The sign (Lk 2:12-2:12)

“This this will be

A sign

For you.

You will find

A child

Wrapped in

Bands

Of swaddling cloth,

Lying in a manger.”

 

καὶ τοῦτο ὑμῖν σημεῖον, εὑρήσετε βρέφος ἐσπαργανωμένον καὶ κείμενον ἐν φάτνῃ.

 

Luke said that the angel told the shepherds that there would be a sign for them (καὶ τοῦτο ὑμῖν σημεῖον) in order to find this baby child (εὑρήσετε βρέφος) that would be a Savior, Messiah, Christ, and Lord.  This baby child would be wrapped in bands of swaddling cloth (ἐσπαργανωμένον), lying in a manger (καὶ κείμενον ἐν φάτνῃ).  Instead of the sign of a star, as in Matthew, chapter 2:2, they were told about a place with a manger.  These shepherds did not bring any gifts with them, unlike the Magi with their gold, frankincense, and myrrh in Matthew, chapter 2:11.

The Epiphany (Mt 2:11-2:11)

“The Magi

Knelt down.

They paid homage

To the child.

They worshiped him.

Then,

Opening their treasures,

They offered him gifts

Of gold,

Of frankincense,

Of myrrh.”

 

καὶ πεσόντες προσεκύνησαν αὐτῷ, καὶ ἀνοίξαντες τοὺς θησαυροὺς αὐτῶν προσήνεγκαν αὐτῷ δῶρα, χρυσὸν καὶ λίβανον καὶ σμύρναν

 

This is the classic scene of the Epiphany of Jesus, with the magi, the 3 kings, the wise men adoring and worshiping the new born infant Jesus.  The magi entered the house.  They knelt down and worshipped the new child (πεσόντες προσεκύνησαν αὐτῷ).  Then they opened their treasures (ἀνοίξαντες τοὺς θησαυροὺς αὐτῶν).  They offered him gifts (προσήνεγκαν αὐτῷ δῶρα) of gold (χρυσὸν), frankincense (λίβανον), and myrrh (σμύρναν).  These were the same traditional gifts mentioned in Isaiah, chapter 60:6, gold and frankincense, an expensive spice.  Myrrh was a perfume.  So too, Epiphany, ἐπιφάνεια, means manifestation or appearance.  In classical Greek, it was a manifestation of a deity to a worshiper.  Thus, Jesus manifests himself to these worshipping magi.  The earliest references to the Christian feast of Epiphany come from the 4th century CE.  In the Latin-speaking Western Christianity, this holiday emphasized the visit of the magi, who represented the non-Jewish people of the world.  Thus, this child Jesus was considered a revelation to the gentiles.  In the middle ages, these biblical magi or magicians became the 3 kings, as a whole story developed around them.  Balthasar was the youngest one, bearing frankincense that symbolized the divinity of Jesus, representing Africa.  Caspar was middle-aged one bearing gold that symbolized the royalty of Jesus, representing Asia.  Melchior the oldest one, bearing myrrh symbolized the passion of Jesus, representing Europe.  For many years, and still in some non-English speaking countries today, Epiphany was and is a bigger feast day than Christmas, celebrating the birth of Jesus and his revelation to the world.

The future of Jerusalem depends on the Sabbath observance (Jer 17:26-17:27)

“The people shall come

From the towns of Judah,

From the places around Jerusalem,

From the land of Benjamin,

From the Shephelah,

From the hill country,

From the Negeb.

They will bring

Burnt offerings,

Sacrifices,

Grain offerings,

Frankincense,

Thank offerings

To the house of Yahweh.

But if you do not listen to me,

To keep the Sabbath day holy,

To carry no burden

Through the gates of Jerusalem

On the Sabbath day,

Then I will kindle a fire

In its gates.

It shall devour

The palaces of Jerusalem.

It shall not be quenched.’”

