Song of Songs 3:6 - Who is this coming up from the desert like a column of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and incense made from all the spices of the merchant?
Say three words—gold, (frank)incense, and myrrh—and what do most people think? Yes, magi bringing gifts to the Baby Jesus.
Did you know we also find gold, incense, and myrrh in Song of Songs. “Gold” appears five times, “incense” three times, and “myrrh” seven times.
Of this trilogy, we find “myrrh” most often, so let’s take a closer look at it. The beloved says her lover is a sachet of myrrh. Later she says he smells like myrrh. And then he’s dripping with myrrh. There’s no doubt about it—she definitely associates him with myrrh.
We know myrrh was and is a perfume, but a quick glance through the entire Bible tells us that it appears more often in association with scenting men than women.
“Myrrh” means “bitter.” And myrrh was used for more than providing fragrance on special occasions. It also deadened pain. And people used it to prepare the dead for burial. Jesus turned down wine mixed with myrrh when He hung from the cross. And Nicodemus brought about seventy-five pounds of spices, including myrrh, so he could prepare Jesus’ body before it was placed in the tomb.
Because so many of us read the New Testament a lot more than we read the Old, we may associate myrrh more with death than with life. I’ve heard it said, for example, that the myrrh that the magi brought to the Christ Child foreshadowed Jesus’ death. The person who said it thought the wise men consciously brought a substance associated with death to give to the Baby Jesus, knowing He was born to die.
Now, what would you think if someone gave you a casket or a headstone as a baby gift? Imagine the conversation! “Here, I hope you like it. I brought you some toys, and some booties, and some expensive embalming fluid. We’re all terminal cases….”
The wise men had no idea that Jesus was going to die to save us from our sins. Even His own disciples didn’t get it. Only Mary of Bethany, Lazarus’s sister, who anointed Jesus’ feet before the crucifixion, appears to have understood “before the fact” that our Savior had to die before He would reign as King.
Reigning as king—that’s why the magi brought myrrh. It was a gift fit for a king. Consider Esther, who, before her “night with the king,” spent six months treating herself with oil of myrrh (Esth. 2:12). Centuries later when the magi found Herod, they asked the location of the one born King of the Jews, saying they had come to worship Him (Matt. 2:2). And when they came to the house and found Him, they fell down in worship, offering that King their gifts.
In Psalm 45:6-8 we read, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy. All your robes are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia; from palaces adorned with ivory the music of the strings makes you glad.”
The focus on loss in association with the myrrh brought by the magi to Jesus misses the strong association of myrrh with riches, royalty, and celebration. When Matthew wrote his gospel, he was presenting Jesus Christ as Israel's long-awaited royal Messiah. And the gifts of the magi were gifts worthy of His Majesty--the one coming to reign in glory.
Celebrate His coming and His return!
(Adapted from Solomon Latte, used with permission.)