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Song of Solomon 3:6 Like a column of smoke

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, November 18, 2023

6 Who is she, coming up from the desert
  like a column of smoke,
  perfumed with frankincense and myrrh
  made from all the spices of the merchant?

That this is a “she” is clear from the pronoun (zot) in the Hebrew text. Something or someone is on the way. The author does not tell us the direction. Is this column of smoke coming up toward Jerusalem from the Jordan River, moving past or through Jericho as Jesus did on his final trip to Jerusalem (Mark 10:45, 11:1)? But the column of smoke is coming up “from the desert,” and while this could be from due south and the desert known as the Arabah (Jeremiah 52:7), it seems more likely that the southwest is meant—the desert through which Moses and the Israelites went through. That was the desert where the merchants took their prisoner Joseph when they went selling “all the spices of the merchant” to the Egyptians, along with their new slave (Genesis 37:25-28).

Who, then, could this be? Our author hints that it is a woman, so it isn’t the king, or the bridegroom, or a rival would-be lover. But is the writer being cautious? It could be bandits, hurtling across the desert on fast-running camels, coming like an ominous column of smoke across the sand to rob and pillage! The only other time such a “column of smoke” appears in the Bible is Joel 2:30, where God shows his wonders of “blood and fire and billows (columns) of smoke).”

However, the description of the smoke included pleasant smells, not acrid ones. It smells like frankincense and myrrh. These words remind us of the expensive gifts of the Wise Men who came to worship Jesus Christ after his birth in Bethlehem, and of course Jesus himself would enter Egypt with his family as a baby and return “up out of the desert” with the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

We are still left with the question: Who is this? Who is coming? Friend or foe? Visitors? Bandits? Someone else? Coming up in verse 8 will be the words, “all the terrors of the night.” The verse, even with the pleasant scent of incense and perfume, has a sinister undertone. Why would this be? This is the uncertainty throughout human life that intrudes even into our happiest moments. There is danger and death in the world on account of there being sin in the world (James 1:15). It is a certainty as hard as stone, that sin and its effects are unavoidable. The results of sin lay waste to everything apart from Christ.

  • The effects of sin since the fall include suffering (especially in childbirth), pain, hard work, loss, natural troubles such as thorns, storms, unproductive land, deadly weather, and death.
  • The sins of some people affect our lives more distantly, such as in the sad hearts of friends and neighbors over trouble elsewhere.
  • The sins of some people affect us more directly, through bandits, thieves, liars, bullies, and murderers.
  • Sins that lead to war and tyranny cause troubles to come down on us unexpectedly when there is nothing any of us can do to prevent it.
  • Certain sins such as adultery and blasphemy, foul language and wicked thoughts, infect whole nations and indeed the whole world, leaving us with a landscape of filth in which to dwell for our lives.
  • The devil wants to kill us and harm us in many ways, trying to force us to reject God and turn away from him (Job 1:11). He also seeks to ruin or to kill those who have a positive influence on people around them, tearing away their connection to Christ and to the word (Mark 9:22; Luke 22:48).
  • Sin surrounds us with terror on every side and even within: The corrupt impulses of our sinfulness, evil thoughts and corrupt ways of thinking, damnable affections, unholy lusts and desires, and as Jesus says: “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are what defile a person” (Matthew 15:19-20). “The evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth evil things” (Matthew 12:35). Man is wounded with sin, so that into this wound the infection of sin pours in and remains with him his whole life, and out of it come the unspeakable and wicked sins that ooze from the wound, unable to heal and always growing worse and more corrupt like gangrene.

Like a wounded traveler, the sinner cannot properly bind up his wound or stop the bleeding or prevent further infection. The prophet cries out: “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why has the health of my people not been restored?” (Jeremiah 8:22). The only true physician is Christ, who will help the small and great alike. He is the one who will bind up our wounds (Hosea 6:1); he will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak; search for the lost and bring back the strays (Ezekiel 34:16). He forgives sin so thoroughly and so completely that our sin is removed as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). We confess in the catechism: “He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death.”

What dangers are there? Many. Some of them come like a column of smoke from the desert. Some are hidden in the corners. What protection do we have? Christ himself! Be content, serve your Lord, and know that he is watching over you.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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