Thus the future of Jerusalem rested on whether they observed the Sabbath correctly. Many people would come from the towns in Judah and the places around Jerusalem. However, there would also be people from Benjamin that is just north of Jerusalem, as well as the people from the area around Shephelah, west of Jerusalem, the hill country, north of Jerusalem, and Negeb, the desert area south of Judah. All these people would bring many gifts and sacrifices to the Temple in Jerusalem. These gifts included the many kinds of sacrifice offerings like the burnt offerings, the grain offerings, and the thank offerings, with various sacrificial animals and frankincense. The opposite is true if they did not keep the Sabbath, they would suffer destruction. Yahweh was going to start a unstoppable fire that would devour the gates and the palaces of Jerusalem. The choice was theirs, Sabbath observances and good things, or no Sabbath observances and a big fire.

Caravans from the east (Isa 60:6-60:7)

“A multitude of camels

Shall cover you.

The young camels of Midian

With the camels of Ephah

Shall cover you.

All those from Sheba

Shall come.

They shall bring gold.

They shall bring frankincense.

They shall proclaim the praise of Yahweh.

All the flocks of Kedar

Shall be gathered to you.

The rams of Nebaioth

Shall minister to you.

They shall be acceptable on my altar.

I will glorify my glorious house.”

The caravan trade had been very lucrative. Thus the camels with all their goodies would travel to Jerusalem from eastern Midian and Ephah that were in Arabia. Sheba was in southern Arabia, prominent in the stories of King Solomon. They were bringing the traditional gifts of gold and frankincense, which was an expensive spice. They were going to proclaim the praises of Yahweh. So too, the flocks from the eastern desert area from the Arab tribes of Kedar, as well as the rams of the Nebaioth tribe, would be gifts for Jerusalem. These would be acceptable at the altar of Yahweh in his house.

The ingratitude of Israel (Isa 43:22-43:24)

“Yet you did not call upon me!

O Jacob!

But you have been weary of me!

O Israel!

You have not brought me

Your sheep

For burnt offerings!

You have not honored me

With your sacrifices!

I have not burdened you

With offerings.

I have not wearied you

With frankincense.

You have not bought me sweet cane

With money.

You have not satisfied me

With the fat of your sacrifices.

But you have burdened me

With your sins.

You have wearied me

With your iniquities.”

Once again, Second Isaiah uses the first person singular for Yahweh, as he complains about the ingratitude of the Israelites. Notice that he calls them both Jacob and Israel. They were not calling on Yahweh, since they have been weary of him. They have not been bringing burnt offerings, sacrifices, and other offerings of frankincense. They have not brought any sweet cane or money. This sounds like a Levitical priest complaining about the lack of good sacrifices. Instead of fat sacrifices, they have burdened and wearied Yahweh with their sins and iniquities.   This also sounds like a settled people with a temple altar.

She is like a watered spice garden (Song 4:12-4:15)

Male lover

“A garden locked is my sister.

My bride is

A garden locked.

My bride is

A fountain sealed.

Your channel is

An orchard of pomegranates

With all choicest fruits,

Henna with nard,

Nard with saffron,

Sweet grass with cinnamon,

With all trees of frankincense,

Myrrh,

Aloes,

With all chief spices.

She is a garden fountain.

She is a well of living water.

She is a flowing stream from Lebanon.”

His lover, sister, or bride is like a locked garden or a sealed fountain which were signs of fidelity. This metaphor of her waterway, canal, or channel helps the choicest fruits and spices to grow. She is life giving. These may not be your favorite fruits, but there are pomegranates, colored henna, and nard plants with the orange colored saffron. There is a sweet grass and cinnamon along with the classic frankincense, myrrh, and aloes. All the major chief spices were in this marvelous garden. This section ends with the concept of the female lover as a garden fountain of living water that flows from northern Lebanon.

The situation (Song 4:6-4:7)

Male lover

“Until the day breathes,

Until the shadows flee,

I will hasten to the mountain of myrrh.

I will hasten to the hill of frankincense.

You are altogether beautiful.

My love!

There is no flaw in you.”

This male lover cannot wait until the morning breath or the evening shadow. He is going to the mountain or hill full of myrrh and frankincense. These are the two most important fragrances what will later appear with the Magi in the New Testament. Here the allusion may be to the Temple in Jerusalem. Then this lover proclaims the general beauty of his female lover. She is totally beautiful without a flaw. Christians will later apply this phrase to the Christian Church and the Virgin Mother Mary.

The procession (Song 3:6-3:8)

“What is that coming up from the wilderness?

It is like a column of smoke,

Perfumed with myrrh and frankincense.

