The upright reed
Many people are interested in the relevance of calamus in the scriptures – so what does calamus mean in the Bible?
Let’s take a look.
In this study I hope to show you how calamus speaks to us of the upright character of Christ. The word calamus is mentioned in the Old Testament only three times, but the word from which calamus is translated ‘kaneh’ occurs 52 times in the Old Testament, while the Greek equivalent, ‘kalamos’ occurs twelve times in the New Testament. The 3 places in the Old Testament where calamus is explicitly named are the Song of Solomon 4:14, Exodus 30:23 and Ezekiel 27:19.
Calamus has at least 4 distinct areas that speak to us of the righteous life. These are:
- The reed that stands erect (reed = Hebrew kaneh, Greek Kalamos)
- The reed that measures (Hebrew kaneh, Greek Kalamos)
- The arms of the candlestick which holds that candle (kaneh)
- Sweet cane (kaneh)
In part 1, we are going to consider the reed that stands erect.
Primarily, this spice speaks to us of the character of Christ. It also speaks to us of believers, in both the Old and New Testaments, who walked in righteousness through faith in the Lord their Saviour. In further studies, we shall see how calamus relates to His wonderful sacrificial salvation in becoming sin for us.
The Reed that Stands Erect
Matthew 11: 7-9 And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? 8. But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold they that wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. 9. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea I say unto you, and more than a prophet.
In Matthew 11, we see a picture of what the reed represents in the life of John the Baptist. This was a man who stood against opposition and misunderstanding from the religious community – the ones who should have realised that he was sent from God.
The analogies that Jesus utilises here use questions that receive a negative answer. John was not a reed which could be shaken by the wind. He stood upright in truth, erect in his stance and immovable. John was a righteous man able to stand against the sin around him and against the godless hypocrisy of self-righteous religious institutions. He stood erect because he stood on the word of God.
The Lord Jesus Christ, of course, also had this immovable, uprightness in his life. He was faithful to the commands of God because He was the Word of God in bodily form and in so doing, He stood against temptation, hypocrisy, and sin.
The Uprightness of the High Priest
Hebrews 4:15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
Let us consider the High Priest – the Urim and the Thummim had to be placed within the breastplate (Exodus 28:30). In Hebrew, the Urim means light, especially concerning revelation. Thummim means perfection, integrity, and uprightness. Jesus was the One, and the only One, who was the perfect revelation of God to this world. In addition to this, He was the only One who could be presented as the perfect and upright Son of God. Thus, as we shall see, he was tested by man and by all that Satan could throw at Him, and He proved that He was the righteous Branch (Jer. 23:5).
He stood firm against the pressure, misunderstanding, hatred and plotting of the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law who sought, at every step, to trick Him and belittle Him before the people.
In Matthew 19 : 3, the Pharisees came tempting him asking, ‘Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?’ This word here for tempting is ‘peirazo‘ and means to test or scrutinise someone.
This is also seen in the temptations by Satan in Matthew 4. The same Greek word is ‘peirazo‘.
This was important in the life of Christ since He had to be a lamb without blemish.
The Passover Lamb
To understand why this testing had to take place in the Messiah’s life, we need to consider the Passover lamb. The lamb had to be spotless. A suitable one was picked out on the 10th day of the month and kept until the 14th day of the month. It was then sacrificed. Thus, each family had 4 days to make sure that their lamb was spotless.
Christ was thoroughly tested throughout His life and passed every one, proving that He was indeed the spotless Lamb of God. John, by God’s Spirit, testifies, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. John 1:29
The Lord Jesus Christ stood firm through all these tests and trials. Why? Christ proved Himself to be the Righteous Servant who shall justify many. Isaiah 53:11.
Interestingly the word kaneh is from the root kana, which means to purchase something and is used in respect of God purchasing His people through redemption.
This is of vital importance to the believer since in our walk, we are never to stand in our own righteousness, but His strength and salvation.
Ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Corinthians 6:20)
The reason we stand erect is that He has bought us and made us His own. Christ is in us, and these intimate spices show the work of His life within and His work through us. Every stand we make against evil has to be initiated from Christ’s work on the cross.
Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27)
The world – a reed that cannot stand erect
Isaiah 36:6 Lo, thou trustest in the staff of this broken reed, on Egypt; whereon if a man lean, it will go into his hand, and pierce it: so is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all that trust in him
Ezekiel 29 6-7
6 And all the inhabitants of Egypt shall know that I am the Lord, because they have been a staff of reed to the house of Israel.
7 When they took hold of thee by thy hand, thou didst break, and rend all their shoulder: and when they leaned upon thee, thou brakest, and madest all their loins to be at a stand.
A believer must not rest in or trust upon Egypt, which is a picture of the world, because Egypt is a reed that cannot stand erect under pressure. Even though the world glistens and shines with all its lustre, it is just a passing fantasy. If a believer rests upon Egypt, the staff of reed will break under them, and they will be injured.
