Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh: Why the Wise Men Brought These Gifts to the Newborn Jesus
Twelve days after the birth of Jesus, three wise men traveled across the miles to visit him. They brought with them the costly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to give to the new born king. These days, only gold still seems like gift worthy of the son of God. So why were these the three gifts chosen by the wise men?
Gold is the most obvious of all the gifts. It is as monetarily valuable today as it was in biblical times. In the bible, gold is mentioned many times as a symbol of both physical and spiritual wealth. It was a precious medal that was only possessed by men as rich as kings. When the magi brought it as a gift to Jesus, it was most likely symbolic of their acknowledgment of his authority as king.
Frankincense is the sap from a tree of the same name that dries into lumps of gum resin and is used as incense. In biblical times it was considered to be the best kind of incense, in fact even its name means “pure incense”. It was so valuable that only the very wealthy could afford to use it. Frankincense was considered to be a medicinal substance that cure a wide variety of ailments, but its most common use was as incense. Throughout ancient times, many cultures used incense in their worship, as the rising smoke was a great representation of prayers rising to heaven. In the old testament, frankincense is mentioned as one of the four components of the sacred incense burned by Jewish priests in the Sanctuary. The gift of frankincense to Jesus by the magi would have signified his divinity and his future as high priest. Its great value also made it an excellent gift for the new king.
Myrrh is not a substance that is used today, but in biblical times it was considered just as valuable as gold. Like frankincense, it is the sap from a myrrh tree, dried into a gum resin. It was probably used mostly as a painkiller as well as a treatment for sores, coughs, infections, and worms. Ancient people sometimes burned myrrh in the rooms of the sick. It was even given as a medicine to Jesus as he was dying. It was used on Jesus’s body after he died, a custom that was also used by the Hebrews as well as the ancient Egyptians, who used it in embalming. The fragrant scent of myrrh led to its frequent use as an ingredient in perfumes and incense. Its taste, however, was not so pleasant. The word myrrh means bitter, which was given to the substance because of its bitter taste. Scholars believe that myrrh was given to Jesus by the wise men because its bitter taste represented the hard times he would have in his life. It may have also foreshadowed his death. Some also believe that its medicinal properties symbolize his role as a healer.
Each of the three gifts brought by the wise men symbolize different parts of Jesus’s life and his divinity. They share a common value as gifts fit for a new king.