Did Daniel Provide the Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh for the Magi?

Every school child in the USA knows how the Magi brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to the newborn Christ.  How did the Magi come to understand that the messiah had been born and how did they know that these would be the perfect gifts to symbolize the career of the messiah?  Did the prophet Daniel provide the gold, frankincense and myrrh for the Magi or did he at least influence their choice of gifts?

To better understand this question we need to examine who the Magi were.  Ancient historians like Herodotus, Josephus and Philo all mention and speak highly of the Magi as ancient astronomers and advisers to the kings of Persia.  Philo especially complimented the “eastern school” of Magi.  The Bible references the Magi of the Christmas story as being “from the east” so it is likely they came from this “eastern school.”  It is also obvious that they were highly regarded even in Jerusalem as Herod gave them a private audience.  (Matt. 2: 1 – 11).

The Magi and Daniel

One must also ponder why the Magi risked their lives on a journey of over 800 miles to visit the messiah when those in Jerusalem seemed clueless that he had been born.  This is where the prophet Daniel enters the story.  The Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) mentions the Magi eight times using the same Greek word as the New Testament.  Most of these references occur in the book of Daniel.  In Daniel 2 Nebuchadnezzar is about to execute all the Magi for their inability to interpret his dream.  Daniel saved them all (and himself) by giving the King God’s interpretation of the dream of the statue of metals.  Later in Daniel we learn Nebuchadnezzar appointed Daniel Chief of the Magi (Dan. 5:11).  For both of these reasons Daniel was highly regarded.

It is both possible and likely that as Chief of the Magi, Daniel instructed the other Magi in the worship of the one true God, YHWH.  It is also likely that this group possessed the Old Testament including the Book of Daniel.  Jewish tradition holds that Daniel founded a sect of Magi who were anticipating and looking for the coming of the messiah!

Why would they be focused on messiah?  Because the book of Daniel Chapter 9 clearly foretells the exact day that Jesus would enter Jerusalem!  This is found in the prophecy of the Seventy Sevens. This precise prophecy said 483 years of 360 days each would transpire from the decree to rebuild Jerusalem until the coming of the “anointed” or messiah.   Knowing that Messiah would likely enter his ministry at thirty years of age as per Jewish custom, the Magi would have been able to fairly accurately establish the birth of our Savior within a period of a few years.

The Star

The Magi also had another Jewish scripture to rely on, Numbers 24:17 (NIV) “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.”  Mystery has involved this “star of wonder” for millennia.  But if a miraculous series of astronomical events occurred around the “appointed time” of Daniel’s prophecy, might it have been enough to encourage the Magi to “ride?”  Let us consider this series of events for a moment.

By the time of Daniel it was already known that the Messiah would come out of the tribe of Judah and we know from Jacob’s prophecy in Genesis that Judah was  to be a “lion” and that the lawgiver would not depart from between his feet.

Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up?  The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.  Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes. (Gen. 49: 9-11 KJV)

This passage is full of messianic images.  Jesus is the Lion of the tribe of Judah.  He rules the nations with an iron sceptre.  His angels gather together the elect at the rapture.  His garments are washed with blood upon his second coming.

The Magi were astronomers and would be searching the sky for a “star.”  In astronomical terms the Lion is the constellation of Leo.  The main star in Leo is Regulus (the “King Star”) which is found between the feet of Leo the Lion.  The prophecy of Jacob then pictures the “lawgiver” (Messiah) between the feet of the Lion.  Jews came to regard Regulus as the star of messiah.

In 2 and 3 BC, 7 incredible conjunction events occurred in the sky.

12 Aug    3 B.C. 5:20 Venus-Jupiter 0.07’ = 4.3’
31 Aug    3 B.C. 21:03 Mercury-Venus 0.36’ = 22’
14 Sep.   3 B.C. 5:05 Jupiter-Regulus 0.33’ = 20’
17 Feb.   2 B.C. 15:15 Jupiter-Regulus 0.85’ = 51’
8 May     2 B.C. 16:10 Jupiter-Regulus 0.72’ = 43’
17 June   2 B.C. 17:53 Jupiter-Venus 0.01’ = 0.5’
26 Aug    2 B.C. 15:15 Mars-Jupiter 0.10’ = 7’

 

The first of these happened on August 12, 3 BC.  A conjunction of Jupiter (the King Planet) and Venus (the Mother Planet occurred.)  This was a once in 500 year conjunction that made the stars look like they almost touched.  Amazingly this occurred in Leo!  (A star shall come out of Jacob.)  This certainly caught their attention.

