Christmas has come and gone but while the decorations and spirit are still in my home, I'd like to share something I discovered a few years ago that will shed some new light for many on the significance of the three gifts the wisemen brought the Christ child.
So, have you ever wondered why the wisemen of the east brought the young Jesus gold, frankincense, and myrrh? Was it just a kind thought or something valuable to show honor and respect? Or, could there have been great symbolism and ancient scripture supporting these gifts of choice?
New Testament scripture doesn't say much about these wise men or their gifts:
1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judæa in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
11 And 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.
The Bible Dictionary tells us this about the Magi:
It seems likely that they were representatives of a branch of the Lord’s people from somewhere east of Palestine, who had come, led by the Spirit, to behold the Son of God and who returned to their people to bear witness that the king Immanuel had indeed been born in the flesh. We are not told how many wise men there were, but tradition usually speaks of three, because of the three gifts of gold, myrrh, and frankincense. If they were serving in the capacity of witnesses, there would of necessity have been two or three.
A few years ago, I received a prompting to read and study the Apocrypha. For those of you who aren't familiar with the Apocrypha, they are a set of ancient texts with unknown authors, that were not selected to be included the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and are generally considered unworthy to be properly called scripture by most Christian denominations. Reformist Martin Luther termed them "Apocrypha, meaning books which are not considered equal to the Holy Scriptures, but are useful and good to read."
The Roman Catholic Church recognizes the Apocrypha as scripture and their Old Testament Cannon contains several books from the Apocrypha. At "the Council of Hippo" in 393, and the third Council of Carthage in 397, under the influence of Augustine, who attended both, fixed the catholic canon of the Holy Scriptures, including the Apocrypha of the Old Testament.
So, what are members of the LDS church counseled in regards to the Apocrypha? The Lord gives us this counsel in Doctrine and Covenants 91;
1 Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you concerning the Apocrypha—There are many things contained therein that are true, and it is mostly translated correctly;
2 There are many things contained therein that are not true, which are interpolations by the hands of men.
3 Verily, I say unto you, that it is not needful that the Apocrypha should be translated.
4 Therefore, whoso readeth it, let him understand, for the Spirit manifesteth truth;
5 And whoso is enlightened by the Spirit shall obtain benefit therefrom;
6 And whoso receiveth not by the Spirit, cannot be benefited. Therefore it is not needful that it should be translated. Amen.
It's a "read at your own risk" approach. Those who have the gift of discernment are told by the Lord they will benefit from it's teachings. There is no need for translation because it's teachings are simply not for everyone.
In fact, the LDS Bible Dictionary provides a list of Apocrypha books that "are of special value" (see link here) Among these recommended books are the books of the First and Second Maccabees, which reveal the preserved story of Hanukkah which describes in detail the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem and the lighting of the menorah.
As I eagerly followed my prompting to read the Apocrypha, I was very pleased with what I discovered. When I came to the Forgotten Books of Eden something caught my eye. The Forgotten Books of Eden is a collection of 17th-century and 18th-century English translations some of which were assembled in the 1820s, and then republished with the current title in 1926. Many scholars argue that these books are none other than fiction giving them a negative stigma, while other scholars believe these works to be truthful and of great insight and value to the history and period of that time. They are described as "simply a version of an account handed down by word of mouth, from generation to generation, linking the time that the first human life was created to the time when somebody finally decided to write it down. This particular version is the work of unknown Egyptians." accounts of it can be found in the Talmud and the Koran.
First Book of Adam and Eve (also known as "Conflict of Adam and Eve" from the earliest translation of an Arabic original) Chapters 29-31 speak of a token given of the Lord in similitude of the gifts that the Lord will receive as a mortal child, and also as a consolation and comfort to Adam and Eve for trusting in the Lord and the covenant they made with Him. Prior to this token offering, Satan attempts to deceive Adam and Eve and take their lives, by appearing with his hots as angels of Heaven with a promise to return them to the Garden of Eden. He leads them up a steep mountain with the intention to push them off to their deaths. God intervenes and Adam and Eve beg for forgiveness. Adam weeps and begs for something from the Garden that might offer him comfort. The Lord sends His angels to bring tokens of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. He tells Adam that the gold symbolizes His kingdom; the incense symbolizes His divinity; and the myrrh symbolizes His suffering an death.
5 And Adam wept before the Lord God, and begged and entreated Him to give him something from the garden, as a token to him, wherein to be comforted.
6 And God looked upon Adam's thought, and sent the angel Michael as far as the sea that reaches unto India, to take from thence golden rods and bring them to Adam.
7 This did God in His wisdom, in order that these golden rods, being with Adam in the cave, should shine forth with light in the night around him, and put an end to his fear of the darkness.
8 Then the angel Michael went down by God's order, took golden rods, as God had commanded him, and brought them to God.
AFTER these things, God commanded the angel Gabriel to go down to the garden, and say to the cherub who kept it, "Behold, God has commanded me to come into the garden, and to take thence sweet smelling incense, and give it to Adam."
2 Then the angel Gabriel went down by God's order to the garden, and told the cherub as God had commanded him.
3 The cherub then said, "Well." And Gabriel went in and took the incense.
4 Then God commanded His angel Raphael to go down to the garden, and speak to the cherub about some myrrh, to give to Adam.
