Some critics have accused Ellen White of plagiarizing the contents of The Desire of Ages from the writings of various authors. But, did she really? Below is an analysis of the alleged comparisons.
It has been noted by students of plagiarism that one can make a work look plagiarized when it is not by carefully using ellipses and discarding all the material that is different. What we want to do is determine whether the critics did a fair analysis, or whether their comparisons actually distorted reality. Accordingly, we have coded the text so that you, the reader, can easily come to your own conclusion. Paragraphs that are not coded means that neither the critics, nor Dr. Veltman and his team of researchers, could not, or did not, find anything worthy of note.
Material in Ellen G. White that is an exact, word-for-word match to her alleged source.
Material in Ellen G. White that is similar to her alleged source.
Words that are either an exact, or similar, match of the source, but are also an exact, or similar, match to Biblical material.
Material that is represented in either Rea's book or Dr. Veltman's study by an ellipsis.
Material dropped from the beginning or end of the paragraph of the alleged source in Rea's book.
Material clipped from the beginning or end of a sentence in Rea's book, without giving the reader any indication of such. (Either a capital letter or a period appears where it should not, hiding the fact that material is missing.)
Material that was mis-capitalized or mis-abbreviated in Rea.
Typical author's caveat: all errors are, of course, mine. If you find any errors please let me know and I'll fix them.
|W. Hanna The Life of Christ. (1863), page 41.||Ellen G. White The Desire of Ages. (1898)|
THREE striking incidents marked the birth and infancy of our Lord; first, the midnight appearance of the angelic host to the shepherds on the plains of Bethlehem, and their visit to the village in which the great birth had that night occurred; second, the presentation of Jesus as a first-born child in the Temple, and the testimony there given to him in the prophetic utterances of Simeon and Anna; and third, the visit of the wise men from the East, and the worship and offerings which they presented to the new-born child. Each of these had its special wonders; in each a supernatural attestation to the greatness of the event was given; and woven together, they form the wreath of heavenly glory hung by the divine hand around the infancy of the son of Mary.
It is impossible to determine the date of the visit of the wise men. It must have occurred not long after the birth, while Joseph and Mary still lingered in Bethlehem, and it is of little moment whether we place it before or after the presentation in the Temple at Jerusalem. The epithet by which Matthew describes to us these Eastern strangers is not so vague and indefinite as it seems in our translation. He calls them Magi from the East. The birthplace and natural home of the magian worship was in Persia. And there the Magi had a place and power such as the Chaldamans had in Babylon, the Hierophants in Egypt, the Druids in Gaul, and the Brahmins still have in India. They formed a tribe or caste, priestly in office, princely in rank. They were the depositaries of nearly all the knowledge or science existing in the country where they lived; they were the first professors and practisers of astrology, worshippers of the sun and the other heavenly bodies, from whose appearance and movements they drew their divination as to earthly events--all illustrious births below, being indicated, as they deemed, by certain peculiar conjunctions of the stars above. Both as priests and diviners they had great power. They formed in fact the most influential section of the community. In political affairs their influence was predominant. The education of royalty was in their hands; they filled all the chief offices of state; they constituted the supreme counsel of the realm. As originally applied to this Median priest-caste, the term Magi was one of dignity and honor. Afterwards, when transferred to other countries,
Page 42and employed to designate not that peculiar sacerdotal order, but all persons of whatever description who were professors of astrology and practisers of divination, as these astrologers and diviners sunk in character, and had recourse to all kinds of mean imposture, the name of magian or magician was turned into one of dishonor and reproach. There seems no reason, however, to doubt that it was in its earlier and honorable meaning that it is used in the Gospel narrative.
