Why gold, frankincense and myrrh?
“Magi” (star gazers from the east, not kings) discerned that the Christ would be found in Jerusalem. They saw the star and brought these gifts to the young child, now a toddler approximately 1 to 2 years old. The family was no longer in the manger but living in their Jerusalem home. Scripture does not tell us how many magi there were. The idea of three has been popularized because of the three gifts they brought.
“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.” (Matt. 2:11).
David Langford, associate pastor of Harrisburg Baptist Church, Tupelo Mississippi suggests these “magi” may have been descended from the wise men of Babylon mentioned in Daniel: “King Nebuchadnezzar, appointed him [Daniel] chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners.” (Daniel 5:11). But whoever they were they brought these three specific gifts.
Gold – Gold was indeed a gift fit for a king. The Queen of Sheba, for example, when she visited King Solomon, came “with camels carrying spices, large quantities of gold, and precious stones” (1 Kings 10:2). Gold is recognition that Christ is indeed a great King!
Frankincense – Frankincense is an aromatic gum resin which when burned creates a lovely aroma. It is used much in temple worship and therefore represents deity. It was costly and precious.
Myrrh – Myrrh is a spice made of tree sap and used in embalming. Herod was buried wrapped in over 150lbs of it. John records that Jesus was similarly wrapped with half as much:
“Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.” (John 19:39-40).
Myrrh in liquid form was also used in formulating the oil used to anoint the priests, the instruments, the altar, and the Temple prior to offering sacrifices. The connection of Christ as anointed priest and His sacrificial death is obvious.
Gold, frankincense and myrrh were often among the gifts brought to royalty. In 243 B.C. for example they were among the gifts King Seleucus II Callinicus brought to the god Apollo at the temple in Miletus, and Isaiah announced concerning Jerusalem’s restoration:
“Herds of camels will cover your land,
young camels of Midian and Ephah.
And all from Sheba will come,
bearing gold and incense
and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.” (Isa. 60:6).
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