The Magi, the official title of those grand Wise Men of old, is actually a Latinized version of the Greek magoi, a word which itself has been borrowed from an earlier Persian word for a specific sect of priests. These Media-Persian priests formed an important – and hereditarily-specific – role in their native kingdom, not only overseeing the continuation of vast religious insights, but also playing a particular role in matters of state (including the election of the king of the realm).
It was to this group that Daniel, in Daniel 6, was elevated as chief by Darius, thereby unsettling the status quo of the days, and inevitably setting into motion the chain of event that would ultimately lead him to the lion’s den.
In any event, after centuries of turbulent politics within the region and amongst the Persians, Jews, their neighbors and their oppressors (which you can, and should, read about here), we find that, compelled by the arrival of a strange sight in the sky, a convoy of Magi came from the East to Jerusalem, to King Herod.
Herod, a tyrannical Edomite who used vile subterfuge to acquire his office from the Romans, would have been understandably rattled by the appearance of the Magi, not only because of the political implications of their arrival, but especially since they came with a specific inquiry: they came 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 2:2).”
Seeking insight from his advisor and scribes, Herod learned of the prophecies of old, specifically that of Micah 5:2, which declared:
“But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”
Whether or not Herod understood the full implication of what was at hand, he certainly knew that his days as crooked overseer of the Jews, unless he took measure against it, were numbered. With a treacherous heart, he asked the Magi when they had first seen the star in the East, and told them then to go to Bethlehem, to:
“Go and search diligently for a young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come worship him also. (Matthew 2:8)”
Off they went until they found the home where the star had directed them; the home of the young Savior.
A few things should be noted here. You see, while we are accustomed to seeing three wise men in our picture books and nativity scenes, there is in fact no reference to there being three. In fact, no number is assigned to them at all. In reality, there may have been a great procession of them; a full royal entourage of Eastern mages and stargazers who set off to meet the King of Kings. Many people tend to assume that there were three of them (even, in earlier times, associating these three with various races and regions, and even assigning them name: Balthasar, the King of Arabia; Melchior, the King of Persia; and Gasper, the King of India), but this concept may simply come to us from the three gifts that these wise men presented the young king.
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