Why the Wise Men Were Wise

by Roger Barrier


Dear Roger,

I’d love to understand more about the Magi and the star – what made them think this star would lead them to a king? Is there anything in the Old Testament that forbids or warns against using the stars to search for guidance? There are many traditions related to the Magi–what is in the scriptures?


Dear Gayla,


The reason that the wise men thought that the star would lead them to a king is because of the ancient belief that signs in the heavens portended great–or terrible–things to come–depending on who is interpreting the sign. Some unusual movement or stellar event of great magnitude was often thought to herald the birth of a King or someone of great personage. An event occurred in the sky and they went looking. The fact that the star appeared and moved indicates more of a miraculous appearance than a natural one.


Deuteronomy 18:9-13 forbids activities like using the stars for guidance.


Many traditions surround the wise men. Legend makes them all kings; but, this is not true. They were wise men. They were most likely the King’s personal advisors whose responsibilities included reading the stars among other things.


They were from “the east” which most probably meant Persia or Babylon.


Early church traditions put their number at twelve. Today, we imagine there were three (probably because there were three different types of gifts).


Church traditions have assigned them names and personalities.

Melchior, old, grey-headed, with a long beard brought the gold.

Caspar, young, beardless, with a ruddy complexion brought frankincense.

Balthasar, swarthy with new beard brought myrrh.


The wise men were not at the manger on Christmas night. When they arrived in Bethlehem several months to two years later, Joseph, Mary and Jesus were living in a house.


The three gifts they brought to Jesus were most likely used by Joseph to finance their “flight to Egypt” to escape Herod’s order to kill all the boy babies under the age of two.


Let me gather two lessons from the wise men and then share with you the traditional story about Artaban, the fourth wise man. I think you will enjoy it.


These Men Were Wise Because They Were Seeking After Christ.


What could we better do in this world than to seek after Christ? The wise men thought all other pursuits of small account compared with this.


The search to worship Jesus Christ is all out of proportion to anything else we may do in life.


These Men Were Wise Men Because They Refused To Worship Empty Handed.


Everyone knows that gifts have something to do with Christmas; but, after that, there is mass confusion. If we read the Christmas story carefully, we find that the wise men did not exchange gifts with one another. They gave gifts to Christ.


The lesson here is that true recognition of Jesus Christ will ever be attended by the spontaneous surrender of our best to Him.


Now Let Me Share With You The Traditional Story Of Artaban–The Fourth Wise Man.

Artaban set out to follow the star and took a sapphire, a ruby, and a pearl beyond price as gifts for the king.

He was riding hard to meet his three friends – Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar at the agreed-upon meeting place. Time was short. He knew they’d leave if he were late.

Suddenly, he saw the dim figure of a traveler in the road ahead. He was sick–his body racked with fever. Artaban knew that if he stopped to help he would miss his friends. But, what else could he do? When he arrived at the agreed upon meeting place his friends were gone. He now needed camels and bearers to cross the desert. He had to sell his sapphire to get them. He was sad because the new king would never get his gem.


He was late to Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph were gone. He took lodging in a little house where there was a small child that he had come to love. Herod gave the order for all male children to be slain. Soldiers came to carry out the order. The weeping of stricken mothers could be heard throughout the city. Artaban stood in the doorway. When the soldiers came Artaban bribed them with his ruby not to enter. The child was safe; the mother overjoyed; but the ruby was gone. Artaban was sad because the new king would never have his ruby.

After over thirty years of searching for the king he came to Jerusalem.

A crucifixion was scheduled for that day. Artaban had heard of this Jesus who was to be crucified, and thought that he sounded much like the King for whom he was searching. So, Artaban headed for Calvary. Maybe his pearl could buy the life of his King.


Suddenly a girl came sprinting down the street, crying out: “Save me! My father’s in debt! He’s going to sell me as a slave to pay his creditors. Somebody help me!”


Artaban hesitated. Then, sadly, he brought out his pearl and gave it to the creditors to settle the debt.


Then, all of a sudden the skies grew dark and an earthquake ensued. Flying tile hit Artaban on the head and knocked him half-conscious to the ground. The girl he’d just ransomed pillowed his head.


Suddenly Artaban’s lips began to move. “Not so, Lord. For when did I see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you a drink? When did I see you a stranger and took you in, or naked and clothed you? Thirty-three years I’ve looked for you; but, I’ve never seen your face, nor have I ministered to you, my King.”


Then, like a whisper from far away came a sweet low voice. “Truly, I say unto you, Artaban, inasmuch as you’ve done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me. Enter into the joy of the Master’s Kingdom.”


Then, mortally wounded, Artaban smiled. He knew that the King had received his gifts after all.


Well, Gayla, I hope that I’ve answered some of your questions and that you enjoyed the story.


Love, Roger

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