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Featured The Magi: Who were They?

Discussion in 'Baptist Theology & Bible Study' started by asterisktom, Dec 24, 2016.

  1. asterisktom

    asterisktom Well-Known Member
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    THE MAGI

    Who were they? And why did God use them?

    Did you ever wonder just who the Magi of the familiar Christmas story were? And why did God use them, of all people, seeing that they were foreigners and assumed strangers to the Promises of Abraham? A little background might be helpful.

    "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe." Heb.1:1- 2

    One of those "various ways" that God spoke to the Jews at the closing of their age, and at the dawning of the age to come, was the "star" that pointed to the Messiah's birth. In revealing His Son to the world, God chose to use instruments from afar - the Magi from the East.

    HONOR AND CONTEMPT
    Christ was honored from afar - and treated with contempt by his countrymen.

    "He came unto His own, and his own received Him not".

    Yet these foreigners honored Him with luxurious gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh. This is also how it is in a wider sense: Christ's Incarnation and ongoing work is a subject of much admiration, honor and interest in Heaven, but our world, by contrast, treats Christ with contempt.

    What an irony: A "star" announces his presence from afar - and leads the wise men right to their King, bundled up in a feeding trough! The Good Shepherd and Bread of Life comes to bring life to His own sheep.

    The word "Magi" originally meant someone from the Medes. It has come to mean wise men (including knowledge of wisdom, astronomy and, sometimes, astrology). The Magi from Matthew most likely came from Persia. But they were not kings. They were not necessarily - nor even likely - three in number. This was an unhelpful guess from the later Church Fathers and the Roman Catholic Church, assuming that because the gifts were three the kings were as well. * They were also called "kings" because of an assumed connection to Psalm 72:10:

    "the kings of Tarshish, and of the Isles, and of Sheba, would offer gifts to the Lord,"

    More than likely they were part of a much larger entourage then we have been taught to imagine. It may be that Herod became afraid, not only for their message - they were looking for his replacement, after all! - but also for their large number. It might have been quite a caravan of impressive strangers that turned heads in Jerusalem.

    THEOLOGY, NOT ASTROLOGY
    One of the best proofs that the Magi were not working as astrologers is the fact that what they followed was not a star. It did not act "starlike".

    It led them.
    It disappeared.
    It changed directions, first leading them westward, then southward.
    It "stood over" (Matt. 2:9) the exact spot where Jesus was.
    Stars don't do this. Neither do remarkable configurations of bright planets.

    And bear in mind that these were wise men who knew astronomical phenomena. We are left with the choice of either this not being a normal star (or planet)... or that these weren't particularly wise wise men.

    I don't doubt that these Magi knew things that to the Jews were forbidden. I believe that it is a condescension of God that he used "inferior" (from the believer's viewpoint) methods to communicate His truth to whomever He wished. This would not be the first time he did this. The Philistines learned more about the holiness of God from the "golden tumors" and the toppling of their Dagon in their temple then the sons of the High Priest Eli learned in the very Tabernacle. Daniel is full of miraculous imagery and messages that use, but do not condone, Pagan culture. It is the same way here with the Magi.

    PROPHECY OF THE STAR ~ JESUS CHRIST
    ""I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the sons of Sheth." Numbers 24:17

    This was an important prophecy concerning the coming Messiah, given by the unbelieving Balaam. This very prophecy may have been known to the Magi, and when they told Herod about His star, they probably had this in mind. Remember that when the Israelites were finally overcome and taken away in judgment by Sargon (730-728 BC), they were settled in various parts of the Median kingdom (2nd Kings 17:6). They necessarily took with them their knowledge of this prophecy. These Jews lost their holy distinctness as a people of God, but God used the knowledge of this prophecy to bring the Wise men from their country to search for the King of the world.

    The prophecy was like an ancient seed that, after centuries of dormancy, did not return void, but came to life, accomplishing it's intended purpose, Isaiah 55:11.

    By the way, many Jews, having not recognized their Messiah, fell for a counterfeit in AD 130- 135, Bar Kochba (Son of the Star) who conned his credentials from the very same verse of Numbers 24:17.

    That was also pointedly aimed at the wicked King Herod. The phrase

    "He will crush the foreheads of Moab"

    had an application to Herod’s time as well as that of Balaam's patron, Balak. He was Idumean, of Moabite stock. Balak's (and Balaam's) fulfillment of this verse were at Baal Peor, but other fulfillments are found in the first century.

