When considering the account of the wise men, questions arise: Why were they ‘watchers of the skies’? How did they know what this special star meant? Where did they get the determination and courage to follow it to find out whose birth it signaled? Why did foreigners bring such extravagant gifts to the King of the Jews? What did they ‘do’ with the discovery they made? What ‘happened’ to them after they returned to their country?
William Barclay references Herodotus in saying these Magi, as this group of sky-watching caravaners was called, were likely Medes, a people group who attempted to overthrow the Persians. Unsuccessful, their legal ideas infiltrated Persian government (“The laws of the Medes and the Persians”) and they became priests to Persian kings. Noted for holiness and wisdom, they functioned much as did Levites within Israel. Seekers after truth, they excelled in philosophy, natural science, medicine, prophecy, and dream interpretation.
Ancient Persia is modern Iran. Sadly, any resemblance to that country’s current truth-stifling leaders is non-existent, and wise ones will ponder whom they wish to be more like...Magi who earnestly seek Truth, or those who deny Him.
The Magi were sky-watchers, living in a time when all men were astrologers, recognizing a Power beyond them, above them. Since stars, planets, etc., were the most orderly entities they knew, they believed one’s life was controlled or at least influenced by the ‘star one was born under.’ A strange, new star (numerous accounts attest to unique heavenly phenomena at this time) would have been a sign of some auspicious development of more-than-usual import, the birth of a king, not a commoner.
In fact, there was at this time, in Barclay’s words, “a strange feeling of expectation of the coming of a king. Even the Roman historians knew about this.” (Daily Study Bible, Matthew, I, 27) He quotes Seutonius: “There had spread over all the Orient an old and established belief, that it was fated at that time for men coming from Judea to rule the world.” And Tacitus: “[T]here was a firm persuasion that at this very time...rulers from Judea were to acquire universal empire” And Josephus (a Jew): “About that time one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth” (Ibid). Such quotes lend new meaning to those Biblical words “In the fullness of time....”
But the wise have always known there is a Higher Power; that to access Truth and divine wisdom, they must look ‘up,’ must become ‘God-watchers,’ not headline-readers. The wise know that God has an eternal plan, is on the Throne of the Universe, and He implements His will in His way and timing, using whom He will as His tools. Not only was this true of the birth of His Son and other events of ancient Biblical history. It remains true of world events and will be true of the end of the world. Moreover, it is true of the “days of our lives.” The wise have always known that, trusted that....
Truth-seeking, upward-looking, God-trusting; attuned to His intervention in world events, to the arrival of His chosen King; determined to ‘find’ Him, to offer their gifts....These traits describe the wise men of old... If we are wise, they also describe us.
Have a good week!