Isaiah 60:3, The Three Wise Men

And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.

//The book of Matthew tells how “wise men” from the East followed a star to see the glory of the newborn king, Jesus. But why would Gentiles be interested in a baby Jew? Did you ever wonder where this story comes from?

It’s from the promise of Isaiah chapter 60:

The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come: they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall shew forth the praises of the LORD. –Isaiah 60:6

But Matthew’s story contains a twist. When the wise men arrive at the palace to pay tribute, Herod has no idea what they’re talking about. No new kings in this palace, he insists! Herod’s theologians, though, know the scriptures. They (perhaps reluctantly) point the wise men away from the palace, away from the Temple, away from Jerusalem, to the humble little backwoods town of Bethlehem.

We love to sing carols about the three wise men, and place them in a manger scene, where they never seem to fit in—they and their jewel-bedecked camels and their opulent robes and gifts of gold seem an odd contrast to the “king” we know.

Matthew’s story provides, in my mind, an absolutely brilliant contrast to Jesus.

2 Comments

  1. Brian Hager

    Divino Afflante Spiritu (“Inspired by the Holy Spirit”) is a Papal encyclical letter issued by Pope Pius XII on September 30, 1943 calling for new translations of the Bible from the original languages, instead of the venerable Latin Vulgate of St Jerome, revised multiple times, which had formed the textual basis for all Catholic vernacular translations until that time. It inaugurated the modern period of Roman Catholic Bible studies by encouraging the study of textual criticism (or “lower criticism”) pertaining to text of the Scriptures themselves and transmission thereof (e.g. to determine correct readings), and permitting the use of the historical-critical method (or “higher criticism”), to be informed by theology, Sacred Tradition, and ecclesiastical history, pertaining to the historical circumstances of the text, hypothesizing about matters such as authorship, dating, and similar concerns.[1] The eminent Catholic bible scholar Raymond E. Brown described it as a ‘Magna Carta for biblical progress’.

    It was through the publication of this Encyclical that Pius XII openned the doors to Bible Scholarship in the Catholic Church. One of the most important discoveries was that there were no original written sources. Rather, the stories which eventually became the Jewish and Christian Testaments were passed on as an Oral Tradition until it became necessary to commit them to paper.

    For the Jewish nation this happened during the Babylonian exile. Pagan traditions were beginning to seep into Jewish life. No one really knows how much of the Babylonian traditions wound up being kept, but it is a safe bet that some were (Syncretism). I watched a program a couple of years ago that suggested that the story of Noah may have been one of the Babylonian myths that may have been retained.

    Christianity is no different. In time it became necessary to put the witness and preaching of the Apostles down on paper for a simple fact. They were dying off. Eventually there would have been no reliable witnesses left to affirm what was being passed on. Yet, even in the writings of the early church, syncretism managed to add material to the testamony and life of Jesus.

    The problem tends to be that people think “Myth” is a falsehood – a very modern thought. Yet, in the past myths were one of the primary stories of teaching truth. The speakers and listeners knew they were stories, but valued the lessons they taught.

    The story of the Magi or Three Kings told a very important point of view. Jesus was greater than the greatest on the Earth; at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, kings came to worship him at his birth, etc. There is a lot from the old and new testaments that more likely than not, never happened, yet these threads punctuate the meaning.

    The Bible is a book of “Faith” intended to help each of us find our Faith (our relationship) with God. As such, the Bible is not more important than God or our relationship with him, but biblical extremism is carrying the meaning and purpose of the book to levels it might never have been intended for.

  2. Lee Harmon

    Hey, another historical-critical Bible reader! And hopefully another fan of Raymond E. Brown. Thanks for sharing, Brian, I’m sure we have lots in common.

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