sacred writings, the Scriptures, with them – including the book of Numbers!
- In the second deportation, we are told in II Kings 24:14 (Good News Bible):
Nebuchadnezzar [king of Babylon] carried away as prisoners the people of Jerusalem, all the royal princes, and all the leading men, ten thousand in all. He also deported all the skilled workers, in- cluding the blacksmiths, leaving only the poorest of the people behind in Judah.
Most likely, Daniel and his three Hebrew fellows, were taken to Babylon at this time! We know that Daniel was elevated to the position of “…ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief administrator over all the wise men of Babylon.” (Daniel 2:48). Daniel was the chief Magi! Six hundred years later, the Magi (called “…wise men from the East…” in Matthew 2:1) came to worship the Jewish Messiah King!
- The Bible record does not say the wise men were from Babylon. Our featured Scripture just tells us they were “…from the East …” (Matthew 2:1).
- The Magi (the word from which we get our words, ‘magic’ and ‘magician’), were not those who performed sleight of hand, nor where they given only to occult practices. They were astrologers/astron-omers who studied the events of history, as well as the events of the present, believing the realm of the heavenlies influenced what took place on earth! Their studies included the collected documents (clay tablets, parchments, etc.) of both current and ancient writings.
- Daniel (given the Babylonian name Belteshazzar) and three other Jewish young men – Hananiah (Shadrach); Mishael (Meshach); and Azariah (Abed-Nego), were also deported with Daniel (see Daniel 1:6, 7). These four were promoted by King Nebuchadnezzar to be Magi! They would have known and taught the Hebrew Scriptures to the other Babylonians around them! Such knowledge was passed down through successive generations.
- In their document libraries were copies of the Jewish Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament, also called ‘the books of Moses’); including Balaam’s prophesy in Numbers, chapter 24: “…a Star shall come out of Jacob; a Scepter shall arise out of Israel….”
- The cult of the Magi lasted for centuries, even to the time of the birth of Christ, when the Magi, the “…wise men from the East came…saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?’ ” (Matthew 2:1, 2).
And so came the Magi! It does not say they were kings, nor does it say they were three. It just tells us in Matthew 2:11 that there were three royal gifts: “…gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”
Apparently, the Magi did not tie together two important prophesies concerning the Messiah:
- Balaam’s prophesy from Numbers 24:17, and…
- Micah’s prophesy in Micah 5:2 (see Prophesies Of Christmas – V):
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.
They came to Jerusalem, not Bethlehem because, logically, Jerusalem was the capital of Judah where the king reigned. That was where they thought they would find “…He who has been born King of the Jews…” (Matthew 2:2). Instead they found an aged, sick, and demented King Herod on the throne! But through Herod’s access to the chief priests and scribes (see Matthew 2:4), the Magi learned…
...where the Christ was to be born.... “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Isreal.” (Matthew 2:6).
And so the Magi departed from King Herod.
...and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. (Matthew 2:9-11).
Note: Earlier I made the comment: The Magi arrived up to two years after Jesus’ birth! This is deduced from several bits of Biblical evidence:
- If the star of Bethlehem appeared when Jesus was born, it would have taken months for the Magi to research their many documents to discern the meaning of the star! If indeed the wise men were from Babylon, that city was 500 miles directly east of Jeruslem! But it was more than a 700 mile journey by caravan route! It would have taken many more months for preparation and travel!
- Matthew 2:11 says that “…when they had come into the house…” a house, not a stable!
- Continuing with what Matthew 2:11, it tells us: “…they saw the young Child ….” Thayer’s Greek Definitions describe young Child this way: “…a young child…a little boy, a little girl…,” not necessarily an infant! Yet when Jesus was birthed, obviously He was a new-born infant!
- In Matthew 2:16, King Herod (demented with age and infirmity) gave a command to…
...put to death all the male children who where in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he de- termined from the wise men.
Why two years old and under? Two years before was the time the star appeared! And that was how long it took for the Magi to research the matter and to travel to Judea!
O come, let us worship and bow down [with the Magi];
let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.
For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture,
and the sheep of His hand.
Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts…