No Help

Isaiah 47:14-15

14 Behold, they shall be as stubble; the fire shall burn them; they shall not deliver themselves from the power of the flame: there shall not be a coal to warm at, nor fire to sit before it.

15 Thus shall they be unto thee with whom thou hast laboured, even thy merchants, from thy youth: they shall wander every one to his quarter; none shall save thee.

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All the idols of Babylon will be destroyed by fire when the city falls. It won’t be a fire to warm one’s hands over, nor a comfortable fire for roasting hot dogs and marshmallows.

All the wise men, astrologers, magicians and sages of Babylon would be useless. None of them would stand for the people. They would all slink off into their own lairs. No one would save the city from destruction.

Rachel Weeping for Her Children

Matthew 2:16-18. “Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men.  Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by  Jeremy the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.”

Sin always takes you farther than you intended to go.  It is like a whirlpool that is wide and slow-moving at the top, but it grows narrower and moves faster as it reached the bottom, and sucks into itself anything it traps on the surface.  I grew up in Minnesota farm country, and watched more than one funnel-shaped tornado pull up whatever was in its path.  That’s what sin does.  It destroys everything in its path, and there is very little time for escape.

Herod fell into a violent rage when he realized he’d been snookered by the wise men.  His anger at them was so great that he ordered the massacre of all the children (more accurately interpreted, all the male children) from two years old and under, in Bethlehem and the surrounding areas.

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Imagine with me, if you will, this tiny little village about six miles from Jerusalem.  It was a quiet place, where families knew each other and many of them were likely related.  Going about their daily business, they are startled when someone comes running through the village yelling, “Soldiers! Hide the women and children!  Roman soldiers are coming, and they’re in a hurry!  Run!  Hide!”

But there are no safe places, and the soldiers come thundering into the village scattering people in all directions, scooping up toddlers where they find them, and killing without mercy.  Imagine the mothers who run screaming, carrying children,  unable to move out of the way fast enough to protect their precious babies.  Imagine a woman cowering inside her home, perhaps hiding behind a door or a curtain, heart pounding out of her chest as she hears the soldiers coming closer.  A tall, blood-spattered Roman enters her house and ransacks the place, looking for the child he suspects is there.  Finally, he discovers her hiding place, grabs the little boy from her arms, holds the baby by his feet and dashes the child’s head against the stones as the helpless mother screams in agony and hopelessness.

Too graphic?  Was it really that bad?

It sure was.  This was a massacre, and it came with very little warning and no defense available.  We don’t know how many little boys were murdered to appease Herod’s wrath.  We only know that in order to destroy one Child, he ordered them all to die.  Horrible, evil man that he was,  sacrificing many for one does not seem to have troubled him in the slightest.

This incident fulfills the prophecy in Jeremiah 31:15, which reflects on the Old Testament Rachel weeping for her son as well as the prophecy of this attempt by Satan to destroy  Jesus.

I think of other, more recent events in which children were slaughtered.  The evil behind these deeds is unspeakable.  And then I think of Jesus’ words,  in  Luke 17: 1-2. “Then said He unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come! It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.”

A Little More on the Star; King Herod

Matt. 2: 4.” And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.”

I’m going to give you a link that will help you if you’re interested in a more in-depth study of the Star of the East.  You can read all about it here: 

http://lamblion.com/articles/articles_first2.php

This is an article that goes into much more depth than I want to do here.  Today, my main focus is on that dreadful man, Herod the Great. 

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(Someday I’m going to figure out how type around a picture!)

Herod the Great feared for his throne–which didn’t rightly belong to him.  The citizens of Jerusalem were troubled partly, I’m sure, by wondering what this bloodthirsty ruler would do to retain his power. Herod was a king who was the enemy of the rightful heir to David’s throne, and he knew his seat was precarious.

When the men from the East approached Herod, seeking the birthplace of the King of the Jews, he was indeed “troubled.”  That’s putting it mildly.  There was nothing at all that he would not do to protect his power.  He called all the religious leaders of the Jews together and asked what they knew.  They told him (v. 5-6) about the prophecies of Bethlehem, and the Governor Who would rise out of Judah. (Micah 5). 

My main resource, Gaebelein,  believes that the wise men were Gentiles.  I mentioned in my last post that they may have been descendants of the Jews taken into captivity in Babylon, but I will bow to a greater authority on this one.  His belief fits very well with the fact that Jerusalem had remained ignorant for months of the birth of Jesus, while these Gentiles were traveling across the deserts to see Him.  It was, then, Gentiles who introduced Jesus to the Jewish authorities, perhaps typifying the later rejection by the Jews, and the spread of the gospel to the Gentiles under Paul’s ministry. 

What strikes me at this point in the story is that these religious Jews had the manuscripts, knew the prophecy, and yet apparently walked out of that meeting with Herod and went about their own business.  Head knowledge, never reaching the heart.  How often do we recite well-known scripture such as, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Psalm 51:10) and then busily tend to our daily lives, never really pondering the depth of meaning in such a well-known passage!

