The story of the Magi, the star, Herod, and the Jews teaches us that, contrary to the world we live in where Herod wisdom runs rampant and people refuse to acknowledge God (just as the Jews and Herod did not), godly wisdom still exists and, as a famous sermon title has said, “wise men still seek Him.” The fact that you are reading this shows that the faith of the Magi is a faith that all God-fearers and God-worshippers share.
There are a few definitions of wisdom, according to Merriam-Webster: accumulated scientific or philosophic learning; ability to discern inner qualities and relationships; good sense; or generally accepted belief. Wisdom can also refer to the teachings of the ancient wise men or a wise attitude, belief, or course of action. The definition of the adjective “wise” is “exercising or showing sound judgment.” In these definitions, we can see that someone who is wise has accumulated learning or good sense (that stems from experience) that results in a careful decision or step in life. A wise person doesn’t make a move in haste without considering the consequences.
If we look at this with some real-life examples, we can see that a person doesn’t go buy a car he or she knows costs more than his or her monthly income allows. Why? The person that buys a car without considering whether he or she can meet the expenses just may find the car repossessed and carried back to the place of sale (or the owner, rather). Someone who goes on vacation and doesn’t “count the cost” as to whether or not he or she has enough money may find a bank account overdrafted upon returning home and have to settle the negative balance with the bank.
Wisdom is not just found in how one spends his or her money, though, but in every facet and phase of life. Someone who does not gain discerning judgment to distinguish friends from enemies may find that his or her enemies are too close and cause too much damage. A discerning person, a wise person, learns to distinguish which persons he or she can confide in, which persons should be left alone, and which persons should be kept at arm’s length (not everyone that smiles in your face is out for your welfare and cares about you, nor should every smiling face be trusted).
Wisdom can also be seen in how one spends his or her days, how he or she chooses his or her spouse, and so on. It’s been said that “you are what you eat,” but it’s also true that “you are what you choose and how you choose it.” The people you keep around you say as much about you as the foods you eat and the things you read because, as the Apostle Paul once said, “bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33).
In today’s passage, we’ll look at learned men with scientific knowledge of the stars and astrology (the study of stars) that were wise not just in the intellectual, but in the spiritual. These astrologers (or “magi,” a shortened form of the word “magician,” though there’s little evidence to suggest these men were magicians, sorcerers, or into divination) used their intellect to make a very important and careful decision of which they were aware and had accepted the consequences. The end result is that they got to see and worship the King of the Jews, Jesus, and were led by the Lord both to the place of Jesus’ birth and away from it for the magi’s safety.
Just as a note, the verses in this article will be coming from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) unless otherwise stated. I will bring in other translations as needed.
The Scene (Matthew 2:1-2)
Matthew gives us some information on the scene, seeing that the previous chapter, Matthew 1, is all about the genealogy of Jesus. While the genealogy of the previous chapter tells us that not only Jews but also Gentiles were in the bloodline of Jesus (such as Ruth the Moabitess (who is best known for her “Your people are my people, and your God my God” speech in the book that bears her name, and Rahab the prostitute, whom Joshua and the people of God spared in the city (Matthew 1:5). Interestingly enough, Mary’s husband Joseph, who was not the biological father of Jesus, is also considered to be the family of Jesus in Matthew 1.
The scene gives details of Jesus’ existence and history: “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying ‘Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? For we have saw his star in the east and have come to worship Him’.” We are told that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which aligns with scriptural prophesy. We’ll get into this scriptural prophesy in a few verses.
As for the event itself being marked by the reign of a king (in this case, Herod), the marking of an event by a political ruler’s reign is not uncommon in Scripture. For example, the need to make temple repairs was marked with the reign of King Jehoash (2 Kings 12:6). 2 Kings 18:10 marks the capture of Samaria with the reigns of Hezekiah and King Hoshea of Israel. Judah was invaded in the fourteenth year of Hezekiah’s reign (2 Kings 18:13). The Passover, which had been skipped over since the days of the judges, was observed in Jerusalem during the reign of King Josiah (2 Kings 23:23). Judah is invaded by Shishak of Egypt in Rehoboam’s fifth year of his reign (2 Chronicles 12:2). King Cyrus decreed that the house of God be rebuilt in the first year of his own reign (Ezra 5:13). Nehemiah requests that he help rebuild the house of God in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes’ reign (Nehemiah 2:1). Esther is taken in to the king in the seventh year of his reign (Esther 2:16). Isaiah has his vision and is sent by the Lord in the same year as King Uzziah’s death (Isaiah 6:1). Assyria invaded and conquered Judah in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah’s reign (Isaiah 36:1).
Now that we know where Jesus was born (Bethlehem of Judea) and when (in the reign of Herod the king), now we can enter the plot with the magi. The word “magi” in the Greek is “magoi,” which refers to magicians, sorcerers, or even oriental scientists (scientists from the Orient – that is, Asia, China, etc.). It has been said that the word “magi” was a Babylonian word given to sorcerers, astrologers, wise men, those of high learning and education, and this seems to refer to the wise men in question. We don’t know if these men were magicians or sorcerers, but we do know that they observed stars and were something akin to astrologers. Why? Because of their own statement and participation in the narrative. They inquire about Jesus, calling him “the King of the Jews,” and say “for we saw his star in the East.” They were saying in so many words that there was a star that appeared in the East (the Orient, China, Asia), and that they recognized the star as referring to the birth of Jesus, the King of the Jews.
It’s highly unlikely that these “magoi” were magicians, despite the fact that the same Greek word is used in passages that do refer to magicians. Acts 13:6,8 refers to a Jew named Bar-Jesus who was a false prophet and deceiving the people. He was called a “sorcerer” (Greek word magos), but we must remember that because a word means one thing in one context doesn’t necessitate its meaning in another. The word is given meaning by its context. The context of the “Magoi,” the Greek word for Magi, is that they worshipped Jesus instead of trying to deceive those around them. In other words, Magi here refers to those skilled in the arts and sciences (such as astrology), with little indication here that these men were into trickery of any kind.
There’s also little to indicate these Magi were into divination – even though the word itself refers to sorcerers and magicians in Scripture. After all, if they were into divination, why would they have come to Jerusalem to worship Jesus? Divination and sorcery have never led anyone to the one true living God or Jesus, but instead, away from the Lord. After all, the Lord was against sorcery and divination all throughout the pages of Scripture:
“‘You shall not eat anything with the blood, nor practice divination or soothsaying.” (Leviticus 19:26).
9 “When you enter the land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations. 10 There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, 11 or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead.” (Deuteronomy 18:9-11)
16 They forsook all the commandments of the Lord their God and made for themselves molten images, even two calves, and made an Asherah and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal. 17 Then they made their sons and their daughters pass through the fire, and practiced divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking Him. 18 So the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them from His sight; none was left except the tribe of Judah. (2 Kings 17:16-18)
In 2 Kings 17, we see that Israel rebelled against the Lord and took up divination and sun and moon worship. Again, this passage shows that the writer viewed divination and sorcery as great evils and abominations in the sight of the Lord.
“He made his son pass through the fire, practiced witchcraft and used divination, and dealt with mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking Him to anger.” (2 Kings 21:6)
This verse shows that Manasseh was an evil king who did all he could to violate the commandments of the Lord in his role as king over Israel. Witchcraft and divination were violations of God’s law, so Manasseh knew what he was doing when he was violating the divine law. Again, divination and sorcery have never been a good thing.
“Then the Lord said to me, “The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds.” (Jeremiah 14:14).
From this verse, the Lord says that they are using divination to claim certain things will happen when the Lord hasn’t told them those things.
“For there will no longer be any false vision or flattering divination within the house of Israel.” (Ezekiel 12:24)
Again, the Lord doesn’t want divination in the nation chosen by Him.
When it comes to the Magi, they were not into divination. If they were, their skills would likely have been put to use by Herod the king. But Herod didn’t ask them to perform magic tricks or deceit; he asked them about the star and the time the star appeared (Matthew 2:7), which means that their knowledge of astrology was their skill (not performing magic tricks and sorcery). Their God-worship of Jesus, the King of the Jews, also signals that these men were not sorcerers and diviners, but instead, true worshippers who used their knowledge of the stars to pinpoint the time when God would be born in the manger in the land of Israel. The word “Magi” may mean sorcerer or diviner (or “magician”) in certain contexts, but not all. Here, these Magi are God-worshippers, which is as far away from sorcery and divination as you can get.
We have further evidence as to what can be learned about these Magi because of Scripture:
““Stand fast now in your spells
And in your many sorceries
With which you have labored from your youth;
Perhaps you will be able to profit,
Perhaps you may cause trembling.
13 “You are wearied with your many counsels;
Let now the astrologers,
Those who prophesy by the stars,
Those who predict by the new moons,
Stand up and save you from what will come upon you. (Isaiah 47:12-13)
The astrologers are “those who prophesy by the stars” and “those who predict by the new moons,” a reference to their observation of natural phenomena. These skills and job tasks seem to fit the Magi who come from the east. They could’ve been aware of the prophecies, but, with little evidence in the text, we are left to speculate on some things. The text doesn’t fill in all the blanks or answer all the questions we have.
Now, the magi said more than just “we’ve seen Jesus’ star and know that He has been born”; they also said “we…have come to worship Him,” a sign that they viewed Jesus as not just another political ruler. Lots of political rulers were born, but none of those rulers were necessarily worshipped. The magi believed Jesus was “the King of the Jews” because they called Him such; however, they also came to worship Him, which was a sign that they viewed Jesus as deity, not just King.
The question comes down to, how did they know Jesus was the one the star represented? Why was it His birth that was marked by the star in the sky? Sure, they were led by the Lord to the place of Jesus’ birth, but they also brought gifts befitting a king. So, what made them view Jesus as King and Deity, worthy of worship? These magi (or wise men, many call them) must have been God-worshippers. After all, Matthew 2 marks Jesus’ birth, before the Lord even reveals Jesus as Deity before the world, before the Crucifixion and Resurrection.
What we’re seeing here is the knowledge of God being present in these magi, who were from the East. Before the Gospel was to be preached to all nations, these wise men knew who God was – and they knew that Jesus was divine. They brought him the best gifts they could bring (gold, frankincense, and myrrh), but they were not Jews. Isn’t that interesting? Jesus was sent to the lost sheep of Israel, and yet, these Eastern astrologers used their knowledge of the stars to discern that the King of the Jews was born.
This does away with the understanding that down through history, the Gentiles didn’t have a witness as to Jesus’ identity and divinity. Here, we see that the Lord allowed a star to shine all over the world to testify to the birth of His Son. The magi, the astrologers, called the star “His star,” a reference to the fact that they knew this star was unlike any other they’d ever seen. How did they know to distinguish “His Star,” Jesus’ birth star, from every other star or constellation they’d ever seen? We don’t know, but it must have been easy to distinguish – otherwise these astrologers would never have made the trip on a hunch or a suspicion that the star “might be” something special or mark something significant. The fact they brought gifts tells us that the trip was deliberate, made based on choice, a decision not made in haste but in intentionality.
What we’re seeing here is that the Gentiles did have a witness that Jesus would come and that He was Immanuel, “God With Us.” One witness was the star in the sky, a sign that even Eastern astrologers could see and understand. Paul says to the pagan worshippers in Ephesus that “In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14: 16-17, NASB; bold font mine). The Lord provided a sign in the sky for all to see when Jesus was born, and, in the same way He didn’t let Jesus’ birth be secret, He didn’t let Jesus’ Crucifixion be secret, either.
