Friday, December 02, 2005
We Three Kings of Orient Aren’t
The “wise men” were probably assumed to be three because of the three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But how did the magi become kings? Whole legends have been created for these men, with names, skin color, and specific kingdoms. There is a certain appeal in presenting them as scholar-kings, representing three different races and continents, coming to honor the king of the Jews. But can we do that Biblically?
What if we could find a Biblical foundation in the prophecy of Isaiah 60:3? “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” Unless the wise men are also kings, how can we show this prophecy fulfilled in the birth of Christ? There don’t seem to be any other kings around.
But Isaiah 60 has more to do with the reign of Messiah than with his birth. The chapter predicts a gathering of Messiah’s people from all over the world, kings are bringing them home, along with the wealth of flocks and herds, silver and gold. Foreigners are rebuilding the walls, the gates always stand open, etc. The point is not that a few token nations are represented (3?), but that every nation acknowledges the Lord. Any nation that refuses to serve him will be utterly ruined.
The other problem is that Matthew didn’t connect the birth of Jesus with Isaiah 60. It isn’t that Matthew is reluctant to point out fulfilled prophecies; he does this repeatedly, often taking Isaiah’s words as pointing to Jesus. But in chapter 2, Matthew makes no mention or allusion to Isaiah 60. It just doesn’t seem important to Matthew (under the inspiration of God) to make the magi into kings. Maybe we shouldn’t either.
There is a question whether the magi showed up on the night of Jesus’ birth or some time later. Perhaps the reference to “coming to the house” in Matthew 2:11 implies that they have by now moved from the “stable.” Luke doesn’t mention a stable, though he refers to the manger.
The magi told Herod the time the star appeared, leading him to execute boys two years old and younger. This is thought by some to mean that Jesus could have been two years old at the time. The assumption behind this is that the star appeared at the moment of Jesus’ birth, not before.
The challenge is to harmonize Luke’s account (shepherds, angels, manger) with Matthew’s account (Herod, magi, star, house). It is not impossible, based on the Bible’s actual statements, that the typical nativity scene is correct, except for the crowns.
Let’s read with our eyes open.
Do we have to stick to the text? ;-)
A Wise Guy,