Remarkable passages, both from Roman and Jewish writers,* have been quoted which inform us that at the period of our Saviour's birth there prevailed generally over the East, in regions remote from Palestine, a vague but strong belief that one born in Judea was to arise and rule the world. Popularly this expectation was confined to the appearance of some warrior chief who, by the might of his victorious arms, was to subdue the nations under him. But there were many then in every land, whose faith in their old hereditary religions had been undermined; who, from those Jews now scattered everywhere abroad, had learned some of the chief elements of the pure Israelitish faith; and half embracing it, had risen to a desire and hope which took a higher ground, and who, in this expected king that was to spring out of Judah, were ready to hail a spiritual guide and deliverer. Such, we believe, were the Magi of Matthew's narrative. Balaam, a man of their own or a kindred tribe, in their own or in a neighboring country, had centuries before foretold that a star should come out of Jacob, and a sceptre rise out of Israel. Numb. 24:17. This and other of those old Jewish prophecies which pointed to the same event may have in some form or other reached their ears, preparing them for the birth of one who in the first instance was to be the king of the Jews, but whose kingdom was to connect itself with other than mere earthly interests, to have intimate relationships with man's highest hopes and his eternal destiny. Sharing the general hope, but with that hope purified and exalted, let us believe that these Magi were earnestly, devoutly, waiting the coming of this new king of the Jews and of mankind. Their office and occupation led them to the nightly study of the starry heavens; but still as they gazed and speculated and divined, they felt that it was not from that glittering broad-spread page of wonders hung above their heads that any clear or satisfying information as to the divine character and purposes was to be derived. Much as they fancied they could glean from them as to man's earthly fortunes, what could the bright mute stars tell them of the eternal destinies of those unnumbered human spirits which beneath their light were, generation after generation,
Page 43passing away into the world beyond the grave? How often may the deep sigh of disappointment have risen from the depths of these men's hearts, as to all their earnest interrogatories not a word of distinct response was given, and the heavens they gazed on kept the untold secret locked in their capacious bosom. But the sigh of the earnest seeker after truth, like the sigh of the lowly, penitent, and contrite heart, never rises to the throne of heaven in vain. Many errors may have mingled with those men's religious opinions, much superstition have been in their religious worship, but God met in mercy the truth-seeking spirit in the midst of its errors, and made its very superstition pave the way to faith.
One night, as those Magi stood watching their cloudless skies, their practised eye detected a new-come stranger among the stars. The appearance of new stars is no novelty to the astronomer. We have authentic records of stars of first magnitude, rivalling in their brilliance the brightest of our old familiar planets, shining out suddenly in places where no star had been seen before, and after a season vanishing away. Singular conjunctions of the planets have also been occasionally observed, some of which are known to have occurred about the time of the Redeemer's birth. It may possibly have been some such strange appearance in the heavens that attracted the eyes of the wise men. It is said, however, in the narrative, that the star went before them till it came and stood over where the young child was. Understanding this as implying an actual and visible movement of the star--that it went, lantern-like, before them on their way, and indicated in some way, as by a finger of pointing light, the very spot where they were to find the child--as no such function could be discharged by any of the ordinary inhabitants of the heavens, all about its appearance must be taken as supernatural, and we must regard it as some star-like meteor shining in our lower atmosphere. But be it what it might, however kindled, whatever curiosity its strange appearance might excite--though the Magi, penetrated by the popular belief, might naturally enough have regarded it as an omen of the great expected birth--the star could of itself tell nothing. However miraculous its appearance, if left without an interpreter, it was but a dumb witness after all. The conviction is almost forced upon us that, in addition to the external sign, there was some divine communication made to these Magi, informing them of the errand which the star was commissioned to discharge. But why the double indication of the birth--the star without, the revelation made within? Why, but as an evidence and illustration of the care and gracious condescension of Him who not only to the spiritual commu-
Page 44nication added the external sign, to be a help to the weak, infant, staggering faith, but who, in the very shaping of that outward sign, was pleased to accommodate himself to these men's earthly calling; and while to Mary and to the shepherds-Jews living in a land where stories of angelic manifestations were current angels were sent to make announcement of the Redeemer's birth, to those astrologers of the East he sends a star, meeting them in their own familiar walks, showing itself among the divinities of their erring worship, gently to lead them into His presence to whom the world's true worship was to be given.
But when this star appeared, and after they understood what its presence betokened, was it a spontaneous impulse on their part to go and do homage to the new-born King, or did He who revealed the birth enjoin the journey? Whatever the prompting, human or divine, on which they acted, it does not appear that in the first instance anything beyond the general information was communicated, that somewhere in Judea the birth had taken place. The star, it would appear, did not go before them all the way, for in that case they would not have needed to institute any further inquiry. Its first office discharged, the star disappeared, leaving them to have recourse to such common sources of information as lay open to them. It was at Jerusalem, in the capital of the country over which this new-born King was to reign; it was there, if anywhere, the needed intelligence was to be obtained. To Jerusalem, therefore, they repair. Entering the holy city, they put eagerly and expectantly the question, "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."
