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THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- THE BOOK OF RUTH --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- I & II CHRONICLES --- EZRA---NEHEMIAH---ESTHER---PSALMS 1-73--- PROVERBS---ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- LAMENTATIONS --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- PHILEMON --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS
1). The Unity of The Narrative.
As we consider this song we should note that it has been carefully constructed and in spite of first appearances is a clear unity. For example in 1.2 the young maiden longs for the kisses of her beloved, and in 8.1 she is still longing to kiss him, although now as his wife. In 1. 6 the young maiden has not kept her own vineyard, in 8.12 she has well maintained her vineyard and its fruit is for her beloved. In 1.7 we learn of the king’s companions, and they appear again in 8.13. In 2.3 her beloved is like an apple tree, and in 8.5 the young maiden, now his wife, is ‘aroused’ by him under the apple tree. In 2.7 the daughters of Jerusalem are not to stir up or awaken love until it please, and the same is true in 8.4, (compare also 3.5). In 2.16 he feeds his flock among the lilies, and the same applies in 6.3. In 2.17 the beloved is like a roe-deer or a young hart on the mountains of division (Bether), and in 8.14 he is like a roe-deer or a young hart on the mountains of spices. In 3.4 she wants to take her beloved to her mother’s house, and the same applies in 8.2. In 2.6 his left hand is under her head, and his right hand embraces her and the same is true in 8.3. In 2.16 her beloved is hers, and she is his, in 6.3 she is her beloved’s and he is hers, and in 7.10 she is her beloved’s and his desire is towards her (compare also 6.3). In 3.1-5 she has a nightmare and in 5.2-8 she has a similar nightmare, with the marriage coming in between. In 3.6 she comes up from the wilderness, and similarly in 8.5. The beloved’s speech in 4.1-7 parallels his speech in 6.4-9, with many specific similarities, but also with further parallels in 7.3-4. And central to the whole is the marriage and the honeymoon (3.6-5.1).
2). The Purpose of The Song.
At first sight the song appears to be a simple love song between a young maiden and her beloved. But when we consider it in more depth there are indications that it goes deeper than that, for there are certain pointers which indicate that when he wrote it Solomon had in mind the relationship of God with His people and the acceptability of his forthcoming Temple in Jerusalem as the center of Israel’s worship. This suggestion is accentuated by the fact that God elsewhere speaks of His relationship with His people in similar terms.
For example in Jeremiah 2.2 He says, ‘Go, and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, Thus says the LORD, I remember in regard to you the kindness of your youth, the love of your espousals, how you went after me in the wilderness, in a land which was not sown. Israel was holiness to the Lord, the firstfruits of His increase.’ Here we have the initial idea of Israel as a young maiden seeking her Lord as a lover in the wilderness with a view to marriage, which is the theme of Solomon’s song (chapters 1-2). It may well be that Jeremiah had the song in mind.
In Jeremiah 31.3-4 God says to Israel, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore with covenant love have I drawn you. Again I will build you up, and you will be built, Oh virgin daughter of Israel’. Here the LORD declares that Jerusalem as the daughter of Israel is like an unmarried young lady on whom He has set His love. We can compare with this the following words in Deuteronomy 7.6-8, ‘for you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD has chosen you to be a people for His own possession, out of all the peoples which are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set His love on you and chose you, for you were the least of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you, and is keeping the oath to your fathers.’
In Jeremiah 31.32 the LORD says that His proposed new covenant will be, ‘not like the covenant which I made with your fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant that they broke even though I was their husband.’ Here the covenant is described as a marriage covenant between the LORD and Israel, which was broken by the wife even though he was her husband, an idea which has some similarity to 5.3-5. We can compare with this the words of Isaiah 54.5, ‘for your Maker is your husband, -- for the LORD has called you like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off.’ Here we have the scenario of the forsaken wife who is called back to Him, as in the song (chapter 5 onwards). Note also the words of Isaiah 61.10, ‘He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and a bride adorns herself with her jewels.’
In Hosea 2.2 the LORD says of Israel, ‘Plead with your mother, plead, for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband’, which was immediately after He had said to them ‘you are not my people’, indicating that she had been but was so no longer. This thus indicates that He sees Israel as having been His wife, but is on the point of not seeing her in that way any more. (In Isaiah 50.1 He makes clear that He has not yet done so). Again in 2.14-15 He says, ‘therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her, and there I will give her her vineyards, and make the valley of Achor a door of hope, and there she will answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.’ This is similar to Solomon’s allurement of the young lady which takes place in the wilderness (for after it she comes from the wilderness). Compare also Jeremiah 2.19, ‘And I will betroth you to me for ever, I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy, I will betroth you to me in faithfulness, and you shall know the LORD.’
It can hardly be doubted that all the above gain in significance from the Song of Solomon. In this regard we should also take into account the following considerations:
This is not to suggest that it was simply a cynical political move. There is no real doubt that Solomon did see the Temple as being very important for Israel and had his heart behind it (see 1 Kings 8.20-53). But there can, in fact, be no question that there would certainly be a great deal of discontent among the country folk, the people of the land, when it was suggested that the Tabernacle which was operating at Gibeon (1 Kings 3.4) should be transferred to Jerusalem, with the religious heart of Israel also being established there from then on. However, once this song had become popular with the people and was seen as sufficiently ‘inspired’ and authoritative, it could then be pointed out that it actually supported the establishing of the Temple in Jerusalem on its mountains (8.14).
This being so it would mean that we have here a song about God’s love for Israel and how He wooed her to Himself, as described elsewhere in the prophets, and this would almost certainly have been connected in many minds with the promise of the coming king in 2 Samuel 7.13, 16; Psalm 2.1-13, as previously mentioned in Genesis 49.10-12 and Numbers 24.17, which is why the Targum connects it with the Messiah. This is why we are justified in applying it to the relationship between the Christ Who came as our God and Savior and to the new Israel which He founded, i.e. the church.
Using this as a basis we can now list the significance of the figures found in the Song as follows:
|Characters||First Significance||Second Significance|
|Solomon the Shepherd King||God||Christ Jesus|
|The Young Maiden||Believing Israel||The Church|
|The Daughters of Jerusalem||The Subject Nations||Unbelieving Israel/Nominal Christians|
|Solomon’s companions||Heavenly beings||Heavenly beings|
|The watchmen||The prophets||Faithful preachers|
|The younger sister||Believers among subject nations||The Gentiles/Weaker Christians|
Also to be borne in mind are some of the ideas being used. Thus the perfumed oils and spices indicate the means by which the young maiden is made acceptable to her Beloved, such as through God’s covenant love (Exodus 20.6; 34.7), and through His righteousness effective in and upon men’s lives (Isaiah 61.10), and through prayer (Psalm 141.2). The lilies constantly indicate the country environment in which the young maiden lives. The roe-deer and harts symbolize the activity of love. And so on.
1.1 ‘The Song of songs, which is Solomon’s.’
The ‘song of songs’ means ‘the most wonderful of songs’. It is attributed to Solomon, and opens with a young woman alone, who is aware that she is loved by her shepherd king, and is dreaming of him as her royal ‘beloved’. She is visualizing his delights, and the delights of love, and she assures him in her mind that, in a similar way to all the young women in his kingdom, she desires nothing more than for him to call her to him.
We have to read into her situation what has previously occurred, which must have been something like this. Living in the countryside in the northern part of Palestine, she had been out wandering through her favorite haunts, when one day she came across a handsome young shepherd. There was an immediate attraction between them, but it was some time before he informed her that he was in fact Solomon, the young king of Israel, taking time off from his kingly duties by spending time with some of those who watched over his flocks. Before they separated (or later by messenger) he invited her to a feast that he was holding in his tent. It was with that feast in mind, and the thought of meeting her beloved again, that she was engaging in her initial day dreams. But she would ever think of Solomon in terms of ‘her shepherd’, and thus it would be some time before she would appreciate his splendor in full.
Soon, after a brief and chaste courtship which is not without incident, they will be married and will together experience the joys of love, after which there are the ups and downs of marriage before they settle down to a more stable relationship of blissful love and happiness. It is thus a song in praise of purity, chasteness, love and marriage.
So we are probably to see the song as referring to a Solomon, who is looking back romantically and rather idealistically to the time when, as a young and virile man, he first experienced true love, and that to the one who was to be his first wife, a young country maiden from the north who had won his heart. But it is probable that we should also see it as referring to God’s loving relationship with His people, and, as a result, to Christ’s relationship to His church. We must not, however, interpret everything too pedantically, for we must remember that it is an ode, and that it is written by a romantic.
The First Assignation of The Lovers (1.2-2.7).
In this first section a young Northern maiden is thinking about the handsome young shepherd king, Solomon, who has won her heart, and has clearly shown her some depth of affection. She is filled with expectancy because he has invited her to a feast in his palatial tent, and it soon becomes apparent that, initially at least, she has no real idea of the splendor of his position, but rather sees him as a glorified shepherd (possibly like her own tribal chieftains to whom she may well have been related - compare Exodus 3.1).
THE YOUNG MAIDEN (visualizing her beloved in the light of the fact that she will shortly be seeing him).
1.2-4a “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth.” “For your love is better than wine. Your oils have a goodly fragrance. Your name is as oil poured forth. That is why the virgins love you. Draw me. We will run after you.”
The young maiden reveals her craving to experience a loving relationship with her beloved, and her longing for his kisses. Then, slightly shocked at herself (indicated by the change of person form ‘him’ to ‘you’), she explains to him, in his absence, why this is so. It is because his love is so much better than wine, and his name better than perfumed oils. Wine may make glad the heart of men and women, but to her his kisses will accomplish far more, for she knows that the true love that they have between them transcends even the finest of wines. So she wants him to know that she is not dreaming of enjoying the wine at his feast, but rather dreaming of receiving his kisses because they are the true indications of his love.
As she dreams of those kisses she also remembers the fragrance of the oils with which he had been anointed when she had first met him, and which had made him seem so delightful. But even so she assures him that she knows that ‘his name’, (in other words, in terms of those times, ‘what he is in himself’, for the name was considered to reflect the person) is even more pleasant to her than his oils. For what he is in himself is like an abundance of such oils poured forth. And this explains to her why all the young unmarried women of his kingdom love him.
As a result she calls on him from a throbbing and passionate heart to choose her out, and if he really wants her to ‘draw her’. She wants some message or indication from him that will make clear his personal interest in her. For she is fully aware that all the young women of his kingdom are equally ready to run after him, and she along with them. But what she requires is some suitable confirmation of his special interest in her now that he has invited her to his feast (‘draw me’).
‘Draw me, we will run after you.’ In Psalm 119.32 the Psalmist uses the same picture of Israel. ‘I will run the way of Your commandments, when You enlarge my heart.’ And this is what the young maiden wants, to have her heart enlarged, so that she may run after him. It is a reminder to us that acceptable obedience is ever the result of God drawing to us and enlarging our hearts.
In Old Testament terms the young woman can be seen as being like Israel. Like this young maiden, Israel is also depicted as, in the wilderness, having longed for the Lord. ‘Thus says the Lord, I remember in respect of you the love of your espousals, how you went after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown. Israel was holiness to the Lord, the firstfruits of his increase ---’ (Jeremiah 2.2-3). In these words Israel is depicted as a young maiden in the wilderness looking yearningly to her Lord, just as this young maiden is looking to Solomon. And we should note the emphasis on the fact that she ‘came from the wilderness’ (3.6; 7.5), just as Israel had.
Later Israel will certainly be depicted as a maiden who has defiled herself because she has turned from His love (Ezekiel 16; 23), and that in the face of His words to her, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love, and therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn you’ (Jeremiah 31.3), in a context where he refers to the ‘virgin of Israel’ (Jeremiah 31.4). Furthermore incorporated in that idea of God’s love would be the idea of the great expected king of the house of Judah who was to come, to whom the people would gather (Genesis 49.10-12; Numbers 24.17-19), for he was to be a token of that love.
Considering it in these terms the ‘daughters of Jerusalem’ (verse 5) can be seen as the satellite nations who are in obedience to Solomon, but are not the ‘favorite’ of the king. It is Israel along who are so fully favored.
In New Testament terms ‘the ekklesia’ (the church) is the continuation of the old ‘ekklesia’ (congregation) of Israel. It is ‘the ‘ekklesia (‘congregation’) of Matthew 16.18, and is ‘the new nation’ of Matthew 21.43 (see 1 Peter 2.9) and ‘the Israel of God’ of Galatians 6.16 (see also Romans 11.17-28). Thus Israel is seen as having flowered into the church so that their anticipated ‘coming king’ can be seen as representing our Lord, Jesus the Messiah, and the young woman as representing His new chosen people, the true church, who are the continuation of the true Israel. Among all who have found Him attractive she alone is seen to be drawn by Him so that she might be wholly His (John 6.44), while ‘the daughters of Jerusalem’ (unbelieving Israel) watch her with jealousy (compare Romans 11.11). And as a result she longs to experience continual fellowship with Him, and enjoy His love as ‘the Anointed One’.
Note the intimate expectations. She will not kiss His feet like the nations (Psalm 2.12) but wants to kiss Him tenderly in an intimate way. Here is a picture of the intimate relationship that initially believing Israel and then the believing church (and each individual in that church) is to have with its Lord (See Romans 7.4; 2 Corinthians 11.2; Ephesians 5.25-27; Revelation 19.7-8: 21.2; 22.17; compare John 14.18, 23). Here righteousness (the Righteous One - Acts 3.14) and peace (those established in His peace -Romans 5.1; John 14.27) will kiss each other (Psalm 85.10).
