Cinnamon is mentioned several times in the Bible, both in the Old and New Testaments. It was a valuable and rare spice that was used in anointing oil and incense recipes. Cinnamon appears to have both literal and symbolic meanings in Scripture. By looking at the contexts where cinnamon is referenced, we can gain insight into its significance. In this post, we will explore the origins, uses, and potential symbolic meanings of cinnamon in the Bible.
Origins and Uses of Cinnamon
Cinnamon is derived from the bark of tropical evergreen trees in the genus Cinnamomum. The two most common varieties mentioned in the Bible are Cinnamomum verum (Ceylon cinnamon) and Cinnamomum cassia (Chinese cinnamon). Cinnamon was imported to Israel along spice trade routes from Asia.
In ancient times, cinnamon was used to flavor foods, wine, and sweets. It was also valued for its aromatic qualities and used in anointing oils, incense, and perfumes. The Israelites used cinnamon along with other spices like myrrh, frankincense, and galbanum to make the sacred anointing oil (Exodus 30:23). This oil was used to consecrate the tabernacle, ark of the covenant, and sacred vessels. Cinnamon was also a component of the sacred temple incense (Exodus 30:34).
During the time of Moses, cinnamon was likely imported from Arabia. By the first century AD, trade with India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) opened up additional sources for cinnamon. As an exotic import, cinnamon was expensive and associated with luxury and royalty. The lovers in Song of Songs poetically refer to cinnamon to represent the man’s exotic romantic gestures (Song of Songs 4:14).
Cinnamon’s Symbolic Meanings
Beyond its literal uses, cinnamon also carried symbolic connotations in biblical times. Here are some of the key symbolic meanings associated with cinnamon:
Wisdom and Skill
In Exodus 28, God instructs Moses to make special garments for the priests which included robes, a breastpiece, an ephod, and a gold plate engraved with “Holiness to the Lord.” Exodus 28 specifies that some of these vestments should be skillfully embroidered with gold, blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and finely twisted linen. The ephod, in particular, was to be made with gold, blue, purple, and scarlet yarn, and “with skillfully worked linen” (Exodus 28:6). The Hebrew phrase translated “skillfully worked” uses the same word as the phrase “the work of the perfumer” used in reference to the anointing oil containing cinnamon (Exodus 30:25, 35).
This connection implies that the process of crafting the perfumed oil took great skill and diligence. Since cinnamon was a key ingredient in the anointing oil, it came to symbolize wisdom, skill, diligence, and meticulous work. Just as the priests’ vestments were crafted with great skill, so too did cinnamon represent the skill, wisdom, and diligence associated with spiritual service and worship.
Consecration and Setting Apart
Since cinnamon was a major component of the sacred anointing oil used to consecrate things for God’s service, it represents consecration and being set apart. The anointing oil was used to consecrate the tabernacle and all its furnishings to make them holy (Exodus 30:26-29). Anyone or anything anointed with this oil was set apart and made sacred.
Later, when God instructed Moses to anoint Aaron and his sons as priests, He specified that they were to be anointed and consecrated with the oil containing cinnamon and other spices (Exodus 30:30-31). The priests needed to be consecrated and set apart for special service to God. Their anointing ceremonially prepared them to act as intermediaries between the people and God.
So cinnamon, along with other spices in the anointing oil, came to represent consecration and being chosen by God for holy service. It was a visual reminder that someone or something was specially sanctified and set apart for God’s purposes.
Purity and Cleansing
In addition to wisdom and consecration, cinnamon also came to represent purity and cleansing. As a fragrant spice, it was associated with the pleasant aroma of purification.
For example, God instructed Moses to use cinnamon as part of the incense burned on the altar of incense (Exodus 30:34-38). The incense created a fragrant cloud that sat over the ark of the covenant within the Most Holy Place. This incense was to be burned regularly, both morning and night. It created a fragrance that represented the prayers of the people rising up to God in purification (see Psalm 141:2).
The inclusion of cinnamon and other spices imbued the incense with a holy and pure aroma. In a symbolic sense, the aromatic cloud filtered out impurities from the prayers and worship of the people as they rose before God. So cinnamon was associated with acceptable worship, righteous prayers, purity of heart, and cleansing.
Affluence and Luxury
Since cinnamon was exotic, expensive, and difficult to obtain, it also represented wealth, affluence, and luxury. We see this in Proverbs 7:17-18 where a temptress tries to entice a young man to her bed, promising to perfume her chamber with spices like cinnamon. By mentioning cinnamon and not more common, affordable spices, she implies that her bedroom will be luxuriously adorned – a tantalizing prospect for someone desiring affluence.