What form world takes for the believer?
The world takes many forms for the believer. It can team up with the devil and the flesh with remarkable alacrity. Let me give you an example. I knew a pastor who had a builder come and look at a job for an insurance quote. As the builder looked at the job, he suggested to the pastor that extra work could be done on his property and the money passed onto the bill for the insurance company to pay. This pastor told me of the immediate temptation that he experienced as soon as the builder suggested it. Satan’s minions were quick to whisper in the pastor’s ear how easy it would be to get work done on the house for free. The pastor’s flesh screamed out briefly to comply with the builder’s suggestion. The pastor declined the offer; the new man got the upper hand – thank God.
The world tries to mould the believer
So the world can try to mould the believer into simply acting and thinking like it, such as in the abortion of human life, coarse humour or using profanities. Nevertheless, the world can take other, less nefarious forms. The idling away of hours watching television or sitting in front of the computer, or even spending excessive time on another legitimate pastime: and yet we struggle to find 5 minutes to spend with God and His word daily. The world presses us to join in with its excesses. The Lord tells us in His word that the world and its desires pass away (1 John 2:17). Therefore, let us seek the Lord and His kingdom and not run after the excesses of the world while He gives us the grace to breathe.
But, what about the believer who falls into sin in this world? Who is sucked in, tricked by Satan, or even gives into his flesh and sins against his Lord? What about the discouraged and weary, the broken-hearted or even those who have been sinned against?
Then does not the scripture say in Isaiah 42:3 ‘A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth. Even here, wonderfully, the Holy Spirit has placed in His word the path of the word kaneh in the bruised reed.
The bruised reed
What if, as a believer, you are not where you feel you should be. You know you are not standing as erect as you should but have become weighed down in your Christian life. Well, let’s look further at this word kaneh or reed.
Isaiah 42:3 A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth.
Interestingly, in Matthew 12:20 the word for reed in Greek is Kalamon, from Kalamos)
The word ‘bruised’ is the reed that is crushed. It is in the passive voice, and so it not the reed that has crushed itself, but instead it is crushed by other forces. Several things can wear down the believer.
- Satan looks for every opportunity to exhaust the believer through constant temptation and oppression.
- The world tries to mould the believer into its image. For instance, work colleagues who strive to get the believer to look at lewd content. The entertainment industry that continually peppers people to spend more time amusing themselves, or the advertisement business that tries to entice others to buy the best new-fangled gadgets.
- Then we have the old self-life of the believer. The Apostle Paul tells of the struggle that the believer has with the old man and the new man living within each saint of God in the book of Romans.
The bruised and crushed believer
Each of the above difficulties can cause the believer to become bruised and crushed. It is at this point that a believer feels that they are not living where they should be. They become dejected, lost in a sea of self-doubt, and even wonder if God Himself has given up on them.
This is exactly why God has put this verse in His word: a bruised reed He will not break. This verse is so important that the Lord made sure it was placed in both the Old and the New Testaments (Matthew 12:20).
You see, there is another bruising that the scriptures speak of. This occurs in Isaiah 53:5: He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities. The word for bruised her is daka’; it appears in the Pual form of the verb. This is an intensive verb form and means to be shattered. Christ was shattered – broken to pieces for you on the cross so that, although you can be bruised and crushed, you will not be utterly smashed.
His promise stands sure, He will never give up on you – so don’t give up on yourself! Thus the scripture says in Hebrews 13:5 I will never leave you nor forsake you. In English, we cannot have a double negative; otherwise, the second one cancels out the first. For instance, ‘my child will never eat nothing’ actually means that the child will eat something. So the intention of the statement is unintentionally reversed.
In Greek, this is not the case. A double negative makes the statement more assertive: it compels and compounds the thought being put forward. So here, to those who have genuinely been born again, God is saying, I will never ever leave you under any circumstances. In view of this, if you are feeling bruised and battered, if you have given up and are at your wit’s end, do not resign your post; your service is still required for God’s kingdom.
Be encouraged, for the scripture says, For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again. I like the way Young’s Literal Translation says For seven [times] doth the righteous fall and rise. Get up, dust yourself off with the help of the Holy Spirit, repent, pick up your cross and carry on.
The above is not for those who are content in their sin, who are sinning deliberately thinking that God will just wink at that sin. It is not that grace is there to let you live how you like; wanting faith in Jesus but then living like the devil. The Lord requires holiness of life, but if you are fallen and seek restoration the scripture says clearly, He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. (Psalm 23:3)
So here we have looked at the first meaning of the word kaneh. In part 2, we will consider the reed that measures. May the Lord bless you through this study of His word.
Scripture quotations are taken from the KJV, NKJV and Young’s Literal Translation of the Bible.
Strongs Concordance and https://www.blueletterbible.org/ have been used in the preparation of this Bible study.