As the Magi continued to watch the sky, Jupiter continued its path of conjunctions.  On September 14, 3 BC, Yom Teruah (Rosh Hashanah), it moved into conjunction with Regulus.  The King planet in conjunction with the Messiah star.  Interestingly  this occurred on the very night that the constellation Virgo the virgin (Mary) was clothed in the sun (the sun is in Virgo in September) and the moon was at her feet.  In Revelation, John describes the scene that very night:

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars;  and she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth. (Rev. 12: 1 -2 NASB)

Then incredibly two more conjunctions of Regulus and Jupiter occurred, the first in February and the second in May.  In both of these the moon entered the dance on just those nights “hiding” the star Regulus.  In eastern astronomy, the moon is known as the mother and in some circles today is still called “mother Mary.”  To the Magi these 3 conjunctions of the King planet and Messiah star said “king, king, king” or maybe “king of kings.”

Then on June 17, 2 BC, a second once in 500 year conjunction of Jupiter and Venus occurred.  Amazingly this also appeared in the constellation of Leo! This was the closest approximation of these planets in thousands of years.  It was the brightest “star” to appear in the skies from that day till the present.

Finally in August 2 BC a conjunction of 4 planets occurred in Leo again (Jupiter, Mars, Venus and Mercury).

Some believe Jesus was born or conceived on September 14, 3 BC.  Interestingly it appears the Magi and King Herod didn’t know if that date was conception or birth either.  When Herod asked the Magi when the star had first appeared he used it to approximate Jesus’ age.  He chose kill babies with an upper range of two years of age just in case the September 3 BC was the date of his birth and a lower range of “under” two years of age in case it was his conception.

But either way there can be no doubt that the Magi, who were astronomers, had never seen anything like the conjunction display of this time period.  They mounted their camels and rode to Israel.

The Gifts

Christians have long understood that the gifts the Magi brought to Jesus were “perfect” reflections of his ministry:  King (gold), High Priest (frankincense) and sacrifice (myrrh used to embalm a body.)   The question is how did the Magi understand this ministry when those in Israel did not.  Again the answer is probably Daniel.  The most mysterious of the gifts was myrrh used in embalming.  A very strange gift to give a baby.  But Daniel’s prophecy of the seventy weeks clearly shows that the Messiah will be “cut off” (die) but not for himself.  (He died for us all!)

And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself.  (Dan. 9: 26 NKJV)

The question at hand now is did Daniel’s writings give the Magi a proper understanding of the messiah and cause them to choose these gifts or did Daniel himself set these gifts aside.  Did he place them in treasure trove in wait for six hundred years for the day he foresaw in his vision?

These were the gifts of a wealthy man.  Was Daniel wealthy enough to leave these gifts as an inheritance?  We have learned already that Nebuchadnezzar made Daniel Chief of the Magi.  Later he was made chief administrator of two kingdoms, both Babylon and Persia under four different kings  (Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius and Cyrus).  He was an imminently wealthy man and yet he didn’t have an heir.  He was most likely a eunuch.   Nebuchadnezzar entrusted all the young Hebrew captives to the “Master of the Eunuchs” in Daniel 1:3.  Being wealth and having no heir would make it completely likely that Daniel might leave his fortune as an inheritance to give to the messiah.

This is a tradition that known throughout the Middle East.  That Daniel did leave his vast fortune to provide for the study of astronomy among the Magi and for gifts for them to carry to the messiah upon his birth.  The Bible doesn’t collaborate this tradition.  We will never truly know if it’s true until we ask Daniel ourselves in the millennial kingdom.  Personally I hope it is true.  I think it adds to the character of one of God’s greatest saints that even in his death he provided all he had for his Messiah.

As you may know, this blog primarily focuses on events leading up to Jesus’ second coming and his millennial kingdom.  This story has a few implications for those times.  The first is that Jesus will receive gifts during his millennial reign of both gold and frankincense.  Myrrh will be excluded because his death was once for all! (Isa. 60: 1-6).

In my next post we’ll look at the Christmas story in Revelation 12 and it’s further implications for the end times.

 

9 thoughts on “Did Daniel Provide the Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh for the Magi?”

  1. Nelson:

    Thank you for such an interesting article and the insights into these mysterious kings from the “east.” I am particularly intrigued by the possibility that Daniel himself left an “inheritance” of gifts for a later time. I do believe that the magi who visited Jesus did know something of the prophecies concerning his first advent based on Daniel. I also share your anticipation of speaking with Daniel in eternity! Daniel is undoubtedly one of my favorite books, and his life is a very compelling example to us on how to live in an ungodly world. That he was “highly esteemed” tells me that Jesus loved him very much. He was a precious man of God.

    For several years now, during the month of December, I pull out a wonderful study, “The Nativity”, by Montague “Monty” S. Mills. I love this study, because it focuses on what the Scriptures tell us rather than what we see on Christmas cards, and establishes the facts of this event “so as to eliminate the accumulated frills and myths”, as Mills writes. It is a study of the Gospel record of Jesus Christ’s birth and God’s meticulous planning of every detail of this momentous event. I never ceased to be amazed by this! Truly, God is a God of details; nothing is coincidence.