    MAGIC OF THE MAGI?
    I have read accounts of them that put undue prominence on their (supposed or actual) astrological prognostication. I believe that this is foremost an example of God miraculously revealing Himself to people from afar. The focus is on God's providence, not on man's understanding. The story of the Magi is certainly not an example of how to find God or His will. For that we have the Bible and the Spirit of God who opens that Bible for us, revealing all truths we need to know.

    AND THE MORAL OF THE STORY IS ...
    Maybe a good message to draw from this passage in Matthew 2 is that Christ is found by those who seek Him. He opens the eyes of those whom He chooses. Both the wise men and King Herod professed a desire to come and worship the Christ child. The latter, of course, was hypocritical and devious in his profession. The former found Who they were looking for, giving prophetical gifts as well as heartfelt worship.

    ________________________________________
    * Their skulls (according to tradition) ended up in Cologne, Germany. These dubious relics are still on display in the Cathedral in the cathedral of that city. I remember seeing them when we visited there in the early 60‘s. Pretty impressive for a child.
     
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  2. Grasshopper

    Grasshopper Active Member
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    I've also heard that the Magi would have known of Daniel's prophecy since he was in Babylon.
     
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  3. Aaron

    Aaron Member
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    Yes, they do.

    Star was a general term that included the planets observed against the field of fixed stars.

    It led them.​
    It depends on what you mean by led. And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by

    It disappeared.​
    No it didn't.

    It changed directions.​
    Planets do that.

    It "stood over"​
    Planets do that. Calculating the ground points of stars is a fairly easy task.
     
  4. asterisktom

    asterisktom Well-Known Member
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    Tell me how planets change direction - relative to what the Magi could discern back then.
     
  5. TCassidy

    TCassidy Late-Administator Emeritus
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    The retrograde motion of the planets has been fairly well known for several millennia. It is even mentioned in the bible.

    Jude 1:13 Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.
     
  6. asterisktom

    asterisktom Well-Known Member
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    The issue here is whether a star - or planet - could wander to the extent that the passage in Matthew relates. Yes, planets have a retrograde motion, perhaps known to the Magi. But these are not what the Bible is describing. On at least two counts:

    1. They would be very slight deviations in orbit - not accounting for the great direction changes in the story and, more importantly
    2. They take weeks to go through these retrogrades - not the short time the Magi were there.

    Why is it so hard to believe that this was a unique miracle of God?
     
  7. asterisktom

    asterisktom Well-Known Member
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    See my comments to TCassidy.
     
  8. TCassidy

    TCassidy Late-Administator Emeritus
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    My post was in response to your question:
    Actually there is no deviation from orbit. The paralax view makes it appear the planets stop and go backward.

    Actually it may take several months. And, for Mars, it would happen every two years. And how long would it take for the Magi to travel from Chaldea to Jerusalem?

    I don't know. You would have to ask someone who believes it is not a miracle. :)
     
  9. asterisktom

    asterisktom Well-Known Member
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    From what I remember from astronomy class - long time ago - Mercury had the shortest retrograde, measured in weeks. Others took months.

    The bottom line is that, whether weeks or months, this was a very unusual event. How could something usual, regular, predictable, and expected be a guiding sign? These are, after all, the wise men, not simpletons.
     
  10. Martin Marprelate

    Martin Marprelate Well-Known Member
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    I don't think there's any evidence that the magi followed a star to Jerusalem. 'For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him' (Matthew 2:2). What appears to have happened is that a comet appeared in the sky. The magi, who lived near Babylon, saw it and believed that it might herald an extraordinary event. So they looked through the old books and found one written 500 years before by an old Hebrew named Daniel that predicted the coming of a great king of the Jews in connection with Jerusalem. So the magi set off to Jerusalem and asked where this king might be. By this time, the comet would have disappeared round the back end of the Sun. The magi are pointed towards Bethlehem, and as they approach the town the comet reappears on its way back to outer space, hanging low over the place. The magi make enquiries and are told about the angels and shepherds, and so come to the Baby Jesus.

    Is it a miracle? Of course! God arranged everything perfectly, even moving the magi to bring gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for Him who is "King and God and sacrifice."
     
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  11. Aaron

    Aaron Member
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    What do you know about what the Magi could discern? And you've already been schooled in the retrograde motions of planets.
     
  12. asterisktom

    asterisktom Well-Known Member
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    asterisktom said:
    Why is it so hard to believe that this was a unique miracle of God?
    The Oxford Dictionary defines a miracle as "an extraordinary and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore attributed to a divine agency".

