The Magi

December 24, 2017

A short-story by Howard DeWitt; close friend of Patriot Gaines contributor, Sheldon Tucker.

(This short-story will require 10 minutes or more to complete)

As I look back at my story through the intervening ages, I cannot help but smile.

I am one of the wise men from Matthew chapter two. I am sure your mind just took off down the wrong path. You think you know who I am, what I did, and where I’m from. That happens to most people who read or hear my story. So, perhaps it would be helpful if I told you a bit about me, my fellow wise men, and our trip to Bethlehem.

First, I have to ask, “How did you people come up with the idea that there were only three wise men?” I went back and looked at the Bible, and it gives no number. I suppose that a Christmas carol singing, “We 13 kings of orient are…” just does not have the same ring. (There weren’t 13 of us: I was just making a point.) Why is it important how many of us traveled together?

For what it is worth, no three men in their right minds would travel the roads we used. We faced drought, storms, thieves, raiders, and all sorts of trouble along the way. Believe me: there were a lot more of us than just “three kings,” though I do not remember the exact number of our group.

Did you know that people in Heaven ask questions? It has been 2,000 years, and people STILL ask me, “What is a wise man?” Don’t you people have Bibles? Your King James Version calls us wise men, but if you check, you’ll find that the original Greek text refers to us as “Magi.” Those in our order were highly educated men, trained from our youth in science, history, math, medicine, astronomy, astrology, linguistics, and anything else that a king might have questions about. Kings dating all the way back to the Pharaohs kept wise men and magicians around to help answer difficult questions, and make decisions.

We Magi were so beneficial to kings, that we were often promoted to high-ranking positions in government. After all, it makes sense to promote your smartest people to leadership positions.

You probably do not realize it, but you already know a few Magi. If you think about it, the Old Testament Joseph was a Magi. Pharaoh’s magicians? Yes, they too were magi’s. The most famous Magi of all time was a man named Daniel. He had three friends (also Magi) named Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. You probably know them as Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego.

Daniel and his three friends had been taken to Babylon as children, where they were trained as Magi…and that is important to my story. In Daniel 2: 48, Nebuchadnezzar promoted Daniel to be the great prefect over all the wise men (magi) in the kingdom. In those days, the great prefect was called the “Mab-mag,” or “prince of the magi.” Later, when the Persians and Medes conquered Babylon, Daniel held the same position with the new government, where he also served as one of three great governors in the Persian kingdom.

The Persian Empire lasted 200 years, until Alexander the Great brought about its end. When Alexander died, his great kingdom was broken into four parts, and the Seleucids ruled Persia (one of those four parts). The Seleucids descended from Seleucus, one of Alexander’s generals. The Seleucids kept the Magi around until the Romans took over…and we just sorta kept on doing what we were doing … being smart, and making ourselves valuable to the Romans.

So, now that I have set the record straight on who we were, let’s talk about our story. The Hebrew members of the Magi order had been waiting for the coming of the Messiah for many years. Generations of Magi had looked forward to His arrival. The angel Gabriel appeared to Daniel (once the ruler of our order), and told him that the Messiah would appear in 70 weeks of years (Daniel 9: 24-27). Seventy weeks of years works out to be 490 years, and our people had carefully tracked the time, anxiously waiting. We knew the year when He would appear.

In my time, as in Daniel’s day, many of the Magi were Jews, and we still held to the faith of our fathers. Are you surprised? It might also surprise you to learn that when Cyrus released the Jews to return to the Holy Land, only a small remnant of the people returned. Most Persian Hebrews had homes, families, and jobs and some (like we Magi) had important jobs that they could not abandon. However, neither did we abandon our God.

Are you disappointed in us that we remained instead of returning to our homeland? If so, you should know that Daniel also stayed in Persia. Oh, and both Mordecai and Esther were Jews who continued to live in foreign lands. In fact, if you read their story carefully, you will discover that there were MANY Persian Jews whose lives were endangered by the wicked Haman.


