This post is all about the Three Wise Men from the East. Even after years of singing that beautiful Christmas Carol “We three kings of Orient are”, many still have lingering questions, such as:
- Who are those wise men from the east ?
- Where from the east ?
- Who told, inspired and challenged them to take that long arduous travel, determined, come what may, to see and worship infant Jesus the Saviour of the world?
- Were there only three or was that number based on the three special gifts they brought?
- How did they, living far apart, get together and travel? And that too without a travel agent, Expedia, Trivago, or tour organizers?
The Wise Men (Magi/kings) from the East have always intrigued and fascinated me. In fact I promised in my post of 30 Oct. 2017, “A Tender Plant and Root out of Dry Ground”, to write a post on them. So, here it is, by God’s grace, just in time for Christmas 2017. But first the lyric of the carol by John Hopkins (1820-1891).
- We three kings of Orient are;
Bearing gifts we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.
O star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.
- Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain
Gold I bring to crown Him again,
King forever, ceasing never,
Over us all to reign.
- Frankincense to offer have I;
Incense owns a Deity nigh;
Prayer and praising, voices raising,
Worshiping God on high.
- Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorr’wing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in the stone cold tomb.
- Glorious now behold Him arise;
King and God and sacrifice;
Sounds through the earth and skies.
With that lengthy introduction, let us seek if not all, at least few answers, acknowledging information is sketchy. To start with, here is a kind of general acceptance, based on ancient paintings, traditions and folklore, as follows:
- Caspar the older from Turkey brought Gold
- Melchior the middle aged from Arabia brought Frankincense
- Balthazar, from Ethiopia brought Myrrh
Now this might surprise many. Another school of thinkers claim that Melchior came from Persia, Balthazar from Babylon, and Caspar (Gudapharasa) from India*, who later met St.Thomas the Apostle in India around 60 AD. Historians generally concur, taking into consideration the length of journey, local customs/protocol, weather, even bandits etc. the caravan may have been close to two hundred.
How did the Magi come to know about Jesus? This particular question has stuck with me the longest time. There is an extraordinary course of events riddled with unlikely but strong and strange Bible characters like King Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel, Xerxes & Queen Esther etc. (see my blog’s archives)
Nebuchadnezzar – ahhh Neb – who had established the Babylonian kingdom (629-539 BC), was the most powerful monarch of that period. He conquered and plundered Jerusalem, and destroyed the Holy temple. He also brought many Hebrews as prisoners to Babylon, selecting some from noble families like Daniel and the three Hebrew young men. Neb had designs to utilize few in his royal administration and palace. Some of those were also gifted in dreams and interpretations. (See my Archive on Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel “Unique friends King & Prisoner” 25 Jan. 2015 and “The Making of a Missionary” 27 Jan. 2017)
Evidently, God brought these Hebrews purposely with a definite plan to “change the course of history”. To start with the testimony of Daniel as well as the witness of those three rescued from the fiery furnace influenced Neb iimmensely. Of course the fourth, who needed no rescue; God revealed to Neb “as the Son of God”. Very interesting! That outstanding news spread to the entire region and beyond, including the nations of the Magi. No surprise Neb issued a decree nationwide forthwith to worship none but Daniel’s God! In today’s evangelical terminology “there was a “mighty nationwide revival”.
In the meanwhile, the Jewish community in Babylon had emerged so strong and prosperous that they were supporting substantially those back home in Jerusalem.
Although the latter emperor allowed the Jews to return, many stayed back. Obviously Babylonians, Persians, Armenians, Ethiopians and travellers through the great Silk Route from the East heard through them about Jehovah, Moses and the prophets. “God moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform. He plants his footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm. William Cowper (1731-1800).
Let me put it differently in a kind of compare and contrast format:
- There were Jewish priests and scribes dime a dozen with their holy books; yet none showed up at the manger
- Instead, God inspired the poor shepherds who kept their watch by night to visit Jesus
- God graciously revealed the greatest story ever told, the “tender plant out of dry ground” to these so called pagans from the east
- God told them to “GO” and off they went in faith and not without precious gifts!
- That was not all. God even made few changes in the heavenly bodies as GPS to direct them to Jesus! The Magi were chosen for a divine purpose !
In short, the people who ought have known blew it and the pagans found it. Amazing!
Here are my closing thoughts:
What hinders any to accept the Magi, not simply as men from the East but be “accounted for righteousness ” for their faith and determination to travel and see Jesus? (Galatians 3:6)
We know, these wise men were the very few, very early, rare and unexpected visitors to come and worship. The only other visitors were the poor shepherds who kept watch their flock by night in the field! Strange, but a marvellous mix, the wise and the shepherds.
I was reading another prayer of Jesus, captured and recorded by Matthew 11:25:
“O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike”. In reality this happens all the time just like the Shepherds and the Magi.
This caught my attention. Only Matthew recorded the visit of the Magi. How come? Could it be, whereas Peter for example, one of the trio (Peter, James and John) had initial racial hesitation travelling to Cornelius’ home, Matthew the ex-despised-tax collector had the foresight that the “good news” is not just for the favoured but to the whole world. I can see perplexity written all over Nicodemus’ face when the master asked him “Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things” (John 3:10). Of course, Jesus followed it up with the ever popular verse John 3:16. Hallelujah!
God bless, Danny Paul,
Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year
PS: Queen Esther, (Jewish name Hadassah) was King Xerxes, known as king Ahasuerus’s wife (Book of Esther in the OT). He ruled Persia extending to North-west India and Ethiopia.
PPS: My Archive on Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel “Unique friends King & Prisoner” 25 Jan. 2015 and “The Making of a Missionary” 27 Jan. 2017