    In his exposition on the magi (based on Matthew 2:1-12), Mills also notes their possible knowledge of Daniel’s prophecies. Regarding where they might have come from, Mills writes this:

    “Pliny writes of magi in Chaldea, Egypt, Armenia, Ethiopia, and Gaul; of these only Chaldea lies east of Palestine, so is the only area that fits [Luke] 2:1.”

    This is very interesting and intriguing, and it actually makes sense, because Ur of the Chaldees is where Abram, renamed Abraham, to whom the Everlasting Covenant was given, came from. Again, there are no coincidences with God.

    Mills writes that the magi’s gifts represent “a Gentile tribute to their King, a tribute offered in faith by these men who were wise indeed. The Gentile acknowledgment of, and Jewish apathy at, Jesus’ advent foreshadowed the events reported in Acts and subsequent history. These gifts were received just in time to finance the flight into Egypt, so God provided for His Son! Frankincense was used to compound the exclusive fragrance for the inner sanctum, the Most Holy Place, God’s residence on earth (Exod. 30:34-38), so this gift was a supreme act of worship recognizing that God truly was with us (Immanuel). Myrrh was a valuable gum resin, and was used as a spice or medicine (this myrrh is not to be confused with Old Testament myrrh, a different gum) and was used in embalming Jesus (John 19:39-40). The common feature of these three gifts is that they were traditionally given to royalty; so the magi acknowledged Jesus’ kingship–His right to rule over Gentiles.”

    Regarding the star, Mills writes, in part:

    “The Greek New Testament uses two words for star, ‘astron’ and ‘asteer.’ “Astron’ always means an astronomical body, but this is not so for ‘asteer,’ which clearly denotes an angel in Rev,. 1:20. Notably, an angel makes better sense wherever ‘asteer’ is used. So the ‘star’ the magi saw could have been an angel. This would explain how a ‘star’ could stand so precisely over Jesus’ home that it directed the magi to this particular house. Popular theories suggesting that this ‘star’ was a conjunction of Venus and Jupiter or Mercury, etc., all falter on this point, for they cannot explain how a celestial phenomenon identified a particular house in Bethlehem. Dependent on the viewer’s position, it would have appeared to stand over every home in the city, just as the moon appears to move with you on a night stroll.”

    Mills expands on the star, writing:

    “The ‘asteer’ did not lead the magi to Jerusalem, but merely appeared in the east (apparently their home country), for it reappeared when they left Jerusalem and then led them to Jesus (v.9). This second appearance suggests that the ‘asteer’ was silent on both occasions. Acts 7:2 reports a similar event from twenty-one centuries earlier in the same locale, ‘The God of Glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia’; and ‘glory’ echoes Luke 2:9, which is associated with an angel! Presumably, the magi needed to research the phenomenon they had witnessed so as to grasp its meaning, because, like its appearance to Abram, it gave no instruction (their knowledge was imperfect because they went to Jerusalem, not Bethlehem). This research led them back to the Abramic event, and thence to the Scriptures the Jews had brought into exile into their area. This research, maybe including Daniel (himself was a magus), made them realize the event to which their attention was being drawn was the Messiah’s advent–whom the Jews expected. Moreover, the timetable in Dan. 9:24-25 provided tentative confirmation that the time was rip for the Messiah’s advent. Having reached this conclusion they naturally assumed the Messiah, the Jewish King, would be born in the Jewish capital and thus went to Jerusalem.”

    I apologize for going on so long about this study, but it has always been a blessing and encouragement to me. The prophecies of the Bible establish its veracity and reliability.

    Mills is now an elderly gentleman (my sister heard him speak in Ann Arbor, MI several years ago), and if he is still living he can be contacted at the address below; he is a delightful gentleman (he is from South Africa), and is very pleasant to talk to.

    M.S. Mills
    3E Ministries
    6839 Carolyncrest Drive, Dallas, TX 75214
    (214) 821-3258

    Blessings,
    Jeanne

  2. Thank-you Nelson. This is wonderful about the Daniel, Magi, Star, Gifts! I’ve been thinking about the Star & the Magi for a few days!

    I have been studying Daniel for about 3 weeks and I’m in tune with Daniel and the imagery. A few days ago – I thought I would flip over to see what was cooking on Joel R’s blog………..and found your link. What would I find but “APOCALYPTIC EVANGELISM” on your blog……no less! Wow! I knew the you guys who study the end times would come through – when we evan types really need all these goodies cooked down and served up! I will be reading all your articles! Hallelujah!

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