The star is an interesting symbol indeed. It was placed in the sky all over the world, and could be seen as far as East. The Eastern astrologers or Magi came to seek the birthplace of Jesus because they saw “His Star” in the East. The fact that they recognized the star as “His Star” tells us that they were awaiting the sign of the birth of the King of the Jews. If they were awaiting it, then they must have known for some time that a star would tell them Jesus was born. In other words, as far as the East, even before the birth of Jesus, the world knew that Jesus would be born. This wasn’t something kept secret for just the Jews as though the rest of the world lived in ignorance. Jesus’ birth wasn’t meant to be secret because Jesus came for all the world. So, with that said, the Eastern astrologers show us that even at Jesus’ birth, it was known that Jesus was the Messiah and that He was to be worshipped. If these Eastern astrologers know, then even Asia must have had a revelation that this Jesus was Deity and was the Lord of all the earth and of every man.
Next, keep in mind that Jesus was referred to as a “star” in the Old Testament:
“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; a star shall come forth from Jacob, a scepter shall rise from Israel, and shall crush through the forehead of Moab, and tear down all the sons of Sheth” (Numbers 24:17).
The “star” did come forth from Jacob (Jesus), and His birth was marked by a star.
This is worth contemplating when you consider the current field of theology today. There are a number of scholars and theologians who argue that people can be saved today via a “Jesus alternative.” In other words, they believe there are other ways that one can be saved outside of Jesus. They believe that Jesus is not the only way to salvation. Those who believe that Jesus is the only way for salvation are called exclusivists (such as Ronald Nash, for example) because they exclude others as possible sources of salvation.
Then, there are those who believe that Jesus is the primary means of salvation but that there are other sources of salvation for those who don’t have access to the gospel, a preacher, church, or Christian. For those who believe that Jesus is the primary source but there are secondary sources of salvation are called inclusivists. Inclusivists believe that those who do not have access to Jesus or the gospel (which is the message of Jesus) can be saved by access to general revelation such as that found in creation (sun, moon, stars, mountains, rivers, plants, constellations, etc.). Famous inclusivists that have advocated secondary saving sources include openness theologians Clark Pinnock, Greg Boyd, John Sanders, and Amos Yong.
For someone like Amos Yong, Jesus can’t be the only way because not everyone has access to Jesus, he says. He thinks about his grandparents, for example (his parents were the first in his family to profess Jesus), and wonders what will become of his grandparents in eternity. They did not have access to the gospel message and had never heard of Jesus, so are they saved? Did they have access to the saving message in some form (even if not in the packaged form we know today)? Amos Yong believes that they did (he wants them to have had access), but believes that they were saved by something other than Jesus. He posits that the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Triune Godhead, saved his grandparents by way of general revelation – that his grandparents were saved by the creation around them.
I am in a place like Amos Yong where I cannot say how his grandparents were saved, but if they lived in the time after Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection (which they did), and the Eastern astrologers knew of Jesus’ birth by way of creation, then something in the days of his grandparents testified to Jesus and they understood something about God through God’s revelation to them. Where Amos Yong and I differ is that I do not believe his grandparents could be saved apart from Jesus. I believe that whatever God showed in creation, it wasn’t something other than Jesus being the only Savior.
Notice that in the text of Matthew 2, the Eastern astrologers saw a star in the sky all the way across the world that pointed to Jesus. This is why, when they come to Jerusalem, they ask the question, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him” (Matt. 2:2). In other words, it was so obvious to them that it was the star of the King of the Jews that they traveled thousands of miles from the East (Asia) all the way to Jerusalem.
God put the star in the sky, but even the star pointed to Jesus (not something else). If you believe that Scripture tells us what we need to know, then we have to make a case based on what Scripture tells us. To entertain the inclusivist notion of “other salvific means” is to violate and contradict Scripture. The inclusivist notion of “other means of salvation” contradicts Jesus’ own words when He said “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). The star pointed to Jesus, and whatever God has done in the world or is doing right now, He’s pointing the way to Jesus – even in general revelation. Jesus is God’s final revelation to the world (see Hebrews 1:1-2), and there is no substitute for Him. With the star in the sky, the Lord made it clear that Jesus wasn’t just for the Jews, but for the entire world. This fits what the Lord said back in the Old Testament:
“The heavens are telling the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their utterances to the end of the world.” (Psalm 19: 1-4)
The creation of God tells that God exists, and day and night bring knowledge. In other words, no one is ignorant of God or doesn’t know that there’s a Creator because the Creator has made himself known in the works of His hands. And if He is Creator, He can reveal Jesus in creation, too. In the case of the magi, the star that appeared in the East alerted them that the King of the Jews, who should be worshipped, had been born. Even general revelation points to Jesus. Why? Because Jesus is superior to general revelation. He is the “final” revelation to the world, and even at Jesus’ birth, when He was a baby in a manger, God was still pointing to Him as the Savior of the world.
In Genesis 17:4-5, the Lord tells Abram that his name will be changed to “Abraham,” meaning “the father (“Abra”) of many nations” (ham). In Genesis 22:18, the Lord says to Abraham that “in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” In 1 Chronicles 14:16-17, David’s defeat of the Philistines brought fear of him “on all the nations.” Even a battle within Jewish history brought fear from all the nations, not just the Philistines.
1 Chronicles 16:23-25 discusses salvation, that the Lord should be proclaimed among all nations:
“Sing to the Lord, all the earth; proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day. Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples. For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; He also is to be feared above all gods.”
1 Chronicles 16:23-25 says that what the Lord has done should be told “among the nations,” “among all the peoples.” If the Lord didn’t come for the world, then why would the nations need to know what the Lord has done? Why would those nations be compelled to care, if the Lord didn’t send Jesus to earth for all the nations, both Jew and Gentile? 1 Chronicles 16:31 says, “Let them say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns'” – another verse that shows that the Lord is to reign among all the nations as the one true God.
Psalm 2 is worth examining in terms of the Son being given for the nations (the world):
7 “I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord:
He said to Me, ‘You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.
8 ‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance,
And the very ends of the earth as Your possession.
9 ‘You shall break them with a rod of iron,
You shall shatter them like earthenware.’”
10 Now therefore, O kings, show discernment;
Take warning, O judges of the earth.
11 Worship the Lord with reverence
And rejoice with trembling.
12 Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way,
For His wrath may soon be kindled.
How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!
Notice that Psalm 2:8 says “he said to Me,” but notice that the word “me” is capitalized here. Why is that the case? Because, though the immediate context seems as though David is quoting what is being said to him, the end of the passage says to “worship the Lord with reverence” and “do homage to the Son,” reminding us that the “Son” here is not David but the Son of God, the Lord Jesus. And yet, in this passage, the psalmist tells the kings and judges of the earth to “show discernment” and honor the Son. Why should the nations honor the Son? Because the nations are “your inheritance” and the ends of the earth “His possession”; the Lord Jesus will inherit the nations and own the nations of the earth. The nations are His, they belong to Him, and He came to earth and died for them.
“All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord,
And all the families of the nations will worship before You.
For the kingdom is the Lord’s
And He rules over the nations.” (Psalm 22:27-28)
The “families of the nations will worship before You,” the psalmist writes, a prophecy that is also confirmed through passages such as those of Isaiah 66-67. “He rules over the nations” is a statement that confirms the Lord’s rule extends to nations outside of the Jews. He isn’t just the King of the Jews, but the King of the nations.
“Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10)
Psalm 46:10 lets us know that the Lord desires His exaltation “among the nations,” before all nations and all of mankind (not just the Jews).
“God reigns over the nations, God sits on His holy throne” (Psalm 47:8).
God has not abandoned the nations; rather, He reigns over them. He can only reign over them if He’s God and superior to them.
Psalm 66:7 tells us that the Lord watches over the nations:
“He rules by His might forever; His eyes keep watch on the nations; Let not the rebellious exalt themselves. Selah.” (Ps. 66:7).
The Lord watches over the nations, so He does care about them. He hasn’t abandoned them, nor is He oblivious to what’s occurring in them at this point in history. If He watches over them, rules over them, and wants to be exalted among the nations and among all of humanity, then He does care for them and did come to die for them.
In Psalm 67:1-2, the Lord’s salvation is to be known among all nations:
“God be gracious to us and bless us, And cause His face to shine upon us— Selah. That Your way may be known on the earth, Your salvation among all nations.” (Ps. 67:1-2).
His salvation is to be known “among all nations,” not some of them, a verse that directly contradicts the view of inclusivists who say that those in other nations don’t know anything about the Lord and must be saved “by some other means” so that they will have a genuine opportunity to accept or reject salvation.
Psalm 98 shows that the Lord has revealed His salvation among the nations:
“The Lord has made known His salvation; He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations.” (Psalm 98:2)
Here it says that the Lord has revealed His salvation “in the sight of the nations.” In other words, mankind is not ignorant of God’s plan of salvation. God desires that His plan of salvation be known to every nation, that every nation would know. Why? Because the Lord desires that all men be saved.
Isaiah 11:9-10 tells of a day when the animals will eat and lie down together, when “a little child shall lead them.” In the middle of this day in the future that we’re told about which seems so wonderful, we’re also told that the nations will have knowledge of God and that they will turn to the Son:
“They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain,
For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
As the waters cover the sea.
Then in that day
The nations will resort to the root of Jesse,
Who will stand as a signal for the peoples;
And His resting place will be glorious.” (Isaiah 11:9-10)
The bold font here is designed to emphasize certain words, and, as we can see, the nations will turn to “the root of Jesse,” who is discussed as “He.” Earlier on in the passage above, though, the discussion turns to “the knowledge of the Lord” and that the nations, having the knowledge of the Lord, will turn to Jesus (the root of Jesse and offspring of David, cf. Romans 15:8-12). Again, Jesus has come for all the nations, not some of them. And if he has come for the nations, then he has come for the inhabitants of those nations. When it says in John 3:16 that “God so loved the world,” it doesn’t just mean He loves the geography (though He does); what it means is that He so loves the inhabitants of the world, every human born, and that He gave His Son because of His love for all mankind (Romans 5:7-8).
Hebrews 2:16 tells us that we are children of God as well as the Lord Jesus, and that we share one Father:
For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, 12 saying,
“I will proclaim Your name to My brethren,
In the midst of the congregation I will sing Your praise.”
13 And again,
“I will put My trust in Him.”
“Behold, I and the children whom God has given Me.”
14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. 16 For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham.” (Hebrews 2:14-16).
As we can see, it is the children of Abraham, those who have faith (Galatians 3:7), that are the brethren of Jesus.
As for the star itself, it is important to remember that it was placed in the sky, around the world, because God wanted everyone to know that the Savior was born. The wise men or magi weren’t the only ones in the East who saw the star, even though they were the only ones Matthew says traveled thousands of miles (and perhaps several months) to Jerusalem to see Jesus. According to some measurements I’ve done from sources I’ve gathered, if the Magi traveled from one of the farthest locations in Asia (such as South Korea), they would’ve traveled approximately 5,600 miles to Jerusalem/Bethlehem to see Jesus. If they lived closer to Jerusalem, say, in China (Beijing, perhaps), it would’ve taken under 4,000 miles to get to Jerusalem. If the average travel on horseback for a 50-mile journey is somewhere between 8-12 hours, then it would have taken between 40 and 60 days to get to Jerusalem. Bethlehem is only 7.1 km (or 4 miles) from Jerusalem, so there would’ve been little effort to get from Jerusalem to the home of Jesus.
But, we also have to remember, too, that these are measurements based on today’s technology. What takes 3 days now could’ve taken 3 months then, so we don’t know exactly how long it took the Magi to get to Jerusalem. I presume it took anywhere from 1 month to 4 months for them to get to Jerusalem. Jesus could’ve been anywhere from 6 months old and up by then. We don’t know the time relationship between when they saw the star and when Jesus was born, so we have little information by which to gauge Jesus’s age at the time of Matthew 2.
