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Chapter 1 Verse 12
the King sitteth at his table,
my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof.
having given very large commendations of his church, and promised a great deal of grace and glory to her; she in this and the two following verses, declares what advantages she received by him, how lovely his person, and how delightful his company were to her. These words may be understood either,
First, Of the time of Christ’s not being manifested in the flesh, after the promise of it, and of the exercise of the faith, hope, love, desire, expectation, etc. of the Old Testament-saints, respecting his coming in the flesh: and then the sense is this, Whilst he, who is constituted king of saints, is appointed to be the mediator between God and man, the promised Messiah and Savior of the world, is With God, as “the only-begotten Son in the bosom of the Father,” and not yet manifested in the flesh; “my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof,” that is, my grace is in exercise; my soul is breathing with earnest desires after him; I long for his coming, and am in earnest expectation of it; I live in the hope of enjoying this valuable blessing; I firmly believe that he will come according to the divine promise, though his stay is long, and therefore will patiently wait the appointed time. Christ did exist from eternity, as the Son of God; was set up as the head and mediator of God’s elect, and was appointed and constituted king over God’s “holy hill of Zion.” He bore this character throughout all the Old-Testament-dispensation; and being promised to be the Messiah and Savior of sinners, from the time of the first declaration and publication of it, the Old-Testament-saints lived in the faith, hope, and earnest expectation of his coming in the flesh. Or else,
Secondly, They may be understood of the time of Christ’s being in the temple, or in Jerusalem, or in the land of Judea; during which time the gospel was preached, and the sweet odor of it diffused throughout all the parts thereof. Christ was promised to come into the world as the church’s King; “behold thy King cometh,” etc. Zechariah 9:9, and as such he did come; the wise men of the East sought him under the character of “the King of the Jews:” He was accused of making himself King, and for it was put to death: Hence this superscription was wrote on the cross, “This is the King of the Jews;” though most were ignorant of the nature of his office and kingdom, which were “not of this world.” Now whilst this great King was here on earth, the savor of the gospel was spread abroad; it was preached by Christ himself, in the temple, in the synagogues of the Jews, and in several parts of the land; for he was “not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel:” He sent out his disciples to preach it, but limited them to Judea’s land, and forbad them to “go in the way of the Gentiles,” or enter into any of the cities of the Samaritans. So that the sweet odor was then confined within that land; though after his resurrection he enlarged the commission of his disciples, and bid them go and preach the gospel to every creature, beginning at Jerusalem; which they accordingly did, and their ministry was owned for the conversion of many. but afterwards being rejected by the Jews, they turned to the Gentiles; for it was proper and necessary, that the word should be first preached to them, that “out of Zion might go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” Or,
Thirdly, These words may be understood of Christ’s being now in heaven, whither, after his resurrection, he ascended, where he now is, and he will continue till his second coming, “whom the heaven must receive, until the times of the restitution of all things;” it is from thence that saints expect him: Now these words, “while the King sitteth at his table,” very well suit with Christ’s exalted state in heaven; his kingly office and power appear more manifest, he is now declared to be “both Lord and Christ;” his posture there is, “sitting at the right hand of God,” where he is “in his circuit”113113wbsmb in circuitu suo, Montanus, Piscator, Michaelis. as the words may be read; it being the usual custom anciently among the Jews, to sit at table in a circular form (1 Sam. 16:11). Christ being in heaven, is “in his circuit,” encompassed about with angels and glorified saints; thus in Revelation 5:6-11, 12, a large number of angels and saints are said to be “round about the throne,” (and Christ, the lamb, in the midst of them) singing his praises, and feasting with him on those joys which will never end.
