Monday, December 23, 2019

How the Magi Fit into the Story

Little country kid came to the Christmas play dressed as a fireman. Director asked him why he dressed that way, he was supposed to be a wise man. He said, “Well, in the story it says they came from afar.”

As you did, I grew up singing We Three Kings of Orient are bearing gifts we traverse afar. It told the story of Matthew’s account of the Magi coming to Jerusalem seeking a newly born king and were directed to Bethlehem. We’ve accepted these men into the Christmas story and you’ll see them in nearly every nativity scene. Jan and I display them at our home. We even have them in our display out front of the church. Where did they come from? Why such gifts? Were they really there in Bethlehem? Yes. At the time of the birth? No.

Key factors that take them out of the nativity scene: specific word for young child not infant, went into the house not a stable.

Matt 2:1-12

Who were they? By our understanding, the Magi were men of mystical science. They studied the stars and constellations among other things. They were men who dealt in the mystical realm of magic and astrology, men acquainted with the mystical arts. Luke uses the same word in Acts for Bar-Jesus the magician. Strange phenomenon – like a new star – brought great curiosity.

When they saw the star appear, perhaps a comet God had set in motion from the creation of the universe, they watched it cross the eastern sky, then disappear over Jerusalem. The heavens were declaring the glory of God and the Magi recognized it.

But the answers for where they came from and why these gifts, remain a mystery after all the years. Traditionally, it’s been assumed they came from Persia because the Scripture says Magi from the east.
But to get to Persia from Jerusalem going directly east, you go through the upper part of what was called the Eastern Arabian Desert. Recent studies place the Magi coming from the lower Saudi Arabian Peninsula, particularly from the southernmost tip in what is today Yemen. In ancient days it was the country of Sheba.

You’ll remember that once a Queen from Sheba visited Solomon and was amazed at all his wealth and wisdom. A visit like that was not unusual. Dignitaries from other countries often visited new kings to establish diplomatic relations with them for trade and mutual welfare.

But in our story, these men were not seeking the newly born king for their benefit, or the benefit of their country, but His benefit. To Worship Him. You don’t worship kings. You honor them, negotiate with them, but not worship. What did they know and how were they being motivated to make this trip to Jerusalem?

Go back to OT prophecy:

Ps 72:1-15 Give the king Your judgments, O God, and Your righteousness to the king's son. May he judge Your people with righteousness and Your afflicted with justice. Let the mountains bring peace to the people, and the hills, in righteousness. May he vindicate the afflicted of the people, save the children of the needy And crush the oppressor. Let them fear You while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations. May he come down like rain upon the mown grass, like showers that water the earth. In his days may the righteous flourish, and abundance of peace till the moon is no more. May he also rule from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. Let the nomads of the desert bow before him, and his enemies lick the dust. Let the kings of Tarshish and of the islands bring presents; the kings of Sheba and Seba offer gifts. And let all kings bow down before him, all nations serve him. For he will deliver the needy when he cries for help, the afflicted also, and him who has no helper. He will have compassion on the poor and needy, and the lives of the needy he will save. He will rescue their life from oppression and violence, and their blood will be precious in his sight; so may he live, and may the gold of Sheba be given to him; and let them pray for him continually; let them bless him all day long. Blessed be the LORD God, the God of Israel, Who alone works wonders. And blessed be His glorious name forever; and may the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen, and Amen.

This Psalm of David appears to be written for the blessing of his son, Solomon, and does have some direct fulfillment that Solomon experienced. However, what David writes goes beyond the abilities or expectations of an earthly king. He shows that at the end. 

But,like other times in Scripture, when God spoke through David prophetically, what he wrote about himself or his son was actually about Jesus. Ps 22 is one of the most dramatic examples of the crucifixion.

Ps 110:1 The LORD says to my Lord: "Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.

Matt 22:41-45 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question: What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He? They said to Him, "The son of David." He said to them, "Then how does David in the Spirit call Him 'Lord,' saying, 'THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, "SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I PUT YOUR ENEMIES BENEATH YOUR FEET"'? "If David then calls Him 'Lord,' how is He his son?" 