We don’t know how long the star had been in the sky, either. Perhaps the star had been in the sky for the course of their entire trip from the East, or longer, for that matter. And to make matters even more complicated, Jesus was (at most) two years old by the time they arrived to see Him because Herod later sought to kill all males aged 2 and under (Matthew 2:16). Jesus was at most two years old, though he could’ve been younger than that. The magi told Herod around what time the star appeared, so using some human measurements, he deduced Jesus would’ve been no older than two years old.
Notice that the magi tell Jerusalem authorities, “we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” In other words, they knew that the star in the sky was the star of Jesus, the star that testified to His birth, but they didn’t know exactly where Jesus was located. This alone testifies to the fact that the magi were from the East, the Orient, because, were they natives of the area or citizens having lived there for some time, they wouldn’t have needed to confer with anyone to know that Jesus lived in Bethlehem. They ask “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” As if they have little clue of the exact location of His birth. The chief priests and scribes immediately quote the Law when talking with Herod and know that He would be born in Bethlehem (see Matthew 2:5-6, so perhaps it can be said that the magi weren’t exactly reading Torah or Jewish sources at all when following the star.
And yet, the Old Testament told of the “star out of Jacob” in Numbers 24:17, and the Magi were aware of the phrase “King of Jews,” that it was the label for Jesus, and that He was to be worshipped (and that the star was His). How did they know this? We don’t know. We know that they knew about more than the star, and Jesus was more to them than just an earthly king, but how they knew it we don’t know. We can only infer clues from the text and, even then, don’t get all the particular pieces of information.
The Magi come “to worship Him,” a sign that, though He was the King of the Jews, they’d already made Him King in their hearts. The Magi are reminiscent of Ruth’s words to Naomi in what has been deemed one of the most famous confessions of the one true living God in all of Scripture:
15 Then she said, “Behold, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. 17 Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the Lord do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.” (Ruth 1:15-17)
Despite the fact that Ruth was a Moabitess from the land of Moab (a heathen nation), she accepted the God of her mother-in-law and the God of her deceased husband as her God. And, as a result, she makes it into the lineage of Jesus in Matthew 1:5. The Magi are like that here: they decide that “the King of the Jews” is their King and God, and, with this mindset, bring gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts do not imply that there were 3 wise men, nor do we know if they were kings or not.
Now, here’s where I have to debunk a misconception we have about the magi or wise men as they’re called. There’s a song of old that I’ve heard every Christmas since I was a child: “We Three Kings of Orient Are.” Unfortunately, the claim that the three Magi were “Kings” is biblically unfounded. What we know from the text is that the word “Magi” infers that there was more than one (the Greek word, “magoi,” is plural, but plural can mean just 2, not necessarily 3). We also know that there were 3 gifts, but again, we can’t infer there were 3 magi because of 3 gifts. Those 3 gifts could’ve been given as customary gifts for any king, no matter how many presenters would give them, so we can’t just infer 3 from the gifts.
We know they were from the Orient (after all, the sun rises in the east so the star must have risen in the East as well), and Asia is east of Israel (Jerusalem). Just look at any map. Some theologians presume that the place is Arabia, since persons in Scripture from Arabia were labeled as being “from the east” or “of the east,” but this too, isn’t necessarily the case. There are numerous places east of Jerusalem; it isn’t the case that all those who lived east of Jerusalem or Bethlehem (or Israel for that matter) were from Arabia.
Next, the claim that these magi were kings is even sketchier than the claim that there were 3 of them. We know that the Magi gave gold, frankincense, and myrrh, Matthew 2:11, but we also know that they were astrologers. Yes, they were consulted by the king (Matt. 2:7-8), but it had to do with the King of the Jews, Jesus, and the Star, instead of anything in the way of “king-to-king relations.” After all, the text says in the Greek that after they were warned by God to return home another way, they went back to “their land” or “their region” (xoran auton).
It’s highly doubtful these three men were kings because they were from the same region, and, secondly, there’s no evidence to suggests that Asian political structure was the same as the political structure of Israel. There is a reference to the Kings of Colen (and that these kings were the three that traveled to see Jesus), but there’s little evidence to attest to that. There’s also a theory put forth in early church history that says that there were 14 magi who traveled to see Jesus – but again, if we don’t know “3” for certain, how could we assume “14”?
Jerusalem and Herod react to the Magi question
After the Magi inquire about the exact location of the baby Jesus, the King of the Jews, Jerusalem and Herod react: “3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matt. 2:3). Herod was troubled because he was considered to be the king (verse 2), so this “King of the Jews,” Jesus, was a problem for Herod because this new king was someone who could undermine Herod’s own reign and power. The worse part of all this is that Jerusalem was troubled by the question of the Magi. You’d think that Jerusalem would’ve been overjoyed and would’ve paid attention to Jesus’ birth; instead, Jerusalem seemed unconcerned about it until they realized it could pose a problem for the current political climate where Herod was king. Further verses will show just how nonchalant Jerusalem was about Jesus’ birth.
Verses 4-6 show Herod’s ignorance and the knowledge of the chief priests and scribes in Jerusalem:
4 Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet:
6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah;
For out of you shall come forth a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.’” (Matthew 2:4-6)
Herod inquires about where Jesus is located, once he hears that Jesus is the King of the Jews and a threat to his own reign. The priests and scribes know Scripture, so they quote Scripture in telling him where Jesus was. The passage itself is taken from Micah 5:2, and in that passage, we see that the one foretold to come would be “ruler in Israel,” whose “goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.” Micah 5 goes on to say that “And he shall stand, and shall feed his flock in the strength of Jehovah, in the majesty of the name of God: and they shall abide; for now shall he be great unto the ends of the earth. And this man shall be our peace” (Micah 5:4-5).
Micah, an Old Testament prophet, foretold of Jesus being born in Bethlehem, considered to be “least among the leaders of Judah.” What this tells us, though, is that the Lord worked in mysterious ways when bringing about the birth of Jesus because He picked one of the most unsuspecting places and let Jesus be born in one of the most unsuspecting circumstances. Who would ever have imagined the King of Kings being born in a manger, a feeding trough, in a rural area like Bethlehem that not even Herod knew much about?
The chief priests and scribes knew where Jesus would come from, and they knew this because they had been reading Scripture. And yet, as it has been said, they weren’t too happy about Jesus’ birth because Herod viewed it as a threat to his political reign. Israel was under Roman rule, and the leading Jews didn’t want anything to interfere with the political climate. And yet, the Lord did what He did because He had a plan to bring Jesus into the world. Whether the Jews were excited or not, the Lord had planned to bring Jesus into the world – and He brought it about without the help of the chief priests and scribes. How sad it is that they were the religious leaders who read the Scriptures, but even with understanding, still didn’t herald the Lord’s coming or rejoice in it? In contrast, the Magi made haste to get to Jerusalem to see the baby Jesus. Matthew lets us see here that the Gentiles were more welcoming of the Messiah than the Jews were. As the apostle John says in his Johannine Prologue in John 1, “He came unto His own and His own received Him not” (John 1:10-11).
It’s interesting here that Matthew says the chief priests and scribes quote Scripture. After all, we’ve seen the Magi previously pointing to “His Star,” the Star of Jesus, as the source of special revelation from God to them that motivated them to travel thousands of miles to Jerusalem. We’ve mentioned Psalm 19 before in the above commentary, but it should be mentioned again. As Psalm 19 discusses the creation (Ps. 19: 1-6) and the Word of the Lord (Ps. 19:7-11), the Scriptures, as God’s two sources of revelation, those same two sources are seen here for our benefit: the Lord worked in creation to get the attention of the Gentile astrologers/scientists, and He used the Scriptures to warn the Jewish leaders and citizens of His coming. Neither Gentile nor Jew are without excuse because God revealed Himself to both groups of humanity (essentially, all of humanity). And for those who did not have Scripture and couldn’t read Scripture, the Lord put His Star in the sky, so much so that the star could be seen thousands of miles away from Israel (the land of Jesus’ birth).
Additionally, Matthew’s use of Scripture starts a trademark of his Gospel: That is, whenever an event happens, Matthew is one to say “this is to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
“20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:20-23)
The Lord was to be called “Jesus” because it was foretold by the prophet Isaiah. The word “Immanuel” means “God With Us,” so Jesus would be God in the flesh, as John says (John 1:14).
“13 Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord *appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.”
14 So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt. 15 He remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called My Son.” (Matthew 2:13-15)
The prophet behind the prophecy mentioned by Matthew in 2:13-15 is Hosea, and the reference comes from Hosea 11:1, where the Lord refers to Israel as a male child: “when Israel was a child I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” In the immediate context of Hosea 11, the Israel being mentioned is the nation of Israel, the group of people. But Matthew tells us that the prophecy has a double meaning: not only would it refer to the nation being freed from bondage, but it would also refer to His Son, Jesus, “him,” being freed from Egypt. Because He is the Son of God, He would experience what Israel went through in its bondage and deliverance. This is why He would have to come out of Egypt after the death of Herod.
In Matthew 2:16-18, we see that Matthew quotes more Old Testament Scripture to refer to Herod’s slaughtering of all innocent Jewish males age 2 and under. In this case, the prophet Jeremiah is responsible for mentioning the annihilation of so many Jews, an early Holocaust of sorts:
“16 Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi. 17 Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled:
18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
Weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children;
And she refused to be comforted,
Because they were no more.” (Matthew 2:16-18)
The reference comes from Jeremiah 31:14-16. Here’s the context:
“I will fill the soul of the priests with abundance,
And My people will be satisfied with My goodness,” declares the Lord.
15 Thus says the Lord,
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
Lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
She refuses to be comforted for her children,
Because they are no more.”
16 Thus says the Lord,
“Restrain your voice from weeping
And your eyes from tears;
For your work will be rewarded,” declares the Lord,
“And they will return from the land of the enemy. (Jeremiah 31:14-16)
In the context, the Lord describes “Rachel,” symbolic of the mothers of the Jewish nation, weeping for their children, with a promise from the Lord that He will bring them out of captivity and they won’t have to weep any more. The weeping heard from “Rachel,” apparently, also refers to the slaughtering of all the innocent male children. Herod’s decision to kill all males age 2 and under was a Holocaust of its own kind, with every mother weeping for her male child(ren).
Matthew 2:19-23 says that when Jesus, Joseph, and Mary returned to Israel, they settled in Nazareth because “This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: ‘He shall be called a Nazarene’.”
Matthew 2:19-23 pertains to Jesus being set apart from every other male child in the sense not that He would come from Nazareth so much as He would be set aside for the Lord’s service. Of course, Nazareth wasn’t seen as a city of pride to hail from:
“Philip *found Nathanael and *said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. Nathanael said to him, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip *said to him, “Come and see.” (John 1:45-46).
Nathanael asked that question because Nazareth was not a city of confidence. Apparently, Nazareth did not motivate confidence, didn’t seem like a place where successful people were born. It wasn’t the Hollywood of Israel, that’s for sure. And yet, even Hollywood, California had meager beginnings. Jesus was the best thing to come out of Nazareth, but the question asked shows that Nazareth wasn’t seen as an impressive place by any means.
And yet, the Old Testament painted Nazirites as being set aside, consecrated for the Lord’s service. Numbers 6:1-21 gives the requirements of the Nazirite, including not having strong wine or drink (Numbers 6:3) or anything to do with grapes, to refrain from shaving his head (v. 5), not touching or coming into contact with a dead body (6:6), and so on. And yet, Jesus did have wine, did come into contact with dead bodies (Jairus’s daughter and Lazarus, He encountered), etc., showing that He was holy while the Nazirites of the Old Testament, though consecrated, were not divine like Jesus. John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus, lives up to the Old Testament mandates for Nazirites, however.
Matthew continues to use his “this is to fulfill” formula with the coming of John the Baptist in Matthew 3:1-3:
Now in those days John the Baptist *came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
‘Make ready the way of the Lord,
Make His paths straight!’” (Matthew 3:1-3)
The passage quoted at the end of the excerpt above shows that the quote is taken from Isaiah the prophet. The “voice of one crying in the wilderness” refers to John the Baptist.
