The Heb. word reqəḥ seems to refer to a mixture of compounded spices seen in Song of Solomon 8:2, “I would give you spiced wine to drink” while rākal has reference to a spice merchant in 1 Kings 10:15, and rarqah of Ezekiel 24:10 refers to compounding spice for flavoring meat dishes.
The perfumed spices were used originally almost entirely at worship services. Long before Abraham’s time, the Egyptians used scented spices. During excavations, these have been found in special containers. The priestly right of using scented spices was confirmed by Moses (Exod 30). The chief spices used were myrrh, cinnamon, calamus and cassia, and these powdered spices when mixed together were stirred into pure olive oil to make what the Bible calls a holy ointment. It would seem that about fifty pounds of scented, powdered spices were stirred into one and one-half gallons of pure olive oil.
Exodus 30 should be read in detail to note the instructions that the spices should be prepared by an apothecary, or, as we should call it today, a pharmacist. These special spice perfumes were not to be made for any other purpose than worship. Later, the children of Israel disobeyed the instructions, for when they cried out for a king (1 Sam 8), Samuel warned them that he would undoubtedly take their daughters to be makers of perfume, for this is what the word “confectionaries” means in that connection (see v. 13).
When a king of Judah died (2 Chron 16:14), they “buried him in the tomb which he had filled with...various kinds of spices prepared by the perfumer’s art; and they made a very great fire in his honor.” They may have had to do this owing to the “disease in his feet” (2 Chron 16:12) prob. gangrene, which smelled unpleasant. This use of spices could presumably be termed religious, as it was used at a funeral!
Much later in Zedekiah’s times the prophet Jeremiah talks about burning “odors” (Lev 26:31; Ezek 20:28). This word is not used, however, in the ASV, so the suggestion may therefore have been cremation. If so, then the use of fragrant spices may have been to cover up the rather unpleasant odor of the flame consuming the flesh. This idea is almost overemphasized in Ezekiel where the prophet says: “Consume the flesh but spice it well” (Ezek 24:10, MT).
The spicery in Genesis 37:25 and Song of Solomon 5:1 and 6:2 is prob. Astragalus tragacantha, though the word nekō’th...tr. “spicery” in Genesis 37:25 is equally well tr. “spices” in Genesis 43:11, and is tr. “precious things” in 2 Chronicles 20:25 and in Isaiah 39:2, where it talks of the “treasure house, the silver, the gold.”
It is very difficult to be sure of the type of spice that is referred to in each case, but because the word nekō’t is so similar to the words used by the Arabs—’neka’at’—there is something again to be said for thinking that the scented spice came from the gum tragacanth, Astragalus tragacantha.
For futher discussion on spices consult the following articles: Aloe; Balm; Calamus; Cane; Cassia; Cinnamon; Cosmetics; Dill; Frankincense; Gum; Henna; Incense; Myrrh; Nard; Ointment; Perfume; Saffron; Stacte; Sweet Cane.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
spis, spi’-sis, -sez:
(3) (nekho’th; thumiamata (Ge 37:25, "spicery," margin "gum tragacanth or storax"); thumiama "incense" (Ge 43:11, "spicery"; some Greek versions and the Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) have "storax")): Storax is the dried gum of the beautiful Styrax officinalis (see Poplar), which was used as incense--different article from that now passing under that name. Tragacanth is the resinous gum of several species of milk vetch (Natural Order, Leguminosae), especially of the Astragalus gummifer. Septuagint "incense" is probably the best translation.
(4) (reqach, "spiced" wine (So 8:2)).
(5) (aroma, "spices" (Mr 16:1, the King James Version "sweet spices"; Lu 23:56; 24:1; Joh 19:40; in Joh 19:39 defined as a mixture of aloes and myrrh)).
See Perfume; Burial.
(6) (amomon (Re 18:13), margin "amomum"; the King James Version "odours"): The Greek means "blameless," and it was apparently applied in classical times to any sweet and fine odor. In modern botany the name Amomum is given to a genus in the Natural Order. Zingiberaceae. The well-known cardamon seeds (Amomum cardamomum) and the A. grana Paradisi which yields the well-known "grains of Paradise," used as a stimulant, both belong to this genus. What was the substance indicated in Re 18:13 is quite uncertain.