5 And the angel Raphael went down and told the cherub as God had commanded him, and the cherub said, "Well." Then Raphael went in and took the myrrh.
6 The golden rods were from the Indian sea, where there are precious stones. The incense was from the eastern border of the garden; and the myrrh from the western border, whence bitterness came upon Adam.
7 And the angels brought these three things to God, by the Tree of Life, in the garden.
8 Then God said to the angels, "Dip them in the spring of water; then take them and sprinkle their water over Adam and Eve, that they be a little comforted in their sorrow, and give them to Adam and Eve.
9 And the angels did as God had commanded them, and they gave all those things to Adam and Eve on the top of the mountain upon which Satan had placed them, when he sought to make an end of them.
10 And when Adam saw the golden rods, the incense and the myrrh, he was rejoiced and wept because he thought that the gold was a token of the kingdom whence he had come, that the incense was a token of the bright light which had been taken from him, and that the myrrh was a token of the sorrow in which he was.
AFTER these things God said unto Adam, "Thou didst ask of Me something from the garden, to be comforted therewith, and I have given thee these three tokens as a consolation to thee; that thou trust in Me and in My covenant with thee.
2 "For I will come and save thee; and kings shall bring me when in the flesh, gold, incense and myrrh; gold as a token of My kingdom; incense as a token of My divinity; and myrrh as a token of My suffering and of My death.
3 "But, O Adam, put these by thee in the cave; the gold that it may shed light over thee by night; the incense, that thou smell its sweet savour; and the myrrh, to comfort thee in thy sorrow."
4 When Adam heard these words from God, he worshipped before Him. He and Eve worshipped Him and gave Him thanks, because He had dealt mercifully with them.
5 Then God commanded the three angels, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, each to bring what he had brought, and give it to Adam. And they did so, one by one.
6 And God commanded Suriyel and Salathiel to bear up Adam and Eve, and bring them down from the top of the high mountain, and to take them to the Cave of Treasures.
7 There they laid the gold on the south side of the cave, the incense on the eastern side, and the myrrh on the western side. For the mouth of the cave was on the north side.
8 The angels then comforted Adam and Eve, and departed.
9 The gold was seventy rods; the incense, twelve pounds; and the myrrh, three pounds.
10 These remained by Adam in the House of Treasures; therefore was it called "of concealment." But other interpreters say it was called the "Cave of Treasures," by reason of the bodies of righteous men that were in it.
11 These three things did God give to Adam, on the third day after he had come out of the garden, in token of the three days the Lord should remain in the heart of the earth.
12 And these three things, as they continued with Adam in the cave, gave him light by night; and by day they gave him a little relief from his sorrow.
In Chapter 75 the Lord tells Adam;
"Take the gold and give it to Eve as a wedding gift, and promise to marry her; then give her some incense and myrrh as a present; and be you, you and she, one flesh." Adam obeyed the angels, and took the gold and put it into Eve's bosom in her garment; and promised to marry her with his hand.
If true, this could be the very first recorded account in history of the gold wedding band being given as a token of marriage.
Gold - Practical use: For a young couple who would soon have the expense of traveling to Egypt to avoid the wrath of Herod, the gold would be an invaluable gift.
Symbolic meaning: Gold is the typical gift for kings (see 1 Kings 9:14, 28) because it symbolizes kingship and royalty—a fitting gift for the “King of kings” (1 Timothy 6:15).
Frankincense - Practical use: Aside from its considerable monetary value, frankincense was used as a sweet-smelling incense and perfume.
Symbolic meaning: Frankincense comes from a sweet tree resin and was used in priesthood ordinances, in burnt offerings (see Leviticus 2:1), and in oil for anointing priests. Thus, it can represent the Lord’s priesthood and His role as the Lamb of God to be sacrificed on our behalf (see John 1:29).
Myrrh - Practical use: Myrrh, a bitter oil from a tree resin, was also economically valuable but probably more beneficial to Mary and Joseph for its medicinal uses.
Symbolic meaning: In the New Testament, myrrh is usually associated with embalming and burial because of its preservative qualities (see John 19:39–40). Myrrh’s medicinal uses can symbolize Christ’s role as the Master Healer, and its use in burials can symbolize “the bitter cup” He would drink when He suffered for our sins (see D&C 19:18–19).
I have heard some Christian ministers say that the wisemen would have traveled in large caravans with many servants accompanying them. They would have been very wealthy to afford this for their two-year journey (possibly a four-year journey if you take into account the travel back home). Their purpose was to most likely provide enough gold, frankincense and myrrh to sustain Jesus and his family over the course of his life. And that a master carpenter occupation (as they believe Joseph to have been) was a very well-paid occupation in it's day. They believe that Jesus and his family may not have been wealthy but were most likely well-to-do.
Whether fact, fiction, or pure speculation - one thing is for certain and that is the Divine symbolism in the three gifts that were brought by the wise men. Whether their inspiration came from ancient scripture, or was simply a Divine prompting from God, I believe they knew and understood the meanings of their gifts. Gifts that were fit for a king and not just any king but the King of Kings! Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who was born among men and died among men to save us all. Because He lives we can have eternal life too.