The question takes the startled city by surprise. No one here has seen the star, no one here has heard about this king. The tidings of the arrival of those distinguished strangers, and of the question which they asked, are carried quickly to the palace, and circulate rapidly through the city. Herod is troubled. The usurper trembles on his throne. Has a new claimant, with better title to that throne, indeed been born? How comes it, if it be so, that he has never heard of such a birth? Has treachery been already busy at its work; have they been concealing from him this event? Have the enemies of himself and of his family been cloaking thus their projects, waiting only for the fit time to strike the blow, and hurl him from his seat? The blood he had already shed to reach that height begins to cry for vengeance, and spectres of the slaughtered dead shake their terrors in his face. Herod's trouble at the tidings we well can understand, but why was it that all Jerusalem was troubled along with him?
Page 45Was it the simple fear of change, the terror of another revolution; the knowledge of Herod's jealous temper and bloodthirsty disposition; the alarm lest his vindictive spirit might prompt to some new deed of cruelty, in order to cut off this rival? If so, how low beneath the yoke of tyranny must the spirit of those citizens of Jerusalem have sunk; how completely, for the time, must the selfish have absorbed the patriotic sentiment in their breasts!
But whatever alarm he felt, whatever dark purposes were brooding in his heart, Herod at first concealed them. He must know more about this affair, get some information before he acts. He calls together the chief priests and the scribes, and at no loss, apparently, to identify the King of the Jews that the Magi asked about, with the Christ the Messiah of ancient prophecy, he demands of them where Christ should be born. As little at a loss, they lay their hand at once upon the prophecy of Micah, which pointed to Bethlehem as the birthplace. Furnished with this information, the king invites the magi to a private interview, conveys to them the information he had himself received, and concealing his sinister designs, sends them off to Bethlehem to search diligently for the child, and when they had found him, to bring him word again, that he too, as he falsely said, might go and worship him.
Let us pause a moment here to reflect upon the impression which this visit to Jerusalem, and the state of things discovered there, was fitted to make upon these eastern visitors. It must surely have surprised them to come among the very people over whom this new-born King was to rule, to enter the capital of their country, the city of the chief priests and scribes by whom, if by any, an event so signal should have been known, and to find there no notice, no knowledge of the birth; to find instead, that they, coming from a strange land, professors of another faith, are the first to tell these Jews of the advent of their own king. It must have done more than surprise them; they too, in their turn, must have been troubled and perplexed, to see how the announcement, when it was made, was received; to see such jealousy, such alarm; and, at the last, so great incredulity or indifference, that near as Bethlehem was, and interesting as was the object of their visit to it, there were none among those inhabitants of Jerusalem who cared to accompany them. Was there nothing here to awaken doubt, for such faith as theirs to stagger at? Might they not have been deceived? Perhaps it was a delusion they had listened to; a deceitful appearance they had seen in their own land. Had these Magi been men of a weak faith or an infirm purpose, they might, instead of going on to Bethlehem, have gone forth
Page 46despondingly and distrustfully from Jerusalem, and taken their way back to their own homes. But strange and perplexing as all this is, it neither shakes their faith nor affects their conduct. They had good reason to believe that the communication at first made to them came to them from God, and once satisfied of this, no conduct on the part of others, however unaccountable or inconsistent, moves them away from the beginning of their confidence. Though all the dwellers in Jerusalem be troubled at tidings which should have been to them tidings of great joy; though not a Jew be ready to join them, or to bid them Godspeed ere they leave the city's gate, to Bethlehem they go.
But a new perplexity arises. Somewhere in that village the birth has taken place, but who shall tell them where? If the inhabitants of the capital knew and cared so little about the matter, what help will they get from the villagers at Bethlehem? They may require to search diligently, as Herod bade them, and yet, after all, the search may be vain. Just then, in the midst of their perplexity, the star which they had seen in the east once more shone out above their heads to go before them till it stood over where the young child lay. No wonder that when they saw that star, they rejoiced with an exceeding great joy. It dispelled all doubt, it relieved from all perplexity. When first they saw it in the east, it wore the face of a stranger among old friends; now it wears the face of an old friend among strangers, and they hail it as we hail a friend we thought was lost, but who comes to us at the very time we need him most.
