They followed a star which they saw in the east. Actually it was they who were in the east. The Scripture says, “We have seen His star in the east …” Literally, “When we were in the east we saw His star.” If they were in the east the star was in reality in the west.
There are towns in the part of the world today known at that time as Babylon that pride themselves in being the hometowns of the Magi.
How did they know to look for such an occurrence? Hundreds of years before King Nebuchadnezzar captured Israel and among the captives carried back to Babylon was a boy named Daniel. Daniel gained the king’s favor as he matured and actually became a Wise Man in the court. In his prophetic writing he foretold the event. The Advent was an event long before planned.
Magi, or Wise Men, were not kings. They were powerful intellects of means who were king makers. They certainly were not kings or Herod would not have jerked them around like he did. They would have been received with honor, not ordered to come back and report to him.
It is assumed there were three because three gifts were presented: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. There may have been more or even less of them.
Our Christmas cards depict them riding camels for their journey. No self-respecting Magi would have ridden a camel on such a journey. Camels were the commercial equivalent of 18-wheelers of the day. They would not have ridden donkeys. They were used for local purposes and being small would not have been suitable for such an arduous journey. Horses would have been out of the question because Romans rode them. That left only one mode of transportation — mules. They were the long distance agents of personal travel in that era.
Because of the desert heat they would have traveled at night and rested during the day. This would have made it all the easier to be guided by the star.
All of those variables reshape the some concepts of the event held by many people, but they don’t negate the central purpose of the story.
That night of the Advent rivers of prophecy flowed into the lake of fulfillment. Examples are:
He was to be a descendant of Isaac (Genesis 17:19).
He was to be of the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49: 10).
He was to be an heir of the throne of David (Isaiah 9:7).
He was to be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).
Daniel wrote of the time of His birth (Daniel 9:5).
The many who view the Scriptures in this way find the event to have been well planned giving cause for celebration.
The Roman General Vespasian destroyed the temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and all birth and tribal records were destroyed. If these events did not happen before then there will never be any way to know how to determine who they apply to thereafter.
May these insights help persons understand why so many people celebrate the birth of the one born under the Star of David.
The Rev. Dr. Nelson Price is pastor emeritus of Roswell Street Baptist Church.