Ps 2:7 I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, 'You are My Son, today I have begotten You. 

Heb 1:4-5 Having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they. For to which of the angels did He ever say, "YOU ARE MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU"? And again, "I WILL BE A FATHER TO HIM AND HE SHALL BE A SON TO ME"? 

So, Ps 72 says they will come from Sheba and bring gifts. Where else does the Bible reference Sheba coming with gifts?

Isa 60:1-6 Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness will cover the earth and deep darkness the peoples; but the LORD will rise upon you and His glory will appear upon you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. Lift up your eyes round about and see; they all gather together, they come to you. Your sons will come from afar, and your daughters will be carried in the arms. Then you will see and be radiant, And your heart will thrill and rejoice; because the abundance of the sea will be turned to you, The wealth of the nations will come to you. A multitude of camels will cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba will come; they will bring gold and frankincense, and will bear good news of the praises of the LORD. 

Isa 60 is a Messianic passage about Jesus coming.

But why Sheba? Sheba was known for its vast wealth from the gold mines of Africa. Trade with African nations brought in much gold – the commodity by which those nations exchanged goods with other countries. So, plenty of gold. 

Sheba also had Boswellia trees – the sap from the Boswellia tree is used to make frankincense. Sheba was only one of two places in the world where these trees grew. And, it is in Sheba where you’ll find the Commiphora tree. The resin from this tree is used to make myrrh. It grows naturally no place else.
What were the three gifts the Magi brought? Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh.

Why would they bring these? Great baby gifts? Not really.

If it had been three wise women, we know they would have made it on time for the birth, brought practical gifts like diapers and blankets. Brought a couple of casseroles, a jug of tea and then, cleaned up the stable before they left.

No, the hand of God is here, in this story, orchestrating the details, telling us something unique about Jesus through these men and the gifts that were brought.

Gold is a gift for nobility. At that time considered the most valuable gift one could give. They were searching for a king so what better gift to give him than what represented his value to the world. Gold identified Jesus as our King.

2Chron 9:9 Then she gave the king one hundred and twenty talents of gold and a very great amount of spices and precious stones; there had never been spice like that which the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon. 

Frankincense was one of the ingredients in the incense God designed for the fragrance of the Temple. There was a specific formula used to make the incense which was not to be used for any other purpose. It was set on the table of incense and placed before the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies. That was where the presence of God was recognized. That aroma said – the Lord is here. Frankincense identified Jesus as God with us - the Lord.

Ex 30:34-36 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Take for yourself spices, stacte and onycha and galbanum, spices with pure frankincense; there shall be an equal part of each. With it you shall make incense, a perfume, the work of a perfumer, salted, pure, and holy. You shall beat some of it very fine, and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I will meet with you; it shall be most holy to you. 

Myrrh was processed into an oil and used for anointing. With it the Temple and Priests were anointed for service. But it also was used for masking the odor of the dead. Myrrh was a strong fragrance and used in preparing someone for burial. Unknowingly, perhaps, the Magi were bringing Myrrh to a Savior who would die for the sins of the world. Myrrh identified Jesus as Savior. The one born to die.

John 19:39-40 Nicodemus, who had first come to Him by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.

Interesting, though, the Bible told us they would bring these gifts. Why? To help us connect the dots that this was all a part of God’s plan. 

For most of us, winning at pool depends on a lot of lucky shots. We know what we want to do but can’t guarantee it will happen. It’s often just coincidence when a ball drops in the pocket. But there are some who can call their shots and tell you in advance what will happen before they strike the cue ball. For them, making that shot isn’t coincidence but intentional.

Whenever something happens God has told us about in advance, when it happens, we know it was His doing. It’s God doing what God does

The Magi came to Bethlehem and presented unique gifts to Jesus, honoring Him as the King of the Jews but worshipping Him as the very presence of God on earth. The story is about them presenting to Jesus that that identified Him as King, Lord and Savior. But in this story one dot remains to be connected.

