Tag Archives: Christ’s death

Aloe can be poisonous

Bible Reference: John 19.38-42.

When I contemplated writing about the aloe plant, I felt warm and comfortable because it is such a familiar plant. Since getting my first job, I’ve kept an aloe plant on the porch in summer and in front of a sunny window in winter. If I burned a finger when cooking or burned my forehead when using my curling iron, I rubbed aloe gel on the burn to take away the sting. Only recently, did I learn that aloe had a poisonous component.

In the Old Testament, aloe (called agarwood) developed from a fungal infection in the eaglewood tree. Agarwood was cut in small pieces and used as a perfume. In the New Testament, most likely the source of aloe was  different than Old Testament agarwood.

After Jesus died by crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus wrapped his body in stripes of linen and seventy-five pounds of mixed aloe and myrrh. Jews used myrrh to cover the smell of the decaying body.  Scholars suggested that because aloes have little odor, aloes were used to “fix,” or hold the scent of myrrh. Aloe gel is moist and slightly sticky. Perhaps, aloe gel “fixed” myrrh crystals in linen cloths and held cloths together and to the deceased’s body.

The New Testament aloe is Aloe vera (A. barbadensis, A. vulgaris, and medicinal aloe). A. vera is a perennial in Israel; however, in my area of the Appalachian Mountains it grows as an annual. When A. vera  is harvested for its medicinal gel, older leaves are harvested because they contain more gel.  The out layers of the leaf feels rubbery and have soft spines on edges.

Aloe has been used in medicine for 3500 years. The first detailed description of aloes is in The Papyrus Ebers, c. 1550 BC. A. vera was used to treat worms and allergies, relieve headaches, soothe chest pains, burns, and skin ulcers, and treat the common cold. Dr. James Duke, head of the US Department of Agriculture, reported than many individuals wrote to him lauding aloe as a remedy for skin cancer.26 Currently, cosmetic companies use aloe in makeup, tissues, moisturizers, soaps, sunscreens, incense, shaving cream, and shampoos. Most cosmetic companies label all products that contain A. vera.

Despite the popularity of aloe, A. vera  has a dark side.  It isn’t widely known that both plants and gel can be poisonous. The poisonous compounds are aloin and anthraquinone c-glycoside. These compounds occur mostly on the inside layer of leaves. When harvesting A. vera gel, cut away the plant skin and retain only the actual gel. Although older plant leaves contain more gel, the inside layer of older plant leaves can be more irritating. This layer causes  contact dermatitis in sensitive individuals. If the aloe plant is eaten, it can cause abdominal cramping, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, and red urine. Thankfully, red urine isn’t due to blood in the urine, but a compound in the aloe. Ensure children and pet companions don’t eat aloe leaves.

Jesus’s body was dead when Joseph and Nicodemus wrapped it in linen-infused myrrh and aloes. Aloes couldn’t heal him or take away the sting of his wounds. The healing aloes in Jesus’s burial cloths exemplified Jesus’s healing of mankind, not himself.

After Jesus’s resurrection some individuals in Judea and throughout the Roman Empire accepted healing from him. They accepted Jesus  as the promised Savior of the world. Many other individuals weren’t willing to be healed by Jesus. Some couldn’t comprehend that a man would die for their sins. Others simply didn’t believe that they were all that bad. Why would someone have to die for their few sins? For still others, it was easier to continue their same religious practices, i.e., make an animal sacrifice or give a little money into an offering box/plate, than to accept a new way of thinking. These individuals wanted to cover over the smell of their sins rather than be healed of those sins. The rationale and rationalizations that individuals used 2000 years ago for not accepting healing from Jesus are the same ones that individuals use today.

Reflection: Do you tend to rationalize your sins? Try to cover them over? Decide that they aren’t too bad? Ignore them? What could you do decrease those sins or better yet eradicate them completely? Contemplate/discuss how sin and obedience to national laws are the same and different to God’s laws.

Myrrh, The Gift in Death

From FlowersinIsrael

From FlowersinIsrael

Myrrh is mentioned as a valuable trade item in Revelation 18:13.

