Brethren Archive

On the Magi.

by G.W. Heath

The Magi were devout Jews, and not Gentiles.  Probably they were Chaldean or Persian Jews, for many thousands of these had never returned to Palestine with Nehemiah and Ezra after the captivity. They must have studied the various prophecies about the coming of the Messiah, and among these that of Daniel (chap. ix).  The impulse was so strong in them, that they had travelled, say, a thousand miles, bearing costly presents in order to do homage to their long-hoped-for King and Deliverer.
I question all we have heard about any astronomical combination occurring at that time.  The movements of the earth in relation to the heavenly bodies would make them appear to move from east to west and not from north to south.  Luke ii, 9, mentions "the glory of the Lord," which was the feature when the angels visited the shepherds on the night of the birth in Bethlehem.  Possibly this was a kind of Shekinah glory similar to that which rested on the Tabernacle in the wilderness, and would be seen as coming down from Heaven for a vast distance in an eastern sky. There is no indication that the Magi needed any star or other directing sign from heaven to direct their way to Jerusalem, the "Magi city of the great King."
The route was a well-known "Highway."  They reached the city, they told their story to Herod, they asked "Where is He," etc.  Herod called in the scribes, and made careful inquisition both as to the place, and, from the Magi, the exact time when the star appeared.  It was decided that Bethlehem Ephratah, a town less than six miles south of Jerusalem, was the town marked out by the Scriptures, and that the star, or heavenly light, appeared in the east some fifteen or eighteen months previously.  The Magi were then sent by Herod to make full inquiries and to return and inform him.  As they reached the outside of Jerusalem, they once again saw the miraculous light, but not in the south over Bethlehem, but in the north.  They followed the light, and reached Nazareth, the native town of Joseph and Mary, some sixty miles north of Jerusalem, and there entered "the house" (Matt. ii, 11), not a "stable," and there they poured out their worship and treasures on the child Jesus.  Warned of God, they did not retrace their steps south to Herod and Jerusalem, but continued their journey back to their own land in the east.
To get the whole story and scene clearly before us, we must examine and combine both the story of the shepherds mentioned in Luke ii, and that of the Magi in Matt. ii.  Luke does not mention the Magi nor Matthew the shepherds.  Matt. ii opens in the past tense.   "Now Jesus having been born in Bethlehem"; then in the story of the Magi, we are listening to something which happened some considerable time after the birth.  The story in Luke of the shepherds concerns their visit at the birth.  Luke tells us exactly when the holy family returned from their enforced visit to Bethlehem to their own town of Nazareth.  Luke ii, 39, "When they had accomplished all things according to the law of Moses, they returned into Galilee into their own city Nazareth."  The circumcising of the child and the purification of the mother would take, say, 33 or 41 days.  During these days, the shepherds made their visit.  And some 18 months later, the Magi were directed by the Glory light from heaven to Nazareth.  No such miraculous directions would have been needed to visit the near-by village of Bethlehem.  We must place the story of the Magi of Matt. ii, between verse 39 and 40 of Luke ii, and then all is clear and simple. The late Dr. A. T. Schofield held the views I have indicated, and taught the same in his lectures on the journeys of our Lord in Palestine.  Dr. Bullinger and other expositors have indicated the same.

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