The second verse of John Henry Hopkins’ 1857 Christmas carol We Three Kings of Orient Are is
Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain
Gold I bring to crown Him again
King forever, ceasing never
Over us all to reign.
The magi recognized Jesus as “King of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2), and they brought gifts of gold to so honor Him.
The third and fourth verses focus on their gifts of frankincense and myrrh:
Frankincense to offer have I
Incense owns a Deity nigh
Pray’r and praising, all men raising
Worship Him, God most high.
Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes of life of gathering gloom
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb.
(Go to 2. We Three Kings? to see a YouTube video with a good vocal rendition of the We Three Kings carol.)
The carol associates frankincense with Deity and sees myrrh as foreshadowing the Messiah’s death.
The magi may not have been cognizant of His atoning death, but they were certainly aware of His deity, for they explicitly told King Herod, “We have come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2:1-2) When they found the Child, Scripture records, “they fell to the ground and worshiped him.” (Matthew 2:11)
Why were the magi interested in a King of the Jews (Matthew 2:2)?
How did the magi know about His deity to worship Him?
We don’t know for sure how the magi knew about a King of the Jews who was worthy of worship, but here are my guesses as to how they might have known.
The prophet Daniel was prime minister in Babylon and Persia in the 6th century BC. Perhaps Daniel belonged to the magi, for he was chief of all Nebuchadnezzar’s wise men (Daniel 2:48).
A century later many Persians became Jews due to the courageous stand of Mordecai and Queen Esther (Esther 8:17).
Thus there was long-term godly testimony in Persia initiated by Daniel and Esther. The scholarly magi, who originated in Persia, particularly those who converted to Judaism, would know the Hebrew Scriptures. Isaiah’s “light to the nations” Messianic prophecies (Isaiah 9:2; Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6; Isaiah 51:4; Isaiah 60:1-3) would inform the magi this King had worldwide significance.
The magi could have connected the “great light” of Isaiah 9:2 with the promise 4 verses later in Isaiah 9:6:
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
Two of the 4 appellations, Mighty God and Eternal Father, identify Him as God and therefore worthy of worship. The magi would understand “the government will rest on His shoulders” to mean He would be a king.
Soli Deo Gloria.
Read the sequel:
4. His Star
Read December’s Bible-Science newspaper column: Christmas Animals.
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©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith”
“destroying speculations against the knowledge of God”
(Jude 1:3; 2 Cor 10:4)
Wednesday December 12, 2007 A.D.
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. (Matthew 2:11)