The Sweet Fragrance of Brokenness

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A garden locked is my sister, my bride, a spring locked, a fountain sealed. Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates with all choicest fruits, henna with nard, nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense, myrrh and aloes, with all choice spices—a garden fountain, a well of living water, and flowing streams from Lebanon. (Song of Solomon 4:12-15, ESV)

In continuing some reflections and studies using the Song of Solomon, I thought I’d take a post to go through these few verses. The garden spoken of in this part of the song represents the soul of the believer. A garden is not merely for reproduction, but for beauty as well. By understanding the significance of these spices, or ‘ingredients’ of the ‘maiden’s soul, we can learn what the transformed soul-life is like for the believer.

First, we must notice how similar the ingredients mentioned here are to those used in the anointing oil that was used on the heads of the priests, first mentioned in detail in Exodus 30:22-33.1

1) Liquid myrrh

As mentioned in a previous post, myrrh is one of the most fragrant perfumes and casts an intoxicating odor. When we read of myrhh in Scripture it is used in reference to purification and suffering. The word myrrh literally means ‘bitter’. As believers, we are afflicted for Christ’s sake, who, though a Son, learned obedience through what he suffered (Heb 5:8). Philippians 1:29 states that it has been granted to believers that we will suffer for Christ’s sake ourselves, and as we follow in His footsteps, and will share in the power of His resurrection as we become like Him through death (see also Phil 3:10). Part and parcel with being anointed by the Holy Spirit, is going the way of the cross and living a crucified lifestyle, being sharpened by the sufferings and hardships we will face. For more about the myrrh, see the previous post Strong Behind the Veil of our Thought Life.

2) Fragrant Cinnamon

The next ingredient mentioned in the anointing oil, is cinnamon, which literally means “erect” or “upright”. If mixed properly, the anointing will cause an upright walk of holiness and righteousness in the life of the believer. We’re given the gift of righteousness through faith, and if we embrace it, we’ll also hate sin and lawlessness,

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age (Titus 2:11-12)

This ingredient in the natural would also have a sweet taste and smell. For more about this ingredient in our lives, compare also Hebrews 1:9, Matthew 7:21, and Ephesians 5:3.

3) Calamus

This ingredient literally means “branch” or “reed”. This was a tall reed-like grass with hollow stems. It is a very sweet-smelling plant, which is able to grow in harsh, difficult environments. This was the channel through which life would flow, and produce fruit, if and when we’re connected to the life source of Christ Jesus Himself (see John 15:1-8). It is also mentioned in Genesis 41:5 in the Pharoah’s dream, where we’re told of the stalk that was producing plump and good grain.

This is also the same word used in Matthew 11:7:

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?

We also know that no matter how harsh our surroundings and circumstances we face, it’s said of Jesus:

A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory. (Matt 12:20, NIV, emphasis mine)

It would benefit the reader to learn some more about this type of reed, as it would derail too much to go into further detail, but worth knowing is how these types of reeds were used in the making of boats in the ancient Middle East. When gathering and tying the reeds together, if the reed was too slippery they would bruise it so the rope would fasten to it more easily. The more they were bruised, the more they were useful in helping hold the boat together. The pillars in the body of Christ are the very ones who’ve been bruised the most and developed the most tender hearts that they can give life and encouragement to the rest of us who go through trials ourselves.

The oil that was extracted from this grass was an ingredient in the anointing oil, and the calamus was grown throughout Palestine.

4) Cassia

Which really means ‘shriveled’ or ‘bowed down’. It typically would come from the inner bark of a specific type of an Indian tree. This represented true worship, and the heart of absolute surrender to giving of one’s life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

A great passage representing this would be found in Gen 24:26.2

5) Olive Oil

This came from olives, obviously, but what is significant about this is that the way you obtain the oil is by crushing and pressing the olive and squeezing the inside out of it. The Garden of Gethsemane was an olive press, so it’s of no small significance that this was the location where Jesus prayed into the night for the cup to be removed, before being arrested and sentenced to the Cross. The olive oil literally means ‘broken’ and ‘contrite’.

Olive oil is supposed to be the best preservative of odors, and it is also the ingredient that holds all the other ingredients together, in order to preserve their fragrance.

The Holy Spirit flows through broken vessels who’ve been crushed through life experiences, and made stronger through them.

