The beauty and aroma of wisdom (Sir 24:15-24:17)

“‘Like cassia,

Like camel’s thorn,

I gave forth perfume.

I spread my fragrance,

Like choice myrrh,

Like galbanum,

Like onycha,

Like stacte,

Like the odor of incense in the tabernacle.

Like a terebinth,

I spread out my branches.

My branches are glorious.

My branches are graceful.

Like the vine

I bud forth delights.

My blossoms become glorious fruit.

My blossoms become abundant fruit.”

Sirach continued with his personification of wisdom. Here wisdom compares herself to various fragrances and fruit trees. First, she uses the fragrances of cassia, a kind of cinnamon bark, and camel’s thorn, a sweet coffee smell. Then there are fragrances that came from the gum resins of trees that became the incense used in the Temple, myrrh, galbanum, onycha, and stacte. Thus wisdom smelt like the incense used in the Jerusalem Temple tabernacle. Just as the terebinth tree spread its branches, so too, wisdom seemed to have wide branches. She was also like vines and blossoms on a fruit tree. Wisdom was then beautiful to look at and wonderful to smell.

The keepers of the temple items return (1 Chr 9:28-9:32)

“Some of these priests had charge of the utensils of service. They were required to count them when they were brought in and taken out. Others of them were appointed over the furniture, and over all the holy utensils. Others were also over the choice flour, the wine, the oil, the incense, and the spices. Others, of the sons of the priests, prepared the mixing of the spices. Mattithiah, one of the Levites, the first-born of Shallum the Korahite, was in charge of making the flat cakes. Also some of their kindred of the Kohathites had charge of the rows of bread, to prepare it for each Sabbath.”

It is not clear where these instructions come from since they were not part of Leviticus. In fact, the temple was not even present yet. Nevertheless, someone was in charge of making sure what went out of the temple also came back. Some of these were in charge of the furniture. I am not sure why furniture would leave the temple. I understand someone in charge of the holy utensils, the various amounts of flour, wine, incense and spices. Obviously, someone had to mix the spices. Someone also had to make the bread. Apparently the Levite Mattithiah was in charge of making the flat cakes, which were mentioned in Leviticus, chapter 2. The Kohathites Levites were also in charge here.

The incense (Ex 30:34-30:38)

“Yahweh said to Moses. ‘Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense.  Each part shall be equal.   Make incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy.  You shall beat some of it into powder, and put part of it before the covenant in the tent of meeting where I shall meet with you.  It shall be for you most holy.  When you make incense according to this composition, you shall not make it for yourselves.  It shall be regarded by you as holy to Yahweh.  Whoever makes any like it to use as perfume shall be cut off from the people.’”

Yahweh even told them how to make incense.  This is a simple recipe with equal amounts of sweet spices, stacte, onycha, galbanum, and frankincense seasoned with salt, beat into a powder.  This mixture of ancient spices also has a warning.  You cannot use it for yourselves as a perfume, because it is holy for Yahweh.  If you profane it, you will be cut off from the people.