The Magnificent Magi and the Prophecies of Daniel
How God Uses the Foolish Things of the World to Shame the Wise
The king talked with them, and out of them all not one was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s personal service. As for every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king consulted them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and conjurers who were in all his realm. Daniel 1:19-20
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, 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.” Matthew 2:1–2
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 1 Corinthians 1:27
How did the dumbest men on earth become the wisest? That is the real question the Magi poses. People get hung up on what the star. Was it an alignment of planets? Was it something completely supernatural? Who knows, and no one has a good answer. But the bigger question should be how can the men who couldn’t answer Nebuchadnezzar’s dream take a key role in the birth of the biggest star the world has ever seen: the Lord Jesus the Christ?
The simple answer to that question is the Prophet Daniel told them. But, why? Why would God speak to non-Jews to reveal the greatest event in human history? The simple answer to that question is that when people who think they know it all really seek God, God has a way of wising them up.
There is some “law” that states the simplest answer is the best and truest answer. Think on this. Here is Daniel, in the lion’s den, eating a kosher diet, his friends walking around the firey furnace, then joined by a Fourth, having special rewards and position above all the locals who have been mugging for the camera for their entire lives. If I had a twinge of jealousy or I hope intellectual curiosity, I would like to find out what makes these guys special and willing to risk their lives.
These incredible adventures meant something to the Magi. Usually, when God shows Himself to a new group of people, He does so by showing His superiority over their “gods.” So, when Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into the firery furnace, it wasn’t because it was a handy location because they were making pottery. No, they were to be a sacrifice to their “god.” But, of course, God showed his superiority by including Himself in the sacrifice (sound familiar?) which astounded the magi. A principle element of magian worship was fire, and on their primary altar burned a perpetual flame, which they claimed descended from heaven.
Because God interceded and came to the rescue of the Daniel and his friends, Daniel, in turn, was able to plead for the life of the magi who could not interpret the king’s dream. (Daniel 2:24) So now, God sets Daniel up to be able to teach the magi the word of God. Daniel was appointed “ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over the wise men of Babylon.” (Daniel 2:48) Daniel was so highly respected and probably people saw the effects of the Hebrew God over their idols that the king was talked into throwing Daniel into the lion’s den. (Daniel 6:4-9)
Don’t forget the influence of Queen Esther and Mordecai in the book of Esther. (Esther 1:13,19) Because many Jews remained in Babylon after the Exile and intermarried with the people of the east, it is likely that Jewish messianic influence remained strong in that region even until New Testament times when this new generation of magi sprung up searching for the Messiah.
What Did the Magi Know and when Did they know it?
This is hard to say, except to assume they probably did not have scripture past Daniel’s encounter initially, then, as the scribes traveled to the east, they may have brought then the other prophetic books.
When they studied the Hebrew Scriptures they found a clear prophetic truth.
“A Star shall come out of Jacob; a Scepter shall rise out of Israel.” Numbers 24:17
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel.” Micah 5:2
Probably the most notable truth is the famous Seventy Weeks of Daniel regarding the appearance of the Messiah (see Daniel 9:24-26) and came to the conclusion that His coming was near.
“Seventy weeks of years, or 490 years are decreed upon your people and upon your holy city Jerusalem, to finish and put an end to transgression, to seal up and make full the measure of sin, to purge away and make expiation and reconciliation for sin, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint a holy of holies. Know, therefore, and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem until the coming of the anointed one, a prince, shall be seven weeks of years, and sixty-two weeks of years; it shall be built again with city square and moat, but in troublesome times. And after the 62 weeks of years, shall the anointed one be cut off (killed) and shall have nothing and no one belonging to and defending Him…” Daniel 9:24-26
What Does Daniel’s Prophecy Mean?
Combined with prophecy in Micah and Numbers, the Magi now have an idea of when the Savior was to appear. To me, it is hard to say if they were expecting a baby or someone older. The prophecies merely talk about someone being born, not necessarily how old they would be upon discovery.
