Exodus 30:23
Take thou also unto thee principal spices, of pure myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet cinnamon half so much, even two hundred and fifty shekels, and of sweet calamus two hundred and fifty shekels,
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(23) Principal spices.—The East is productive of a great variety of spices; but of these some few have always been regarded with especial favour. Herodotus (iii. 107-112) mentions five “principal spices” as furnished by Arabia to other countries, whereof two at least appear to be identical with those here spoken of.

Pure myrrh.—Heb., myrrh of freedom. The shrub which produces myrrh is the balsamodendron myrrha. The spice is obtained from it in two ways. That which is purest and best exudes from it naturally (Theophrast. De Odoribus, § 29; Plin., H. N., xii. 35), and is here called “myrrh of freedom,” or “freely flowing myrrh.” The other and inferior form is obtained from incisions made in the bark. Myrrh was very largely used in ancient times. The Egyptians employed it as a main element in their best method of embalming (Herod. ii. 86), and also burnt it in some of their sacrifices (ib. 40). In Persia it was highly esteemed as an odour (Athen., Deipn. 12, p. 514A); the Greeks used it in unguents. And as incense; Roman courtesans scented their hair with it (Hor. Od., iii. 14, 1. 22); the later Jews applied it as an antiseptic to corpses (John 19:39). This is the first mention of myrrh (Heb., môr) in the Bible, the word translated “myrrh” in Genesis 37:25; Genesis 43:11 being lôt, which is properly, not myrrh, but ladanum.

Sweet cinnamon.—While myrrh was one of the commonest of spices in the ancient world, cinnamon was one of the rarest. It is the produce of the laurus cinnamomum, or cinnamomum zeylanicum, a tree allied to the laurel, which now grows only in Ceylon, Borneo, Sumatra, China, Cochin China, and in India on the coast of Malabar. According to Herodotus (iii. 111) and Strabo (16, p. 535), it grew anciently in Arabia; but this is doubted, and the Arabians are believed to have imported it from India or Ceylon, and passed it on to the Phœnicians, who conveyed it to Egypt and Greece. The present passage of Scripture is the first in which it is mentioned, and in the rest of the Old Testament it obtains notice only twice (Proverbs 7:16; Song of Solomon 4:14). The word used, which is kinnĕmôn, makes it tolerably certain that the true cinnamon is meant.

Sweet calamus.—There are several distinct kinds of aromatic reed in the East. One sort, according to Pliny (H. N., xii. 22), grew in Syria, near Mount Lebanon; others were found in India and Arabia. It is quite uncertain what particular species is intended, either here or in the other passages of Scripture where “sweet cane” is spoken of. (See Song of Solomon 4:14; Isaiah 43:24; Jeremiah 6:20; Ezekiel 27:17.)

Exodus 30:23. Interpreters are not agreed concerning these ingredients: the spices, which were in all near half a hundred weight, were to be infused in the oil, which was to be about five or six quarts, and then strained out, leaving an admirable smell in the oil. With this oil God’s tent and all the furniture of it were to be anointed; it was to be used also in the consecration of the priests. It was to be continued throughout their generations, Exodus 30:31. Solomon was anointed with it, 1 Kings 1:39, and some other of the kings, and all the high-priests, with such a quantity of it, as that it ran down to the skirts of the garments; and we read of the making it up, 1 Chronicles 9:30. Yet all agree, that in the second temple there was none of this holy oil, which was probably owing to a notion they had, that it was not lawful to make it up; Providence overruling that want as a presage of the better unction of the Holy Ghost in gospel times, the variety of whose gifts are typified by these sweet ingredients.

30:22-38 Directions are here given for making the holy anointing oil, and the incense to be used in the service of the tabernacle. To show the excellency of holiness, there was this spiced oil in the tabernacle, which was grateful to the sight and to the smell. Christ's name is as ointment poured forth, So 1:3, and the good name of Christians is like precious ointment, Ec 7:1. The incense burned upon the golden altar was prepared of sweet spices. When it was used, it was to be beaten very small; thus it pleased the Lord to bruise the Redeemer, when he offered himself for a sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savour. The like should not be made for any common use. Thus God would keep in the people's minds reverence for his own services, and teach us not to profane or abuse any thing whereby God makes himself known. It is a great affront to God to jest with sacred things, and to make sport with his word and ordinances. It is most dangerous and fatal to use professions of the gospel of Christ to forward wordly interests.Principal spices - i. e. the best spices.

