Myrrh is one of those “mixed blessing” things.  On the positive side, it was valuable and holy.  Joseph (he of the many-colored coat) was sitting down in a pit while his brothers ate a meal, when they decided to sell him to a passing caravan that was carrying myrrh.  Later, when Joseph’s fortunes had turned and his brothers were appealing to him as the nominal ruler of Egypt (though they had not yet recognized him), their father recommended preparing a goodie bag including – what else – myrrh.  Interesting twist, Joseph getting carried away with myrrh and then having some come back to him.

And it was holy: Moses was told to create a holy oil from myrrh, cinnamon, and other spices, mixed with olive oil.  This oil was used to anoint the tent of meeting, the ark, and the table and utensils.  And the altar of incense.  And the altar of burnt offering, plus its utensils.  And the laver (wash-basin) and its stand.  And then also Aaron and his sons, the priests.  God protected this holy anointing oil, prohibiting anyone from pouring it on themselves or making it in the same proportion.

Myrrh was also involved with romantic interests.  When King Ahasuerus wanted a new queen, he rounded up beautiful young virgins from his kingdom who got a year-long make-over.  The first six months were treatment with oil of myrrh.  And for new Queen Esther, it must have worked (or at least not hurt).   In Proverbs, the temptress whose husband is away seduces a guy: “I have sprinkled my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon”.  Song of Solomon (which, despite all the allegory-talk you may have heard, really is a love story, too) has eight references to myrrh.

Then there’s the down-side.  When Jesus was about to be crucified, after he had been whipped and scourged and taken to Golgotha, they offered Him wine mixed with myrrh.  This wasn’t about romance or value.  This was about pain being dulled, an offer of a little release from the coming agony.  Jesus refused it.  He wanted to be present, alert and aware, throughout His entire life (and death).  After He was removed from the cross, His body was wrapped in linen, with a hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes inside the cloth.  This was the Jewish custom.

So the three wise men brought myrrh as one of their presents to the baby Jesus.  This expensive, holy, romantic, death-related gift for a baby?  What in the world were they thinking?