Manger Scene

In fact, up until 1948 when the Jews began returning to the new Israel, over 90,000 Jews still lived in the city of Baghdad, and over 100,000 Jews lived in Iran until 1979, some even remaining even today. So, I hope that you will remember that just because someone “came from the east,” it does not necessarily mean they are pagan.

By the way, I understand that somewhere along the line a “scholar” gave us names. He decided that since we brought three kinds of gifts, there must have been only three of us, and then he assigned us names. As a matter of fact, one of us was supposed to be the king of Persia, one the king of Arabia, and one the king of India. That one gave me a good laugh, let me tell you.

Anyway, while we were still in Roman Persia (which the Bible calls “the east”), we saw a star in the western sky. This was no normal star. We called it a “star” simply because we did not know what else to call it. Believe me: as astronomers, we know stars! We knew it was not a real celestial star, because it moved…but more about that later.

Anyway, when we saw the star appear in the year when the Messiah was prophesied to appear, we knew the time had come. Without hesitation, many of us made our arrangements, packed camels, procured gifts, and set off for the homeland. As Magi, we lived in Rome’s Persian capital, Persepolis, which is in modern day Iran. Our journey would be tremendous.

As the crow flies, Persepolis is 1,050 miles from Jerusalem, but no one in his right mind would make that trip by direct route. That would mean going straight west around the upper portion of the Persian Gulf, through northern Kuwait, and then into the Iraqi desert. Such a trip would take one through some of the most barren, inhospitable, hot, and dry wasteland the world has ever known. In order to avoid that deadly desert, travelers moved up the fertile crescent, following the Euphrates River into Syria, and then turned south along the Mediterranean coast. Though the fertile crescent route required travel of over 1,500 miles, the availability of water and supplies made it the only real option.

Camels are able to cover great stretches of country, up to 40 miles a day, but the average daily distance covered by a camel caravan is 20 miles. Had we traveled every day of the week, our journey would have taken at least 75 days. Traveling only six days a week, as any good Hebrew would, such a journey would take 13 weeks. However, no one I know would ever spend six days a week for 13 weeks riding on the back of a stupid camel. Unless you have tried it, you simply won’t understand.

As high-ranking officials, we had to present ourselves to local authorities in each city, and as a result, our trip was slow, taking several months. In short, by the time we settled our affairs in Persia, collected supplies, and made the required stops for propriety and resupply, the trip was long indeed. It took us a bit over a year from the time we first saw the star.

Why did we go to Jerusalem? Every Jew knows that Jerusalem is Israel’s beating heart. When our brothers left Persia to return home, it was to Jerusalem that they traveled. We had seen that “star” while we were at home, but contrary to popular belief, it had not led us to Jerusalem, but I will tell you more about that in a few minutes. I do not know why people think we followed that star all the way to Judea. Matthew makes it clear that we had seen the “star” in the east. It does not say we followed it all the way. We went to Jerusalem because we knew the Hebrew King had been born, and we assumed that a King would dwell in the Holy City. Please don’t forget that we told Herod that we saw the “star” while we were in the east, and we came to worship the newborn King.

I did not know it then, but Herod was a nut! Few kings in history were as paranoid and unbalanced as Herod. The man had killed his wife, three of his sons, and a few other family members, fearing that they would supplant him as king. Caesar Augustus once said, “I’d rather be Herod’s pig than his son.” He was correct: it was MUCH safer for a pig in Herod’s stable than for a potential rival.

Had we known all this, we would surely have gone elsewhere for our answers. We naturally assumed that if a King were to be born in Israel, the birth would occur in the Jerusalem palace. We also assumed that the current king would be the father, though NOTHING could be further from the truth.

When we began asking priests and rabbis where we might find the newborn king, it created a great deal of excitement. Apparently, someone rushed off to report our questions to Herod, and we soon found ourselves being hurried into the king’s throne room.