I am not the first person to suggest the Magi were students of the prophecies of the Old Testament, especially, Daniel, but it makes sense. If they were, then the gifts brought to the Babe makes sense also. So what then would the Seventy Weeks tell them?
The first seven weeks or 49 years is the account of the Jewish pilgrimage to rebuild Jerusalem following King Artaxerxes’ decree. The prophet Nehemiah assumed charge of this rebuilding effort, which was carried out in such extreme danger that the builders carried swords with them. This fulfilled precisely the prophecy in verse 25,”…it shall be built again with city square and moat, but in troublesome times.” The rebuilding began in 445 BCE and finished in 396 BCE, exactly 49 years.
The second period or 62 weeks of years, 434 years is the preparation for the coming king. Daniel 9:26 tells us that the “anointed One” would come after this period and would then be killed or “cut off suddenly.” This refers to the Lord Jesus Christ’s offices as Messiah and King. In my opinion this was his His baptism and His triumphal entry into Jerusalem later known as Palm Sunday. When did Palm Sunday occur? The Messiah came to Jerusalem on Passover April 6, the year 32 C.E.
For those of you who are numbers nerds, that’s 7 + 62 = 69 weeks of years, or 483 Jewish years, or 173,880 days. And it gets better!
March 14, 445 BCE to April 6, 32 C.E. is 477 years, 24 days. Then deduct one year because only one year lapses between 1 BCE and 1 C.E. This then is 476 years, 24 days or 173,764 days.
Then, add 119 days to account for the 119 leap years during these 476 years (476 divided by 4). That is now 173,883 days. It gets even better!
The Julian calendar and the Jewish solar year does not perfectly align. The Royal Observatory in London calculates that a Julian year is 1/128th of a day longer than the Jewish solar year. When you multiply 476 years times 1/128, you get three days. Subtracting three from the figure above, you arrive at the 173,880 days!
Therefore, there are exactly 69 weeks of years (173,880 days) between the decree of King Artaxerxes in 445 BCE to rebuild Jerusalem to Palm Sunday, April 6, 32 C.E..!! God told everyone – even the Magi – the day when Messiah would present Himself to Israel as their Messiah and King. (Matthew 21:1-11).
But what about the last seven day week? The Lord Jesus the Christ was crucified at the end of the 69th week. At the end of the 70th week, Jesus shall return to the Mount of Olives after He destroys the armies of the Antichrist at Bozrah and Petra. He shall return to the one-third the Jews who remains (Zechariah 13:8-9) and they shall receive Him as Israel’s Messiah.
Therefore, God told to Daniel the exact day the Messiah announced Himself as King. The learned Magi knew of Daniel’s prophecy and trusted him. Knowing when the Messiah would be announced, the Magi could back track and speculate when the Child would be born. If the Messiah was to announce Himself in the year 32 C.E. he would have to born “now.” Were the Magi also looking for a heavenly sign? Probably. And the star in the appeared for them to follow.
And the rest is history. The dumbest guys wound up being the wise guys.
One lesson we need to learn from Daniel is that Yahweh is a God of action. He stands ready to show his superiority over the idols of your life or “god” of the unsaved. Again, when God is ready to introduce Himself to a group of unbelievers in the Bible, He usually conquers or destroys their sacred cow. The God of Daniel showed His superiority over the fire god of the Babylonians by preserving the prophets in the firery furnance. But we don’t do that in America. When we try to introduce God to an unbeliever by reason. “This is why you need God: for better living, better friends, better school for your children.” When an evangelist goes to Africa, the people there want to see the blind healed, the lame walk and evil spirits destroyed. The great English theologian John R.W. Stott once said that America is the only place Christianity can get away with preaching a cerebral Jesus.
So God makes wise the simple. God has a long way to go with educating me about His ways. The Magi also taught me a lesson about the difference between worship, praise, gifts and offerings.