Tuesday, March 10, 2009

More Than a Coincidence

When a word in Greek or Hebrew is used only a handful of times in the Bible, scholars take notice. This is especially true when there seems to be thematic links between the various passages. Such is the case with the subject of my sermon for this Sabbath (spoiler alert: please stop reading if you're one of my church members!).

I have made it my mission to study the Song of Songs for the past two or three years. I am convinced that this wonderful book typologically points to God and His relationship with His people. I want to make this connection on solid exigetical and intertextual grounds, though. I don't simply want to come to the Song of Songs and say, "Well, since Jesus said that all scripture testifies of Him, it must mean that this whole book is about Jesus. Thus, the Shulamites two breasts represent the Old and New Testaments, etc." There needs to be a solid foundation for such an understanding.

So last year, I decided to go through the whole book and trace the use of the Hebrew words throughout the Old Testament. I didn't get very far without realizing that there were incredible intertextual links to the temple/sanctuary. This was the case when the Shulamite would describe Solomon, for example. She would use Hebrew words that were used only to describe the temple. Thus, I was intrigued when I found one commentator make this connection as well, saying that "we resist using this fact to allegorize the text, but again we suggest that it associates her description with something exalted, even holy" (Tremper Longman III, Song of Solomon, NICOT, p. 174).

Well, imagine my surprise - long after I put my serious study of the Song to rest - when I discovered an amazing intertextual link in the Greek version of the book. While going over the story of Jesus' annointing at Bethany, both Mark and John say that the woman - identified as Mary in John - annointed Jesus with an "alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard" (see Mark 14:3; John 12:3). The Greek word for "spikenard" (nardos) is used in the New Testament in these two places alone. But, quite surprisingly, the word is used in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament three times - all in the same book. 

I'm sure you know the book: the Song of Songs. Notice, for example, how the Shulamite is described: "Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates with pleasant fruits, fragrant henna with spikenard [nardos], spikenard [nardos] and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense, myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices" (Song 4:13, 14).

But the one other place the word is used in the Septuagint takes the cake. Notice the Shulamite's words in 1:12, "While the king is at his table, my spikenard [nardos] sends forth its fragrance." Does this scene ring a bell with you at all? Notice Mark's full description of Jesus' experience in Bethany: "And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head" (Mark 14:3).

Jesus, the King, is sitting at the table, when the fragrance of Mary's spikenard envelopes the house. And such is the experience that God desires to have. Solomon enjoyed it with the Shulamite. Jesus enjoyed it with Mary. And God wants to have it with us today.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting! Inspiring connections & thoughts. I wait to hear more.

Anonymous said...

i heard a sermon on laodicea and the woman in songs of solomon but i never really thought about the spikenard! thanks for sharing!

camille said...

Well I came to pay a visit to your blog, since you say I never do and I can't even read what you posted because I'm supposed to hear it this sabbath. Love you!