This is the story of the wise men. Or astronomers and astrologers. Just as with the previous two sections, Matthew 2:1-12 revolves around a particular prophecy that Matthew is claiming Jesus fulfilled. In this case, it’s a prophecy interpreted from Micah 5:2.
It sits right there in verse one. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, this is what Micah 5:2 says, as quoted later in the text: From Bethlehem would arise a king who would rule Israel on God’s behalf. However, instead of just leaving it there, of saying, ‘See, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and that’s what the prophecy says… next!’ He adds an interesting story involving some interesting characters.
The first group of characters are wise men. The word literally means ‘magi’ and referred not to magicians or magic workers, but priests who studied the heavens and interpreted their meanings. Yes, something akin to astrologers today, but also respected astronomers. Note there is no mention of a great and bright star, just a specific star, a star that the astrologers interpreted as heralding the prophesied one. So they travelled back to Jerusalem, and started asking around because obviously everyone knows what that star means!
The other character in this story is King Herod the Great. The ruler of Palestine from 37 BCE to 4 BCE. For some reason, the current king of the region was startled to hear that the prophesied king of the Jews had been born. After all, what would happen to him? So he gathers all of the people he can who should know about this prophesied king and ask them where the brat… I mean the darling child is? They recite the Micah 5 passage, and Herod pulls a fast one. He tells the magi where to go, and asks that they return with confirmation, presumably so Herod can execute the threat to his leadership. We don’t actually know Herod’s intention, but in the end, a dream tells the magi not to report back to Herod so we can deduce it wouldn’t have been pretty.
So there are a couple things to consider about this story. The first is that the connection to Micah 5 that Matthew is making, and subsequently the scribes in the story, seems a bit shaky to me. I mean, go ahead and read the rest of the description of who that king is said to be! He will rule with the authority of the Lord, okay that fits. However, the rest doesn’t seem to apply. The people will live in peace under him because he will rule Assyria by the sword and Nimdrod by the drawn sword? This king will utterly destroy all of Israel’s enemies. He will be honoured during his reign and honoured even in the distant regions of the earth. None of this sounds like Jesus’ life. Now, one could make the argument that it fits once he is resurrected and placed as king over the people of the Kingdom of God, but I don’t think that’s what the Jews were expecting, or what the prophet who wrote Micah 5 was expecting.
The last thing I’ll mention is that if these wise men really did find Mary and Joseph and hand over a few chests of money and very expensive aromatic oils, they would have been set for life. I mean, it hasn’t told us yet what they did with that money. Maybe they bought some land and Jesus’ had a rich childhood from then on. Maybe that’s actually what encouraged Jesus to repent and get baptised that fateful day. He had been a rich man and realised that’s not what God’s desire for his life was.
Things to ponder, thanks for coming along on this journey with me. In the end, despite the interesting story, the purpose of everything Matthew has written up to this point seems to revolve around confirming that Jesus fits the prophecies of the Messiah.
Grace and Peace to you all.