Q: #446. What was myrrh in the Bible?
A: Interestingly, as with our previous study on frankincense, myrrh is mentioned 17 times in the Bible (14 OT, 3 NT). Easily, the most famous mention is that it was one of 3 presents that the wise men presented to the child Jesus (Mt 2:11). But, what exactly WAS myrrh? Let’s look at this.
Myrrh bears other similarities to frankincense as well. It is a resin (dried sap) which comes from the Commiphora myrrha tree. This resin is obtained by making small incisions in the bark of the tree. From these incisions, resin/sap is excreted. It is allowed to dry for several weeks, and then removed. This hardened resin could be used as was, or it could be made into a liquid by heating it. The Commiphora myrrha tree is mainly found in the same places as the Boswellia sacra tree, from which frankincense comes; primarily in Arabia and parts of Africa. Again, because of the scarcity of these trees, it was (and is) a rare commodity, and quite valuable. In fact, I read that the frankincense and myrrh presented to Jesus were likely more valuable than the gold.
Myrrh had a number of uses in the Bible. In the Old Testament (Ex 30:22-33), myrrh was one of the ingredients (“of pure myrrh five hundred shekels”) in a recipe that God gave to Moses for a special holy anointing oil which was to be used in the Tabernacle. It was used to anoint the Tabernacle itself, and everything associated with it. If it was used on anything else, or if anyone copied this recipe, the person responsible was to be “cut off from his people.”
Myrrh was used three significant times with Jesus. As mentioned above, it was one of the gifts presented to Him as a child (Mt 2:11). It was offered to Him as a sedative (mixed with wine) to deaden His pain before being crucified (Mk 15:23) (He refused to take it). (***Note: [Mt 27:34] says it was vinegar mixed with gall.”) Finally, about 75 lbs. of myrrh and aloes were used to anoint the body of Jesus in His tomb after He died on the cross (Jn 19:38-39).
In addition, myrrh was (and sometimes is today) used as a perfume (Ps 45:8)(Prov 7:17)(Song 3:6), for beauty treatments (Est 2:12), for commerce (Gen 37:25), and for gifts (Gen 43:11)(Mt 2:11). (***Note: the Hebrew word translated as “myrrh” in Genesis is not the same word used for myrrh in the rest of the OT.) History tells us that myrrh was also used to treat a wide variety of medical issues during Bible times. I read that scientists today are revisiting some of these past medical uses for myrrh.
Although this cannot be proven, it is said that each of the 3 gifts given to the child Jesus had symbolic meaning. Since myrrh was often used for burials, perhaps the gift of myrrh pointed prophetically to His future death and burial. Or, because it was “bitter,” perhaps it pointed to His “bitter” suffering while on Earth.