Cinnamon’s association with luxury and wealth is also evident in Revelation 18:13. Here, cinnamon is listed along with other fine merchandise that the immoral city of Babylon traded in. Their love of excess and affluence is condemned as a sign of Babylon’s decadence and pride.
So while cinnamon represented wisdom, skill, consecration, and purity in holy contexts, it could also symbolize affluence, luxury, and even greed when used in worldly settings. The context reveals how cinnamon should be viewed.
Christ and Beauty
Some Bible scholars suggest cinnamon may be a foreshadowing of Christ and His work in redeeming mankind. In Song of Songs 4:14, the lover describes the woman as a garden with choice fruits and exquisite spices. One of the spices mentioned is cinnamon. In the same verse, he declares that she is “a well of living water, and flowing streams from Lebanon.” This phrase echoes John 4:10 where Jesus spoke of being living water.
So in this poetic context, cinnamon may symbolize Christ himself – a precious and pure gift that the lover is delighted to share with his beloved. The linking of cinnamon to living water also brings to mind the saving work that Jesus, as living water, performs in us.
Connected to this, some see cinnamon’s pleasant fragrance as symbolic of the aroma of Christ offered through the gospel (2 Corinthians 2:14-16). Just as cinnamon perfumed garments, anointing oil, and incense, the knowledge of Christ spreads a sweet fragrance wherever the gospel is preached and received.
Cinnamon’s beauty, rarity, and purity cause it to stand out as a natural representation of Christ and the redemptive effect His gospel brings.
Key Takeaways on What Cinnamon Represents:
- Cinnamon was a rare, luxury import prized for its aromatic qualities
- It was a key ingredient in the anointing oil and temple incense
- Cinnamon represents:
- Wisdom, skill, and diligence in spiritual service
- Consecration and being set apart for God’s purposes
- Purity, cleansing, and acceptable worship
- Affluence, luxury, even greed in some contexts
- Poetry likens it to Christ and the sweet aroma of the gospel
By exploring the symbolism of cinnamon, we gain insight into ancient cultural perspectives on holiness, beauty, extravagance, and Christ himself. Paying attention to spice references in Scripture often yields new nuances we can appreciate and apply today.
Cinnamon References in the Bible
Let’s look at some specific verses where cinnamon is mentioned in the Bible:
Exodus 30:23 – Anointing Oil
“Take the following fine spices: 500 shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much (that is, 250 shekels) of fragrant cinnamon, 250 shekels of fragrant calamus,”
Cinnamon was a key component of the sacred anointing oil along with myrrh, calamus, cassia, and olive oil. This oil was used to anoint and consecrate the tabernacle and furnishings, as well as Aaron and his sons.
Exodus 30:34-35 – Incense for the Tent of Meeting
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ???Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha and galbanum, and pure frankincense with these sweet spices; there shall be equal amounts of each. You shall make of these an incense, a compound according to the art of the perfumer, salted, pure, and holy.”
God instructed Moses to make incense using cinnamon (“sweet spices”) along with stacte, onycha, galbanum, and frankincense. This incense was burned on the altar of incense to create a pure, fragrant offering before God.
Proverbs 7:17 – Enticement of a Wayward Woman
“I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon.”
The adulterous woman tempting the naive young man entices him with the scent of exotic cinnamon and other spices in her bedroom. This represents the lure of luxury, excess, and fleeting pleasure.
Song of Songs 4:14 – The Lover’s Praise
“Nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with every kind of incense tree, with myrrh and aloes and all the finest spices.”
In his poetic praise, the lover likens the woman to choice spices and fruits – including exotic cinnamon imported at high cost. This shows his delight in her.
Revelation 18:13 – merchandise of Babylon
“cinnamon and spice, incense, myrrh and frankincense, wine and olive oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and carriages, and human beings sold as slaves.”
Cinnamon is listed among the excessively luxurious merchandise traded in the decadent commercial empire of Babylon – representing greed, affluence, and pride.
Cinnamon had both practical and symbolic uses throughout Scripture. God specifically chose it as a component of the anointing oil and incense. Beyond material applications, cinnamon represents wisdom, consecration, purity, luxury, and the redemptive work of Christ. Studying Bible spices like cinnamon enriches our understanding of Scripture and deepens our awe at God’s meticulous design in all things. What a blessing that we serve a God who infuses even the smallest details with meaning and significance.