Questions & Answers

Harold S. Paisley

Question: What is the symbolic meaning of "gold, frankincense and myrrh" offered to the Lord by the wise men from the east in Matthew 2:11?

Answer: It should be carefully noted that these men were wise. They were given heavenly widsom which caused them to travel far to worship the Lord, the babe born in Bethlehem. And when they saw the young child, they fell down and worshipped Him alone! Following their worhipful adoration in posture and words, they opened their gifts of worship. These were valuable treasures but their symbolic meaning is greater. We do not assert that the wise men understood the meaning of their gifts fully, but they were guided by God in what they presented, where they offered and to whom. Their gifts were to supply means for the journey of Joseph and Mary and the young child to Egypt, but also to symbolize the glory of the person and work of Christ. Two evident applications can be made and should be effectual when emulated by those who would worship in spirit and in truth.

Gold is symbolic of deity and divine holiness. It was used to inlay and overlay the ark, the wonderful type of the humanity of Christ in shittim wood and the gold of His deity. Thus in their first gift, they confessed His Godhead.

Frankincense is mentioned in connection with the meal offering (Lev. 2:1-2). The fine flour mingled with oil and salt speaks of the perfect humanity of the Lord Jesus and the frankincense of the fragrance of His pathway to God. It is written that all the frankincense was offered to God. He only could understand and fully appreciate the peculiar fragrance of the spotless manhood of the Son of His love. So in this second presentation, they showed in the gift, His wonderful person as man.

Myrrh, mentioned fourteen times in God’s precious word, speaks of death. It was used in embalming the body of the Lord Jesus (John 19:39). The name of the martyr church, Smyrna, means "myrrh." The same word as in John 19:39. By this their third gift, they spoke of His death. It is to be considered that each of these wise men had the same three treasures.

If they understood all this they were indeed wise. If not, they nevertheless were not only divinely guided by His star to His person, but also in the choice of their gifts of worship.

Secondly, it is suggestive that gold being the symbol of monarchy, was suitable in the worship of one who was born to reign. Christ the King, the Sovereign. "I looked and behold a white cloud and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of Man having on His head a golden crown" (Rev. 14:14). The second gift would suggest Christ the priest. The meal offering was baked in the oven on a flat plate or in a frying pan suggestive of the testings and trials of the Lord with a view to His priesthood. "In that He suffered, He is able to succour them that are tried" (Heb. 2:10). When the woman anointed the Lord with ointment, (myrrh, JND) immediately Simon recognized Him as the prophet (RV. Luke 7:38-39). "His lips are as the sweet smelling myrrh" (Song of Solomon 5:13).

With such applications before our hearts, may we come like these wise men to worship in the beauty of holiness. Sweet is the savor of His Name, who suffered in His people’s stead; His portion here, reproach and shame, He liveth now, He once was dead.