Three Kings, Three Gifts: Gold, Frankincense, & Myrrh

Most people in this culture are familiar with the story of the Nativity Scene; the Virgin Mary and her husband Joseph were staying in a manger when the Baby Jesus was born. Three Kings followed the bright star of Bethlehem all the way to the manger to find the new baby, and worship him and bring him the three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The actual identity of these kings may well be lost to history, but the legacy of the sacrifice of their journey lives on through the symbolism in the gifts they bore. The significance of the gold, frankincense and myrrh are important to understand, as they may eventually help lend some insight into the story that is the genesis of not only the most beloved holiday of our culture, but also the story of the life of Jesus.

Gold, the first gift of the three, is perhaps the easiest for a modern audience to understand. Being poor, Mary and Joseph were probably in need of monetary support, and would be even more so once they realized that King Herrod was looking for their new baby, to murder him. They had to run away, and without the resources provided by the Three Kings that may not have been possible. Financial support may have been a necessary gift for the visiting Three Kings to give, and they would have known as much, considering they were privy to Herrod’s plan and were even supposed to be the ones to tell him where they found the baby. It is theorized that the gold the Magi gave to the baby Jesus was what funded the family’s flee from the King, a necessity in order to save the son of God’s life. It is also worth pointing out that gold was the traditional gift given to all new born kings, and so it was a natural gift from the Magi to the King of Kings.

gold-frankincense-myrrh

Frankincense was the second gift given to the baby Jesus by the Three Kings. A resin made from the Boswellia tree by cutting its bark and collecting the sap, frankincense was commonly used as incense or perfume during Jesus’ time, but had been around since before the rise of the ancient Egyptian culture. Frankincense can be chewed, like a gum, for relief from skin or stomach problems. All of its possible uses made the resin valuable, and so the Three Kings gave some to the baby Jesus and his family. Today burning the incense in church ceremonies is a tradition that can be traced back to the gifts given to the baby at the Nativity Scene, when frankincense was heavily associated with the priesthood. The Three Kings knew full well that Jesus would eventually play the role of spiritual leader so like gold frankincense proved to be only a fitting gift.Gold, the first gift of the three, is perhaps the easiest for a modern audience to understand. Being poor, Mary and Joseph were probably in need of monetary support, and would be even more so once they realized that King Herrod was looking for their new baby, to murder him. They had to run away, and without the resources provided by the Three Kings that may not have been possible. Financial support may have been a necessary gift for the visiting Three Kings to give, and they would have known as much, considering they were privy to Herrod’s plan and were even supposed to be the ones to tell him where they found the baby. It is theorized that the gold the Magi gave to the baby Jesus was what funded the family’s flee from the King, a necessity in order to save the son of God’s life. It is also worth pointing out that gold was the traditional gift given to all new born kings, and so it was a natural gift from the Magi to the King of Kings.

Myrrh was the third and final gift the Three Magi bestowed upon the baby Jesus. Similar to Frankincense in that it is a resin from a tree, Myrrh has a long and storied history. It was used in ancient Chinese medicines for various circulatory related illnesses, and in ancient Egypt for mummification. By the time Jesus was born Myrrh was still being used in funeral ceremonies, as well as for medicinal and other uses, and so perhaps the three kings, being aware of the resin’s history, gave the gift to the baby to symbolize his future sacrifice. When one considers the significance of the gold and frankincense, it becomes clear that the Three Kings, whoever they were, were knowledgeable about the role Jesus’ life would play in the Christian tradition.

In the Nativity Scene, which provides the setting for one of the most beloved bible stories of all time, Jesus Christ has been born under a star in a manger. Three kings stand by adoring the child, having followed that star far from the east in order to worship the baby Jesus and deliver unto him, the king of kings, the three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.