For ‘your love is better than wine’ compare Ephesians 5.18-19, where what is better than wine is declared to be the ‘filling of the Spirit’. The Spirit is the provision of the love of the King (John 15.26; 20.22), which will result in songs of true delight for those whom He loves (‘psalms and hymns and spiritual songs’).
For the anointing with oil we only have to think of the King’s title (in both Old and New Testaments) as ‘the Anointed One’ (‘Christ’, see Psalm 2.2; Daniel 9.25). And for His Name as ‘perfumed oil poured forth’ consider Isaiah 9.6, ‘His name will be called wonderful, counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace’, together with ‘you shall cause His name Jesus for He will save His people from their sins’ (Matthew 1.22; compare Philippians 2.9-10).
‘Therefore will the virgins love you.’ In Psalm 45.14 virgins are seen as the companions of the king’s daughter, and here they rather compose a part of the court of the young king, as he has come north to ‘play’ at shepherding, along with the his ‘companions’ (1.7). These virgins must all have loved him, as the young maiden is astute enough to recognize. Unbelieving Israel is often likened to a virgin (Isaiah 23.12; 37.22; Jeremiah 18.13; 31.4, 21; Lamentations. 2.13; Amos 5.2), so that virginity does not indicate goodness. Virgins are similarly depicted as ‘loving’ Jesus Christ in Matthew 25.1-13. But whereas five virgins, whose lamps were lit, were ready to go into the marriage feast with the Bridegroom, there were five who did not because, although they ‘loved’ the bridegroom sufficiently to be around, their hearts were not truly with Him (Matthew 25.13). These latter five were like these virgins, for Solomon was similarly ‘loved’ by the daughters of Jerusalem, but there was only one whose love was seen as so acceptable to him that it justified him in making her his bride.
1.4b “The king has brought me into his innermost rooms. “We will be glad and rejoice in you. We will make mention of your love more than of wine. Rightly do they love you.”
The young maiden now dreams of being with her royal lover in his innermost rooms, probably here, in view of what follows later, the inner sections of his palatial shepherd’s tent where only the most favored are allowed. Then she assures him (again at present from afar) that she is not alone in her love. All the young women of his kingdom rejoice and are glad in him. They all run after him. They talk of his love more than wine. They too dream of being with him. And rightly (or ‘in uprightness’) do they love him. He is the darling of his people, and their love is to be expected.
This visitation of his inner rooms is not intended to be interpreted as indicating a lone sexual encounter (that comes later when they are married). This is the dream of an innocent young maiden with high and pure thoughts about her beloved. She just wants to be with him in the innermost section of his tent, as the one he cherishes, even though she knows that she will be sharing him there with others, who also love him. She does, however, have the dream of being especially selected out for his attention. On the other hand, it is not to be seen as a secret assignation. In a situation like this both parties would be expecting to behave honorably.
In Old Testament terms such an experience is well expressed by the Psalmist as regards Israel’s relationship to God. They too are invited into His inner room. ‘He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High, will abide under the shadow of the Almighty’ (Psalm 91.1). That was intended to be the true experience for all His holy people (Exodus 19.5-6) as they visited Him in His ‘inner room’. We can compare in a similar way how the elders of Israel were called on to eat and drink in the presence of God (Exodus 24.9-11; compare also Deuteronomy 12.7, 12). They too were invited to enjoy the intimate experience of His love.
In New Testament terms His people’s desire is depicted as being to be presented as a chaste virgin to Christ (2 Corinthians 11.2) and to enjoy the experience of His love in their daily lives (John 14.21; 15.9; Ephesians 1.4; 3.17-19; 5.2; 1 John 4.10, 16, 19) as they walk in His light. They too want to be loved by the King and to seek Him as their beloved, the One Who fills their hearts with joy, ‘the fairest among ten thousand’. They are to eat and drink in His presence (Matthew 5.6; John 4.10-14; 6.35; Matthew 22.1-14; Luke 14.15-24; Revelation 3.20). But they also recognize that if they are to achieve their longing it will be because the King has done it. It will be because He has chosen them and ‘brought them within his innermost rooms’.
1.5 “I am dark, but comely, Oh you daughters of Jerusalem, As the tents of Kedar, As the curtains of Solomon.”
The maiden assures the king’s subjects, especially the young women among them, of her own attractiveness. She wants them to know that she is dark skinned, but comely. Her beauty is like the splendid black tents of the chieftains of Kedar as they shine in the noonday sun, like the drapings of the tents of Solomon in all their splendor. Thus she has the vibrant beauty of the woman of the desert and dresses finely in beautiful garments.
In a similar way in Jeremiah 6.2 ‘the daughter of Zion’ is likened to a comely and delicate woman, one in whom God should have been able to take pride, even though she turned out to be unfaithful. But no prophet would have claimed that she was perfect. As Isaiah makes clear, ‘all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags’ (Isaiah 64.6). Similarly in Ephesians 5.26 Christ promises that He will keep and nourish His church, as a man does a maiden, and will present her to Himself a glorious church, holy and without blemish, but it is made clear that this results from the fact that He has first cleansed her and clothed her in the splendor of His righteousness (compare 1 Corinthians 1.30; 2 Corinthian 5.21). Having been made clean His people are to be beautiful in Him with the beauty of holiness (Psalm 96.9).
‘Dark, but comely.’ The word for ‘dark’ means ‘blackish’. She was seemingly darker skinned than the aristocratic daughters of Jerusalem who had enjoyed protection from the sun from birth, and even possibly also on racial grounds. But she would not have shared the blackness of the Ethiopian or Sudanese. She recognized, however, that the darkness of her skin would be seen by the delicate daughters of Jerusalem as a fault. Just as the church is blemished, but comely, to the Lord, Jesus Christ.
The ‘daughters of Jerusalem’ who were probably originally daughters of aristocratic parents, probably represent here (in view of the young maiden representing Israel) the satellite nations subject to Israel and to the king. We can compare how satellite villages were called ‘daughters of --’ in, for example, Joshua 15.45, 47.
1.6 “Do not look upon me, Because I am swarthy, Because the sun has scorched me. My mother’s sons were incensed against me. They made me keeper of the vineyards, But my own vineyard have I not kept.”
With becoming honesty the young maiden now admits that all is not quite as she has maintained. While it is true that she is black, but comely, she acknowledges that she has been out in the sun too much, and has thus become very sunburned, and she asks that they will not look at her beauty too closely. For the sad fact is that at present she is swarthy because the sun has scorched her. And she admits that it has largely been her own fault. It was true that her stepbrothers had not been kind to her, and had forced her to attend to the vine gardens, which was the lowliest of tasks (2 Kings 25.12; Isaiah 61.5), thus demonstrating how poorly she had been treated. However, while she had kept the vine gardens well enough she realized that rather foolishly she had failed to keep ‘her own vine garden’, that is to watch over her own personal appearance. She had failed to protect her complexion against the sun (although it had clearly not put the king off). She had probably not expected the king to take an interest in her, and now that he had, she was deeply aware of her imperfections.
Israel too had similarly failed to maintain their personal appearance. Not only had they become sunburned (to be smitten by the sun was seen as a judgment from which they needed to be delivered - Psalm 121.6) but also covered in festering sores (Isaiah 1.6). They too had let themselves go and had let God down. They had become marred in the hands of the potter (Jeremiah 18.4, compare Jeremiah 5.1-3; Hosea 6.1; 9.16). And the result would be that when their expected King did come they would not be ready, apart from the chosen few who received Him with delight. Israel’s leaders had also been made the keeper of the vineyard (Jeremiah 12.10), but had failed to keep its own vineyard (Isaiah 5.1-7).
It is here being made clear that what had happened to Israel was partly the fault of others. She had been ill used by the nations around her. It did not, however, clear her from blame, for she had gone along with them in it. Whatever they had done to her, she could have sought to maintain her beauty.
The true church, the new Israel, also has to admit that underneath the surface of her comeliness, her complexion has been spoilt (1 John 1.8, 10), and that it is her own fault. It is thus time that she too began to attend to her appearance and seek after righteousness and purity, so that she might be pleasing to Him Who has chosen her. Nevertheless she knows that the King loves her in spite of the fact that she is merely a vine dresser, for to Him she is beautiful. He has chosen her in love before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1.4). Yet how careful we who make up that church should be to avoid the effects of the sun of sin and temptation lest we be caught by its rays, and grieve Him by what it does to us, for it will mar His image in us. That is why He urges, ‘Like as He Who called you is holy, so be yourselves holy in all manner of living, even as it is written, Be you holy, for I am holy’ (1 Peter 1.15-16). ‘Be you also perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect’ (Matthew 5.48 in terms of 5.42-48).
1.7 “Tell me, O you whom my soul loves, Where you feed your flock, Where you make it to rest at noon, For why should I be as one who is veiled, Beside the flocks of your companions?”
She calls on her beloved, the one whom her soul loves, to tell her where he is feeding his flocks, and where he takes his noonday rest. For she does not want to be wandering around the different encampments of his fellow-shepherds, veiled against their gaze while looking for him, in the meanwhile being mistaken for a loose woman. And especially not when she would rather be with him and open to his gaze. Shepherd kings were not unknown in those days and we must remember that Moses was a shepherd prince. Most kings did have large flocks of royal sheep and would sometimes no doubt, especially as young men, be found living in tents and ‘tending’ them along with their ‘companions’, as well as their under-shepherds. It would be a change from life in the palace, and would no doubt make them feel that they were being useful and manly. It would not seem unusual to the young maiden because she was probably of minor aristocratic stock of a type who may well have tended their own sheep.
Israel too were being called on to seek out their God and not be led astray by other shepherds (Jeremiah 25.36; 50.6; Ezekiel 34.5; 1 Kings 22.17), and looked forward to one day seeing her shepherd king (Ezekiel 34.23; 37.24), but sadly when He did come she was to be found wandering around the tents of other shepherds. That was why she missed out on His love. On the other hand there were, of course, always some who, like this young maiden, sought out ‘Him Whom their soul loved’ (1 Kings 19.18; Isaiah 8.16). And in the same way today the heart of His true people is called on to continually seek Him in His ‘tent’ (Hebrews 8.1-2), desiring to look at Him with unveiled face so that they may behold His glory and be made like Him as they are in process of being changed from glory into glory (2 Corinthians 3.18; 4.6).
We too may want to know where we can find Him. But if we are really His we should know where we can find Him, for He is in our hearts (Ephesians 3.17-19), and nearer than hands and feet, and we know that we can approach Him constantly in prayer in the inner room (Matthew 6.6), and that where two or three gather in His Name He is there among us (Matthew 18..20). So we too should be desiring to be in His innermost tent, learning of Him (Matthew 11.28-30), and not be wanting to be found wandering among other tents, loving the world and the things that are in the world (1 John 2.15-17). The question that we must therefore ask ourselves is this. Do we have the same urgency in seeking Him Whom our soul loves as this young maiden had as she sought for her beloved? And only we can know the answer to that question.
THE YOUNG WOMEN now call to the maiden in her thoughts, in what is probably ironic advice. They are probably jealous of her. The description ‘fairest among women’ is also found in 5.9; 6.1, and indicates who the speakers are. They are the young women of the land.
1.8 “If you do not know, O you fairest among women, Go your way forth by the footsteps of the flock, And feed your kids beside the shepherds’ tents.”
Their reply is probably ironic. They are saying that she may be the fairest among women, but, if she is so naive and insensitive that she cannot immediately identify the king’s tent, perhaps it would be better if she spent her time following the sheep tracks and feeding her young kids besides the other shepherd’s tents, for she does not deserve him. It may be that there is here a hint of jealousy here, and also a suggestion that if the king really had summoned her he would have ensured that she would know the way. The reference to kids rather than full grown goats may indicate a suggestion on their part that she is not yet old enough for what is in store for her. She is only fitted to feeding kids. Or the kids might have been seen as a symbol of love’s virility. But either way their words are an indication of her naivety.
In a similar way we can see here a reminder of how often Israel failed to find God because its people spent their time following sheep tracks and hanging around with false shepherds (Isaiah 56.11; Jeremiah 50.6; Ezekiel 34.2, 10), and soon could not find their way to Him because their hearts had been hardened. Had they been keeping close to the good Shepherd described in Psalm 23; compare Isaiah 40.11, it would not have happened. But they too were naive, although in a different way.
It is, however, a reminder to us as Christians that we also must keep Him central in our lives. We should not be following strange tracks or wandering around ‘strange tents’, for if we are truly His we should be able to recognize the genuine Shepherd immediately and keep our eyes on Him. Indeed that is the test of who are His true people. They hear His voice and follow Him (John 10.3-4, 27). They know where the true Shepherd is to be found. And they keep to His tent. They do not want to be wandering around the tents of the world, wasting their time among those who might dim their love.
An alternative is to take their words as not being ironic and meaning, ‘start looking where the sheep tracks are, and where the sheep are being tended, and you will find him’. He is ever to be found as the Shepherd out with His sheep. But that would be to put her in precisely the position that she was trying to avoid, beside the flocks of his companions.
‘O fairest among women.’ None other was good enough for Solomon than the very fairest. This title will be applied to her all through the songs (5.9; 6.1). It is a reminder to us of what Christ has done for us in removing our blemishes from His sight by covering us in His righteousness (1 Corinthians 1.30; 2 Corinthians 5.21) and of what the Christian should be in the world, one whose life is of outstanding beauty. Nothing else is good enough for their Lord.
