The Bible tells us in Matthew 2:1-2 that after Jesus was born in Bethlehem wise men came to Jerusalem seeking the King of the Jews. They reported to King Herod that they had traveled from the East following the star that proclaimed the king's birth. These "wise men", as the scripture called them, were astrologers who knew that a king would be born to the Jewish nation and its prophecy had been proclaimed in the heavens by a star that led them to the land of the Jews.
So, who were these "wise men" and how did they know to seek a Jewish king? Why would people from the East want to worship a Jewish king? There is no indication that these men were Jewish, but yet, they wanted to worship this one that was born King of the Jews? People from the East were used to worshiping kings since the days of Hammurabi (1792-1750 BCE) kind of Babylon. But this was different. These wise men came to worship because they were being led by the Lord, God. This is seen in Matthew 2:12 as they were warned by God in a dream to not return to Herod.
To find answers that explain where these men came from we have to go back to the days of Nebuchadnezzar and the Prophet Daniel. When Nebuchadnezzar took siege of Jerusalem during the reign of Jehoiakim, king of Judah (597 B.C.), the Babylonian king ordered the master of his eunuchs to bring some of the captives to serve in the king's palace (Daniel 1:3-4). These had to be young men who were handsome, with no blemishes in their appearance, and gifted with wisdom and the ability to possess knowledge. They were to be taught the language and literature of the Chaldeans so they could serve Nebuchadnezzar in the ways of wisdom and understanding. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were of those chosen from the sons of Judah. The chief eunuch gave them Chaldean names of Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego (Daniel 1:6-7).
It was at this time Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that was troubling to him so he called in all the magicians, astrologers, and sorcerers (Daniel 2:1-13), commanding them interpret the dream. To make sure they understood the dream, the king insisted that they also must tell him what the dream was before they gave the interpretation of the dream. Out of fear for the king's threats, no one was willing to attempt making a mistake, and no interpretation was offered. In outrage, the king decreed that all the "wise men" of Babylon would be killed. When it was reported to Daniel and his companions Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, they were to be killed, Daniel asked the king for time to think about the dream and its interpretation. Daniel was allowed time so he sought the God of heaven for the secrets of the dream (Daniel 2:14-19). God gave Daniel the vision of the dream which he shared with the king and gave the interpretation (Daniel 2:20-45). Out of gratitude for the interpretation, Nebuchadnezzar promoted Daniel to be ruler over all of Babylon and made him the chief administrator over all the "wise men" of Babylon. Daniel 1:21 tells us that Daniel continued in this position until the first year of King Cyrus which was the year he returned with Ezra to the city of Jerusalem. During this time Daniel was the chief administrator over all the wise men of Babylon. He was able to teach these men the truths about the kingdoms mentioned in Nebuchadnezzar's dream. Daniel was able to teach them about the coming king which he spoke of in the dream (2:44) that would establish a kingdom that would never be destroyed. For the next six centuries, Daniel's teachings were passed down by those who were called the "wise men" of Babylon.
The term wise men have been used by ancient civilizations to define men of education, understanding, and wisdom. The Greek word used in Matthew Chapter 2 is μάγος (mágos), pronounced magaus, which was a Chaldean, Persian, and Medes term given to recognize a teacher, priest, physician, astrologer, seer, soothsayer or sorcerer. The plural form of this word is μάγοι (mágee), which is translated in the NIV, NASB, and Latin Vulgate translations as magi. The wise men of Matthew Chapter 2 have been called "the Magi" for centuries in the Christmas stories. The origin of this word comes from the Hebrew term רַב־מָג (rab-mâg), meaning magi or official. The Hebrew term used in the book of Daniel for "wise men" is חַכִּים (khaki-keem'), which is Arabic for magi, magician, or wise man.
When Matthew was moved by the Holy Spirit (2Peter 1:20-21) to write about the "wise men" coming from the East, these men had received revelation concerning the King of the Jews through the teachings of Daniel the Prophet. Six hundred years later those who became the Magi, came seeking Jesus that was born the king of the Jews.
