The Thoughts of the Bride (1:12-14)
While the king was on his couch, my nard gave forth its fragrance. My beloved is to me a sachet of myrrh that lies between my breasts. My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms in the vineyards of Engedi (1:12-14).
These verses continue the dialogue that began in 1:9 and continues down until 2:7. The location is the banqueting house in one of Solomon’s buildings. The woman’s thoughts are detailed in verses 12 to 14. In these verses she is not speaking to the king (he is described in the third person and not in the second). It is possible that she is speaking to the daughters of Jerusalem (although unlikely, for she seems to be speaking to herself). Speaking to oneself is a biblical description of meditation (Ps. 1). In her meditating, she reminds herself of where she is (at a table) and with whom she is (the king). If she is speaking to the daughters of Jerusalem, then what we have here is another example of fellowship.
Some comments can be made about the translation of these verses. Verse 12 is straightforward; modern translations differ from the Authorised Version regarding the second clause of verse 13 (‘he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts’), and I think correctly. For example, the words ‘all night’ are not in the original text and were added by the translators because of how they translated the clause (Spurgeon, in a sermon on verse 13, comments that a believer does not only want Christ during the night, he or she also wants him during the day). It is more likely that the reference is not to the king lying between her breasts but to a small bottle of myrrh being placed there. She is likening the king’s presence to this fragrance that she placed on that part of her body.
The posture of the king
The king is sitting with her at his table. Jesus provides a table for his people in all kinds of situations. In Psalm 23, the writer states that he even provides a table in the midst of his enemies. The table is a picture of lifelong fellowship. Sitting at a table is a wonderful picture of communion, of contentment, of delight. She observes that he is delighted to be there with her. This was the sad feature that Jesus the King discovered about the church in Laodicea; although he wanted to sup with her, she did not wish to sit with him.
The provision on the table
The range of dishes has been provided by the king. In the imagery both he and she feed on the same menu. As we think of Jesus and his people, we should identify matters of common interest that gives them mutual delight. There is a limitless number of courses in this meal. One course could be the attributes of God, another course could be the purposes of God, another course could be the promises of God. Within each course, there is a variety of dishes. And at this table, we can eat our fill.
As they eat together, her fragrance is noticeable. This seems to be a picture of the fruit of the Spirit, these beautiful features that give beauty to her. It is not too much to say that each course on the table stimulates these features, with the result that increasing fragrance envelops the atmosphere. As they think about and feed on God’s attributes, purposes and promises, her love, joy, peace, gentleness etc increase and bring delight to his heart. And, of course, the ‘presence of Christ draws forth every grace that is in the believer. Repentance, faith, hope, love, gratitude, joy, peace, which had lain cold and frozen in his absence, are now drawn out toward him as to the source whence they had all flowed.’
The priority of her heart
Her description of the king likens him to the sachet or bottle of myrrh that she had between her breasts and to a cluster of camphire from Engedi. In order to see the point of her description, we need to see how myrrh was used in the ancient world and to note the location of Engedi.
The use of myrrh
First, myrrh was a very costly fragrance, often worth more than its weight in gold, and this points to the exceeding value of Jesus Christ. Who can calculate what he is worth?
Second, myrrh was a preserving fragrance because it was used in the embalming of dead bodies. For example, it was used by Nicodemus and Joseph to anoint the dead body of the Saviour (normally about eleven pounds was used on a person; they used a hundred pounds on Jesus, so indicating how much they loved him). As we think of the preserving function of myrrh, it is a reminder that it is the presence of Jesus in the soul that prevents it from decaying.
Third, myrrh had many medicinal uses. In the ancient world it was used for cleaning wounds and sores. Even in the nineteenth century it was used to treat coughs, colds, sore throats, bad breath, gum disease, and other problems. It is a common ingredient in toothpaste. In John Bunyan’s classic book, Pilgrim’s Progress, a bundle of myrrh was used to prevent Mercy from fainting. And myrrh was given to Jesus on the cross as a kind of analgesic to dull the pain of crucifixion. As far as believers are concerned, Jesus is the only Physician who can heal their wounds.
