Frankincense: The King of Oils

Frankincense

Often, I have a goal of reading through the Bible in one year, and often I have found it to be quite enlightening, edifying, and enriching (and there is my three-point sermon…). The one-year path feels like a sprint to cross that finish line; it is a hard push and honestly at times, the pressure can scrape up a bit of irritation and annoyance. I feel like I miss out on the power of stopping to smell the roses and the reverence of taking in the scenery – the study, the meditation, and hearing that still small voice. So, this year I have been choosing random books. I meandered through the prophetic message of salvation in Isaiah, spent many months strolling through the rhythm of the Psalms, inhaled Job for about the fiftieth time, and this past week finished reading about my fleeting life in Ecclesiastes.   

Every time I do the one-year plan, I venture into Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers packed with rules, rules, and more rules. Several times reading through it, I thought to myself, “God, how could anyone ever remember all these instructions regarding rituals and legal and moral practices for holy living?” The next time I came upon my missionary endeavor, I literally stopped and prayed. I asked God to show me truth about His reasoning for all these manners of conduct. As I was scurrying through the text, I heard the Spirit speak to me in that still small voice, “Deeon, these rules were not meant to harm the Israelites, they were meant to protect them.” I really had to step back and soak in that revelation. That little rocky crag in my heart softened. It changed my perception. As I continued reading, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers took on richer meaning. This was not about some punitive God trying to inflict punishment through laws, this code of conduct was about a holy, loving God living in their midst.  Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, as is the entire Bible, is God’s message of His presence, His power, and His sovereignty offering reconciliation from sin and a passageway to forgiveness because He loves us beyond comprehension.

At any rate, I am intentionally choosing to read the book of Leviticus unhurried. I am trying to dig underneath and marinate on all the many ways in which God is protecting His people. Here is an example: near the beginning of Leviticus, the guidelines for the Grain Offering are rendered. Depending on the version of scripture (I lean toward the ESV or NKJV), the text states to put frankincense on the Grain Offering if it is fine flour. I am a “why?” kind of gal. These offerings are burnt on the altar. Have you ever smelled burnt bread – not so much a pleasing odor? Perhaps, the frankincense rendered that “pleasing aroma” to God, that aroma that represented the substitutionary atonement for sin, which is pleasing to God. Yet, I believe frankincense, the king of oils, had a multilateral purpose. What I mean is that the frankincense was a pleasing aroma to God, which I believe holds deeper meaning than I have studied, but it was not unilateral, only for Him. I believe God created and used frankincense as a medicinal protection for the Israelites.  

From an article entitled, Frankincense, The Holy Grail of Essential Oils:                                                

Here are a few other points of interest about Frankincense:

Frankincense, also known as Olibanum, comes from the resin of the Boswellia tree grown in Africa and the Middle East, particularly in Oman, Somalia, and Ethiopia, though the finest comes from Arabia. Careful incisions are made in the tree at key times of year, and the sap slowly pours out. Once the sap dries and hardens it is ready to be used. The first period of tapping occurs from January to March and the second from August to October. After tapping has continued for five or six years, the trees are rested (the irony that God created through the sixth day and then rested on the seventh.) Frankincense has a woody, spicy smell. Now, I have a little bottle of Frankincense oil and indeed the smell is woody and spicy. I think for some it would be a scent that gains acquired appreciation, though I have always liked the scent and whiff on my little vile occasionally.

“Traditionally, frankincense was used for hundreds of years in incense, primarily in ancient rituals because of its promise to bring tremendous healing properties. Priests, rabbis, and medicine men around the world—especially in the Middle East—appreciated the essential oil for its antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and rejuvenating properties.

Early use of frankincense resin was reserved for religious services, where it was burned as incense with the intention of the scent floating up invisibly to heaven in order to attract God’s attention. Historically, burning the resin was also a tool to vanquish negative energies or hold evil spirits at bay. To this day, it is commonly used in churches and temples and believed to affect us at our deepest level, setting our spirit free. The ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks all used frankincense in their religious rituals. Similarly, the Chinese have been known to use it for years.

Frankincense was so valuable during ancient times that it was literally worth its weight in gold. Some cultures even prized it more than gold, making it an integral part of the Silk Road trade. Overall, it has been high in demand, from early history all the way to today.”

History, modern medicine, research, and the advancement of technology have offered some thought-provoking theories about frankincense:

Sacredly, when used during meditation, frankincense can be purifying to the mind, create a connection to one’s soul, and offer spiritual protection.

The smoke from burning frankincense drives out mosquitoes, pests, and other flying insects, reducing incidence of malaria and other insect transmitting diseases.

Frankincense has anti-inflammatory effects that may help reduce symptoms of joint inflammation caused by osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Frankincense may help reduce symptoms of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis by reducing inflammation in the gut.

Frankincense may help reduce the likelihood of bronchial and sinus infections and asthma attacks in susceptible people. It may also open breathing passageways and increase lung capacity, thus relieving symptoms, such as shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and as well reduces phlegm.