Pure myrrh - Is a gum which comes from the stem of a low, thorny, ragged tree, that grows in Arabia Felix and Eastern Africa, called by botanists Balsamodendron myrrha. The word here rendered pure, is literally, "freely flowing", an epithet which is explained by the fact that the best myrrh is said to exude spontaneously from the bark, while that of inferior quality oozes out in greater quantity from incisions made in the bark.

Five hundred shekels - Probably rather more than 15 1/4 lbs. See Exodus 38:24.

Cinnamon - is obtained from a tree allied to the laurel that grows in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and other islands of the Indian Ocean, known in Botany as the Cinnamomum zeylanicum. It is the inner rind of the tree dried in the sun. It was imported from India in very early times by the people of Ophir, and brought with other spices from the south part of Arabia by the trading caravans that visited Egypt and Syria. The mention of these spices in Exodus may be taken as the earliest notice we have connected with commerce with the remote East.

Two hundred and fifty shekels - about 7 lbs. 14 oz.

Sweet calamus - The fragrant cane (or rush) was probably what is now known in India as the Lemon Grass.

23-33. Take thou also … principal spices, &c.—Oil is frequently mentioned in Scripture as an emblem of sanctification, and anointing with it a means of designating objects as well as persons to the service of God. Here it is prescribed by divine authority, and the various ingredients in their several proportions described which were to compose the oil used in consecrating the furniture of the tabernacle.

myrrh—a fragrant and medicinal gum from a little known tree in Arabia.

sweet cinnamon—produced from a species of laurel or sweet bay, found chiefly in Ceylon, growing to a height of twenty feet: this spice is extracted from the inner bark, but it is not certain whether that mentioned by Moses is the same as that with which we are familiar.

sweet calamus—or sweet cane, a product of Arabia and India, of a tawny color in appearance; it is like the common cane and strongly odoriferous.

Take thou also unto thee: the words are very emphatical, and the Jews from hence do rightly infer, that this ointment was but once made, and that by Moses’s own hands. Spices: see Song of Solomon 4:14 Ezekiel 27:22; and compare Psalm 45:8 Amos 6:6.

Pure myrrh, Heb. myrrh of liberty; either,

1. Free from adulteration or mixture; or rather,

2. Freely dropping from the tree, which is esteemed better than that which is forced out of it.

Calamus; a sweet reed, of which see Isaiah 43:24 Jeremiah 6:20.

Take thou also unto thee principal spices,.... To make the anointing oil with, and are as follow:

of pure myrrh five hundred shekels; it is strange that Saadiah, and so Maimonides (f), should take this for musk, which comes from a beast, and is confuted by Aben Ezra from Sol 5:1 from whence it plainly appears to be what comes from a tree; and the word "mor", here used, gives the tree the name of myrrh almost in all languages. And it is justly mentioned first among the chief of spices; since, as Pliny (g) says, none is preferred unto the stacte or liquor that flows from it, that which is pure myrrh, unmixed, unadulterated; or "myrrh of freedom" (h), which flows freely, either of itself, or, when cut, which is the best; and this was fitly used as a principal ingredient in the anointing oil, since oil was made out of it itself, called oil of myrrh, Esther 2:12 and as a shekel is generally supposed to weigh half an ounce, the quantity of this to be taken was two hundred and fifty ounces:

and of sweet cinnamon half so much, even two hundred and fifty shekels; or one hundred twenty five ounces: it is here called sweet cinnamon, to distinguish it from that which was not sweet; so Jarchi observes,"there is one sort that has a good smell and taste, another that has not, but is as wood (common wood), therefore it was necessary to say sweet cinnamon.''So Pliny (i) speaks of two sorts of it, one whiter, and another blacker; sometimes the white is preferred, and sometimes the black is commended. The cinnamon tree grows in great plenty in the island of Zeilon in India (Ceylon or called Srilanka today, Editor), as Vartomanus (k) relates, who says it is not much unlike a bay tree, especially the leaves; it beareth berries as does the bay tree, but less and white; it is doubtless no other than the bark of a tree, and gathered in this manner; every third year they cut the branches of the tree--when it is first gathered it is not yet so sweet, but a month after, when it waxeth dry; and with this Pliny (l) agrees, who says it is not odorous while it is green. Pancirollus (m) reckons cinnamon among the things that are lost; and says, that we have no knowledge of the true cinnamon; and reports from Galen, that in his time it was so scarce, that it was rarely found but in the cabinets of emperors. Pliny (n) makes mention of it, as used in ointments:

