A wizard (originally spelled wisard,) is simply a wise man, like the wise men who followed the Christmas star to Bethlehem.
“But is there a reason why those particular wise men came from the East?”
You ask a very interesting question.
Let’s roll back the calendar to the sixth century BC.
Do you remember Daniel from the story of the lion’s den?
While Jeremiah spoke to the Jews in Judah and Ezekiel was God’s spokesman to the Jewish captives in Babylon, Daniel served in the courts of the pagan kings who ruled the world. In this respect, he’s similar to Joseph who served as prime minister of Egypt when that nation was at the height of its power. The kings Daniel served were Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius the Mede and Cyrus the Great. (It’s possible that Darius the Mede and Cyrus the Great were two different names for the same king.)
In the book of Daniel, chapter two, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon has a dream. When he awakens, he’s deeply troubled by the dream, though he can’t recall the details of it. Nebuchadnezzar calls his wise men and demands that they tell him what he dreamt, but they cannot. So Nebuchadnezzar orders they be killed. When Daniel hears of this, he promises the king that he will tell him his dream and interpret it for him.
And then he does.
The fifth chapter of Daniel’s book tells of how he interpreted the handwriting on the wall during the rule of King Belshazzar.
Chapter six contains the famous story of how Daniel emerged unscathed after being thrown into the lions’ den during the reign of Darius. He was cast to the lions because some of the magi, or “wise men,” were jealous that King Darius had appointed him, a Jew, to be rab-mag, or “Chief of the Magoi.” (You may recall the wise men of Christmas are called “magi” in Latin, from the Greek word “magoi,” transliterated from the original Persian. Our words “magic” and “magician” come from this same root.)
Daniel was a legendary wise man in Babylon whose reputation continues to this day. (Jesus mentions Daniel in the 24th chapter of Matthew.)
In the ninth chapter of Daniel’s book, Daniel is told by God in a dream exactly how many years will pass before the death of the Messiah.
Ah! So the wise men came from Babylon! They were the followers of Daniel, who had left them instructions telling them exactly when they should begin looking for the Messiah!
“But who told them a star would announce his birth?”
Roll back the clock again to the time of Moses, about 1,000 years prior to Daniel’s time.
Do you remember the 40 years Moses led the Jews as they wandered in the wilderness after their escape from Egypt? It was just a few months before the end of that 40th year when a foreign king named Balak of Moab paid a famous gentile prophet named Balaam to put a curse on the Jews.
At first, Balaam refused to do as Balak requested, but finally he agreed. Do you recall the story of how Balaam’s donkey spoke to him? You’ll find the account recorded in the book of Numbers, chapters 22-24.
Four times Balaam opened his mouth to curse the Jews, but out came a blessing instead.
Here’s the beginning of the fourth and final blessing:
“The oracle of Balaam son of Beor,
the oracle of one whose eye sees clearly,
the oracle of one who hears the words of God,
who has knowledge from the Most High,
who sees a vision from the Almighty,
who falls prostrate, and whose eyes are opened:
I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near.
A star will come out of Jacob;
a scepter will rise out of Israel…
Balaam’s prophecy said that a star would rise out of the land of Jacob simultaneous with the rising of Israel’s scepter. (A scepter is the emblem of a king.)
Daniel, a Jew, would have been deeply familiar with this prophecy because it’s found in the holy Torah. And even though Balaam was a corrupt gentile prophet, the words of blessing he spoke upon Israel were put into his mouth by God.
Jupiter and Regulus meet in the sky every 12 years. No big deal. But when Jupiter moves backward in “retrograde” and touches Regulus a second time, astronomers watch with wonder. Imagine what it was like in 3/2 BC when Jupiter “changed its mind” not once, but twice, and reversed course a second time for yet a third rendezvous with Regulus, a triple conjunction. Jupiter, known for thousands of years as the Planet of Kings, dancing out a halo above Regulus, known for as many years as the Star of Kings. A coronation. And it appeared directly over central Israel for anyone watching from Babylon. The regal, regent star Regulus was known by the Romans as Rex and by the Babylonians as Sharu. Each of the words means King. For complete details visit www.starofbethlehem.net.
Incidentally, the 14th verse of the first chapter of Genesis tells us, “Then God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years.'” (from the New American Standard Bible. The King James Version says “times and seasons and days and years.”)
Signs? The stars were put in the sky to serve as signs?
By the way… those wise men of the Christmas story, and Daniel from 500 years earlier, and Balaam from 1000 years before that… were all from a nation that is known today as Iraq. Surprised?
Bethlehem, the place of Christ’s birth, was a little town six miles to the south of Jerusalem that stood high up on a limestone ridge more than 2,500 feet in height. The ridge has a summit at each end and a hollow like a saddle in between, making Bethlehem look like it’s set in an amphitheater of hills. In the history of Israel, Bethlehem is uniquely the city of David. And it was from there that God was to send the deliverer of His people. Read it in Micah 5:2
“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 the ruler of Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”
It’s interesting to note that while the wise men knew of the prophecy of Balaam, they were unaware of Micah’s prophecy concerning Bethlehem as the place of Christ’s birth. This is why they had to go to Herod and ask, “Can you direct us, please, to the Messiah?” This makes perfect sense when you remember that Balaam was from their own district (Babylon, about 50 miles south of modern day Baghdad,) but Micah was from the village of Moresheth, very near to Jerusalem, the city of Herod, many hundreds of miles away.
Because Micah lived and died so far away, the wise men of Babylon were unlikely to have seen copies of Micah’s writings.
Thus, it is written in Matthew chapter 2,
“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea 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. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet…”
Thus, it is written…
: for thus it is written…
And thus, it was written.
– Roy H. Williams
Balaam is mentioned 65 times in 8 different books of the Bible. (Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Nehemiah, Micah, 2nd Peter, Jude, and Revelation.) Shortly after the Jews took the promised land, they executed him. Read it in Joshua 13:22
Marco Polo wrote of having visited the graves of the wise men that had brought gifts to Christ at the time of his birth. Read it in Travels; the Description of the World, written by Marco Polo in 1298. You’ll find the account in Chapter XI, “Of the Province of Persia.”
Isaac Newton, using Daniel’s prophecy as his guide, calculated the date of Christ’s crucifixion to be Friday, April 1, AD33. He did this by using his own new theory of gravity to calculate the position of the moon in antiquity to reconstruct the Judean calendar to find a year in which the day of the preparation for Passover fell on a Friday. Read it in Observations on the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John, published in 1733, (six years after Newton’s death and the year following George Washington’s birth.)
You’ll find an easy-to-understand summary of Newton’s work in an article by John P. Pratt called Sir Isaac Newton Interprets Daniel’s Prophecies first published in Meridian Magazine on August 11, 2004. Dr. Pratt has degrees in physics and math and a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Arizona. The article is easily found online.