These women who speak to her might be seen to represent the surrounding nations who sought to constantly lead Israel in the wrong tracks and to the wrong shepherds, something which Moses warned them against (Numbers 33.55), and was constantly spoken of by the prophets. They sought to allure her away from her true King.
From a New Testament point of view they might be seen as unbelieving Israel, who never responded to their God, or to their Messiah and seek to mislead others; or as representing any who serve the King outwardly, but have not committed themselves to Him personally. They are satisfied with the outward trappings of religion. They do not seek the face of the King. And they are upset that we do not see things their way. That is why later they are revealed as a little jealous.
THE BELOVED replies.
1.9-11 “I have compared you, O my love, To a horse in Pharaoh’s chariots. Your cheeks are comely with plaits of hair, Your neck with strings of jewels. We will make you plaits of gold With studs of silver.”
The young maiden’s beloved now speaks, and his words fit in well with the idea that it is Solomon who is in mind. For he likens ‘his love’ (a phrase regularly used as the description of the young maiden in these songs) to a horse in Pharaoh’s chariots. He would have been well familiar with Pharaoh’s chariots, and as a lover of horses he could have paid her no higher compliment. He has in mind the sleek beauty of such a horse, its thoroughbred appearance, its stateliness, its carefully tended mane, and the gorgeous decorations with which it is arrayed, covered over with studs of gold and silver. For these are the horses in Pharaoh’s chariots, and have to demonstrate the splendor of Pharaoh. Similarly he sees his loved one also as having a splendid ‘mane’ of hair as it hangs enticingly down over her cheeks, while her neck too is ‘decorated’, in her case with strings of pearls. And he assures her that he and his family, or he and his leading courtiers, will ensure that she too is adorned in gold and silver.
The words here can equally be translated as ‘a mare among Pharaoh’s chariots’ where the idea would then be of the disturbance caused by a mare in heat among the stallions who drew the chariots. But the following description suggests that it is the appearance of the horse that is in mind, not at this stage any disturbing qualities of its propensities.
Israel had similarly been invited to be God’s loved one, and to be suitably bejewelled. She was often likened to a young maiden whom God had bejewelled (see Ezekiel 16.10-14; Jeremiah 2.2-3), and as destined to be His wife (Psalm 45.13-15; Isaiah 54.1-6; 62.4-5; Jeremiah 3.20; Hosea 2.2). But she had turned away from Him and had despised His love (Hosea 1-3). Thus would they spend many days without Him (Hosea 3.4) until they were willing to seek His face (Hosea 3.5). And when He did finally come in the person of Jesus Christ those among them who were His true people did seek Him, and they became His ‘church’.
In the New Testament the idea of a woman gloriously arrayed by her prospective husband is a regular picture of Christ and His church (Ephesians 5.27; Revelation 19.8). She is to ‘put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill its desires’ (Romans 13.14). This is a picture, not of what we are (‘I am swarthy’), but of how Christ sees us, and how He intends to make us.
THE YOUNG MAIDEN finds herself at the king’s table and speaks of her satisfaction with her lot.
1.12-14 “While the king sat at his table, My spikenard sent out its fragrance. My beloved is to me as a bundle of myrrh, That lies between my breasts. My beloved is to me as a cluster of henna-flowers, In the vineyards of En-gedi.”
The young maiden has found her beloved, and now she is sat at his table in his stately tent sending out her message of love through the perfume that she wears. And it made her think of what he was to her. He was to her like a small bundle of sweet smelling myrrh (myrrh was a symbol of love - Proverbs 7.17) which hung around her neck on a string and lay between her breasts (the place of love where she wanted him to be), and thus something to be cherished, and like a cluster of henna-flowers in the vineyards of En-gedi, received by a lover and held close to the heart. En-gedi was west of the Dead Sea and the henna flowers would be fragrant white blossoms which could be found growing in the vineyards, suitable for lovers, and found in a place well known to lovers.
The idea of sitting at the king’s table and sharing signs of mutual love is a reminder that that was how God wanted Israel to be with Him. He wanted their love and their fellowship (Exodus 24.11; Deuteronomy 12.7, 12; Genesis 31.54; Psalm 23.5). That is one reason why the future restoration is depicted in terms of a great feast (Isaiah 25.6). But the truth was that, with exceptions, their hearts were not towards Him as they should have been.
‘My spikenard sent out its fragrance.’ We can compare with this Psalm 141.2, ‘Let my prayers be set forth as incense before You.’ The very purpose of the offering of incense was in order to make Israel a delight, and acceptable to God.
Jesus also regularly depicted Himself as calling us to eat and drink with Him, so that He might feed us with spiritual nourishment. Indeed He calls us to eat and drink with Him day by day as we keep ‘coming’ and ‘trusting’ and looking for sustenance (John 6.35), while His parables regularly indicate that His chosen are invited to feast with Him (Matthew 22.1-14; 25.1-13; Luke 14.15-24). See also Revelation 3.20. And for us as His true people He has even prepared a regular Table at which we too can physically eat and drink in remembrance of Him, and can enjoy His presence (1 Corinthians 11.23-26). Consider also His miraculous feeding of the crowds who followed Him which depicted what He had come to bring them, and made some recognize Him as the King (John 6.15). If only when we were at worship we were as taken up with our beloved as this young maiden was with her beloved, how glad God would be. He was in all her thoughts. And that is how it should be. For we too can all eat of His delights continually in the secret place, as we feast on His word, (that letter of love that He has given to us), and as we daily go out into our lives with Him. While in our case the incense that goes up to God is ‘the prayers of the saints’ (Revelation 5.8).
We may also see the spikenard that sent out its fragrance as for us representing the beauty of Christ’s righteousness with which we have been clothed (Isaiah 61.10; 2 Corinthians 5.21) and which now goes out from us, and the sweet savor of Christ that we are to God as by testifying to others we bring them before God as an offering (2 Corinthians 2.16).
As the story moves on we are now privileged to listen in on their conversation at the table. First the BELOVED speaks to the young maiden,
1.15 “Behold, you are fair, my love, behold you are fair. Your eyes are as doves.”
The beloved speaks to her of her fairness, and likens her eyes to a dove. This was a tender compliment for doves’ eyes were well known for their appealing and gentle look. He was clearly very attracted to her.
In similar terms did God sometimes speak to Israel as He appealed for her to return to Him. She too had once been the delight of His eyes, ‘the apple of His eye’ (Deuteronomy 32.10), and He wanted to give her every opportunity to seek Him (Isaiah 55.6-7). And so speaks Christ to the church in which He delights, for He has ‘chosen us in Himself before the foundation of the world that we might be holy and without blame before Him in love’ (Ephesians 1.4), so that He can declare, ‘I know whom I have chosen’ (John 13.18). ‘You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and appointed you to go forth and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit might remain’ (John 15.16). And He has chosen us to be ‘as harmless as doves’ in a cruel world (Matthew 10.16), and to be so fair that we show forth His excellencies (1 Peter 2.9).
The YOUNG MAIDEN replies, revealing her country origins.
1.16-2.1 “Behold, you are fair, my beloved, yes, handsome (‘pleasant), Also our couch is green. The beams of our house are cedars, And our rafters are firs. I am a crocus of Sharon, A lily of the valleys.”
The young country maiden replies with similar compliments, and then speaks of her hopes to lie with her beloved on the green grass and herbs beneath the boughs of the great cedars and firs. That will be their house. This is her view of courting, for she is not yet acclimatized to her new role. After all she is but a crocus of Sharon, on the coastal plain in the north, and a lily of the valleys, enjoying a Northern beauty. She was not to know, when she described herself in this way, that one day a greater than Solomon would declare, ‘Consider the lilies of the field, they toil not neither do they spin, and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these’ (Matthew 6.28-29). Yet she is certainly aware of their beauty. She is not denigrating herself, but pointing out that she is of the valleys and the hills. So she is content with simple things, and with country life. She is not concerned with grandeur and fine palaces, only with being with her beloved and enjoying him in beautiful country surroundings. She does not yet quite appreciate whom her beloved is.
‘Also our couch is green.’ Greenness was seen as resulting from the activity of the sun and as indicating fullness of blessing (Job 8.16). It was an indication of restoration after the barren summer, resulting from the effects of rain and sun, when God had blessed the earth. Note also the reference to cedars as a roof over their head. In 8.9 it will be boards of cedar wood that possibly enclose her little sister in order to prevent her from straying, but here the protection for her is from the heat of the sun.
The prophets regularly looked back to the time in the wilderness as being a time when Israel were purer and sought their God more truly (Jeremiah 2.2-3, 13). Thus the song reminds God’s people that He can be found in the simple things of the countryside, as Jesus would later. The great cities were regularly looked on as the sources of evil and idolatry. And it is noteworthy that when Jesus came He avoided the great cities, and tended more to minister in the country towns and the open spaces. He too felt that men and women were nearer to God there than in the cities. It is a reminder to us that we need regularly to get away from the demands of life into a quiet place where we can meet with Him. And it is interesting that when He sat down the people to eat the bread of His new covenant that too was on ‘the green grass’ (Mark 6.39). Perhaps Mark had in mind these words from the Song of Solomon.
Like the young maiden we too find it difficult to become acclimatized to the fact that our Beloved is a King, and more. That is why we worry so much. And we seek to bring Him down to our level. And very graciously, as Solomon did with this maiden, He comes to us where we are and meets us on our own ground, spending time with us in our own surroundings, and assuring us of His love, waiting for a full recognition of all that He is to dawn on us.
The BELOVED again speaks.
2.2 “As a lily among thorns, So is my love among the daughters.”
He now tells her lovingly, that compared with all other women he has known, she is like a lily among thorns, a flowering beauty among the briars. That is how he sees her. She is ‘his pure, true love’, in contrast with them.
And in such terms God often pleaded with His people Israel (see Exodus 19.5-6). He wanted them to know the love that He had for them. ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love’ (Jeremiah 31.3), which He connected with ‘the virgin Israel’ (Jeremiah 31.4). Indeed He would cry, ‘How can I give you up, Oh Ephraim? How shall I hand you over, Oh Israel’ (Hosea 11.8). And it is as a similar kind of admirer that our Lord, Jesus Christ comes to us, as He gently whispers, ‘you are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may show forth the excellencies of Him Who has called you out of darkness into His most glorious light’ (1 Peter 2.9). That is why we are to be as lights in the world, and like a city which cannot be hidden (Matthew 5.14-16), revealing our spiritual beauty to the world
We have in this reference to her as a lily an indication of the significance of the continual mention of ‘feeding among the lilies’ found later (2.16; 4.5; 6.3). It signifies being in her environment and among her kind of people, that is, among the people of the land, the country folk, and the humble and poor.
The YOUNG MAIDEN replies to his compliment,
2.3-6 “As the apple-tree among the trees of the wood, So is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, And his fruit was sweet to my taste. He brought me to the banqueting-place, And his banner over me was love. Sustain me with raisins, refresh me with apples, For I am ailing from love. His left hand is under my head, And his right hand embraces me.”
The maiden shyly responds and likens her beloved to an apple tree. The apple tree both provides ample shade and is fruitful. Thus it outdoes other trees. And so to her it is like ‘her beloved’ in comparison with other men. For in her eyes he outshines them all. We note that she does not compare him with a tall cedar or a mighty oak. Her thought here is more on the fact that she can feast on him. That is why she wants to partake of his apples (verse 5). We learn later that outside her house was an apple tree that had great significance for her, which adds weight to the thought here (8.5).
So she has sat under his shadow, out of the sun, with great delight, and his fruit is sweet to her taste, for he is now her protector and provider, and it is a wonderful position to be in. What is more he has brought her to his banqueting tent (his ‘house of wine’ where she can drink of his love to the full - 1.2), and the banner flying over it indicates that it is the place of ‘love’. Indeed she is so swept away by the thought of his love, and her own given in response, that it even makes her feel weak and faint, and so she calls on the servants for raisin-cakes and apples, the food of love, to sustain her (compare 1 Samuel 30.12). And when she faints and then comes back to consciousness she finds that his left hand is under her head, and he is embracing her with his right. No wonder that she is quivering with emotion. But she is not afraid. She is confident that she is safe in his arms. The innocence of her position comes out in that the servants are still present to meet her requests, and the daughters of Jerusalem are still around them. And so is ending her first romantic meeting with her beloved.
What a wonderful picture we have here of our Lord Jesus Christ and His love for us. He too is a shadow from the heat, and a covert from the tempest (Isaiah 32.2), and the one Who supplies all our need, and feeds us with the fruits of delight, for He promises, ‘He who comes to Me will never hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst’ (John 6.35). And we too have come to His house of wine (Luke 22.18). To us the wine is not only a picture of rejoicing and plenty and future blessing (Isaiah 25.6; Matthew 26.29), but also of the blood that He shed for us as He gave Himself for our salvation, bearing on Himself the sins of the world (1 John 2.1-2), and through which He brings us into His new covenant (Matthew 26.27-28). Unless we partake of Him we have no life in us (John 6.53).
Over His house of wine proudly flies the banner of love, for it is there that we are found within His arms. Indeed it is even better for us for we are rooted and grounded in His never failing love so that as His church we might experience its length, breadth, depth and height and know the love of Christ which passes all knowledge as we are filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3.17-19). And we have His promise that if we, ‘Seek first the Kingly Rule of God and His righteousness, all these things will be added to you’ (Matthew 6.33). He will make full provision for us because we are His. When we think of the vastness of His love we too should surely be feeling emotional in His presence.
