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Chapter 3 Verse 6

Who is this that cometh out of the wilderness, like pillars of smoke,
perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the
merchant?


first wordof the Jewish writers397397Targum and R. Sol Jarchi in loc, and Zohar. in Genesis fol. 100. 4. and 101 1. think, that these are the words of the nations of the earth, wondering at the coming of the Israelites out of the wilderness, before whom the Lord went in a pillar of cloud by day, and in a pillar of fire by night, which appearance was very surprising to them. Though they are rather, as some398398Cotton in loc. think, the words of the Jews, wondering at John the Baptist and his ministry, of whom all men mused in their hearts whether he was the Christ or not and therefore the Jews dispatched messengers to him, to know the truth of it: his first appearance was in the wilderness of Judea, which fulfilled an ancient prophecy concerning him, “the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness;” hither great numbers, like pillars of smoke, flocked to him, to attend upon his ministry and baptism: he was a burning and shining light in his day there was a great deal of zeal, warmth and fervency in his preaching; for which work he was extraordinarily fitted, being richly perfumed with those gifts and graces of the Spirit, which are comparable to myrrh, frankincense, and all powders of the merchant. Others399399Isidore and Alcain in loc. take them to be the words of the Jewish church, wondering at the large number of converts appearing in the beauties of holiness, in the Gentile world, which before was like to a dry heath or a barren wilderness (see Isa. 49:21, 60:8) though others400400Merces in loc. think Christ himself is here introduced, admiring the beauty of his church, and the graces of his own spirit in her. But I am rather of opinion, that they are the words of the daughters of Jerusalem, who, upon this happy meeting of Christ and his church, saw a greater glory and a more excellent beauty in her, than ever they had done before “and especially, it must not be supposed, that the angels401401Diodat in loc. are here speaking and admiring the church’s beauty, seeing these bear no part in this song; much less the church herself402402Jus. in loc. for this no way suits with that modesty and humility which always appear in her: but it very well agrees with the daughters of Jerusalem, to whom so solemn a charge is given in the former verse, which excited and stirred them up to take a fuller view of her; and the more they looked upon her, the more they wondered at her; and in expressing it, thus highly commend her, which they do,

I.By describing her as “coming out of the wilderness.”

II.By comparing her ascent from thence to “pillars of smoke.”

III.By saying that she was “perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant.”

I.They commend her, by describing her as coming out of the wilderness. By the wilderness, out of which she is said to come, may be meant, either,

1st, A state of nature, which all the elect of God are in before conversion; out of which, by mighty and efficacious grace, they are brought. Now this may be called a wilderness, 1. Because of the barrenness and unfruitfulness of persons in such an estate: a wilderness is a dry and barren place (see Ps. 107:35; Zeph. 2:13), and so are the hearts even of God’s own people before conversion; and therefore are called “dry, parched and thirsty ground,” (Isa. 35:7, 44:3) which is only moistened, watered, and made fruitful by the effusion of God’s Spirit, and the flows of his love and grace: whilst in a state of nature, they are like the barren heath or fallow ground, until they become God’s husbandry, being broken up, manured, and made good ground, so as to bring forth fruit to his glory. 2. Because a wilderness is full of perplexed ways; a man that is in it is often at a loss, and knows not which way to take: and as bewildered is a man in a state of nature; he is a stranger to the way of peace, life and salvation, by Jesus Christ; there are many by-ways present themselves to him, which he is ready to imagine are the right; as his civility, morality, legal righteousness, and external profession of religion; which tracks he follows, if religiously inclined; if not, he pursues the paths of open sin and profaneness; and so he goes on, not knowing whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes; he is in a wilderness, and so he continues, until the Spirit of God guides his feet into the way of peace. 3. Because of the want of provisions therein; see Psalm 78:19, a man that is in a state of nature, has no spiritual provisions; no heavenly food, no divine refreshments; there is no bread of life here, only husks, which swine do eat; therefore souls that are in such an estate, are in a starving and famishing condition; hence it is called a “pits wherein is no water,” (Zech. 9:11). 4. Because of the danger thereof: in a wilderness, there is not only danger of losing one’s way, and falling into holes and pits, but also of being devoured by wild beasts; a state of nature is certainly a dangerous one; the wrath of God abides upon such that are in it; destruction and misery are written upon all the ways of sin; these have a tendency to bring souls thereunto, which they inevitably will, if grace prevents not. Now, in this state and condition God finds his people, when he calls them by his grace, as he did Israel of old; of whom it is said, Deuteronomy 32:10, “he found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness: “but he does not leave his people” here, he brings them out of it; which is an instance of his distinguishing and surprising grace, of which the church here was made a partaker; and therefore the daughters, in a way of admiration at it, say, “Who is this that cometh out of the wilderness!” which is expressed in the present tense, because of the incompleteness and imperfection of the work of grace in this life; which, though it is at present unfinished, yet is continued and carried on, and will be performed unto the day of Jesus Christ. Or else,

