The night of Jesus birth, a host of angels appeared to the shepherds watching the flocks just outside of Bethlehem and sang their heavenly chorus, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14) Peace! The Hebrew word is shalom (שָׁלוֹם). The world at the time of Jesus’ birth was anything but peaceful, so I am sure the shepherds were pleasantly surprised to hear the angels announcement.
Matthew chapter 2 sets the political stage of the time of Jesus’ birth: “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.
” (Matthew 2:1-2) Herod’s father was Antipater, also known as Antipas, who was appointed by Julius Caesar as the first Roman Procurator of Judea. Antipater (and thus Herod) was an Idumaean. Idumea
is the Greek name for Edom and was located south of Judea and the Dead Sea. So Herod was an Edomite – a descendant of Esau! Although a great architect and builder, Herod was a ruthless man and had his own wife and son murdered due to his insecurity. Perhaps this explains why Herod was “troubled”, rather than happy, when the Magi from Persia arrived in Jerusalem asking about the newborn Jewish king. (Matthew 2:3) Herod would allow no rivals! Thus anyone that he viewed as a threat met with death. With a man like this in charge of Judea, the political climate was anything but peaceful! Thus the shepherd’s surprise at the angel’s announcement that there would be peace on earth! Peace? After living with such a tyrant as Herod?
Approximately 2,000 years prior to the angel’s announcement that night in Bethlehem, God had made a promise to Abraham concerning his descendants (Genesis 12 & 17). Later God confirmed His covenant with Isaac (Genesis 26) and finally as discussed last week – Jacob (Genesis 35). Esau gave up his right to the birthright and the blessing when he “sold” it to Jacob (Genesis 25). Esau gave up the right for his descendants to be kings in Israel. Instead, this would go to Jacob’s descendants (Gen. 35:11): “And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins.” The Hebrew word for ‘king’ is me-lek (מֶ֣לֶךְ). [Note: By adding the letter hey (ה) to this word we have the word for ‘queen’ – mal-ka (מַלְכָּה).] Perhaps the reason that Herod was so insecure was because he held a kingship that was not his by right. Being a son of Esau, he had no right to be a king in Israel! That right belonged only to a son of Jacob (Israel) through the house of David. And that was the right of the king that had been born in Bethlehem whom the Magi from Persia came to visit! This is why Matthew takes the time in chapter one to list the very important genealogy of Jesus.
The Scripture does not say exactly where in the ‘east’ the wise men
were from, but the largest city east of Jerusalem was Babylon. The Babylonians were well known as astronomers. [Astronomy is the science of the study of the stars.] God sent the wise men a special star because they studied the stars and would know it was different. I am so glad that God speaks to us on “our level” (whatever that level is!) The wise men also perhaps had a few other important clues to aid them. Remember that the prophet Daniel lived in the same Persia during the time of King Nebuchadnezzar and his book is no doubt the most important book of prophecy in the whole Bible. He gave explicit times for the coming of the Messiah. Since he also served as a high government official in the palace in Shushan, Babylon, his writings would have been preserved in the royal Persian library and available for the Persian wise men to read hundreds of years later. [Note: Daniel wrote his prophecy approx. 500 years before Jesus was born.] Finally, one of the magi’s own “peers”, Balaam, had given an ancient prophecy that Moses recorded in the T’nakh: “…there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel.” (Numbers 24:17) Although Balaam lived long before the magi, he was from the same general area of Mesopotamia.
Armed with ancient prophecies and the appearance of the new star, the wise men set out with their caravans on the very long journey across the desert to Jerusalem, the capital of Israel searching for the new king. [Note: it would have taken them several months – perhaps even a year to travel this distance.] At Herod’s request, the Jewish scribes and pharisees told the magi that the Messiah would actually be born, “in Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet.” (Matthew 2:4-6) They were referring to the prophecy in Micah 5:2 that had been written approx. 400 years earlier. “But 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 ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” The question remains, ‘Why did God send a star to wise men in far away Persia to let them know the King of the Jews had been born?’ The answer lies in the Scriptures. The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “And ye shall seek me, [God] and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.” (Jer. 29:13) The wise men must have been looking for the King so God showed them the way! If we are seeking God, He will work miracles to ensure we find Him. But if our heart is closed to Him, we will be like Herod and the many residents of Bethlehem who had a King in their midst, but did not know it.
What about the world of the shepherds? Did it automatically become a land of peace? Yes and no. The peace the angels spoke of was not a political peace of nations. No, that did not happen. That peace still lies even in our future – during the time of the Millennial kingdom. The Word of God is clear that only when the Messiah comes, will true world peace be possible. The peace that the angels spoke of was peace with God which would flood the hearts of those that trusted the Savior! Notice that first the angel announced, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” (Matthew 2:10-11) First the angel spoke about the Saviour and then he spoke about peace in verse 14. It is the blessed Saviour that brings peace to our heart and without Him, we will not have any in our life. I am so thankful for the many, many times that the Lord brings peace to my own heart during times of loss and grief. So as we approach the season of Christmas, regardless of the turmoil among the nations, we can be assured of peace in our hearts as we look to the Saviour.