Monthly Archives: December 2014

Who Were the Magi?

There came wise men from the east to Jerusalem

There came wise men from the east to Jerusalem

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. (Matthew 2:1-2)

No Nativity scene is complete without three wise men and their entourage. Of course, any student of Scripture understands that their number is unknown but rather inferred from the three gifts that were presented to the Christ child – gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2:11). Nor did they arrive at the moment of His birth, but rather some two years later. We know this because the family was living in a “house” (v. 11) rather than a stable (Luke 2:7). The wise men also found a “young child” (Greek: paidion – a toddler) rather than a “babe” (Greek: brephos – an infant). Regardless, the shepherds, wise men, singing angels and the whole menagerie make for a sweet tableau at Christmastime.

But who were these “wise men” and from where did they come? First of all, the Greek word translated as “wise men” is magoi meaning an “oriental scientist,” or by implication, a “magician” or “sorcerer.” The Latin translation of the Greek is magi, which is also commonly used in English. Secular sources say that the magi were the Zoroastrian priests of the ancient Medes and Persians. John Wesley suggests that “Probably they were Gentile philosophers, who, through the Divine assistance, had improved their knowledge of nature, as a means of leading to the knowledge of the one true God.” Other commentators suggest that they had Balaam’s prophecy (Numbers 24:17), and perhaps Daniel’s (Daniel 9:24, etc.), handed down to them by tradition. Adam Clarke offers this: “It is very probable that the persons mentioned by the evangelist were a sort of astrologers, probably of Jewish extraction, that they lived in Arabia-Felix, and … came to worship their new-born sovereign.”

The Bible has little to say about these men. They came from the “east,” which most agree is from the area of Persia. Since no one really seems to know for certain, I feel free to offer my suggestion. I reject the secular view that these men were Zoroastrian priests. While a pagan priest might be familiar with Hebrew Scriptures (because as educated men, they would probably study a wide variety of sources), they would not necessarily be compelled to take them seriously. After all, they adhered to their own religion. I agree with Clarke who suggests that they were “probably of Jewish extraction.” My guess is that they were of the remnant that remained in Babylon after Cyrus allowed the Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem. Daniel remained in Babylon and maintained a high position as advisor to the king. Daniel was a “wise man.” Undoubtedly he established a school for wise men where he taught from the Hebrew Scriptures. There were many Jews that served in high positions in the Persian court: Mordecai (Esther 2:19), Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:11); so it is reasonable to conclude that others followed suit. As Jewish “wise men,” they would have a greater reason to study the Scriptures as they yearned for their Messiah, the King of the Jews. I conclude that these magi were Jews coming from Babylon in search of their Messiah, and “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy” (Matthew 2:10). And when they found the child, they “fell down, and worshipped him” (Matthew 2:11).

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A Bohemian Goose and a Saxon Swan

Ever wonder where the cliche “his goose is cooked” originated? Here’s your chance to find out…

Lee's Birdwatching Adventures Plus

A Bohemian Goose and a Saxon Swan

by James J. S. Johnson

Of whom the world was not worthy: they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (Hebrews 11:38)

The ministry of God’s messengers sometimes reminds me of geese and swans, but why?

To explain why those two birds (the Goose and the Swan) remind me of God’s messengers, some background information on waterbirds, combined with some European history, is necessary. (See the earlier posting titledBirdwatching in Iceland”, and notice especially the coverage of geese and swans.)

A Bohemian Goose (Jan Hus).

Many of this website’s readers are already familiar with the Christian Reformer and martyr, Jan Hus (a/k/a John Huss), for who the Hussites were named. Jan Hus was a Christian Bible scholar and teacher, in Bohemia (e.g., Prague), a land that today is called the Czech…

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The Fullness of Time

Adoration of the Child

But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.  (Galatians 4:4-5)

It’s that time of year again; Christmas is in the air. Regardless of your perception of Christmas – it’s too commercial, it’s under attack, it’s just a pagan celebration dressed up in Christian garb, etc. – it is altogether appropriate that Christians set time aside to commemorate the first advent of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

At this time we remember the miraculous conception and birth of God made man (John 1:14), but too often our focus shifts away from the significance of that event to the sappy sentimentality of the Nativity scene. As sweet as the image of a cuddly infant lying in a feeding trough adored by loving parents and worshipped by shepherds and wise men may be, the fact remains that this baby was God clothed in human flesh. The thought that the Creator condescended to take the form of His fallen creation (Philippians 2:7) to redeem as many as would receive Him (John 1:12), should leave us awestruck.

This was no afterthought on the part of God. In my article, “Why Satan?,” I address the issue of why God allowed sin in the first place, but along with the possibility of sin, God provided a way out (Hebrews 4:3; Revelation 13:8). From the very beginning there was the promise of a Savior (Genesis 3:15). Eve understood this promise, and at the birth of her first-born she rejoiced, “and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD” (Genesis 4:1). The literal translation of the Hebrew actually says “I have gotten a man Yahweh (the Lord).” She believed that she had given birth to the Savior according to the promise of God. But the time was not right. God wanted His creation, man in particular, to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28; 9:1). Abraham “Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be” (Romans 4:18).  That promise was not only for Abraham, “But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (Romans 4:24-25). For “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). So, when the time was right, God entered the world He created (John 1:3) as a helpless baby – fully God and fully man – to give up His life to buy back and restore His fallen creation. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Very soon, at the fullness of time, He will return for His own as He promised: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:3). So, regardless of your perspective on Christmas, as Christians it is a good time to remember that baby in the manger was God who came to die for us that we may live with Him, and soon we will be with Him.

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