Since ancient times, essential oils have been an invaluable part of human life. The Bible mentions at least 33 specific essential oils and aromatic oil-producing plants, as well as the word "incense" 68 times. Psalm 45:7-8, Proverbs 27:9, Isaiah 61:3 and Hebrews 1:9 all refer to oils in some way, for example, "the oil of joy" and "the oil of gladness," and they describe how oils "rejoice the heart."
The Bible also refers to essential oils as fragrances, odors, ointments, aromas, perfumes, and sweet savors. There are more than 600 references to essential oils and/or the plants from which they were extracted in the Bible.
Below are twelve of the most revered oils found in the Bible, along with a brief summary of their historical uses...
Frankincense has been called the king of the oils. It was used as a medicine, a currency, and a component of holy incense - and it was also a gift from the wise men to baby Jesus. In fact, both frankincense and myrrh were likely worth more than the third gift: gold, at the time of Jesus' birth.
In the Bible, myrrh oil is mentioned 156 times as an ointment, incense, embalming agent, and cosmetic treatment by Queen Esther in Esther 2:12. By far, myrrh’s most common usage in the Bible is as a part of holy anointing oil.
As with myrrh, cinnamon oil was a main component of holy anointing oil and is used to cleanse the air, kill mold, and act as a natural medicine. Solomon uses this aromatic oil to perfume his bedroom and cologne himself in Proverbs 7:17.
Solomon used cedarwood to build God's temple, and Jesus was crucified on a cross made of cedarwood or cypress. The herb was used in skin conditions and to treat leprosy and was considered a medicine that brought wisdom.
"Nard" was not only a very expensive perfume but also a precious ointment that was used for medicine in biblical times. According to recent research, the "spikenard" in the Bible could have actually been lavender oil. In John 12:3, the Bible describes how spikenard was used just days before Jesus' death and resurrection to anoint Him.
Hyssop was used in the Old Testament by God's people to cleanse people and houses ceremonially. As Jesus was crucified, the Roman soldiers offered Jesus a drink of vinegar-laced wine on a sponge tied to the end of a stalk of hyssop.
The fourth ingredient listed in the holy anointing oil detailed in Exodus 30:24 is cassia oil, an herb similar to cinnamon. Israelites may have brought this out of Egypt when they fled the Pharaoh, and it was used in conjunction with myrrh and aloes to scent clothing.
8. Sandalwood (Aloes)
Scripture refers to sandalwood as "aloes" and as one of the oils of joy and gladness along with frankincense, myrrh, and cedarwood. Sandalwood (aloes) and myrrh were brought by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea to bury Jesus, and in today's marketplace, the amount of oils would be worth about $200,000.
Scripture commemorates the cypress as a symbol of strength and security. In the Bible, cypress is mentioned as a wood of choice for building, trade, and even weaponry. Noah was commanded in Genesis 6:14 to build an ark of gopher wood, which is actually cypress in modern English.
In Exodus 30:34, galbanum is a main ingredient in the holy incense used in the temple. Interestingly, even though galbanum itself has a fairly foul odor, when burned in holy incense with other sweet oils, it takes on a very beautiful scent and is said to balance emotions.
11. Rose of Sharon
The rose of Sharon, as mentioned in the Song of Solomon, is technically not a flower at all, but more closely related to the hibiscus or tulip (which also provides saffron). The rose of Sharon represents Christ, and the lily represents the church, His bride.
Calamus, also called "sweet cane," is an ancient herb related to lemongrass. During Biblical times, calamus was used in perfumes and incense, as well as in the holy anointing oil used by priests.