is one of the most important oils in the Bible, with 24 citings, all
but two in the Old Testament. The Greek libanos is derived from the
Hebrew levohnah, which comes from a root word meaning white, evidently
from its milky color. Related to the terebinth (turpentine) tree and
to trees producing balsam and myrrh, bushes and trees of genus Boswellia
produce a milky juice.
tree grows to about 25 feet high. The flowers are star-shaped, white
or green with a red tip. The leaves are compound, seven to nine serrated
glossy leaflets. Frankincense gum is harvested by making successive
cuts in the bark or by peeling off the bark at intervals, causing a
white milk-like juice to flow and form into tears about one inch long.
When exposed to air, the frankincense milk dries into a fragrant gum
resin that has a bitter taste but a wonderful aromatic aroma when burned
(Song of Solomon 3:6). The essential oil is extracted by steam distillation
of the gum resin, which is about 10% oil. The oil is pale yellow to
green with a spicy lemony top note and a warm, rich, sweet, balsamic
a principal item carried by the caravans of Asian traders who traveled
the spice routes out of Arabia to Gaza and Damascus. Isaiah 60:6 and
Jeremiah 6:20 state that it was imported in this way into Palestine
from Sheba. Sheba was a wealthy kingdom located in the eastern portion
of the Yemen Arab Republic known for its gold, frankincense, myrrh,
precious stones and ivory. Sheba dominated the caravan routes from Arabia
and India. Jesus commented that the Queen of Sheba who visited Solomon
was "the queen of the south" and that she "came from
the ends of the earth" (Matthew 12:42). Harib, the old capital
of Sheba, was about 1,300 miles southeast of Jerusalem. Jesus said that
the Queen of Sheba, who made a very long and difficult journey to hear
Solomon's wisdom, would rise up in the judgment and condemn the men
of his generation (Luke 11:31) because the Jews who did not recognize
who Jesus was, but claimed to be servants of Jehovah, did not pay attention
"the hill of frankincense" (Song of Solomon 4:6), possibly
in a figurative way, but he may have indicated the cultivation of frankincense
trees in his royal parks (Ecclesiastes 2:5; Song of Solomon 4:12-16).
an ingredient of the Holy Incense used at the sanctuary. "And YHWH
went on to say to Moses: 'Take to yourself perfumes: stacte drops and
onycha and perfumed galbanum and pure frankincense. There should be
the same portion of each. And you must make it into an incense, a spice
mixture, the work of an ointment maker, salted, pure, something holy.
And you must pound some of it into fine powder and put some of it before
the Testimony in the tent of meeting, where I shall present myself to
you. It should be most holy to you people. And the incense that you
will make with this composition, you must not make for yourselves. For
it is to continue as something holy to YHWH. Whoever makes any like
it to enjoy its smell must be cut off from his people'" (Exodus
Stacte, from the
Greek verb stazo, 'drip,' was a balsam that dropped from resinous trees,
probably a plant in the myrrh family. Since onycha was used for a sacred
purpose, it probably was a vegetable product, though what was meant
is unknown. Galbanum increases the intensity of the fragrance and makes
the fragrance last longer. The incense was salted under the Mosaic Law
not because of flavor but because salt represented freedom from corruption
or decay (Leviticus 2:13; Ezekial 43:24). Large quantities of salt evidently
were stored on the temple grounds for this purpose (Ezra 6:9; 7:21-22).
The Holy Incense
was not a substance that would smolder and smoke; it was a special incense
for the Ark of the Covenant, the meeting tent, for special offerings
and in the temple (Exodus 30:7; 40:27; Leviticus 16:12; 2 Chronicles
2:4). The incense was carefully blended, finely powdered and sifted
to obtain a uniform substance. Private use was a capital crime (Exodus
30:38; Leviticus 24:16; Numbers 15:35).
At a later time,
rabbinic Jews added other ingredients to the temple incense. Josephus
(37-100 C.E.), a Jewish general and historian said it was made from
13 sweet-smelling spices. According to the Spanish-born Jewish philosopher
Maimonides (1135-1204 C.E.), some of these extra items included amber,
cassia, cinnamon, costus, myrrh, saffron, spikenard, sweet bark and
an herb called "the smoke-raiser," known only to a few, a
secret passed down by the priesthood. Almost two pounds of incense were
burned every day in the temple.
used on offerings (Leviticus 2:1-2, 15-16), as it was "a pleasing
odor to YHWH." The people put it on grain offerings (Jeremiah 17:26).
added to each row of the showbread of the sanctuary (Leviticus 24:7).
The bread was stacked in two piles consisting of six loaves or layers
each. Pure frankincense was put on each stack. Jewish tradition says
that the frankincense was put in golden vessels and not directly on
the bread. When the showbread was removed on the Sabbath, the frankincense
is said to have burned on the altar. Frankincense was not to be included
on sin offerings (Leviticus 5:11) or on the "cereal offering of
jealousy" (Numbers 5:15), because they were for sin or error, and
were not offered up as a sacrifice of praise or thanksgiving to Jehovah.
stored in the rebuilt temple buildings following the return from Babylonian
exile (Nehemiah 13:5, 9; 1 Chronicles 9:29).