Fourth, myrrh overpowered other odours that were in the room. One usage of myrrh was in the Jewish sacrificial system where it was used to counterbalance the smell of burning animals. Sadly, we can find noxious smells as well as other aromas in this world. Therefore we need a more powerful fragrance that will remove them. Nothing gets rid of the smell of sin as the fragrance of Christ.
Fifth, myrrh had to be crushed in order to give out its fragrance. We can see this idea in the letter to the church at Smyrna (Rev. 2:8-11), which is a name connected to myrrh. That church was going to be crushed by persecution, but when the ten days of trouble came, the church would give a sweet aroma to God. In a far greater way, Jesus had to be crushed in order to give out his fragrance.
Psalm 45 is a prophecy of Christ on his future wedding day and he is depicted as being clothed in garments fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia (v. 8). His wedding day will be the future resurrection day, when Jesus will show his preserving ability by raising his people from the state of death and his medical ability by healing completely all their diseases. As we see him on that day fragrant with myrrh, we will understand as never before how valuable he is. Yet although he will be glorious, we will also see the evidence of the fact that he once was crushed, when we see the wounds on his body.
The location of Engedi
The king is also compared to a cluster of camphire in the vineyards of Engedi. The camphire is a tall plant (eight feet) with a striking flower (combination of white and yellow), that grows in dense clusters, gives a beautiful fragrance, and which women used to carry in their hands or in their bosom. Its trunk was cut open in order to obtain material from which perfume was made. So its usage was similar to myrrh, designed to make the wearer fragrant.
But the poet, in a manner common to Hebrew poetry, enhances his meaning in the next line, and does so by mentioning Engedi. Engedi is an oasis in the Judean desert near to the Dead Sea, where enough water pours down from a spring, six hundred feet up in the rocks, in such abundance for several vineyards to be located there. Engedi is a symbol of life in an environment of death.
I don’t think it is too difficult to state that the bride sees herself to be in an environment of spiritual death, that is the world. Yet she is so thankful that in this spiritual desert there is an oasis, which, like Engedi, is filled by water that flows down from above. That oasis is Jesus and he is full of the water of life.
To hold in one’s hand or wear in one’s bosom the camphires of Engedi is to wear fragrance that has its source in another world. But into this lifeless world comes, through the torn side of Jesus, refreshing fragrance for our dry souls.
Wearing the bundle of myrrh and clusters of camphires
Those who wear the bundle of myrrh and the camphires of Engedi stand out from the crowd. In Song 3:6 the question is asked, ‘Who is this coming out of the wilderness like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all the merchant’s fragrant powders?’ This is a picture of the church journeying through the desert to Canaan. What is observable about her is her prayers (incense) and her fragrance (myrrh and frankincense). She is distinctive.
Those who wear the bundle of myrrh and the camphires of Engedi give out a savour of Christ. Their presence should have the same effect as if Jesus had been there. There is a simple poem written by an unknown author that sums this up:
Not only by the words we say,
Not only by our deeds confessed,
But in a most unconscious way
is Christ expressed.
For me, ’twas not the truth you taught,
To you so clear, to me so dim;
But when you came to me
you brought a glimpse of Him.
And from your eyes He beckoned me,
And from your heart, His love was shed,
’Til I lost sight of you
And saw the Christ instead.
The imagery of a bottle of myrrh and a cluster of camphire reminds us that we should have a great abundance of Christ. It is not a drop of myrrh or a solitary flower that the bride puts in her bosom. There is no bottle in the world that can hold all of Christ, but neither is there any reason why our bottles should not be full. Fill up the bottles with the various features that belong to Jesus. Have in the bottles the many promises he made, the peace he gives, the pardon he bestows, the repentance he gives, and many other features.
Further, the contents of the bottle should always be fresh. Of course, Jesus never becomes stale. But sometimes the contents we have are only what Jesus did for us in the past. If we can change the metaphor, our spiritual lives can be like a photograph album in which we have pictures of when we looked better, when we were thinner or had more hair, reminding us of times that we wish could come again. Instead of being like a photograph album from the past, our spiritual lives should be like a live film, where spiritual beauty and Christlikeness can be seen. We should take our bottles and fill them continually with Christ.