Fragrance of Christ
December 14, 2020

Exodus 30:22-33 is a recipe. It prescribes the ingredients for the holy oil to anoint both the furnishings of the tabernacle and the priests. The text subdivides into three sections, each of which includes a statement about holiness:

A. Recipe for anointing oil; it is holy, 30:23-25

B. Anointed things; they are most holy, 30:26-30

C. Warning against profanation of anointing oil; it is holy, 30:31-33

The adjective qodesh (holy) is used eight times in the passage, once with reference to the sanctuary (v. 24), once in the superlative double qodesh qodashim (v. 29), and otherwise to describe the oil (vv. 25 [2x], 31, 32 [2x]). Additionally, the verb qadash is used three times (vv. 29 [2x], 30). 

Clearly, this is a passage about making things holy. That’s something of a surprise. After all, Yahweh Himself, the Holy One, has just declared that He consecrates the tabernacle by His glory (Exodus 29:43). Yet in the following chapter, Yahweh delegates the power to consecrate things or other human beings with a mere gesture of anointing. That’s a remarkable privilege. Sacred things belong to God; they’re claimed by Him as His peculiar possession. Exodus 30 shows that priests have the power to claim things for God, to translate things and people from “profane” to “sacred” status. 

It’s significant that it’s done by anointing. Oil is liquid glory that confers glory. Pour oil on your head, and your head shines; fill a lamp with oil, and it becomes radiant with light. To confer holiness is to confer glory. The principle of Exodus 29:43 holds even for things and people consecrated by anointing: They too are “consecrated by Yahweh’s glory.” The difference is that in some cases Yahweh’s consecrating glory is mediated.

Christians no longer consecrate by anointing, but God has still given us the divine power to make-holy. Paul says everything created is consecrated by the word of God, prayer, and thanksgiving. With grace before a meal, we claim our sandwich or spaghetti as God’s own, consecrated to holy use. As we live lives of continuous thanks, we’re continuously consecrating the world to God, and in doing so we set apart the world for ourselves. For holy things are for holy people.

The anointing oil includes five components. Two are liquid: flowing (deror) myrrh and olive oil. Three are spices: cinnamon, cane, and cassia. The translation of roqach as “perfume” (v. 25) is disputed, but it captures the sense. The myrrh and spices give the holy anointing oil a scent; it’s holy cologne, holy perfume. That too is linked with the implied theme of glory. The oil not only confers visual glory by making consecrated objects glisten and shine; it also confers an olfactory glory, surrounding holy ones with an aromatic cloud. Walking past a priest was like walking past someone saturated in Essential Oils.

The spices listed here reappear in the Song of Songs. Myrrh (mor) is used eight times in the Song (1:13; 3:6; 4:6, 15; 5:1, 5 [2x], 13). “Spices” (besem) occurs seven times, including the final verse of the Song (3:10, 14, 16; 5:1, 13; 6:2; 8:14). Cinnamon (Song of Songs 4:14) and calamus or cane (Song of Songs 4:14) also put in an appearance. Several of these uses are clustered right at the center of the Song (4:16-5:1) and describe the aroma of the lovers’ bower and the lovers themselves. The garden of spices where the lovers meet is the tabernacle/temple. The final, desperate plea of the Bride is a prayer that the Beloved (dodi) would return to the temple, the mountain of spices. The links with the Song highlight the erotic dimension of priestly office. Aaron represents the divine Bridegroom, who hosts a continuous marriage supper at the tabernacle.

Seven furnishings of the tabernacle are to be consecrated as “most holy.” The list moves from the most holy place to the court:

1. Tent

2. Ark

3. Table and utensils

4. Lampstand and utensils

5. Altar of incense

6. Altar of ascension and utensils

7. Laver

Most holy things are contagiously holy. Whatever touches any of these most holy items becomes consecrated. 

Aaron and his sons are the eighth thing to be consecrated. They have to be holy to minister in the holy place, to serve as priests, to touch the table, altars, and lamp stand. By their consecration, the priests are claimed as Yahweh’s servants, devoted to serve in His house. In the new covenant, baptism has the same power to consecrate, to make saints, who carry the aroma of Christ before the world (2 Corinthians 2:14-17).

The section ends with a warning not to make or use this aromatic oil outside the sanctuary. Like the shekel, the oil is “of the sanctuary.” If anyone mixes the same oil, or uses the holy oil, “he shall be cut off from his people” (v. 33). It’s an act of sacrilege.

One puzzle to ponder: This is the fourth of the seven speeches describing the tabernacle. That means it correlates with Day 4 of creation, when Yahweh placed the sun, moon, and stars in the firmament. We can see various connections. Oil ignites, so by virtue of anointing, the tabernacle becomes a constellation, a heavenly environment full of shining stars. But the actual composition of the oil suggests an analogy between radiance and aroma. Heavenly things shine; heavenly things also give off a sweet savor. By our anointing the waters of baptism, we are placed like stars in the heavens. The fragrance of Christ is a radiance, and the radiance of Christ is a fragrance of death and life.

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