By O. E. Watts
On Christmas cards we have seen made-up pictures of the shepherds and the wise men at the manger at the same time. Pageants and tableaus often portray this supposed “togetherness.” Matt. 2:2 shows that Jesus was born before the men from the East made inquiry at Jerusalem. Properly translated their question was, “Where is he who has been born?” (Green, Berry, RSV, NASB, NIV). This proves that they were not at the stable the very night of his birth.
A close study will convince anyone that the visit of the shepherds that night was at least forty days before the Magi arrived with their gifts. Matt. 2 and Luke 2 record five events in the early life of the Savior. These are:
1. The birth of Jesus.
2. The visit of the shepherds.
3. The journey to Jerusalem (taking Jesus).
4. The visit of the wise men.
5. The journey to Egypt.
Luke 2:22-24 (with Lev. 12:3-4) shows that the baby boy was not presented at the temple in Jerusalem (3, above) until he was at least forty days old. The shepherds had gone to the manger the very night that he was born. See “this day” and “even now” in Luke 2:11-15. When the wise men reached Bethlehem (4) the parents and the child were not at the stable. They lived in a house at that time (Matt. 2:11). After their visit an angel of the Lord told Joseph to take Mary and the baby Jesus to Egypt. He did this immediately according to verses 13 and 14. So in the above list of five happenings, 1 and 2 were on the same night. Number 5 began very soon after 4. Hence, the “forty days” and No. 3 had to be between these two pairs of events. The visits of the two groups of men were separated by a period of time of at least six weeks.
This time sequence has been pointed out by others. But there is an additional proof which this writer has not seen presented. This is in the offering of the two birds for a sacrifice according to Luke 2:24. Only the very poor were permitted to offer the second bird as a substitute. Read Lev. 12:6-8. The provision of God’s law in ordinary cases was that this sacrifice was to be a lamb. It is certain that the young couple would have wanted the best in connection with the one they knew to be the Son of God. If the expensive gifts given them by the Magi (Matt. 2:11) had been presented before their trip to Jerusalem they would have offered a lamb. They could have afforded one. We must conclude that visit of the wise men followed the forty days and the sacrifice at Jerusalem. These records harmonize in a remarkable way. This causes us to praise the Lord for His wisdom and goodness in giving us this history as He did.
Truth Magazine XXI: 48, p. 760
December 8, 1977