2dly, By the wilderness, out of which the church is said to come, may be meant this world; so the nations of the world may be, and particularly the land of Babylon, into which the Jews were carried captive, is called the wilderness of the people, in Ezekiel 20:35. And now this world may very well be so ca lied; and especially the passage of God’s children thro” it, may be compared to the passage of the Israelites through the wilderness of Egypt, 1. Because of the roughness of the way, the children of God, in their passage through it, as the Israelites did, meet with many difficulties, trials and afflictions; in this world they must have tribulation, and thro” a variety of it, “must enter into the kingdom of God;” for the way to heaven is, oJdov teqlimmh>nh an afflicted way, or a way strewed with afflictions. 2. Because of the many pits, traps, and snares, that are in it: this world is full of them, every thing in it is of an ensnaring nature to God’s children; therefore “let him that thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall.” 3. Because of the many venomous creatures and beasts of prey which are in it; and therefore the wilderness, through which the Israelites traveled, is called, Deuteronomy 8:15. “the great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents and scorpions; to which the ungodly men of this world may be compared, for their poisonous and infectious practices, their serpentine cunning, spite, venom, and cruel malice, among whom the saints are obliged to be whilst in this wilderness. 4. Because of the frequent want of provision, and the method of supplies in it the Israelites, whilst in the wilderness, were often in want of food, and sometimes reduced to such extremity, that they thought it almost impossible to have relief, and therefore said (Ps. 78:19), “God furnish a table in the wilderness?” but yet, notwithstanding these seeming impossibilities and their frequent murmurings and complaints against him, he was pleased to give them meat to the full: so in this wilderness of the world, which yields of itself no suitable provision to God’s children, they are supplied with food, and that in such a way, as the world knows nothing of; God feeds them with the bread of life, and gives them to eat of the hidden manna, the food of the wilderness; he refreshes their souls with his grace and presence, affords them spiritual nourishment from gospel doctrines, promises, and ordinances, and withholds no good thing that as proper for them. 5. As the Israelites, through a great many windings and turnings came safe to Canaan’s land, and were led by a right way, though not a direct one, but often backwards and forwards, to the city of their habitation; so the people of God, through various turns of providence, and many trials and- afflictions, are led thro” the wilderness of this world, but yet always in a right way; in a way that makes most for God’s glory, and their own good, and shall all be brought safe to the city of habitation and place of rest, Which God has prepared for them. Now the church is said to be coming out of this wilderness. Saints, though they are in the world, yet they are not of it, being chosen and called out of it; and then may they be said to be coming out of it, when they not only profess not to belong to it, but do openly withdraw from, and quit the company and conversation of the men of it; when their affections are so weaned from it, as that they can readily forsake, and cheerfully suffer the loss of all things in it, for the sake of Christ. Moreover, when neither the frowns nor flatteries of the world can draw them aside from Christ and his gospel; but, regardless of either, are breathing and longing after another and better world than this: and when this is the case of souls, as perhaps it was of the church here, they have made a good progress towards coming out of this wilderness. Or else,

3dly, By it may be meant a state of sorrow and distress, which the people of God are often in, in this life, but are sooner or later brought out of it. God sometimes brings them into the wilderness, into a distressed, and disconsolate condition, being without his presence, and the discoveries of his love and grace; where having no views of Christ, and their interest in him, they are bewildered in their souls, and scarce know where they are, nor whither they are going; but he will not leave them. so, long, but will bring them out of it, and speak comfortably to them. Now in such a bewildered state and condition the church had been, not knowing where her beloved was, which caused her to run up and down, here and there, like a person in a wood, seeking for him, and calling after him; but now she is represented as coming out of this state, having gotten some glimpse of him, and enjoying some communion with him. But,

