Why did the Magi bring gold, frankincense, and myrrh to Jesus after His birth? Is there significance to those three things? We don’t know for sure. But, we can propose some ideas. It was common to bring gifts to dignitaries and important people (1 Kings 10:2; Psalm 72:10; Isaiah 60:3, 6). One possibility is that they were gifts meant to reflect the importance of Jesus. After all, they were all costly. It could also be that they represent Jesus’ deity and/or kingship (gold) and His humanity (frankincense and myrrh).
Matthew 2:11, “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.” (See the Greek https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb95/mat/2/11/t_conc_931011)
Gold was used in the building of the tabernacle (Exodus 25:11-16), as a symbol of purity (Job 23:10), is compared to faith (1 Pet. 1:7), and is present in the heavenly city (Rev. 21:18, 21). Many instruments were made of gold, such as rings (Ex. 25:26; 32:2-3), the mercy seat (Exodus 25:17; 37:6), cherubim (Ex. 25:18), dishes, pans, jars, and bowls in the temple (Exodus 25:29), and the lampstand (Exodus 25:31-37; 1 Kings 7:49–51). It is used for the golden calf (Ex. 32:4), idols (Exodus 20:23), necklaces (Gen. 41:42), idols (Ex. 20:23), as money (Gen. 44:8), and as jewelry (Gen. 41:42; 1 Tim. 2:9; 1 Pet. 3:3). It was woven into the priests’ garments (Exodus 28:8), made into shields (1 Kings 10:16-17), and designated great wealth (Gen. 24:35) Though gold was used in different contexts, in as gifts to Jesus, they seem to designate the authority, kingship, and deity of Jesus.
Frankincense and Myrrh
Frankincense is a fragrant oil from a balsam tree native to Sheba in southern Arabia (Isaiah 60:6; Jer. 6:20). It was used in the worship in the temple in the incense (Exodus 30:34). Frankincense is the Hebrew לְבֹנָה, lâbownah, and occurs 21 times in the Old Testament. In Greek it is λίβανος líbanos, and occurs two times in the NT: Matt. 2:11 and Rev. 18:13. In the latter verse, frankincense is listed among the items of trade among the merchants of the earth, so it is of great value, which would explain why it was offered to Jesus.
Myrrh is a resonous gum derived from different trees and shrubs that were obtained from Arabia, Abyssinia, and India. It is mentioned in the Old Testament in Gen. 37:25; Exod 30:23; Esther 2:12; Psalm 45:8, etc. It is the Hebrew word לֹט, lot, and מֹר, more. Myrrh in Greek is σμύρνα smúrna and occurs two times in the NT: Matt. 2:11 and John 19:39. It was an important trade item, so it was valuable and was used as a perfume. In the latter verse, Myrrh was used in the burial procedures for Jesus. So, these imply humanity and/or great value.
The Magi were wise men who followed a star from the East that led them into Bethlehem the lab (Matt. 2:1-12). The word is used many times in ancient writings. There were different magi in different cultures.
“The historian Herodotus mentioned magi as a priestly caste of Media, or Persia, and, as the religion in Persia at the time was Zoroastrianism, Herodotus’s magi were probably Zoroastrian priests. Herodotus, together with Plutarch and Strabo, suggested that magi were partly responsible for ritual and cultic life (supervising sacrifices and prayers) and partly responsible as royal advisers to the courts of the East.” (Elwell, Walter A., and Philip Wesley Comfort. Tyndale Bible Dictionary. Tyndale Reference Library. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001.)
In the Bible, the Magi were considered wise men who had been looking into the heavens in order to learn about the Messiah. This is why they followed a star to Bethlehem (Matt. 2:1-12). It appears they were familiar with the Old Testament scriptures.
Numbers 24:17, “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star shall come forth from Jacob. A scepter shall rise from Israel and shall crush through the forehead of Moab, and tear down all the sons of Sheth.”
Micah 5:2, “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.”
So, gold, frankincense, and myrrh, though not specifically designated in their meaning, could represent the Kingship, deity, and humanity of Jesus.
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