are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will be the shepherd of my people.”
The Magi arrived in Jerusalem and lifted a corner of the veneer carefully laid by the political schemes of Herod the Great.
They had questions.
The kind of questions that locals would never ask. Local Jewish leadership groups, the Sadducees and Pharisees, were too entrenched in the Herodian subterfuge, too invested in the grandness of their beautifully constructed Temple to speak up. Local Palestinian Jews were too afraid. The working poor bore the financial burden of Herod’s construction projects including the Jewish Temple, another temple to Ceasar, and an amphitheater. Herod ruled as if he were a Roman henchman. To say the average Jew in Palestine at the time of Jesus’ birth was oppressed is sadly, a gross understatement.
But the Magi, unwittingly perhaps, caused a raucous with their foreign caravan and news of their presence spread throughout as if on a windstorm. And they asked too many questions.
News of Magi’s search for the Messiah of the Jews hit the palace.
Immediately Herod sequestered his best men in order to formulate the most advantageous response, because Herod was nothing if he wasn’t motivated by the advantageous. The first behind-closed-doors-meeting was a flurry of scrolls, flung across great tables and the pressing question was this:
Where was the Christ, the Messiah, to be born?
You see, Herod was a jack jew. He was from Idumea and he and his people were forced into Judaism.
Herod had no knowledge of the Torah, he had no proper religious education. Herod was a politician, from a line of politically motivated men, men who befriended friends of friends of Caesar. Herod knew the intrigues and segues of politics, but he didn’t know his own people. This was a terrifying disadvantage. Herod gave the people what they wanted, needed to see in a king: the Temple. But he couldn’t risk getting caught unprepared for the Coming King that the Jews had pined for since the time of King David.
His question was an easy one. The answer: Bethlehem, the prophet Micah had written this.
There were several prophecy experts in the room, there was no doubt that the child would be born in Bethlehem.
Herod cleared the room. He had to think. Plan.
He called a second meeting behind closed doors. A page brought the Magi into Herod’s throne room. He put on his most pious and sincere expression and along with refreshments and gifts, no doubt, smoothly poured out his plan to the Magi:
Go, and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.
Ah, brilliant. Deception at it’s finest. These foreigners knew nothing about power play.
They had their heads in the stars and the scrolls and dwelt in mystical wonderings and writings. They could be used like pawns and this rumor of a baby king born in Bethlehem would be squashed once and for all.
But the story, and history tells us that these learned men were not so easily fleeced as Herod hoped they might be. They were men who reckoned their dreams, who looked for the possible signs and paid heed.
They did make a careful search. They did find the child.
Though perhaps not in Bethlehem. They followed the clues. The census of Caesar had declared every man return to his hometown to be counted, but this didn’t mean they all stayed. Bethlehem was not Joseph’s hometown, otherwise the child wouldn’t be born in a stable, but in his own home. No, these Magi had some detective work to do, but they found the boy in a house and the star that had risen, that had prompted the great undertaking of their travels, rested above the place where the boy lived.
And they worshipped him.
To me, this means that they were believers in the One True God of Israel.
They were not merely mystics, but pilgrims. Why would they worship a king they themselves didn’t believe in? They would be instrumental in bringing the story of the birth of the Christ child back to the region of Babylon.
Because whether shepherd or king matters not to God, he is no respecter of persons: God wanted everyone to know: Jesus, the Messiah, the One who would redeem and save the whole world was born! They would worship and they would listen to the warning in the dream and they snuck away, undetected by Herod’s spies (yes, I wouldn’t doubt that Herod had them followed – he had too much at stake and he was historically known as paranoid).
God could have led Joseph away to Egypt–to the melting pot of Alexandria–earlier. In his sovereignty, God knew the hard, dark heart of Herod and the underhanded way that he worked. But he allowed the Magi to find the boy, to see that their studies and determination were not futile. And the Word would be made known in places beyond Herod’s reach because the Magi found whom they had searched for and they would tell the story of the child Messiah.
Jesus was indeed, born to die, but not yet, not at the hand of Herod the Great.
Tomorrow, I’ll delve into the horror of Herod’s reaction, the slaughtering of so many children and the apparent absence of God. Why would God allow infanticide? How can I trust a God like that?