''We know the gifts were gold, frankincense, and myrrh. All are symbolic of the King whose birth we celebrate each December 25th. Gold of course is the symbol of royalty. Frankincense was the symbol of deity because it was part of the incense burned on the Altar of Incense in the Holy Place penetrating into God's presence in the Holy of Holies itself.'' I've always thought there were three Wise men who came to see Jesus. After all, all the crèches or nativity scenes have three wise men, right? I have ornaments on my tree of the three wise men, two sets in fact, one is the wise men on camels. But in reality, we have no idea how many Wise men went to visit the young child Jesus. The story is best told in Matthew 2:1-12, and the clarification of this came only a week or so ago in Volume 1, Number 2 of Ariel Ministries' newsletter.
Yes, I immediately thought of the words of a favorite Christmas song, "We three kings of orient are." But as Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum points out in this teaching, nowhere in the Bible does it specify how many there were. Of course as he also points out, "wise men" is plural, so it had to be two or more, but the only reason legend alludes to three is simply because three gifts were brought to the King: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. There could have been three, or twenty, or thousands.
We simply do not know.
Also explained in the text of this teaching is the fact that these men were not "kings." The specific title in the Greek text is Magoi or "Magi," which means "wise men," or "astrologers." Some years ago in Sunday school when our pastor told us the wise men were astrologers, I was pretty astonished. I couldn't quite grasp how those of astrology which is verboten in the Bible could come to worship the King of Glory. Well, finally that too is explained.
But let's go back and ask even more questions--how did the Magi know? In verse 2, they ask, "Where is he that is born King of the Jews?"
Dr. Fruchtenbaum first takes us to the Star in the Sky and explains that the Greek word for 'star' simply means radiance or brilliance. The brilliant light that the astrologers were witnessing was no ordinary star as this star could move north to south, east to west and hover over one house in Bethlehem. What these Magi actually saw was the Shechinah Glory, and they deduced that it was a signal that the King of the Jews, the Messiah, had finally been born. So, if it was not a star and thus not by astrology that the Magi knew--how then did they know anything about the birth of a Jewish king?
The explanation is as follows and is found in the Old Testament. According to this teaching, the only place in the entire Old Testament that dates the Messiah's coming is the famous Seventy Sevens or weeks of Daniel found in Daniel 9:24-27. Also, the Book of Daniel was not written in Israel but in the city of Babylon and in Aramaic, the language of the Babylonian Empire. Daniel was closely associated with Babylonian astrologers according to Daniel 1:19-20;2:12-13, 47; 4:7-9; 5:11-12. Now, remember the Bible story of King Nebuchadnezzar who when his astrologers were unable to decipher his dreams, he would sentence them to execution. Daniel and his three friends were sentenced to die because these four Hebrew men were viewed as part of the Babylonian School of Astrology. Daniel requested and received an audience with the King, was able to decipher the King's dream, and saved the lives of all the other astrologers.
Dr. Fruchtenbaum goes on to explain that Nebuchadnezzar had little spiritual discernment and did not realize the source of Daniel's ability was the God who created the stars of the heavens, not the astrology of the stars themselves. Nebuchadnezzar made Daniel head of all the astrologers of Babylon. It was in this environment that Daniel wrote his book, revealing the time of the Messiah's coming. Since Daniel saved their lives as well as becoming their leader, he undoubtedly was able to lead many of them to the saving knowledge of Jehovah God, the one true God of Israel. A line of Babylonian astrologers from generation to generation worshipped the one true God and having Daniel's prophecy looked forward to the coming of the King of the Jews.
Next in this teaching is the question, "How did the astrologers know anything about a star that would somehow announce the birth of Messiah?" Once again, Dr. Fruchtenbaum takes us back to the Old Testament to the story of Balaam who was hired by the king of Moab to curse the Jews. He tried four times, but God spoke through him every time turning his intended curses into blessings. In the course of these blessings of the Jews he came up with four key Messianic prophecies. One is found in Numbers 24:17, I see him, but not now, I behold him, but not nigh; There shall come forth a star out of Jacob and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel, And shall smite through the corners of Moab and break down all the sons of tumult.
Balaam was forced by God to prophesy the coming of the Jewish Messiah that related to that star. Both the "star" and the "sceptre" are one and the same and the term "sceptre" is a symbol of royalty or kingship. The "star" that would rise out of Jacob is a king.
Balaam was also an astrologer! He came out of the city of Pethor, a city on the banks of the Euphrates River in Babylonia (Num. 22:5; Deut. 23:4). Daniel spelled out how many years would transpire before the birth of the King of the Jews, and the prophecy of Balaam, who was part of the Babylonian School of Astrology, brought forth the revelation of a star in relation to the Messiah's birth. He too undoubtedly passed this information down to his colleagues. And centuries later, Daniel was able to expound on the time that a "star" out of Jacob would come.
So, the wise men knew, not by astrology and star gazing, but by the revelation of God as contained in the Scriptures by means of Daniel and Balaam's prophecies. And as Dr. Fruchtenbaum states, "Hence, the story of the Magi gives no validity to astrology whatsoever."