Let us note the contrast, as to the mode and measure of divine guidance given, between the Magi from the East, and the shepherds of Bethlehem and the Chief Priests and Scribes of Jerusalem. The shepherds were as sincere, perhaps more devout than the wise men; understanding better who and what the Messiah was to be, and longing more ardently for his coming; but they were uneducated men, men at least whose position and occupation prevented them from instituting independent inquiries of their own. They were left to find out nothing: to them a full revelation was at once given. Such minute information was furnished as to the time and place and circumstances of the birth, that they were enabled, with little or no inquiry, to proceed directly to the place where the young child lay. The Magi, on the other hand, were men of intelligence, education, wealth. They had the leisure, and they possessed all the means for prosecuting an independent research. To them no such full and minute directory of conduct was supplied. What they could not learn otherwise than by a divine revelation, was in that way commu-
Page 47nicated, but what they could learn by the use of ordinary means, they were left in that way to find out. They repair to, and they exhaust all the common sources of knowledge which lie open to them. They go to Jerusalem as to the likeliest place; they get there the information as to the place of the Lord's birth; they act upon the information thus obtained up to the furthest limit to which it can carry them. They tarry not in the unbelieving city, as many might have done, till further light was given them. They turn not the incredulity of others into a ground of doubt, nor the incompleteness of the intelligence afforded into a ground of discouragement and delay. They know now that somewhere in Bethlehem the object of their search is to be found, and if they fail in finding him, it will be in Bethlehem that the failure shall take place. Nor is it till they are on their way to that village, that the star of heavenly guidance once more appears; but then it does appear, and sends gladness into their hearts.
And have we not all, as followers of the Crucified, another and higher journey to perform; a journey not to the place of the Saviour's earthly birth, but that of his heavenly dwelling? And if, on that journey, we act as those men did, God will deal with us as he dealt with them. The path before us may be often hidden in obscurity; our lights may go out by the way; we may know as little of what the next stage is to reveal, as those men knew at Jerusalem what awaited them in their path to Bethlehem; but if, like them, we hold on our course, unmoved by the example of others; if we follow the light given us to the farthest point to which that light can carry us, then on us too, when lights all fail, and we seem about to be left in utter darkness, some star of heavenly guidance will arise, at sight of which we shall rejoice with an exceeding joy. Unto those that are thus upright, there shall arise light in the darkness; and to him that ordereth thus his conversation aright, God shall show his salvation.
But look, now, at the chief priests and scribes of the holy city, into whose hands the ancient oracles of God had been specially committed. They could tell at once, from the prophecies of Micah, the place of the Messiah's birth; and they could almost as readily and as accurately from the prophecies of Daniel have known the time of his advent. To them, as furnished already with sufficient means of information, no supernatural communication of any kind is made; to them no angel comes; no star appears, no sign is given. Had they but used aright the means already in their hands, they should have been waiting for the coming of the Lord, with ears all open to catch the first faint rumors, which must have reached Jerusalem from a village not
Page 48more than six miles off, of what the shepherds saw and heard; they should have been out to Bethlehem before these Magi came, ready to welcome those visitors from a far country, and to conduct them into the presence of their new-born King. But they neglected, they abused the privileges they possessed; and now, as the proper fruit of their own doings, not only is the same kind of information supplied to others denied to them, but the very way in which they are first informed works disastrously, and excites hostile prejudices in their breast. "Where is he," these strangers say to them, "who is born King of the Jews?" Has an event like this occurred within a few miles of the metropolis--and they, the heads and rulers of the Jewish people, not know of it! For their first knowledge of it must they be indebted to these foreigners, men ignorant of Judea, unread in their sacred books! A star, forsooth, these men said had appeared to them in the East; was it. to be believed that for them in their land of heathen darkness and superstition such a fresh light should be kindled in the heavens, whilst to God's own appointed priesthood, no discovery of any kind had been made! We discern thus in its very earliest stage, that antipathy to the son of Mary which, beginning in incredulity, and fostered by pride, grew into malignant hatred, and issued in the nailing of Jesus to the cross. And even in the first stages of the course they followed, they appear before us, reaping the fruit of their former doings, and sowing the seeds of their after crimes; for it is thus that the husbandry of wickedness goes on--the seed-time and the harvest, the sowing and the reaping going on together. What a singular spectacle does the proud and jealous priesthood of Judea thus present, learned in the letter of their own Scriptures but wholly ignorant of their spirit; pointing the way to others, not taking a single step in it themselves; types of the nation they belonged to, of the function which the Jews have so largely since discharged--the openers of the door to Gentile inquirers, the closers of that door upon themselves.
