December 23 - The Magi - Matthew 2:1-12

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

December 23 - The Magi - Matthew 2:1-12

There is a lot of history that needs to be understood as we approach this passage of scripture.

Matthew 2:1 says that the Magi came to Jerusalem during the time of Herod after Jesus was born. This information (after Jesus was born) is going to be important to remember later on as we think about the seeming contradiction between this passage and Luke 1:39. But, that's for later.

Who was Herod? Herod the Great ruled as governor of the Galillean province from 47-37bc. He was famous for building cities, fortresses and temples throughout the land when the Romans put him into place as ruler over all of Palestine in 37 bc. He ruled, even though the Jews despised him, until his death in 4 bc. This historical fact is the main reason that the latest date possible for Jesus to have been born is in 4 bc.

Herod's three sons, Herod Archelaus, Herod Philip 1 and Herod Antipas divided his kingdom. His grandson, Herod Agrippa reunited the kingdom took Philip's territory in 34, was given Antipas' territory in 39 upon his death and then Archelaus' territory in 41 AD as a gift from his very good friend Caligula. He died in 44 AD and his son Agrippa II ruled the northern parts of the kingdom until his death in 92 AD and the dynasty was extinct.

In 40 bc however, the Persians joined with the Jewish rebellion to oust Herod from his rule. However, 3 years later, the Romans joined forces with Herod and he re-took the region and was given control of Jerusalem and Palestine. This helps us to understand why having Wise Men come from Persia would have disturbed him (Matthew 2:3). Having them look for the 'new king of the Jews' was not something he would want to support.

Who were the Wise Men (the Magi)? In Dan 2:2; 2:48; 4:6-7; 5:7 we read about them and find that they were part of the priestly caste of the Persians and Babylonians. The group that came to Jerusalem were astronomers. More than likely they had heard of the prophecy regarding the new king and recognized that the star they saw in the sky was not a part of the normal star patterns. Numbers 24:17 speaks of a star coming out of Jacob.

Because there were three gifts given to Jesus - gold incense and myrrh (Matthew 2:11b), tradition has assumed that there were only three Magi and even gave them names (Caspar, Melchior and Balthazzar). There is no historical basis for fact in that information. It is just as likely that there many more than that and that they traveled with a large retinue to maintain their safety in Herod's kingdom.

The arrival of the wise men with gifts seems to fulfill prophecy from both the Psalms and from Isaiah (Psalm 72:10–11, 15 and Isaiah 60:1–6).

Tomorrow I will go a little more deeply into the story of Herod's encounter with the Magi and their encounter with the little family. It is nearly Christmas Eve! Praise God for His most precious gift!