Herod’s suave and friendly manner impressed us. I heard later that he had nearly flipped when he heard what we were asking. However, he had calmed by the time he spoke with us. With cold and devious intent, he feigned friendship. He housed us in the finest suites, fed us the finest food, and provided the most lavish entertainment you could imagine.

As we were being wined and dined, Herod called his own wise men, the Jewish high priests and scribes, to a secret council. Scribes are also known as lawyers, because they are experts in the Old Testament Law. He had but one question for them: “Where is the Messiah to be born?”

Herod probably thought the conversation would involve much debate, as matters of this kind normally do, but he was astounded when his counselors produced an immediate answer. The Jews of Herod’s day were serious about their Scriptures. Every Jewish boy was expected to memorize the first five books of the Old Testament (the Torah) by age 12. Priests, Pharisees, and scribes did so much more, memorizing the entire Old Testament as a part of their training. The answer Herod wanted came from the prophet Micah.

Micah 5: 2

“But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”

The Old Testament made it extremely clear that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.

With this information in hand, Herod gathered we Magi together for a private discussion. He questioned us repeatedly, obsessed with knowing the precise time the “star” appeared. We, in turn, told him the same date…repeatedly. We actually began to dislike him very much during this discussion. He was a rude and arrogant man, but he seemed quite pleased with the information we gave him, which I thought strange.

Then, smiling reverently, he told us that he so wanted to worship the new Messiah. He asked us to go to Bethlehem, find the Child, and then come back and report to him. He would then go down and offer a royal reception to the new little King. He was smiling when he said it, but something in his eyes sent a chill up my back.

We excused ourselves as soon as possible, packed our camels, and turned south toward Bethlehem. It was only six miles, so we were certain we would have no trouble finding it. We need not have been concerned.

When we left the city, we were astounded to see the same “star” go before us, and in bright daylight. When I say “before us,” I mean just that. The star MOVED! It literally led us south down the road. If you doubt me, check the original rendering, as Matthew actually wrote it (Matthew 2: 9).

I have told this story many times, and people always look askance at me when I do. No one believes a star guided us, since EVERYONE knows that stars are millions of miles out in space. I hope you know that as a scientist and astronomer, I am aware of this simple fact. However, I also know that stars only move east to west, because of the earth’s rotation. THIS star moved north to south, as it went before us to Bethlehem.

We were so excited! We began by shouting, laughing, and clapping each other on the back. The “star” we had seen in Persia was right there in front of us.

We knew what this meant. This was no astronomical event: this was a miracle from God. This “star” was not way up in the sky somewhere, it was right there before us…moving south. Tears filled my eyes when I realized that God was actually leading us to His Son.

Looking back on the phenomenon, I have decided that the “star” was an angel. You should not be surprised at that. Don’t you remember that the Apostle John saw seven “stars,” which our Lord told him were angels (Revelation 1: 20)? Several other Biblical passages refer to angels as stars. Of course, I realize the celestial stars are not angels, but if you had ever seen an angel, you would know that they shine like stars. Don’t forget the guards who watched over Jesus’ tomb. They were blinded and struck dumb by the shining brilliance of the angel who came to roll away the stone.

The star did much more than guide us to Bethlehem: it actually moved over the little village, until it finally stood right above a house. Don’t get excited because I did not say that the star stood over a stable. Please try to remember that it had been well over a year since we first saw that star…and I am confident that the star appeared when Jesus was born. During the intervening months, Joseph had found work and a small home in which to house his family (Matthew 2:11).

You are probably wondering why Joseph did not go back to Nazareth. Would you? Everyone in Nazareth though that Joseph and Mary had immorally come together before their marriage, resulting in the Baby’s birth. NO ONE in that city would have believed a virgin birth explanation. As far as Nazareth (and even Mary’s parents) were concerned, Joseph was a scoundrel and Mary was a loose woman.

The family had a fresh start in Bethlehem. No one knew that the baby came soon after the couple was married. All they knew was that the young married couple HAD a baby. Joseph and Mary were able to maintain their respectability in the little village, and Joseph had family in Bethlehem.