We rejoin now the Magi at Bethlehem. They enter the indicated house, and stand before a mother and her child: a mother of very humble appearance; a child clad in simplest attire. Can this, they think, as they look around, be the roof beneath which infant royalty lies cradled! Can that be the child they have come so far to see and worship! Had they known all about that infant which we now know; had they known that an angelic choir had already sung his birth, lading the midnight breezes with a richer freight of melody than they had ever wafted through the skies; had they known that in that little hand which lay folded there in feebleness, in the gentle breath
Page 49which was heaving that infant bosom, the power of omnipotence lay slumbering--that at the touch of the one, the blind eye was to open and the tied tongue to be unloosed--that at the bidding of the other, the wildest elements of nature in their stormiest march were to stand still, devils were to be driven out from their usurped abodes, and the dead to come forth from the sepulchre; had they known that at the death of this Son of Mary, the sun was to be darkened, the rocks were to be rent, and the graves to give up their old inhabitants--that he himself was to burst the barriers of the tomb, and rise in triumph, attended by angel escort, to take his place at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens--we should not have wondered at the ready homage which they rendered to him. But they knew nothing of all this. What they did know we cannot tell. We only know that instantly, in absence of all outward warrant for the act, in spite of the most unpromising appearances, they bow the knee before that undistinguished infant, lower than it bent before the haughty Herod at Jerusalem; bow in adoration such as they never rendered to any earthly sovereign. And that act of worship over, they open their treasures and present to him their gifts: the gold, the frankincense, and the myrrh, the rarest products of the East; an offering such as any monarch might have had presented to him by the ambassadors from any foreign prince. When we take the whole course of these men's conduct into account; when we remember that they had none of the advantages of a Jewish birth or education, of an early acquaintance with the Jewish Scriptures; when we think of their starting on their long and perilous journey with no other object than the making of this single obeisance to the infant Redeemer of mankind; when we look at them standing unmoved, amid all the discouragements of the Jewish metropolis; when we attend them on their solitary way to Bethlehem; when we stand by their side, as beneath that lowly roof they silently worship, and spread out their costly gifts--we cannot but regard their faith as in many of its features unparalleled in the gospel narrative; we cannot but place them in the front rank of that goodly company in whose acts the power and the triumph of a simple faith shine forth.
That single act of homage rendered, they return to their own country, and we hear of them no more. They come like spirits casting no shadow before them; and like spirits they depart, passing away into that obscurity from which they had emerged. But our affection follows them to their native land--would fain penetrate the secret of their after lives and deaths. Did these men see, and hear, and know no more of Jesus? Were they living--when after thirty
Page 50years of profoundest silence, not a rumor of his name going anywhere abroad--tidings came at last of the words he spake, the deeds he did, the death he died? We would fain believe, so far, the quaint old legend of the middle ages, that connects itself with the fancied resting-place of their relics in the Cathedral of Cologne; we would fain believe that they lived to converse with one of the apostles of the Lord, and to receive Christian baptism at his hands. However it may have been, we can scarce believe that He whose star carried them from their eastern homes to Bethlehem, and whose Spirit prompted the worship they then rendered, left them to die in heathen ignorance and unbelief. Let us cherish rather the belief that they who bowed so reverently before the earthly cradle, are now worshipping with a profounder reverence before the heavenly throne.
