The Epiphany (Mt 2:11-2:11)

“The Magi

Knelt down.

They paid homage

To the child.

They worshiped him.

Then,

Opening their treasures,

They offered him gifts

Of gold,

Of frankincense,

Of myrrh.”

 

καὶ πεσόντες προσεκύνησαν αὐτῷ, καὶ ἀνοίξαντες τοὺς θησαυροὺς αὐτῶν προσήνεγκαν αὐτῷ δῶρα, χρυσὸν καὶ λίβανον καὶ σμύρναν

 

This is the classic scene of the Epiphany of Jesus, with the magi, the 3 kings, the wise men adoring and worshiping the new born infant Jesus.  The magi entered the house.  They knelt down and worshipped the new child (πεσόντες προσεκύνησαν αὐτῷ).  Then they opened their treasures (ἀνοίξαντες τοὺς θησαυροὺς αὐτῶν).  They offered him gifts (προσήνεγκαν αὐτῷ δῶρα) of gold (χρυσὸν), frankincense (λίβανον), and myrrh (σμύρναν).  These were the same traditional gifts mentioned in Isaiah, chapter 60:6, gold and frankincense, an expensive spice.  Myrrh was a perfume.  So too, Epiphany, ἐπιφάνεια, means manifestation or appearance.  In classical Greek, it was a manifestation of a deity to a worshiper.  Thus, Jesus manifests himself to these worshipping magi.  The earliest references to the Christian feast of Epiphany come from the 4th century CE.  In the Latin-speaking Western Christianity, this holiday emphasized the visit of the magi, who represented the non-Jewish people of the world.  Thus, this child Jesus was considered a revelation to the gentiles.  In the middle ages, these biblical magi or magicians became the 3 kings, as a whole story developed around them.  Balthasar was the youngest one, bearing frankincense that symbolized the divinity of Jesus, representing Africa.  Caspar was middle-aged one bearing gold that symbolized the royalty of Jesus, representing Asia.  Melchior the oldest one, bearing myrrh symbolized the passion of Jesus, representing Europe.  For many years, and still in some non-English speaking countries today, Epiphany was and is a bigger feast day than Christmas, celebrating the birth of Jesus and his revelation to the world.

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The king explains the situation to Daniel (Dan 5:15-5:16)

“‘Now the wise men,

The enchanters,

Have been brought in

Before me

To read this writing.

They were to tell me

Its interpretation.

But they were not able

To give the interpretation

Of the matter.

But I have heard

That you can give

Interpretations.

You can

Solve problems.

Now if you able

To read the writing,

If you are able

To tell me

Its interpretation,

You shall be clothed

In purple.

You shall have

A chain of gold

Around your neck.

You shall rank third

In the kingdom.’”

The king explained to Daniel that the wise men and enchanters of Babylon were not able to read this writing on the wall. Thus, they were not able to give its interpretation. However, the king had heard that Daniel was capable of giving interpretations and solving problems. Then he made the same offer that he had made to the others. If Daniel was able to read and interpret this writing, he would be clothed in purple, the sign of royalty. He would then have a chain of gold around his neck, indicating that he was the 3rd in command in the kingdom of Babylon, after himself and his father.

The rewards for Daniel and his friends (Dan 2:48-2:49)

“Then the king

Promoted Daniel.

He gave him

Many great gifts.

He made him ruler

Over the whole province

Of Babylon.

He became

The chief prefect

Over all the wise men

Of Babylon.

Daniel made a request

Of the king.

He appointed

Shadrach,

Meshach,

With Abednego,

Over the affairs

Of the province

Of Babylon.

But Daniel remained

At the king’s court.”

Much like Joseph in Egypt in Genesis, chapters 40-41, Daniel received a reward in the government of Babylon. King Nebuchadnezzar made him the ruler over the whole province of Babylon, as well as the chief prefect in charge of all the wise men in Babylon. In other words, Daniel was running Babylon. He then had his 3 companions, named to the various Babylonian provinces. This was a complete takeover of the Babylonian government by these 4 Judeans. However, they may have lost some of their beliefs, since they now had the 3 Babylonian names of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that were given to them, not their Judean names. Notice that Daniel stayed at the king’s court.

Yahweh is the great one (Jer 10:6-10:7)

“There is none like you!

Yahweh! You are great!

Your name is great in might!

Who would not fear you?

O King of the nations!

That is your due.

Among all the wise ones of the nations,

In all their kingdoms,

There is no one like you.”

Jeremiah proclaims in strong terms that there is no one like Yahweh, his God. Yahweh is great. Everyone should fear Yahweh. Thus they should give him his due, since he is the king of all the nations. Even among all the wise men, in all the various kingdoms, there is no one like Yahweh.

The weakness of the Egyptian wise sages (Isa 19:11-19:15)

“The princes of Zoan

Are utterly foolish.

The wise counselors of Pharaoh

Give stupid counsel.

How can you say to Pharaoh?

‘I am one of the sages.

I am a descendant of the ancient kings.’

Where now are your sages?

Let them tell you!

Let them make known!

What has Yahweh of hosts

Planned against Egypt?

The princes of Zoan

Have become fools.

The princes of Memphis

Are deluded.

Those who are the cornerstones

Of its tribes

Have led Egypt astray.

Yahweh has poured into them

A spirit of confusion.

They have made Egypt

Stagger in all its doings.

They are as a drunken man

Staggers around in vomit.

Neither head nor tail,

Palm branch or reed,

Will be able to do

Something for Egypt.”

Now Isaiah attacks the wise sages of Egypt since he calls them stupid. Isaiah mentions the capital cities of Egypt, Zoan in the north and Memphis in the south. The princes and the wise men in these places were giving stupid advice. These wise sages had no idea what Yahweh was planning for them since they were like deluded fools. They were supposed to be the cornerstones of their tribes, but they were really in confusion. In colorful language, Isaiah says that they were like drunkards staggering around in their own vomit. Nobody could do anything for Egypt, head, tail, palm branch, or reed. The rulers were the head and palm trees, while the tail and the reed represented the ordinary people. They were all getting foolish stupid advice from their so-called wise sages.