Rise Up, My Love (124): The Nine Fruits in the Garden

Fir0002:Flagstaffotos Permission through WikipediaSong of Solomon 4:13-14 “with pleasant fruits; camphire, with spikenard, spikenard and saffron; calamus and cinnamon…” Although the center of the garden was an orchard of pomegranates, adorning it on every side were other wondrous trees and shrubs. The word for “pleasant” is the Hebrew meged, which means “costly” or “precious.” Other translations render it as “rare” or “choicest.” I like the Jerusalem Bible, which reads “rarest essences.” The bride is a paradise of the rarest, most precious sensory delights.

Let’s take a few minutes to study the properties of each of these spices and then meditate a little on the possible spiritual parallels: Lawsonia_inermis_(Mehndi)_in_Hyderabad,_AP_W2_IMG_0524 Camphire, also known as henna, is an everblooming shrub which grows about ten feet high and bears clusters of tiny, intensely fragrant, white or yellow flowers. It was used fresh to signal the joy of life—in bridal bouquets and coronation garlands, clustered about the neck, or as a bouquet to grace a household table. But, it was also used in extract as an exquisite perfume…or as a paste for dyeing toenails and fingernails, men’s beards, and even horsetails! As a crushed powder, it was used as the Old Testament version of bath salts.  SpikenardEssentialOilSpikenard was also known as “nard” and was from a plant grown in the Himalayan region of India. It was extremely costly and perhaps the most highly prized perfume known at that time (John 12:13). Spikenard was used to anoint the head and feet of our Lord before His crucifixion (Mark 14:3). Saffron Saffron is only mentioned this one time in the Old Testament. It is made from the dried, powdered pistils and stamens of the crocus sativus, which is a native of Asia Minor (although it is grown in this country—and in my garden!—as the “autumn crocus”). It has a distinct but subtle flavor, and I love it as an addition to rice dishes, but it is very expensive spice because I’ve read that producing a single ounce requires over 4,000 blossoms! Calamus_(Acorus_calamus) “Calamus” means “reed” and was probably the Calamus aromaticus (although I couldn’t find a picture of that species, and I think it may be renamed), which was a wild grass with a gingery smell. It was processed either by powdering or by extracting the oil and was popular as both a spice and a perfume. It is mentioned only three times in Scripture but is notable because it was an ingredient in the holy anointing oil for the temple priests (Exodus 3:23). Cinnamon Sticks When I was a child, cinnamon was primarily considered a spice for cooking, although today it is popular as a fragrance for candles and household potpourris. The pleasurable odor was also the quality most appreciated in ancient times, when the Hebrews used it in perfumes because they thought it had a “glorious scent” (The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, 1977, Vol. 1, 866). The best cinnamon was made from three-year-old branches of the Cinnanomum zeylanicum tree in southeast Asia, which grew to about thirty feet and bore clusters of small, white flowers. The bark was stripped and softened in sea water before extracting the oil for perfume. Today strips of the bark can be bought as “cinnamon sticks,” or in its most common form—ground into powder—cinnamon is used for spicing sweet breads, pies, cookies, cider, etc.  Frankincense_2005-12-31Frankincense was derived from the resin of the Boswellia tree, which was usually imported to Israel from near Sheba in Arabia. Boswellia trees have leaves like the Mountain Ash and star-shaped flowers which are pure white or green and tipped with rose, so the tree would have been handsome in the garden as well as being a source of aromatic resin for producing perfume. Frankincense speaks of praise and the exaltation of our Lord (See Song 3:6;4:6). Commiphora_myrrha_-_Köhler–s_Medizinal-Pflanzen-019 Myrrh distilled like tears from the Balsamodendron myrrha tree of Arabia, oozing out as an oily sap that solidified as it was collected into wooden squares. It was used to perfume clothing (Psalm 45:8) and bedding (Proverbs 7:17) as well as the body, and there is historical evidence that it was even used as a gargle to sweeten the breath. It was an exquisite incense, brought to our Lord as a gift by the magi (Matthew 2:11), used to anoint him by Mary in life (John 11:2), and administered in embalming him for his burial (John 19:39). The tear-like drops of myrrh speak of sorrow and grief…the way of the cross…the way of suffering and death…but also of the transcendent perfume that arises from the crushed life. Split_Aloe The word for “aloes” comes from a root Hebrew word meaning “odoriferous tree,” most likely the Aloe succotrina, from which a spicy perfume could be extracted after the leaves were crushed. It was a large shrub native to the island of Socotra from the southern end of the Red Sea (Carr, The Song of Solomon: An Introduction and Commentary, 1984, p. 126). However, in Numbers 24:6, the nation of Israel was likened to a garden of aloe trees planted by the Lord, so they could be grown in Israel and obviously thrived in Solomon’s wonderful gardens as well. Today, aloe is a common ingredient found in many skin lotions and herbal medications, particularly burn ointments, and it is well known for its power to soothe and heal.

Next week, I want to begin considering how the plants growing in Solomon’s garden parallel the fruits of the Spirit, which our heavenly husbandman grows in the gardens of our hearts.

(Although I study widely, two of my leading sources for these descriptions are:

Carr, G. Lloyd. The Song of Solomon: An Introduction and Commentary. Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1984.

Tenney, Merrill C., ed. The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Corp., 1977.

The pictures are all from Wikipedia: pomegranate: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos; camphire: Lawsonia_inermis_(Mehndi)_in_Hyderabad,_AP_W2_IMG_0524
spikenard: By Itineranttrader (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons  saffron: By USAID Afghanistan (100525 Hirat Marble Conference 546) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. calamus: By Mokkie (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons. cinnamon: By Thiry (Photo taken by Bertrand THIRY) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons. frankincense: By snotch (photo taken by author) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Common. myrrh: By Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen (List of Koehler Images) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. aloes: Pictures from Longwood Gardens taken by Raul654 On May 1, 2005. {{GFDL}})

 

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