Her cry for apples can be seen in the light of Proverbs 25.11, ‘A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in baskets of silver’, which fits aptly here, for it is through His words fitly spoken that we receive His guidance and words of love. Our desire also should thus constantly be to hear His voice speaking to us.
2.7 “I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, By the roe-deer, or by the hinds of the field, That you stir not up, nor awaken love, Until he please.”
So overwhelmed is the young maiden by her thoughts of love that she cries out to the young women of Jerusalem, the young women of the court who are enjoying the feast with her, and most solemnly adjures them by the wild creatures who enjoy such mating, to do nothing to stir up or awaken love until he pleases. She is already aware of love’s power, and is afraid of arousing his love, or even her own, too quickly, for she knows what an overwhelming force love is. Indeed we will learn later that it is the very flame of God (8.6).
We note again the indication of her country background, for when she makes her adjuration it is in terms of the things that she knows so well, the roe-deer and the hinds in the wild which she has seen so often engaged in their mating.
There is certainly a timely warning for all Christian lovers in these words, lest their passion for each other take them beyond the bounds that God has set ‘do not awaken love until He please’). And it is a reminder to us as His church that when our love is awakened it is because it is at His pleasure. It is He Who is to make the first move. For in contrast to our love, His love has already been awakened and revealed and is actively at work (John 15.9, 13-14; 2 Corinthians 5.14; Ephesians 3.19; 5.2, 25; Titus 3.4; compare Romans 5.8; 1 John 4.10-11), and it is reaching out towards us continually. God has commended His love towards us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5.8)
The Follow Up Visit By Her Beloved, And Her Subsequent Nightmare (2.8-3.5).
In this section we now have described in vivid terms a picture of how the young maiden’s beloved seeks her out and calls her to come away with him into the countryside. The courtship is advancing and he is here not acting as a king but as a lover. And while she does not respond, for it would not have been seemly for a maiden of her quality to go off alone with her lover, she delights in the assurance it brings her of their love. However, that night the fact that she has had to gently rebuff him results in her having a nightmare that she has lost him, and so in her dream she commences a desperate journey to seek him out, which again ends with an adjuration to the daughters of Jerusalem not to awaken his love until it pleases.
THE YOUNG MAIDEN speaks.
2.8-9 ‘The voice of my beloved! Behold, he comes, Leaping on the mountains, Skipping on the hills. My beloved is like a roe-deer or a young hart, Behold, he stands behind our wall; He looks in at the windows, He glances through the lattice.’
Here we have a beautiful picture of the fervency of love. Her beloved might be a king, but when it comes to love he is like other men. It commences with her hearing his call as he speaks her name. And she pictures him ‘leaping on the mountains, skipping on the hills’ for all the world like a roe-deer, or a young hart in spring time, his heart full of life, and of thoughts of love (compare Proverbs 5.19).
And then there he is. First standing behind the wall, and then looking in at the window, and glancing though the lattice which protects it (it would have no glass). This is not the behavior of a king but of a heart in love that dares to do anything, and cannot be restrained, and will not be denied.
It was like God’s love for Israel. How often He called their name (Isaiah 50.2). How often He sought them and looked for them (Jeremiah 7.13; 35.17). He, as it were, stood behind their wall, and even looked through the lattice. But they kept Him outside. They did not want Him interfering in their daily lives.
We are reminded here also of another Shepherd-King, Who came into the world that He might seek and save the lost. He too loves His true people. And we are reminded here of His persistence when He begins to seek us. One moment we are aware of Him behind the wall of our unbelief, then of Him looking in through the window. We cannot escape Him. He just will not let us go until we are sought and found. For He has chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love (Ephesians 1.4), and loves us with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31.3). In a similar way He had called to Jerusalem but in their case they would not hear Him (Matthew 23.37). For they were not of His sheep (John 10.26).
And once we are His He regularly calls to us and tell us that it is the time for love, a time for renewal. But how often we leave Him standing behind the wall, or looking in through the lattice of the window. We are too busy with other things, and the moment of opportunity passes us by.
THE VOICE OF THE BELOVED.
2.10-13 ‘My beloved spoke, and said to me, “Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. For, lo, the winter is past, The rain is over and gone, The flowers appear on the earth, The time of the singing of birds is come, And the voice of the turtle-dove, Is heard in our land. The fig-tree ripens her green figs, And the vines are in blossom, They give forth their fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.”
The plea of her beloved comes to her. It is unavoidable. He tells her that it is now spring, and the time for love. The winter is gone, the rainy season is over, the flowers are blooming, the birds are singing, and the trees are blossoming and showing signs of fruit. Their fragrance fills the air. It is time then too for their love to blossom as they walk together in the countryside in the sunshine enjoying the delights of nature.
Here was a picture of what God was calling Israel to. He wanted to share His love with them (see Isaiah 2.5; Jeremiah 31.9). And He was ready to come to them where they were at the time of spring renewal. The prophets even told them what to do. ‘Come and let us return to the Lord, for He has torn and He will heal us. He has smitten and He will bind us up. After two days will He revive us, and on the third day He will raise us up, and we will live before Him’ (Hosea 6.1-2). But they still refused. We can compare with this the idyllic picture of life in Isaiah 11.5-9. That was what He wanted for them. It could be theirs if only they would respond.
And how often the voice of our Beloved calls to us to leave behind what is past and come aside with Him and look forward to the future, and all the delights that He has in store for us. He calls for the non-Christian to experience the time of rebirth (John 1.12-13; 3.1-6; 2 Corinthians 5.17) and to us all to enjoy a time of renewal. He wants us to enjoy our lives in His presence and walk with Him in the springtime in our lives, in the time when all is renewed. God has done all the necessary groundwork, and it is now time for us to enter into it. ‘Do not be conformed to this world,’ He calls, ‘but be renewed in the spirit of your mind, that you might prove what is that good, acceptable and perfect will of God’ (Romans 12.2). We are being called on to enjoy continual spring times with Him, even when the going is hardest.
When she does not respond THE VOICE OF THE BELOVED continues.
2.14 “O my dove, who is in the clefts of the rock, In the covert of the steep place, Let me see your face, Let me hear your voice, For sweet is your voice, And your face is comely.”
But he received no response and discovered that it was as though his love had flown away like a shy dove and had taken shelter in the clefts of the rocks. However, the voice of the beloved will not be silenced by her unresponsiveness. She may be like a shy dove hiding from him in the clefts of the rock in the mountains, and in the coverts of the steep precipice, but he does not want her at a distance. He wants to see her beloved face close at hand, and to hear her sweet voice, for he knows how sweet her voice is, and how comely is her face.
The story of Israel is full of them hiding away in the clefts of the rock and in the steep places where, as it were, God could not reach them. ‘Why, when I called, was there none to answer?’ (Isaiah 50.2), He asked. They were like a silly dove without understanding who looked elsewhere (Hosea 7.11). If only Israel had let Him see her face and hear her voice. He gave her every opportunity, speaking to her again and again through the prophets. But she was deaf to His call. She preferred the tents of the other shepherds. And in the end, apart from for the faithful few, He left her in order to seek out the remnant of His people among the Gentiles
Are we too hiding in the clefts of the rocks? Sheltering on the precipice? His voice calls constantly to us, in such tender tones and with the offer of such delights. He wants to see our face and to hear our voice. He wants us to walk with Him and share with Him our lives. And so the only question is as to whether we will leave our safe shelters and go with Him as He pastures His sheep among the mountains, or whether we will turn away from the window and fail to hear His call.
THE YOUNG MAIDEN replies.
2.15 “Take us the foxes, the little foxes, That spoil the vineyards, For our vineyards are in blossom. My beloved is mine, and I am his, He feeds his flock among the lilies. Until the day be cool, and the shadows flee away, Turn, my beloved, and be you like a roe-deer or a young hart, Upon the craggy mountains (mountains of Bether).”
The young maiden determines to prove his love. It is all right for him to call her away from her responsibilities to run wild across the mountains, but if he really is so concerned for her, let him do something practical. She has a personal problem to deal with as the keeper of the vine gardens (1.6). Let him and his friends (plural verb) deal with the problem of the foxes that are spoiling the family vine gardens, for they are causing her great concern. The vine gardens are her responsibility and are in blossom and the foxes are causing havoc. If he does love her, here is a practical way in which he can demonstrate it, and ease her mind at the same time.
The contented words that follow are probably intended to indicate that he has carried out her wishes, for she is now fully satisfied that he loves her, and she feels that she can say with confidence, “My beloved is mine, and I am his”.
And one of the evidences that he is still hers, and concerned about her, is that he is still feeding his sheep among the lilies. He has still remained in the near vicinity. ‘Feeding among the lilies’ is similarly closely connected with the phrase, ‘I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine’ in 6.2 after they have fled back to her tribal lands. It indicates that he is willing to be near her where she is, in the lily fields of her homeland, away from the stifling atmosphere of the big city. And she does not want him to go away. She wants him to continue with his courting, being like a roe-deer or a young hart, even though it be temporarily in the mountains of ‘separation’.
For she is still shy, and while she sees him as truly hers, ‘my beloved is mine, and I am his’, and wants him to be feeding his flock among the lilies, (a woman’s view of the pasturage in her own land), until the cool of the day is reached and the sun goes down so that there is no more shadow. And even wants him to turn back and return to the mountains, to leap like a roe-deer and skip like a young hart to his heart’s content, in a mood for mating, rather than disappearing out of her life, she is not yet ready to commit herself, for he must know that she cannot come with him yet, however much she might wish to do so. ‘Bether’ means ‘division’, and thus the idea may be of divided mountains, the crags. But it is also a reminder of the separation between them (later they will enjoy instead the mountains of spices together - 8.14).
Israel in a similar way called on God to deal with the foxes. Let Him deal with the day by day problems that they faced, and especially the problem of troublemakers who spoiled their possessions. But like her they did want to have to respond to God’s continual call to them. That was expecting too much. They wanted Him to be close, but not too demanding. So they turned Him away, and the inevitable result was that they were separated from Him, and love grew dim.
We also desire that He will remove our troubles and our problems, the little foxes that disturb our vines. We want Him to be involved with our lives and our individual needs, and we want Him to remain close by. But we only too often do not want to become too involved with Him in His work. We do not want to be out with Him feeding the flocks. Nor do we want Him disturbing our lives. Let Him feed His flocks on His own, let Him release His energies on the mountains, for although He is our Beloved, and we are His, we prefer to not to become too involved or to be disturbed. Like the young maiden we are often not yet ready to face up to the demands of love. It is asking too much.
The Young Maiden Dreams That She Has Lost Her Beloved (3.1-5).
THE YOUNG MAIDEN’S FIRST NIGHTMARE.
3.1-4 ‘By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loves, I sought him, but I did not find him. I will rise now, and go about the city, In the streets and in the broad ways, I will seek him whom my soul loves, I sought him, but I found him not. The watchmen that go about the city found me, “Have you seen him whom my soul loves?” It was but a little that I passed from them, When I found him whom my soul loves. I held him, and would not let him go, Until I had brought him into my mother’s house, And into the inner room of her who conceived me.”
But there is always a consequence to such a refusal. Having turned him away, she discovered that when nighttime came, she had a nightmare. She dreamed that she sought her beloved and did not find him. And as a result she panicked and determined that she would seek him, and not stop until she had found him. So in her dream she left her comfortable country home, and went into what was to her the strangeness and foreignness of the city, and there in its streets and its broad ways she sought him whom her soul loved. But search as she would she still did not find him.
Eventually she was discovered wandering around the streets by the watchmen on their rounds, and she pleaded with them, ‘Have you seen him whom my soul loves’. Surely everyone must know him? And it was not long after she left them that she found him whom her soul loves, presumably with the assistance of the watchmen. Then she clung to him desperately and would not let him go, and she refused to release him until she had taken him to the only place where she felt they could be safe and alone together, to her mother’s house and the place of her birth. He must be hers for ever. This dream, contains all the intensity and absurdity of a nightmare, while revealing the real desire of her heart.
It was ever God’s desire that Israel might one day realize her folly in turning Him away, and nothing would have delighted Him more than to be sought out by them in this way by those with a genuine desire to please Him. But that too was only a dream. Outwardly there sometimes appeared to be a passionate concern for Him, but it did not become an inward reality. And as the centuries that were coming, and especially the coming and rejection of Jesus, would reveal it did not come from a genuine and moral heart. And so they are left wandering the streets of the city through the centuries, ever searching and never coming to a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3.7), for if they are ever to find Him it can only be through responding to the King Whom they have rejected.
But it is not only Israel who have been ready to turn the Lord away, and leave Him waiting. Many others, even Christians, do the same, even some who were once fervent. However, if they are really His elect He will not leave them in that unhappy position. They too will have a ‘nightmare’. At some stage God will awaken them to what they are doing. So they too need to learn from this dream of the need for them to come to Him or to return to their first love (Revelation 2.4) and seek for Him and find Him, so that they can take Him home to live with them. Indeed, for those who will receive Him He is ever near. As He said to the church at Laodicea, ‘Behold I am standing at the door and knocking, if anyone hear My voice and open the door I will come in to him, and will sup with him and he with Me’ (Revelation 3.20). There is no excuse for our not having Him with us. It is up to us then to open the door into our homes and lives, and let Him enter so that we can have continual fellowship with Him, eating and drinking with Him. And how grateful we should be that He has provided us with ‘watchmen’ to help us in our search, first the prophets, then the Apostles, and then faithful preachers. Thank God for the watchmen. And once we have found Him again we must make sure that like the young maiden we hold on to Him and refuse to let Him go until we are sure that He is once more living with us permanently.