and of sweet calamus two hundred and fifty shekels; or one hundred and twenty five ounces; and this is called sweet, because there is a calamus that is not sweet, as Jarchi; this is the same with the sweet cane from a far country, Jeremiah 6:20 from India, as is generally thought; but rather perhaps from Sheba, or some part of Arabia; it must be nearer at hand than India, from whence the Israelites had these spices; and Moses is bid to take them, as if they were near indeed; and Pliny speaks of myrrh, and of sweet calamus, as growing in many places of Arabia, and of cinnamon in Syria (o); and Dionysius Periegetes (p) mentions calamus along with frankincense, myrrh, and cassia, and calls it sweet smelling calamus; and so Strabo (q) speaks of cassia and cinnamon as in Arabia Felix; and Diodorus Siculus (r) makes mention of all these in Arabia, and of cassia that follows.

(f) Cele Hamikdash, c. 1. sect. 3.((g) Nat. Hist. l. 12, 15. (h) "myrrhae libertatis", Montanus, Vatablus; "myrrhae sponte fluentis", Tigurine version. (i) Ibid. c. 19. (k) Navigat. l. 6. c. 4. (l) Ut supra. (Nat. Hist. l. 12, 15.) (m) Rer. Memorab. sive Deperd. par. 1. tit. 9. p. 28. (n) Ib. l. 15. c. 7. (o) Nat. Hist. l. 12. c. 15, 22, 28. (p) Orb. Descript. l. 937. (q) Geograph. l. 16. p. 538. (r) Bibliothec. l. 2. p. 132.

Take thou also unto thee principal spices, of pure myrrh five hundred {m} shekels, and of sweet cinnamon half so much, even two hundred and fifty shekels, and of sweet {n} calamus two hundred and fifty shekels,

(m) Weighing so much.

(n) It is a type of reed with a very sweet savour within, and it is used in powders and odours.

23. Take thou also] And thou (emph.), take: cf. on Exodus 27:20.

spices] such as were brought to Solomon by the Queen of Sheba, and others (1 Kings 10:2; 1 Kings 10:10; 1 Kings 10:15), and prized by the Hebrews (Song of Solomon 4:10; Song of Solomon 4:14; Song of Solomon 4:16; Song of Solomon 5:13; Isaiah 39:2). For chief (i.e. finest, best), cf. Song of Solomon 4:14, Ezekiel 27:22; and for the Heb. idiom here, G.-K. § 131d.

flowing myrrh] cf. Song of Solomon 5:5; Song of Solomon 5:13, which likewise imply a liquid. Modern ‘myrrh’ (the produce of Balsamodendron Myrrha, indigenous in Yemen and E. Africa) is, however, a solid, and also devoid, or nearly so, of aroma: the liquid môr of the Hebrews appears to have been what is now called the ‘Balsam of Mecca,’ a ‘greenish turbid fluid of syrupy consistence, having a very grateful odour, something like oil of rosemary,’ the product of Balsamodendron opobalsamum, a tree which grows abundantly on the coast territory of Arabia, and for which in ancient times Jericho was especially celebrated (see Sir W. Thiselton-Dyer’s art. Balsam in EB.: the art. Myrrh is briefer).

five hundred shekels] probably about 16 lbs. av. (DB. iv. 906a).

sweet-smelling cinnamon] Cinnamon is mentioned also in Proverbs 7:17, Song of Solomon 4:14, Revelation 18:13†. Modern cinnamon is the fragrant inner bark of Cinnamomum zeylanicum, a plant of the laurel family, and is obtained from Ceylon. The cinnamon of the ancients, however, came from S. China (the Indians, Persians, and Arabians called it Chinese wood), and was probably the Cinnamomum cassia (see EB. s.v.). ‘The Greeks and Romans used cinnamon as an unguent: the cinnama rara was highly prized by them (Theophr. plant. ix. 7; Diosc. i. 13; Martial iv. 13. 3); and the unguentum cinnamomimum was very costly (Plin. xiii. 2; Athen. p. 439, 690)’ (Kn.). ‘Sweet-smelling’ cinnamon would be cinnamon of the best kind: there were other kinds which yielded an inferior fragrance (Diosc. l.c., Theophr. ix. 5, cited by Kn.).

sweet calamus] better, sweet-smelling cane (the word is the ordinary Heb. one for ‘cane’ or ‘reed’), elsewhere called ‘the goodly cane from a far country’ (Jeremiah 6:20), or cane alone, Isaiah 43:14, Ezekiel 27:19, Song of Solomon 4:14 : the κάλαμος ἀρωματικός, calamus odoratus of the classical writers, which ‘came from India (cf. the ‘far country’ of Jer.), and was used both as incense and medicinally (Diosc. i. 17), and also as an ingredient in unguents (Theophr. ix. 7, Plin. xiii.2, xii. 48)’ (Kn.). It may have been what is now known in India as the Lemon grass (cf. NHB. 439; DB. iv. 213a). Cf. in Ass. ritual, EB. iv. 4123.

