For the Eastern Orthodox, the Feast of the Epiphany is the proper date to exchange gifts, since the three kings, or wisemen, brought gifts for baby Jesus. I was reading a commentary that drew a parallel between the three ‘wise men’ in the Book of Daniel with the three ‘wise men’ in Matthew’s account of the Nativity.
According to the Book of Daniel, Daniel was made “ruler of the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon” (Dn 2:48) because he interpreted a dream of Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel was not only wise. He was so upright that Scripture never suggests that Daniel ever did anything to offend the Lord. Daniel’s integrity was greater than that of David or Solomon, who at times disobeyed the Lord. Even Moses argued with the Lord. The only OT parallel for Daniel might be Job. A key difference between Job and Daniel, though, is that Job’s righteousness was repeatedly tested, while Daniel’s righteousness before the Babylonian king was repeatedly confirmed.
Daniel named three countrymen as assistant governors. These wise men were Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Though Jews, they took Babylonian names. In Hebrew, their names were Hananiah (God is gracious), Azariah (God has helped), and Mishael (Who is like God). In chapter 3 of Daniel, the three advisors are thrown into a fiery furnace because they refused to worship a sixty foot statue of a Babylonian deity. In fact, Nebuchadnezzar remarks in verse 92 after the men are thrown in: “I see four men unfettered and unhurt, walking in the fire, and the fourth looks like a son of God.”
Hmm. Now let’s jump to the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew chapter 2 begins: When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled… . In verse 11, we are told that the Magi saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage.
There are a number of parallels between the account in Daniel and Luke. First, the three wise men in both accounts bear witness to the faith, and cooperate in grace despite some pressure to do otherwise. In Daniel’s account, the three wise men could have agreed to worship at the foot of the statue. In Luke’s account, the three wise men could have returned to tell Herod of the whereabouts of Jesus. Instead, the wise men accomplished the Lord’s will.
The second parallel is that between Nebuchadnezzar and Herod, both of whom are headstrong & insecure kings, who do not obey the Lord’s will. In fact, both men order a massacre in an attempt to thwart God’s will: Nebuchadnezzar of the three wise men, and Herod of the infants in Judea. The third parallel in the two accounts is the apparent or real presence of a “son of God.” In Daniel’s account, Nebuchadnezzar sees a mystery fourth person in the furnace – one like a Son of God. In Matthew’s account, the magi in fact adore Jesus, who the magi themselves call a king.
PS – Biblical Archaeology Review has an article on the three magi. According to the article, even the early church drew a parallel between Daniel’s three wise men and the magi.