Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”Matthew 2:1-2,9-11
After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
The above is all that the Bible tells us about the “Three Wise Men”. They were called “magi”, plural of the word “magus”, which means some blend of magician, priest, sorcerer, astrologer and/or scholar. From that word and the verses above, the rest of the traditions have sprung up, including the Christmas song “We Three Kings”.
Notice, though, that the Bible lists three gifts, not three givers. From the plural, there was more than one; there could have been three — or thirty! It also doesn’t say that those givers were kings, nor does it refer to them by name. And it has them visit the house, not the stable, where the Child was with His mother. It’s not very likely that they were there alongside the shepherds the night He was born. Since Herod killed all Bethlehem boys under two years old in his effort to get rid of Jesus, the magi visit could have been any time up to two years later. But the traditions and songs — even though not necessarily Biblical — are still nice. 🙂
I’ve always liked the song well enough, but it wasn’t a particular favorite. I never really paid much attention to anything other than the first verse and the chorus:
We three kings of Orient are;
bearing gifts we traverse afar,
field and fountain, moor and mountain,
following yonder star.
O star of wonder, star of light,
star with royal beauty bright,
westward leading, still proceeding,
guide us to thy perfect light.
Come on, hum along; you know you want to! Have I got you stuck on the tune yet? 😀
But this year, something led me to look more closely at the other verses. They tell the entire Gospel story!
Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain,
gold I bring to crown him again,
King forever, ceasing never,
over us all to reign.
This Baby in a manger in Bethlehem was the prophesied King who was promised to reign on David’s throne forever.
He didn’t seem much like a king at that moment, did He? He was sleeping in a feed trough because the town was crowded and His parents couldn’t find a better place. Those parents were poor, and had traveled far. The travel was required because they were a conquered people, under military occupation by the Roman Empire. The purpose of the travel was a census that would make sure Rome knew to collect taxes from them.
But, regardless of appearances, this Baby is the eternal King of Kings. All the gold that exists was created by Him. I wonder if the Magi realized that they were offering Him something that He already owned?
Frankincense to offer have I;
incense owns a Deity nigh;
prayer and praising, voices raising,
worshiping God on high.
This baby is not only King; He is also God Himself, deserving all the worship accorded to the Almighty Creator.
Incense has been used in worship by many religions since ancient times. Frankincense mixed with spices was burned so that the sweet aroma moved upward, symbolically carrying the prayers of the worshippers.
The Magi obviously knew that this Baby was special. I wonder if they realized just how special?
Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume
breathes a life of gathering gloom;
sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
sealed in the stone-cold tomb.
Myrrh was used in burials, as an embalming spice. I wonder if the Magi realized that their gift foreshadowed the day that it would be needed?
We, Along with the Three Kings
Glorious now behold him arise;
King and God and sacrifice:
sounds through the earth and skies.
I highly doubt that the Magi could foresee this turn of the story. But I would not be surprised to find them there celebrating with us in Heaven!
Footnotes and Scripture References
- As a bonus song, here is “Born to Die” by Barbara Mandrell.