If we could decide on a gift to give Him that both honored Him and demonstrated our worship what would that be? 

Let’s give Him what the Magi gave: gold, frankincense and myrrh. He doesn’t need or want that anymore.

Ps 95:3-6 For the LORD is a great God And a great King above all gods, in whose hand are the depths of the earth, the peaks of the mountains are His also. The sea is His, for it was He who made it, and His hands formed the dry land. Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker. 

The God who has everything wants only one thing – our worship. Do you know what the word worship means in reference to what the Magi came to do? I go down on my knees to worship. Worship is the humble act of giving ourselves to our God. That’s the last dot to connect. It’s us.
Have you ever given yourself to God? Saying, God here is my life, I give it to You. Why is that so hard? Why do we struggle letting go? Because we want to control our lives.

If someone came in here and said I’m producing a play to do a world-wide tour of Hamlet and I need someone who can play Hamlet before audiences of thousands of people, do you think you could pull that off? We’d probably all agree there’s no way any of us could ever be Hamlet. Then why do we think we can play God? That we can do better than He can to run our lives? We can’t. So, give up trying and give yourself to Him. That’s the gift He wants from you this Christmas.


  1. Selecting gifts for someone who has everything and needs nothing is always hard.
  2. Knowing that, God doesn’t ask for anything other than ourselves.
  3. Once we have given Him ourselves, we can count on Him to accomplish what’s necessary in our lives.
  4. If we refuse to give Him ourselves, not only do we lose the blessings, but we are fighting against our only source of the abundant life Jesus promised, and if we are not a Christian, facing an eternity separated from Him forever.

Connect the final dot.

Monday, December 16, 2019

How Rahab Fits into the Story

An artist duct-taped a banana to a wall in an art gallery last week. It sold for $120k. Then, someone ate the banana. They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder but come on – a banana duct-taped to a wall?

Sometimes we look at people that way. God pulls somebody into His plan and we ask: is that the best You can do? They don’t meet our standards so why should God use them? It’s because God will do what God will do. When He’s working His plan, He will bring in the people, the situations and the events necessary to accomplish everything according to the counsel of His will.

We’ve read the stories. Sometimes the Bible is silent on the details and gives us no dots to connect. At other times it’s quite specific. Certain people fitting into the story at precise times in history. To do that, everything around that timeframe has to be considered. 

For example, there is only one Rahab mentioned in Scripture. She’s in the story of the genealogy of Jesus, mentioned in the lineage of King David and plays a prominent role in the story of the Conquest of the Holy Land. We need to see how she fits into all of those stories and when, to see how God worked through time to move His plan along.

What I am going to share with you today is out of the box. It doesn’t follow traditional thought. It may or may not be true, but it connects dots inside my head.

The genealogy Matthew gives us matches the other genealogies in Scripture. Matt 1:3-6 Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez was the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram. Ram was the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon. Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse. Jesse was the father of David the king. 

 It’s repeated in Genesis, 1 Chronicles and Ruth. The four lists are very precise – one man begetting a son who begets a son. So, when Matthew includes Rahab as the mother of Boaz, we have something rather specific.

Now, you’ll remember the Conquest of the Holy land began 40 years after the Exodus. The 40 years was because the people refused to believe God would give them the land. It took 40 years to wipe out that generation of disbelievers. After that was completed, Jericho was the first city to be conquered. Rahab was the harlot who hid the spies Joshua had sent into Jericho to check out the city’s defenses. 

We’re not always given specific dates in Scripture but some dates we know. Saul became King of Israel around 1050 B.C. David was born sometime after Saul became King, some say around 1040 B.C. Now, in the lineage, there’s no way of knowing the time between each father begetting the next son but let’s back things up from David:

  • David was begotten by Jesse – 1040 B.C. – Now David was the youngest son in a large family so Jesse was most likely an older man when David was born.
  • Jesse was begotten by Obed – who’s Obed? The son Ruth bore to Boaz.
  • Obed was begotten by Boaz – Boaz had said himself he was an old man when he married Ruth.
  • Boaz was begotten by Salmon out of Rahab [Ella – created quite an upheaval]
  • Salmon was begotten by Nashon

If each man fathered his son when he was an older man, they were probably 40-60 years old at the time of the begetting. That would take us back approximately 240 years or so from David. Then, add 40 years of wandering in the desert plus a few undetermined years of the conquest and we have the Exodus at somewhere around 1350.
Let me tell you what’s going on in Egypt around 1350 B.C.

