As we begin in chapter 2 of the Gospel of Matthew, the language which Matthew used indicates that some time has passed since the birth of Jesus Christ. Nobody is sure exactly how much time has passed. Various commentary writers and biblical experts estimate somewhere between 40 days and two years.
People Searching For Jesus
There is an introduction to a couple of new characters in this chapter which should be explained before we get into the actual look at the verses.
The Persians (Wise Men)
The first is a group of men from Persia, who have been called by many names. Those names include the Magi, the wise men, astrologers, and many others. It is well understood that they traveled from Persia, and most likely from somewhere near Damascus. That means they would’ve traveled between 900 and a thousand miles in order to reach Jerusalem, where this chapter begins. The route they would’ve followed was notorious for attacks by bandits, thus they would not have been traveling in a small group. In fact, Matthews description of the reaction of Herod and the people of Jerusalem indicates that it was likely a very large group of people traveling together.
Despite the traditional reference to the three wise men showing up at the manger, it is doubtful that they found Jesus at the manger. Even in the text written by Matthew, it indicates that they were living in a house. And, there were probably more than three of the Magi who showed up at the house of Jesus.
Why did Matthew include the Magi in his book that was intended for the Jews? An excellent question. It would seem that Matthew was trying to make a point with the Jews. Here it was 50-60 years later, and the Jews, in general, had not recognized the Messiah in their midst. To this day, they don’t believe the Messiah has come. Matthew was somewhat rubbing their blindness in their face by say, in essence, look, even these gentiles from Persia recognize the divine importance of Jesus. Alas, it was to no avail.
The next person we should pay attention to is Herod the Great, the king of Judea at the time of this event. Herod was not really a Jew, but he was given that position by Rome because his father had converted to Judaism. Herod was a real tyrant. He was a man who had been through many battles and many attempts to usurp his power. Thus, he would be highly sensitive to the idea that there was another king within his territory.
By the way, Herod was truly a ruthless man. This man was so ruthless that he even had his wife, brothers, sons, and other relatives executed because he believed that they were working against him, real or imagined, to remove him from power.
1 Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men[a] from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem,
So in the first verse chapter 2, we’re reminded that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Matthew was specific about which Bethlehem it was. That is because there was more than one Bethlehem in Israel. And the Jewish people at the time would’ve known that. So he wanted to make it very clear.
We are introduced to Herod the king and “some” wise men. You will note that Matthew doesn’t say three wise man. I haven’t seen any reference to the number “three” in any of the reading of the commentaries. It would seem, at some point, that it became a tradition rather than a fact.
Wise Men’s Audience with Herod
And, of course, it mentions that they came from the east. Scholars of the time period believe that it was most likely Damascus in Persia.
asking, 2 “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose,[b] and we have come to worship him.”
You will notice in their question that they are referring to baby Jesus as the King of the Jews. This would, of course, put Herod on edge. Even though Jesus was only a baby, Herod would not hesitate to kill anybody who has the potential to usurp his kingdom, now or in the future, as mentioned above.
It’s been wondered how the Magi would have known about the possibility of Jesus. Historical records show that, even after the return to Israel, there still remained a large group of Jewish people in the Babylonian area. It’s believed that the Magi, known to be wise men and also advisers in the courts in Persia, most likely studied the Jewish Bible. So, they would be aware of the prophecies.
Some translations indicate that the Magi came to worship Jesus; and, others that they came to pay homage to him. It’s most likely that they came to pay homage since they were not themselves Jews.
King Herod’s Paranoia
3 King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem.
Based on what I’ve said before, it is quite understandable that King Herod would be troubled upon hearing the inquiry of the Magi. The real question is why would the people of Jerusalem be troubled by the question. Well, that goes back to the fact that Herod had executed members of his own family. Undoubtedly, he had executed many others within the population of Jerusalem as well.
Thus, his paranoia having been heightened, and unable to find guilty parties within his court, he would most likely turn on the citizens of Jerusalem in order to satisfy his lust for power. As a citizen of Jerusalem, the query by the Magi would undoubtedly make the people of Jerusalem very nervous at the prospect of Herod’s retribution.
Priests and Teachers Called to Court
4 He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”
We see here that Herod called a meeting of the priests and scribes. Some scholars believe that the priests and the scribes did not get along well. In fact, they further believe that Herod talked to each of the groups individually. Be it as it may, he posed the same question. He wanted to know where Christ would be born. Knowing his character, it would not be hard to imagine that it was not for good reasons.
5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:
In both cases, he received the same information from the priests and scribes. They told Herod that the Messiah had been prophesied to be born in Bethlehem in Judea. Many commentaries also note the seemingly lackadaisical attitude of the priests and scribes concerning the arrival of the Messiah. The Jews didn’t believe, and still don’t believe, that the Messiah has come.
6 ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”
Verse six is pretty much the restatement of Micah 5:2.
Herod’s Private Meeting With Wise Men
7 Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared.
Verse seven is where the intrigued begins. Despite the attitude of the priests and scholars noted above, Herod is truly afraid that Jesus could pose a danger to his rule in the future. Thus, he sends an invitation to the Magi to visit with him privately, or secretly.
You will note that he’s asking the Magi the exact time at which they first saw the star. This would be because he was trying to find out how old the child might be. He already had plans to eliminate any male child that had been born since then. Still, he attempted to encourage the Magi to help him find the specific child.
8 Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”
I believe that he was cunning, Herod asked the Magi to go look for the child in Bethlehem and report back to him with the child’s location. He told the Magi that this was because he also wanted to pay homage to the future king of the Jews as well. Of course, as we learned later, this was not the truth.