There are other such places in the Gospel of Matthew that testify to the Old Testament prophecies: Jesus’ ministry in Galilee (Matt. 2:12-17), among others. Matthew wants to let it be known that the events of Jesus’ life were prophesied by the Old Testament prophets and in the Old Testament books. In other words, the Lord’s special revelation in the form of Scripture for the Jews always pointed to Jesus (the prophecies should’ve been a dead giveaway).
Once Herod determined where Jesus, the “King of the Jews” that threatened his reign, was located (in Bethlehem), he then met secretly with the Magi to discover what they were up to. He inquired about the time in which the star appeared, which tells us that the Magi were scientists and observers of scientific phenomena instead of sorcerers and magicians, and then said the following:
“And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” (Matthew 2:8)
This should give anyone pause as to what Herod was really up to. After all, Jesus could’ve been as old as 2 years old at the time, and Herod hadn’t worshipped Jesus in two years. If he hadn’t worshipped Him in all that time, what would make anyone think that Herod’s intentions with Jesus were sincere now? After all, Herod met secretly with the Magi. If what he was doing was a good thing, why meet with the Magi secretly? He met with them to send them on a mission of his own, one that wasn’t good, one that wasn’t designed with God-worship in mind. In all truthfulness, Herod didn’t want to worship the Jesus Child, but the Magi, who were sincere with their God-worship, couldn’t see through to Herod’s true motivation and evil intentions. We know from Scripture that, left to his own devices, Herod decided to kill all male babies ages 2 and under. Why? Because He wanted to kill Jesus, not worship Him. Jesus was a threat to Herod because Herod was the King of Israel. Hearing of a “King of the Jews” got Herod worried because he felt threatened by Jesus and the idea that Jesus could be a challenger to his social standing and authority. Jesus was King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and His Kingdom was not of this world, but political figures with only earthly wisdom can’t discern heavenly things. Herod had earthly wisdom, not the wisdom that comes from above.
After meeting with Herod, the Magi continue on their way to visit the place where the baby Jesus was: “9 After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” (Matthew 2:9-10)
Apparently, the Magi had once seen the star, but they lose it when they get to Jerusalem. They inquire about where Jesus could be, but it seems as though the star they lost in Jerusalem has returned to guide them to Bethlehem. The star guided them to the place where the baby Jesus was, and they rejoiced to see the star returned. They wanted to see the King of the Jews with their own eyes, and after traveling thousands of miles from Asia to get to Jerusalem, the Magi weren’t about to give up now. The star landed right over the house where Jesus was, which alerted them that they had the right house.
Verse 11 gets us to the heart of the Magi visit and their interaction with Jesus:
11 After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:11)
They come in the house, see Jesus with His mother, and fall to their knees to worship Him. The star had landed on the right home, and they knew they’d find the child in the home that was the King of the Jews. Worship is the proper response for what they discovered as a result of their traveling thousands of miles from Asia to Bethlehem by faith. Their faith brought them to see Jesus after seeing the star indicative of Jesus’ birth in the sky.
Worship of Jesus is the proper response to seeing the Messiah. No doubt, they had been anticipating Jesus’ star and His birth, and after all the longing and waiting, the promised Messiah had finally been born. Worship was all they had energy for, because it was such a poignant moment for these Gentile astrologers who had traveled by way of a star all the way to Jerusalem to search for Jesus. After all the miles they’d traveled, their goal had been accomplished. They finally got to see Jesus face to face, and worship was all they could do. It’s rather indicting that these Gentile astrologers could worship Jesus and follow a star in the sky (that everyone could see, thousands of miles outside of Israel) but the chief priests, scribes, and even Israel’s king (Herod) couldn’t interpret and understand the star in the sky and the birth of God’s Son. After all their anticipating, after seeing God in the flesh as a babe, worship was the most appropriate response for their Lord. These Gentile astrologers were God-worshippers, and their knowledge led them to follow the star to where Jesus was born. After seeing Jesus, they worshipped.
The text says that they gave gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts are fitting for a king, as the gold represents the treasure and wealth; the frankincense represents anointment, sweet-smelling perfume for the king; and myrrh represents the embalming fluid of a king. The sweet-smelling perfume, frankincense, was likely for the king to use during his life, the myrrh for use at his death. So, they wanted to honor the king in his health, wealth, life, and death. It is said that the myrrh was for his burial, but we’re not sure that these Magi even knew that Jesus would be crucified. They knew He was God, though, but we infer that because they call Jesus “the King of the Jews,” not because of speculation.
According to what Scripture says about myrrh and frankincense, both of these were pleasant aromas used for special occasions such as weddings (Song of Solomon 1:13; 3:6; 4:6; 4:14; 5:1; 5:5; 5:13) and was a sign of wealth for Joseph’s brothers who decided to sell him into slavery to some wealthy Ishmaelites (Genesis 43:25). Myrrh was used for beautification as well, particularly for women (Esther 2:12) but was also used for burial by Nicodemus when he appeared to honor Jesus at his death (John 19:39).
We also know that myrrh was one of the best products money could buy, one of the finest scents around, according to Scripture:
“Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be so, then do this: take some of the best products of the land in your bags, and carry down to the man as a present, a little balm and a little honey, aromatic gum and myrrh, pistachio nuts and almonds.” (Genesis 43:11).
Joseph’s brothers had returned to his father, telling him that Joseph requested their youngest brother to come to Egypt. Their father said to them to take myrrh as “one of the best products of the land” in order to appease Joseph so that he’d release their brother.
In Exodus 30:23, the Lord tells Moses to make a holy anointing oil out of myrrh:
23 “Take also for yourself the finest of spices: of flowing myrrh five hundred shekels, and of fragrant cinnamon half as much, two hundred and fifty, and of fragrant cane two hundred and fifty, 24 and of cassia five hundred, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, and of olive oil a hin. 25 You shall make of these a holy anointing oil, a perfume mixture, the work of a perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil. 26 With it you shall anoint the tent of meeting and the ark of the testimony, 27 and the table and all its utensils, and the lampstand and its utensils, and the altar of incense,28 and the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and the laver and its stand. 29 You shall also consecrate them, that they may be most holy; whatever touches them shall be holy.
Myrrh was one of a few spices (cinnamon, cassia, and olive oil were others) used to anoint the utensils of the sanctuary, the sanctuary, and even Aaron and his sons (the priests). Myrrh is also said to have medicinal properties, and that the Magi could’ve brought this to Jesus for the sake of his sickness or medicinal needs later in life. Myrrh comes from “a certain tree or shrub in Arabia or Ethiopia,” so this plant may give away at least where one of the Magi hailed from (Arabia, what we know today as Saudi Arabia). This doesn’t tell us where all the Magi came from, but one had to come from Arabia (Saudi Arabia now) to have this spice available. According to what we know about Saudi Arabia, the success of the territory was based on selling frankincense and myrrh, so the Magi were bringing Jesus the most coveted of spices in their home region (if they were all from Saudi Arabia).
In other words, the Magi did not come to worship Jesus willy-nilly; they brought the best of their culture when they came to see Jesus. Perhaps we’d do well to contemplate their gifts and their worship of the baby Jesus. After all, so many of us bring gifts to the Lord that are not as special as what the Magi gave. Some of us bring anything to the Lord (in any way) and don’t understand that the Lord wants our best. The Magi brought their best to Jesus, the best spices around, the most wealthy spices they could bring the King of the Jews. And then, after bringing the best spices, they brought something even better – their worship of the one true living God. What the Lord wants above our offerings and spices is our hearts and lives, that we be living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2). Bringing their best spices to Jesus was a result of their transformed hearts and adoration of Jesus, God in the flesh. Some of us try to bring the best we have without giving the Lord the best we have first – that is, ourselves.
After worshipping the King of the Jews, the one to whom the star pointed, the Magi went back to their country: 12 And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way. (Matt. 2:12)
Notice that the Magi were warned by God not to return to Herod. Rememeber the discussion above about Herod telling the Magi that he wanted to know where the King of the Jews was so he could “worship also”? He didn’t want to worship Jesus, but the Magi did not know that. The only way they could know Herod’s intention is because the Lord gave them insight in a dream. Not only did the Lord speak to the Gentile Magi by way of the star in the sky, a sign of special revelation (it was “His Star,” Jesus’ star), but the Lord spoke to them by way of another special revelation. What was it? A dream. He gave them special revelation in that dream about Herod’s intentions and told them not to return to Herod. The Magi heeded the dream and returned to their country by way of another path, leaving Herod alone altogether.
The Gentile Magi responded to the special revelation of the star and traveled to see and worship Jesus, so we see that they were genuine God-worshippers. And it is because of their genuine worship and exaltation of Christ that the Lord directed them elsewhere away from Herod. The Lord would not have His Son, only two years old at most, killed, and His plan for Jesus to die for the world thwarted because of an evil king. And He did not allow the Magi to be used for this evil because in their hearts, they had made the travel for good purposes. They wanted to worship Jesus, but Herod only wanted to secure worship for Himself.
We know what happens after this, though: Herod is upset that the Magi do not return to him, so he goes on a killing spree, killing all males ages 2 and under in order to ensure that Jesus would be killed. What he didn’t know is that the Lord would appear to Joseph and tell him to leave Bethlehem because Herod was out for Jesus’ life, to kill Him. After the death of Herod, the Lord directs Joseph, Mary, and Jesus to settle back in Israel in Nazareth of Galilee.
We have covered the first 12 verses of Matthew 2, the event pertaining to the star in the sky, the Magi, and Jesus’ birth. Now, it’s time to reflect on just what life lessons we can glean from the passage.
The Gentiles, like the Jews, were awaiting the Messiah
I once wondered what the Gentiles were even thinking before Jesus told the disciples to go into the world and preach the gospel to all nations. I’d heard all my life that the Jews were waiting for the promised Messiah, but little is said about the Gentiles prior to Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. It’s clear from Matthew 2:1-12, however, that the Gentiles, like the Jews, were waiting for the Messiah to come. They were expecting Jesus to come, just as the Jews were, and they saw Jesus as their Messiah, too, not just the Messiah of the Jews. If they didn’t, how do we explain the Magi who were “from the east,” who had seen the star in the sky and knew it referred to the birth of the King of the Jews? They must’ve expected Jesus to be born, otherwise they would never have recognized the star. In contrast to the Magi, Herod and the chief priests and scribes weren’t looking for the star and the priests and scribes knew that Jesus was coming (they knew the prophecies) but didn’t care about His coming.
This helps correct our thinking about the Gentiles, that they were just walking in darkness with no knowledge of Jesus or God. The fact that the Lord placed a star in the sky that could be seen from miles around shows that the Gentles were aware of the Messiah’s coming, too.
The Gentiles were not ignorant about the coming of the Messiah
The Gentiles were not the first to get the gospel, but they were not ignorant of the gospel message or of Jesus because the Jews were granted it first. The Magi represent the Gentiles, who live by their intellect, but shows that they were awaiting and expecting the Messiah. We don’t know how long the star was in the sky, but we know that it was so large that it could be seen in the sky around the world. How would these eastern Magi have seen it since they lived outside of Jerusalem, if the Lord did not want those from other territories to see the star and know it was pointing to the birth of His special revelation, Jesus Christ? For those who believe today that the Gentiles didn’t know anything about Jesus until the gospel message was preached in the world, please keep the account of the Magi and the star near and dear to you. This account unravels that claim, reminding us that no one, not even the Gentiles afar off, was ignorant of the Messiah. So, with that said, those who die on earth that never have access to a human missionary (or, the unevangelized, as they’re called in evangelical circles) still have access to God’s special revelation of Jesus. The difference comes in how the Lord Jesus comes to those individuals (be it dream or vision, etc.), but the Lord reaches out to us all. After all, He died and rose for us all, did He not?
