Bible Reading: Matthew 2:1-2
Today, let’s talk about who is a “Wise Man” besides someone who has a lot of book knowledge & common sense. On Day 22, we will look at the Star of Bethlehem. Stay with me – it’s a long one!
Daniel was a Wise Man
Let’s go back to the time of Nebuchadnezzar II, who captured Jerusalem (605 B.C.) and took the people of Judah captive to Babylon (modern-day Iraq). Daniel & his friends (Shadrach, Meshach, & Abed-nego) were teenage boys captured, underwent palace training, and rose in the ranks. They were considered part of a group called the “wise men of Babylon.”
In Daniel Chapter 2 we learn how Daniel is promoted as ruler of the province of Babylon AND placed him in charge of all the wise men. (Reminds me of Joseph down in Egypt becoming the Pharaoh’s right-hand man.) 😉
If you look at Daniel 2:2 we learn who these advisers / wise men were: magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers. Magicians could refer to an engraver, writer, or to a diviner – one who uses magic. These people were royal scribes, educated men, or people who used charts to interpret dreams. Enchanters were those who communicated with the spirit world, also known as soothsayers, necromancers, or conjurers. Sorcerers were wizards who practiced witchcraft or sorcery to bewitch people & cast spells. Finally, astrologers were usually priests or men who studied horoscopes & the stars in order to predict a person’s destiny. The astrologers were considered members of a higher class of wise men who were allowed to speak directly to the king. The reference to Chaldeans throughout the chapter is to their ethnicity (i.e., Jew vs. Chaldean vs. Phoenician).
Daniel continues to lead the wise men until Cyrus the Great from Persia (modern-day Iran) conquers Babylon (539 B.C.) and lets the Jewish people return to Jerusalem. During Daniel’s life, he received visions concerning the future from God. Some of these prophecies are related to end-times yet to come, others refers to God’s plan for Israel…such as Daniel 9:20-27. This passage is known as the Seven Sevens. The Wise Men who lived after David would be familiar with this prophecy and would know when to look for the coming Messiah. They would also be familiar with the Old Testament of the Jews & all the other prophecies therein.
Magi from the East
When you look back at history, the Persian Empire was huge. It’s the one that conquered Babylon. Moving forward in time, Alexander the Great, conquers almost the entire area creating the Greek Empire. Finally, we reach the time of Jesus’ birth, when the Roman Empire has conquered many lands. However, Parthia (Persia) is no longer part of the Roman conquest. It is considered a separate kingdom to the east of Judea. Both cities of Babylon & Persepolis fall outside of the Roman Empire.
The Wise Men are also known as the Magi. These are the same advisers to kings. They are still learned men who are also known as “king-makers” due to their influence.
We do not know from what country/kingdom these Wise Men originate from. All the Bible states in Matthew Chapter 2 is that they are from the east – east of Judea. Looking at a map, unless they lived in the desert which is highly unlikely, they were probably from Parthia. Some people speculate as far away as China, since the Chinese were also known for their astronomy records. Others believe these men were Babylonian astrologists, Persian Zoroastrians, or mystic monks from Shir.
We really don’t know how many Wise Men there were, the Bible doesn’t say. Tradition holds that there were 3 Magi since 3 gifts are given to Christ. However, some early Eastern traditions claim 12 Magi. We simply do not know. We can assume that even if there were only 3 Magi, the traveling caravan/group would have been large. In attendance would have been servants/slaves, other underling/apprentices, and some sort of militia/armed guard. Camels are what we typically think of as a means of travel, but let’s not forget about Arabian horses.
The Wise Men were probably not kings. Although the wise men were also known as Magi – a derivative of Magician – makes sense. However, these educated men were typically only advisers to the king.
St. Bede, who died in 735 A.D., is credited with writing Excerpta et Collectanea in which he names & describes the Magi. Melchior is described as an old man with white hair & long beard whose gift is gold. Casper, or Gaspar, is a beardless young man with a ruddy complexion whose gift is incense. Balthasar is black-skinned and heavily bearded man whose gift is myrrh.
Some traditions hold that each man was a king & a descendant from each of Noah’s sons (Shem, Ham, Japheth) representing Asia, Africa, & Europe.
- Balthasar / Bithisarea / Balthazar is the King of Africa riding an elephant
- Melchior is the King of Europe riding a horse
- Gasper / Gathaspa / Casper is King of Arabia riding a camel
Three Kings Day or Epiphany
For several, Christmas does not end on December 25. Many people continue celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas ending on January 6 – Epiphany. Some call it the “Feast of Epiphany.” Traditionally it is recognized as the arrival of the Wise Men to Bethlehem and the appearance of Christ to the Gentiles (non-Jews).
Epiphany is celebrated quite differently around the world. Some celebrate only the one day of Epiphany with a feast. While others celebrate Epiphanytide or Shrovetide until Shrove Tuesday/Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras with parades, feasts, & parties. After this celebration period, the traditional period of Lent begins in preparation for Easter.
God leads the Gentiles to Christ
Notice that the shepherds have been led to Christ. The Jewish priests & community are unaware of the coming Messiah. It’s a wonder their priests did not do the math from Daniel’s vision as well. But, God is reaching the Gentiles – those outside of the Jewish faith. God has made sure that Christ is available to the whole world.
Ornament Ideas: Wise Men
Coloring / Art Ideas:
- Related – The Nativity Tree: 25 Days of Christ
- Related – The Nativity Tree: Day 21 – Camel
- Related – The Nativity Tree: Day 19 – Bethlehem
- Related – December Bible Verse Bookmarks