Characters Of Christmas: Wise And Not-So-Wise Men

Posted: December 22, 2014 in Thoughts on God

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. (Matthew 2:1-4 ESV)

Who were these wise men?

We know these men were Gentile and not Jewish. Although we cannot be 100% certain, it’s probable that they were part of priestly group among both the Medes and Persians. They studied medicine, religion, astronomy, astrology, divination, and magic. Scripture does not give us any clear explanation on how they had been exposed to the Messianic prophecies, but one strong possibility is what’s known as the Jewish diaspora. The Assyrians invaded and deported much of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 740-722 BCE while Babylon did the same to the Southern Kingdom of Judah in three mass deportations in 597, 587, and 582 BCE. If we were to rewind five to six hundred years earlier in Old Testament we read of a Jewish man named Daniel became quite influential in Babylon and Persia.

Although Daniel is considered a Jewish prophet, it’s not coincidental that he was also one of the leading “wise men” or “magi” whose role included interpreting dreams- the same type of group and from the same area the wise men of the Christmas story came from. We can only guess that Daniel’s prophecies concerning the Messiah had been passed down to them. These wise men responded to what God had given them. They had a star and a shadow of the truth.

This provides quite a contrast to the others in this part of the Christmas story. King Herod by all historic accounts was a paranoid murderous tyrant. Although his title was “King of Israel,” Herod was a sell-out and puppet to the Romans. He cared only about power and nothing for the people he ruled. The 2nd chapter of Matthew records him ordering the slaughter of thousands of infants in a crazed attempt to prevent the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy. This maniacal king had unchecked power.

Matthew also briefly introduces us to the priests and scribes- characters who reappear throughout the gospels. The scribes were the experts and teachers of the religious law and traditions. As the elite theologians and scholars, they were personally responsible for copying what we know as the Old Testament scriptures one letter at a time. They embodied the term, “letter of the law” and no one knew the prophecies like these guys. These scholars had detailed knowledge.

Continue reading Matthew 2 and see how each of these individuals or groups respond to the news of the Messiah.

How do you respond to the news God has given you?

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