But what special significance has this incident in the early life of our Redeemer? Why were these men summoned from their distant homes to come so far, to pay that single act of homage to the infant Jesus, and then retire forever from our sight? Why, but that even with the first weak beginnings of the Saviour's earthly life, there might be a foretokening of the wide embrace of that kingdom he came to establish; a first fulfilling of those ancient prophecies which had foretold that the Gentiles should come to this light, and kings to the brightness of its rising; that all they from Sheba should come, bringing gold and incense. These eastern Magi were the earliest ambassadors from heathen lands, the first shadowy precursors of that great company to be gathered in from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, to sit down with Abraham in the kingdom of the just. In these persons, and in their act, the Gentile world, of which they formed a part, gave an early welcome to the Redeemer, and hastened to lay its tribute at his feet. They were in fact--and this should bind them the closer to our hearts--they were our representatives at Bethlehem, making for us Gentiles the first expression of our faith, the first offer of our allegiance. Let us rightly follow up what they did in our name. First, they worshipped, and then they gave the best and richest things they had. The gold, the frankincense, the myrrh, had been of little worth had the worship of the heart not gone before and sanctified the gift. But the gift most appropriately followed the worship. First, then, let us give ourselves to the Lord, our heart the first oblation that we proffer; for the heart once given, the hand will neither be empty nor idle, nor will it grudge the richest thing that it can hold, nor the best service it can render.
"We Have Seen His Star"
"Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea 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."
The wise men from the East were philosophers. They belonged to a large and influential class that included men of noble birth, and comprised much of the wealth and learning of their nation. Among these were many who imposed on the credulity of the people. Others were upright men who studied the indications of Providence in nature, and who were honored for their integrity and wisdom. Of this character were the wise men who came to Jesus.
The light of God is ever shining amid the darkness of heathenism. As these magi studied the starry heavens, and sought to fathom the mystery hidden in their bright paths, they beheld the glory of the Creator. Seeking clearer knowledge, they turned to the Hebrew Scriptures. In their own land were treasured prophetic writings that predicted the coming of a divine teacher. Balaam belonged to the magicians, though at one time a prophet of God; by the Holy Spirit he had foretold the prosperity of Israel and the appearing of the Messiah; and his prophecies
Page 60had been handed down by tradition from century to century. But in the Old Testament the Saviour's advent was more clearly revealed. The magi learned with joy that His coming was near, and that the whole world was to be filled with a knowledge of the glory of the Lord.
The wise men had seen a mysterious light in the heavens upon that night when the glory of God flooded the hills of Bethlehem. As the light faded, a luminous star appeared, and lingered in the sky. It was not a fixed star nor a planet, and the phenomenon excited the keenest interest. That star was a distant company of shining angels, but of this the wise men were ignorant. Yet they were impressed that the star was of special import to them. They consulted priests and philosophers, and searched the scrolls of the ancient records. The prophecy of Balaam had declared, "There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel." Num. 24:17. Could this strange star have been sent as a harbinger of the Promised One? The magi had welcomed the light of heaven-sent truth; now it was shed upon them in brighter rays. Through dreams they were instructed to go in search of the newborn Prince.
As by faith Abraham went forth at the call of God, "not knowing whither he went" (Heb. 11:8); as by faith Israel followed the pillar of cloud to the Promised Land, so did these Gentiles go forth to find the promised Saviour. The Eastern country abounded in precious things, and the magi did not set out empty-handed. It was the custom to offer presents as an act of homage to princes or other personages of rank, and the richest gifts the land afforded were borne as an offering to Him in whom all the families of the earth were to be blessed. It was necessary to journey by night in order to keep the star in view; but the travelers beguiled the hours by repeating traditional sayings and prophetic utterances concerning the One they sought. At every pause for rest they searched the prophecies; and the conviction deepened that they were divinely guided. While they had the star before them as an outward sign, they had also the inward evidence of the Holy Spirit, which was impressing their hearts, and inspiring them with hope. The journey, though long, was a happy one to them.
They have reached the land of Israel, and are descending the Mount of Olives, with Jerusalem in sight, when, lo, the star that has guided them all the weary way rests above the temple, and after a season fades from their view. With eager steps they press onward, confidently expecting the Messiah's birth to be the joyful burden of every tongue. But their
Page 61inquiries are in vain. Entering the holy city, they repair to the temple. To their amazement they find none who seem to have a knowledge of the newborn king. Their questions call forth no expressions of joy, but rather of surprise and fear, not unmingled with contempt.
The priests are rehearsing traditions. They extol their religion and their own piety, while they denounce the Greeks and Romans as heathen, and sinners above others. The wise men are not idolaters, and in the sight of God they stand far higher than do these, His professed worshipers; yet they are looked upon by the Jews as heathen. Even among the appointed guardians of the Holy Oracles their eager questionings touch no chord of sympathy.
