Most commentators agree that the Gospel of Matthew seems to intend to address audiences that are mostly or solely Jewish, perhaps because he has the least association with non-Jewish people than any of the other Gospel writers or he wanted to confront the Jews who had rejected him as a tax collector.
In his Gospel there are many hidden motifs drawn from the Hebrew Scriptures. Let’s take a look at the “Visit of the Magi” in Matt. 2:1-12. Magi were wise men and the East was the ancient source of wisdom, even prior to the Hebrew and Greek Cultures.
Matthew does not say that there were three of them. We, along with Christians from the earliest centuries, have assumed so because there were three gifts. Why might Jews assume three? Let’s look back at the story of Noah. In Genesis 9-10 we learn that Noah had three sons. If you look up the actual locales of the descendants of these three sons of Noah, you will find that the three sons of Noah are the ancestors of the three most widely known cultures of the post-flood world—the Indo-European, the Semitic and the North African. The three Magi represented these three cultures.
Hopefully, the young child whose star was seen in the East would draw the world’s peoples back together.
There are three gifts— gold, frankincense and myrrh. Where do we find these three linked together in Hebrew Scriptures? In Exodus 30, we find that the Altar of Incense in the Tabernacle was covered with pure gold, it was anointed for service with myrrh and that frankincense was burned upon it. The Altar of Incense stands on one side of the transparent curtain that separates the two interior portions of the Tabernacle (i.e. the place where God meets with God’s people). This was the closest spot where an ordinary priest could approach the presence of God. On the other side of the curtain was the Ark of the Covenant and above it was the Mercy Seat.
Through their gifts perhaps the Magi were trying to express their hope that Jesus would bring all of the gathered peoples of the world closer to the presence of God. Perhaps Matthew was trying to say to the Jewish people who had rejected him that this Jesus who had accepted him was to do the same for all people.
How has he done it for us? Is he calling for us to offer the closeness of God to all others?
– George Gordon