The story and mystery of the wise men (Magi) is embedded in the richness of Messiah’s birth and the Holy Bible. The word Magi comes from the Greek word Magoi, and the common English interpretation is magician. The Apostle Matthew records that the wise men were from the eastern lands (Matthew 2). What land in the east did the wise men come from? Why would God send “magicians” to worship Messiah? Did they understand the prophecies of Messiah’s birth? Before we can understand this incredible story and mystery, we will explore the Book of Daniel and the Torah to find the answers to these questions.
In the prophetic Book of Daniel, after Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and took the children of Israel captive, the king interviewed them to discover who had enough wisdom and understanding to serve him.
Daniel 1:19-21, “Then the king interviewed them, and among them all none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; therefore they served before the king. And in all matters of wisdom and understanding about which the king examined them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers who were in all his realm.”
After Nebuchadnezzar interviewed the children of Israel, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego,* were found to have great wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. The Scriptures tell us that they were ten times wiser than the magicians or astrologers under Nebuchadnezzar.
Daniel 1:17, “As for these four young men, God gave them knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom; and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams."
Soon after, in the second year of Israel’s captivity, Nebuchadnezzar had the famous “world history statue dream,” (Daniel 2).** Out of fear and concern, Nebuchadnezzar called his magicians, astrologers, and sorcerers to interpret the dream.
Daniel 2:2, “Then the king gave the command to call the magicians, the astrologers, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans to tell the king his dreams. So they came and stood before the king.”
However, none of the king’s “wise men” could interpret the dream, so eventually, Daniel interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream for him.
Daniel 2:27-28, “Daniel answered in the presence of the king, and said, “The secret which the king has demanded, the wise men, the astrologers, the magicians, and the soothsayers cannot declare to the king. But there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days.”
Once Daniel interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream for him, he was promoted as ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief of the wise men, including the magi, astrologers, and soothsayers. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego were promoted as well, but Daniel was second ruler to Nebuchadnezzar.
Daniel 2:48-49, “Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts; and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief administrator over all the wise men of Babylon. Also Daniel petitioned the king, and he set Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego over the affairs of the province of Babylon; but Daniel sat in the gate of the king.”
As we discovered in Daniel 1 & 2, Nebuchadnezzar found Daniel ten times wiser than his “wise men.” When the king needed an interpretation of his famous “statue dream,” only Daniel could interpret the dream for him. The interpretation of the dream promoted Daniel, along with his friends, to the highest positions in the Babylonian Empire. Daniel, a Jewish captive, was the second ruler in all of Babylon! He was also the chief administrator over all of the wise men in Babylon. So of course, Daniel had great influence over the magicians, astrologers, and soothsayers. Although these pagan people did not have the Holy Spirit in them, Daniel did, and we can have confidence that he was a great ambassador of God to them. Daniel 4:18, “But you are able, for the Spirit of the Holy God is in you." As he was the chief administrator over all of the wise men in Babylon, without question, Daniel would have accomplished his duties that God called him to do. He was chosen by God to be a great prophet and ambassador. Just as Daniel understood the Torah and the former prophet’s writings, we can have confidence that he shared this knowledge and literature with the “wise men,” so they could also be blessed with understanding.
Daniel 9:1-2, "In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the lineage of the Medes, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans– in the first year of his reign I, Daniel, understood by the books the number of the years specified by the word of the Lord through Jeremiah the prophet, that He would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem.”
This clearly tells us that Daniel was a scholar of the former prophets writings, and also of the Torah. We find Daniel’s faithfulness to God in Daniel 6:10, “Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days.” Daniel was a man of God and a prophet, who had major influence on the pagan Babylonians, including the magi, astrologers, and soothsayers (wise men).
We also can understand Daniel’s sphere of influence for several decades in the Babylonian Empire, from Nebuchadnezzar’s reign to Belshazzar’s reign. Daniel 5:7-8, “The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. The king spoke, saying to the wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing, and tells me its interpretation, shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around his neck; and he shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.” Now all the king’s wise men came, but they could not read the writing, or make known to the king its interpretation.”
In Daniel 5, Belshazzar of Babylon called upon the “wise men” of Babylon to interpret God’s famous “handwriting on the wall,” to no avail. After Belshazzar’s “wise men” could not interpret the handwriting, Daniel was called upon.
Daniel 5:11-12, “There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the Spirit of the Holy God. And in the days of your father, light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, were found in him; and King Nebuchadnezzar your father—your father the king--made him chief of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers. Inasmuch as an excellent spirit, knowledge, understanding, interpreting dreams, solving riddles, and explaining enigmas were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar, now let Daniel be called, and he will give the interpretation.”
The children of Israel were in Babylon captivity for 70 years (Jeremiah 25), thus confirming the different kings of the empire. Belshazzar confirms the failure of his “wise men” in comparison to Daniel. Daniel 5:15, “Now the wise men, the astrologers, have been brought in before me, that they should read this writing and make known to me its interpretation, but they could not give the interpretation of the thing.” Once Daniel interpreted the “handwriting on the wall,” Belshazzar made Daniel third ruler in Babylon.