Verse 23 - Principal spices. The ancients recognised a vast variety of spices. Pliny notices an ointment which was composed of twenty-six ingredients, chiefly spices (H.N. 13:2, § 18). Herodotus mentions five "principal spices" as furnished by Arabia (3:107), of which four seem to be identical with those employed in the holy oil. Pure myrrh. Literally, "myrrh of freedom," or "freely flowing myrrh." The shrub which yields myrrh (Balsamodendron myrrha) produces two kinds - one, which exudes spontaneously, and is regarded as the best (Plin. II. 4:12:35; Theophrast. De Odoribus, § 29); and another, of inferior quality, which flows from incisions made in the bark. It is the former kind which is here intended. Myrrh was among the ancients in high request as a spice. It was used by the Egyptians for embalming (Herod 2:86), in Persia as an odour (Athen. Deipn, 12. p. 514, A); by the Greeks for incense (Soph. Fr. 340) and in unguents (Aristoph Eq 1. 1332); by the later Jews in funerals (John 19:39); and was largely exported from Arabia and Ethiopia into various parts of Asia and Europe. Sweet cinnamon. Cinnamon was a far rarer spice than myrrh. It is only mentioned three times in the Old Testament (cf. Proverbs 7:16; Song of Solomon 4:14). I am not aware of any trace of it in Egypt; but Herodotus says that it was obtained by the Greeks from Arabia in his day (3:111). It is the inner bark or rind of a tree allied to the laurel, and called by some Laurus cinnamomum, by others Cinnamomum zeylanicum. The tree now grows only in India on the Malabar coast, in Ceylon, Borneo, Sumatra, Cochin China, and China. If its habitat has not suffered contraction, we must regard the mention of it here as indicative of a very early commerce of a very extensive character. Sweet calamus. Aromatic reeds, probably of several distinct kind, seem to have been the produce anciently of Palestine, Arabia, Mesopotamia, and India. It is impossible to say what exactly was the species here intended. Calamus is mentioned as a spice in Isaiah 43:24; Jeremiah 6:20; Ezekiel 27:17; and Song of Solomon 4:14; but the term used (kaneh, "cane ") is vague; and it is not at all clear that one species only is alluded to. Exodus 30:23The Holy Anointing Oil. - This was to be prepared from the best perfumes ראשׁע בּשׂמים, where ראשׁע, caput, the principal or chief, is subordinate to בּשׂמים), viz., of four fragrant spices and olive-oil. The spices were, (1) liquid myrrh, as distinguished from the dry gum; - (2) קנּמן־בּשׂם, cinnamon of fragrance, the name having been introduced to the Semitic nations along with the thing itself, and then by the Phoenicians to the Greeks and Romans (κίνναμον, cinnamum): whether it came from Ceylon, the great mart of cinnamon, is very doubtful, as there is not word that can be discovered in the Indian dialects corresponding to cinnamon; - (3) cane of fragrance, the κάλαμος ἀρωματικός, calamus odoratus, of the Greek sand Romans, i.e., the scented calamus which is imported from India; - and (4) kiddah, probably cassia, and possibly the species called κιττώ in Dioscor. 1, 12, in which case קציעה (Psalm 45:9) is either the generic name for cassia, or else refers to a different species. The proportion in which these spices were to be taken was 500 shekels or 14 1/2 lbs. of myrrh, half the quantity, i.e., 7 lbs, of cinnamon, and the same of calamus and cassia; in all, therefore, 21 lbs. of dry spices, which were to be mixed with one hin of oil (about 5 quarts) and 14 lbs. of liquid myrrh. These proportions preclude the supposition, that the spices were pulverized and mixed with the oil and myrrh in their natural condition, for the result in that case would have been a thick mess: they rather favour the statement of the Rabbins, that the dry spices were softened in water and boiled, to extract their essence, which was then mixed with oil and myrrh, and boiled again until all the watery part had evaporated. An artificial production of this kind is also indicated by the expressions מרקחת רקח "spice-work of spice-mixture," and רקח מעשׂה "labour (work) of the perfumer or ointment-maker."
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