I’ll be honest, when I first read today’s verse, I thought, “I must have written the reference down wrong, because this doesn’t make any sense. I see stuff about camels, but nothing about Jesus here.” And then I remembered: wise men. Duh! Sorry guys, guess I kind of forgot about you.
“A herd of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.” Isaiah 60:6
You can see the intended reference to the time when the Queen of Sheba came to visit King Solomon. While I don’t think there were precisely three kings and camels from orient are at Jesus’ bedside, I doubt Mary and Joseph were crowded out by “herds covering the land” either.
Who were these men, anyway? My opinion is that they were men from somewhere in Persia who had a few drops of Jewish blood in them. Not enough to be looking for a Messiah to worship and give their lives to, but just enough to be curious and see some mystical benefit from the visit.
The majority of the book of Isaiah foretells of the coming exile of the northern kingdom of Israel into Assyria, which happened in 722 BC. About 150 years later, Babylon comes along and takes over everything in the area, including the Assyrians. You can imagine that quite of bit of scattering and chaos happens at this point. The Jews living in Judah are carted off to Babylon and are eventually freed seventy years later, but what about the Jews who were already exiled by Assyria? Some of them came back too, but a lot of them were lost and never returned to Israel. Maybe they had abandoned God and no longer identified themselves a Jews (not that they were acting particularly Godly before they were exiled!), who knows. My theory is that some of those Assyrian-captive Jews allowed themselves to become absorbed into the culture, syncretizing their own beliefs with those popular around them. Fast forward a few hundred years, and the result is a few wise men looking for a King of the Jews who come seemingly out of nowhere. The Gospels never record these men as becoming believers, or even staying in Israel to see how things turn out with this baby-King they’d found. For whatever reason, these men wanted to see the King so badly they left their homes and brought gifts.
I find great comfort in this idea, because it shows me that Jesus draws people to Him, even when they don’t completely understand who He is or what He stands for. As someone who feels called by God to share His truth with those who think they know Him but have been deceived, I am encouraged that once that door of curiosity is opened, the Holy Spirit can work His way to bring the seeker to a point of understanding and surrender.