The Familiar Christmas Story: Magi (Part 2)

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You’re probably somewhat familiar with the Magi in the Christmas story in today’s Bible reading*.

Normally when we think of the Christmas story, we think of the shepherds and the three Magi who bring their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to Jesus in the stable. Unfortunately, that’s not the way the story is presented in the Bible. Some well-meaning people came up with the idea of trying to reconcile the differences between Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts of Jesus’ birth. It makes for great Christmas and Easter Pageant material, but they got it wrong. Luke talks about the shepherds coming to Bethlehem and finding Jesus wrapped up in “swaddling clothes” and lying in a manger. But Matthew talks about the Magi (“wise men”) visiting baby Jesus in a house. Obviously, the Magi showed up after Jesus’ birth night when someone had made room for this newborn and his parents. But I digress…

Who were these Magi?

Most likely they were Gentiles of high position from a country, perhaps Parthia, northeast of Babylon, who were given a special revelation by God of the birth of the King of the Jews. This special revelation may simply have been in the sky, as might be indicated by their title “Magi” (specialists in astronomy) and by the fact they referred to a star that they saw. Or this revelation could have come through some contact with Jewish scholars who had migrated to the East with copies of Old Testament manuscripts. [1]

I agree with this assessment, especially in light of this reference in Daniel 2:48:

Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many generous gifts. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and chief governor over all the wise men of Babylon.

As the Magi were men of learning, devoting special attention to astronomy and the natural sciences, eventually all men celebrated for learning were called Magi, whether belonging to the priestly order or not. [2]

To sum this up: the Magi were highly educated men who had been influenced by Daniel while he was exiled in Babylon.

One thing to note is that the distance from Babylon to Bethlehem is about 500 miles each way. At 10-20 miles per day, they traveled from one to two months. Their entire journey would have taken 2-4 months.

In order to have the Magi arrive on the scene at the time of Jesus’ birth, they would have had to left the region of modern-day Baghdad to Bethlehem 2-4 months before he was born. Just before they got to Bethlehem, they stopped in Jerusalem (5 1/2 miles from Bethlehem) and asked Herod where the new King had been born.


I’ve brought up a lot of academic information before getting to this application point. So what difference does it really make who the Magi were?

It makes a lot of difference!

Way back in the Old Testament days, God used the Exile of the Jewish people to put Daniel in a position to influence the wise men of Babylon. Those wise men’s descendants and their students would be the ones to announce to Herod that a new King was in town.

It boggles the mind to think of all of the moving pieces God had to set in place in order to orchestrate this phenomenal feat. But for a God Who spoke the universe into existence out of nothing, this was no problem. No problem at all!

What a Mighty God we serve!
And what a Mighty God Who adopts His kids!

[1] Source: John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck and Dallas Theological Seminary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983-). Mt 2:1–2.
[2] Source: James M. Freeman and Harold J. Chadwick, Manners & Customs of the Bible, Rev. ed.]. (North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 1998). 399-401.

* Chapters covered in today’s reading:
Matthew 2
Luke 2:39-52

This devotional was originally published on April 26, 20219.

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