Spices have held deep spiritual symbolism throughout history. As followers of Christ, we can glean valuable lessons from the biblical mentions of various spices. In this post, we’ll explore the spiritual meanings behind some of the most common spices referenced in Scripture.
Spices are frequently mentioned in the Bible, often in relation to worship, sacrifice, and anointing. Their rich aromas and flavors were treasured in ancient times. While spices served practical purposes for preserving, purifying, and flavoring foods and drinks, they held symbolic meaning as well.
God designed each element of His creation with intent and purpose. As with all parts of creation, we can reflect on the spiritual parallels and truths found in spices. Studying their significance throughout Scripture deepens our understanding of God’s Word.
- Spices were valuable commodities in biblical times, used for trade, preserving, and flavoring.
- Spices were included in sacred offerings and used for anointing holy objects and people.
- Different spices symbolize righteousness, wisdom, humiliation, sacrifice, healing, and more.
- Studying spice symbolism draws us closer to God by deepening our understanding of His Word.
- Reflecting on spice references teaches us about Christ’s sacrifice for us.
With this foundation laid, let’s explore some of the spices most frequently referenced throughout the Bible and what they can teach us from a spiritual perspective.
Frankincense is one of the best-known biblical spices. It was one of the valuable gifts brought by the Magi at Jesus’ birth (Matthew 2:11). The fragrant resin was produced from boswellia trees and used for incense and perfume. God instructed the priests to burn frankincense along with the grain offerings (Leviticus 2:1-2, 15-16).
Frankincense symbolizes righteousness, prayer, and the willingness to surrender and worship God. The rising smoke of burning frankincense represents our prayers and praise ascending to heaven (Psalm 141:2; Revelation 5:8). As a gift presented to honor and revere Jesus, it indicates His divine nature as King.
Spiritual Meaning: Frankincense represents righteousness, prayer, surrender, and willing worship of God. It reminds us of the sweet fragrance of Christ’s sacrifice.
Myrrh is another valuable resin that was produced from the bark of shrub trees. Like frankincense, it was blended into incense and used in the priestly anointing oil (Exodus 30:23). Myrrh was one of the gifts presented to honor Jesus at His birth (Matthew 2:11). And it was offered along with wine to Jesus on the cross, but He refused it (Mark 15:23).
Interestingly, myrrh symbolizes the opposite of frankincense. Rather than triumph, myrrh represents suffering, death, and preparation for burial. Nicodemus used a 100-pound mixture of myrrh and aloes to prepare Jesus’ body for burial (John 19:39). This reflects Jesus’ humility and willingness to suffer on our behalf (Philippians 2:5-8).
Spiritual Meaning: Myrrh represents suffering, death to self, and humble submission. It points to Jesus’ sacrificial death to redeem us.
Cinnamon is derived from the bark of laurel trees. It was imported from Asia during biblical times and used as a perfume (Proverbs 7:17). Due to its distinct sweet smell and flavor, cinnamon is used to describe the aroma of the robes in the ivory palace (Psalm 45:8). The anointing oil recipe God commanded Moses to make called for cinnamon as an ingredient (Exodus 30:23).
As with its physical properties, cinnamon’s spiritual meaning points to righteousness, justice, and holiness. The sweetness of cinnamon reflects the blessed life that results from following God’s commands (Psalm 119:103). As a component of the anointing oil, it represents being set apart for God’s purposes.
Spiritual Meaning: Cinnamon reminds us of the sweet fragrance of living righteously. It symbolizes justice, holiness, and being set apart for God’s service.
Cassia is similar to cinnamon but was likely more rare and costly. It is included in the holy anointing oil recipe (Exodus 30:24). Like cinnamon, cassia is associated with righteousness, holiness, and purity. Psalm 45:8 parallels the sweet smell of cassia and cinnamon worn by those in the king’s palace.
Interestingly, cassia is not directly named in Scripture outside of these two instances related to anointing and righteousness. This exclusivity seems to emphasize cassia’s sacred nature. The rarity of this spice speaks to the value God places on righteousness.
Spiritual Meaning: As a component of the anointing oil, cassia represents righteousness, holiness, purity, and being set apart for God. Its rarity also symbolizes the preciousness of righteousness.
Aloes was a perfume oil derived from the aloe vera plant. The aloes Nicodemus brought to prepare Jesus’ body weighed about 75 pounds (John 19:39). This enormous volume reflects the honor and care given to Jesus in burial. The significant cost of the aloes indicates the value placed on His life.
While aloes in this instance represent burial preparation, the spice generally symbolizes healing, restoration, and overcoming grief (Psalm 45:8). Originating from a plant known for healing properties points to its association with renewal. As followers of Christ, we find the ultimate healing from sin and death through His resurrection.
Spiritual Meaning: Aloes signify burial preparation. More broadly, they represent healing, restoration, and rising above grief through Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection.
Galbanum is a gum resin that produces a strong, earthy aroma when burned. It was included as an ingredient in the sacred incense for the Tabernacle (Exodus 30:34). Very little is known about galbanum itself or its origins. However, its significance likely relates to the sacrificial system of worship.
