This blog is a chapter from my forthcoming book, All The Trees of Frankincense, hopefully, available in the spring of 2018.
Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh ~ The Gifts From the Magi
It is during the season of Christmas the most famous of frankincense and myrrh scriptures is brought to light. Churches, malls, and homes decorated with a stable and three kings kneeling to present their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the Christ Child. The rest of the scene has Mary holding the child and Joseph looking on with camels, donkeys, and sheep to add to the humble setting all the while the star is brightly shining. And to add to the scene we have a few shepherds with their staffs and a host of angels.
When we moved to North Carolina, in November 1990, our fifth child was three weeks old. On our first Sunday in our new town, we walked into a church with our tribe. As we were departing this lady came up to us. She was overjoyed and very excited to meet us. She looked at Hannah and said “There’s my baby Jesus! We don’t have to use a doll this year.” After talking with her we found out that she was the Children’s Church Director. So, David was Joseph, I was Mary, and Hannah was Jesus that year. The Children’s Church surrounded us as angels gazing down on us and the notable wise men giving us the treasure chests of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
The three gifts were of great symbolic significance as well as of a valuable commodity. Gold represents a deity, myrrh is suffering, and frankincense is worship. In my Precious Oils Study of the Fragrances of the Bible, I expound on the symbolic meanings of these treasures.
Let’s look at some key points that lead up to the presentation of the gifts that set the stage for the gifts.
In Matthew 2:1 we find the introduction of the “wise men” from the east. The original word is magi, from which comes our word magician. Today magician is used in a negative way, but that wasn’t the original definition. Wise Men were philosophers, priests, or astronomers who scholars tell us lived chiefly in Persia and Arabia. They were men of integrity and devoted to their higher learning and calling of their vocations; astronomy, religion, and to healing and medicine. These men were highly esteemed by the Persian court and other countries from where they resided.
Verse 2 asks “Where is he?” and then they say, “born of the King of the Jews”. We need to stop and think about a few things. During this period of history, there was a deep expectation that some remarkable person would appear in Judea, perhaps even “The Messiah”. People were looking for the fulfillment of Daniel 9:25-27. With hopeful hearts, they knew that the period was approaching when he would appear. Although this king would be temporary, a great expectation that he would deliver them from Roman bondage was deep in their hearts. Many Jewish families, at that time, lived in Egypt, Rome, Greece and other Eastern countries. They carried the history, and prophecies of their people, written on scrolls, in every place they lived so naturally there was a great expectation that some remarkable person was about to appear just as they read.
“From the East” can show us two thoughts, the first is the country of from where they were from, or it could mean that from where they were traveling from, perhaps the east/west ancient trade route over land. At this point of the story we don’t know they have “gifts”, but as we read in the next verse we find that they were brought to Jerusalem under the guidance of “His Star”. Commentators enlighten us with these thoughts.
Among the ancients, the appearance of a new star or comet was regarded as an omen of some remarkable event. Many such appearances are recorded by the Roman historians at the birth or death of distinguished men. Thus, they say that at the death of Julius Caesar a comet appeared in the heavens and shone seven days. These wise men also considered this as an evidence that the long-expected Prince was born. It is possible that they had been led to this belief by the prophecy of Balaam “There shall come a star out of Jacob,” Numbers 24:17. What this star was is not known. There have been many conjectures respecting it, but nothing is revealed concerning it. We are not to suppose that it was what we commonly mean by a star. The stars are vast bodies fixed in the heavens, and it is absurd to suppose that one of them was sent to guide the wise men. It is most probable that it was a luminous appearance, or meteor, such as we now see sometimes shoot from the sky, which the wise men saw, and which directed them to Jerusalem. It is possible that the same thing is meant which is mentioned in Luke 2:9; “The glory of the Lord shone round about them”, a great light appeared shining on them. That light might have been visible from afar, and might have been seen by the wise men in the East. Barnes Notes of the Bible.
