Essential oils have been an integral part of the daily lives of people for thousands of years. At least 33 specific essential oils and aromatic oil-producing plants are mentioned in the Bible, and the word “incense” is mentioned 68 times in Scripture. Psalm 45:7-8, Proverbs 27:9, Isaiah 61:3 and Hebrews 1:9 all reference oils in some way, as in “the oil of joy” and “the oil of gladness,” and they speak of how oils “rejoice the heart.”
Essential oils are also referred to in the Bible as fragrances, odors, ointments, aromas, perfumes and sweet savors. In total, there are over 600 references to essential oils and/or the aromatic plants from which they were extracted in the Bible.
Here are 12 of the most revered oils of the Bible and their historic uses…
Frankincense is the king of the oils. It was used as a primary component of the holy incense, a medicine and a currency — and of course, it was a gift from the wise men to baby Jesus. In fact, at the time of Jesus’ birth, both frankincense and myrrh may have been worth more than their weight in the third gift: gold.
Quoted in Scripture 156 times, uses of myrrh oil in the Bible included use as an ointment, an incense, an embalming ingredient and as a skin beauty 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.
Like myrrh, cinnamon oil was a chief ingredient in holy anointing oil and used to cleanse the air, kill mold and act as a natural medicine. In Proverbs 7:17, Solomon uses this aromatic oil in the bedroom and as a natural perfume or cologne.
King Solomon used cedarwood in building God’s temple and Jesus was crucified on a cross made of cedarwood or cypress. It was thought to bring wisdom, was used for ritual cleansing and served as medicine in treating skin conditions and leprosy.
In Biblical times, “nard” was not only a very expensive perfume but also a precious ointment that was used as medicine. Interestingly, the “spikenard” used in the Bible may have in fact been lavender oil. In John 12:3, the Bible tells how spikenard was used to anoint Jesus just days before His death and resurrection.
In the Old Testament, God commanded His people to use hyssop in the ceremonial cleansing of people and houses. Hyssop appears at Jesus’ crucifixion, when the Roman soldiers offered Jesus a drink of wine vinegar on a sponge at the end of a stalk of hyssop.
An herb very similar to cinnamon, cassia oil is the fourth ingredient listed in the holy anointing oil detailed in Exodus 30:24. It may have been brought out of Egypt when the Israelites fled Pharaoh and was commonly used with myrrh and aloes to scent garments.
8. Sandalwood (Aloes)
In Scripture, sandalwood is referred to as “aloes” and is called one of the oils of joy and gladness along with frankincense, myrrh and cedarwood. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea brought sandalwood (aloes) and myrrh to bury Jesus, and in today’s market, the amount of oils used would be worth an estimated $200,000.
Cypress is celebrated in Scripture as a symbol of strength, security and prosperity. The Bible mentions cypress as the choice wood
for building, trading and even weaponry. In Genesis 6:14, God commanded Noah to “make yourself an ark of gopher wood,” which in modern English is in fact “cypress.”
Galbanum is a main ingredient of the holy incense used in the heart of the temple in Exodus 30:34. Interestingly, although galbanum itself has a somewhat foul odor, when burned with other sweet smelling oils in holy incense, it has the most beautiful scent and was thought to balance the emotions.
11. Rose of Sharon
Mentioned in the Song of Solomon, the rose of Sharon is not really a “rose” but instead similar to the hibiscus or tulip (which is also a source of saffron). Some Bible expositors see the rose of Sharon as Christ and the lily as the church, His bride.
Also known as “sweet cane,” calamus is an ancient herb that is perhaps what we now know as lemongrass. In Biblical times, calamus was used in perfumes, incense and as an ingredient in the special holy anointing oil used by the priests in the temple.
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