Matthew 2:1-2, The Magi (wise men) and the Star of Bethlehem

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

//Everybody knows Jesus was born under a star, right? The magi, following a star, go looking for Jesus and at first go to the wicked king Herod’s palace. Herod tells them to report back to him when they find him, because he wishes to kill any potential rival king. Bible scholars recognize the allusion to Number 24:17, and Balaam’s prophecy:

There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth.

Of course, Jesus didn’t come as a military leader, but that’s beside the point. He was the Messiah, and the expectation of a messianic star was well attested in Jewish circles (see, for example, the Testament of Levi 18:3).

Balaam was a gentile, like the Magi, who, again like the Magi, does not cooperate with a wicked ruler who wants to destroy God’s people. It’s this connection to Balaam that fascinates me. Balaam developed a reputation as a bad guy, who helped lead Israel into idolatry, but he seems to have been respected in some circles while despised in others. In Matthew’s story, the allusion to Balaam is as a respected prophet.

See my book about Revelation for the other side of the story about Balaam.

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