Most of us have at some point or another have encountered the story of the woman with the alabaster box who anoints Jesus’s head in Mark 14. There is so much we can take away from this short story that can teach us what a heart of worship looks like.
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The Story Of The Woman With The Alabaster Box
The New Testament of The Bible tells us three accounts of women anointing Jesus with perfume or oil, these accounts tend to be confused as one event. But these accounts differ greatly it’s most likely three different events captured in the books of the New Testament.
These stories of women’s acts of service are found in Luke 7, John 12, and Mark 14 & Matthew 26. Each of these women’s encounters with Jesus is distinct, and each time Jesus defends their actions to those present. Read more about the case that these are three separate women anointing Jesus.
The story of the woman with the alabaster box in Mark and Matthew is the final of the three anointing stories found in the Bible. Sadly most of her story is lost to time, not even her name given in this passage. We don’t know her life story, we don’t know what brought her to this moment, we don’t know what drew her to this home in Bethany, or to approach Jesus.
What made her bring this costly bottle of perfume, or why she anointed His head with it? But even though her encounter with Jesus is short, just 9 verses this woman with the alabaster box is a picture of love, sacrifice, and service that can encourage us even today.
The Alabaster Box Scripture: The Woman With The Alabaster Jar
This story set’s place in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper. It sets place during Passover and the feast of unleavened bread, with the backdrop of the chief priests scheming up a way to arrest and kill Jesus. In just the very next verses Jesus will be betrayed by Judas and this is where we find ourselves thrust into the story of the woman with the alabaster box:
While He was in Bethany [as a guest] at the home of Simon the leper, and reclining at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar (vial) of very costly and precious perfume of pure nard; and she broke the vial and poured the perfume over His head. Mark 14:3 AMP
But there were some who were indignantly remarking to one another, “Why has this perfume been wasted? For this perfume might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii [a laborer’s wages for almost a year], and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her. Mark 14: 3-5 AMP
“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Mark 14:6-9
Who Was The Woman With The Alabaster Box?
The Bible doesn’t tell us who this woman is, she remains a nameless figure like many others in the Bible. And yet the nine verses of her encounter with Jesus hold so much hope for us. There is debate on whether this woman and the women in the other two stories are one and the same, but I believe that are three separate stories.
What Is An Alabaster Box In The Bible?
In Bible times, alabaster boxes were made of a rich marble-type stone (alabaster). Alabaster was a stone commonly found in Israel and one of the precious stones used in the decoration of Solomon’s temple. These alabaster boxes or jars would be filled with expensive perfume to keep them pure and unspoiled, and sealed with wax to retain and preserve the scent.
Much like an alabaster box or vile of perfume as mentioned in Mark 14 the perfume would be sealed inside, when the owner wished to use it the seal or neck had to be broken so that it could be used. The particular perfume mentioned in this passage would have cost a year’s wage.
Lessons From The Woman With The Alabaster Box
The woman in Mark 14 had come to see Jesus, with her most valuable possession – a costly perfume tucked in an alabaster box or box-. A vessel that once the narrow neck was broken there would be no going back. All would be laid bare. There would be no stopping it back up, this was her all.
With this single act of devotion, love, and sacrifice, she was bringing Jesus her expensive perfume –Spikenard or pure nard-. Spikenard symbolized the very best in ancient cultures the way that “Tiffany Diamond” does to us.
It was the ultimate act of love. Spikenard is only mentioned in two places in the Bible, this passage and Song Of Soloman where it’s used as a picture of the great love between a husband and wife. It’s the best of the best. This act on the part of the woman with the alabaster box is made out of great love.
And yet her sacrifice was met with anger by those gathered. The woman with the alabaster box had brought her most valuable possession and quietly come to Lord. The Bible records no words from this woman, just her simple act of devotion.
I wish I knew what thoughts raced through her brain as she approached the door, as she entered the room with Jesus and His disciples reclining while they ate. The moment His eyes fell on her and the rest of the world faded away. Did she know the significance of her actions as she broke the vial of perfume and its fragrance permeated the room? Did she sense the weight of this moment as she tipped the vial and poured it over her savior’s head?
The disciples were angered by this action and vocally criticized her for “wasting” the perfume. But she wasn’t there for them, she wasn’t trying to impress them- she was there to love her savior. To anoint his head, perhaps she like so many other women in the Bible had been rescued and forgiven. Restored and brought back like a lost lamb.
Perhaps like so many others, she was used up, the sweet smell covering the jar’s broken neck like it covered the brokenness in her heart. But with the breaking of that alabaster box, she was coming face to face with her hurt, her broken cracked places, and surrendering them to Him.
Or perhaps like Anna, she was a religious woman drawn by the spirit to this place to anoint her king as an act of worship.
The Significance Of The Alabaster Box Being Broken
An alabaster box was sealed to keep the perfume fresh and pure, it could not be used without breaking the neck of the bottle to open it. This would immediately release the perfume in the air and allow the woman to use the perfume. The perfume would need to be used at once because there would be no way to stop it back up.
By breaking the box, the woman with the alabaster box was honoring Jesus by anointing Him with oil, with something that was valuable to her. It was the best she had to offer and she willingly poured it out as an act of worship. Traditionally anointing someone’s head with oil was to sanctify, to set the anointed person or object apart as holy. It was a symbol of honor and that the one being anointed was a chosen vessel by God.
What We Can We Learn From The Woman With The Alabaster Box
The woman with the alabaster box reminds us that we are only serving one person, it doesn’t matter what the world says, what the critics say, or who else is in the room. We are called to worship our King and do His work.
- God values our offering, in the grand scheme a bottle of perfume is small. But to her it was costly, and her heart was in the right place.
- What mattered to the woman with the alabaster box in the Bible wasn’t concerned about what others would say and think about her actions. Her heart was focused on her King and she wanted to worship and honor Him.
- Anointing Jesus as the woman with the alabaster box did was a testament to her great love for Him. It’s a wonderful reminder of how our love for Christ should look like.
- This story holds a wonderful picture of what a heart of worship looks like for us, it’s not a show, it’s not bright lights, or loud music, or trying to impress but a heart that fully seeks God and seeks to honor Him.
What Is Your Alabaster Box?
The woman with the alabaster box can teach us so much about love and sacrifice. How many of us would bring our most costly possession and give it to our King and Lord? What is your alabaster box? What part of our lives do we need to honor our God with?
Before you go, check out these posts:
- Important Lessons From Jairus’s Daughter In The Bible
- What The Adulterous Woman In The Bible Can Teach Us About Mercy
- How Rahab In The Bible Can Impact Us Today
- Does God Care? A Lesson From The Woman Who Touched Jesus’s Hem
- Powerful Lessons From Deborah In The Bible