What was Wise About The Three Wise Men?

camel train on the skyline at sunset

Who are the Wise Men?

The story appears only in Matthew’s gospel, (chapter 2:1-12) that sometime after Jesus’ birth, Mary and Joseph received a group of visitors. They are referred to, by different translations of the Bible, as wise men, magi, a band of scholars and kings. Although most, modern versions, now choose either ‘wise men’ or ‘magi’ to describe them. They were educated, wealthy, Gentiles.

Where did the Magi come from?

They came from the east, possibly Persia, the region, which is now modern-day Iran, to Jerusalem. Because of their obvious status they gain an audience with King Herod and explain the purpose of their visit. They have travelled a long way in search of the “one who has been born king of the Jews.” As astrologers, those who study the stars, they had seen an astronomical phenomenon, a new star rising. This was interpreted by them as a sign of a new ruler and a new era. They had decided to follow the star and come to worship the new King. Jerusalem as the capital of Judea was the obvious place to search for the King of the Jews.

Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh

As an act of worship, the wise men bring with them gifts ‘fit for a king’ to present to the child Jesus. Because three gifts are listed, the concept of three kings or wise men became accepted. But scripture does not tell us how many men came, or name them.

Gold – The ultimate currency of the day, a costly gift of the highest order. A gift suitable for a king, often used to adorn Temples and Palaces, to signify great wealth and power.

Frankincense – Is an aromatic resin from the bark of the Boswellia tree, native to North East Africa. It was regarded as the ‘King of Oils’ and brought from the Middle East to Europe by traders on, what became known as, the Incense route. Frankincense has been an important remedy in traditional medicine systems throughout the ages and a coveted trade item. It was also one of the ingredients in the incense which was to be burned at the altar of incense in the Temple. This represented the prayers of God’s people rising to heaven.

Myrrh – Is an aromatic gum or resin extracted from the leaves of the citrus rose. The oil extracted from the resin was used in beauty treatments, and sometimes was added to wine to relieve pain. It was used as an anointing oil when preparing a body for burial. And was also the main ingredient in the anointing oil used by the priests for consecration.

Is there symbolism in the three gifts?

We can reflect that gold is a symbol of kingship. Frankincense, is associated with holiness as it was used in worship. It was a symbol of prayer and the healing of the broken relationship between God and mankind. Myrrh can represent humanity, by referring to death, but also to being set apart and consecrated for God’s service.

Reflection

The significance of the wise men’s visit

The wise men, appear in the nativity story, some time after the birth of Jesus, while the holy family are still in Bethlehem. They come to Jerusalem in search of a new-born king and Herod, who was ‘King of Judea’ was disturbed by these words. He had gained control of the throne by manipulation, and ruthlessly held onto it. The wise men were not seeking the child that would become king, but were stating that they were seeking the one who was born king – which Herod was not!

Herod called together all those who could advise him on Jewish history and literature to find out where the Messiah was to be born. It is interesting to note that Herod had been brought up as a Jew and knew enough to understand that the Israelites were looking for Messiah, a future king.

When they saw the star, they were overjoyed - picture of a star
What was wise about the three wise men?

From Jerusalem to Bethlehem

His advisers informed him that in the Old Testament, Micah had prophesied that from Bethlehem would come a ruler for Israel. This ruler is described as one ‘whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.’ The Jewish scholars and teachers of the law interpreted these words to mean the Messiah, who was One with God from the beginning of time.

Now that Herod knew where the child had been born, he plotted secretly for the Magi to search and find the child and then to come and report back to him. He told them that he too wanted to ‘worship this new king’. The wise men leave Jerusalem and follow the star on to Bethlehem….

The time of God’s favour

There is a profound picture here that something new was happening. This was the time of God’s favour, with the birth of the longed for and promised Messiah – who one day will be acknowledged by all as King of Kings. We see those who were on the fringes, the Gentiles, outside of God’s relationship with Israel, are now brought into the celebration. They find the child Jesus with His mother Mary and bow down in worship, presenting their treasures to Him, gifts for a King.

Wisdom of the Wise

The wise men are the first to worship the Lord during His time on earth. They had come seeking a king who was worthy of all their worship. He was worthy of their arduous journey, of their costly gifts, and of respect and honour. There was a hint here that God was doing something new, something bigger – that the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, was indeed good news for ALL people.

Now the wise men were ready to start the long journey home. Their mission was accomplished, they had bowed down and worshipped the new-born King. They were warned in a dream not to return to report to Herod the location and identity of Jesus. The danger of evil presenting itself as good, requires discernment and the Magi fulfill their name as wise men. Judging well they choose a different route home which avoided Jerusalem.

“Wisdom is proved right by her deeds”

Matthew 11:19

The wise men were wise indeed – proved not just by their knowledge or their learning but by their actions. In seeking the Lord and worshiping Him, in bringing the very best of their gifts and in being obedient to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Ahead of their time in their response to the birth of Jesus, they are a witness to us all!

5 Wisdom Scriptures - a picture of a present - wisdom is a gift from God.
What was wise about the three wise men?

Five Wisdom Scriptures

Knowledge is gained by education, but wisdom is a gift from God.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.” Psalm 111:10

“For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” Proverbs 2:6

“He (God) gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.” Daniel 2:21b

“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better.” Ephesians 1:17

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5

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Wisdom scripture colouring pages
Wisdom Scriptures

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13 thoughts on “What was Wise About The Three Wise Men?

  1. I realize that these were “wise men” but these men used their wisdom to discern what would be the perfect gift for not just a king but for the Son of God! How amazing is that?? Thanks for all of this background research, Sharon! Very inspiring post!

  2. We should all be asking ourselves the same question-what is wise about my actions and decisions? Am I choosing wisdom over convenience or personal preference? Am I wise in choosing whom and what to believe in true?

  3. Sharon, I enjoyed your post, we don’t often think too much about the Wise Men. What always amazed me was they were not Jewish, yet they sought the King of Kings to worship Him and bring gifts. Thank you!!

  4. Thank you for this insight to the wise men and their gifts, Sharon. I’m always awed by their dedication and perseverance to seek out Jesus. Love and blessings for a hope-filled Christmas!

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