Amenhotep III was the Pharoah. He was called The Magnificent King and was known for major building projects during his reign. In Exodus the Pharoah is described as a harsh man, focused on building.

Now fit Moses into the story. We’re told Moses was 40 years old when he left Egypt after killing an Egyptian. He then lived in the Midian desert for 40 years when the burning bush appeared. That encounter with God sent him back to Egypt when he was 80.

Back up those 80 years from Amenhotep III and you are in the family of Ahmoses. A new Dynasty that began with Ahmoses as its patriarch. Ahmoses initiated massive construction projects on a scale that had not been undertaken before that time. The Pharaohs that followed him continued this building movement. You can see how the Israelites were easily converted into workers for those projects.

Ex 1:8-11 Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, "Behold, the people of the sons of Israel are more and mightier than we. Come, let us deal wisely with them, or else they will multiply and in the event of war, they will also join themselves to those who hate us, and fight against us and depart from the land.  So they appointed taskmasters over them to afflict them with hard labor. 

Now, it was common for the Pharaohs of each dynasty to take their name from their Patriarch, he, taking his name from the god he chose for his primary god. Ahmoses chose the name Moses in honor of the god of the moon. The pharaohs of his family following him made their name from his: Thutmoses or Son of Moses. 

So, when Pharaoh’s daughter found the baby in the basket floating in the river, she named him Moses. It was her Egyptian family name. The Hebrew name for him is Moshe, not Moses. Because it sounds similar, the name transferred easily from one nationality to the other. Its Hebrew meaning is – drawn out from the water. Its Egyptian meaning reflected the family god of the Ahmoses family.

Back to Amenhotep III. One question I’ve always wondered about after seeing The Ten Commandments is when God killed the firstborn of each family the night of Passover, why didn’t Yul Brynner die? The normal succession of the throne was by the firstborn. Well, Amenhotep wasn’t firstborn. He had an older brother, designated Crown Prince, who died before he could assume the throne and Amenhotep became Pharaoh in his place. What’s also interesting, Amenhotep’s firstborn son died suddenly at some point during Amenhotep’s reign and the son that succeeded Amenhotep wasn’t firstborn.

Another fact about the son who succeed Amenhotep was he changed the religion of Egypt from Polytheism to Monotheism – from many gods to one god. Now think about what might have motivated him to do so. He had witnessed firsthand how God defeated all the gods of Egypt. That’s what the plagues were all about. Each plague undermined a specific Egyptian god. Out of that experience, perhaps, he decided the many gods of Egypt were inferior and ineffective, so he removed them and selected one god.

Unfortunately, he didn’t choose God Almighty as the one God but one of the sun gods. In convincing fashion, he changed his name from Amenhotep IV to Akhenaten to honor the sun god Aten. During his reign everyone was required to worship only Aten. That was such a radical departure from normal Egyptian religious life that after he died, the nation immediately went back to polytheism. You might find this interesting but Akhenaten’s son was Tutankhamen or King Tut. His original name was Tutankhaten but he changed it to Tutankhamen. He was rejecting the god Aten and declaring Amun was his god. Amun was a combined god of the sun and the air. Back to polytheism.

I find all of this powerfully convincing because it fits at such a strategic time.

Now, back to Rahab. For her to be able to be mother of Boaz, the Exodus would need to have occurred around 1350 B.C. Take 40 years for the wandering in the wilderness and the Conquest of Jericho would be around 1310 or so.  

With that date, you can fit Rahab into the story so that her legacy continues on to David by 1040 B.C. and from there to Jesus.

Does any of this matter? Well, it obviously doesn’t change the story, but in order for the dots to connect, we might need to rethink the traditional dates.