The Star in the sky shows God’s love for the whole world
Jesus was so named “because He shall save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21), but the Lord placed the star pointing to Jesus in the sky so that even those from the East, could see the star and act accordingly. The Lord did this to show that, though the gospel first came to the Jew (and then the Gentile), the Lord never forgot about the Gentiles. Even in Old Testament prophecy, the Lord would give the Gentiles hope (Matthew 12:18-21; Isaiah 42:1-4). We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that Gentiles become part of the birth story. The Lord would never have put His star in the sky for all to see if He didn’t want the world to know about the birth of His Son. Although Herod didn’t notice, and the scribes and chief priests weren’t paying attention, the Gentile Magi saw the sign and followed it all the way to Jerusalem.
The Word of God rules out speculations
As we read about the Magi and Jesus and the Star, we are reminded that there are so many questions the text gives for which we don’t have any answers. We don’t know how the Magi knew that the star was pointing to Jesus and signaling His birth (though it’s possible they knew the prophecies and studied the stars), we don’t know how old Jesus was when the Magi visit or when Joseph takes Jesus and Mary to Egypt, for example, but there are some speculations that are so far off that there isn’t a hint of scriptural support for them. Sure, some say that the gold, frankincense, and myrrh implies that there were three Magi, but we can’t speak at all regarding whether or not they were kings. We know that they were scientists and astrologers, and that seems to be a safe bet, but “We Three Kings,” while a great song, isn’t exactly biblical when it comes to an accurate portrayal of the Magi. The number of Magi has been said to be as high as 14, but that number just seems outrageous when there were only 3 gifts.
Again, the text leaves us with some speculations and some assumptions that we have to accept, but “farfetched speculations” do exist and should be called out as such. We should not want to embellish the truth of Scripture, but embrace the details as the Holy Spirit allowed them to be written. The text should compel us to ask questions, but we should not put details into songs that we know are speculation and do not reflect the biblical accounts accurately. We need to warn against biblical embellishment because today, in the church, people are now trying to argue that we can be saved apart from Christ. Once you start embellishing the truth, it’s not hard to be creative where God has been commanding.
Matthew indicts the Jews for their unbelief, commends the Gentiles for their belief
Matthew has written what many view as the Jewish Gospel, but this same Jewish Gospel includes an indictment against the Jews. Notice that the Jews act as though they know nothing about the star and Jesus before the Magi come to Jerusalem asking questions. Then, once the Magi inquire, Herod inquires, and the chief priests and scribes start talking. They had the knowledge but didn’t believe (and were troubled by a King of the Jews that could prove troubling to Herod), while the Magi, who didn’t have the special revelation of the Scriptures, believed based on the star they saw and the prophecies they knew. Here we see the Gentiles commended while the Jews are scolded. This is no different, however, from Jesus’ own words while He was in the Temple in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus tells the Jews that the Gentiles were the believing ones when he mentions the story of the widow at Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian:
24 And He said, “Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown. 25 But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land; 26 and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; 29 and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, He went His way. (Luke 4:24-30)
Jesus tells the Jews that only the Gentiles in Israel were healed and heard during the time of Elijah and Elisha, because He was making a point about He, a prophet, not being accepted in his own country by His own people. The indictment was regarding their unbelief and the faith of Gentile men and women for whom the Lord didn’t give them salvation right away. Jesus was impressed by even the Syrophoenician woman in Matthew 15:21-28. This is yet another indictment of the Jews and a praise of the Gentile woman:
21 Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.” 23 But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, “Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us.” 24 But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” 26 And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 But she said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once.
In even the Jewish Gospel, Gentiles are praised for their faith while the Jews are scorned for their disbelief. The unbelief of the Jews and the faith of the Gentiles is a theme that runs through even the New Testament. In the book of Romans for example, Paul tells the Gentiles that God will bring the Jews back to Himself despite the current time in which salvation has come to the Gentiles because of God’s grace (Romans 11:1-32).
So, with the overwhelming Jewish disbelief, we should not be surprised to see it in this Jewish Gospel. Yet and still, it shows us that the Gentiles were not completely in the dark about Jesus and that there were some Gentiles who were awaiting the Messiah and believing in Him. The Gentile Magi only add to this theme of Gentile faith throughout Matthew’s Gospel.
The Lord used both general revelation and specific revelation to make the birth of Jesus known
The Old Testament, in Psalm 19, tells us the two mediums God uses to manifest Himself: general revelation in nature and specific revelation in His Word. Both mediums are used in the story of the Magi and Jesus’ birth: the Lord puts a star in the sky (Matthew 2:2), specifically, a star that points to Jesus, so that the Gentile Magi could know that Jesus had been born. The star, then, could be seen thousands of miles away if not around the world. The Jews had specific revelation in the Scriptures, as the chief priests and scribes point to Old Testament prophecy when Herod asks about the King of the Jews (Matthew 2:5-6). The Lord allowed both nature and Scripture to be used and discussed at the birth of His Son, so that we would know these mediums are still valid today. The Lord still uses nature to reveal Himself because, as Paul says it best, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). The Lord continues to use Scripture because it is “God-breathed” (or “inspired” as the KJV says):
16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
The Greek word here for the phrase “inspired by God” is theopneustos, a Greek compound word consisting of “God” (theos) and breathed (pneustos). Scripture is breathed out by God, which is why we call Scripture “The Word of God.” It is God’s spoken Word codified in a book where we can read and forever be reminded of what God has said. The Jews had written Scripture that they could read and upon which they could reflect, but they were simply unbelieving. The fact that Matthew shows the chief priests, who were religious authorities over the Jewish people, and the scribes, who wrote down Scripture and copied it from one scroll to another every day, could not understand the sign of the time, then how could Israel as a whole understand it? If the Jewish leaders weren’t accepting and aware, surely Israel wasn’t.
With that said, the Lord still works in general revelation (nature) today, but, in whatever He’s doing, He’s using nature to bring people to the knowledge of Jesus Christ. With the star in the sky, the Magi were able to recognize it as the star of Jesus as opposed to every other star. The Lord did not send a large star that the Magi could not recognize. Today, the Lord is not sending natural revelation in such a way that people can’t recognize Jesus in it. In natural revelation today, as the Lord did at Jesus’ birth, the Lord is bringing the message of Jesus in natural revelation to those who may not have evangelists locally or have never had a missionary reach them with the gospel message. Since the Lord has not rendered Psalm 19 null and void, then we can know that He still works in nature and Scripture today. Those in the world, like the Magi, who may not have direct access to Scripture, are not left without a witness of the Lord’s existence. After all, the Lord allowed more than just the Magi to see His star in the sky. Why would He allow the star to be seen across the world if He didn’t want the world to know? The Gentiles, even though the Jews had Scripture at this time, were not ignorant of His coming and were expected to respond to the natural phenomenon the Lord placed in the sky. When the Lord reveals Himself, He does so with the expectation that we will respond to the revelation we receive. Once you can’t claim ignorance, you’re expected to respond.
The Lord reveals Himself in dreams and visions, too, in addition to nature and Scripture
We’ve seen that the Lord used nature (the star) and Scripture (Jewish Scripture) to reveal Himself, but He also used dreams with the Magi (Matthew 2:12) to warn them against returning to Herod after visiting baby Jesus and worshipping Him. The Magi had no way of knowing that Herod was evil and plotting to kill the King of the Jews, but the Lord knew. He appeared to the Magi in a dream to reveal something that they wouldn’t have known otherwise: that is, Herod was evil and would only kill Jesus. The Magi, being God-worshippers and God-fearers, believed the dream and acted accordingly. As we see, the Lord can work supernaturally to bring about His purposes, even in the presence of Scripture and natural revelation. Dreams and visions are supernatural manifestations of the Lord, and they are not off limits because of Scripture and nature. There are a number of Christians that rule them out, but we shouldn’t. There are too many cases in Scripture where the Lord appeared to believers and unbelievers alike, such as in the case of Joseph later on in Matthew 2 (v. 13) when the Lord tells Him to take Jesus and go to Egypt to protect Jesus from Herod.
When it comes to the ways that God reveals Himself, we should embrace them all, not just the ones that suit us. There are a large number of Christians who embrace nature and Scripture as revelations of God, but reject dreams and visions because they’ve never experienced them. And yet, to reject the use of dreams and visions is to reject a large portion of Scripture where God uses them to achieve His purposes. The Scriptures themselves tell us that “all Scripture is God-breathed,” as said above from 2 Timothy 3, and we shouldn’t deny dreams and visions because their mention in Scripture is just as God-breathed as the mentions of nature and Scripture. We should embrace all God’s methods of revelation, not just the ones we want.
Earthly, Herod Wisdom
The story of the Magi and the star after Jesus’ birth brings to light the issue of wisdom. The Magi have been called “wise men” throughout church history, and there’s a reason for that: their wisdom was heavenly, while the wisdom of Herod was earthly. Herod’s earthly wisdom made him 1) oblivious to the birth of the King of Kings and 2) afraid that Jesus would undermine and overthrow his own rule. In response, Herod let his fear motivate him to find out and plot how to kill Jesus instead of realizing that Jesus, being the God of all creation and Creator of every man, could not be killed unless God willed it to be (the Crucifixion).
Herod, then, represents earthly wisdom. He was afraid of being overthrown as king and didn’t want any threats to his reign. Some think this wise, but this is a sign of earthly wisdom. Today, the “Herod wisdom” as I’ll call it here lives on in the church. There are pastors who want to be the only pastor at their church that struggle under the weight of the great pastoral task but won’t ask for another pastor to aid in the ministerial work because they think that bringing on another undershepherd will steal the spotlight from themselves. They want to be “numero uno,” “the head honcho,” the person in charge, and they won’t bring another pastor into the equation because they fear the people’s loyalties will subside, he or she won’t get as much attention as if they stand alone, etc. Yes, this may be hard to believe, but this is the Herod wisdom, the earthly wisdom, the wisdom that says to look out for fame, fortune, power, and wealth and put self above others. If Herod was really secure in his rule, he wouldn’t have been intimidated by the “King of the Jews.” His intimidation shows that he wasn’t as powerful as he believed he was. It’s also crazy to think that he killed all Jewish males age 2 and under in order to make sure he had killed the King of the Jews. How logical is it of a king to kill babies because he was threatened by them?
See, earthly wisdom makes sense to a lot of people, but unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to be wisdom at all. People have had all sorts of reasons for murdering in history, but why murder Jewish males because you’re afraid of a baby ruling over the Jews when the Jews were already under Roman rule? The baby would’ve needed years to grow into a man in order to challenge Herod, and Herod would’ve likely died by the time the baby had become a man. Herod kills him likely because the Jewish baby would’ve gone on to challenge Roman rule, but it’s far more likely he kills Jesus because he feared Jesus posed a problem to his own reign. Killing a baby because you fear they’ll challenge your rule makes no sense whatsoever. But this is the earthly wisdom that many prize: it appears to make sense on the surface, but the further you dig into and examine it, you see that it’s really ludicrous.
This Herod wisdom is all about power, fame, authority, and hierarchy (one person is over another, etc.), and this characterizes not only the world today but even church life. Some individuals want to be pastors, teachers, and evangelists not to “feed the flock of God” and be faithful to Scripture and their calling, but to have power and authority over others, to “stick their chest out” and remind others that they are in charge, and so on. This is the Herod wisdom, the earthly wisdom, and Scripture has something to say about earthly wisdom:
“24 And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest. 25 And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ 26 But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. 27 For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” (Luke 22:24-27)
Jesus says here that the Gentiles are consumed with power and authority, but that His servants should not be this way. Why? Because He, being the Lord, came not to be served but to serve. If He, being greater than us, came to be a servant, then how much more should we focus on serving and less on leading and having power over others? How much more should pastors (undershepherds of the flock) serve with humility if the Great Shepherd, Jesus Christ, could serve and give Himself for the whole world? Pastors concerned about guarding their pastorate are exhibiting Herod wisdom. They’re only concerned about getting recognition and when they do so, they’ve already forfeited their calling, their pastorate, and their role as a servant of God – even if the church is running over with people and tithe money.
