Magi, Part II

“After this interview [with Herod] the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  (Matthew 2: 9-12)

Notice they entered a house and saw a child; the Greek intones a small child, or toddler.  This was not the baby in a manger wrapped in swaddling clothes, but a year or two later.  Just when Mary and Joseph may have started to think life was returning to normal, these prestigious men enter the house and fall on their face worshipping Jesus.  They presented him:

  • Gold; the gift presented to kings, denoting Jesus’ royalty.
  • Frankincense; this was burned before the Lord in the Holy of Holies in the Temple, denoting Jesus’ priesthood
  • Myrrh; probably the strangest of all, it was used for embalming dead bodies, signifying the reason Jesus came- He came to die. 

“When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt. (Hosea 11:1) [No one had to tell Joseph twice to look out for Herod; his reputation for brutality and paranoia about his throne were well-known- ed.]

Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

  “A cry was heard in Ramah—
      weeping and great mourning.
   Rachel weeps for her children,
      refusing to be comforted,
      for they are dead.”[Jeremiah 31:15] “ Matthew 2:13-18

By the time of his death, Herod also had killed many Pharisees, his mother-in-law, brother-in-law, his wife Miriam and three of his sons whom he suspected in plots against his throne; he considered himself Jewish and kept kosher dietary laws, leading Caesar Augustus to remark “Its safer to be Herod’s pig than to be his son”.

“When Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph inEgypt. “Get up!” the angel said. “Take the child and his mother back to the land of Israel, because those who were trying to kill the child are dead.”

So Joseph got up and returned to the land of Israel with Jesus and his mother. But when he learned that the new ruler of Judea was Herod’s son Archelaus, he was afraid to go there. Then, after being warned in a dream, he left for the region of Galilee. So the family went and lived in a town called Nazareth. This fulfilled what the prophets had said: “He will be called a Nazarene.” (Matthew 2:9-23)”

Herod was already seriously ill by this time, so Joseph and Mary’s time in Egypt was not long, maybe only a couple months.  They returned to Mary’s home town, Nazareth, where Jesus would grow up in obscurity living the common life of a peasant in 1st century Roman-occupied land of Israel.


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