Why did the magi give Jesus gold, frankincense, and myrrh?
When the wise men (or magi) found Jesus, they bowed down and presented Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2:11). Why were these gifts given to Jesus?
Gold has historically served as a precious metal and form of currency. This gift would have provided Joseph and Mary the ability to pay for expenses as new parents. This gift also likely supported the family during their time in Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15). Some traditions further note that gold is a symbol of divinity, recognizing Jesus as God in human form.
Frankincense is a white resin from Boswellia trees that has long been used for incense or perfume. This resin has also been used as a traditional medicine in some cultures. The wise men likely presented frankincense as a perfume or oil to be used for Jesus. Frankincense was also used during worship (Exodus 30:34), perhaps symbolizing holiness. Like the frankincense in the Old Testament, Jesus would be given up as an offering for the sins of humanity.
Myrrh has been used throughout history in a variety of ways. Taken from the resin of trees in Arabia of the Commiphora family, it is often used as a perfume. Other uses have included medicinal as a digestive aid when mixed with wine, cosmetic or for purification (Esther 2:12), and embalming. Traditions often connect myrrh with the wine mix offered to Jesus on the cross (Mark 15:23) and associate its bitter taste with the suffering Jesus endured on the cross. The use of myrrh in embalming has also been associated with the death of Jesus.
While the symbolism of these three gifts is often highlighted more today, the gifts were both practical and generous. The wise men offered gold, the equivalent of giving money to the family of a newborn, an important practical need for a young, new family. Frankincense and myrrh were both highly valued in first century culture, noting a gift that was special yet also held practical value as an oil for Jesus and perhaps His family members.
In the end, these wise men gave what they had to show their devotion to Jesus as the new king. They became the first non-Jews to recognize the importance of Jesus, traveled a great distance at great cost to worship Him, left Him generous gifts, and returned home as God directed to keep Jesus and His family safe. Their honorable legacy continues to impact lives today as those who sought the Son of God and recognized Him as king.
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