The arrival of the magi was quickly noised throughout Jerusalem. Their strange errand created an excitement among the people, which penetrated to the palace of King Herod. The wily Edomite was aroused at the intimation of a possible rival. Countless murders had stained his pathway to the throne. Being of alien blood, he was hated by the people over whom he ruled. His only security was the favor of Rome. But this new Prince had a higher claim. He was born to the kingdom.
Herod suspected the priests of plotting with the strangers to excite a popular tumult and unseat him from the throne. He concealed his mistrust, however, determined to thwart their schemes by superior cunning. Summoning the chief priests and the scribes, he questioned
Page 62them as to the teaching of their sacred books in regard to the place of the Messiah's birth.
This inquiry from the usurper of the throne, and made at the request of strangers, stung the pride of the Jewish teachers. The indifference with which they turned to the rolls of prophecy enraged the jealous tyrant. He thought them trying to conceal their knowledge of the matter. With an authority they dared not disregard, he commanded them to make close search, and to declare the birthplace of their expected King. "And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judea: for thus it is written by the prophet, "And thou Bethlehem, land of Judah, Art in nowise least among the princes of Judah: For out of thee shall come forth a governor, Which shall be shepherd of My people Israel." R. V.
Herod now invited the magi to a private interview. A tempest of wrath and fear was raging in his heart, but he preserved a calm exterior, and received the strangers courteously. He inquired at what time the star had appeared, and professed to hail with joy the intimation of the birth of Christ. He bade his visitors, "Search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found Him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship Him also." So saying, he dismissed them to go on their way to Bethlehem.
The priests and elders of Jerusalem were not as ignorant concerning the birth of Christ as they pretended. The report of the angels' visit to the shepherds had been brought to Jerusalem, but the rabbis had treated it as unworthy of their notice. They themselves might have found Jesus, and might have been ready to lead the magi to His birthplace; but instead of this, the wise men came to call their attention to the birth of the Messiah. "Where is He that is born King of the Jews?" they said; "for we have seen His star in the East, and are come to worship Him."
Now pride and envy closed the door against the light. If the reports brought by the shepherds and the wise men were credited, they would place the priests and rabbis in a most unenviable position, disproving their claim to be the exponents of the truth of God. These learned teachers would not stoop to be instructed by those whom they termed heathen. It could not be, they said, that God had passed them by, to communicate
Page 63with ignorant shepherds or uncircumcised Gentiles. They determined to show their contempt for the reports that were exciting King Herod and all Jerusalem. They would not even go to Bethlehem to see whether these things were so. And they led the people to regard the interest in Jesus as a fanatical excitement. Here began the rejection of Christ by the priests and rabbis. From this point their pride and stubbornness grew into a settled hatred of the Saviour. While God was opening the door to the Gentiles, the Jewish leaders were closing the door to themselves.
The wise men departed alone from Jerusalem. The shadows of night were falling as they left the gates, but to their great joy they again saw the star, and were directed to Bethlehem. They had received no such intimation of the lowly estate of Jesus as was given to the shepherds. After the long journey they had been disappointed by the indifference of the Jewish leaders, and had left Jerusalem less confident than when they entered the city. At Bethlehem they found no royal guard stationed to protect the newborn King. None of the world's honored men were in attendance. Jesus was cradled in a manger. His parents, uneducated peasants, were His only guardians. Could this be He of whom it was written, that He should "raise up the tribes of Jacob," and "restore the preserved of Israel;" that He should be "a light to the Gentiles," and for "salvation unto the end of the earth"? Isa. 49:6.
"When they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary His mother, and fell down, and worshiped Him." Beneath the lowly guise of Jesus, they recognized the presence of Divinity. They gave their hearts to Him as their Saviour, and then poured out their gifts,--"gold, and frankincense, and myrrh." What a faith was theirs!
Page 64It might have been said of the wise men from the East, as afterward of the Roman centurion, "I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel." Matt. 8:10.
The wise men had not penetrated Herod's design toward Jesus. When the object of their journey was accomplished, they prepared to return to Jerusalem, intending to acquaint him with their success. But in a dream they received a divine message to hold no further communication with him. Avoiding Jerusalem, they set out for their own country by another route.