I felt such excitement and joy as we rode through the village, approaching the small house. Think about it: my fellow Hebrew Magi and I had spent our lives reading Daniel’s prophesy of the coming Messiah. When the 490 years was fulfilled and the “star” appeared, it was like a bolt of lightning striking into our hearts. We had NO DOUBT! I HAD NO DOUBT! In fact, nothing short of death could have stopped me from making that desperate journey.

I do not know what you would call that, but apparently the Lord called it FAITH. My friends and I believed in the coming Messiah with all our hearts. So complete was our faith, that we sacrificed nearly two years of our lives, endured great suffering along the way, and gave great gifts to the little King. He was (and remains) the most important Being in our lives. I wonder: would YOU leave your wives, your children, your jobs, and your homes to find the Savior?

I still remember walking up to the door of that tiny home. As I knocked, my heart felt as though it would jump out of my chest. A middle-aged man came to the door asking, “May I help you?”

Together, we told him that we had come to worship the KING. Have you ever seen anyone so astounded that their mouth fell open? His certainly did! He stood in stunned silence for a moment or two, and then, opening the door, he said, “Come!”

The tiny one-room home was dimly lit by light from a small windows and a tiny fire. A young girl sat before a crude stone fireplace, stirring a pot. The furnishings were sparse, their clothing was worn, and they both appeared to be exhausted. A small Toddler played on the dirt floor at her feet.

We crowded into the home, and as one, we knelt before the Boy, stretching forward, until our faces were to the ground. So many emotions and thoughts rushed through my mind. I was thrilled, I was awed, I was thankful, and I was a bit heart-broken.

Who was I to bow before the Great King? Who was I to meet the promised Messiah? On the other hand, why would God’s Son, the KING OF ALL, play on a dirt floor. What mystery was this that such Royalty must live in poverty and want?

He was a small, barefoot Boy with dark eyes, and olive colored skin. He wore a homespun woolen tunic that came to his knees. I can still remember Him toddling awkwardly around the room, arms raised in the air, as babies do. He would occasionally sit down with a thump when He lost his balance. As we bowed before Him, He toddled to me, and with a baby’s giggle, fell forward, grabbing my turban with both of his chubby little hands. I suddenly realized that he was playing with the shiny medallions that hung from its wrap.

I was stunned. The Son of God and King of Kings was playing with my head-wrap. It was unthinkable. I marveled to hear His baby laugh and to worship in His presence.

Though the room was clean, it was no princely environment. It was simple, it was quiet, and it was humble. It was home! I had spent many years in Roman courts, serving royalty, but never had I felt comfortable when in their presence. How wonderful it was to feel at home in the Presence of the King of Kings. It has been 2,000 years since that day, and it is now my delight to feel at home in His Presence each and every day. I now know that King, a Baby no longer! He is my Friend and Savior.

We bowed before the Child a very long time indeed, and when we arose, I noted the questioning, amazed looks on the faces of the husband and wife. As they watched in wonder, each of us placed our gifts before the little King. He sat on the floor and played with the ornate boxes, apparently unaware of the great value they represented. There were several boxes of gold, and containers of frankincense and myrrh.

You are certainly familiar with gold. However, very few people in your era know about frankincense or myrrh. In my day, frankincense was only found in the far southern Arabian Peninsula. You might be interested to know that today, most frankincense comes from African Somalia. Much like your maple syrup, frankincense is derived from the sap of Boswellia trees. One harvests frankincense by tapping these trees, allowing the resin to drip into containers. The resin is then dried and prepared for use.

It is fabulously expensive stuff, partially because it is so hard to get. Mankind first began wide-spread use of camels, because camels were the only way to get frankincense across that vast Arabian desert.