When blended with other precious spices, galbanum created an aroma that represented the people’s prayers to God. Though harsh by itself, galbanum produced a balanced and beautiful scent alongside frankincense, myrrh, and other spices. This reflects how God takes flawed sacrifices and makes them holy in His sight.
Spiritual Meaning: With its strong smell, galbanum represents the brokenness and imperfection of humanity. Its inclusion in the incense reminds us that God redeems and sanctifies our imperfect sacrifices.
Onycha, or onycha balsam, was also an ingredient in the sacred incense blend (Exodus 30:34). It was derived from the coverings of certain sea mollusks found in the Red Sea. When burned, onycha releases an unpleasant odor. But when combined with the other incense spices, the smell becomes fragrant and pleasant.
Like galbanum, this points to the transforming power of Christ. When we follow Him, God takes the undesirable aspects of ourselves and makes us righteous, holy, and acceptable through Jesus’ atonement. On its own, onycha seems unfit for God’s presence. But by Jesus’ sacrifice, the imperfect becomes sanctified.
Spiritual Meaning: The foul smell of onycha represents sin and impurity. As part of the incense, onycha illustrates that Christ’s sacrifice cleanses and transforms us into a sweet aroma for God.
In the ancient world, salt was an important preservative and seasoning. It also purified offerings made by fire in God’s Tabernacle (Leviticus 2:13). As a stable compound, salt represents permanence, loyalty, and truth. Covenants were sealed with salt to indicate its binding significance (Numbers 18:19).
Followers of Christ are called to be the salt of the earth based on these qualities (Matthew 5:13). Just as salt flavors food, we are to flavor the world with the love and truth of Christ. The preserving property of salt symbolizes how our faith should be steadfast.
Spiritual Meaning: Salt represents permanence, loyalty, purification, and steadfast faith. As God’s covenant people, we are called to bring truth and flavor to the world.
Hyssop is an herb used to sprinkle blood and water during Old Testament ceremonies. Priests used hyssop to apply blood from sacrificial animals to people and objects for purification (Leviticus 14:6-7; Numbers 19:6-10). David refers to hyssop to express his desire for inward spiritual cleansing in Psalm 51:7.
Through these uses, hyssop represents inward cleansing from sin by the atoning blood of sacrifice. As Christ’s sacrifice purifies us fully and eternally (Hebrews 10:1-14), hyssop points to the inward sprinkling of His blood in our hearts for salvation.
Spiritual Meaning: Hyssop signifies cleansing from sin and spiritual purification through the sacrificial blood of Christ applied internally to our souls.
Saffron comes from the dried stigmas of crocus flowers. It was used as a dye due to its bright yellow color. Saffron was also used as a perfume, medicine, and cooking spice. By some interpretations, saffron is included as an ingredient in the anointing oil recipe (Exodus 30:23-25; Isaiah 43:24).
As a costly spice associated with royalty and the upper class, saffron represents wealth, excellence, and God’s favor. The yellow color symbolizes radiance, joy, and the glory of God. If part of the anointing oil, saffron indicates being set apart for God’s purposes.
Spiritual Meaning: Saffron represents wealth, status, favor, joy, and the radiant glory of God. It may also signify holiness and being set apart for God’s service as an ingredient in the anointing oil.
Additional Spice Mentions
Several other spices are mentioned sparingly in Scripture but can still provide insight into spiritual truths:
Mandrakes are associated with romance, fertility, and awakening (Genesis 30:14-16; Song of Songs 7:13). This speaks to new spiritual birth, fruitfulness, and revival in Christ.
Calamus, or sweet cane, was used in the anointing oil (Exodus 30:23). As a sweet, grassy scent, it reflects having an upright heart, integrity, and pleasing God.
Spikenard was costly oil used to anoint and perfume (Mark 14:3; John 12:3-5). It points to extravagance in worshipping Christ.
Throughout Scripture, spices take on deep symbolic meaning related to righteousness, holiness, sacrifice, worship, healing, status, wealth, and more. Careful examination of how spices are referenced in the Bible helps enrich our understanding of God’s Word. Not only do spices represent spiritual truths, but they also direct our focus toward honoring and revering Jesus Christ.
As we reflect on the spices discussed here, may our hearts be drawn closer to God. Let their rich scents produce gratitude in our souls. And may we live our lives as a fragrant aroma that is pleasing to God and brings others closer to Him as well.
- Frankincense and myrrh respectively represent righteousness versus suffering and humility. Their gifts to Jesus fulfilled prophecy and point to His divine sacrifice.
- Spices like cinnamon, cassia, salt, and hyssop represent cleansing from sin, sanctification, purification, and steadfast loyalty to God’s covenant.
- More obscure spices like onycha, galbanum, and calamus illustrate how Christ’s sacrifice redeems and transforms our imperfect offerings.
- Examining spice symbolism throughout Scripture provides a deeper look into God’s truth and Christ’s sacrifice for us.
Let these rich biblical spices flavor your walk with God and enhance your understanding of His Word. As you reflect on their significance, savor the sweetness they bring that points to Jesus Christ, the most precious spice of all.