“This glory of the Lord” is the same as a “great” glory – that is, a splendid appearance or “light.” The word “glory” is often the same as light as found in I Corinthians 15:41; Luke 9:31 and Acts 22:11. The words “Lord” and “God” are often used to denote “greatness” or “intensity.” In the Word, we find “trees of God” meaning great trees; “hills of God,” high or lofty hills, etc. So “the glory of the Lord” here means an exceedingly great or bright luminous appearance perhaps not unlike what Paul saw on the way to Damascus.
As we continue to expound verses one and two we find another reference “In the East”, which is not the same as “From the East”. “In the East” does not mean that they had seen the star to the east of themselves, but that, when they were in the East, they had seen this star as it was in the direction of Jerusalem and must have been west of them. This could be translated, “We, being in the East, have seen his star.” It is called his star because they believed it indicated the time and place of his birth.
To worship him does not mean that they had come to pay him religious homage, or to adore him They regarded him as the King of the Jews as there was no evidence that they supposed that he was divine. Their tribute was to honor him as a prince or king, not as God. Worship implies no more than this. It means to prostrate oneself before another; to fall and pay homage to another. This was the mode in which homage was paid to earthly kings, and this they wished to pay to the new-born King of the Jews. We find the same meaning of worship in Matthew 20:20 and 18:26; Acts 10:25 and Luke 14:10. Webster defines worship as “to respect, to honor, to treat with civil reverence’.
Thayer’s Greek Definition is.
1) to kiss the hand to (towards) one, in token of reverence
2) among the Orientals, especially the Persians, to fall upon the knees and touch the ground with the forehead as an expression of profound reverence
3) in the NT by kneeling or prostration to do homage (to one) or make obeisance, whether to express respect or to make supplication
3a) used of homage shown to men and beings of superior rank
The Strong’s Concordance describes further. G4352
From G4314 and probably a derivative of G2965 (meaning to kiss, like a dog licking his master’s hand); to fawn or crouch to, that is, (literally or figuratively) prostrate oneself in homage (do reverence to, adore): – worship.
As I would very much like to continue the rest of the passage verse-by-verse, I’ll share the story in a nutshell.
Herod, the king HEARD the wise men, He got super agitated because “he was king”. He may have ranted so much it could be the reason that we read “and all of Jerusalem with him”. He gathers the Sanhedrin DEMANDING them to tell him where this king had been born. The scribes, without hesitation, told him what the prophet Micah had written in Micah 5:2
But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.
Then Herod had a secret meeting with the wise men; he wanted to know when the star had appeared giving him insight on the approximate age of the child in which scholars tell us that he was around two years of age. Herod sent them out to search for the child and told them when you find him send someone to tell me. After the meeting with the king, the wise men departed. Then the same star shone brightly leading them until it was over the child.
The joyfulness was great among them as they went into the house seeing the child with his mother and gave homage to the child, presenting him with the precious and sacrificial gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
In a dream, the wise men were told not to return to Herod and departed another path back home.
Now, this takes us a few moments to ponder the gifts that are only mentioned in Matthew’s account. But first I want to share a “thought”, not from anything I read but just as I was thinking and writing this for you.
So, I had a thought about Luke 2 who tells us more of the story; there was “no room in the inn”, shepherds herding their flocks and “the angel of the Lord”. Do you think that “his star” from Matthew was “his angel” as often people have described angels as being “light”? And perhaps the wise men heard of the taxation and perhaps is why the wise men gave sacrificially of the precious gifts.
Back to the precious gifts given. Perhaps the offerings of gold, frankincense, and myrrh were given as they were the most prized gifts from the country that the Magi (or wise men) were from.
Much speculation has occurred for centuries of what the gift of gold was and is debatable. The precious metal of gold is very possible, but perhaps not. In Scripture, we find several words for gold as well as the metal mined from many surrounding nations. As I’ve studied I often wonder if the “gold” given to the Christ child was coins or something of a golden nature such as this plant-loving apothecary tends to think.
In Biblical Archeology Bible History Daily (12/02/2017) they write this, in which had me thinking perhaps my train of thought was on the right path.
Still, others have suggested that the gifts of the magi were a bit more practical—even medicinal in nature.
I’ve read a few thoughts where something “golden” could have been the “gold”. Some think it was turmeric. Others suggest that it was the Balm of Gilead. All were (are) “medicinal” but personally, I rather doubt that they were the most valuable non-coin in those days.
