The reed of Egypt and Palestine is the Arundo donax, which grows to the height of 12 feet, its stalk jointed like the bamboo, "with a magnificent panicle of blossom at the top, and so slender and yielding that it will lie perfectly flat under a gust of wind, and immediately resume its upright position." It is used to illustrate weakness ( 2 Kings 18:21 ; Ezekiel 29:6 ), also fickleness or instability ( Matthew 11:7 ; Compare Ephesians 4:14 ).
A "bruised reed" ( Isaiah 42:3 ; Matthew 12:20 ) is an emblem of a believer weak in grace. A reed was put into our Lord's hands in derision ( Matthew 27:29 ); and "they took the reed and smote him on the head" (30). The "reed" on which they put the sponge filled with vinegar ( Matthew 27:48 ) was, according to ( John 19:29 ), a hyssop stalk, which must have been of some length, or perhaps a bunch of hyssop twigs fastened to a rod with the sponge. (See CANE .)
Under this name may be noticed the following Hebrew words:
(1) achu, translated "reed-grass" (Genesis 41:2,18; Job 8:11 margin). See FLAG.
(2) 'ebheh, translated "swift," margin "reed" (Job 9:26). The "ships of reed" are the light skiffs made of plaited reeds used on the Nile; compare "vessels of papyrus" (Isaiah 18:2).
(3) 'aghammim, translated "reeds," margin "marshes," Hebrew "pools" (Jeremiah 51:32); elsewhere "pools" (Exodus 7:19; 8:5; Isaiah 14:23, etc.). See POOL.
(4) `aroth; achi, translated "meadows," the King James Version "paper reeds" (Isaiah 19:7). See MEADOW.
(5) qaneh; kalamos (the English "cane" comes from Hebrew via Latin and Greek canna), "stalk" (Genesis 41:5,22); "shaft" (Exodus 37:17, etc.); "reed," or "reeds" (1 Kings 14:15; 2 Kings 18:21; Isaiah 36:6; 42:3; Psalms 68:30, the King James Version "spearman"); "calamus" (Exodus 30:23; Song of Solomon 4:14; Ezekiel 27:19); "sweet cane," margin "calamus" (Isaiah 43:24; Jeremiah 6:20); "bone" (Job 31:22); used of the cross-beam of a "balance" (Isaiah 46:6); "a measuring reed" (Ezekiel 40:3); "a staff of reed," i.e. a walking-stick (Isaiah 36:6; Ezekiel 29:6); the "branches" of a candlestick (Exodus 37:18).
(6) kalamos, "a reed shaken with the wind" (Matthew 11:7; Luke 7:24); "a bruised reed" (Matthew 12:20); they put "a reed in his right hand" (Matthew 27:29,30); "They smote his head with a reed" (Mark 15:19); "put it on a reed" (Matthew 27:48; Mark 15:36); "a measuring reed" (Revelation 11:1; 21:15,16); "a pen" (3John 1:13).
It is clear that qaneh and its Greek equivalent kalamos mean many things. Some refer to different uses to which a reed is put, e.g. a cross-beam of a balance, a walking-stick, a measuring rod, and a pen (see above), but apart from this qaneh is a word used for at least two essentially different things:
(1) an ordinary reed, and
(2) some sweet-smelling substance.
(1) The most common reed in Palestine is the Arundo donax (Natural Order Gramineae), known in Arabic as qacabfarasi, "Persian reed." It grows in immense quantities in the Jordan valley along the river and its tributaries and at the oases near the Dead Sea, notably around `Ain Feshkhah at the northwest corner. It is a lofty reed, often 20 ft. high, of a beautiful fresh green in summer when all else is dead and dry, and of a fine appearance from a distance in the spring months when it is in full bloom and the beautiful silky panicles crown the top of every reed. The "covert of the reed" (Job 40:21) shelters a large amount of animal and bird life. This reed will answer to almost all the requirements of the above references.
(2) Qaneh is in Jeremiah 6:20 qualified qaneh ha-Tobh, "sweet" or "pleasant cane," and in Exodus 30:23, qeneh bhosem, "sweet calamus," or, better, a "cane of fragrance." Song of Solomon 4:14; Isaiah 43:24; Ezekiel 27:19 all apparently refer to the same thing, though in these passages the qaneh is unqualified. It was an ingredient of the holy oil (Exodus 30:23); it was imported from a distance (Jeremiah 6:20; Ezekiel 27:19), and it was rare and costly (Isaiah 43:24). It may have been the "scented calamus" (Axorus calamus) of Pliny (NH, xii.48), or some other aromatic scented reed or flag, or, as some think, some kind of aromatic bark. The sweetness refers to the scent, not the taste.
See also BULRUSH; PAPYRUS.
E. W. G. Masterman
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