Song of Solomon 5:14 “His hands are as gold rings set with the beryl…” The word for beryl comes from the Hebrew tarsis. No definitive identification of this jewel is possible, although commentators commonly agree that “tarsis” probably meant a stone from the city of Tarshish or Tartessus…names for a city of ancient Spain. It is translated in the NIV as “chrysolite,” in the New English Bible as “topaz,” and in the Jerusalem Bible as “jewels of Tarshish.” Through study, I learned that beryl is a clear/transparent, extremely hard crystal, although none of the commentaries I read ventured a guess into any spiritual significance. As most varieties of beryl are shades of yellow, green, or blue, it was hard at first to even imagine what the bride was referring to in a physical sense. However, after studying all the mineral options, I discovered that a rare pinkish variety of beryl does exist, known as “rose morganite.” The only translation that hints at this is Moffat’s: “His fingers are golden tapers tipped with topaz pink.” (Yes, there is also a rare variety of topaz that is pinkish-red.) In a physical sense, this is the most understandable translation: Solomon’s fingers looked like golden cylinders exquisitely set at the ends with clear, hard, pinkish finger nails that looked as beautiful as jewels. Was any spiritual significance intended? The word beryl is only used eight times in Scripture. In Exodus 28:20 and 39:13, beryl is listed as the first jewel in the fourth row of jewels that adorned the breastplate of the high priest’s robe. Beryl is mentioned in Revelation 21:20 as one of the twelve jewels adorning the foundation of the New Jerusalem. In Ezekiel 28:13 beryl was listed as one of the precious stones covering the King of Tyre (thought by most to represent Satan). From these references, beryl was clearly considered to be among the most beautiful and costly gems known to man at that time. In Ezekiel 1:16 and 10:9, Ezekiel has a vision of living, moving wheels that were the color of a beryl stone, and in Daniel 10:6, this description is offered of “a certain man” (almost universally considered to be a theophany, or pre-incarnate appearance of Christ): “His body also was like the beryl, and his face as the appearance of lightning, and his eyes as lamps of fire, and his arms and his feet in color to polished brass, and the voice of his words like the voice of a multitude.” Beryl then, throughout Scripture, is used to designate a gem of great beauty and exquisite color…color repeatedly associated with the finest skin tones of living beings. Perhaps it was a burnished gold with a tinge of pink…kissed by the sun and blushing pink…the glowing, reddish-bronzed tan of a man who’d been working outside. Whatever it was, it was the picture of brilliant health and beauty. We are still left with the question: is there spiritual significance in this description? One devotional writer suggested that the bride was describing beryl rings adorning Solomon’s hands, and discussed the significance of rings as tokens of commitment and love. Although this is a lovely thought, it is inconsistent with the overall purpose and linguistic style of the text. One of the greatest beauties of the book is the emphasis on the physical bodies of the lovers…not their adornments, but themselves. The bride and groom are not focused on the bangles and beads (or gems) of outer appearance…they are taken with the flesh and blood of eyes and lips, of cheeks and hair. God does not look on the outward appearance, but rather on the heart. He sees beneath the adornments of church service and charitable activity and praises instead the spiritual character and faithfulness of the person. He wants us, not our good works. He loves the shekinah glory shining out from the inside of the temple more than the wreath of flowers hanging over the door. I think if there is one spiritual comfort to be gleaned from this description, it is the thought that God’s hands—as representative of His purposes toward us—are as pure, and precious, and unchanging as gold, and as magnificent and beautiful as the precious gemstone beryl. He holds us in hands of exquisite strength and beauty!
(I took these photos last week at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.)