3.5 “I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, By the roe-deer, or by the hinds of the field, That you stir not up, nor awake my love, Until he please.”
Possibly still in her dream she now once again (compare 2.7) calls on the young women of Jerusalem, in the name of those symbols of love, the roe-deer and the hinds, not to stir up or awaken her love, until he please. She is realizing how intense love is. She is now aware that it is a dangerous thing to love. It must not be entered into lightly. And she does not want to approach him and find that she is not welcome, nor to be caught up in something that she cannot cope with. She knows now what the demands of love will be, and she is ready to wait until his love comes to demand her.
The Loving Couple Are Married And The Marriage Is Consummated (3.6-5.1).
The young maiden need not have worried. Her beloved had not forgotten her. And soon the arrangements went forward for the wedding. In her love she had never really thought about the greatness and splendor of her beloved. But now it was brought home to her in its totality when a splendid litter arrived accompanied by the bridegroom and his friends, and she was taken in great splendor to Jerusalem, where they were met by the daughters of Jerusalem who had come out to greet them. It was the custom at ancient weddings for the bridegroom to collect the bride and take her to the wedding.
The BELOVED carries his bride in splendor to Jerusalem for their wedding.
3.6-8 ‘Who is this who comes up from the wilderness, Like pillars of smoke, Perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, With all powders of the merchant? Behold, it is the litter of Solomon, Threescore mighty men are about it, Of the mighty men of Israel. They all handle the sword, And are expert in war, Every man has his sword on his thigh, Because of fear in the night.’
It is possible that we are to see this as general question which the singers and hearers are to answer themselves as they sing the song, although it could be the voices of the daughters of Jerusalem. Coming from the wilderness (compare 8.5) the bride arrives at Jerusalem in splendid procession, borne by ‘the litter of Solomon’ and accompanied by King Solomon in his palanquin. The pillars of smoke represent the myrrh and frankincense being released as a sign of rejoicing. No expense is being spared to make the occasion memorable. The bride too is fully perfumed and prepared, for she is the king’s bride. And the litter is surrounded and guarded by the king’s friends, sixty mighty men of valor, all skilled swordsmen and experts in war, and fully armed against the danger of an attack by night. The sixty emphasizes the splendor of the marriage. It is twice the number of David’s mighty men (2 Samuel 23.8-39) and twice the number of friend’s of the bridegroom at Samson’s wedding (Judges 14.11).
The idea that God would establish His people in Zion/Jerusalem if they proved worthy is constant in the prophets. And for a long time it was the hope of Israel. But in the end they proved unworthy and the earthly Jerusalem was rejected (Matthew 23.38), and then the focus turned to the new bride (Matthew 21.43; and onto the heavenly Jerusalem (Galatians 4.26; Hebrews 12.22).
What a change has now taken place for the bride. She is ‘perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant.’ She is saturated in the righteousness of Christ, and giving off a sweet savor of righteousness, for He has been made to her righteousness, sanctification and redemption (1 Corinthians 1.30) while she has been made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5.21). She has been endowed with all the beauty of His holiness. And she is carried in His litter, safe from the dangers of the night and guarded closely by the mightiest of the mighty men.
While this may certainly in one sense be seen as a preview of the marriage of the bride and the Lamb which will take place at the consummation (Revelation 19.7-9; 21.1-2), it also represents the experience of every Christian at the moment when they come to Christ (although some may not recognize it). For in that moment they are made His for ever, and made fit to be His bride (Romans 7.4; Ephesians 5.25-27). They are ‘perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant.’ They are raised with Christ and made to sit with Him in heavenly places (Ephesians 2.6), in His litter. They are transported in splendor into the very heart of His kingdom (Colossians 1.13). They travel from thenceforward under the escort of a powerful armed guard (Hebrews 1.14 with 2 Kings 6.17). Those who are of the true Israel are achieving their destiny. The final marriage will be but the icing on the cake, incorporating the whole of the bride whose numbers have by then been made up. But we who are His are to see ourselves as married to Him even now (Romans 7.4), and so as having available to us all the riches of His grace (Ephesians 2.7) so that we might enjoy His blessings to the full (Ephesians 1.3).
3.9-10 ‘King Solomon made himself a palanquin Of the wood of Lebanon. He made its pillars of silver, The bottom of it of gold, The seat of it of purple, The midst of it being paved with love, From the daughters of Jerusalem.’
Accompanying his bride is the bridegroom-king in his splendor. He is borne in a new palanquin made of the wood of Lebanon, with its pillars of silver and its bottom of gold. Its seat is purple, paved with love from the daughters of Jerusalem. That the pillars are of silver demonstrates that it was early on in Solomon’s reign, for later ‘silver counted for nothing in the days of Solomon’ (1 Kings 10.21). But silver is also the emblem of purity, and gold and purple of majesty and royalty. Yet the most important feature of all is that it is paved with love.
In this we see the majesty of our Lord as He accompanies us on our way, revealed in both glory and love, bearing us onwards towards the heavenly Jerusalem. The idea of Jesus as the bridegroom in this way was implied by John the Baptist (John 3.29) and confirmed by Jesus (Mark 2.19-20; Matthew 22.1-14). The idea is firmly based on Old Testament ideas (Isaiah 54.5; 62.5).
3.11 “Go forth, O you daughters of Zion, and behold king Solomon, With the crown with which his mother has crowned him, In the day of his espousals, And in the day of the gladness of his heart.”
The scene is awe-inspiring. The mighty Solomon arrives in great splendor from the wilderness accompanied by his bride in her litter, and the daughters of Jerusalem are summoned to go forth to meet him (compare Matthew 25.1-13), being called on to consider him, crowned with his garland crown which his mother Bathsheba had personally put on him on the day of his wedding, the day which has brought gladness to his heart. (Such wedding touches would be left to the womenfolk and, besides, his father was dead). Note how all the emphasis is on King Solomon and not on the bride. It is the benefits that he is receiving which are being emphasized. For he is the one who is all important.
The application is even more awesome as we have already seen above. For on the day when we are made one with Christ, we become a part of this great festivity. We enter into Christ and are from that day borne upon His litter and surrounded by His mighty men, awaiting the glorious wedding feast of the Lamb. How can our hearts not overflow with gladness at the thought? But we too also cry out that all may look at Him and not at ourselves. He is the One Who is altogether lovely (5.16). And meanwhile in His case His Father crowns Him with the crown of rejoicing and love, a symbol of His joy in us. For that is the even more wonderful thought here, that it has especially brought gladness to His heart because He loves us so. There is rejoicing in Heaven over one sinner who repents (Luke 15.7), how much more then over all of them repenting. For it is the conversion of His whole elect that is in mind here, and their final presentation to Him.
The speech of the BRIDEGROOM at the wedding.
4.1-7 “Behold, you are fair, my love; behold, you are fair, Your eyes are as doves behind your veil. Your hair is as a flock of goats, Which lie along the side of mount Gilead. Your teeth are like a flock of ewes that are newly shorn, Which are come up from the washing, Of which every one has twins, And none is bereaved among them. Your lips are like a thread of scarlet, And your mouth is comely. Your temples are like a piece of a pomegranate, Behind your veil. Your neck is like the tower of David , Built for an armory, Whereon there hang a thousand bucklers, All the shields of the mighty men. Your two breasts are like two fawns, Which are twins of a roe-deer, Which feed among the lilies.”
The royal bridegroom hails his bride and exults in her beauty, fully taken up with her attractions. The idea of the goats lying along the side of Mount Gilead is that it describes the luxuriousness of her hair (the mountain is seen as covered with hair), the ewes which have just been washed would be gleaming white, a picture of her shining white teeth, and the newly shorn may refer to the fact that her first teeth have now all been replaced, or may simply be stressing their whiteness, but it is dropped in the parallel description which may favor the former (6.6). Their being twins without bereavement indicates that all her teeth are present, pairing off each other, and none are missing. She is perfect in beauty. Her temples were as cool and delicious as pomegranate. The description of the neck has in mind the golden ornaments which hung around it like rows and rows of shields, which were undoubtedly a wedding gift from her bridegroom. The two twin fawns are probably to be seen as symbols of the anticipated fruitfulness of her breasts. It will be noted that apart from the ornaments on her neck all the descriptions would fit in with her country life and thus be doubly meaningful.
This is all a reminder of how our Lord Jesus Christ perceives His church, the new Israel, in terms of what He has made it and what it will be. It is whole and complete, the perfection of beauty through which God would shine forth (compare Psalm 50.2). Note how the emphasis is on the bride’s perfections, not on her apparel, apart from the necklaces bestowed by the king. Yet while she herself is totally connected with nature, totally human, yet, like us, she carries on her the image of the heavenly in the golden ornaments around her neck, which demonstrate that she belongs to the King. In New Testament terms she is being made one with her beloved, and a partaker of the divine nature (2 Peter 1.4).
If we wish to look for significance in the details we may see her luxurious hair as indicating to Him that she is one who is under His authority (1 Corinthians 11.10) and full of His glory (1 Corinthians 11.15). Her teeth emphasize the presentable and attractive appearance that she reveals towards Him and to the world (Matthew 5.16). Her scarlet lips are reminder that her words speak lovingly of His great sacrifice for her. Her comely mouth indicates that all the words that she speaks are pleasing to Him. Pomegranates, to which her temples were likened, were prominent on the high priestly vestments (Exodus 28.33-34; 39.24-26) and in the Temple (1 Kings 7.18, 20, 42) as signifying what was holy to God, indicating that she has ‘the mind of Christ’ because of the Holy Spirit’s illumination (1 Corinthians 2.16). The golden shields emphasize that she is under royal protection. Her two breasts offer the promise of life to all who will feed from her.
For the tower of David here, the sign of his possession of her as the son of David, which links her specifically with the coming King, contrast the later ‘ivory tower’ when he sees her more in terms of her own beauty (7.4).
Preparation After The Wedding For The Final Love-Making.
The BRIDEGROOM anticipates the pleasure ahead.
4.6-7 “Until the day be cool, And the shadows flee away, I will get me to the mountain of myrrh, And to the hill of frankincense. You are all fair, my love, And there is no spot in you.”
Finally Solomon has an eye on his prize. Now that they are married he cannot wait for the evening when he can complete the day by honorably enjoying his bride, and gazing on her perfection. We may see the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense as descriptive of a bed fit for a king, with its piles of perfumed cushions, revealing that in his mind now is the time when they will consummate their marriage. Or they may signify his expectation of pleasure from the bride herself, compare 3.6, the two prominences possibly having in mind her two breasts. Either idea would certainly tie in with his final compliment, that his bride is the picture of perfection. There is no blemish in her.
Israel at their feasts no doubt saw this as a reminder of His making of the covenant with them, and the renewal of that covenant, and later, when they had failed Him, as pointing to their future when God would at last claim them for His bride, but where they failed was in not being ready when He came.
We may see in this a picture of Christ’s present satisfaction with His bride whom He has made to be His own, without blemish and without spot (Ephesians 5.27). And as a reminder that having wed us He desires to be with us constantly and to enjoy our reciprocated love.
The Final Love-Making.
The BRIDEGROOM speaks love to his bride.
4.8 “Come with me from Lebanon, my bride, With me from Lebanon. Look from the top of Amana, From the top of Senir and Hermon, From the lions’ dens, From the mountains of the leopards.”
The bridegroom invites his beloved bride to enter the equivalent of heaven on earth with him as they make love together, visualized in terms of taking her to the great mountains of Lebanon, in the places where the lions have their dens and the mountain leopards freely roam, places of grandeur and isolation, far from the gaze of men, where they are free to do what they wish. There they will be able, as it were, to look down on the world as they enjoy their lovemaking.
So does our Lord, having united us with Himself (Romans 6.5), invite His people up into the equivalent of Heaven itself to share with Him in His glory (Ephesians 2.4-6; Philippians 3.20; Colossians 1.13; 3.1-3). He wants us in His presence in heavenly places.
4.9-11 “You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride, You have ravished my heart with one of your eyes, With one chain of your neck. How fair is your love, my sister, my bride! How much better is your love than wine! And the fragrance of your oils than all manner of spices! Your lips, O my bride, drop as the honeycomb, Honey and milk are under your tongue, And the smell of your garments is like the smell of Lebanon.”
The bridegroom reveals the depths of his love for his bride. She has ravished his heart, he is spellbound by her eyes, he is captured by one chain from her neck. He wants her to know that her love is fully reciprocated by him, for he sees her love as a thing of beauty, as something which is better than wine (just as in a similar way she had seen his love - compare 1.2), and her perfumed body as better than the fragrance of many spices (again compare 1.3). Her lips are like the taste of the honeycomb, from under her tongue come honey and milk, and her clothes are like the delightful odor of Lebanon. All about her outdoes the finest offerings of the rest of creation, and is perfect and satisfying.
And we may be sure of how much greater is our Lord’s love for us, (note the strength of the expressions), for He also delights in us and in what He sees in us as we grow in Him, and in what He knows that one day we will be (Romans 9.29-30; Ephesians 1.4; 5.27; Colossians 1.22; 1 John 3.1-3; Revelation 19.8). But in our case it is not our physical appearance that delights Him, but the spiritual qualities that are developing in our lives. His longing is that we reveal the beauty of holiness. And above all He delights continually in our reciprocated love as our lips speak forth His praise.
‘The smell of Lebanon.’ Lebanon was famous for its scented air. Compare Hosea 14.6-7; Isaiah 35.2.
The BRIDEGROOM now delights in the fact that his bride is his, and his alone.
