According to Genesis, Abraham had two sons before he was 101. Hagar, an Egyptian slave girl gave birth to Ishmael, Abraham’s firstborn. Abraham was eighty-six.
Sarai gave birth to Isaac when Abraham was 100. Because of her jealousy Sarai had Abraham send Ishmael and Hagar away. There could be only be one heir of destiny in Sarai’s mind.
So the young slave girl from Egypt took her son and trekked into the desert where she expected to die. However, the Elohim of the Creation Story heard her silent cry as well as her son’s lament. He sent his angel to save the slave girl and her son.
Ishmael grows into manhood in the wilderness of Paran. Hagar fetches him a wife from Egypt. From Ishmael arose twelve tribes like Isaac’s son, Jacob, would have.
The Genesis story does not relate any further interaction between Abraham and Ishmael. In chapter 25 it says that Isaac and Ishmael buried their father. It is obvious that Isaac and Ishmael maintained some sort of communication.
After Sarai’s death Abraham married Keturah. She bore him six sons to whom Abraham bequeathed lands to the East.
The sons of Ishmael and the sons of Keturah settled the Land of the East. They became the Arabians.
In the Gospel of Matthew is related the story of the Magi, the wise men of the East, who came to Jerusalem to find the King of the Jews because they had seen his star. They visited the royal palace of Herod the Great to seek this new king. Herod, being the seasoned politician and deranged man that he was, summoned the doctors of the law to answer the question of these visiting dignities.
He asked the Magi to return to him after they found the new king so that he could do him homage. As we know, his real intention was to kill any potential usurper of his dynasty which he had built on the blood of the innocent.
The wise men found the baby in Bethlehem and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. In a dream they were warned of Herod’s treachery and returned to the East via an alternate route.
The account does not give the precise number of wise men. The three gifts have given rise to the legend they were three. Nowhere does it state they were kings of the East. This is legend as well.
Based on traditions they were Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar. The gold represented royalty; the frankincense was a symbol of divinity and the myrrh was a foreshadowing of the death of the Messiah.
Were the Magi the descendants of Ishmael and Keturah? Or were they travellers from a far distant East?
The star which guided them appeared in the sky above their home two years before they reached Jerusalem. Two years of journeying from their home would place them in ancient India, Tibet and China—the Orient, not the Middle East. A direct flight from Jerusalem to Shanghai is about 5000 miles. On land travel two thousand years ago the terrain would have been time consuming across land. By boat it would have been faster.
Matthew makes no mention of their lineage. Their entourage must have been impressive to a lowly ruler like Herod. Communication did not seem to be a problem between the Roman World and the Eastern World.
In the final analysis we don’t know who these wise men were. It is one of those mysteries surrounding the birth of a child who would affect the destinies of man and women for the next two thousand years.
In our next post we will take a look at the Star of Bethlehem. What was it that caused a two year journey to a Western foreign land by these Easterners?
G. D. Williams © 2011