The same can be said for church members in general. There are so many church members in the body of Christ today that view certain gifts and offices as superior or more important than others. Paul had to correct this with the Corinthian church:
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. 6 There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. 7 But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.8 For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.
12 For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
14 For the body is not one member, but many. 15 If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. 19 If they were all one member, where would the body be? 20 But now there are many members, but one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”22 On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; 23 and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, 24 whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, 25 so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. 29 All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? 30 All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? (1 Corinthians 12:4-30)
There are some things we can glean from 1 Corinthians 12 in our glance here. First, is that the Spirit distributes the gifts 1) for the common good, see 1 Cor. 12:7) and “as He wills” (1 Cor. 12:11). What this means is that the gifts given to each one individually are not for that person to become popular, start a following, become a celebrity, or grow his or her social media account. The goal of receiving the gifts from the Lord is to use them to bring glory and praise to the Lord who gave them and to build up and edify the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13). Unfortunately, a number of members in the church have decided that the gifts are designed and sent by God to further themselves and their social careers instead of furthering and maturing the body of Christ.
And this is why some members are saying today what Paul quotes about others in the church in his day: “I have no need of you,” for whatever reason. The message those individuals send is that their role in the church (being pastor, for example) is more important than being a greeter in the house of God, or of mowing the lawn, cutting the grass, and cleaning up the bathrooms and pews. Unfortunately, this is not the way it should be. We should honor those who serve no matter what role they serve in, whether we deem it prestigious or not, because everything we do for the Lord will count in the end. David said that “I’d rather be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord than dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Psalm 84:10), but we look down upon greeters today in the body of Christ. I think we look down upon greeters in a negative way because we’ve yet to understand what servant leadership is all about.
Just ask anyone who the Head of the Church is. Most will tell you that it’s the Pastor and the Deacons. Unfortunately, that’s not correct. According to Scripture, Christ is the Head of the Church (Ephesians 5:23, Colossians 1:18), and the Pastor and Deacons are there to care for the flock of God, not to rule over it. Take a look at 1 Timothy 3:5. The context concerns that of the Pastor (Overseer) and Deacons, and the words used for “rule over” and “care for” in verse 4 are not the same. The word for “rule over” or “rule” in 1 Timothy 3:4 is “proistamenon,” which is a compound word consisting of “pro” (above or before) and “histemi,” meaning “to stand.” When you put these words together, the word for deacons in their homes is “to stand over” or rule. Also, children are mentioned as being in submission in verse 4. The same parent word returns in verse 5, but the Greek word here is prostenai, which still refers to ruling over the home. However, when Paul discusses “caring for the house of God” as opposed to “ruling over the home,” a different verb is used: the verb used is epimelesetai, from the Greek parent verb meleo, meaning “to care for,” “to look after,” etc. It’s similar to a guardian in real life: the guardian doesn’t have to be the legal parent, but the person is put in place as “the next best source” of childcare. The Pastor is to rule his or her own home, but he or she only “cares for” or “looks after” the house of God. The word “rule over” is also translated “manage,” but the word “care for” doesn’t refer to managing the house of God.
Why not? because Pastors are not ruling over the house of God (the Lord Jesus is), but they are in place to care for the flock of God and faithfully shepherd the sheep until the return of the Good Shepherd:
17 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. 18 And when they had come to him, he said to them,
“You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house,21 solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.
25 “And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face. 26 Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men.27 For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.28 Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. 35 In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
Here we see Paul’s words to Pastors, which I think are still fitting for this day and age. Pastors should remember that the Holy Spirit has made them overseers (Acts 20:28), not themselves, that he showed them how to work with their hands to give rather than receive, and that he himself is an example of someone who worked, preached, and sacrificed rather than gain from the work of others. This is what Pastors and church officials should be doing today. Unfortunately, a lot of the message sent by the pastors and preachers today is that they should be given lots and lots of money for their work. Scripture says that laborers of the Gospel should reap from it (1 Timothy 5:17-18), but not to the point where pastors, preachers, and teachers have 3-story mansions, 3 cars in the garage, and a new 3-piece suit for every day of the month while their own church members struggle to buy medicine and pay their medical bills. When the man or woman of God as Pastor is living like a King or Queen, yet their people are living close to homelessness and on the street, something is terribly wrong.
Paul’s words to the overseers was to remember that the Holy Spirit called them. I think these words are fitting to be read and said today, too. The Spirit is in charge of putting overseers in place, and despite the glitz and glamour many pretend it is, pastoring and shepherding the flock of God is a great, heavy responsibility. And above all that? Pastors, deacons, preachers, teachers, evangelists, and apostles must give an account to God for what they do with the gifts and offices they’ve been given. “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment,” James says in James 3:1. Being a teacher or church leader is a privilege, but it’s also a heavy responsibility – and those wanting only the prestige and power need not apply.
I am reminded of leaders who are jealous and consumed with political power in the same way that I am reminded of a local pastor who, after mentoring several men and women in preaching and teaching, and, having ordained them, decided to give them a special message in the church one Sunday morning. “This is my church,” he said. “If you want a church of your own, you’ll have to go outside the church doors to find it.” In essence, what this pastor was saying was that he was consumed with political power and that he wasn’t willing to share the work and respect of the pastorate at the church with them. He wanted to have all the respect, power, and spotlight on himself. He didn’t mind mentoring them, as long as he wouldn’t have to share the work of the Lord in overseeing the flock of God with them.
Another story about pastors consumed with political power involves a pastor who doesn’t know how to read or write (when he applied for the church pastorate, the deacons of the church had to write his resume for him). Yet, he’s pastor and doesn’t act friendly toward any visiting preachers at the church. He never has any encouraging words for them, never invites preachers to preach at his church, and so on. Instead, he consumes himself with buying three-piece suits and talking about “what he knows.” This pastor isn’t well-versed in Scripture and is intimidated by every pastor that visits his church, so he doesn’t respond too kindly to any visiting minister. He walks around, always worried about whether or not someone will preach a better sermon than him, because he’s consumed with power. He’s only in the pastorate because he wants power. He isn’t called to preach, can’t read on his own and comprehend, and he doesn’t want other preachers in his pulpit. The church has an associate preacher who the pastor refuses to let do anything: teach Bible Study, preach a regular Sunday service, preach other various services, and so on. As Pastor of the flock, it is his job to help the associate preacher come to learn what he’s expected to do.
A jealous Pastor, though, acts like this one and tells other preachers to “go find a church elsewhere.” This, my friends, is what “Herod wisdom” is all about: the Herod wisdom tries to act brave and tough but is really scared and fragile. Herod wisdom makes someone bristle up at someone else because they’re afraid to be honest and show their vulnerability and insecurities. But if you’re insecure in your place in the Lord, then perhaps you’re insecure because it’s not where God wants you to be. Perhaps it’s also a sign that you’re doing what you’re doing for reasons that have nothing to do with pleasing the Lord. That’s the dangerous part: when you’re in a ministry because you wanted the power and fame, not because the Lord called you. As the saying (rather jokingly) goes, “Some were sent…and some just went.”
Look at the Herod wisdom: Herod was jealous of Jesus and His “reign” and sought to kill Him; then, when he couldn’t find Jesus, he killed as many Jewish babies as he could. His jealousy and desire for self-preservation, the hallmarks of earthly wisdom, drove him to take the lives of innocent children who posed no threat to him whatsoever (they were already helpless and defenseless).
James spoke of this kind of wisdom in his letter, and we’re blessed to be able to read what James thought of earthly wisdom or what I call “Herod wisdom”:
13 Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. 18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:13-18)
The Herod wisdom, the earthly wisdom, is characterized by “bitter jealousy” (which Herod had), “selfish ambition” (which Herod had), arrogance (to try to kill Jesus), and disorder and evil. Herod wanted to kill Jesus, but he was cunning enough to hide the real reason he inquired about Jesus from the Magi. Don’t worry: the Lord didn’t. He warned them in a dream and they responded. Then, when the Magi “tricked him,” as it were, he decided to go on a killing spree to ensure that his “rival,” who happened to be a baby, was wiped out. Herod was that paranoid about his political threat, and the Herod wisdom, that earthly wisdom, is just as paranoid. The children Herod killed were innocent, none of whom were Jesus and none would’ve ever been able to escape Roman rule and control, and Herod killed them all because he couldn’t find Jesus. He was so paranoid about losing his political power and privilege that he killed millions of children to find one child. A millions-to-one ratio for murder is irrational and paranoid and evil when you consider that all those children died for nothing.
Herod’s response to the Magi about bringing word back to him so he could worship the King of the Jews reminds me of Hitler. Hitler is known infamously for his annihilation of the Jews, but he rose to ranks in Germany because he played various groups of society against each other. He told the priests and church leaders that his rise to power was “fighting for the good Lord’s way,” at which point he had priests and church leaders handing over the Jews to be killed. If Hitler had been “fighting for the good Lord’s way,” he would’ve never slaughtered the Jews because the Jews were God’s chosen people. But his words were very manipulative, as were Herod’s. Fortunately, the Lord intervened and prevented the Magi from playing into Herod’s evil and murderous plot.
As I’ve said before, Herod wasn’t too bright in spiritual things, because, had he realized who Jesus was, he would’ve realized that you can’t thwart God’s plans. And yet, he thought of Jesus as an earthly threat that could be exterminated. Why did he kill millions of children? To exterminate the King of the Jews. And yet, it didn’t work because man is no match for God. Herod didn’t know that because he had worldly, earthly wisdom and earthly wisdom can’t discern heavenly things:
14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 15 But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. 16 For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:14-16)
Herod couldn’t understand what the Star was all about, what the Magi were doing worshipping this baby Jesus, and what the prophecy was all about, because he was worldly and earthly. He was also jealous, selfish, and evil, and his murdering of the innocent Jewish babies is testimony to the character of this king: he was evil at his very core. He didn’t care about anyone other than himself, and he lived by the law of self-preservation that says “preserve yourself at all costs.” That is how the ungodly live. They live by way of self-preservation. They don’t care if they have to kill or murder to get where they want to go. They’ll do it because it involves advancing them, their career, their reputation, etc. Herod lived by this self-preservation law that is nothing more than an animalistic instinct. Cain, Abel’s brother, had the same instinct, John says:
11 For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; 12 not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous. (1 John 3:11-12)
Herod kills Jesus because he doesn’t want anyone or anything to undermine his evil rule. He knew that there was something about this Jesus that brought these Magi thousands of miles to see him, and he knew how to trick them (by claiming he was a worshipper, too), but if he’d been a real worshipper, he would’ve known where to find Jesus. He didn’t even know about the prophecy until the chief priests and scribes told him about it. His response was one of trickery, and he hid it from the Magi because he knew how sincere they were and how insincere and evil he was.
When Cain slays his brother, he does so for the purpose of self-preservation. He was jealous because his offering to the Lord was not accepted – but Abel’s was a pleasing savor to the Lord. At that time, the Lord gave Cain some advice about the evil in front of him and how he could avoid it:
3 So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground. 4 Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; 5 but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. 6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:3-7)
Very few conversations in Scripture discuss mastering evil, but the Lord’s words to Cain show that even he could’ve avoided killing Abel. He had genuine free will and made a genuine choice to go against the voice of God and kill his brother out of jealousy. He let his jealousy turn to hate because he thought he was above or superior to his brother, Abel. What he didn’t understand about the Lord is that the Lord doesn’t care about which son is the eldest or which son inherits the estate, but which son loves Him and honors Him. Abel was the one He was pleased with because Abel’s heart and mind were bent toward God while Cain’s heart and mind were not.
