“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. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.”
Nativity scenes all over the western world depict three wealthy travellers on camels attending the birth of our Lord in the manger. Some regard these visitors from the east as kings (we even have a Christmas song to that effect; “We three kings of orient are, bearing gifts we traverse afar . . .”). Because they came bearing three kinds of gifts (gold, frankincense, and myrrh), many assume there were only three wise men. The Bible is silent on the issue; for all we know, there could have 20 of these men. The timing of their visit is also a bit confused. By the time they reach the young family in Bethlehem, the Lord is no longer a baby but a young child (Matthew 2:8-9,11,13-14,20-21). They are no longer in a stable but in a house (Matthew 2:11). In all likelihood a couple of years had passed between the Lord’s birth and the arrival of the wise men. There has been endless speculation on who these men were and how they were made aware of prophecy concerning the birth of Israel’s unique king. It might be that during Judah’s exile in Babylon, particularly through the ministry of Daniel, that people in the east were made aware of God’s promise to send His divine King into the world (Psalm 2; 110; Micah 5:2; et al). The “star” that directed the wise men almost certainly corresponds to the prophecy of Balaam, recorded some 1400 years earlier: “I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth. And Edom shall be a possession, Seir also shall be a possession for his enemies; and Israel shall do valiantly” (Numbers 24:17-18). Though the language is somewhat cryptic we understand that the promised King will one day conquer and subdue Israel’s enemies. The mention of Edom is instructive. Herod the Great was an Edomite, and illegitimate heir to the throne of David, appointed by the Romans. Both he and the wise man may have been thinking, not only of Balaam’s prophecy, but of the psalmist’s inspired words: “Vow, and pay unto the LORD your God: let all that be round about him bring presents unto him that ought to be feared. He shall cut off the spirit of princes: he is terrible to the kings of the earth” (Psalm 76:12). Whereas the wise men brought gifts in accordance with the psalm, Herod lapsed into a paranoid, self-centered fear of losing his position and power. In the end Herod lost both. Ironically, it is those who cede the throne of their lives to Jesus in this life who will rule as priests and kings with Him in the future (Revelation 5:9-10). Hallelujah and Maranatha!