Myrrh is described in Fauna and Flora of the Bible, a publication of the United Bible Societies, as follows:
Myrrh is a dark-red gum with a strong aroma and a bitter taste. It exudes from a bush or tree belonging to a family of the burseraceæ which grows in Arabia, Abyssinia and on the Somali coast of East Africa. It is not native to Palestine. This tree or bush has a great number of knotted branches. The gum exudes from the branch as a thick light-coloured paste which, when exposed to the atomsphere, soon hardens and takes on a brownish colour. The finest myrrh was the resin secreted of itself (rather than by artificial incision) through the bark… (147)
When the secretion is collected directly from the bark it can be used as an ingredient in ointments.
When Ismaelites (Midianites) came from Gilead into the Dothan valley on their way to Egypt, Joseph’s brothers sold him to them (Genesis 37:27, 36). The Bible describes the caravan and the goods the Midianites were transporting.
a caravan of Ishmaelites was coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing aromatic gum and balm and myrrh, on their way to bring them down to Egypt. (Genesis 37:25 NAU)
In previous posts we have written about the Incense Route which was used by the Nabateans. This event was much earlier, and we see the caravan coming from the east (Gilead). The famous King’s highway ran through Gilead.
Myrrh is listed as a product of the land of Canaan when Jacob prepares his gift basket to be taken to Joseph (Genesis 43:11). This differs from what we normally read about myrrh. I do not know the solution to the problem at the moment. Perhaps it had been purchased from traveling merchants and was included with local products in the gift basket.
Myrrh could be in a liquid form. The ointment used in the anointing of priests had myrrh in it (Exodus 30:23). Oil of myrrh was in the cosmetics used by Esther (Esther 2:12). See also Song of Solomon 5:5.
The young man is advised to avoid the prostitute. He is told that she will entice him by saying,
I have sprinkled my bed
With myrrh, aloes and cinnamon. (Proverbs 7:17 NAU)
The young lady in the Song of Solomon thinks of her lover as a pouch or sachet of myrrh that lies all night between her breasts (1:13). She thinks of his lips as dripping with liquid myrrh (5:13).
The young man dreams of the time when he can approach her, and perhaps thinks of her breasts as the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense.
Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, I will go away to the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense. (Song of Solomon 4:6 ESV)
Myrrh displayed at Avdat, a stop on the Incense Route. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.
The wine offered to Jesus on the cross was mixed with myrrh (Mark 15:23).
Nicodemus brought about 75 pounds (= 100 Roman pounds) of myrrh and aloe for the burial of Jesus (John 19:39). We may conclude from this that Nicodemus, like Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 27:57 NAU), was a wealthy man.
Myrrh branch. From 1000 Bible Images (Logos digital edition).
The wise men brought rare and expensive gifts to Jesus (Matthew 2:11). I trust that this brief discussion over the past three days has enhanced your understanding and appreciation of those gifts. What have we to give Him?
J. P. Van de Giessen has an article on Myrrh here, and a photo of the tree here.
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