1 Kings 10:23–24, Isaiah 60:1–6, Micah 4:1–5, Matthew 2:1–12, Revelation 21:22–24 (read online ⧉)
People approaching another country’s king with respect, almost as a pilgrimage, was not uncommon. We read the passages and often are lacking the context that kingdoms would often send delegations to a new leader, just to set a good basis for future relationships. They would travel long miles to do so. Sometimes it’s even questionable if it was “worth it”. Part of it was to gather information, but much of it really was to build relations. When you didn’t know who would be your next enemy, it was wise to plant positive seeds of the relationship as far as one could. The other part of this was also a showing of strength and wealth. If such-and-such a country could send this much and this person (usually a person of theoretical importance), then perhaps currying favor was smart.
The Queen of Sheba visiting Solomon was a little outside the norm. According to the writer(s) of Kings, it seemed pretty natural, for the whole world wanted to talk to Solomon. While it was normal to send delegations, the author(s) of Kings seems to be emphasizing it, almost as if there was something far greater at work.
The concept of people coming to Israel because of what God was doing was by no means new. And the writer(s) of Kings knew it. However, what was a “nice” thing, became an important piece of the prophetic narrative in regards to exile. Isaiah and Micah both indicate that the nations will come to Israel. It takes on a deeper role than just earthly kingdoms. The spiritual aspect was implicit in this vision. It was a calling of Israel to its role…a light to the world.
When Jesus was born, there was no great fanfare in the larger world. Sure, some shepherds saw and heard some angels, but they were only shepherds. The so-called wise and powerful of Israel certainly didn’t care for some poor child born during the census, especially since the child’s importance was only witnessed by some (dirty, disgusting, untrustworthy, worthless) shepherds. And, really, what does it matter that some crazy prophet and prophetess announced Jesus, or any of the crazy story about some old priest (Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist). The so-called wise and powerful received, just like in days of old, dignitaries from foreign places. It echoed the “glory days” of Solomon. They probably celebrated their seeming rising importance.
Yet, these dignitaries weren’t looking for this particular court of man. Instead, they were looking for the “court” of the new king. The witness these dignitaries followed was a star! They didn’t receive a notice of a new king by messenger, they looked to a star! This is another piece of the story. The nation from and for whom the Messiah would come didn’t even notice. In many respects, this was the first case of reverse evangelism, where the ones that missionaries used to send people to, now send people back to restore the faith.
1) When it comes to the word “epiphany”, who had it? The Israelites, the Romans, the foreigners?
2) Epiphany is supposedly proof that Jesus calls non-Israelites (i.e., non-Jews) to him. Do you think the story of the Magi shows that? Is so, how? If not, why not?
3) If Christians are the Jews and powerful people in the story of Epiphany, who are the Magi? What might these Magi have to show us what it means to be followers of Jesus?