Myrrh appears 17 times in 16 King James Bible verses. Its first two appearances (Genesis 37:25, 43:11) are derived from the Hebrew lot (Strong's #H3910) which is used to designate the aromatic gum. The twelve other Old Testament occurrences of myrrh are taken from mor (Strong's #H4753) which means "bitter" in reference to this dried product.
Myrrh, in the New Testament, is recorded three times (Matthew 2:11, Mark 15:23 and John 19:39). It is derived twice from smurna (Strong's #G4666) which refers directly to the spice. Its other appearance, in Mark 15:23, comes from the Greek smurnizo (Strong's #G4669) which means to embitter as a narcotic by adding myrrh (usually to wine).
Where did it come from?
This spice comes from trees in the Commiphora myrrha species of the family Burseraceae. Native to parts of Arabia and Africa, the small trees possess stiff branches that have thorns. They grow in rocky or thin soil, especially in areas with limestone. The gum resin they produce can either be gathered from what the tree exudes naturally or through incisions made in the bark.
How was it used?
Esther had to go through six months of "purification" using oil of myrrh, and another six months using "sweet odors," before she was allowed to have sex with Persia's king (Esther 2:12 - 14). She was crowned Queen soon after this intimacy (verses 16 - 17).
Proverbs 7:17 warns that myrrh was one of the spices harlots used in order to entice young foolish men into committing fornication.
The smell of this spice was highly desirable and sought after as a perfume (Psalm 45:8, Song of Solomon 1:13, 3:6, 4:6, 14, 5:1, 5, 13).
Holy oil and incense
God commanded Moses to make a special holy oil to anoint the wilderness tabernacle, its furnishings (including the Ark of the Covenant) and the priests who served within it (Exodus 30:22 - 33). This oil, used to sanctify (set apart) things or people for holy purposes, was composed of five ingredients that included myrrh.
God additionally gave Moses a recipe for creating an incense that would burn in the Holy Place (Exodus 30:34 - 38). The Holy Place was in front of the Holy the Holies but separated from it by a thick veil.
The divine mixture called for frankincense and three other finely ground spices, the first of which is called stacte (Exodus 30:34). Some Biblical commentaries (Adam Clarke's, John Gill's Exposition, Jamieson, Fausset and Brown) believe stacte is actually referring to the purest kind of myrrh which oozes naturally from the tree.
Jesus and the spice
Myrrh was involved not only in Jesus' life soon after he was born but also on the day of his death!
The Parthian Magi who visited the Christ child brought large amounts of gold, frankincense and myrrh in order to honor the newborn King (Matthew 2:1 - 2, 11). These inspired gifts showed God's love for His Son, as they would be needed to afford a roughly four-month stay in Egypt followed by a long return journey to Nazareth. These riches may have also helped sustain Mary and her family after Joseph's death (see our article on the Magi's wealth).
Jesus, after he arrived at Golgotha to be crucified, is offered wine mixed with this spice to drink but refuses it (Mark 15:22 - 23). The reason why Christ was given such a concoction is noted by a Jewish Encyclopedia.
"In order to make him insensible to pain, a drink was given him. This was in accordance with the humane Jewish provision. The beverage was a mixture of myrrh and wine, given 'so that the delinquent might lose clear consciousness through the ensuing intoxication'" (1906 Jewish Encyclopedia).
Jesus rejected the drink so that his mind would stay sharp during his sacrifice. Later in the day, his dead body is hurriedly embalmed with myrrh, perfumed with aloes and wrapped in linen cloths to prepare it for burial (John 19:38 - 40).