4.12-15 “A garden enclosed is my sister, my bride, A spring shut up, a fountain sealed. Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates, with precious fruits; Henna with spikenard plants, spikenard and saffron, Calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense, Myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices. You are a fountain of gardens, A well of living waters, And flowing streams from Lebanon.”
The bridegroom now delights in the fact that his bride is pure and has been kept only for him. She is like an enclosed and locked garden into which no one has been allowed to enter, she is like a spring that has been shut off from men, she is like a fountain that has been sealed so that none can drink from it. She is a pure virgin, who has never known a man. And the contents of that enclosed and locked garden, which he is about to enter, include an orchard of pomegranates, with many precious fruits, henna with spikenard plants, and all the richest spices known to man. And they are all his for the taking. Furthermore she is like a spring that feeds many gardens, a well of living waters, and flowing streams from the mountains of Lebanon. His delight in her is total.
And this is how it should be with us. This is what our lives should be for our Lord, and it is how He wants us to be, with our lives wholly separated in spirit from all that is outside so that they may only produce for His pleasure (Ephesians 1.12; Philippians 1.10-11) and so that He may enjoy us to the full. He wants to come into our garden so that we may have communion together, and so that He may partake of our fruits. He wants our lives to be lives that give off the savor of life unto life (2 Corinthians 2.15-16), lives from which should flow rivers of living water (John 7.37-39). For if we are taken up with Him, we will also be taken up with the work that He wants us to do. Indeed we will be unable to help it, for it will be the inevitable consequence of our closeness to Him.
THE BRIDE’S RESPONSE in which she offers herself to the bridegroom.
4.16 “Awake, O north wind, And come, you south, Blow on my garden, That its spices may flow out. Let my beloved come into his garden, And eat his precious fruits.”
The bride is delighted that the bridegroom should partake of the fruits of the garden (of herself) to which he is so looking forward, and calls on the winds of heaven to ensure that he enjoys her spices, granting him full rights of access to her garden that he might partake of its fruits.
This is a reminder of the fact that we also should allow our Lord, Jesus Christ, our heavenly Bridegroom, full access to our lives, calling on the winds of the Spirit to so open our hearts to Him that He can enjoy our love and do with us as He will, because we belong totally to Him. It is a call for full yieldedness.
The BRIDEGROOM accepts her invitation
5.1 “ I am come into my garden, my sister, my bride, I have gathered my myrrh with my spice, I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey, I have drunk my wine with my milk.”
Having finally made love and tasted of her delights the bridegroom assures his bride that he is fully satisfied. He has entered the garden of delights, he has plucked the myrrh and spices by absorbing the beauty of her perfumed body, he has eaten the sweetness of the honeycomb by kissing her adorable lips (4.11), and he has drunk his wine and milk by enjoying her spiritual beauty (compare Isaiah 55.1-3).
It should be the aim of all our lives to ensure that our heavenly Bridegroom is equally satisfied with our lives in the spiritual sphere, enjoying the beauty that He has bestowed on us, partaking of our love, drinking of our worship, and rejoicing in the fact that our desire is to please only Him. When we think of what He has done for us on the cross, how can we offer Him anything less?
5.1b “Eat, O friends (or ‘O lovers’). Drink, yes, drink abundantly, O beloved.”
The Marriage being consummated the bride’s call now goes out to the guests to enjoy the remainder of the feast, along with her beloved. Let them eat their fill, let him drink abundantly. Let all experience the joy of her union with her new husband. It is a reminder to us that once we have been united with Him we should immediately begin to call on others to share Him and experience our joy along with us.
(Alternately it may be a call by the daughters of Jerusalem to the couple to enjoy their love to the full, which is responded to by the new wife).
HER SECOND NIGHTMARE (5.2-6.3).
Sadly the original warmth of the marriage appears at some stage to have grown cold, for we find now that she has a nightmare that when her beloved comes to enjoy her love, she cannot be bothered to open the door to him, especially as he has come in damp and dripping from watching over the sheep. (She still dreams of him as her shepherd). How can he thus expect to share her bed? So she refuses to open to him. She is now so taken up with herself and her home comforts that she has no time for Him.
Then she regrets her folly, but when she repents she finds that it is too late for she discovers that he has gone. And so in her nightmare she wanders out into the city to seek him, and is treated by the watchmen and guards as a loose woman, her outer mantle being ripped from her. But she does not care. All that concerns her is that she cannot find her beloved, and she calls on the daughters of Jerusalem for their assistance, but finds that her pleas are dismissed.
The Nightmare Begins.
Her BELOVED seeks to join her in her room, but she lets him go away. She is too filled with her own comfort and her own delightfulness.
5.2 ‘I was asleep, but my heart awoke, It is the voice of my beloved who knocks, saying, “Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled, For my head is filled with dew, My locks with the drops of the night.”
Lying asleep in her luxurious bed it was as though she was suddenly awoken by a knock on the door, although it was only her heart that awoke. And her heart leaped as she heard the voice of her beloved. But despite his sweet words she was not too impressed when she learned that he had just come in from seeing to his sheep, so that ‘his head was filled with dew, and his locks with the drops of the night’. In her dream she was back with her old shepherd lover. Why could he not wait until he was more ready to enter her bed? Surely he did not expect her to receive him like that? She had grown too used to comfort.
How easily our love for our Lord can slip in a similar way, so that when He comes to us to put us under some inconvenience we are unwilling. When we first became His we were delighted to do anything that He asked. But now we have become more choosy. Let Him wait until we are in a better frame of mind. We do not want to be involved with the discomforts of His watch over the sheep. We do not want to share the inconveniences and consequences of the night watch. Our love has grown cold.
5.3 ‘I have put off my garment, How shall I put it on? I have washed my feet, How shall I defile them?’
Her drowsy voice reaches her beloved. Does he not realize how thoughtless he is being? She has undressed. Does he really expect her to put her clothes on again? She has washed her feet. Does he really expect her to get them dirty? She cannot be bothered, and she has become too nice for such behavior.
How easily Christians settle down in a similar way with their Lord, so that the dedication that they once had has slipped and they are no longer prepared to be inconvenienced, or to get their feet dirty. Their view is, ‘Let Him return in the morning when it is more convenient’. (It can sadly happen to us all).
5.4 ‘My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, And my heart was moved for him.’
In her drowsiness she realized that her beloved was reaching through the hole by which the inner bolt could be opened from the outside (typical of ancient bolts), and her heart missed a beat. But the bolt would not move because the pins were in place, so that he remained unable to open the door. However, she knew now that she could not leave him outside, for she still loved him, even if not quite as much as before.
We have here a clear picture of the backholding and lukewarm heart (compare Hosea 4.16, ‘Israel is backholding, like a backholding heifer’). It is not that we do not want to serve Him, it is just that we do not want our luxurious form of living to be disturbed, with the result that we have locked Him out. But our beloved is not satisfied with that and constantly seeks to find His way to us, even reaching though the door so that He can approach us, only to find it locked. Then we have to choose what we will do. Will we open to Him immediately, or will we tell Him to go away and return at some more convenient time? But we must remember that if we do continue to refuse Him access we must not be surprised if we then find that He has hidden Himself from us.
5.5 ‘I rose up to open to my beloved, And my hands dropped with myrrh, And my fingers with liquid myrrh, Upon the handles of the bolt.’
Rising from her bed she swiftly clad herself and then went to draw back the bolt, but all the time conscious of the myrrh that dropped on to her hand and fingers even as she did so. Even now she was too much taken up with herself. But she also knew that this myrrh was a luxury that she owed solely to him, and it must have moved her conscience as she thought of how she had nearly refused him. It was, however, to be too late.
5.6-8 ‘I opened to my beloved, But my beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone. My soul had failed me when he spoke, I sought him, but I could not find him, I called him, but he gave me no answer. The watchmen that go about the city found me, They smote me, they wounded me, The keepers of the walls took away my mantle from me. “I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, If you find my beloved, That you tell him, that I am sick from love.”
Opening the unbolted door at last, she discovered that her beloved had gone and had left the palace. Hurt at her rebuttal he had deserted her and left her on her own. And all because her soul had failed her when he had spoken.
In the horror of her nightmare she seeks him, but cannot find him. She calls to him but he gives no answer. And so covering herself with a mantle she races out into the streets of the city (compare her similar experience in 3.2-3). But this time there is no help from the watchmen. In her nightmare the watchmen find her and treat her like a loose woman, knocking her about and wounding her, and she knows that it is what she deserves. Then she reaches the walls of the city and the gatemen tear off her mantle revealing how little she is wearing underneath (it is the stuff of nightmares). But she does not care, for all that she can think of is that she has lost her beloved. And she calls to the women of Jerusalem, and asks that if they see her beloved, they will tell him that she is sick with love for him.
It must be obvious that a lesson is deliberately being given here. It is a clear example of Israel’s behavior towards God as they extend to Him their indolent and insulting response to His entreaties, which eventually leads to a half-hearted repentance which simply fails, and which is then followed by severe chastening. It is an illustration of their constant history. It is a warning of the dangers of treating God lightly, and then thinking that we can easily remedy the situation. But how easily we can discover like she did, that once we are on the path of disobedience and failure, it is not so easy to get off it. And it can be very unpleasant on the way.
We should carefully note here the difference between this and the previous nightmare. Then the watchmen had been helpful, but here they treat her with the utmost severity. For then she was not yet married to her bridegroom and they had recognized her need for assistance, but here she has spurned her husband and she is therefore in need of chastisement. We tend to think that the state of the seeker is worse than the lukewarmness of the Christian, but here we are reminded of the severity of God towards the sinfulness of His children. God does not see as a light thing the spurning of His Son’s approaches to the hearts of His people. It is time that we awoke, as the king’s wife does here, to the genuineness of the anger that is in His heart when we are walking in disobedience. But as here, because our Father loves us if we are really His, He chastens us (Hebrews 12.5-6). And if He does not we should beware. For it will reveal that we are not truly His sons (Hebrews 12.8).
The nightmare continues, for in her nightmare the women merely taunt her:
5.9 “What is your beloved more than another beloved, O you fairest among women? What is your beloved more than another beloved, That you do so adjure us?”
The women who had once fawned on her now mock her status and ask why her beloved is more important than anyone else’s? Let her give a reason why they should help her in her need. ‘Fairest among women’ is the typical title given to her by the women who represent Israel (compare 1.8; 6.1). There is in these words a suggestion that they have nothing but pleasure in the fact she is no longer to be seen as his queen. Now she has been reduced to their level.
We should remember that if we behave so lightly towards our Lord we should not wonder when people begin to treat Him lightly too. They pick up the same attitude as we convey. But what is saddest here is the thought of what she has lost. She has ceased to enjoy her exalted status, and has been reduced to being like any other. It is a reminder that without Him we can do nothing (John 15.5).
In her continuing dream the YOUNG WIFE gives her response
5.10-16. “My beloved is white and ruddy, The chiefest among ten thousand. His head is as the most fine gold, His locks are curly, and black as a raven. His eyes are like doves beside the water-brooks, Washed with milk, and fitly set. His cheeks are as a bed of spices, As banks of sweet herbs, His lips are as lilies, dropping liquid myrrh. His hands are as rings of gold set with beryl, His body is as ivory work overlaid with sapphires. His legs are as pillars of marble, Set on sockets of fine gold, His aspect is like Lebanon, Excellent as the cedars. His mouth is most sweet, Yes, he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.”
Almost too late the young wife has remembered the attractions of her husband. She no longer thinks of his hair as filled with dew, and his locks with the drops of the night. Now she can only think of his hair as like finest gold (possibly having in mind the custom of sprinkling gold on the hair), and his locks as curly and black as the raven. And she expands on the attributes of her husband with a mixture of descriptions, partly reminiscent of how he has previously described her (eyes like doves (4.1), springs of water (4.15)) partly taken from nature, and partly taken from the jewellery with which she has become familiar in the king’s palace. She now sees him as being as precious to her, as she is to Him.
She sees him now as a mixture of that handsome young shepherd whom she had first known, and the powerful king whose wealth was bordering on the fabulous. But it can all be summed up in terms of the opening and closing descriptions, ‘he is the fairest among ten thousand, and altogether lovely’. He is both her ‘beloved’ and her ‘friend’, someone to be delighted in and trusted. Now she knows that nothing must be allowed prevent the complete fulfillment of their relationship.
Seeing it in terms of the Lord Jesus Christ it depicts His perfections, and what He is to us, both ‘beloved’, because we love Him, and ‘friend’ because He is both our companion and our helper. ‘You are my friends if you do the things which I command you’ (John 15.14). To us too ‘He is the fairest among ten thousand, and altogether lovely’. The overall descriptions remind us that He is both of earthly nature (descriptions from nature) and of Heaven (descriptions in terms of splendor). We may see it as reminding us that He is both man and God. How foolish we are then when we keep Him at a distance.
The descriptions contain within them the ancient ideas of beauty and splendor. If we wish to go into detail we may see the fact that He is white and ruddy as indications of His matchless purity, and His precious redeeming blood (1 Peter 1.1.19). The gold in His hair may be seen as reminding us that he is a King with all the riches of Heaven at His disposal, and as portraying that in Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2.3). The blackness of His locks points to His permanent youthfulness as the giver of life. There is no aging with Him. From everlasting to everlasting He is God (Psalm 90.2). His dove’s eyes demonstrate that He is the Prince of Peace and of gentleness (Isaiah 9.6). That they are fitly set indicates His ultimate perfection. That His face and lips emit the perfumes and scents of nature indicates that His face is ever towards us for good, and that His words will be sweet in our ears, even when sometimes they are necessarily tender words of rebuke. The descriptions of His hands, body and legs in terms of the finest materials and jewels bring out His infinite glory and beauty. Lebanon was seen as pointing to all that was most splendid about nature, with its towering cedars and its fragrant trees and plants. His aspect can thus be seen as reflecting the glory of the Creator. The sweetness of His mouth reminds us of the gentleness of His words and the beneficial effects of His teaching. ‘Altogether lovely’ sums up the whole. How wonderful then to be able to say, ‘this is my Beloved, and this is my friend, O all you who hear’.
