From Babylon to Bethlehem

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“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, 'Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’”[1]

We all know that wise men came from the East to worship Jesus after He was born. But do we know why? What caused these men from Babylon to search for Jesus in Bethlehem?

The wise men are generally believed to be the descendants of Medes and Persians from Babylon in Daniel’s day. This idea comes from Daniel’s description of the roles of wise men in the Babylonian kingdom at the time of his captivity. These positions required knowledge which included astrology.[2] The wise men looked to the stars, but how did they come to believe that following this particular star would bring them to the birth place of the King of the Jews?

“For we saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.”

Remember Balaam, the diviner who was rebuked by a donkey in the book of Numbers?[3] He is also thought to have been from Babylonin Mesopotamia[4] It’s possible, with this connection, that the citizens of Babylon were familiar with the prophecy Balaam gave concerning the Messiah of Israel.

“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab.”[5]

Being astrologers, it was not unusual for the Babylonian wise men to look to the sky for signs of significant events, especially being aware of the prophecy about a star rising from Israel. But how would they have known the timing of this rising star and when to look for it?

In His intimate foreknowledge, God determined to inform the people of Babylon about His coming Son by allowing the prophet Daniel to be captured and educated among the men of Babylon. Daniel’s captivity was used by God to become the greatest hope for the people who imprisoned him. By Daniel earning a reputation as a man with more insight than all of the king’s magicians and astrologers,[6] the king put stock in what Daniel had to say and promoted him to chief of all the wise men.[7] Because of the validation of his prophecies, when Daniel foretold another event - the eventual death of the Messiah - that would happen more than five centuries later, the Babylonians had every reason to believe it would come to pass.

The wise men from the east believed that following this particular star would bring them to the King of the Jews who they desired to worship—and it did.

“After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.”[8]

Because Balaam and Daniel were right, wise men from Mesopotamia brought gifts of worship to Jesus. Because Jesus is God, we return to the people of these wise men to bring them the gift of knowledge of the Son of God again in our generation![9]


Jordan Scott lives in a Muslim-majority country with his wife and two children, where he serves as Director of Community Development and the Emmaus Intensive. He can be reached by email at


[1] Matthew 2:1-2
[2] Daniel 2:2
[3] Numbers 22:22-35
[4] Deuteronomy 23:4
[5] Numbers 24:17
[6] Daniel 2:47
[7] Daniel 2:48
[8] Matthew 2:9-11
[9] The Kurdish people are believed to be the modern descendants of Medes and Persians from Babylon at the time of Daniel.