Magi Honor the Greater King Solomon

The arrival of the Magi at the house where Jesus was staying probably evoked a picture of a foreigner who once visited Solomon and presented him with gifts. Multiple scholars have written about this connection in commentaries on Matthew’s Gospel. Below is my synthesis and further development of the arguments.

In 1 Kings 10, the queen of Sheba came to Solomon in Jerusalem “with a very great retinue, with camels bearing spices and very much gold and precious stones” (1 Kgs 10:1-2). She asked him many questions, and he answered them all to her satisfaction.

Solomon reflected on this visit when he wrote Psalm 72, and midway through the composition the echoes of the queen’s visit are clear: “May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands render him tribute; may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts! May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him” (Ps 72:10-11). A few verses later, “Long may he live; may gold of Sheba be given to him!” (72:15a). Solomon believed the queen of Sheba’s honor was representative of the acclaim that would one day belong to God’s king as Gentile rulers paid homage. The queen of Sheba’s visit, therefore, foreshadowed something greater.

This foreshadowing is picked up in Isaiah’s prophecy. In a passage full of hope, the prophet writes, “And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried on the hip. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult, because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you. A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the LORD” (Isa 60:3-6). What God would someday do–specifically through his Anointed One, the Suffering Servant–would be light for all in darkness, resulting in a global pilgrimage to worship. The queen of Sheba’s gifts to Solomon had taken on messianic significance that would impact the nations.

In Matthew 2, Magi from the east arrived in Bethlehem after a stint in Jerusalem where they were seeking the answer to this question: “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matt 2:2a). When they entered the home, “they fell down and worshiped [Jesus]. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh” (2:11).

The three gifts (gold and two different spices) in Matthew 2:11 connect most closely to Isaiah 60:3-6, which mentions both gold and frankincense. The Servant had finally come, and the worship of the nations was beginning. Connections earlier than Isaiah 60 matter too. Isaiah 60 holds out hope that kings will come in worship, and this is an amplification of Solomon’s desire in Psalm 72:10-11. Both chapters speak about foreigners, Sheba, royalty, and gifts of gold. Solomon’s words in Psalm 72 were a reflection on his visit with the queen of Sheba as she came to him bearing gifts in 1 Kings 10:1-2. That event became an expectation. Isaiah 60:3-6 ultimately grew out of 1 Kings 10 via Psalm 72.

What does Matthew want readers to affirm when they read about foreigners traveling to Israel with gifts of gold and spices to offer God’s king? Jesus is the New Solomon! Wise men came to worship the Wisest of all. Like Solomon, Jesus was the Son of David (cf. Matt 1:1). The wise men even came from the same area as did the queen of Sheba. Like Solomon, Jesus received gifts of gold and spices.

But Jesus is not merely like Solomon. In his own words: “behold, something greater than Solomon is here” (Matt 12:42).


5 thoughts on “Magi Honor the Greater King Solomon

  1. Pingback: Were the Magi’s Three Gifts Symbolic? | Soli Deo Gloria

  2. This is really good! I also read in Sailhamer’s “The Meaning of the Pentateuch” that Balaam and the Magi are both cast as similar characters; they’re foreign diviners whom God surprisingly works through to validate his Messiah. Thus when we read of the “wise men” seeing the star rise in Matt. 2, it is natural to think back to Balaam’s oracles in Num. 24 where he spoke of the star coming out of Jacob,and everything else concerning the coming Messiah.

    There is so much in the OT pointing forward to the birth of Christ

  3. Pingback: Magi Honor the Greater King Solomon | Soli Deo Gloria « ajcerda

  4. Pingback: Jesus as the New Solomon, New Moses, and New Israel in Matthew 2 | Soli Deo Gloria

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