The DAUGHTERS OF JERUSALEM reply.
6.1 “Where is your beloved gone, O you fairest among women, In which direction has your beloved turned himself, That we may seek him with you?”
The wife’s reply has brought home to the daughters of Jerusalem how foolish they have been in despising her beloved (5.9). Now it is their heart’s desire to seek him too, and they want to be directed to where he is.
‘In which direction has your lover turned himself?’ Literally, ‘where has your beloved turned him?’ Instinctively she knows the answer. She remembers her instruction in 2.17, ‘Turn my beloved, and be like a roe-deer, and hart on the craggy mountains’. She knows that he has turned him to the craggy mountains of her homeland.
Happy the Christians whose testimony to their Lord are such that it causes the hangers on to declare their wish to seek Him in terms of their own early experiences.
The YOUNG WIFE replies.
6.2 “My beloved is gone down to his garden, To the beds of spices, To feed in the gardens, And to gather lilies. I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine, He feeds his flock among the lilies.”
As could only happen in a dream she is immediately aware of where her husband will be. She is taken back to the time when he had first sought her out (2.16). She knows that he has returned to those happy surroundings, and that if she would find him she must return there too. She knows that he will be out there watching over his sheep among the lilies of her own homeland, seeking to restore their first love. Describing the pasture in terms of a scented garden has in minds his words when they first made love together (4.12-5.2). But it is now also the place to gather lilies. He has returned in his heart to the place where they first courted, when she was but a lily of the valley (2.1-2), for he carries her in his heart. ‘Lilies’ are regularly connected with her homeland (1.1-2, 16; 4.5). And it is among the lilies that she knows that she will find him as he longs for their love of earlier days.
This vivid indication that her beloved is not to be found in Jerusalem, but is to be found among the natural beauties of her homeland, is quite startling in view of the importance that Jerusalem would later assume. It is an indication to Israel that the One Whom they are to love can be found just where they are, in the land which He has given to them as an inheritance. But as we have been shown this is not just in the north of the kingdom. It is wherever the beauty of His creation is revealed (e.g. 1.14). This would appear to indicate a time when the Temple had not yet been established, when Jerusalem was not so important, and before the kingdoms had become divided.
One thing that we can be sure of as His church is that when we have lost Him we know where we can find Him. He will be in the place where we first met Him when He was everything to us, and He will be found caring for His sheep. He will be fulfilling the task that He gave to us, in which we are failing (John 21.15-17; 1 Peter 5.2). And if we are like the church of Ephesus and discover that we have lost our first love (Revelation 2.4) we too must go back to those heady days when we first met Him as the shepherd Who watches over His sheep, that time when we asked no questions but gave ourselves wholly to Him and sought Him where He was. We need to strip off the trappings of the king’s palace and return to the pure love of early days. We must leave the scented gardens and make our way among the lilies. We need to join Him in watching over and tending His sheep, instead of preening ourselves upon our beds (5.2-3).
But notice the subtle change in her words. Her experience has deepened her love, and her commitment to her husband. While saying virtually the identical thing, she no longer commences with ‘my beloved is mine’ (2.16), but rather with ‘I am my beloved’s’. She has learned that He Himself is more important to her than the way in which He sees her, and that what matter most is that she belongs to Him, although, of course the fact that He is hers immediately follows. There is now a new and deeper dedication. ‘I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.’ It is a wonderful thing to be able to say ‘My Beloved is mine’ and to be able to delight in what He is to us, but when we can first say ‘I am my Beloved’s’ it is a sign of deepening maturity.
Note also that this time she does not let him go as she had done in 2.17. There is no equivalent here. This time she wants to remain with Him among the sheep and share His labors.
The Nightmare Is Over And She Is Again With Her Beloved (6.4-13).
In this brief song the Beloved now describes the beauties of the one he loves in such a way that the daughters of Jerusalem want her to return among them, for once again she is the beloved of Solomon (shulamith - ‘the one of Shelomoh’). But she gently rebuffs them. She knows that it was Jerusalem that had previously weakened her love for him, and now she wants to be with him in the place of their first love. She no longer wants the pleasures of the world.
Her BELOVED welcomes her.
6.4 “You are fair, O my love, as Tirzah, Comely as Jerusalem, Terrible as an army with banners. Turn away your eyes from me, For they have overcome me. Your hair is as a flock of goats, That lie along the side of Gilead. Your teeth are like a flock of ewes, Which are come up from the washing, Of which every one has twins, And none is bereaved among them. Your temples are like a piece of a pomegranate, Behind your veil. There are sixty queens, and eighty concubines, And virgins without number.”
Her beloved welcomes her in similar terms to those used in his speech on her wedding night (see 4.1a-4). It is a clear renewal of their relationship. But there are subtle and important differences. She has returned as the conqueror of his heart, beautiful as Tirzah (the ancient name for Samaria), comely as Jerusalem, (therefore more important to him than the greatest of his possessions), terrible as an army with banners (devastating in her effect on him), slaying him with her eyes (verses 4-5a). The ewes are no longer newly shorn, for her milk teeth have long since gone. But she still has her full set, each tooth having its twin. And now around her neck are not the thousand bucklers and the shields of the mighty men (golden ornaments - 4.4), but sixty queens and eighty concubines and virgins without number, probably indicating the womanly, and closer to the natural creation, necklaces of vine blossoms, crocuses and lilies. Now she has conquered him and he is hers, and she is more to him than any king’s harem. His pride is now not in what he has bestowed upon her, as he turns her into his armory, and covers her with gold (4.4), but on the allurement of all that she is, as she has turned herself into a royal lover’s nest, beautified by nature. There is little doubt in view of the parallel that we are to see in the sixty queens, and eighty concubines and numberless virgins three necklaces which are inviting his love, and probably therefore of the vine blossoms, crocuses and lilies (2.1) which become her more than the ornaments of gold and take him back to their early courtship days. (The parallel in 4.4 demonstrates that they represent ‘ornaments round her neck’). Note the increase in numbers as each necklace is larger than the previous one, and the indication of the profusion of flowers which decorate her neck.
This immense description of a restored loving relationship surely reminds us of a similar restoration in relationships, when a young man, destitute and in rags, approached with trepidation what was once his home, fearing what his welcome would be, only to see his old father dressed in all his finery running along the road on his way to welcome him (Luke 15.20) and granting him the best robe and fatted calf. Here too we have a royal welcome being given to one who was undeserving who was returning ‘home’. The repentant has returned.
There is in this clear repetition of the wedding speech (4.1-4) the indication that when we, like the young wife, do return to our Lord after a period of self-indulgence and neglect of our duties, He will not only receive us back, but will do so with a love that is even increased on what it was before, an ever increasing love, and with joy in heaven over one sinner who repents. For Christians are often sinners who need to repent too (1 John 1.8-10). And they can be sure when they do so of a double welcome, restoring them, and more than restoring them, as they delight again in His presence.
We may also see in the replacement of the golden ornaments with a necklace that reflects the beauty of God’s provision in nature, a reminder that we are not to seek earthly things but the things which are of God (Matthew 6.28), which are so much more valuable.
The BELOVED continues with his welcome.
6.9-10 “My dove, my undefiled, is but one, She is the only one of her mother, She is the choice one of her who bore her. The daughters saw her, and called her blessed, Yes, the queens and the concubines, and they praised her. Who is she whose glance is as the appearance of the morning, Fair as the moon, Clear as the sun, Terrible as an army with banners?”
‘My dove, my undefiled.’ Note his return to the language he had used just prior to his rejection (5.2). He is indicating that she is fully restored as though she had never turned him away. And now he stresses her uniqueness. She is her mother’s pet daughter, the choice one of her who bore her. And all who see her exult in her. The young women of her homeland see her and call her blessed. Yes, even the queens and concubines of subject kings round about, as symbolized by the crocuses and lilies, praise her (see our interpretation of verse 8). All praise her because of her outstanding beauty and loveliness, a reminder of the position to which she has been restored. For her glance is as the appearing of morning, as fair as the waning moon, as clear as the rising sun. She has the splendor of an army with banners at its approach.
And to our Lord Jesus Christ all true believers are in His eyes just as glorious. Once they are restored to Him they once more enjoy their uniqueness and become the praise of all who know them. No longer in the darkness and humiliation of backsliding (5.7), they come forth as the appearance of the morning, fair and clear like moon and sun. Enjoying again having the majesty of an army with banners.
The YOUNG WIFE describes her restored status.
6.11-12 “ I went down into the garden of nuts, To see the green plants of the valley, To see whether the vine budded, And the pomegranates were in flower. Before I was aware, my soul set me, Among the chariots of my willing people. Return, return, O beloved of Solomon, Return, return, that we may look upon you. Why will you look upon the beloved of Solomon, As upon the dance of Mahanaim?”
Restored to her homeland, reunited with her royal and beloved husband in their former surroundings, the young wife renews her acquaintance with their favorite haunts, certain that she would discover that nature was flowering in the same way as she was. She no longer wanted the delights of Jerusalem, but the loveliness of God’s creation. And then it was as though she found herself among the chariots of her willing people, and hears their call, ‘Return, O beloved of Solomon, return. Return that we may look upon you.’ (Solomon is shelomoh, so shulamith could indicate the wife and beloved of Solomon). Now that her status is seen to have been restored by her beloved, they no longer despise her (5.9) but want her in their midst so that they too might look upon her.
Her reply is swift and to the point. Why do they want to look on the beloved of Solomon (whom they had so recently despised)? Is it because they see her simply as royal entertainment, as though she were a well known, popular dance?
Alternately there may be in mind a dance which celebrated the return of Jacob and his family to their native land when he was welcomed by the twin hosts (mahanaim) of angels (Genesis 32.1-2). In this case she is saying, do you want to welcome me like the twin hosts of angels welcomed Jacob?
What a beautiful picture we have here of the restored soul as it wanders out into the green pastures to which it has returned, where the Shepherd watches over His flock (Psalm 23.2). No more the enticements of Jerusalem with their stultifying effects, but the joy of once more experiencing renewal and life. And it is once they are restored that Christians will hear again the desire of the hangers on to have them once more among them, not for their own sake’s, but because they are the beloved of the King.
The Restored Couple Rejoice In Each Other (7.1-8.4).
The restoration of the royal couple is now complete. Their harmony is fully restored, and they can once again enjoy their pure untrammeled love, back in the land of their original courtship.
Once she returns from her walk the BELOVED continues to rejoice in his beautiful young wife.
7.1 “How beautiful are your feet in sandals, O prince’s daughter! Your rounded thighs are like jewels, The work of the hands of a skillful workman. Your navel is like a round goblet, In which no mingled wine is wanting, Your waist is like a sheaf of wheat, Set about with lilies. Your two breasts are like two fawns, Which are twins of a roe-deer, Your neck is like the tower of ivory, Your eyes as the pools in Heshbon, By the gate of Bath-rabbim, Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon, Which looks toward Damascus. Your head upon you is like Carmel, And the hair of your head like purple, The king is held captive in its tresses.”
Now her beloved admires her perfect form. Her sandals reveal the shapeliness of her feet, as of a prince’s daughter. (She is depicted as a shepherdess in 1.8; and as living in a house in 2.9, but neither of these descriptions need indicate that she is not a minor tribal princess, compare Genesis 29.6; Exodus 2.16). Her rounded thighs, beautifully shaped, awaken his desires. Her navel is like an overflowing goblet offering to satisfy his thirst. Her waist reminds him of a sheaf of wheat, tied in the middle, and surrounded by beautiful lilies. Her breasts are like two twin fawns born from a roe deer, a symbol of fertility (compare 4.5). Her neck is like an ivory tower (in contrast with the tower of David in 4.4). The pools of Heshbon which describe her eyes were presumably famous for their purity and luminosity. The tower of Lebanon, no doubt thought of as viewed from a distance, was presumably specially shaped. The picture of Carmel is as having its summit covered in violet flowers, indicating that she has decorated her hair with flowers. And as a result those decorated tresses hold him gripped within their coils.
Israel no doubt delighted in this picture of God’s delight in her as they sang this song at their feasts. Her Maker was her husband (Isaiah 54.5). And we have here a further picture of the way in which Christ sees His beloved people as the perfection of beauty, and the delight of His eyes. The detailed descriptions are important in that they reveal that He takes note of every aspect of our lives. They also reveal that He is familiar with every ‘member’ of His church. Not one of us is overlooked. Compare for this 1 Corinthians 12.12-27 where the importance of each member of His church is brought out. Are you the feet? Then to Him you are beautiful. Are you the thighs? Then you are a delight to His heart. Are you the navel? Then He desires to drink from you. Are you the waist? Then He is enraptured with your loveliness. Are you the breast? Then He finds you fully satisfying. Are you the neck? Then He see you as like an ivory tower, offering refuge and purity to all. Are you the eyes? Then He finds joy in looking into your limpid depths. Are you the nose? Then He acknowledges you as His people’s watchman. Are you the head? Then He sees you as covered in the flowering of His righteousness.
The BELOVED continues.
