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Gold, Frankincense And Myrhh : Why These Gifts Were Given To A Newborn Jesus....
The Christmas Story
We often tell the story of the Saviour's birth. We tell it with respect, admiration and emotion. Sometimes, we tell it incorrectly....because that is how it was told to us. Does the Bible, really say, " three wise men", or do we assume it was three, because of the three gifts?
Do we tell the meaning of the gifts given? Have we, ourselves even asked, if they have meaning?
Does it really say the gifts were presented to the newborn Jesus, or could he have been a toddler by the time the wise men found him?
The Book of Matthew
1Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
2Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
3When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
4And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.
5And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,
6And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.
7Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.
8And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.
9When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.
10When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
11And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.
What The Story Does And Does Not Say
This account does not tell us that three wise men made a visit to the infant Jesus. It says men, meaning there was more than one visitor.
It says they were instructed by Herod to go and search for the young child and return to him with His location.
It also says that the star stood over where the young child was.
It does not say they found Jesus in the manger, but in the house. The manger, is where the shepherds came from the field to see the newborn Jesus. That story is told in Luke, chapter 2 verses 8-16.
It clearly says that they presented Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrhh. It does not say, by how many or in what quantities the gifts were given.
Luke's account does not tell us how the wise men knew of the Saviours birth, and how Herod knew of their search. Something about them caused a stir, because Herod and all Jerusalem were " troubled".
We are not told where the wise men came from exactly, only that it was "east".
Let us go beyond the US Mint, The Treasury Department, and Portfolio Investments. To understand the value of giving gold to the young Jesus, we need to think as people in that era may have thought.
Man's fascination with gold goes back to the beginnings of recorded history. One might say that gold is mankind's security blanket.
The temple priests used the relic metal for adornment in ancient Egypt circa 3000 B.C. It is curious to note, the early Egyptian's medium of exchange was not gold but barley. The first use of gold as money in 700 B.C. is claimed by the citizens of the Kingdom of Lydia (western Turkey).
Gold is called a "noble" metal (an alchemistic term) because it does not oxidize under ordinary conditions.
The graves of nobles at the ancient Citadel of Mycenae near Nauplion, Greece,( discovered by Heinrich Schliemann in 1876,) yielded a great variety of gold figurines, masks, cups, diadems,( crown or headdress) and jewelry, plus hundreds of decorated beads and buttons.
These elegant works of art were created by skilled craftsmen more than 3,500 years ago.
Although gold was used for its medium of exchange, it was also valued for healing properties, and to signify royalty and nobility.
Just A Bit On Nobles
The Merriam Webster Dictionary has this to say about "noble" :
possessing outstanding qualities of high birth
exalted rank possessing very high or excellent qualities or properties
very good or excellent grand or impressive especially in appearance possessing,
characterized by, or arising from superiority of mind or character or of ideals or morals
Great leaders and great servants would be thought of as possessing these qualities.
In some parts of the world, frankincense is known as olibanum , which comes from the Arabic word for "the milk," al-lubán . This is most likely referring to the milky color of the sap which hardens to make frankincense.
The Bible also mentions it in Exodus 30:34 , it is referred to as levonah , which can mean "white" in Hebrew. In the modern world, the name "frankincense" is a more common term. This name is likely to have been derived from "the incense of the Franks" since it came to Europe via Frankish crusaders.
It was used to perfume the homes of the ancient Romans and Greeks. The Egyptians, Assyrians, and Babylonians used frankincense in their religious rituals. It later became a part of Jewish rites, and even later, in the rites of the Catholic Church.
Frankincense was used during religious rituals, and is thought to symbolize sacrifice, and Christ's divinity, and priestly role. It signified showing honor and respect to God.
Myrrh refers to the dried resin or sap of a number of trees of various Commiphora and Balsamodendron species. The most common source of myrrh, grows natively in Somalia and eastern Ethiopia. The word myrrh comes from the Hebrew murr or maror , which means "bitter."
Myrrh was extremely valuable in the time of the Roman Empire, when Jesus was born. It was being used as incense, perfume, and in the Holy Oil of the Jews. The Egyptians used it for embalming and fumigating.
Many present day herbal medicine practitioners recommend the use of myrrh as an antiseptic. Myrrh forms an important ingredient of an ointment that is applied externally in treating wounds.
The Symbolic Story
Why did wise men travel, probably by camel, to a distant country, to present a young child with gifts? Why gold, frankincense and myrrh?
Perhaps, the story of the wise men is to teach us, that if we too, are wise, we will seek Jesus.
Gold , the noble metal, was the gift fit for royalty and kings.
Frankincense, used in Jewish rites, was for the priest and the divine.
Myrrh was the spice of the wounded and the dying.
Whether the wise men were astrologers , seers, or highly educated men, King Herod took note of their journey and had them summoned. This speaks of their importance, their gifts seem to have had an important message as well.
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What Others Say......
James A Watkins 6 weeks ago
Thank you for this excellent Hub. I have read that the reason these particular gifts were given was that these three things were the most valuable items in the world at the time that were small enough to be sewn into Joseph and Mary's clothes and thereby hidden from robbers, which were common on the road to Egypt. In other words, that God had a hand in the gifts as only He could foresee that they would flee to Egypt.
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