My dear friend and fellow Army Veteran, Ann Marie, continues with the second of three words common to Christmas, Frankincense, for this edition of Word Nerd Wednesday.
Frankincense (Hebrew; febond, n.): whiteness; white and shining; a fragrant, resinous gum-incense; Also, (Hebrew; qeforet, n.): incense, smoke offering, its pleasant fragrance symbolic of God’s acceptance – incense, offering; Also, (Hebrew; qatar, v.): to burn an offering (of incense smoke); to be perfumed.
Frankincense (Greek; libanos, n.): incense, an aromatic resinous gum.
Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary offers the following definition: “Ingredient used in making the perfume for the most holy place in the tabernacle [Ex 30:34]. It is a resinous substance derived from certain trees in the balsam family.”
Frankincense in the Bible
The word frankincense is often interchanged with the word incense and appears in the Bible about 150 times. The substance itself begins as a milky-white, almost transparent gum that exudes as beads from a variety of species of Boswellia trees. Once congealed, it is formed into cone-shaped pieces, crushed into powder, and heated or burned to produce a fragrance. Scripture identifies the presence of frankincense producing trees throughout Sheba (Is 60:6; Jer 6:20), Somalia, Put, Saba, Babylon (Rev 18:13) and other areas within present-day South Arabia, East Africa, and India. It was predominantly used in ancient times ceremonially during worship, prayer (Ps 141:2), offerings of meat (Lev 2:1, 16) or grain (2:15), and for a variety of medicinal purposes. Frankincense is still used today for worship in many orthodox churches and remains a popular product for healing, health, and wellness.
After examining the word gold last week, we revisit our key verse to look at frankincense as the second gift delivered to the young Messiah.
“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.”
The earliest example of frankincense or incense in Scripture comes from a direct order God gave to Moses regarding the construction of the Tabernacle. “The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me…gold, silver, and bronze…oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense…And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.” (Ex 25:1-8)
Not only did God record the detailed construction plans for His Tabernacle to be built to His physical specifications, He very clearly outlined His intentions for how He desired His people to come to Him! While it would have been within His power to do so, God did not demand that each man provide an offering. Rather, He only desired the offerings come from “every man whose heart moves him” (v2). Once constructed, the fragrant incense was burned in the holy place prepared for God to “dwell in their midst.” (v8)
So, what does this understanding say about the Magi who decided to bring frankincense to the child, Jesus? (Matt. 2:11) Again, we examine how they knew the reason, the receiver, and the significance of their gift!
1. They knew the reason for the gift.
The Son of God had been born! Like the offerings of the early Israelites, the wise men knew that they were about to be in the presence of holiness and their gifts needed to reflect such. We remember that they first gave their hearts when they “bowed down and worshiped him. ” They would have known from ancient teachings that God told Moses, “Take for yourself spices…with pure frankincense…with it you shall make incense, a perfume, the work of a perfumer, salted, pure, and holy. You shall beat some of it very fine, and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I will meet with you; it shall be most holy to you.” (Ex 30:34-38) By bringing the gift of frankincense, they prepared the place of meeting and all those present for a pure and Holy Communion with the Lord!
2. They knew the receiver of the gift.
In addition to recognizing Jesus’ sovereignty as King, the wise men understood that He was the promised Messiah (Mic 5:2; Mal 3:1) and the Son of God (Ps 2:7; Matt 2:15;). As theologian, Origen (185-254 AD) summarized the three gifts, “Gold, as to a king; Myrrh, as to one who is mortal; and Incense, as to a God,” The wise men acknowledged Jesus’ deity with their gift of frankincense.
3. They knew the significance of the gift.
While frankincense had been used heavily in ritualistic offerings to God, it was explicitly forbidden from use as a sin offering (Lev 5:11) or in the ordeal by fire Num 5:15). The gift of frankincense signified the recognition of purity and God’s Holy Presence. How appropriate a gift for the Christ, the Lamb, the one born to become the final sin offering who “went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands” (Heb 9:11-28) to become the sin offering for all of mankind!!
An Insufficient Offering
As if this is not enough to humble our hearts during this season stressed by excessive gift giving, materialism, and planned chaos, God provides us a final gut-wrenching illustration. Like gold, frankincense remains one of the finest riches of the earth. Yet, God foretold in Ezekiel 27 that all the glamorous and splendid gifts of this world would assuredly disappear. In the final scriptural reference to frankincense, we see the anguish of those who put their hope in such things.
“And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, 12 cargo of gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple cloth, silk, scarlet cloth, all kinds of scented wood, all kinds of articles of ivory, all kinds of articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, 13 cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls. The fruit for which your soul longed has gone from you, and all your delicacies and your splendors are lost to you, never to be found again!”
As we approach this Christmas holiday, let our hearts and minds be focused on Jesus, the Everlasting Gift. May our words and actions become a pleasing and fragrant offering to Him as He is for us.As we approach Christmas, may our words and actions become a pleasing and fragrant offering to Him as He is for us. #wordnerdwednesday #frankincense Click To Tweet
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Linking Up With
For more encouragement please join the discussions on these fabulous blog link ups – Suzanne Eller, Faith On Fire, Susan B. Mead, Faith Filled Friday, Grace and Truth, Faith and Fellowship Friday, Soul Survival, Rah Rah Link Up, Tell His Story, Sitting Among Friends, Testimony Tuesday, Planting Roots, and Fresh Market Friday, Salt and Light.