[The Bible is an “Eastern” book. It was written many years ago in the “East” which today we refer to as “The Middle East.” As such, there are many customs and idioms that are not familiar to the “Western” mind.]
This time of year, many Christians all over the world remember the birth of Jesus Christ. The story is retold in a variety of ways. There are nativity scenes, plays, sermons, etc. One of the elements that has been associated with this story is the record of the Magi.
I am putting this 2 part article about the Magi here in the Eastern Eye category because having some understanding of their background as well as travel in Biblical times will shed much light on this topic.
I was traveling through Iowa in the mid 1980’s and stopped at a McDonald’s to get a quick bite to eat on my journey back home to Des Moines. While today it is politically incorrect, on that December evening I noticed the restaurant had a nativity scene set up. I asked a question about what I saw to the girl waiting on me and she got rather upset with me.
Some of what you are about to read may be different than what you have heard before. It may crash head-on into some traditions that you hold near and dear. I am not purposely trying to upset you.
But on the other hand, if you have read This Is My Story, then you know the purpose of this blog is not to make everyone happy. My endeavor in this blog is to impart information that will be helpful for those who want to live their lives without fear and have more confidence in God.
That being said, let’s step back for a second. Your salvation is not dependent upon your understanding of the account of the Magi coming to Bethlehem. It may be interesting to understand this topic. It may be intellectually stimulating to learn some of the details. But, again, understanding it has nothing to do with your getting saved.
However, what is very important to consider is our correct handling of the Scriptures. If we are haphazard, or bound by tradition with Scriptures that do not directly affect our salvation and our walk with God, how can we then be accurate and honest with the Scriptures that do?
I invite you to take the time to consider what I have to share on this topic, and look at it logically. While there are many things to consider, let’s make sure to allow the Scriptures speak the loudest, for traditions must always take a back seat to the Word of God.
Where Did They Come From?
The only account in the Bible of the Magi coming to Bethlehem is recorded in the gospel of Matthew.
The Bible says that they came from the “East.” This would indicate the area of Persia. In this article I am using the word “Magi” instead of “wise men” to help with understanding. They are also referred to in some circles as “The Three Kings.”
In the gospel of Matthew, the words “wise men” are from one Greek word, “mogus.” This word means, “the name given by the Babylonians (Chaldeans), Medes, Persians, and others, to the wise men, teachers, priests, physicians, astrologers, seers, interpreters of dreams, augers, soothsayers, sorcerers etc.”
There are many who regard this word as having its origins in Babylon. That is very interesting because in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, this word, “mogus,” is found in the book of Daniel, where it is translated “magicians.”
Some scholars have concluded from studying ancient records that the earliest Magi lived in the Persia area. They were a religious sect predating Zoroaster, who founded the Zoroastrian religion. The Magi then adopted the Zoroastrian religion and became the priesthood for that religion.
There are some very interesting things that Zoroaster taught. Among his teachings was that there was only one God Who was supreme, and that God would someday send a redeemer that would save mankind. This teaching is very significant in considering the biblical record of the Magi traveling to Israel.
Two Groups Of Magi
After the death of Zoroaster, there is evidence that the Magi splintered into two major groups. One group abandoned much of the teaching of Zoroaster. The other group chose to continue to follow the Zoroastrian religion and remained primarily in the east.
The first century after the birth of Christ saw more and more of the first group moving west into the Roman Empire. They continued to develop pagan worship, magical arts, sorcery and astrology. It is from this group of the Western Magi that we have derived terms like magic and magician.
It is important to point out that there is a big difference between astrology and astronomy. Astrology is defined as, “a study of the positions and relationships of the sun, moon, stars, and planets in order to judge their influence on human actions.” Astrology, unlike astronomy, is not a scientific study and has been much criticized by scientists.
It is beyond the scope of this article to present adequate information concerning true biblical astronomy versus astrology. Astrology is really a perversion and corruption of true biblical astronomy. By the time of Christ’s birth, the Magi in the “east” were well reputed for their knowledge in astronomy.
When God created the heavens and the earth, the Bible says that the stars were “to be for signs, and for seasons.” God “calls them all by their names; the heavens declare the glory of God; day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.”
Long before the written Word of God, it was the heavens, the celestial bodies that declared, or made known the glory of God, including His plan of redemption for mankind.
How Did They Know?
The Bible says that the reason the Magi came to Jerusalem was that they were looking for the king of the Jews because they had “seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.” In other words, because of their study of the heavens, they knew that the king of the Jews was born.
What they learned from their observations was that not only had a king been born, but this king was so very important that they undertook a very long journey to come and worship him. They certainly didn’t make a trip like that when Herod was born.
How did they knew that this king was to be born in Israel? The answer to that is perhaps best explained by remembering the position that Daniel had in Babylon, hundreds of years before. Because of Daniel’s confidence in God, and his personal relationship with God, he had been made ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and made chief of the governors over all the wise men of Babylon. Daniel was in a position to teach them what he knew.
God’s plan of redemption had been written in the stars. This knowledge had been passed down from generation to generation. Obviously by the time Christ was born, God’s people had lost that knowledge. No one in observing the heavens even had a clue that the long awaited Messiah had been born.
Yet, hundreds of miles away, the Magi, who were Gentiles, while observing the heavens over a period of time, were convinced that THE king of the Jews had been born. They made the necessary preparations for the long journey and traveled to Jerusalem.
Now here is a great question to consider. Why did they travel to Jerusalem and not to Bethlehem? It is really so obvious. The capital city of Israel was Jerusalem. They expected to find the king there. They also expected that everyone else knew about it as well.
Now I am aware that the Bible does not say specifically these Magi knew and understood that the king had been born because the knowledge had been passed down to them for generations. In fact, the Bible does not say specifically that Daniel taught the Magi hundreds of years before about the details in the heavens that declared God’s plans.
However, with the biblical information that we do know, as well as historical information, it is a very solid conclusion. There is, of course, another possibility. God could have revealed it to the Magi in another way. If God did reveal it to them directly, I doubt that He would have sent them to Jerusalem. Remember, when then arrived in Jerusalem, they were expecting to see the king.
Let’s also keep in mind that the Magi who traveled to Israel were indeed experienced astronomers who studied the movements in the heavens.
To be continued…….
[In part 2 we will consider what the Magi observed, what happened when they arrived in Jerusalem, and what happened when they arrived in Bethlehem]
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.
And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,
And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.
Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.
And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.
When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw 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 exceeding great joy.
And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
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In addition to the the reference books listed on each Eastern Eye article, here are a few of many, many books that are related specifically to the topic of the Magi that you may want to check out. Click the link and it will take you to Amazon.
There are a number of books that you can read to get insight on customs, manners, idioms and meanings from the Eastern culture in which the Bible was written. The best I know of were written by by Bishop K. C. Pillai. I have had the pleasure of listening to recorded teaching by him.
He wrote three books, and they are hard to find, and are usually over priced. But, if you want to you can check this link to see what Amazon has to offer. Light Through an Eastern Window
Another great resource that I have used for years is a book called, “Manners and Customs of the Bible,” by James Freeman. Mine was printed in 1972 and I know they have newer additions. For the newest edition, just click the link and it will take you to Amazon. The New Manners and Customs of the Bible (Pure Gold Classics)