Frankincense has antibacterial properties. Clinical studies at major universities in Egypt and in the United States have shown that frankincense has fantastic immune-enhancing abilities. These studies reveal that frankincense can fight dangerous bacteria and viruses throughout the body by providing immunostimulants. When applied topically, these benefits will work to create a layer of protection against bacterial and viral infections. When used aromatically, the same benefits manifest internally while working to heal your body from the inside out.

Frankincense has antimicrobial and antiseptic benefits, working to destroy harmful germs and bacteria upon contact, whether on the body or on surfaces throughout the home.  It may help prevent bad breath, toothaches, cavities, and mouth sores.

As a beauty Serum, frankincense can revive, rejuvenate, and strengthen skin health, adding elasticity to the skin. It may reduce the appearance of wrinkles and scars, smooth the complexion, prevent acne, even out blemishes, heal minor wounds, help reverse damage caused by UV rays, fade stretch marks, and heal cracked skin.

Frankincense is supportive of cellular function. It can assist with healthy cell function by promoting cell and tissue regeneration. So far, test-tube studies suggest that frankincense may fight breast, ovarian, skin, and colon cancer cells. The small study indicates that it may also help reduce side effects of cancer and may help kill cancer cells and prevent tumors from spreading. It can suppress cancer cells viability.

Psychologically and emotionally, frankincense, through aromatherapy, reduces the heart rate promoting relaxation, balancing moods, reducing anxiety, and calming and lifting the spirit. 

And, there are a few additional opinions hanging out there for which studies have not been performed. Frankincense could possibly help to prevent diabetes by lowering blood sugar levels; may aid in preventing heart disease by reducing inflammation; could improve sleep quality; may well boost memory and cognitive function; and quite possibly balance female hormones — delaying menopause, and reducing menstrual cramping, nausea, headaches, and mood swings.   

An altar of incense burned inside the tabernacle. This incense was a specific recipe of spices mixed with “pure frankincense.” God gave the recipe and stipulated that only this incense, and no other, was permitted to be burned on the altar of incense, and this incense recipe must not be used anywhere or by anyone else or else they will be cut off from their people. Aaron was instructed to burn incense on the altar each morning and at twilight, every day, as a regular offering to the Lord. To release its scent, the frankincense was either burned or smoldered over hot coals.

The Altar of Incense

Frankincense complemented many offerings and sacrifices. Frankincense was extensively used in burial rituals as part of the embalming material as an offering to the departed, a means to cover the odor of the dead body, and I believe to create purification from the potential risks of chronic infectious diseases.

The market for frankincense was unlimited. It created commerce and trade, via merchant ships and camel caravans. In essence, it was a form of currency. Whereas other exotic spices and aromatics were luxury items, frankincense, though expensive was a household necessity, a basic staple. An article from the New York Times states:

 “In January of 1997, exploring the remote back country of Yemen, over hills and through valleys and ravines, a party of archeologists came upon ruins and monuments from the time when frankincense and myrrh were among the world’s most coveted commodities. In the 10th century B.C., the biblical Queen of Sheba is supposed to have ruled in golden splendor over this land on the southern rim of the Arabian Peninsula. For several hundred years before and after the birth of Christ, it was a major emporium of the ancient world. Spices and textiles arrived by ship from India, silk from China and gold and ostrich feathers from Ethiopia. These goods were then packed off by camel caravan to Egypt and Persia, to Palmyra in Syria and, often as not, on to Rome. Nothing in the shipments was more prized than the two locally grown gum-resin products, frankincense and myrrh. “

They say the encampment of the Israelites, though highly structured and orderly, was about the size of Houston, Texas, the ninth largest city in the US. Now think of Houston as an entire city of refugees. Some scholars estimate the total Exodus population, including men, women, and children to be around 2.5 million people. Houston’s current population is about 2.3 million. Now imagine Houston as a desolate, barren wilderness where these refugees are, with precision as directed by God, encamped in tents throughout the entire region. The potential for widespread disease is immensely problematic. Now I do not know if every household contained frankincense for personal use, but I do know every morning and evening frankincense was burned in the tabernacle, releasing smoke and fumes upward into the air. This was holy and reverent, symbolizing the prayers of the people rising up to God, which was a pleasing aroma to Him. But, secondarily, I believe the incense served to purify the air in the encampment consequentially benefiting the refugees with all the potential of frankincense described above. The Bible is not clear on these likelihoods, but that is what I believe, and I am sticking to it. I believe God knew the need beforehand. I believe God planned everything out beforehand. Frankincense is a mere fraction of all the ways God sought to protect His people. So you see, the Bible is not all about rules, it is about God’s protection, provisions, and ultimately His love. It is a clear reminder to me, He knows the way that I take, He works all things together for my good, and His love is everlasting and higher than the heavens. I am so thankful for the Holy Spirit’s little whispers and teachings as I persist in reading scripture.

Love you, mean it!