Herod had an unsavory history.  He was not even completely Jewish.  He was the son of an Idumean man named Antipater, and a woman named Cyprus who was the daughter of an Arab sheik.  He gained the throne in Jerusalem  by ruthlessly winning the favor of the Roman Octavian, who later became Augustus Caesar.  He gained the appellation “the Great”  because of his ambitious building programs in both Jerusalem and Caesarea, even restoring the Temple in Jerusalem.  That work didn’t last very long, being completely destroyed by Rome in 70 a.d. 

Now, faced with a very real threat to his position, we see the truly evil character of Herod. He piously–or impiously, really–inquired of the wise men exactly the time of the appearance of the Star, saying that they were to go to Bethlehem and find the Child.  When they would come back and tell Herod where He was, then Herod would also go and worship Him (Matt. 2:7-8).

The wise men, however, were not naive.  Next time, we’ll see what they did and how Herod reacted. 

 

 

More on the Wise Men

Matt. 2: 1-3. “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, 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. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.”

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Tradition has the wise men  appearing at the stable in Bethlehem with the shepherds, worshiping the new-born Baby.  It makes for a lovely creche at Christmas time, but it is not likely to have happened that way.  It is much more probable that the Magi found Him later, when He was perhaps a year old, maybe a little older. Tradition also gives us three Magi, and sometimes labels them as kings.  The number is probably derived from the three gifts that the wise men brought;  the idea that they were kings is a little more obscure.  In all likelihood, they were not royal at all, but were scholars, astronomers/astrologers, men who had access to the Hebrew scriptures,  possibly from the time the Jews were captive in Babylon, and men who clearly understood and believed the prophesies of the birth of Messiah. So let’s take a look at the scripture and see what truths we can find there. 

The time of the appearance of the Magi in Jerusalem, not Bethlehem,  was some time after and not immediately after Jesus’ birth.  The correct translation of  Matt. 2:1 is not “when Jesus was born,” but “Jesus having been born.”  The verb tense is important, because it indicates a lapse of time between His birth and the appearance of the Magi.  Also, the Bible clearly tells us that the wise men appeared in Jerusalem  first, and did not go directly to Bethlehem.  There in Jerusalem, they did the logical thing and sought audience with Herod to find the One Who had been born King of the Jews. 

When they first saw His star, alerting them to the fulfillment of prophecy, they had to travel many miles over difficult terrain.  It took some time to prepare for the journey and to gather together all the people that would be needed to load packs on the animals, prepare food, and so on.  This was not a journey to be taken on the spur of the moment.

In Matt. 1:11, we are told that they found the young child, not the newborn, in the house, not the stable, with Mary His mother. Most important in this string of evidence, Herod asked the wise men exactly the time that the star had appeared.  We don’t hear their answer, but from verse 16 we can conclude that Herod had received a clear answer that let him know that the child could not be over two years old. 

Who were these wise men? How many were there?  In the Greek, they are called “Magi from the East.”  The term Magi  named a class of people who studied the occult.  It is the root word of our magic and magician.They were astrologers, interpreters of dreams, medical men, and necromancers  (those who communicated with the dead).  Among the Persians and Medes, they formed a special class of priests, and chiefly studied the stars to predict future events.  They also prepared medicines for the sick. Daniel had been made chief over these men when he was taken to Babylon. That he had such an important position, and influence over these men, makes it very easy to conclude that they had knowledge of Hebrew scriptures and prophecy.  They were not all evil sorcerers. It is apparent that some of them sought the truth.  They could even have been Jews, descendants of the Jews who had been taken into captivity in Babylon. 

We don’t know how many of them actually appeared in Jerusalem, but it is beyond doubt that the entourage consisted of much more than three men.  The passage we’re looking at today tells us that not only Herod was “troubled,” but all of Jerusalem with him.  It was not a large city by our standards, but still, it would take far more than three solitary men entering the city to cause the entire place to be troubled by their coming. 

Next time, we’ll discuss the star in the East, and Herod, who was an extremely important player in this drama. 

 

The Wise Men

Matt. 2:1-2. “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea 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.”

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Matthew is the only gospel that tells us this part of the story.  That is because, of course, the purpose of this gospel was to present Jesus as Messiah, King.  These men who came from the East had come to find Him and worship Him.

This is an amazingly interesting chapter, presenting the entire gospel in a nutshell and describing the fulfillment of several prophecies.  We’re going to move through fairly slowly, because I don’t want to miss anything!

What were the prophecies that were fulfilled in Chapter Two?  I’ll go into more detail and provide the proper references as we move through these events, but here’s a bird’s eye view:  The coming of the Magi bringing gifts; Herod’s treachery; the flight into Egypt; the slaughter of young boys in Bethlehem, the return from Egypt, and the abode of Jesus in Nazareth as the rejected One.

We are told in this chapter that the true King is not known in Jerusalem, the City of the Great King;  in His own temple, His people do not know He has come.  Strangers from afar seek Him because they desire to know Him and worship Him. Even worse, the religious authorities don’t care and the civil ruler, Herod, is determined to kill this child whom he sees as competition for his authority.  Later, both these authorities play an important role in His death. 

Also, the whole history of the kingdom of the heavens in its mystery form is outlined in this chapter, and the character of the new dispensation is described.  As I said, it’s an amazing chapter. 

Next time, we’ll discuss when the Magi actually found Jesus.