In like manner Joseph received warning to flee into Egypt with Mary and the child. And the angel said, "Be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy Him." Joseph obeyed without delay, setting out on the journey by night for greater security.
Through the wise men, God had called the attention of the Jewish nation to the birth of His Son. Their inquiries in Jerusalem, the popular interest excited, and even the jealousy of Herod, which compelled the attention of the priests and rabbis, directed minds to the prophecies concerning the Messiah, and to the great event that had just taken place.
Satan was bent on shutting out the divine light from the world, and he used his utmost cunning to destroy the Saviour. But He who never slumbers nor sleeps was watching over His beloved Son. He who had rained manna from heaven for Israel and had fed Elijah in the time of famine provided in a heathen land a refuge for Mary and the child Jesus. And through the gifts of the magi from a heathen country, the Lord supplied the means for the journey into Egypt and the sojourn in a land of strangers.
The magi had been among the first to welcome the Redeemer. Their gift was the first that was laid at His feet. And through that gift, what privilege of ministry was theirs! The offering from the heart that loves, God delights to honor, giving it highest efficiency in service for Him. If we have given our hearts to Jesus, we also shall bring our gifts to Him. Our gold and silver, our most precious earthly possessions, our highest mental and spiritual endowments, will be freely devoted to Him who loved us, and gave Himself for us.
Herod in Jerusalem impatiently awaited the return of the wise men. As time passed, and they did not appear, his suspicions were roused. The unwillingness of the rabbis to point out the Messiah's birthplace seemed to indicate that they had penetrated his design, and that the magi had purposely avoided him. He was maddened at the thought. Craft had failed, but there was left the resort to force. He would make an example of this child-king. Those haughty Jews should see what they might expect in their attempts to place a monarch on the throne.
Soldiers were at once sent to Bethlehem, with orders to put to death all the children of two years and under. The quiet homes of the city of David witnessed those scenes of horror that, six hundred years before, had been opened to the prophet. "In Ramah was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not."
This calamity the Jews had brought upon themselves. If they had been walking in faithfulness and humility before God, He would in a signal manner have made the wrath of the king harmless to them. But they had separated themselves from God by their sins, and had rejected the Holy Spirit, which was their only shield. They had not studied the Scriptures with a desire to conform to the will of God. They had searched for prophecies which could be interpreted to exalt themselves, and to show how God despised all other nations. It was their proud boast that the
Page 66Messiah was to come as a king, conquering His enemies, and treading down the heathen in His wrath. Thus they had excited the hatred of their rulers. Through their misrepresentation of Christ's mission, Satan had purposed to compass the destruction of the Saviour; but instead of this, it returned upon their own heads.
This act of cruelty was one of the last that darkened the reign of Herod. Soon after the slaughter of the innocents, he was himself compelled to yield to that doom which none can turn aside. He died a fearful death.
Joseph, who was still in Egypt, was now bidden by an angel of God to return to the land of Israel. Regarding Jesus as the heir of David's throne, Joseph desired to make his home in Bethlehem; but learning that Archelaus reigned in Judea in his father's stead, he feared that the father's designs against Christ might be carried out by the son. Of all the sons of Herod, Archelaus most resembled him in character. Already his succession to the government had been marked by a tumult in Jerusalem, and the slaughter of thousands of Jews by the Roman guards.
Again Joseph was directed to a place of safety. He returned to Nazareth, his former home, and here for nearly thirty years Jesus dwelt, "that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene." Galilee was under the control of a son of Herod, but it had a much larger admixture of foreign inhabitants than Judea.
Page 67Thus there was less interest in matters relating especially to the Jews, and the claims of Jesus would be less likely to excite the jealousy of those in power.
Such was the Saviour's reception when He came to the earth. There seemed to be no place of rest or safety for the infant Redeemer. God could not trust His beloved Son with men, even while carrying forward His work for their salvation. He commissioned angels to attend Jesus and protect Him till He should accomplish His mission on earth, and die by the hands of those whom He came to save.
in the heavens, page 60
and after a season, page 60
knowledge of the, page 61
the chief priests and the scribes,, page 61
the place of the Messiah's birth, page 62
invited the magi to a private interview, page 62
in his heart,, page 62
of the wise men from the East,, page 64