John listed myrrh as a commodity no one would buy after Roman fell. The myrrh plant is one of the last plants listed in Revelation; yet reference to myrrh began early in Bible history. In Genesis (37:25), Joseph was sold to Ishmaelites who included myrrh in their trade caravans. Myrrh was a component of the anointing oil used in the Tabernacle (Exodus 30:23). Esther (2:12) completed a 12-month beauty treatment, which included myrrh, before she was taken to King Ahasuerus (Xerxes). Myrrh perfumed the robes of a king (Psalm 45:8) and the bed of an adulteress (Proverbs 7:17). Myrrh was catalogued seven times in Song of Songs to describe the Lover, the Maid (Bride), and Solomon’s gardens.

Christians associate myrrh with the birth of Jesus (Matthew 2:11). The wise men who traveled from the East to Bethlehem offered Christ gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. By tradition, gold symbolized Christ’s kingship, frankincense his deity, and myrrh his death.

Myrrh was  present at Christ’s burial. Following the crucifixion and death of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus wrapped Jesus’ body in linen perfumed with about 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes (John 19:39). Then, they laid Jesus’ body in a tomb carved in rock.

Different species of plants were used to make myrrh in different countries. The myrrh described in the Old Testament was likely a different plant from the New Testament myrrh. Most myrrh in Imperial Rome came from the Commiphora myrrha plant; however, in Israel the plant used to make myrrh was the Commiphora abyssinica plant. Arguably, John thought of Judean myrrh when he referred to myrrh in Revelation.

The Plant Myrrh

The Israelite myrrh plant is the Commiphora abyssinica, which has several other names, to include Commiphora habessinica, myrrh tree, Arabian myrrh, and Yeman myrrh. The Hebrew word for myrrh is môr or môwr which means bitter, possibly because myrrh has a bitter taste (Strong, 2010). The Israeli myrrh was indigenous to Ethiopia or possibly Southern Arabia and Yemen. As early as 1900 B.C. caravans carried myrrh to Egypt where it was used in the embalming process. Around 1876-1880 B.C., Jacob described myrrh as one of the best products of Canaan and directed his sons to take myrrh to Egypt to trade for grain (Genesis 43:11-14). In present day Israel, the myrrh tree grows in the Biblical Landscape Reserve (Neot Kedumim).

The myrrh plant is a shrub or small tree that grows 20 feet tall with a trunk that can be as tall as 13 feet. In Israel, myrrh trees grow as a woody perennial. Although often referred to as a spice, myrrh is the dried resin from the myrrh tree. When the resin is harvested, lateral cuts are made on the trunk or branches. An aromatic gum resin exudes from the wounds. When the resin is exposed to the air, the gum hardens forming irregular shaped yellow or brown globules. The globules smell pleasant but have a bitter taste.

We saw myrrh in the bazaar in the old city of Jerusalem. The myrrh was in sharp-edged, marble-size pieces. Myrrh continues to be used today as sweet smelling incense for religious celebrations.

Myrrh, Old City Jerusalem Market - Copy

Symbolism: Gifts and Death

By tradition, myrrh symbolized both death and gifts. Jesus dead body was wrapped in linen and myrrh. The wise men gave the gift of myrrh to the baby Jesus. According to the writer of Hebrews, the original gifts, animals, food, drink, that Israelites brought to the Tabernacle and Temples were not able to clear the conscience of worshipers (Hebrews 9:9-10). Although the gifts met Tabernacle and Temple regulations, they were only external regulations applied until the new order came.

The new order was Jesus being sacrificed on the cross for sins. Christ gave his life as a gift for humankind. In turn, the gift that Christ wants from each of us is that we belief in him as risen Savior. When we belief in Christ as Savior, we accept God’s gift of his son and Christ’s gift of his life.

Reflection: What do you do when you receive a gift? Have you ever been embarrassed by a gift and not wanted to claim it? What is your response to the ultimate gift from God — his Son?

I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

Copyright: January 4, 2015. Carolyn A. Roth. All rights reserved.

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