Who were these Magi? Where did they originate? How far was their journey? How long did the journey take? What fears and dangers did they face?
Let’s investigate these questions and try to put them in some frame of reference:
Most of our information about the Magi comes from early church traditions. We often assume that there were three wise men because of the three gifts given to baby Jesus. But nowhere is this stated in the Scriptures. As the years passed, the traditions were embellished. By the third century they were given names: Belhesarea, Melichior, and Gathaspa. Later a fourteenth century American tradition identifies them as Bathasar, Melchior, and Gasper.
The Magi were an old, powerful priestly caste that practiced astronomy as well as astrology. Likely, they would have been familiar with the writings of Balaam the Mesopotamian. (Dt. 23:4)
Balaam was a prophet whom the king of Moab hired to curse the Israelites on their way to Canaan. But Balaam could only speak what the Lord commanded. Instead of a curse, he prophesied a blessing. One of his interesting prophesies is found in Nu. 24:17, “I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; a Star shall come out of Jacob; a Scepter shall rise out of Israel.” The extraordinary star that led the Magi to Jerusalem and on to the newborn king could have been the Shekinah glory of God.
People in ancient times traveled in caravans for protection against raiders and thieves. Since the Magi were wealthy, important, powerful men, it would seem reasonable to assume that they hired a contingent of military men to escort them and their entourage up the Mesopotamian valley and over the desert to their destination. No one in his right mind would attempt such a journey without protection. There was always the threat of attack and fear in such an undertaking. We also know that the desert in that part of the world can produce at any time violent sand storms that make it impossible to travel. It was a long trip that took almost two years to navigate.
If you’ve been on a long trip with children in the car, you know kind of question you’d be hearing along the way. “Dad, are we there yet?” “Dad, how long before we get there, I’m getting hungry.” “Dad, I’m bored—there’s nothing to do.” Of course, that probably doesn’t happen today since all the kids have games to play on their smart phones. But it happened to me back in the 50s and 60s.
A stir arose when the Magi arrived in Jerusalem. King Herod, his advisers, and the whole populace were disturbed and alarmed at the sudden appearance of the Magi. Their request of Herod regarding the one “who has been born King of the Jews was a calculated insult to him, a non- Jew who had contrived and bribed his way into that office. When Herod heard about a rival king he called in his priests and scribes to find out where such a one would be born. They consulted the Old Testament Scriptures and found a passage in Micah that stated: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past.” (NLT)
Isn’t it amazing how a star led the wise men to Jerusalem and once they arrived, the Scriptures led them to Bethlehem and the house where Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were staying.
One of the things that I learned from this story is that the Word of God is reliable and I can rest assured that God will lead me down the right path if I follow his directions. Therefore, it is paramount that I spend time studying his word on a daily basis