Now, whilst Christ is thus solacing himself with saints above, at such a distance from his church below, he is not unmindful of her, but gives such large communications of his grace, as cause her “spikenard” to “send forth the smell thereof:” Which may be meant, either,
1st, Of the graces of the church being in exercise on Christ: Christ, though now in heaven, and so invisible to the bodily eye, yet is the object of faith, love, hope, and joy; “whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory,” (1 Peter 1:8). The distance of place no way hinders either the communications of grace to us from Christ, or the exercise of our grace on him; but while he is there, he is giving it forth to us, and we are exercising it upon him; it is the manifestation of Christ’s love and grace to us that makes our spikenard send forth its smell. Or else,
2dly, The prayers of the saints may be intended by it; which are odorous, and of a sweet-smelling savor to God, being perfumed with Christ’s mediation, and offered up with his “much incense;” and therefore says David (Ps. 141:2), “let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense.” R. Aben Ezra thinks, that by the smell of the spikenard, is meant the smell of the incense, which was burnt under the law. Now while Christ is in heaven, the saints put their prayers into his hands, who takes notice of them, and is always ready, with his golden censer, to offer them up to his Father on the golden altar, in which he smells a sweet savor; and therefore the prayers of the saints are called odors (Rev. 5:8; see also Rev. 8:3, 4). Or rather,
3dly, This may be expressive of the gospel, and the sweet “savor of the knowledge” of Christ, which by it is made “manifest in every place,” wherever it comes (2 Cor. 2:14). Now the gospel may be compared to spikenard, 1. Spikenard is but a small, low plant or shrub;114114Plin. 1. 12. C. 12. the gospel is mean and contemptible in the eyes of the world; it is accounted foolishness by them, and the preachers of it are abject and despicable persons in their esteem. Yet, 2. It is very excellent; it is by Pliny115115Plin. 1. 12. c. 12. accounted the chief and principal ingredient in ointments; and therefore, John 12:3, the ointment of spikenard, which Mary took and anointed the feet of Christ with, is said to be “very precious and costly:” The gospel is valuable and excellent, both in its nature and effects; it is a rich and an enriching gospel; and therefore called “the unsearchable riches of Christ,” an exceeding valuable treasure, that is put in earthen vessels; it is a revelation and declaration of the riches of grace, which Christ bestows upon sinners here, and of those riches of glory which saints shall be made partakers of hereafter. 3. It is of an exceeding sweet smell, so is the gospel; there is such an efficacy in the odor of it, that it enlivens dead sinners, and therefore is said to be the “savor of life unto life,” and will revive the spirits of fainting believers: though it is reported of spikenard,116116Matthiolus in Dioscorid. 1. 1. c. 6. that by its being carried over sea it grows moldy and rots, whereby it loses its sweet smell, and stinks exceedingly; so the gospel, to those that perish, is not only of an ill smell, and abhorred by them, but is “the savor of death unto death.” Many of the Jewish writers117117T.B. Sabbat. fol. 88. 2. & Gittin. fol. 36. 2. Targum & Sol. Jarchi in loc. and Zohar in Exodus fol. 7. 2, 3. understand the smell of the spikenard here as an ill one. 4. Spikenard is of a hot nature118118Fernel. method, med. 1. 5. c. 22. and digestive of cold humours; it is hot in the first, and dry in the second degree: The gospel being powerfully applied by the Spirit of God, warms the hearts of God’s children, makes them burn within, and drives away luke-warmness, deadness and dullness, occasioned by indwelling sin. 5. It is of a very comforting and strengthening119119Ibid. & 1, 4. c. 7. nature to the stomach, it exhilarates the spirits; so are the doctrines and promises of the gospel to the souls of believers; these strengthen and nourish, comfort and refresh them; they, like Jeremiah, find the word and eat it, and it is “the joy and rejoicing of their hearts.” For these reasons the gospel may be compared to spikenard; which some of the Jewish120120Vide R. David Kimchium in lib. Shorash. rad. Drn. writers think is musk, others a kind of spice somewhat like saffron; but it is best to understand it of nard, of which there are many sorts; the best of which is that which grows up in spikes, and therefore is called spikenard, which is what is here intended. Again,
