Frankincense, myrrh and other similar spices were used in various blends for both sacred and personal purposes. They were used as a sacred perfume in consecration rites (Ex. 30:22-37), and also burned along with the offerings in order to provide “an aroma pleasing to the Lord” (Lev. 2:1,15-16; 6:15). They were used for pain relief. Those being executed by the slow painful process of crucifixion were “offered ... wine mixed with myrrh” (Mk. 15:23). This drink was offered to Jesus when He was on the cross, but “He did not take it” because it was the divine intention that He experience undiminished the physical pain of our sins upon the cross.
They were used for embalming purposes. After Jesus’ death, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus used “a mixture of myrrh and aloes … (and) taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen … in accordance with Jewish burial customs” (Jn. 19:38-40).
Women also used mixtures of these spices as perfumes, for the mind-altering properties of their vapors in lovemaking (Prov. 7:17; Est. 2:12).
Today, frankincense and myrrh are burned as an incense in religious ceremonies around the world, just as they wereused as a “fragrant blend” in such ceremonies by the Israelites (Ex. 30:34-35).
These gum resins, produced by trees on the Arabian Peninsula and in India, were transported over great distances to meet the demand. The caravan to which Joseph was sold was carrying “spices, balm, and myrrh … down to Egypt” (Gen. 37:25). Because of high transportation and production costs, they were very expensive and thus appropriate to be given as gifts, along with gold, by the Magi to Him who was “born king of the Jews” (Mt. 2:1,11).
These aromatic resins were obtained by cutting gashes into the trees and then collecting the liquid resin that oozed out of the wounds. The tree itself reminds us of the body of Christ given for us; the resin that oozes out pictures His blood shed for us; and the burning of these spices pictures “the golden bowls of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Rev. 5:8) rising in worship. We can now see that the way they were obtained made them especially suitable for worship because they spoke of Christ who “gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:2).
Our worship, both audible and inaudible, ascends to God as we remember Christ. When our prayers focus on His death and resurrection, they become a “fragrant offering to the Lord.” When we remember Him our thoughts should be on Christ’s offering of Himself for our sins. To be a truly fragrant offering, our thoughts must be all about Christ, and nothing about ourselves.
By Alan H. Crosby
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org