Daniel 5:29, "Then Belshazzar gave the command, and they clothed Daniel with purple and put a chain of gold around his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.”
As we can see, Daniel’s influence on the Babylonian Empire, including the magi, astrologers, and soothsayers (wise men), spanned over 70 years (Jeremiah 25). From the beginning of Israel’s captivity by Nebuchadnezzar, until the fall of the Babylonian Empire under Belshazzar, the “wise men” would have been under the guidance and direction of Daniel and his interpretations of the Torah and the former prophets writings. Of course, not all of them believed in the God of Israel, however, Daniel’s influence over them is undeniable. Daniel was ruler over all of the Babylonian province under Nebuchadnezzar, and third ruler at the time of Belshazzar’s fall to the Medo-Persian Empire. Below is a map of the Babylonian Empire. Under Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, Daniel was ruler of the Babylon province, which is modern day Iraq. At the time of Belshazzar’s reign, the empire fell to the Medo-Persia, so we can understand the Babylonian Empire had conquered all of the land on the map. Whatever the case may be, we can understand that Daniel’s influence was great!
Just as Daniel had great influence over the Babylonian Empire, He would have had influence over the Medo-Persian Empire as well. At the end of Daniel 5, the Medo-Persia Empire conquered the Babylonians, ending the 70 year captivity of the children of Israel by Babylon (Jeremiah 25). Daniel 6:28, “So this Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius (Mede) and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian.” The Holy Bible does not tell us Daniel’s actual position in the Medo-Persia Empire, but it does tell us he was prosperous. We can be assured that Daniel was a godly influence to the Medo-Persians, including the “wise men.” Ezra, the priest, gives us great insight on how God moved King Cyrus of Persia’s spirit.
Ezra 1:1-4, “Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. Who is among you of all His people? May his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel (He is God), which is in Jerusalem. And whoever is left in any place where he dwells, let the men of his place help him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, besides the freewill offerings for the house of God which is in Jerusalem.”
God moved Cyrus to fulfill Jeremiah 25. With God’s holy spirit working on Cyrus and his empire, we can be confident that Daniel had influence over the Medo-Persian Empire. As we look at the map above, it is debatable as to how far reaching Daniel’s influence extended in the Medo-Persia Empire, but clearly the Scriptures state that he was prosperous. At Messiah’s birth, the wise men would have come from these areas, “the land of the east.” As we look at both maps, we can see that Bethlehem is west of the Babylonian Empire and Medo-Persia Empires.
In the book of Job, the Holy Bible defines the “eastern lands” for us as well. Job 1:1, “There was a man in the land of Uz.“ As the story of Job unfolds, the Scriptures tell us where the area of Uz is located. The Scriptures tell us that the Chaldeans (Babylonians) attack Job’s land. Job 1:17, “While he was still speaking, another also came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three bands, raided the camels and took them away.” We can understand the Chaldeans as Babylonians (Daniel 2). In Job’s day, the land of Uz must have been close enough for The Chaldeans to attack his land. We also see that Job was the greatest of all of the people in the east. Job 1:3, “So this man was the greatest of all the people of the east.” Most scholars believe Uz was located east of the Jordan River, which is east of Bethelehem. Now that we have discovered the location from which the “wise men,” came from, let us explore this amazing prophetic story.
Matthew 2:1-2, “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”
From the knowledge that we have discovered, we can understand that the wise men came from the heritage and ancestors of the Babylonian and Medo-Persian Empires. Wise men (Magi) from the east would not have known about the King of the Jews (Jesus), unless their ancestors had studied the Scriptures under Daniel and had great understanding of the Torah and the prophets. Again, not all of the Magi and astrologers were pagans after Daniel’s leadership. Daniel lived approximately 600 years before Messiah, so his writings and teachings were handed down from generation to generation by the Magi (wise men). Matthew tells us that the wise men were astrologers, just as they were in Daniel’s days. They saw and recognized the Star of Bethlehem. The wise men would have understood the Star of Bethlehem, not only from astronomy, but from the Torah as well.
Numbers 24:17, “A Star shall come out of Jacob (Israel); A Scepter shall rise out of Israel.“ Genesis 49:10, “The Scepter shall not depart from Judah."
The wise men would have also understood the prophet Isaiah’s prophesies of Messiah.
Isaiah 9:6-7, "For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.”
With the understanding of astronomy, the Torah, and the messianic prophecies concerning Messiah’s birth, the “wise men” would have definitely understood the time of Messiah’s birth. We can confirm this as they came to Jerusalem asking where they could find the newborn Messiah. Clearly, they would not be in Jerusalem or asking about Messiah without guidance and direction. To clarify, astronomy is different from astrology. Astronomy is about God’s glory, astrology is about us. As long as we focus on astronomy, we will not fall into error. Let us review one of the prophecies that the wise men would have been taught by Daniel to understand Messiah’s birth.
The Seventy Weeks prophecy concerning the First and Second Coming of Messiah the King.