Herod’s slaughtering of the innocents is terrible and tragic, but it shows what lengths an evil man will go to in order to protect his throne, his political power, his fame, and his reign. This kind of self-preservation goes beyond genuine love and concern for oneself; it becomes a form of self-worship and deification where you become “God” in your own mind and, when in power, decide that “might makes right.” Even worse than killing one child is the fact that Herod will have to answer for every Jewish male child he killed (far more than just one), a sin that not even his political power will get him out of. He will have to answer to the King of Kings for his attempt to annihilate His people. In the same way Herod judged Jesus’ own people, Jesus will get to judge him and sentence him to his proper reward.
There’s an end to evil, thank God.
The earthly Herod wisdom I’ve discussed above (yes, I coined it “Herod wisdom”) is contrasted in Matthew’s Gospel with the heavenly wisdom from above demonstrated by the Magi. The Magi were intelligent and shrewd in science and the stars (astrology), but their shrewdness drove them to anticipate the coming of King Jesus, by which they’d see His star in the sky (as distinct from all others). When they saw the star, they weren’t afraid to travel thousands of miles to an unknown place to see the Messiah. They also brought gifts and worshipped baby Jesus.
These actions seem crazy to those who have and live in earthly wisdom. Why would anyone travel thousands of miles because of a star? And, more importantly, if Jesus was King, who would worship a baby as king and come see them in a house among poor people? Jesus wasn’t born with a golden spoon in His mouth; He wasn’t born in the most famous of palaces in the most famous of cities. He was born in Bethlehem, a place that would only become famous in biblical prophecy because of His birth. When He’s born, He’s born in a feeding trough because there is no room for Him in the inn (He isn’t born in a hotel or a nice place). His earthly parents, Mary and Joseph, don’t have much, and, what sounds even crazier than this? Mary is pregnant but hasn’t had sexual relations with a man. She and Joseph have never been intimate, yet, here she is, pregnant.
And yet, the Magi believed it. They believed every part. It didn’t bother them that the baby in a poor house was Jesus. It didn’t bother them that He was born in Bethlehem; they simply wanted to get to Him. It didn’t bother them that He was born as a Jewish baby, not a Gentile. It didn’t bother them that Jesus’ birth wasn’t proclaimed around Jerusalem or Israel, for that matter. No, they were believers because of what the star in the sky and the believed-on prophecies of that day told them (it was believed that prophecies aligned with the stars in those days). They were Magi, brilliant scientists with lots of money and wealth who didn’t mind that Jesus’ birth circumstances weren’t at the level of celebrity status. They simply wanted to worship the King of the Jews because the star in the sky told them that the promised Messiah and Savior of the world had been born. They were intelligent, as intelligent or knowledgeable in earthly matters as Herod was, but they used their intelligence to exalt Jesus and worship Him instead of glorifying themselves.
In other words, heavenly wisdom seeks to exalt Jesus, not oneself. Herod took the lives of innocent Jewish babies, but the wise men gave of their money, time, and expenses to come see Jesus – and when they arrived, gave Him the best gifts from their country (gold, frankincense, myrrh) and worshipped Him. Heavenly wisdom can have eyes of faith and see things as they are, no matter how foolish they may seem to someone with earthly wisdom. Paul says it best:
18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.”
20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God. 30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-31)
Christ and His death on a cross is troubling for those with earthly wisdom, who can’t seem to wrap their minds around it. Paul was one who struggled with understanding this before meeting the Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus in Acts. The Old Testament Scriptures cursed anyone who hung on a tree (Deuteronomy 21:23) and, since Christ hung on a tree, Paul viewed Him as cursed. And yet, Paul came to understand that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us, in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:13-14). Paul realized that, while Christ was cursed for hanging on the tree, He wasn’t hanging there for His sins, but for ours instead. What amazing love is that? Our Lord took humanity’s curse on Himself, watched the Father forsake Him while He was on the Cross, just for our sins! As Paul says elsewhere, “21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
The Magi, the wise men, were truly “wise” because they let the object of revelation drive them to the source of revelation, the King of the Jews, not to the star in the sky. Herod, on the other hand, didn’t pay any attention to the star because he didn’t care or expect anything. The Jews were nervous when the Magi appeared because they knew the prophecy was fulfilled with the star – but didn’t want to say anything or even think about it. Herod let the word of a King of the Jews drive him to try to hunt down and kill the child. When Herod was first presented with the King of the Jews, he responded with his own law of self-preservation; the Magi responded with anticipation, adoration, and exaltation of the baby Jesus. Sure, their worship of a baby didn’t make much sense to the world with earthly wisdom, but to those who are believers in the Lord Jesus, it makes perfect sense because Jesus was born just as prophecies had foretold for centuries. And the star was likely what made the connection for the Magi, who may have known that Jesus was to be “the star out of Jacob.”
True Wisdom: A Biblical Theology
We have come to a place in our journey where we can see what true wisdom is and what the Scriptures have to say about true wisdom. True wisdom, or heavenly wisdom, was exhibited by the Magi. The Bible tells us that the Magi let their knowledge drive them to Jesus instead of away from Him. The Bible confirms this as well, but we need to let the totality of the Scriptures speak to us about wisdom. Matthew gives us a foretaste of biblical wisdom, but we can glean more from looking outside of Matthew 2 and the Gospel of Matthew itself.
Wisdom begins when we fear (reverence) the Lord and acknowledge His superiority and rule/reign over our lives. Job comes to this conclusion during His hardship:
“But where can wisdom be found?
And where is the place of understanding?
13 “Man does not know its value,
Nor is it found in the land of the living.
14 “The deep says, ‘It is not in me’;
And the sea says, ‘It is not with me.’
15 “Pure gold cannot be given in exchange for it,
Nor can silver be weighed as its price.
16 “It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir,
In precious onyx, or sapphire.
17 “Gold or glass cannot equal it,
Nor can it be exchanged for articles of fine gold.
18 “Coral and crystal are not to be mentioned;
And the acquisition of wisdom is above that of pearls.
19 “The topaz of Ethiopia cannot equal it,
Nor can it be valued in pure gold.
20 “Where then does wisdom come from?
And where is the place of understanding?
21 “Thus it is hidden from the eyes of all living
And concealed from the birds of the sky.
22 “Abaddon and Death say,
‘With our ears we have heard a report of it.’
23 “God understands its way,
And He knows its place.
24 “For He looks to the ends of the earth
And sees everything under the heavens.
25 “When He imparted weight to the wind
And meted out the waters by measure,
26 When He set a limit for the rain
And a course for the thunderbolt,
27 Then He saw it and declared it;
He established it and also searched it out.
28 “And to man He said, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom;
And to depart from evil is understanding.’” (Job 28:12-28)
According to Job, the fear of the Lord is wisdom. To be wise means to reverence the Lord and “to depart from evil.” The Lord knows what wisdom is, and this is it, according to Job. When one reverences the Lord, he or she leaves their old evil ways of doing things and walks in a way that pleases the Lord. You do good because you are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works, as Paul says in Ephesians 2:10.
The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
And his tongue speaks justice.
31 The law of his God is in his heart;
His steps do not slip. (Psalm 37:30-31)
Wisdom is not just something possessed by God-fearers and God-worshippers; it is also something that is demonstrated through words and deeds. The righteous “utters wisdom” and “speaks justice,” referring to the righteous person’s declaring truth and speaking that which is right and helpful. Once you reverence the Lord, you can speak wisdom and justice. But, the heart must belong to Him first, along with your whole being.
Job’s statement above in Job 28 is echoed in Psalm 111:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments; His praise endures forever. (Psalm 111:10)
Those who do His commandments have “a good understanding.” What we must remember is that we can only learn what wisdom is by “doing His commandments.” How can we learn what is good if we don’t do what is good? How can we know right from wrong if we don’t do right? Life with the Lord is a learning process: we don’t get everything right all at once. But, by walking with the Lord and continuing to choose the good over the evil, the righteous over the unrighteous, we can see how blessed we are to do good, how punished we are when we do evil or wrong, and how much better things go when we choose to do things God’s way instead of our own.
A wise man will hear and increase in learning, And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel, (Proverbs 1:5)
A wise man will “hear and increase in learning,” meaning that he accepts counsel and advice from others. He will not only hear good instruction but will also draw wise people to himself. Wisdom begats wisdom, but one can’t get wisdom from association and fellowships with foolish persons.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7)
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” we’ve read, but it’s also the beginning of knowledge because “fools despise wisdom and instruction.” A wise person heeds instruction and gains knowledge of how to walk in wisdom. A foolish person doesn’t care to learn the right way to go and hates instruction because he or she also hates uprightness and godliness.
“For the waywardness of the naive will kill them,
And the complacency of fools will destroy them.
33 “But he who listens to me shall live securely
And will be at ease from the dread of evil.” (Proverbs 1:32-33)
Wisdom will help those who take hold of it live in peace and relief from evil. Having wisdom will spare you from trouble that results from sinning and wrongdoing.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.
7 He stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
He is a shield to those who walk in integrity,
8 Guarding the paths of justice,
And He preserves the way of His godly ones. (Proverbs 2:6-8)
The fear of the Lord, acknowledging the Lord, is the beginning of wisdom, but here we’re told that the Lord gives wisdom and that He himself brings forth wisdom when He speaks. What is being said here is that, should believers acknowledge the Lord from whom wisdom comes, they will receive it. In Proverbs 8, Wisdom tells of her importance and her presence. She has been present since the Lord created the world, and she was there during it all (Proverbs 8:22-31). I highly encourage you to read Proverbs 8 because there, wisdom gives a speech about how important she is and how significant and of high price she is.
Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the Lord and turn away from evil. (Proverbs 3:7)
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, Proverbs tells us, so fearing the Lord is the only way to get wisdom. The earthly wisdom, or Herod wisdom, is that of a selfish wisdom: the individual deems himself or herself wise and listens to a party of one (himself or herself). Earthly wisdom only leads to evil, and the writer here calls for those who want heavenly wisdom or godly wisdom to turn from their former ways.
The wise will inherit honor, But fools display dishonor. (Proverbs 3:35)
The wise person will have honor come to them, but fools will only receive dishonor at their own hand. Wisdom results from humility, heeding instruction, and seeking counsel, and that will result in honor. Fools who do not receive instruction and are haughty will only receive dishonor and scorn for all their trouble. It pays to be wise and display wisdom – that is, the wisdom from above.
“Heed instruction and be wise, And do not neglect it. (Proverbs 8:33)
The wise person “heeds instruction,” listens to others. The writer says “do not neglect it,” meaning that wise persons do not neglect learning from others and listening to others who can give some advice and perspective they may not have. Remember, you can only gain wisdom and intelligence on how to make good decisions by talking with others. They may have experience you may not have and can prevent common pitfalls in certain situations.
If you’re in the woods and you don’t know your way through the trails, wouldn’t you be thankful for a travel guide who can help you navigate your way through the forest? That’s how it is in life: you can’t navigate places you’ve never been without the advice of others who have been down the road you’re traveling now.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10)
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” is a statement that continues to permeate the Wisdom Literature including Proverbs. However, here is where we see that understanding comes with knowledge of the Holy One. In other words, those who know the Lord are the ones who have wisdom. It makes sense: by walking with the Lord and learning from the Lord, they’re taught what it truly means to be wise.
He who gathers in summer is a son who acts wisely, But he who sleeps in harvest is a son who acts shamefully. (Proverbs 10:5)
Gathering in summer is what you do when it’s harvest time; someone who sleeps when it’s harvest time is foolish because harvest time is what every planter or farmer lives for. In other words, Proverbs is saying that you have to know when to sow and plant and know when to celebrate and gather up the harvest so that you have food.