II.She is not only described by her coming out of the wilderness, but also this ascent of hers from thence is said to be like pillars of smoke; which seems to be expressive of the motions of her desires and affections towards Christ; and shews, 1. That her affections towards Christ were afresh kind., led; either by the fire of the Spirit, which was applied unto her; see Matthew 3:11 or of the divine word, which is compared thereunto, Jeremiah 23:29 which powerfully wrought upon her; or else, by the presence of Christ, which sometimes causes the hearts of his people to burn within them; this she now enjoyed, which stirred up her affections the more unto him: now these being said to be “like pillars of smoke,” intend the first appearances of them; for as soon as ever the fire takes, there will be smoke, and often in great abundance; for which reason the first appearance of grace in young converts is compared to “smoking flax,” (Isa. 42:3, 2). That her affections were heavenly, and rising upwards, “like pillars of smoke;” they were not set upon things on earth, but upon things in heaven, and especially upon Christ, who is there;. and particularly upon her person, blood, and righteousness; all which take much with the believer’s affections, and are exceeding precious to him. 3. Her affections towards Christ, being compared to pillars of smoke, shew the uprightness of them; that they went up to him like pillars in a straight line, and did not bend either this way or that: and it may be observed, that the word translated pillars, signifies palm-trees403403twrmyt elationes, colunmae, ad formam palmae assurgentes, Buxtoff. ut palmae, Mercerus, Cocceius; inatar palmarum, Tigurine version, Michaelis. Vid. R. Aben Ezram & Sol. Jarchium in loc.& R. David Kimchium in lib. shorash rad. dmh. or pillars arising up in the form of palm-trees; which grow very upright, even though very great pressures and weights be laid upon them; and therefore the righteous are compared unto, and said to grow up like them, in Psalm 92:12. 4. The steadiness and constancy of her affections to Christ may be represented hereby; which can by no means be diverted from him; neither by the winds of temptations, nor by the tempests of afflictions, nor by the blasts of persecutions; though it is true, pillars of smoke are by every wind easily turned this way or that: but perhaps the allusion is here made unto the smoke, which ascended daily from the altar of burnt-offering; and, if we will believe the Jews, this smoke could never be dispersed, nor bent by any wind; for, among the ten wonders which were seen in the temple, these are mentioned404404In Pirke Abot, c. 5. f. 5. viz. That the rain never extinguished the fire of the wood, which was laid in order upon the altar; nor did the wind ever conquer the pillar of smoke, so as to disperse it, nor bend it in this way or that. 5. This may also represent the offering up of herself as a whole burnt-offering to the Lord, as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, which was but her reasonable service (see Rom. 12:1). Or, 6. It may set forth the obscure state and condition of the church in this world, by reason of outward crosses and afflictions which are such as hide her inward glory and beauty from the men of the world; for though she is separated from the world, and is coming out of it, yet she looks like pillars of smoke, dark, and cloudy, but little brightness or glory appearing in her to them.

III.She is also said to be perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant.

1st, She is said to be “perfumed with myrrh;” which may be understood, either of Christ himself, who is as “a bundle of myrrh” unto his people, exceeding grateful, to them; and which renders them acceptable to God, being held in the hand, or carried in the bosom of faith: or else, of his death, which, though like myrrh, exceeding bitter to himself, yet is of a sweet-smelling savor to his Father, and a delightful perfume to believers: or else, of his righteousness; which is that garment of Christ’s, which, whether considered as in himself, or as put upon his people, smells of myrrh, aloes, and cassia;” and with which they being clothed, “their smell is as the smell of a field which the Lord hath blessed.”

2dly, She is said to be also perfumed, with frankincense;” by which may be meant the mediation and intercession of Christ, which is that much incense, with which Christ offers up the prayers of all saints to his Father; and with which their persons and their prayers being perfumed, they meet with acceptance with God, which otherwise would be a stink in his nostrils (see Rev. 8:3, 4; Ps. 141:2).

3dly, She is said to be perfumed, or to be possessed with all powders of the merchant.” Christ is this merchant-man; the graces of the Spirit are those powders which Christ, as mediator, is full of; all which are sweet and savory, rich and costly; “the merchandise of them is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold.” Some read this last part of the words thus405405So Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, Schmidt. “which is above or more excellent than all powders of the merchant, druggist or apothecary;406406lkwr negotiator, mercator, aromatarius, Buxtorf. Mureyo~u Sept. pigmentarii, V. L. Montanus; pharmacopolae, Tigur. version; insitoris, sea seplasiarii, Mercerus. Cocceius: aromatarii, Junius & Tremellius, Marckius. for no spice in the merchant’s warehouse, no precious drug or aromatic powder in the apothecary’s shop, is to be compared with those graces of the Spirit, which Christ bestows upon his own people.



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