Thoughts to Consider

I find it interesting to note that the two ingredients that are the most closely related to suffering and going through difficulties, are the ones that cost twice as much as the other two. Myrrh and cassia both required 500 shekels’ worth, while the quantity required of cinnamon and calamus was 250 shekels.

Back to our song; we see the same mentioned ingredients, almost identical to those of the anointing oil, the ‘finest spices’ (v. 14). This garden represents an anointed and holy place where God can meet with her. As one who has had the privilege of ministering to God, she has been anointed as holy to the Lord, set apart as a special meeting place for Him and Him alone. The incense of frankincense represents how this spice in particular was also used symbolically to represent the prayers of the saints (see Revelation 5:8, 8:3-4), and in the Old Testament, we find frankincense was poured on a grain offering (Leviticus 2:1-3). This particular offering was only to be brought with burnt or peace offerings, and never with the sin offerings. This offering relates only to the offerings of those who desire fellowship with the Lord and desire to consecrate their lives to Him.

It could be said that the fragrance of ‘all the trees of frankincense’ coming up from the garden of the maiden is a reference to the soothing aroma of a life filled with praise to God, and not only that, but one with much variety. As mentioned, but worth repeating, is that myrrh and aloes–depending on the translation you use–signify suffering love, which Jesus demonstrates for us in His burnt offering sacrifice on the Cross. The maiden’s garden also smells of this suffering love. It’s mentioned at the end of the song, that this love

…is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire,the very flame of the Lord.Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, he would be utterly despised. (Song of Solomon 8:6b-7, ESV, emphasis mine).

Her mind is a paradise of godly thoughts as indicated in the orchard of pomegranates.3

The Winds of Change

What it is that draws me into this imagery in particular, and why I felt it relevant to take the route I did with the ingredients of the anointing oil, is to make sense of how in verse 15 onwards, we’re told this garden is locked up for her Lover, but the river flows outward to Lebanon. I think this is symbolic of how the life of a believer results in rivers of living water flowing out of their inner most being, directly related to their personal intimacy with God, but resulting in others being nourished and what flows out of us benefiting them. This speaks of the renewed spirit of the believer in the midst of the soul.

Wind often usually speaks of the Holy Spirit in Scripture, and so in verse 16 when it mentions the north and south winds blowing on the garden, I think it speaks of wind that comes in and spreads the fragrance of the garden, and all its variety of fragrances onto the land surrounding it. This is not just river flowing, for in the natural, north wind can be cold and penetrating, and in contrast the south wind is very pleasant, gentle and mild.4

It’s not just the winds of wonderful goosebumps and feelings that cause the flow of the fragrance of the spices of the Lord’s working in our lives, but the harsh breeze of circumstances that may make us feel crushed, persecuted, but yet not abandoned, or struck down but not destroyed. Sometimes that wind of the Holy Spirit will also break off junk from our lives and circumstances that don’t belong there, and it may be painful at the time, but yet it’s just part of the bigger plan to have more and more of the Spirit’s work in our lives, that others may benefit from this fragrance.

Dear saint, don’t shy away from the variety of experiences you face in your Christian walk, including suffering, trials and tribulations, for these things are a sweet smelling fragrance and the work they produce in us is of eternal relevance.

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? (2 Cor 2:15, ESV, emphasis mine)


  1. The following portion is taken from notes I wrote in the margin of my Bible after reading S.J. Hill’s book Personal Revival where he takes a whole chapter to go into this detail []
  2. For more on this of which we don’t have time to get into today, it’s recommended that the reader check out a previous post on the symbolism used in the differences between the wheat and the tares, []
  3. It’s recommended to read Strong Behind the Veil of Our Thought Life, []
  4. The latter portion of this article is heavily gleaning from Bob and Rose Weiner’s study of the Song of Solomon, Bible Studies For The Preparation of the Bride, Study 12: “The Garden of the Lord” []
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Steve Bremner is a Canadian missionary to Peru, who is called to raise up disciples who flow in the power of the Holy Spirit within a missional community named Oikos. He is passionate about blogging and podcasting, and is general editor of Fire Press, and also produces & co-hosts its podcast called Fire On Your Head. If you like Steve's blog, you'll also like his Kindle books.
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