As I was thinking on Scripture this morning, and particularly on the narrative of Christ's birth, a question occurred to me that I had never thought of before: Why were the wise men "divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod" (Matt. 2:12 NKJV)? I suppose one reason I had never considered this question previously, was that there was an abundance of supernatural events taking place surrounding the birth of our Lord: An angel appeared to Zechariah, to Mary, to Joseph, to the shepherds, and so one more divine warning to the wise men doesn't seem out of place. But, if we consider the text of Scripture, I believe we will see that this warning is just as extraordinary as Gabriel appearing to Mary or any other angelic revelation recorded in the first few chapters of the Gospels. Let me show you why:
First, consider the wise men themselves. What do we know of them from Scripture? Chiefly, that they were "wise." That fact seems to be taken for granted, but think of what they went through in order to find the baby Jesus: they saw a star in the east, and followed it to Judea. A star! No angel appeared to them to direct their path. No vision or dream was necessary for them to know the time and general location of the birth of the King of the Jews. Wisdom, biblically defined, is the application of God's word to a particular situation. These men from the east were able to do just that: apply what they knew concerning the birth of the King of the Jews to the situation in which they found themselves.
So, I ask again, why did these "wise" men need to be divinely warned in a dream not to return to Herod? After all, Herod was an evil man, as anyone who has read the Bible knows! He slaughtered innocent children in an attempt to prevent this newborn King from ever ascending to the throne! Surely, men who were so wise as to interpret the appearance of a star as relating to the birth of the Lord would be wise enough to know not to return to Herod without being divinely warned! He was an evil man!
But, let us now consider the character of Herod. What do we learn of him from the text? Yes, he is a wicked, evil, murderous man whose true intent was to slaughter the promised King, but that is not what he tells the wise men. No, his dealings with the wise men are much more cunning. The wise men ask of him the particular location where the King is to be born, and Herod helps them with their request! He goes to the trouble of gathering the chief priests and scribes and orders them to answer the question of these men from the east. Herod relays true and useful information to the wise men, thus allowing them to go to Bethlehem and worship the King. In addition to this help, Herod tells the wise men that he too wishes to pour out lavish gifts on this King of the Jews--he too wishes to worship the King. "Please, return to me once you have found this child, so that I, too, like you, may bow before him and acknowledge him as sovereign! I too possess great wealth, and will give to this ruler gold, and frankenscence, and myrrh--and more!" Thus, Herod's dealings with the wise men were very cunning: He appeared to be like them, wanting the same things as them, but his true intentions were evil.
I believe this is the reason the wise men needed to be divinely warned not to return to Herod. There was no sign that Herod intended evil. The wise men, who truly were wise, had no evidence on which to base a suspicion of Herod. They believed Herod and would have returned to him and given him all the information he wanted and needed in order to murder Jesus, if they had not been warned of God to do otherwise. God graciously intervened and foiled the plans of Herod.
Can the lessons of the wise men be applied to us, today? Certainly! In the church today, we are blessed with many wise men: some pastors, some elders, some members. And yet, we also find in our churches those who claim to worship our Lord, but truly do not. There are those who pay lip service to Christ, but secretly destroy innocent children (which Christians are often called). What are we to do, then, if the wise men who found Jesus could be so easily deceived? Is there any hope for our own wise elders, pastors, and brothers in the Lord? Is my own wisdom enough to discern an evil man from a good one?
Be comforted, Christian! God, who divinely warned the wise men so many centuries ago, still warns us today. The word which came to those men, still abides with us. We have a better Word, even, for we possess the Scriptures which are able to make us wise (2 Tim 3:15). Thus, it is the duty of all Christians everywhere--pastors, elders, deacons, men, women, and children--to heed the divine warning concerning those who would seek our destruction! Mark them, and do not return to them! Depart from them and go to "another country", a better country, a heavenly country! Apply God's Word to your life and be delivered from evil.