The Alabaster Box: A Timeless Symbol of Devotion


The alabaster box—a small, precious container made of stone—carries deep spiritual meaning that resonates across centuries. This vessel and its contents show up in several pivotal biblical moments, each revealing valuable lessons.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the history, symbolism, and significance of the alabaster box. You’ll uncover its meaning as it relates to sacrifice, worship, devotion, surrender, and ultimately, the gospel message itself.

What Is An Alabaster Box?

Alabaster Box

An alabaster box is a small container used to hold costly perfumes, oils, or ointments. It has a long, narrow neck that must be broken off to access its contents. The box itself consists of alabaster, a smooth, translucent stone resembling marble that’s soft enough to carve.

In biblical times, alabaster came from Egypt. Due to its delicate beauty, alabaster was used for precious items stored as family heirlooms passed down generations. The valuable contents represented a family’s wealth.

The Alabaster Box in Biblical History

The Alabaster Box in Biblical History

The Gospels record three separate instances involving an alabaster box. The most well-known references a sinful woman in Bethany who pours perfume on Jesus from her alabaster jar. We’ll explore this event and its significance in just a bit.

But first, let’s look at the other biblical mentions of these vessels:

  • Mary Magdalene’s jar – When traveling with Jesus, Mary Magdalene brought along “an alabaster jar filled with costly perfume.” This perfume may have represented part or all of her family’s estate. Some believe this alabaster box makes another appearance later on.
  • A woman’s anointing of Jesus – All four Gospels document a woman in Bethany who breaks open her alabaster jar, anointing Jesus with expensive perfume. This poignant event carries great symbolic meaning.

The fact that Scripture draws attention to alabaster boxes on three separate occasions shows these vessels held special spiritual significance. Next, we’ll unpack the rich symbolism of these small, precious containers.

Unpacking the Alabaster Box’s Spiritual Meaning

Unpacking the Alabaster Box’s Spiritual Meaning

On one level, an alabaster box represents the human heart. Just as the vessel must be broken open and unsealed to emit its perfume, so too our hearts need opened and surrendered before the fragrant love of Christ flows out.

This symbol also signifies offering our best to the Lord—not what we have leftover or consider insignificant. Similar to how the box contains valuable oil, we surrender our most precious “possessions” to Jesus:

  • Our dreams, desires, hopes
  • Our resources, finances, time
  • Our gifts, talents, skills

Surrendering areas most important to us parallels the woman sacrificing her costly perfume reserved for a special occasion or marriage dowry. Which leads to the next symbolic meaning…

Sacrifice and Wholehearted Devotion

The breaking of the alabaster box depicts sacrifice and extravagant devotion:

  • The woman gave up her most valuable earthly possessions for Jesus.
  • Spikenard, the fragrant oil stored in alabaster, represented inheritance and security for a woman in that era.
  • To open and pour out this oil meant sacrificing earthly security. She held nothing back from loving Jesus.

This selfless act provides a model for us today. Biblical teacher Kristi Hugstad writes:

“Complete surrender and sacrifice to the Lord is the highest form of worship. We were created to be lovers of God and to lavish our praise, gratitude, and devotion fully on Jesus.”

When we tenderly open and pour ourselves out to Jesus, holding nothing back, it ushers in His living presence.

This directly ties to the next meaning found in the alabaster box…

An Invitation Into Intimate Worship

The breaking and opening of an alabaster jar serves as an invitation to intimate, beautiful encounters with Jesus. The growing scent of costly perfume that fills the room beckons those around the woman to stop, slow down, and recognize Jesus’ presence.

In the same way, fully giving Jesus our focus, devotion, and surrender awakens deeper worship and awareness of God. When we lavish affection on Christ just like the woman pouring out oil, Jesus receives our love and manifests His living presence.

Writer Marisa Damore explains:

“Our gifts, talents, experiences, family inheritances make up our unique alabaster jars. When we crack them open before Jesus, praise, gratitude and worship fills the atmosphere drawing all attention to Him.”

Our truest, most intimate worship happens when nothing holds us back from extravagant devotion. We become like the broken alabaster box emitting forth exquisite fragrance.

Parallels to Jesus’ Impending Sacrifice

Alabaster Box

The fact that Jesus gets anointed with costly perfume days before His crucifixion holds great significance, mirroring His impending sacrifice.

The woman’s lavish outpouring of spikenard oil, valued at one year’s wages, foreshadows Jesus soon giving His all. Similar to how breaking open the alabaster meant sacrificing a future dowry, Jesus sacrificed His very life days later.

Teacher John MacArthur beautifully sums up this parallel:

“[The woman’s] anointing of Christ constituted an act of preparation for His burial…Her lavish outpouring prefigured what He was about to do for all men.”

Just as we see Jesus’ death foreshadowed, Scripture assures us His resurrection seals the hope and healing He provides all humanity. Which leads to our next symbol found in the alabaster story…

Now that we’ve covered the history and symbolism, let’s look closer at the climactic Bible story featuring this little alabaster flask.

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