    All of the explanations so far from you gentlemen have been based on those very natural and scientific laws that, per the definition above, are not miraculous.
     
  13. asterisktom

    asterisktom Well-Known Member
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    True. I'll have to backtrack here, at least concerning comets. I would have to concede that this could be possible. Comets, many of them at least, are not predictable.

    I am going to think over what you wrote here. Certainly God has used ordinary means as extraordinary signs.
     
  14. TCassidy

    TCassidy Late-Administator Emeritus
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    I haven't posted either my position or any explanations. Just corrected the error regarding retrograde motion of the planets and how long that apparent motion takes to complete, using Mars, the most visible and obvious, as an example. :)
     
  15. rsr

    rsr <b> 7,000 posts club</b>
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    I've seen lots of explanations of the "Star of Bethlehem," but they all seem to miss the point of the story. Kind of like explanations of how God rolled back the Sea of Reeds.
     
  16. Aaron

    Aaron Member
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    It's not hard to believe that. I'm open minded. The reasoning you've put forth saying it has to be one is fallacious.

    The star doesn't have to be a miracle any more than Mary's carrying the child to term and going into labor. (The conception was miraculous, but not the subsequent biology.) Christ's death wasn't a miracle either, but it was no less a work of God, and all the law and prophets were fulfilled therein.

    If folks want to study the stars looking for that phenomenon, more power to them.
     
  17. Aaron

    Aaron Member
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    Don't discount math and charts as integral parts of astronomy and astrology. (And assigning meaning to celestial phenomena is astrology, even if it tells of the birth of Christ.) The planets' retrograde motions had been observed and tracked and mapped and predicted centuries prior to the birth of Christ. By the first century astronomy (and there was no real difference between astronomy and astrology) was a well developed science, and was performed mostly by consulting charts and doing the math. (Or so I've read.) Observations were made to confirm their predictions.

    It's more likely the event wasn't spectacular like a comet or a supernova. There is no record in the scriptures that anyone but the magi had seen this phenomenon and attached this meaning to it. Just as the the sign of the Virgin Birth was not spectacle (who could observe the conception?) but a sign to the faithful, this sign was given to those of a certain discipline, and it would have to be interpreted in context of that discipline. So it was probably an event that was astrologically significant.
     
  18. kyredneck

    kyredneck Well-Known Member
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    Zactly. Was this phenomenon recorded as a 'world wide' event?:

    12 Then spake Joshua to Jehovah in the day when Jehovah delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel; and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; And thou, Moon, in the valley of Aijalon.
    13 And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, Until the nation had avenged themselves of their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jashar? And the sun stayed in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.
    14 And there was no day like that before it or after it, that Jehovah hearkened unto the voice of a man: for Jehovah fought for Israel. Josh 10

    It may well be that the star of Bethlehem was only for those that God intended to see.
     
  19. kyredneck

    kyredneck Well-Known Member
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    By the letter, they may have been Magi most likely from Persia (I agree with Gill), with knowledge handed down from the teaching of Daniel.

    By ideal, they were a kind of "first fruits of the Gentiles", a precursor of things soon to come :

    1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, Wise-men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, Mt 2

    And I say unto you, that many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven: but the sons of the kingdom shall be cast forth into the outer darkness: there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth. Mt 8.11-12

    14 But thanks be unto God, who always leadeth us in triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest through us the savor of his knowledge in every place. 2 Cor 2

    For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of Jehovah, as the waters cover the sea. Hab 2:14

    And he shall stand, and shall feed his flock in the strength of Jehovah, in the majesty of the name of Jehovah his God: and they shall abide; for now shall he be great unto the ends of the earth. Micah 5:4

    So shall they fear the name of Jehovah from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun; for he will come as a rushing stream, which the breath of Jehovah driveth. Isa 59:19

    For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the Gentiles, saith Jehovah of hosts. Mal 1:11

    Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it shall come to pass that, in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God. Hosea 1:10

    And it shall come to pass in the latter days, that the mountain of Jehovah`s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. Isa 2:2

    All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn unto Jehovah; And all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. Ps 22:27

    Jehovah will be terrible unto them; for he will famish all the gods of the earth; and men shall worship him, every one from his place, even all the isles of the nations. Zeph 2:11
     
    #19 kyredneck, Dec 27, 2016
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2016
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  20. asterisktom

    asterisktom Well-Known Member
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