Jehovah's displeasure and disapproval of gifts and the use of frankincense
when offered by those who reject his Word (Isaiah 66:3).
men from the East" who visited the child Jesus brought frankincense
with them (Matthew 2:11). Legend says that there were three of them,
and they had three kinds of gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. The
Bible does not say that there were three, nor does it say that they
were 'wise,' 'kings,' 'magicians,' nor 'astrologers.' Rather, it calls
them magoi (Matthew 2:1). The word is derived from 'magu,' a Persian
word for Zoroastrian priests. These priests of Babylon studied the stars
and their influences on human events. They were master astrologers.
Their names were Melchior, Gasper and Balthazar. According to medieval
legend, after their death their bodies were taken by Helena, the mother
of the first Christian emperor Constantine I, to Constantinople. From
there, the bodies were moved to Milan and still later to Cologne, Germany.
The bodies are now buried in the Cologne Cathedral and they are sometimes
referred to as the 'Three Kings of Cologne.'
Matthew 2:11 tells
us that when the magoi "went into the house they saw the young
child." Apparently by the time they got there, Joseph, Mary and
Jesus were living in a house, not in the stable scene we so often see
at Christmas. Matthew used the Greek word paidion, which can refer an
older child, such as one able to speak and play games in the marketplace
(Luke 7:32). Another indication that Jesus was no longer a newborn is
that when the magoi did not return, Herod ordered the killing of "all
the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years
old or under" (Matthew 2:16).
1 Infancy 3:1-2
tells a similar story. "And it came to pass, when the Lord Jesus
was born at Bethlehem, a city of Judea, in the time of Herod the King;
the wise men came from the East to Jerusalem, according to the prophecy
of Zoroaster, and brought with them offerings: namely, gold, frankincense,
and myrrh, and worshipped him, offering their gifts to him. Then the
Lady Mary took one of his swaddling clothes in which the infant was
wrapped, and gave it to them instead of a blessing, which they received
from her as a most noble present."
Paul spoke of "the
fragrance of the knowledge of" Jesus (2 Corinthians 2:14-16).
The Greek term
for the censer (Revelation 8:3, 5), an incense vessel, is libanotos,
derived from the Hebrew word for frankincense. Frankincense is mentioned
as one of the items of commerce sold to Babylon the Great before her
destruction (Revelation 18:11-13).
used as an incense by ancient civilizations in India, China, the Middle
East and Egypt since the beginning of recorded time. Frankincense is
still used during the Catholic mass. Egypt also used it in a rejuvenating
face mask, cosmetics, perfumes and for fumigating and embalming. It
has been used medicinally both in the East and the West for a wide range
of conditions, including digestion, the nervous system, respiratory
infections, rheumatism, skin diseases, syphilis and urinary tract infections.
one of the Seven Sacred Oils of Egypt. The other six are chamomile,
jasmine, lavender, lotus, myrrh and rose.
of monoterpenes: pinene, limonene; sesquiterpenes: gurjunene; and terpene
a high frequency. Tests have shown that it has the frequency of the
pineal gland, the location of the third eye, the gland associated with
spiritual communication. Through biofeedback tests, frankincense has
been found to be an inhalation-specific stimulus to the pineal and pituitary
anti-depressant, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, astringent, carminative,
cytophylactic, digestive, diuretic, expectorant, hemostatic, relaxing,
sedative, tonic, uterine, vulnerary and warming.
helpful for acne, anxiety, asthma, blemishes, boils, breast abscesses,
bronchitis, catarrh, colds, coughs, cystitis, digestion, dry complexion,
dysmenorrhea, expectorant, flu, hemorrhage, immune deficiency, laryngitis,
leukorrhea, lung congestion, mature skin, metrorrhagia, mucus, nervous
tension, pneumonia, respiratory congestion, respiratory infections,
rheumatism, scars, skin diseases, sore throat, stress, syphilis, urinary
tract infections, wounds and wrinkles.
Long associated with use in temples, frankincense has the ability to
deepen and slow the breath, which helps the individual ease into prayer
or meditation. It increases concentration and uplifts.
High in sesquiterpenes, frankincense works in the pineal gland with
an activity that opens the crown chakra, which leads to greater spiritual
communication. It works on a spiritual immuno-deficiency level. It lifts
a depressing mood. It helps emotional trauma. It motivates the user
into action. When mentally stuck out of fear, it aids the user to overcome
an enhancer, a middle note. Frankincense blends well with basil, bergamot,
camphor, cinnamon, geranium, lavender, mimosa, myrrh, neroli, orange,
pepper, pine, sandalwood, vetiver and spice oils. It modifies the sweetness
of citrus oils in an interesting way.
Do not take internally.
Frankincense is often adulterated with SD40, propylene glycol, and fermented
fruit oils that take oxygen from the essential oil but extend the aroma.
When pure and unadulterated, it is non-toxic, non-irritant and non-sensitizing.