While I am not ruling out that the “gold” could have been gold coins, I’m presenting something else that I’ve been teaching since I wrote my Precious Oils Study in 2008 that the “gold” given by the wise men was possible a wood called “oud” (a/k/a “Aloes”).
The wood is dark to golden colored and its cost is more than gold. Around the world, the wood is known as Gaharu, Jinko, Aloeswood, Agarwood, Eaglewood or Oud. It is valued in many cultures for its distinctive fragrance and has been called the “Incense of the Kings.”
Aloes (aloeswood) is not the Aloe Vera that we think of from the desert cactus but from a specific tree that was (and still) used as incense by itself or in a blend as well as in designer perfumes such as Giorgio Armani’s Oud Royal and Tom Ford’s Oud Wood.
Aloeswood/Oud is the resinous heartwood from the Aquilaria agallochum plant. The time-honored fragrance is of continued great interest to me considering ancient cultures used it and we find it in Torah. Oud is extracted from decayed wood and found in countries of the east; Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, China, Siam, and Northern India. The tree grows to the height sometimes of 120 feet. This species is of a great rarity even in India. There is another and more common species, called by Indians aghil, whence Europeans have given it the name of Lignum aquile, or eagle-wood. The aroma is amazing. We can purchase the rare essential oil by itself, but be prepared a few drops will cost you more than pure rose oil. The wood, as an incense, is also pricey, but is affordable and used for meditation and religious purposes, mainly in the Arab world.
Oud is believed to be one of the most expensive aromas in the world. Both the resin and the wood are equally treasured. One drop of the Oud CO2 can add a depth, unlike other plants. The aroma is like a blend of cedar and sandalwood, but with subtle fragrance notes of roses and balsam. Totally intriguing and mysterious.
Another conviction that it was possibly “aloeswood” in this scripture verse is because we first find the plant mentioned in the Torah, written Lign Aloes in the goodly tents of Jacob. (Numbers 24). And it’s interesting that Solomon wrote another “aloes, frankincense and myrrh” verse that I’ll expound upon later in this book.
Be it gold coins or aloeswood all represented wealth then, as well as today.
Frankincense and myrrh haven’t changed much in the years past, and both are written in the Torah. The first account of myrrh is in Genesis 37 with the caravan of Ishmaelites carrying it with other choice products from an eastern region called Gilead. The first account of frankincense is also found in Torah (Exodus 30) as an ingredient in the Holy Incense. Later in this book, we examine the healing properties of these resins.
Frankincense and myrrh are both aromatic gum resins and were heavily traded on the ancient trade routes of land and sea and the use of them in the ancient culture of Egypt are well documented.
Now, “why these gifts”? One thought I have goes back to the taxation when Joseph and Mary had to go to The City of David. As the story continues in Matthew 2, verse 13 we read the wise men departed, then the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream telling him to go to Egypt. If at that time, they hadn’t paid their taxes they could, and they would have “travel money” as Egypt was not their homeland, they would be foreigners and needed provision to live there. In ancient Egypt, massive quantities of aromatics were consumed. The precious resins of frankincense, myrrh, and other aromatics were in great demand. Is it possible that the wise men’s gifts were the riches they needed to survive in Egypt until Herod died?
Oh, and about those wise men, there probably were more than three, there may have been a dozen or a hundred, we don’t know. With the possibility of encountering robbers or wild animals, safety in numbers was “wise”.
Cynthia Hillson’s ministry, Precious Oils Up On the Hill, brings fragrances written in the Bible to life. She has been married to David for 37 years. They are the parents of six children and grandparents to seven.
Precious Oils Up On the Hill® is the ministry Cynthia began in 1991 after a three-day encounter with the Holy Spirit where she was instructed to “anoint the nations” and “prepare the Bride”. Cynthia is a Modern Day Apothecary who teaches about Biblical fragrances for personal delight, physical health, and spiritual growth. Cynthia lovingly calls her books and workshops a “Show and Smell” ministry. For more information go to http://www.TheFragrantBride.com.