Three Wise Men (Part Two)
The Greek word interpreted as "wise men" is "Magoi." It has several possible meanings. One is "deceiver." They were magoi because they deceived Herod by returning to their homes by a different route rather than betraying the Child to him. Another meaning for Magoi is magicians or sorcerers. The "science" of the Medes, Persians, and other Gentile nations of that time included astrology, divination, and enchantment. One would assume card games and exploding yachts as well? Chrysostom speculates that Christ chose to reveal His birth to such men in order to give future sinners the hope of divine welcome and forgiveness. Except, you know, other parts of the planet and other cultures, apparently - as per my speculation that no one bothered to write down a Super Nova in China or in an the Americas. And just so you know Astrology, sorcery, and divination are forbidden in the Bible. The Lord warns that unavoidable and unpredictable disasters will fall upon those who rely on such practices (Deut 18:12-15; 18:18; Is 47:11-24). The church has always hated competition. Ask a witch.
"Magoi" can also refer to those who interpret dreams and offer wise council. Daniel was called the chief of Nebuchadnezzar's magicians because he interpreted the dream messages God sent to this king (Dan 2; 4).
By the 6th century, the wise men were referred to as kings in the popular imagination. This assumption is linked to such prophecies as: "The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising" (Is 60:3); "Kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship.." (Is 49:7); and "The kings of Tarshish and of the isles will bring presents; the kings of Sheba and Seba will offer gifts" (Ps 72:10). The number of kings varied - usually being two, four, or twelve. Eventually, the number three was settled upon because of the three gifts they bore and the twelve wise men became known as the "Three Kings of the Orient" (Mt. 2:11). They are usually referred to as Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. Furthermore, some people believe each of the wise men came from one of the three continents that were known of at the time of Christ's birth. (See chart below.)
The Names, Lands & Gifts of the Magi
Caspar (a.k.a. Gasper) is alternatively portrayed as the oldest and the youngest of the wise men. He is believed to have come from Europe or Tarsus bearing the gift of myrrh. Myrrh is the fragrant gum of certain plants which grew in Arabia and India. It was imported by the Israelites for use in expensive perfumes and incense (Ps 45:8; Prov. 7:17; Esth 2:12; Ex 30:23). It also had medicinal uses. Because it was believed to strengthen a child and get rid of worms, the gift of myrrh signifies Christ's mortality, and His roles of the Suffering Savior and the Great Physician. It both a Christmas and a Passion symbol. At Golgotha, before He was crucified, Jesus was offered "wine mingled with myrrh to drink, but He did not take it" (Mk 15:23). This drink was believed to lessen the pains of crucifixion. As if that's possible. Myrrh was also used in the burial practices of the Jews. Nicodemus supplied a mixture of myrrh and aloes to wrap Christ's body when it was placed in the tomb (Jn 19:39-40; Mk 15:23). The wise men are said to have received the gifts of truth and humility in exchange for their myrrh. Who in their right mind would ask for truth and humility?
Melchior (a.k.a. "the white one") came from Asia or Arabia. He is usually portrayed as an old man. His gift of gold is believed to have financed the Holy Family's flight into Egypt. It represents the immortality, purity, divinity, and kingship of Jesus Christ and His titles of the Light of the World, the Morning Star, and the Dayspring. Gold was used in both the temple worship (Ex 25:11; 28:2-30; 1 Ki 6:14-35) and in the worship of idols (Ex 32:2-4; 1 Ki 12-28). The wise men received spiritual wealth and the gift of Charity for their gold. But don't worry, I'm sure they took the deduction on their taxes.
Balthasar came from Ethiopia or Saba. He is often portrayed as a black man of about forty years of age. He brought the gift of frankincense. Frankincense is the dried resin of Boswellia trees which, at the time of Christ, grew in Arabia, India, and Ethiopia. It was used in perfumes (Song 3:6; 4:6) and incense for the temple worship (Ex 30:9, 34-38; Lev 2:1-12; 6:14-28; 24:7). Because incense represents the prayers of the faithful rising towards Heaven, the gift of frankincense symbolizes sacrifice, Christ's divine nature, and His titles of High Priest and Son of God. The wise men were given the gift of Faith for their frankincense. He was also living in a barn, apparently... so it might have just been antiquity's answer to Febreze®?