Magi from the East
Again… in every Nativity movie and Christmas Pageant I have seen, the Three Kings or Wise men from the East would arrive in their lumbering camels just right after Jesus’ birth in the stable. On the golden screens, they followed a visible and very bright star on the night sky. That same star would also send down a single ray of golden sparkling light to pin point the spot of where the babe was born. The movies always made it look so magical. That’s Hollywood for you. But what does the Bible really say?
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”
Of course, the obvious question should start with… Who were the magi?
In a nutshell, they were the astrologers of the time. They intensely studied the movements and relative positions of celestial objects to gain divine information which they apply into human affairs. This is clearly supported in verse 2. That is, they interpreted something in the appearance of a star or stars which compelled them to travel from a distant land in the east to Jerusalem. What compelled them? They were inspired that God himself will be there. Their impulse was to worship.
Why were they called kings?
Tradition had labeled them kings based on these passages in the book of the Prophet Isaiah.
“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. They will bring gold and frankincense, and will bear good news of the praises of the LORD.”
How did the Magi know that the babe was to be King of the Jews?
Some have suggested that the Prophet Daniel may be behind this. You may remember him as the one being cast into the lions’ den and God protected him (Daniel 6). During the time when Judea fell to the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, Israel were exiled to the east. That was about 500 years or so before the birth of Christ. Among the exiles were youths from among the royal family and of the nobles of Israel.
Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his officials, to bring in some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family and of the nobles, youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court; and he ordered him to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.
Among those youths was Daniel. To make a long story short, God had made Daniel very special in the king’s eyes. Because of a mysterious dream that God placed in the mighty king’s mind and Daniel was only one who could interpreted it, King Nebuchadnezzar promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts, and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon (Daniel 2:48). (You can read the entire story in Daniel 2.)
The descendants of these wise men, the magi, had protected copies of Daniels written prophesies. It is suggested that when they saw certain signs in the stars that they scoured through his writings and by some divine inspiration they came upon the prophecies of the coming Messiah.
In the next post, we will look at the star that the magi followed.