Truth or Tradition – The Wise Men

I think familiarity has hidden the truth as there’s more of the Christmas story that’s rarely told. In my last article I showed how Jesus had not been born in a stable/barn but in a home surrounded by family. Today I’m still on the topic of families and descendants, but this time sharing how some of the Old Testament prophecies related to the wise men and how the star from the east tied in with the last days of the Tribe of Judah.

Now let’s see what the difference is between tradition and truth. What did Matthew really want to share with his audience?

  • Did the wise men really come from Persia?
  • Did they follow a star in the east that led them to Jesus?
  • Did they come to a stable to visit the newborn?

We are not told what age Jesus was when the wise men came to visit him in Bethlehem. It might have been before Jesus was taken to the temple in Jerusalem to see Simeon and Anna. Or it could have been much later once Mary and Joseph were married. Nevertheless, the wise men came to Bethlehem and visited Jesus in a house, which may have been the same house He had been born in.

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 saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” …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. 11 After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshipped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. ~ Matthew 2

What Did East Actually Mean To Matthew?

Eastward in Israel was east of the Jordan river where the nomadic Bedouin tribes lived in the Arabian peninsula.

The nations that destroyed the field crop on Israel’s fields, seven consecutive years long, were “ Midian, Amalek, and the tribes of the East” ~ Judges 6:3

From Arabia

I try not to use the weight of the early church fathers understanding too much. Just because they lived closer to the age of the apostles doesn’t mean that they had ‘more of the truth’. But even though I disagree with Justin Martyr on so much of his writing, he does mention that the wise men came from Arabia.

The wise men from Arabia came to Bethlehem and worshipped the child and offered to him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh… ~ Justin Martyr (160AD)

How many wise men were there?

Jesus was given three gifts, but far more than three wise men arrived in Bethlehem. It’s my understanding that it was a caravan of Bedouin tribes, with their camels, sheep, and goats, as the whole entourage needed to be fed whilst on their journey. The sheep and goats would have provided milk and meat for them on their journey from Arabia.

Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh

One province in the west of Arabia is aptly called the ‘Cradle of Gold’. It’s where the Pre Cambrian rocks of the Arabian Shield are located and is known to have most of the gold deposits in Arabia. The Mahd adh Dhahab gold mine in this part of Arabia is reputed to be the original source of King Solomon’s legendary gold. The gold could have been sourced originally in Arabia, though the Arabian shield extends across the Red Sea into Egypt.

Pliny wrote that myrrh was a resin harvested from the Commiphora trees found in the western and west-central areas of South Arabia.

While Frankincense came from the Boswellia trees that grew in Southern Arabia. Frankincense made Arabia rich long before it could pump oil.

The Entourage of Camels

The prophecy in Isaiah 60 speaks of a large number of camels and gifts of gold and incense i.e frankincense coming to the Lord.

The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of MIDAN and EPHAH; all they from SHEBA shall come: they shall bring gold and incense <~~ frankincense; and they shall show forth the praises of the Lord…

All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered together unto thee, the rams of Nebaioth shall minister unto thee. ~ Isaiah 60

But there’s something very special about these tribes mentioned in Isaiah 60!

They Are Hagar’s Descendants

Now these are the records of the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s maid, bore to Abraham; and these are the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, in the order of their birth: Nebaioth, the firstborn of Ishmael, and Kedar and Adbeel and Mibsam and Mishma and Dumah and Massa, Hadad and Tema, Jetur, Naphish and Kedemah. These are the sons of Ishmael and these are their names, by their villages, and by their camps; twelve princes according to their tribes. ~ Genesis 25: 12-16

They Are Keturah’s Descendants

Then again Abraham took a wife, and her name was Keturah, And she bare him Zimran, and Jokshan, and Medan, and Midian, and Ishbak, and Shuah

And Jokshan begat Sheba, and Dedan. And the sons of Dedan were Asshurim, and Letushim, and Leummim

And the sons of Midan: Ephah, and Epher, and Hanoch, and Abidah, and Eldaag, All these were the children of Keturah. And Abraham gave all that he had unto Isaac,

But unto the sons of the concubines, which Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts, and sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, EASTWARD, unto the east country. ~ Genesis 25

The Book of Psalms predicts Kings coming to bring presents to the Messiah, and specifically makes mention of Sheba – one of Keturah’s descendants – Abraham’s grandson.

May the kings of Tarshish and of distant shores bring tribute to him. May the kings of Sheba and Seba present him gifts. ~ Psalm 72:10

It’s a family celebration!

  • So how do Abraham’s grandsons’ tribes tie in with the wise men who came with gifts to Jesus?

It’s a family celebration and it’s my understanding that this is why Matthew in chapter 1 uses the lineage of Abraham from Isaac through his wife Sarah.

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham: Abraham begot Isaac …

Then in chapter 2, he shows the descendants Keturah and Hagar through Abraham coming to see Jesus and represented by the wise men and their entourage.

But none of this information is new to the church. It’s been hidden in plain sight for centuries!

Saint Epiphanius of Constantia (Church Father) 315 – 403 ad

But Abraham’s gifts to Keturah’s children were wealth – gold, silver, clothing, and whatever Abraham secretly hid in their wallets, the “frankincense, myrrh and gold” …The children of Abraham by Keturah were cast out by Abraham, and settled in Magodia in Arabia. The same gifts were offered to Christ in Bethlehem by the magi who came from their land and, when they seen the star and come, offered presents and gifts in order to share in the same hope. ~ The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis: De fide. Books II and III

A Supernatural Star

Isaiah 60 speaks not only of an entourage of camels and gifts of incense but also of a light rising in the sky. That same light whatever it might have been attracted the attention of the wise men.

Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee…

“for we have seen his star in the east” This portion of scripture rolls of our tongues so quick but as Kenneth Bailey points out …

“If the magi (or wise men) were east of Israel and they saw his star in the east, they should have gone to India! [1]

That’s so true when you think of it. It’s my understanding that this was no ordinary star. This star only appeared to the wise men. They then lost sight of it as they ended up in Jerusalem and went to King Herod’s palace to enquire where the new King was. (There’s another prophecy in the old testament that we’ll get to on the next blog post that explains why they had to go to Herod’s palace.)

But once they had their encounter with Herod they started back on their journey again. The star appeared once again and led them from Jerusalem, south to Bethlehem, to the home where Joseph and Mary were staying. That was something supernatural as no natural star could do that.

  • We know that the wise men headed WEST to Israel, so what is Matthew really trying to tell his audience when he says For we saw His star in the east’?

The ancient Hebrew words that are used to describe distance and direction are also used to describe time. The Hebrew word for east is qedem and literally means the direction of the rising sun.” 

The implications of this statement are astounding. This is because time, as defined as the distance between two physical events, is not a physical measurement in and of itself. Yet in ancient Hebrew, time and distance refer to the same thing and literally to “the direction of the rising sun,” (which we as human beings call the east direction). One implication of this association would be that the origin of all things could have come, does come, and will come from the east.

The universe = time = the past = the future = the east = the beginning and end of all things = the origin of all things = where God is.   [2]

Let’s see this depicted in scripture …

The LORD God planted a garden toward the EAST, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. ~ Genesis 2:8

  • Why the east? – He could have just as well planted Eden in the South, North, or West. There has to be a reason Eden was planted in the EAST.

So He drove the man out; and at the EAST of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life. ~ Genesis 3:24

  • Life, the Tree of Life is in the EAST. Life comes from the EAST!

Then he led me to the gate, the gate facing toward the EAST; and behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the way of the EAST. And His voice was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shone with His glory. ~ Ezekiel 43:1-2  [2]

Therefore east to Matthew and his worldview also seems to represent Jesus as the beginning of all things, the first, the origin (GR- kephale), and our source of life.

Matthew Ties The Rising Of The Star From The East With The Tribe of Judah

Now those who camp on the EAST side TOWARD THE SUNRISE shall be of the standard of the camp of Judah, by their armies, and the leader of the sons of Judah: Nahshon the son of Amminadab. ~ Numbers 2:3

  • Jesus descended from the tribe of Judah as Matthew showed in chapter 1. His original audience would have known the following old testament prophecies so well about a future King in the last days rising from the tribe of Judah.

And Jacob called unto his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last daysThe sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the staff from between his feet, UNTIL Shiloh comes and the allegiance of the nations is his. ~ Genesis 49: 1 & 10

there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel ~ Numbers 24:17

Jesus Was Born In The Last Days

If you’ve never noticed Genesis 49:1 before, just let Jacob’s words sink in … Jesus was born in the last days. The last days in the bible refer to the last days of the nation of Israel and its physical temple and its animal sin-offering system. Jesus had become the sacrifice once and for all and had inaugurated the New Covenant.

I think that Young’s literal version has the best translation of Jacob speaking to his sons (the tribes of Israel) about how their nation would finally end.

“The sceptre turneth not aside from Judah, And a lawgiver from between his feet, TILL HIS SEED COME; And his is the obedience of peoples.” YLT Genesis 49:10   (Note seed is singular, not plural)

Please also read my post: Who was Shiloh and what was the scepter in the last days?

The King of the Jews

Judah (which incorporated the tribe of Benjamin and Levi) was the last of the tribes to remain when Jesus was born. “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?”.  A Jew was someone from the Southern Kingdom – The Kingdom of Judah and who was under the Old Mosaic Covenant in Matthew’s day. The 10 tribes of the Northern Kingdom – The Kingdom of Israel were NEVER called Jews. In Matthew’s time, they were dispersed throughout the nations and not in any covenant with Yahweh, as He had reluctantly divorced them

Jesus was the promised seed of Gen. 3:15 and it was prophesied that the sceptre of the tribe of Judah i.e Israel of its day would only remain with them UNTIL He came.

Jesus would then bring the two kingdoms together as one again under the New covenant and biblical Judaism would no longer exist.

‘Thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel, his companions; and I will put them with it, with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they will be one in My hand.”’ 20 The sticks on which you write will be in your hand before their eyes. 21 Say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone, and I will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; 22 and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king will be king for all of them; and they will no longer be two nations and no longer be divided into two kingdoms. ~ Ezekiel 37:19-22

31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” ~ Jeremiah 31:31-34

I’ve written these two articles detailing how Jeremiah shows the unification of the whole House of Israel:

All Israel will be saved Part 1
All Israel will be saved Part 2

Come Let Us Adore Him

Finally in conclusion, sonship for us doesn’t depend on physical descent from Abraham, as Paul shows in Galatians 3 how things would change once Jesus came.

For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then YOU are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise. ~ Galatians 3:27-29

We too can freely come and worship the King of Kings, who was born in Bethlehem.  Just like those wise men. Let that fill you with joy this season!

In my next post we’ll take a closer look at THE King, Herod and the prophecies in the Old Testament that refer to him.

Related Posts

Truth or Tradition – The Christmas Story


[1] The East, Time, Eternity, the Universe and the Origin of All Things by Richard Brown

[2] Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes – Cultural Studies in the Gospels by Kenneth Bailey

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.