Fourthly, These words may be understood of Christ’s feasting with his saints here below, during which time their grace is in exercise; there is a mutual feasting between Christ and believers, he sups with them, and they with him; Christ has furnished a table for his people in this wilderness, with plenty, and variety of suitable food; and though he is a King, constituted by his Father, and acknowledged by his church, yet he sits at this table, with poor, mean, and worthless creatures, and welcomes them to those sweet provisions, saying, “Eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved.” Moreover, Christ’s presence with his people, and his grace manifested to them, have a mighty influence to draw forth their graces into exercise, even as the rising sun opens the flowers, and exhales the odor thereof, and agreeable breezes spread it abroad. Thus when the graces of believers are in exercise under the influences of Christ, and the enjoyment of his presence, they are exceeding odorous, both to Christ and others; their spikenard may then be said to “send forth the sweet smell thereof:” On this table, which is sometimes called “the table of the Lord,” are set the body and blood of Christ, whose “flesh is meat indeed, and whose blood is drink indeed;” on which believers, being encouraged by Christ’s presence, and assisted by his Spirit, feed plentifully; and he sits there and delights himself by viewing the graces of his own Spirit in exercise: thus at this table they are both mutually feasted and delighted. Yet there seems to be an emphasis on the phrase his table, as if it was a table peculiar to himself; and it was usual with great personages, and at grand entertainments, for the master of the feast and each of his guests to have separate tables, though together in the same room; this was formerly a custom with the Jews though now disused,121121Tosephot T. Bab. Beracot, fol. 42. 1. and with the ancient Greeks,122122Homer Odyss. 8. 5:69. Athenei Deipnosophist. 1. I. p. 4. and with the old Germans123123Tacit. de Mor. German. c. 22 also, and it seems with the Romans,124124Vide Cupcri Observ. 1. 1. c. 2. p. 13. but this did not hinder their mutual pleasure.
The conjecture of a certain Expositor,125125Sanctius in loc. that Christ himself is intended by the spikenard, is not to be slighted, he being called a “bundle of myrrh,” and a “cluster of camphire,” in the following verses: It was usual in feasts to anoint the head and hair as well as feet of persons invited thereunto; and ointment of spikenard was often used,126126Madidas nardo comas, Martial. 1. 3. ep. 56. tinge caput nardi, folio ib. Assyrioque nardo potemus uncti, Horat. Carmin. 1. 1. ode 11. 5:16, 17. Vide Tibull. eleg. 1. 2. ek 2. 5:7. & 1. 3. cl. 7. 5:31. & Ovid de Arte Amandi, 1. 3. as is manifest from Mark 14:3, John 12:3; to this custom the Psalmist alludes, Psalm 23:5. At royal banquets in Syria, as this here was one, it was usual to go round the guests and sprinkle them with Babylonian ointment.127127 Athenae Deipnosophist 1. 15. c. 13. p. 692. Now the church was at table with Christ as a guest, and was entertained with the most delicious fare; here was nothing wanting to render the entertainment delightful and pleasant; Christ himself, as he is both the master and the feast, so he is the ointment of spikenard to his guests: and it is as if she should say, “I am now at a sweet and heavenly repast with my beloved, he sits at the table, and I with him; and as he is my food, so he is my spikenard;128128 Tu mihi stacte, tu cinnamomum, etc. Plauti Curculio, act, 1. so. 2. v 6. he is my “all in all;” as long as he is here I need no flowers to delight me, no spikenard, myrrh, cypress, or unguents made of these to refresh me, for he is all this, and much more unto me.” Christ’s person and grace, his sacrifice, blood and righteousness, are, like spikenard, of an exceeding sweet smell; his person is “altogether lovely; the savor of his graces or ointments” attract the love of his people; his “sacrifice is of a sweet-smelling savor to God,” and to all believers; his garments, or robe of righteousness, “smell of myrrh, aloes, and cassia,” and in them believers are acceptable and well-pleasing to God.
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