Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Matthew 2: 1-10

Orignally published at David Bird, February 12, 2007

Matthew 2: 1-10: The Wise Men Come To Herod

The second part of the Nativity story centers around Micah 5:2:
But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.
Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah, but was a man of little status in their world. His book is considerably shorter as well, but contains some well known verses focusing on social justice: beating our swords into plowshares (4:3), that God requires justice, mercy, and humility before sacrifice (6:6-8), and the prophecy that the everlasting ruler will come from Bethlehem. Of course Bethlehem, in spite of being a small village, was already the home of a famous ruler. King David was born there.

This part introduces the famous Wise Men. We don’t actually know much about them. The Bible doesn’t say that there were three, or where they came from, or give us any other personal information. They are described as magi who had seen “his star in the east,” and who had come to worship the new King. A magi was an astrologer, or a sorcerer (it’s used that way in Acts 13). In Christ’s time the word was used to refer to foreign forms of magic, forms that were suspect, so it is strange that these men would come to worship the new messiah, but they recognized him for what he was and came to give him the worship he was due. Sometimes the children of the world are wiser than the children of light (Luke 16:8).

They presented themselves to Herod and his court. No one was pleased to hear the news. I’ll get more into Herod’s court in part four of the Nativity story. Herod didn’t know where the Promised One was to be born, which was interesting given his obsession with securing his place. He consulted with the chief priests and scribes and sent the wise men on their way to Bethlehem. Outwardly he was friendly. He told them that he wanted to worship the child too. Once they had finished with Herod’s court they saw the star and it stood directly over where Jesus lay. So why go to the court in the first place? It’s possible that they went to the court out of a sense of protocol. They weren’t conspiring against Herod, and honouring an alternative ruler without going to court might have made it seem as though they were. Alternatively, the star wasn’t constantly before them. It told them that a great king would be born to the Jews, but it didn’t reappear until after they saw Herod. That seems consistent with verses nine and ten:
When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
Why would they rejoice to see it, if it were there all the time?

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