By way of preface this blog, my last for 2011, addresses a subject in which I’ve had an interest for many years; I hope your curiosity is aroused and you also find it interesting. DB
Who Were the Magi?
One of the traditional parts of the Christmas story has always been the account of the wise men as related only in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 2, verses 1 – 12. The Greek word used in these verses is magi which is from a Persian word for men who are expert in the study of the stars and also the word from which we get our English word magic.
This Persian word is equivalent to the Hebrew word chakamim used in the book of Daniel to describe wise men who were one of three different types: astrologers, Chaldeans, or soothsayers.
We learn that Daniel, who was later made chief of the chakamim, was responsible for their deliverance when God enabled him to interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. God’s continued blessings enabled Daniel to become a wealthy and influential leader in the Babylonian Empire who lived a long successful life aiding not only the Babylonian leadership but also the Medo/Persian leadership after Babylon fell.
Daniel’s Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks
One of Daniel’s most amazing prophecies concerns the prophecy of the seventy weeks; it is in this prophecy the timing of the Lord’s First Advent is revealed. God revealed to Daniel there would be 70 weeks, or 490 prophetic years, divided into a span of 69 “weeks” which is a prophetic reference to 483 prophetic years and a period of 1 week or 7 years, which would come later.
The 483 years would come to an end when Messiah would be cut off; the prophecy was fulfilled on the 10th of Nisan, March 30, 33 AD on the occasion of the entry of the Lord into Jerusalem. This date is based on the research done by Dr. Harold Hoehner in his book: “Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ,” published by The Zondervan Corporation, 1977, ISBN 0-310-26211-9.
Although the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem is usually portrayed as a triumphal entry, we learn in Luke 19:41 the Lord wept over the city as He beheld it. The Greek work used here is eklausen which is the word for a loud, wracking, sob; this was not just a few tears running down our Lord’s cheeks but a loud sobbing that shook His whole body.
Israel is Set Aside for a Season
It was on this occasion Israel was being set aside for a long period of time during which a people would be called out as the Church, the bride of Christ, the body of Christ. The Church was a mystery hidden from the Old Testament prophets; this mysterious age of grace would continue until the time the church was removed by the Rapture. At some point after the Rapture the last seven years promised to Israel would commence as a time of severe judgment on the world but that is a different subject.
There arises now a question of timing; how did the wise men know there was something very special about this star and how does Daniel and his prophecy of the seventy weeks fit into this picture? We can speculate the star/shining appeared to the wise men at the time of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe it possible, at some point, the star/shining started moving toward the West and would the next night start its Westward movement all over again until the wise men realized the star/shining was inviting them to follow.
An Impressive Caravan
The Bible does not address the subject of the background of the wise men nor does it even tell us how many there were. Because of the three types of gifts it has often been assumed there were three but this is nowhere confirmed by the Bible; the Bible does not even address them as kings, but only as wise men.
There are some who believe the wise men, however many there were, rode on horseback rather than camel and more who believe they were accompanied by a large enough group of men to provide complete protection, serve the traveling needs of the group and properly impress any observer; the Bible is completely silent on these details.
It is at this point I acknowledge I’m speculating when I suggest a possible source for the expensive gifts they gave and their understanding of the timing of this particular star; this particular line of speculation is held by others as well.
God so blessed Daniel that he was to be placed by Darius, the Mede, over the entire kingdom much to the distress of the presidents and princes of the land. The result of this distress resulted in Daniel’s lion’s den experience as described in Daniel 6. The reason I mention this was to show the great prominence Daniel had in the kingdom of the Medes and the Persians.
What I believe happened is Daniel, after God’s revelation of the seventy weeks prophecy, established a group of sympathetic chakamim that would preserve a legacy for the coming Messiah. It would be a simple matter for them to determine the 483 years and to calculate the likely date of the birth of Him who was to be cut off at the end of that period.
I think it possible that Daniel entrusted to them the financial resources that would make the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh available at the time of the Messiah’s birth. I believe they were given a time frame during which to expect a special birth which would be signaled in a special way.
What Kind of Star Did They See?
Since one of their areas of expertise was the study of the stars, the appearance of a new star would certainly attract their attention. That brings up the nature of the star that led them to Bethlehem; it’s my speculative opinion that this was not a regular star, but was in fact the Shekinah Glory of God, the glory the shepherds experienced in Luke 2:9.
Although God was certainly at liberty to create a star and move it around as He willed, I’m more inclined to believe that this star-like manifestation was God’s Shekinah Glory. The Greek word used here is astera which can also refer to a luminous, shining body.
In summary what I’m suggesting is Daniel, inspired by the seventy weeks prophecy, established a special group of wise men to hold a legacy in trust and await the arrival of the Messiah. An approximate time frame was provided as to when those entrusted with the legacy could expect the birth of the Messiah. The starting point for the 483 prophetic year countdown came on March 5, 444 BC when Artaxerxes issued the decree noted in Nehemiah 2:1-8 and prophesied 95 years earlier in 539 BC by Daniel in Daniel 9:25.
When the supernatural star-like shining appeared to them in the sky, they correctly interpreted it as the long awaited sign and eventually followed the star/shining to Bethlehem where they were able to worship the Messiah and give Him the gifts that had been entrusted to their predecessors so many centuries before.
It is interesting to note for a time they must have lost sight of the shining; they went to Jerusalem and asked directions from Herod who, after consulting with the chief priests and scribes, sent the wise men to Bethlehem where Herod had been told the Messiah would be born.
In Matthew 2:9 we read the star/shining was now visible again and “went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.” In verse 10 we read: “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.” I think this joy was based on their temporarily having lost sight of the star/shining which resulted in their effectively announcing the birth of the Messiah to the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem.
Although this is speculation, it is based on fact and is, in my opinion; more plausible than saying these wise men just happened to see the star and just happened to have a small fortune available to give to Him, and just happened to stop by Herod’s palace and ask for directions to the one “born King of the Jews,” as Herod was not a legitimate king of the Jews.
The gifts enabled Joseph and Mary to escape to Egypt and avoid the murderous rampage of King Herod when he ordered the death of all male children in Bethlehem two years and younger. Matthew 2:13-18
Our family has always been thankful for Daniel’s ministry even to the point of naming our second son after him; so giving him additional credit for planning ahead is appropriate and fitting especially when credit is so well deserved.
As mentioned earlier, this will be my last blog planned for 2011; by God’s grace, and should He tarry, I plan on publishing my first 2012 blog on Monday, January 2nd.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!