On the lips of the discerning, wisdom is found, But a rod is for the back of him who lacks understanding. (Proverbs 10:13)
We see in Proverbs 10:13 that the wise person is “discerning.” We mentioned discernment at the beginning of this study when talking about definitions of “wisdom” and “wise.” The one who lacks understanding lacks wisdom and only has a rod for his back (in other words, he gets punished because he never learns right from wrong or chooses right). What comes to mind here are children. “Spare the rod, spoil the child” I’ve heard growing up, and wise children are those who learn right from wrong and do right so as to avoid punishment and a “rod” on his or her back; the children who continue to be foolish and despise instruction are the ones who continue having a rod on their backs (they continue getting disciplined by their parents).
When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise. (Proverbs 10:19)
A foolish person is talkative and verbose and has too much to say (and doesn’t know how to tame his or her words), but a wise person “restrains his lips,” knows when to talk and when to keep silent. A wise person does not say everything he or she thinks in every moment, but learns how to say certain things at certain times and leave off other things for a more opportune and fitting time. There is a time for everything, and sometimes, a conversation should be left for later. Learning when to talk and when to keep silent is a matter of discernment, and those who want to be discerning in this need to ask the Lord to give them skill in this area.
Doing wickedness is like sport to a fool, And so is wisdom to a man of understanding. (Proverbs 10:23)
A man of understanding practices wisdom as often as a fool practices wickedness. Fools, as Scripture calls them, do nothing but wickedness; it is as easy to a fool to do wicked as it is for him to breathe. On the other hand, a person of understanding practices wisdom as though it is second nature. In other words, wisdom flows from a person who has understanding.
The mouth of the righteous flows with wisdom, But the perverted tongue will be cut out. (Proverbs 10:31)
The righteous speaks wisdom, but the foolish speak with a perverted tongue. What we can glean from this verse about wisdom is that a wise person speaks without having a perverted tongue. If you know someone who speaks perverted all the time, always talks about sex, naked girls, or anything of the sort (or hot, naked guys), and is always having “their mind in the gutter,” as I’ve heard it said, then that person lacks wisdom. If someone is always using terrible 4-letter expletives to express themselves, then that person lacks wisdom. If you want to be wise, speak with elegance and keep your tongue clean from bad language. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15 (see the beginning of this post), “bad company corrupts good morals.” You can’t keep bad company and hope to be wise because your perverted friends will pervert you and corrupt your speech.
When pride comes, then comes dishonor, But with the humble is wisdom. (Proverbs 11:22)
The wise person is humble and doesn’t place himself or herself above everyone else. Wise persons don’t sit around and compare themselves to other people, then try to do things to make themselves “superior.” I once knew a girl who always compared herself to other girls. Other girls were prettier, taller, had a larger bra size than she did, and so on. And I always wondered why she talked about the other girls. She was beautiful, smart, and funny, and had a big heart, and that should’ve been enough alongside of her relationship with the Lord Jesus. And yet, she was always placing herself in relation to other people.
Wise people are humble and have humility. And they don’t compare themselves to others. They realize where they are and that they aren’t perfect and they need the Lord. And as they rely on the Lord, He brings honor because honor comes through humility. The foolish person is full of pride and only brings dishonor to himself.
The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, And he who is wise wins souls. (Proverbs 11:30)
A wise person wins souls for God. This is an interesting message indeed, but it goes along with the person who seeks the Lord and depends on the Lord. The fruit of the righteous is compared to a tree of life, meaning that the righteous are always bearing fruit; those who win souls will reap even more fruit – and one can never bear too much fruit. Bearing good fruit is a good thing. Imagine how many souls we can win if we’d talk to those closest to us about knowing the Lord Jesus? Wisdom is spiritual and it comes from the Lord.
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But a wise man is he who listens to counsel. (Proverbs 12:15)
A wise man is one who listens to counsel. This has been said and will be reiterated, but it goes to show that one of the hallmarks of wisdom is to listen to others. It’s easy to talk, but hard to listen – this is why the Lord gave us only 1 mouth but 2 ears (so that we’d listen twice as much as we speak).
There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, But the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Proverbs 12:18)
The person who speaks “rashly,” or “randomly,” is one whose words cut like a sword. The person who is wise and discerns what to say, how to say it, and when to say it, can bring healing to a person and a situation or disagreement. Discernment and wisdom work hand in hand and tend to do more good than harm.
A wise son accepts his father’s discipline, But a scoffer does not listen to rebuke. (Proverbs 13:1)
Wisdom involves accepting discipline. Scoffers are foolish because they do not listen to correction and rebuke. This is simple enough. Again, it goes back to advice and counsel and allowing others to correct you when you need it. In this case, Proverbs 13:1 discusses accepting correction from your parents. There is no age limit here, so you can be 35 and need correction from your parents.
Through insolence comes nothing but strife, But wisdom is with those who receive counsel. (Proverbs 13:10)
He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will suffer harm. (Proverbs 13:20)
Again, wise persons walk with wise men. If you want to be wise, you have to walk with the wise and learn from the wise. You can’t learn from the foolish and be wise. Those who walk with fools (as Scripture calls them) will suffer harm, will only endure trouble. In other words, walking with the foolish will bring nothing good but only bad.
The wise person receives counsel. Someone who does not receive counsel and only confers with himself or herself is not a wise person. If you want to know what biblical wisdom is, it involves consulting counsel and receiving advice from others. Wisdom is all about making right decisions, and the Lord wants us to confer with others because He made us to live in community with others. Someone who never confers with anyone else before making a decision is not someone who is biblically wise. And just remember, if you confer with only yourself when making decisions, you’ll have to confer with yourself to get you out of some bad consequences of those same decisions. God wants us to gain advice and insight from others so that we don’t fall into traps and bad situations and circumstances. Proverbs 18:1 mentions the person who separates himself and doesn’t accept counsel.
The path of life leads upward for the wise That he may keep away from Sheol below. (Proverbs 15:24)
This verse literally says that those who are wise “keep away from hell below.” The New American Standard Bible says “Sheol,” but the word here in the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint, is “hadou,” which is literally translated “Hades.” This word in Proverbs 15:24 is the same word found in Luke 16:23 where the rich man who refuses to help Lazarus ends up in Hell, the place of torment. “Sheol” is more like the grave, but the grave isn’t necessarily “below.” The contrast with “upward” for the wise leans in the direction of Hades, Hell, in this context. What this text is saying is that the wise are prevented and spared from Hell below.
He whose ear listens to the life-giving reproof Will dwell among the wise. (Proverbs 15:31)
The person who listens to reproof and rebuke, what the writer calls “life-giving,” will be wise. Wise persons listen to reproof and understand that it is life-giving, not life-threatening.
He who gets wisdom loves his own soul; He who keeps understanding will find good. (Proverbs 19:8)
Do you love yourself? It will be evidenced by whether or not you strive to gain wisdom. Those who gain understanding and continue discerning between good and evil will find good because that is what they seek after. If you love wisdom, you “love your own soul” according to Proverbs 19:8. Wisdom is what’s good for you. You are not only “what you eat” but what you strive for (whether or not that thing is wisdom is up to you).
There is no wisdom and no understanding And no counsel against the Lord. (Proverbs 21:30)
Proverbs has already taught us that the Lord gives wisdom and those who reverence the Lord are at the foundation of wisdom. Now, we read in Proverbs 21:30 that those who rebel and live against the Lord won’t find wisdom, understanding, or counsel – three things designed to help humans live better and happier lives. Apart from the Lord who gives wisdom, there won’t be any wisdom. The Lord is the only one who supplies it; try finding it anywhere else in anything else and you’ll be disappointed.
Know that wisdom is thus for your soul; If you find it, then there will be a future, And your hope will not be cut off. (Proverbs 24:14)
You want a future? Well, according to Proverbs, you need to find wisdom and hold on to it. “Your hope will not be cut off” the verse says, a warning to those who choose to find hope in foolishness and isolation without seeking counsel and advice from others. The Lord wants to give us a bright future, but we can only experience it if we walk with Him, pray to Him to grant us wisdom, and use it for His glory.
A man who loves wisdom makes his father glad, But he who keeps company with harlots wastes his wealth. (Proverbs 29:3)
Someone who loves wisdom pleases his or her parents, but the foolish person “keeps company with harlots” and, in return, spends all he has. Remember the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32 who “spends all his inheritance” he begged his father to give him? He didn’t have wisdom and made a mess of it. Those who do not have wisdom make foolish decisions because wisdom is not something you’re born with; it’s something you acquire through counsel, prayer, and seeking the Lord. You cannot produce wisdom on your own in isolation without the help and counsel of the Lord, His Holy Spirit, and others who, like you, want wisdom and guidance from the Lord.
The person who “keeps company with harlots” is deemed foolish. In other words, if you want to be wise, do not waste your time with prostitutes and foolish women who are up to no good. Wise men want a wife, not a prostitute, not a “good-time girl.” Women should want to spend their time with a good man who is interested in marrying them, not a good-time guy. Those who waste their time with people who are foolish will lose their wealth. In other words, for all your time you will gain nothing.
A fool always loses his temper, But a wise man holds it back. (Proverbs 29:11)
A wise man knows how to keep his temper in check and control his emotions, particularly anger.
The rod and reproof give wisdom, But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother. (Proverbs 29:15)
A child who gets what he wants and is never disciplined (by implication) will bring shame and disappointment (and dishonor) to his or her mother. However, the rod (the symbol of correction) and reproof (the child being rebuked in his or her wrong) will produce wisdom. Children cannot become wise and grow up demonstrating wisdom if their parents refuse to discipline them when they’re children. “Spare the rod, spoil the child,” I always heard, and this still holds true today.
5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:5-8)
After all the work we’ve covered here on wisdom, James is the one that helps us with our dilemma. Many of us realize that we don’t have wisdom, and James says that, if you want wisdom, ask the Lord, the one who gives it (ask without doubting), and the Lord will give it to you.
We’ve learned that wisdom comes from the Lord, that the Lord gives it to those who ask, that being wise involves being humble and receiving correction, instruction and counsel, and that being wise is the exact opposite of being foolish. Those who are foolish waste their wealth and have trouble follow them all the days of their lives, but those who “dwell in the house of the Lord forever,” David says in the twenty-third Psalm, find “goodness and mercy” following them (Psalm 23:6).
The story of the Magi, Jesus, and the Star that tipped them as to the birth of the King of the Jews is a story that points to God’s revelation of Himself in creation. The Lord revealed the birth of Jesus by way of a star in the East. But the elements of creation and wisdom are also a reminder of where everything went wrong in the Garden of Eden back in Genesis. In a place that means “delight,” Adam and Eve sinned against God in order to “become gods,” the serpent told them. Despite living in the Garden and seeing God’s ability to give them all they could ever need and want, they still decided to try to usurp God’s power and authority – and failed.
Here in Matthew 2, though, Matthew takes us back to creation with the star in the sky that the Magi follow. Instead of trying to usurp power that belongs to God, the Magi make the journey over thousands of miles to see Jesus and then bow down and worship Him. They exhibit the wisdom that Adam and Eve should’ve exhibited. In other words, the Matthew 2 passage suggests that, whereas the first creation story (based in the Old Testament) consisted of rebellion and selfish ambition, the second creation story (seen here in Matthew 2 in the New Testament) consists of sacrifice and exaltation of God (Jesus). Adam and Eve were grasping for the forbidden fruit because it was “it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6). Adam and Eve were aiming for wisdom, but the Magi were already wise: they knew that wisdom meant bowing before Jesus instead of trying to proclaim themselves as God. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” Proverbs has told us over and over again.
The story of the Magi, the star, Herod, and the Jews teaches us that, contrary to the world we live in where Herod wisdom runs rampant and people refuse to acknowledge God (just as the Jews and Herod did not), godly wisdom still exists and, as a famous sermon title has said, “wise men still seek Him.” The fact that you are reading this shows that the faith of the Magi is a faith that all God-fearers and God-worshippers share.