Traditionally, most references hold to the Exodus being around 1500, then take out the 40 years for the Wilderness. For Rahab to be able to give birth to Boaz, you need to add nearly 150 extra years to the story. I believe Rahab would be a bit too old to have a baby at that age. That matters to me. I want to see the dots connected and everything fitting in real time within what information the Bible gives us.

One of the reasons they back the Exodus up to the 1500s is to fit in the time of the Judges – Gideon, Samson, Deborah. If you take each Judge and their story as a sequence of events one after the other, you have about 375 years from the beginning of the conquest until King Saul. But since the Judges weren’t judging in the same area, their stories can overlap. How would you tell all those stories? One at a time. But if they happen randomly, all of that can happen within the 240 years or so between the Exodus and the anointing of King Saul that brought an end to the period of the Judges.

Now, if you aren’t familiar with all of this OT history, all I’ve done is confuse you with a lot of names, places and events. But if you are, you see how God works everything according to His plan and each name, place and event coincides with what He is doing to move history along while He accomplishes His purpose.

Each person is pre-picked and vital to the plan. That’s why Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba all made it into the story. They humanized it and showed God’s ability to redeem people and situations and make beauty from what others might consider ashes or mistakes.

What did Rahab do?

Josh 2:1-7

Although the word describing her means a prostitute, many translators felt it was inappropriate for God to use such a woman, so they changed it to an innkeeper or hostess who furnished rooms or provided food. 

Except in the NT. 

Heb 11:31-32 By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace. And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets,

The Writer gives Rahab the harlot more consideration than even Gideon, Samson, David and Solomon. Why was welcoming the spies considered such a Faith act that she deserved this mention? Though she did hide the spies, which helped them complete their mission, what she did for the nation was even greater. She affirmed God’s success for them in their first conquest.

Once Moses got the people through the Red Sea, he claimed a promise concerning the Lord’s intentions:

Ex 15:14-16 The peoples have heard; they tremble; pangs have seized the inhabitants of Philistia. Now are the chiefs of Edom dismayed; trembling seizes the leaders of Moab; all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away. Terror and dread fall upon them; because of the greatness of your arm, they are still as a stone, till your people, O LORD, pass by, till the people pass by whom you have purchased. 

Rahab affirmed that promise.

Josh 2:9-11
Her confidence, even her faith in their God, gave them courage. Whatever gods the people in Jericho served, she switched sides. She announced her surrender to the Lord their God as the ultimate God.
It’s the same thing Ruth did. Ruth told Naomi: Ruth 1:16 Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. 

You have two ladies, neither of which should have been in the legacy of Jesus. But their names are featured in the story for one reason. Even though they had questionable pasts, they both declared God their only hope. Upon that declaration, God then reconciled them to Himself and transformed them into useful parts of His plan.

Josh 6:22-25
So, from here into the lineage of Jesus. What a jump!

A hotdog vendor was listening to a Buddhist Monk talk to a group of people about the source of change. He was telling them the change comes from within. When he finished, he stopped at the hotdog vendor and said, "Make me one with everything." When he was given his hotdog, he handed the man a $20 bill and waited. After a bit he asked, "Where’s my change?" The vendor replied, "All change must come from within."

The change in Rahab happened in her heart. She wasn’t rewarded because of her efforts to help the spies, but because she accepted their God as her God. She was changed and then declared usable by God who placed her into the chain connecting her to Jesus.

Some think if their good outweighs their bad, in the end, God will reward them with Heaven because they’ve been good enough. That stuff never enters the picture for entrance into Heaven. What’s He look at? The heart. He wants to see if the change happened that showed they have declared Him their God and chosen His life as the one they will now live. It is the same for us, with that change made possible through Jesus.


  1. God never expects us to clean up our lives in order to be useful to Him.
  2. He expects us to come to Him as we are and let Him make us useful.
  3. When God draws us to Himself, nothing in our past can prevent Him from making something special out of our lives.
  4. The consequences of remaining the same are too great for us to ignore His salvation.