Friday, December 18, 2009

We three kings

Matthew 1-2 tells the story of three kings.

These kings are not however the ones known in the West, from the eighth century on, as Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. The visitors from the East were Magi, not kings. No, Matthew 1-2 tells the story of King David, King Herod and King Jesus. They are the three kings in the narrative.

King Herod may well be the king of Israel but he acts like Pharaoh king of Egypt. Joseph must flee Israel for Egypt, and later return there just as Moses did in Exodus 4. There is a great reversal theme in Matthew 2 as Israel and Egypt swap identities, and as we realise that Israel is a nation under judgment.

This reversal theme extends itself to the Magi. The wise men and magicians of the nations always come off badly in the Bible in comparison to God's people. Witness the court of Pharoah in Genesis 41 and the inability of the magicians to interpret his dream. It was God who gave Joseph the understanding of the dream. Fast forward to the contest between Moses, Aaron and the magicians, and the same story is told.

This unfavourable comparison continues with Daniel in Babylon. Again we see that God gives his people insight. The magicians, sorcerers and enchanters are unable to gain access to Nebuchadnezzar's undisclosed dream (Daniel 2:1-11). Daniel, however, seeks God and God, in his mercy, reveals the dream and the interpretation. No wonder that Daniel then confesses that to God belong wisdom and might, for:
he gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding;
he reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what is in the darkness,
and the light dwells with him.
What does this have to do with Matthew 2 and the Magi? The situation has now been reversed. The pattern established in Scripture has been turned on its head. We find Gentile magicians behaving like Israelites, and Israelites behaving like Gentiles. The Magi have more insight, more wisdom, and they come to worship Christ the King.


Guy Davies said...

Good stuff, especially the role reversal thing.

Ant said...

That's really helpful, thanks. I had never thought of the role reversal angle before.

I still remember my dad when carol singing, semi-mockingly singing 'We indeterminate number of magi...' in 'we three kings'. Doesn't quite scan to be honest.

Gary Brady said...

Thanks for that. I'll be making use ...

Mike Gilbart-Smith said...

I was just thinking about this (and even blogged about it) in preparation for preaching on the passage last Sunday morning. Did you notice how NONE of the commentators seem to mention this.
there are many more parallels once you see it:
They flee at night (Exodus 12:8,12,29,30,31, 42) at the direct command of the Lord (Exodus 12:31). Both passages have the death of God's enemies front and centre: the one who seeks the death of God's people will die. In Exodus, there is no house without a dead son. In Matthew, the death of Herod himself is hightlight (2:15, 19, 20).

Martin Downes said...

Thanks Mike

I'd not thought of the additional details that you have mentioned. I've got two more posts on this subject (Exodus reloaded) to come before the 25th.