It’s strange, isn’t it? How little we know about the wise men from the east who came to Jerusalem asking, “Where is he who is born the king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and we have come to worship him.” Who were they and where exactly were they from and how did they know about the Messiah and that a star would show them the way to Him? So few details and yet Matthew is careful to record that whoever these mysterious men were, they brought gifts, and particularly gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They worshiped the Christ and then they were gone, back to wherever they came from, never mentioned in scripture again.
Their exit ushers in the very worst kind of horror. King Herod, upset by the Magi’s inquiries made some of his own and discovered from the chief priests and scribes that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. So he set out to murder every male baby around there. But having been warned in a dream, Joseph and Mary have taken Jesus and escaped into the wilderness of Egypt. It is here that Matthew inserts a quote from Jeremiah 31:15,
“A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children, she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more.”
I had to ask some of my more scholarly friends about the significance of Ramah and was pointed to Genesis 35 and 1 Samuel 10. Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin as they are journeying from Bethel to Ephrath (Bethlehem). Her tomb, or at least a memorial to her near Ramah, was the meeting place of Saul and the what-was-lost-has-been-found-messengers of 1 Samuel 10. Moving on to the Oak of Tabor Saul was met with 3 men bearing perishable gifts of meat, bread and wine. Finally after running into a group of prophets the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon Saul and he was “turned into another man,” given “another heart,” and subsequently proclaimed King of Israel. Samuel points out that all of this was because the Israelites had “rejected your God, who saves you from all your calamities and distresses, and you have said to Him, ‘Set a king over us.” Samuel also points out that “some worthless fellows said, ‘How can this man save us?’ And they despised him and brought him no gifts.”
Which brings us to King Asa of Judah, who like all earthly rulers knew the value of gifts when it comes to showing homage and maintaining covenants. 1 Kings 15 records that Asa “brought into the house of the Lord the sacred gifts of his father and his own sacred gifts, silver, and gold, and vessels.” Gifts of homage to the Lord were certainly due for it was the Lord that 2 Chronicles 16 records as having given “the Ethiopians and the Libyans, a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen” into Asa’s hand because he “relied on the Lord.” But then Asa turns around and takes the the gifts of silver and gold from the house of the Lord and uses them to form an alliance with the Syrian king against Baasha, king of Israel. The result of this act would be that King Baasha would stop the building of, which city? Ramah. In fact, King Asa would carry away the stones of Ramah and use them to build his own cities. But because Asa did not rely on the Lord and instead offered his gifts and homage to the king of Syria, the Syrian army would escape him. As would his own health. 2 Chronicles 16 also records that King Asa was diseased in his feet, “Yet even in his disease he did not seek the Lord but sought help from physicians.” And so he died.
I know this is all a bit too much Old Testament history for your average Advent devo, and maybe I’m making connections where there are none, but all these passages seem to be working together to get at least THIS message across: That Israel rejected their true King, desiring instead to give gifts and pay homage to earthly kings WHO COULD NOT SAVE THEM. But as Jeremiah 31:2,3 reminds us,
“The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness…
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.”
Israel’s true King came to save and bring back that which was lost. And though His own received Him not, there were those who came from afar to worship Him, bringing gifts of gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
“So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh, come peasant, king, to own Him; The King of kings Salvation brings, let loving hearts enthrone Him.”
(After singing What Child is This, listen to Handel’s Messiah selection “If God be for us…”)
Click on the About link at the top of the page to find out how we use tiny objects like the one above to help remember each of the 25 people in the genealogy of Christ we will be reading about during the Advent season