WEEK 13 : The Wise Men from the East

1. SCRIPTURE

Matthew 2:1-12

Mt. 2:1 Now when Yeshua was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem.
Mt. 2:2 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.”
Mt. 2:3 When Herod the king heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
Mt. 2:4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.
Mt. 2:5 So they told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet,”
Mt. 2:6 “‘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 Israel.’”
Mt. 2:7 Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared.
Mt. 2:8 And sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go, and search diligently for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”
Mt. 2:9 When they heard the King, they departed; 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.
Mt. 2:10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.
Mt. 2:11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Miriam His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Mt. 2:12 Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.

Matthew 2:1-12 (NKJV) Other versions ...


2. COMMENTARY

Vs. 1: From the information given in this passage, it can be understood that the wise men were Jewish. In the Bible, the “land of the East” is always the land of Babylon. During the first century C.E., the largest Jewish population was still in Babylon. These people are the descendants of the Diaspora of Nebuchadnezzar. At the time when Nebuchadnezzar took the two southern tribes (and remnants of the other ten) captive, it is very probable that at least 500,000 people were taken to Babylon and were there for seventy years. Even though Ezra, Nehemiah and others returned at the end of the Exile (49,697 according to Ezra 2:64,65), most of the Jewish nation had remained behind.

The area around Babylon was still the center for Jewish learning at the time of Yeshua. The greatest Jewish writing outside the Bible itself is called the Babylonian Talmud. One of the greatest Jewish scholars, Hillel, was supposedly born in Babylon and later came to Jerusalem. Travel between Babylon and Jerusalem was not that uncommon during those days. Many great schools were established in Babylon and historical evidence records that they were active up until the 10th century C.E. when they were destroyed by the Arabs. These types of historical facts are very seldom taught in our churches today and a lot of error has crept in because of it.

The fact that the wise men were looking for a Jewish Messiah (His star), who was expected only by the Jewish people, should be noted. The Rabbis or sages of Babylon were known as Hakkamim, which means wise men. The Greek word magi has a number of meanings. It is true that the word does mean “astrologer.” However, this is not the only use. The same word is translated scientist, counselor, or scholar. We need to ask ourselves this question: why would pagan astrologers (Jews do not practice astrology because it is condemned in the Torah) travel several hundred miles over wild desert to pay homage to a Jewish king who did not have a kingdom and whose land was occupied by the Roman army? This is just another example of why we need to know as much about the background of the Bible as we can in order to really understand what is going on.

There are a couple of misconceptions concerning these “wise men.” First, there is no way of knowing how many there were. The Bible merely uses the plural form which means that there were more than one. We assume that there was three of them because of the three gifts mentioned. A second misconception is that they were kings. Again, the Bible does not say that either.

Vs. 2: A prophecy relating to the Messiah that only the Jewish people would be interested in is found in Numbers 24:17. Because of this prophecy, a star was related to the coming of Messiah. It is an obvious conclusion that the Jewish sages, or wise men, from Babylon, knowing the prophecy in the book of Numbers, relating it correctly to the Messiah, and having seen His star, would travel to Jerusalem to pay homage.

What the wise men saw was not a literal star, but possibly was the Shekhinah Glory. This could not have been a literal star for five reasons. First, it is uniquely the Messiah’s star, for it is called “His star” in a way that is not true of any other star. Secondly, it appears and disappears. Thirdly, this star moves from east to west, from Babylon to Jerusalem. Fourthly, it moves from north to south, from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. Fifthly, it hovers over the very house where the Child is now living. A literal star that would hover over one house in Jerusalem would obviously destroy the entire planet. Just as the Shekhinah Glory was used to announce the birth of the King of the Jews to the shepherds, it was also used to announce His birth to these wise men. There are some who have speculated that this might have been a super nova also, and there is some scientific evidence to warrant this assumption.

Vs. 3: Herod the Great was probably one of the coldest and most bloodthirsty men that ever lived. He killed his sons, his favorite wife, and thousands of innocent people. His fear of losing his throne drove him to insanity. Augustus Caesar, having noted that Herod observed Jewish law and would not eat pork, once made the statement that it was safer to be a pig in Herod’s house than to be one of his sons. It is no surprise that Herod sought the Child’s life, not that all of Jerusalem would be troubled as Herod received the news.

Herod’s reign began by appointment by Marc Antony in 40 B.C.E., a date known from Josephus. “So did Herod take the throne, receiving it in the hundred and eighty-fourth Olympiad, the counsel being Graeus Domitius Calvinus, for the second time, and Gaius AsiniusPollio” (Ant. 14.14.4). Properly taking into account Josephus’ use of partial years when subtracting his stated 37 years gives 4 B.C.E. for the end of Herod’s reign. Thus, according to Matthew and Luke, Yeshua could not have been born later than 4 B.C.E.

Vs. 4: The New Testament quotes the Original Testament in four different ways. The first category is known as literal prophecy plus literal fulfillment. This passage in the N.T. quotes Micah 5:2. If we go back to the context of Micah to see what the O.T. context is talking about, we would discover that it is dealing with the birth of the Messiah. The point of Micah 5:2 is that when Messiah is born, He will be born in the town of Bethlehem in the region of Judah. That is the literal meaning, the literal interpretation of Micah 5:2. In the N.T. there is literal fulfillment of the literal prophecy. Yeshua, when He was born as the Messiah, was born in the town of Bethlehem, and no other town in the tribal region of Judah. Furthermore, He was born in Bethlehem of Judah, and not Bethlehem of Galilee. This is the literal fulfillment of Micah 5:2 by which the N.T. quotes the O.T.

Vs. 9: A normal star could not do this.

Vs. 11: If the chronology of these events is correct as we have presented them, Yeshua was at least nine days old when the wise men came to visit Him. This certainly would explain why the family was in a house at the time. However, this does present a small problem with timing. Since it would have taken the wise men longer than nine days to reach Bethlehem from Babylon, the star must have appeared to them earlier than the birth of Yeshua in order for them to start their journey. The Jewish custom of hospitality must have impressed someone to give the couple with a new baby descent quarters to live for a time until the mother was strong enough to travel. This would explain how Yoseph could take the baby into the Temple to be circumcised at eight days old without any fear.

Herod would not have definite knowledge of His birth for another day after that when the wise men came to visit him. This also shows another error the church makes in its “nativity scenes” when they show the three wise men visiting the Baby still in the manger, where the Bible says the family was now in a house when they arrived. It just makes you wonder if the church is ever going to pay attention to what the Bible really says.

Vs. 12: The gold was an appropriate gift for a king. Yeshua was born to be King of the Jews. The wise men knew they were entering into the presence of royalty. It was then, and still is today, customary to bring costly gifts on such an occasion to be presented to the “King of Kings.” The frankincense was a sweet perfume used by the priest in worship at the Tabernacle or Temple. In addition to being “King of Kings”, He is our High Priest. He actively ministers in the heavenly temple on behalf of those who submit their lives to God. Myrrh was used to embalm the bodies of the dead. This little Child was to grow up and one day be put to death for all the sins of the world. Myrrh was a gift for one who was destined to die.

3. DISCUSSIONS

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