“Seventy weeks (490 years) (70 x 7) are determined
For your people (Israel) and for your holy city (Jerusalem),
To finish the transgression,
To make an end of sins,
To make reconciliation for iniquity,
To bring in everlasting righteousness,
To seal up vision and prophecy,
And to anoint the Most Holy (Second Coming of Messiah).
“Know therefore and understand,
That from the going forth of the command
To restore and build Jerusalem (Decree of Artaxerxes on March 14th 445 BC)
Until Messiah the Prince (Triumphal Entry of Christ on April 6th 32 AD, First Coming),
There shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks (7 + 60 + 2 = 69 (weeks) x 7 (of years) = 483 prophetic years)
The street shall be built again, and the wall,
Even in troublesome times.
“And after the sixty-two weeks
Messiah shall be cut off, (Crucifixion and Atonement of Jesus Christ only a handful of days after the Triumphal Entry) but not for Himself;
And the people (Roman Empire/People were Turks, Arabs, Syrians.*) of the prince (Antichrist) who is to come
Shall destroy the city and the sanctuary (70 AD).
The end of it shall be with a flood,
And till the end of the war desolations are determined.
Then he (Antichrist) shall confirm a covenant with many for one week (7 years, the 70th week of Daniel);
But in the middle of the week
He shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering (Abomination of Desolation 3 1/2 years (middle of 7 years)
And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate,
Even until the consummation, which is determined,
Is poured out on the desolate.”
Daniel would not only have taught the wise men about Messiah’s birth, but also His crucifixion, the 7 year tribulation, and His Second Coming! The “wise men” would have had great understanding of this mathematical prophecy, especially since it was Daniel who wrote it. They would have understood Messiah’s prophetic timeline, as well as the other prophecies of His birth. Throughout the generations, the wise men would have “passed on” this valuable knowledge to their descendants and brethren. They definitely understood the “timeline” of Messiah’s birth, which the Book of Matthew confirms with his account of the Magi coming to Jerusalem in search of the Messiah.
Matthew 2:3-4, “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.”
Instead of celebrating and rejoicing that the prophesied King of Israel had been born, Herod, all of Jerusalem, including the chief priests and scribes, were troubled. This gives us great insight of the apostasy of the religious leaders during Messiah’s First Coming (Matthew 23). As the text confirms, the religious leaders understood the prophecies of Messiah’s birth, because they told Herod where Messiah would be born (Micah 5:2).
Matthew 2:5-6, “So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet.“ ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.’”
Can you believe it? The chief priests and scribes, the religious leaders, were not as excited as the wise men were about worshiping the true King! After the disgraceful religious leaders told Herod where Jesus was prophesied to be born, the king tried to fool and manipulate the wise men.
Matthew 2:7-8, “Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”
When Herod asked “what time the star appeared,” it confirms that the wise men had learned astronomy, as Herod asked “what time” the star appeared. This way, his astrologers could figure out this prophetic event as well. In a cunning, manipulative way, Herod tried to fool the wise men into telling him where the Child was born, so he could go and “worship him.” As we know, Herod wanted to kill Jesus, as he sent out a decree to kill all of the young males age two and under. (Matthew 2:13-18).
Matthew 2:9-12, “When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.”
When the wise men departed, they continued to follow the star they had seen in the East, until they found the King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus! Can you imagine the scene when the wise men found our Lord and Savior? Absolutely incredible! Why didn’t Herod follow the star as the wise men did? The text states that “the star which they had seen in the East,” which could mean it was very possible that not everyone saw the star. Furthermore, let us remember, Herod asked the wise men to tell him what time the star appeared (Matthew 2:7-8), suggesting this as well. In the Holy Bible, we can find examples of this.
Daniel 10:7-8, “And I, Daniel, alone saw the vision, for the men who were with me did not see the vision; but a great terror fell upon them, so that they fled to hide themselves."
Just as God only allowed Daniel to see the vision of the glorious Man on the Tigris river, this could have happened with the wise men as well. As we know, with God, all things are possible.
Matthew 19:26, “But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Matthew also confirms that the wise men were not pagan, as they came to worship the Lord Jesus Christ and give gifts to Him. Also, the wise men were given a divine warning not to return to Herod as well.
These are the gifts that the wise men brought to Jesus; Gold, frankincense, and myrrh. All of these gifts have a prophetic meaning and foreshadows what is to come. Gold, is a gift for a king. As Jesus is the King of all kings, gold was given to him, symbolizing His eternal rule as King. Frankincense, is an incense, that represents prayer. Frankincense is also widely used for healing, as it was used by priests. Today, many people with cancer and disease use frankincense as a healer. Myrrh, is a perfume or ointment, used for embalming the dead. The gift of myrrh gives a prophetic foreshadow of Jesus’ death, just as Daniel prophesied (Daniel 9:24-27 above). The three gifts together give us the understanding that Jesus is a priest, a prophet, and the King of all kings! Amen, Amen, and Amen!
Isaiah 9:6-7, “For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.”