Saturday, November 28, 2009
Daniel’s Connection with the Magi of Christmas
When I first discovered that the prophet Daniel became head of the Magi in King Nebuchadnezzar’s court (Dan. 2:48), I was blown away. I was in a seminary class around Christmastime, so the timing was remarkable. At a Christmas Eve service, the pastor asked the congregation if anyone knew the connection between the Magi of the Christmas story and an ancient prophet of Israel. I was the only one who knew.
Since the real story was so much more intriguing (and realistic) than our 3-Wise-Men tradition, I wanted to tell it in a coffee-table book. My son, a professional illustrator in NY, did all the artwork. We actually produced the whole book long distance, with lots of instant-messaging sessions while on our cell phones discussing details, then uploading finished pages onto our printer’s FTP website.
We named it Who Were the Magi? and produced it as a Biblically and historically accurate coffee-table book so people could learn the whole story and enjoy it at Christmas.
The story opens with the Magi and the cavalry in Parthia (Babylon) saying goodbye to their families and taking their places in the caravan. Yes, there were more than three Magi, and they traveled in a government-protected caravan. The Magi of the Christmas story were king-makers (not kings) – the highest government officials in the land. Just think, how long do you figure three guys dressed as kings, carrying the most expensive gifts, would last in the desert? Probably 5 minutes. They just didn’t travel that way in those days.
In the story, you will travel in the caravan with the Magi as they journey to find the promised Messiah, whose sign has appeared in the Eastern sky. How did they know to look for a sign at that time, and what it meant?
When Daniel became head of the Magi, he had a captive audience of all the Babylonian Magi who worshipped many gods, but, as we found out in Chapter 2, their gods couldn’t keep up with the God of Israel. Daniel then had the opportunity to teach them all about His God. He also wrote many prophecies during that time (which we’ll discuss in later blog posts) that told of end-time events.
One particular vision, which we call the Seventy-Weeks prophecy, gave us the exact timeline for when the Messiah would enter Jerusalem, being hailed as king, down to the exact day. That is how the Magi knew when and where to look for the Messiah. They had preserved Daniel’s prophecies (known as the Book of Daniel) over six centuries.
The story continues as the Magi enter Jerusalem (Matt. 2: 1-18) and cause somewhat of a panic. Israel was caught in the middle of the conflict between Rome and Parthia, and the Magi were feared because people thought they might depose King Herod. No, they were just searching for the newborn king of the Jews. They got information from the Hebrew scribes about where to look for Messiah and left for Bethlehem. However, Herod didn’t like the idea of being upstaged by a baby, so he ordered the massacre of all boys under the age of two in Bethlehem. By the time the Magi arrived in Jerusalem, it could have been a year or two after the birth of Jesus. They actually found Him in a house, over which a mysterious light shone.
The word “star” could have meant any light in the heavens, so it was probably not what we normally call a star. How many stars have you seen that shine on one particular house? This light was something else, and in the story, the Magi discuss where something like this was seen before in the Hebrew Scriptures.
The story tells of the Magi’s deep sorrow over deaths of the innocents and ends 30 years later when they hear the good news of a popular rabbi in Israel who was executed but then rose from the dead three days later. They were filled with joy, once they connected that rabbi with the child they visited three decades earlier. Finally, their journey made sense.
If you’d like to buy our book for yourself or as a Christmas present, you can find it on Amazon.com. It is not in bookstores. I hope your reading is blessed!