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this, he did not take secret measures to find and slay the infant, instead of waiting, as he proposed, for the Magi to return. For, though Herod was desperately wicked, all agree that he was a shrewd man, and of no common ability in the management of affairs. His shrewdness and tact are seen in this very transaction. He called the wise men privily, that his interest in the object of their mission might not be generally known. The only inquiry which he made of them was one which indicated no hostile purpose; while, bent as he was on finding and destroying the infant, he was employing the very best means to effect his object.
Had he sent forth messengers at once to find and slay the child, he could hardly hope to succeed, with nothing to point out which of the infants then in Bethlehem was the child sought, and with the risk, also, of giving alarm to the friends of the child in season to ensure its safety. Honorable men from the east, seeking the child “to worship him,” would be far more likely to find him. “Go,” said he, “and search diligently for the young child, and, when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.” But this cunning and well-contrived arrangement, hiding a bloody purpose, enabled the wise men to fulfil the object for which God brought them from their far country.
And now the star which had beckoned them to
Judea, and which, perhaps, they did not expect to see any more after their entrance into Jerusalem, “ came and stood over the place where the young child was.” Words cannot express more intense feelings than the original of the passage which follows: “ And when they saw the star, they joyed a great joy very much.” The morning star of their hope had become the evening star of their desire accomplished. That lost guide, in confidence of whose truthful promise they had trod the desert, perhaps in conflict with many doubts, lest, after all, some meteor had only shone to bewilder and deceive them — behold, that kind friend, that faithful lighthouse, shines forth again, and, instead of tracking a way for them into far distant regions, it comes and rests very low, no higher, perhaps, than the smoke which curls from our chimneys, over the place where the young child was. They need not go from street to street, and from house to house, nor tax their patience, nor exercise their faith, any more. as though “Immanuel ” were emblazoned on the door, or "King of kings and Lord of lords” were written on the wall.
The question whether this star were an orb of heaven, or a special sign created for this purpose, it would seem, must be removed, when we consider its position over the dwelling where the child was. Tt. is plain that one of the regular heavenly bodies
could not point to one dwelling more than to another.
From the three kinds of gifts which they presented, many have supposed that the number of the Magi was three. The Nestorian church generally taught that it was twelve. Three was the number ascribed to them in the prevailing traditions; names also being given to them, as, among others, Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthazar. They were held to be kings, representing the grand divisions of men Melchior being put for Shem, Gaspar for Ham, and Balthazar for Japhet. This explains the Ethiopian complexion given to one of them in the pictures of the “ Adoration.” The passages which are so uniformly regarded as being fulfilled by them, “ And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising,” (Isa. lx. 3,) and “ The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents, the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts,” (Ps. Ixxii. 10,) have given rise to the belief that they were kings, and accordingly the Feast of Epiphany was, in the middle ages, most commonly called the Feast of the Three Kings. The literature which has been connected with this brief account by Matthew, of the wise men, is hardly exceeded in variety by that of any other part of the New Testament. Cologne, upon the Rhine, the “City of the Three Kings,” claims to possess their relics, and has given them a
splendid shrine.* But it is needless to say that all this lore is probably the fruit of the imagination. If they were only sheiks, or emîrs, the word “kings," in the prophetic passages just quoted, would be proper. Whether the apostle Thomas baptized them, and whether they helped him to evangelize India, and whether they died as martyrs, or what became of them upon their return from Judea, are questions upon which the Bible gives us no information. But the brief, inspired record respecting them is full of interest and instruction.
I. THE COMING OF THE WISE MEN TO THE INFANT JESUS WAS AN ACT OF ADORATION.
The word rendered “worshipped,” in the passage which speaks of the prostration of the wise men, it is said, does not necessarily imply any thing more than an act of respectful salutation, the same word being used in speaking of acts of courtesy between man and man.
But as Peter refused to receive the worship expressed by this same word, from Cornelius, saying, “I myself also am a man,” and as the angel said to the evangelist John, who fell down before him, with the same worship, “ See thou do it not; worship God," we cannot conclude, from the word itself, that
* See a most interesting article on the Cathedral at Cologne, in the London Quarterly Review, vol. lxxviii., 1846.
adoration was not intended by the wise men. Let us look, then, at the probabilities of the case.
Had the wise men regarded the Messiah merely as an earthly king, it would have been a most contemptuous and daring act to have proclaimed in Herod's dominions, nay, in the metropolis itself, “ We have come to worship him.” This would not be an act of 6 wise men.' While they called the Messiah “ King of the Jews,” they must have regarded him as having a kingdom which did not conflict with that of Herod, of a heavenly nature, warranting, as the birth of an heir to no earthly kingdom would warrant, such a journey, and such respect as theirs
Here let it be considered, that the wise men may not have known, to its full extent, the intention of an overruling Providence in their coming to the feet of Christ; nor may they have understood their enthusiasm, with regard to this new-born personage, which brought them so far. Their habits and customs as astrologers made this act natural to them, while they may
have been, and we believe that they were, like the prophets, under the excitement of inspiration, who did not fully know the vast import of many of their predictions.
We cannot believe -- indeed, it is too great a tax on our credulity to ask us to believe that God appointed this miraculous star to bring those sages