Jesus’ Star Returns
9 After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was.
In this verse, we learn that the Magi headed for Bethlehem after their audience with Herod. It is interesting to note that, after they left Jerusalem, they were once more able to see the star. This star itself seems to be a character in the account of Jesus by Matthew.
Many individuals have looked at possible terrestrial events that could’ve happened at that time in history, in order to explain the star and its actions. Three planets lined up at roughly that same time. It also appears that Haley’s Comet had passed the earth close to that time period. However, none of the timings of celestial events was correct enough to account for the star referenced by Matthew.
The star perplexes many scholars. Some have believed that it was an act of God; others wonder, or believe, that it was the imagination of the Magi. Or, perhaps, it made for good story theatrics on the part of Matthew.
10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy!
The Magi, or wise men, were obviously filled with joy to see the star that they have been following. It would appear that it led them at least to Bethlehem, and perhaps to the house where Jesus and Mary were.
Wise Men Awed by Jesus
11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Joseph is absent in the passage, which is interesting. Matthew seems to mostly concentrate on Jesus and Mary as he continues his gospel. The gifts that the wise men brought for Jesus are interesting as well. As we all know, the gifts were gold, frankincense, myrrh. The gold is a gift for a king. Frankincense burns in the church as an offering. And, myrrh is used for the embalming process, to mask the smell of the decaying body.
Some commentary writers believe that the gifts were a prophecy of the lifecycle of Jesus. Indeed, it seems plausible. Because the family was poor, the gold would have been necessary in order for the family to escape to Egypt. Whether the magi were aware of the circumstances it is unclear. Nevertheless, the family was unable to leave Bethlehem without the gift of the Gold.
Wise Men Ignore Herod’s Request
12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.
And, in verse 12, we see that God also warn the wise men through a dream. They received a warning not to go back to Herod and report on the location of Jesus. The wise men heeded this warning and chose a different path to return to their home country.
Lessons From Wise Men’s Search
So what do we learn from the story about “the visitation” by the Wise Men, besides a good story in and of itself?
The first lessons for me are based on the old saying “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The individual who acquires a position of absolute power and walks away from it is very rare. People striving for those types of positions are actually seekers of absolute power and control.
It is troubling to me that the individuals who obtain that power often become paranoid and narcissistic. Indeed, when you look at the presidential race in the United States today (2016) and see that the two leading candidates are either crooked or already narcissistic, I fear for the future of the country. The US is a country that has been under the covenant with God since George Washington knelt in prayer for four hours after his inauguration and dedicated the country to God.
Power Seekers Manipulate
The second lesson that comes to mind is that individuals who are seeking power and control will often tell you what they think you want to hear. At the same time, they will manipulate the forms of communication to be sure with that, that is all that you hear.
Most of you know we can’t believe anything coming through the mainstream media or press these days. Why? We all know that they have become megaphones for the political class. There was a time that we knew we could depend on the alternative media only to provide the truth. It seems in this election cycle that even most of the alternative media have become corrupted.
So what do we do?
Even though the founders were wise for making the press essentially the fourth leg of governance, it is now a leg of governance that we cannot trust. While we’ve depended on the press to provide us with a compilation of the facts and truths, that no longer is possible. Simply put, that means we have to do our own research and make our own determination of the truth.
Quite frankly, we are lazy and depended on the press to tell us what we should know. We can no longer do that if we want to maintain the country as a free society. Indeed, one could argue that it is already no longer a free society.
Growing Police State
If you have lived outside of the United States for any amount of time recently, you’d find that it only takes a trip back into the country to make it obvious that America has become a police state. Yes, there is a lot of police visible in Chile where I currently live. But, you don’t see them dressed in battle gear.
Even with all their presence, the people are not afraid of the police here in Chile. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen them coming down the road with their sirens going and people don’t pay much attention. Very seldom have I seen them show up in force. When they do, it is usually because of some unruly protesters or to ensure that dignitaries are safe.
I don’t, however, seeing them wearing bulletproof vests and other items design for battle. But, step off the plane in any airport in the United States, and the battle-ready police are immediately visible.
TSA Agents in Every Country
Do you know there are actually TSA agents in every country where flights going to the United States originate? Here in Chile you actually go through a double layer of security when you are flying to the US.
If I was to go to the airport in Santiago and fly to another South American or Central American country, I don’t have to go through that double layer of security.
But, if I am flying to the United States, I have to go through the first layer of security just as you see in any airport in the United States. It is when you actually go to board the airplane that you find this second layer of security. After you have scanned your boarding pass and have gone down the ramp towards the airplane, where you are out of sight how the general population in the terminal, that you run into US TSA agents, who rifle through your carry-on bags. They are in essence saying that they don’t trust the Chilean security people. That to me is pure paranoia!
No Easy Answer
What should one do about the police state of “the freest country in the world?” I wish I had a good answer. Since most people are likely to cower to the power and attempt to elect “men of power” as a solution, I don’t see the US as anything better than Israel at the time of Herod the Great.
If you can get your head around the idea that, the earthly kings and “strong men” are not the solution, then you can step out of the situation. The rulers of men only have power because people cower and follow them. If you step out of the situation by simply ignoring these tyrants as much as physically possible, it minimizes their effect on you and frees you. As difficult as that first step seems to be, once you begin that walk you will quickly realize all the steps and opportunities that lay before you.
The First Step
If you really need someone to follow, put your faith in the hands of God and our Lord Jesus! Take that first step.
If you would like to access a bible online for free, you can visit biblegateway.com.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.