Interesting Things to Know about the Magi and their Gifts
In our modern version of the Christmas story, the Magi are always shown as coming to the manger with the shepherds. If you let the scriptures interpret the timeline of the Magi appearing before Herod you will find that the Magi could not have been at the manger. Herod asked the wise men when the star appeared and it was determined that it had been two years since it first appeared in the sky (Matthew 2:7,16). This is why Herod commanded for all the male children of Bethlehem, two years and down, to be killed, so that he would make sure this newborn king would not survive.
When God led the wise men to Bethlehem using the star (Matthew 2:9-10), the Bible says in verse 11 that "they came into the house. . ." This was not the cave or stable where Jesus was born, but it was a house, and Jesus was now two years old. The wise men from the East started following the star when Jesus was born. After following the star for two years it brought them to the house that Mary and Joseph lived in. Luke's account of Joseph and Mary traveling to Bethlehem lets us know that Joseph lived in Nazareth before Jesus was born because Joseph "went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth" (Luke 2:4) when he journeyed to Bethlehem to be registered under the census that was ordered by Caesar Augustus. Joseph and Mary likely returned to this same city after Jesus was born, and this was where the wise men found them in the house.
Interestingly, the wise men are always depicted as three. Most likely this is because three specific gifts were brought by the wise men and presented to Jesus. It is not clear how many wise men followed the star to Jesus, but the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh would have provided for Joseph and his family for many years. By selling the frankincense and myrrh, they had more than enough to last them until Jesus began his ministry at the age of 30.
Frankincense and myrrh were expensive dried plants that were used for religious and household purposes. Frankincense was burned during pagan offerings to combat the pungent smells of what was being burned. The frankincense gives a much more pleasant smell than that of the burning carcass of an animal with all of its hair and internal parts. Frankincense was also burned during funerals for the same reasons, to mask the smells of the dead bodies. Because of the aromatic fragrance expelled from burning frankincense, the priest used it in the incense offerings of the tabernacle and temple worship (Exodus 30:7,8; 2Chronicles 13:11). Frankincense was ground up with stacte, onycha, galbanum, and salt, to make a sweet smell that was only used to burn in the holy place of the tabernacle and temple worship (Exodus 30:34-38). Myrrh was used for some of the same reasons but it was also used to prepare the bodies of those who have died. Jesus' body was prepared with myrrh (John 19:39). This was a costly process that normally only the rich could afford.
God is Faithful to Fulfill His Word
A final note about the wise men is their presence shows forth the faithfulness of God to fulfill His word. From the days of Daniel until the time when God moved upon the wise men from the East to seek out the newborn king, Israel endured much suffering by the hands of their conquering nations. God promised in Isaiah 9:1-7 that a child would be born and that he would be the one to reestablish justice upon the throne of David. Matthew 1:1-17 is a record of the royal lineage of King David, which reveals that fourteen generations passed from the time the throne of David was overthrown until wise men came to Jerusalem seeing the King of the Jews that was born. This king, from the sons of David, fulfilled the scriptures as being the one who "by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, in Galilee. . ." brought the light to those who walked in darkness (Isaiah 9:1-2; Matthew 4:16; John 8:12).
Since the time that the wise men came seeking the one who fulfills the promises of a savior, all people are made to see the light through the work and ministry that Jesus established. We are now the "wise men" bring the stories of Jesus alive as we continue to tell the Christmas story. Just as the host of angels praised God in the heavens by say, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men," (Luke 2:14), so do we magnify the Lord at this time of year. Join the peace and goodwill that people have this time of year, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Celebrate by saying to everyone, everywhere, "Merry Christmas" because Christ has come. Celebrate by calling this season for what it is "CHRISTMAS"; not x-mas and not the holidays. This is Christmas and we celebrate by not being ashamed of the gospel of Christ, and magnify the Lord with praises and joy, as you help people everywhere see the joy that comes from this time of year.
Merry Christmas to you from Bless Ministries Mobile USA
Pastors Johnny and Ruth Ann Holland