Friday, May 18, 2012
Ask Dr. Couch (#393)
Dr. Couch, who were the magi? Were they "three kings of Orient"? Were they three races, as sometimes pictured?
We have really fouled up the magi story! First of all, we do not know that they were "three" in number; that idea comes from the fact that they brought three precious items to the baby Jesus—gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matt. 2:11). (This is a fascinating story in itself!) If anything in regard to their race, they would have been Babylonian for that is where we get the idea for the magi.
The Greek word magos in the text is plural—magoi. The word means "the great ones." The term is related to the words "majestic, magnanimous." It is referring to the astronomers, astrologers of Babylon. They probably came from Shushan, the royal city of Babylon, or, possibly from Ur.
How did they know they were seeking the King of Israel, and what was the star they saw, while they were residing in the east? More than likely they had read the cryptic prophecy in Numbers 24:17 which says: "I see him, but not right now, I behold him, but he is not near. A star shall come forth from Jacob, and a scepter shall rise from Israel, and shall crush the head of Moab." (The people of Moab were the most violent enemies of Israel at that time.)
From their vantage point, looking west, they saw the star standing over Israel. This was a miracle star that God put in the heavens to announce the arrival of His Messiah, the anointed Ruler of the world!
How did the magi find this passage? We must remember that they were astronomer/astrologers who belonged to that school in Babylon. We must also remember that Daniel (over 400 years before) was made the dean of that university when he was ruling in Babylon. We read, "King Nebuchadnezzar … promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts, and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and … over all the wise men of Babylon" (Dan. 2:48). More than likely then, Daniel placed in their library the Torah scrolls of Moses. Since these men saw the star over the vicinity of Israel, they went into the library and found the Jewish scrolls and began to read through them. When they found the passage, and put together the vision of the star, they calculated that the Messiah (the King) was born. I believe they continued to read and discovered that the One being born was the Son of God. They truly believed in Him and came to worship Him with a genuine faith and trust, not simply doing a political homage to the birth of a politician.
On Numbers 24:17 Unger writes: "The 'Scepter' envisions the Lord coming to rule the earth as absolute King and Lord (Rev. 19:16). The 'Scepter' is owned first in Zion and extends to the ends of the earth when Shiloh comes (Gen. 49:10)."
Jesus did not come to reign in our hearts! He will someday be the King ruling over Israel and over the entire world in a literal, historic way, not in some allegorical, "spiritualized" way, as the covenant guys see it. King Herod got it right. He knew that the Messiah could replace him as ruler. Even a pagan king understood literal language over what some allegorical theologians wrongly teach today!
Thanks for asking.
Dr. Mal Couch