It has all the fragrant powders of the merchant.

Look!

It is the litter of Solomon!

Around it are sixty mighty men

Of the mighty men of Israel.

They are all equipped with swords.

They are experts in war.

Each has his sword at his thigh

Because of alarms by night.”

This is the start of another poem with the armies of Solomon coming out of the wilderness in some kind of parade procession. They were like a column of smoke. However, they had a very nice fragrant smell of myrrh and frankincense, the favorite expensive perfume of the ancient world, as well as many of the smells of a powder merchant. They were called the litter of Solomon as if they were kittens. They were 60 mighty men of Israel, experts in war with swords at their sides ready for action.

The grain offering (Lev 2:1-2:16)

 “When anyone brings a grain offering to Yahweh, the offering shall be of choice flour.  The worshiper shall pour oil on it.  He shall put frankincense on it.  He should bring it to Aaron’s sons, the priests.   After taking from it a handful of the choice flour and oil, with all its frankincense, the priest shall turn this token portion into smoke on the altar, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to Yahweh.   What is left of the grain offering shall be for Aaron and his sons.  It is a most holy part of the offerings by fire to Yahweh.”

While it is possible that the wandering Hebrews might have herds and flocks, it is more difficult to think that they were able to grow crops unless they stayed in one place for some time.  However, flour seems to be plentiful.  They make an offering of choice flour.  The worshiper puts oil and frankincense on it. Then they bring it to Aaron’s sons, the priests.  Once again this is an offering by fire that has a pleasing odor for Yahweh.  Whatever is left over goes to Aaron and his sons.

“When you present a grain offering baked in the oven, it shall be of choice flour.  Unleavened cakes mixed with oil, or unleavened wafers spread with oil.   If your offering is grain prepared on a griddle, it shall be of choice flour mixed with oil, unleavened.  Break it in pieces and pour oil on it.  It is a grain offering.  If your offering is  grain prepared in a pan, it shall be made of choice flour in oil.   You shall bring to Yahweh the grain offering that is prepared in any of these ways.  When it is presented to the priest, he shall take it to the altar.  The priest shall remove from the grain offering its token portion and turn this into smoke on the altar, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to Yahweh.   What is left of the grain offering shall be for Aaron and his sons.  It is a most holy part of the offerings by fire to Yahweh.”

This grain offering should be baked in an oven with choice flour.  Whether it is unleavened cakes or wafers it should have oil spread on it.  It could be either baked in an oven, or prepared on a griddle or a pan.  After the pleasing odor for Yahweh of this grain offering burnt on the altar, what was left of the grain offering shall be for Aaron and his son.  This was one of the benefits of being a priest.

“No grain offering that you bring to Yahweh shall be made with leaven.  You must not turn any leaven or honey into smoke as an offering by fire to Yahweh.  You may bring them to Yahweh as an offering of choice products, but they shall not be offered on the altar for a pleasing odor.   You shall not omit from your grain offerings the salt of the covenant with your God.   With all your offering you shall offer salt.”

There cannot be any leaven or honey in any of the grain offerings for Yahweh.  You could bring leavened or honey products but they could not be offered as grain offerings.  You also had to use salt in your  grain offerings. There is a big emphasis on this being unleavened bread and the use of salt.  The unleavened bread harkens back to the exodus Passover event in the book of Exodus.  Honey was associated with foods that ferment.  Salt had to do with agreements and the practice of eating a salt seasoned meal together after an agreement was reached.

“If you bring a grain offering of first fruits to Yahweh, you shall bring as the grain offering your first fruits, coarse new grain from fresh ears, parched with fire.    You shall add oil to it and lay frankincense on it.  It is a grain offering.  The priest shall turn a token portion of it into smoke.  This can be some of the coarse grain and oil with all of frankincense.  It is an offering by fire to Yahweh.”

You have to remember that the grain offering was not considered as good as the animal offering as indicated in the story of Cain, the farmer, and Abel, the shepherd.  Yahweh liked the shepherd sacrifice better than the grain sacrifice.  Everything had to be first class for these sacrifices.  Frankincense and oil played a major role.  Both of these products must have been common enough for people to use them.  The grain offering could be baked, roasted, or parched as long as oil and frankincense was involved.