You may be surprised to learn that frankincense is actually fairly characterless in its raw, dried form. The only way to release its wonderful fragrance, is to burn or smother it over hot coals. It is an incense…as in “frank-incense.” As I just hinted, people in your day also create oils containing frankincense, but that is a relatively new thing, allowing it to be used in perfumes and packaged as essential oils. You can surely buy frankincense powder and crystals in your time, but it is not pure…and therefore not as valuable is what we presented the King.

Myrrh is actually similar in many ways to frankincense. It comes from the resin of the thorny little Commiphora tree, found in southern Arabia. It was used as perfume, incense, or as antiseptic medicine. It was mixed with wine for its medicinal purposes, and we put it into mouthwash and toothpaste. Kings even smeared it on their joints for arthritis relief. It too is unbelievably expensive.

In our world, gold, frankincense, and myrrh were the three most valuable commodities available. Of the three, myrrh and frankincense, were of far greater value than gold. In fact, myrrh has over twice the value of gold. We brought only the best to the King.

I understand that many of you wonder why we brought such gifts. I laugh when I hear the theories as to why we brought what we did. There really is no special mystery to our choices. These three items were simply what one gave to a king, since they were the three most precious commodities of our time.

As this child was THE KING, our gifts were not insignificant. We gave lavishly. I am told that the family put our gifts to good use. The father sold the spices, and the significant price combined with the gold, provided for the family during their years of Egyptian exile. It also served to set Joseph up in business while abroad.

When our moments with this precious family were complete, we paid our respects one last time, bowed, and left the home. We camped outside the little village of Bethlehem that night, and I still remember our conversation as we sat around the fire, talking of the day’s events. We spoke of the Child, His mother, and the woman’s husband. We spoke of their poverty; how strange it seemed to find THE KING in such circumstances.

The next morning, one of our number purchased supplies for our return trip, and spoke with a local shopkeeper. It seemed natural for our friend to speak of the King, but the shopkeeper seemed to think nothing of the Child. In fact, he saw the family as being lower class.

As our friend told of his discussion with the shopkeeper, we were stunned to learn that the Babe had actually been born in a filthy stable. You should have heard the voices rise when our group heard that the promised Messiah was birthed in such a place, bereft of help, impoverished, and with the stench of animal waste as His offering of incense. We were suddenly thankful for the gifts we had given. He now had wealth befitting His royalty.

As we slept that night, something extraordinary occurred: each of us dreamt the same dream. I can see it even now. Shining with incredible brilliance, and angel stood before me. He called me by name, and ordered me not return to Herod in Jerusalem. We each awakened at the same time, realizing that we had shared the dream…that we had heard from Jehovah God. Without delay, we departed the little village.

Our journey home would normally have taken us back through Jerusalem. In order to avoid that route, we traveled through inhospitable country, skirting through the wilderness, as we moved northward. Yet, the Lord was with us, and after a round trip journey of almost two years, we finally arrived home in Persepolis.

What talks we had along the way. We rejoiced and we worshipped God. Yet, most conversation involved our wonder at the circumstances in which we had found the Boy. I know of no other King who entered the world in this way. In fact, even the poorest babies would not be born in such filth and stench. I have since heard that modern day Christians often think of His birth as romantic and quaint. Take it from me: it was NASTY, and no one should suffer such a fate!

As we traveled home, we did not know what we know today. It now makes sense to me that God’s Son came in the lowliest of ways, to let us all know that none is too lowly, none is too unworthy or sinful, and none is too lost to be saved.

Faith drove us to Bethlehem. Acting on that faith, we traveled to Bethlehem, convinced of His Deity. We worshipped Him in faith, and as you can tell from my current circumstance, this provided our salvation. I am ever grateful, and will ever BE grateful to the King of Kings. I love Him above all!

Merry Christmas!

(Sheldon Tucker is a musician, entertainer, cowboy, and storyteller. His show, Tucker: The Music of Your Life, is the one from his days as an entertainer in Branson, MO. For more details, check out his bio page under contributors. He resides in Kingfisher, OK, with his wife, Jocille.)

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