We often see the picture on Christmas cards and maybe hear the story at Christmas, but have you ever thought seriously about the fascinating account in Matthew 2 of the occasion when, as the heading in the NIV puts it, “The Magi visit the Messiah”.
If you are thinking, “what’s this got to do with Psalm 72?” then just hang in there and you will find out soon.
Just to remind you, let me quote the story:
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[or traditionally, ‘wise men’] from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’” [found in Micah 5:2]
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (Matthew 2:1-12)
There are some really interesting things about this narrative. One, was that it seems that these men were not Jewish. In fact, they were from the east of Jerusalem, i.e. perhaps from Persia or southern Arabia. Two, they were not necessarily believers as the Jews would have defined believers in Yahweh. In fact, they were probably astrologers! The word Magi is from Greek magos, a word used for the Persian learned and priestly class. Three, they seemed to have some understanding [maybe from their studies of Jewish literature?] that the Jews were expecting someone special called the ‘Messiah’ [meaning ‘anointed’ and chosen one]. Then four, being people who studied the stars, they had seen an unusual star and had connected it to the birth of Jesus, whom they called the king of the Jews and spoke of it as his star in the east (verse 2). Five, and most remarkable of all, was that had travelled very far because they wanted to find him! Why? Curiosity? Purely academic reasons? No. The reason given by them was, we have come to worship him (verse 2).
An incredible story!
So, what is the possible connection between Psalm 72 and this story? Well, let me quote Longman:
“The psalm is a prayer…the psalmist hopes that the king will reflect God’s justice and righteousness among his people [vs 1-2]. Such a king will bring prosperity to his nation and will protect the vulnerable (vs 3-4). He also asks that…the nations might submit themselves to this king, with the result that they too will experience blessing (vs 8-11).
[Sadly] No human king ever achieved the ideal of justice and righteousness described…In addition, no king ever succeeded in being a conduit of blessing on all the kingdoms of the world…
The faithful came to realize that the fulfilment…would come in the future, and the New Testament authors clearly recognized that Jesus was the fulfilment of these hopes. Indeed, Jesus is the righteous and just king depicted in the Psalm, as well as the One who brings blessing to all the nations of the world. Hossfield and Zenger [who wrote ‘A Critical & Historical Commentary on the Bible’] see Psalm 72 behind the picture of the wise men from the nations who bring gifts, including gold, to the new-born infant.” (# 30)
And so, as recorded by Matthew, on coming to the house, they [the Magi] saw the child [Jesus] with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. (Matthew 2:11)
Rightly so, the psalmist finishes off with a great doxology of praise:
17 May his name endure forever;
may it continue as long as the sun.
Then all nations will be blessed through him,
and they will call him blessed.
18 Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel,
who alone does marvellous deeds.
19 Praise be to his glorious name forever;
may the whole earth be filled with his glory.
Amen and Amen.
Lord Jesus, as did the Magi over 2000 years ago, today we worship you, our great King and our God. Amen.
This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse (Psalm 72:20). It also concludes Book 2 of the Psalter.