7.6-9 “How fair and how pleasant are you, O love, for delights! This your stature is like to a palm-tree, And your breasts to its clusters. I said, I will climb up into the palm-tree, I will take hold of its branches, Let your breasts be as clusters of the vine, And the smell of your breath like apples, And your mouth like the best wine --.”
He now describes her statuesque beauty and compares her with a palm tree, with her breasts like coconuts, so that he can shin up the tree and sample her delights by grabbing hold of its branches; or like clusters of grapes on the vine. And he ends his idyllic picture with a description of the sweetness of her breasts, and the fact that her mouth is like the best wine. It is at this point that his wife then takes over the theme.
While we might find these long descriptions somewhat overextended, the people of Israel at their feasts no doubt delighted in these theoretical description of themselves in the Lord’s eyes, as it described His delight in them. (We say theoretical because it strictly only applied to the righteous among them). The same descriptions, of course apply to us. We too can delight in the descriptions, but we must remember that we are only beautiful in His eyes if we are truly His, and it is being revealed in our lives. It is only then that He can climb up and partake of our fruits.
His YOUNG WIFE takes up her husband’s rhythm and replies (note the use of ‘my beloved’ which indicates the change).
7.9 “ --- Which goes down smoothly for my beloved, And makes the lips of the sleepers to speak. I am my beloved’s, And his desire is towards me.”
Taking up her beloved’s theme his wife assures him that her lips will indeed provide the best wine for him, a wine which will go down his throat smoothly, causing his sleeping lips to say, ‘My love you are mine’. That is why, instinctively recognizing this, she is able to add, “I am my beloved’s and his desires is towards me.’ Note that she is longer thinking in terms of ‘my beloved is mine’ (2.16; 6.3). She is wholly taken up with him, and the fact that his desire is for her. Happy are we when our whole delight is in Christ and His love for us, and when it is God Who is in all our thoughts.
The YOUNG WIFE continues her words to her beloved husband.
7.11-13 “Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field, Let us lodge in the villages. Let us get up early to the vineyards, Let us see whether the vine has budded, And its blossom is open, And the pomegranates are in flower. There will I give you my love. The mandrakes give forth fragrance, And at our doors are all manner of precious fruits, new and old, Which I have laid up for you, O my beloved.”
The Beloved’s wife now calls on him in their reunited love to go forth with her into the countryside and the villages, and into the vineyards to see whether the vines have budded and the pomegranates are in flower. It is there that she will give him her love, in the place where the mandrakes (famous as an aphrodisiac - see Genesis 30.14-16) give forth their fragrance. The provision of ‘all manner of precious fruits’ at ‘our doors’, which she has laid up for him, may indicate the promise of the pleasures of love. The plural ‘our doors’ probably indicates the recognition of her as their princess by her countrymen and countrywomen. They gladly leave their gifts, possibly even tribute to their tribal chieftain, for her to share with her husband. But it may indicate a personal offering of herself to her beloved husband.
We can see how these verses might well have been used by the country folk in worship at their local feasts as they offered their love unrestrainedly to God. And it is a reminder to us that wherever we are we also should be desirous of going aside with our Beloved and offering up ourselves and our worship to Him, because we love Him so.
The YOUNG WIFE continues, but now there is a desire to enter more deeply into what her beloved can offer her, for she is aware of his great wisdom. She still wants to kiss him and bring him to her mother’s house, but now she also wants to be instructed by him as she lies in his arms.
8.1-3 “Oh that you were as my brother, Who sucked the breasts of my mother! Then should I find you outside I would kiss you, Yes, and none would despise me. I would lead you, and bring you into my mother’s house, You would instruct me, I would cause you to drink of spiced wine, Of the juice of my pomegranate. His left hand would be under my head, And his right hand would embrace me.”
Her love for Solomon is so great that she cannot stand the limitations put on her as a wife. If only he was her blood brother, she says, then she could boldly kiss him outdoors in front of people without anyone despising her, and he would take her into her mother’s house and teach her his wisdom, and no one would think it strange. And she could give him pomegranate wine, and he could embrace her publicly.
These were things that she could do as his sister without anyone frowning, but no one would expect him to do that publicly with his wife (although he had done it to her at the beginning (2.6) in his courting). Behavior towards a wife was more restricted in public. If only he was her brother it would give her so much more freedom to enjoy him to the full.
There is a reminder here that God had so much more for Israel than her just being His wife. He wanted Israel also to be strong and firm and to learn from Him, to be instructed in His Law, and to be priests and instructors to the world (Exodus 19.5-6). She was called not only to love Him but to serve. This hint that Israel has to be taught by her Lord may be preparing for the introduction of the new Temple with its new significance.
We should also see as emphasized here that we must not see our Lord, Jesus Christ, only as the One we love, as a wife loves her husband, but also as our brother and teacher Whom we are proud to acknowledge openly, and learn from continually. He is far more than just our Bridegroom. He is our Elder Brother.
This was recognized in the Jewish Aramaic paraphrase in the Targum which refers it to the Messiah and amplifies it to “I would conduct you, O King Messiah, and bring you into the house of my sanctuary, and you would teach me to fear God and to walk in His ways.” So while the idea of reciprocated love continues it is now embellished with the idea of learning of Him, and being instructed by Him, so that we might walk in His ways.
We may also call to mind here that in Hebrews 2.11-18 Jesus is depicted as our Elder Brother Who is the trek leader of our salvation, made perfect through suffering, and Who, as the One Who was set apart by God through His death and resurrection, has also Himself set us apart to God in order that we too might have a part in the same. Because He became a man like ourselves He is not ashamed to call us brothers. And it then goes on to add that He became our brother, so that, by partaking of human nature like ours, He might by dying destroy the power of the Devil and deliver us from the fear of death, becoming at the same time our faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God. While this is to go beyond the song where the emphasis is on His being our teacher in wisdom and knowledge, it is central to what His wisdom and knowledge is all about. ‘In Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ (Colossians 2.3).
8.4 “I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, That you stir not up, nor awake my love, Until he please.”
Once more the bride adjures the daughters of Jerusalem not to stir up her love until it please her beloved (compare 2.7; 3.5). But the roe-deer and the hinds are not mentioned now, possibly a reminder of the more serious nature of what they would from now on be doing. She does not want her instruction to be interrupted.
The Return To Jerusalem.
The couple return to Jerusalem in total harmony, and in view of her powerful love for him she asks him to set her as a seal on his heart and hand. Once this has been settled the uniqueness and divine nature of love is then emphasized followed by an example of how she is taught by his wisdom. An illustration is given of how such love can be preserved in its pristine purity, using her younger sister as an example, at which point she is able to confirm to him that her love at least is full and true.
This is followed by a vivid illustration of the efforts that the young wife will now make to ensure that she keeps herself ‘perfect’ for her beloved. In 1.6b she had failed to ‘keep’ her personal vineyard and had allowed her complexion to be spoiled by the sun. Now she assures her beloved that she will make every effort to ensure that her beauty is fully maintained for his benefit.
The song then finishes with her calling on her beloved, as she had at the beginning (1.2-4), and telling him that ‘the companions’ (the young male courtiers and shepherds - 1.7) are listening for his voice, (contrast ‘the virgins love you -- we will run after you’ - 1.3b-4a) but that she expects him to call her in such a way that she hears him (compare ‘draw me’ - 1.4a). His reward will be that he will be able to behave like a roe deer or young hart (which are eager for mating) on the mountain of spices (their royal bed - compare 4.6).
The Happy Couple Return To Jerusalem In Full Harmony.
8.5 “Who is this who comes up from the wilderness, Leaning on her beloved?”
The Beloved speaks to his bride.
“Under the apple-tree I aroused you, There your mother was in birth pains with you, There she was in birth pains who brought you forth.”
By comparison with 3.6 which similarly opens with the words ‘Who is this who comes up from the wilderness?’, verse 5 would seem to indicate a return to Jerusalem. But now she comes, not as his new bride, but as one who has been taught. Nevertheless she still leans on her beloved. For however much instruction she has received, her dependence is still totally on Him.
And as they return her beloved reminds her that he had ‘aroused her’ under the apple tree. It was from that that she was to gain her strength. It was under that apple tree that her mother had first begun to experience the birth pains that would result in her being born. The idea is that being under the apple tree had a special significance and there is therefore a sense in which by his act of love he has brought her to a new birth (compare Isaiah 55.10-11).
In 2.3 we were told that the apple tree was in fact her beloved under whose shadow she took great delight, and whose fruit was sweet to her taste. Thus the apple tree is the source of all her blessings from her beloved. It is from him that she receives all.
We too as we return to face the world after being alone with Him must recognize that we must constantly lean upon His arm, and must look to the strength and life gained from Him while we were ‘under the apple tree’, the place of new birth and renewal, to enable us in what lies ahead. We too are His beloved wife and can be sure of His care and provision for us.
His New Wife Asks Him To Mark Her As A Seal On His Heart And Arm.
The new WIFE now calls on her beloved to mark her as a seal on his heart and on his arm. She wants him to have a permanent reminder that she is his. For the seal is a stamp of ownership, and she wants the stamp of his ownership of her to be in his heart, and in everything that he does. She wants nothing ever to come between them again. We are then told why she wants to be sealed on his heart and arm. It is because of the strength and power of love, which is the very flame of God (Yah) Himself. Thus it must be preserved at all costs.
This reference to God, the only such reference in the song, may well be seen as drawing attention to the whole significance of the song. In the end the love that has been described throughout the song is to be seen as revealing the very flame that is in the heart of God as He too looks with love and jealousy on His people (Exodus 20.5; 34.14) a love that cannot be destroyed or bought. In this way the writer himself parallels the love of God with this love between bridegroom and bride.
8.6-7 “Set me as a seal on your heart, As a seal on your arm, For love is strong as death, Jealousy is cruel as Sheol, Its flashes are flashes of fire, A very flame of Yah. Many waters cannot quench love, Nor can floods drown it If a man would give all the substance of his house for love, He would utterly be condemned.”
Solomon’s new wife now calls on him to set her as a seal on his heart and arm in order to demonstrate that both his love and his strength belong to her, and she cites as her reason the extraordinary, unquenchable and intense power of love and its counterpart jealousy. Her love is so great that she cannot bear the thought of being separated from him again.
Her first reasoning is that she demands it because her love is as strong as death. Once death has its claws into a victim he has no hope. Nothing can rescue him from the grip of death. In the same way she sees her love as being equally as strong, so strong that even Solomon is to be bound by it. Her second reasoning is that she demands it because jealousy is as cruel as the grave (Sheol). To the victim who is gripped by it, it is like Sheol, heartless and unyielding. It never lets anyone go. And she knows that she does not want to be consumed by a jealousy like that. Thus to ensure this she wants a firm seal on his heart guaranteeing that he is hers.
For love is such that it strikes like lightning, like the very flame of God, as it has done with her. It is so powerful that many waters cannot quench it. Floods cannot drown it. And for a man to think that he could buy it, even though he gave all that he possessed for it, would simply bring him under condemnation. For true love is so important and of such a nature that it cannot be bought even for the sum total of a man’s wealth. Thus it is important that it be preserved at all costs.
The introduction of the name of God here might well be seen as emphasizing the divine significance of the song. It is about love which comes from Yah (God’s covenant Name), which strikes like lightning and is irresistible, unquenchable and not available to be bought, and about His jealousy over His own which threatens judgment on all who turn from His love (Exodus 20.5; 34.14). So in the end this song is not only about love that comes from God, but about the covenant love of Yah Himself. (As in Isaiah 5.1-7 the punch line comes at the end).
The setting of the seal on the heart and on the arm possibly has in mind the way in which the names of the tribes of Israel were set in the breastpouch and on the shoulder of the High Priest (Exodus 28.7-10, 29-30) thus likening Solomon’s wife to Israel in its relationship to God. It can also be compared with Isaiah 49.16 where God tells Zion that He has engraved her upon the palm of His hand, as a token that she was not forsaken or forgotten.
In the New Testament the idea is reversed because there is no doubt about the constancy of the love of Christ and of God (1 Corinthians 1.8-9). No seal has to be set on that. It is God therefore Who sets His seal on those who are His by giving them the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1.13; 4.30; 2 Corinthians 1.22; 1 John 2.20, 27). But the result of the seal is equally as secure. Once we have received the Holy Spirit we are His for ever. This is a reminder that those who would be part of the bride of Christ must ensure that they are possessed by His Holy Spirit (Romans 8.9).
An Example Of How A True And Chaste Love Can Be Preserved.
The importance of preserving such true love as has been described in verses 6-7 is now illustrated in terms of someone who has not yet known such love, his wife’s little sister. The question is put as to how her true love can be preserved for the one who will have the right to it, her prospective husband. The reply is basically that it is the responsibility of the family to protect her by any means. The importance of this illustration lies in the fact that it enables Solomon’s new wife to stress her total purity and reliability.
There may also be an indication in this incident that God’s love reaches out beyond Israel. The little half-sister possibly represents the subject nations whom Solomon is seeking to bring into subjection to the God of Israel. With their propensities they will have to be kept on a tighter rein than Israel.
Some see a parallel between these verses and 1.6. In 1.6 the brothers had sent the young maiden to work in their vine gardens, regardless of her purity, which had resulted in the marring of her complexion. Here the very opposite situation arises. The younger sister is to be kept under lock and key in order to preserve her purity, probably as a result of the exaltation of her elder sister. Everything is changed as a result of her having met her exalted beloved.
Solomon’s new WIFE speaking on behalf of her family and looking to Solomon’s wisdom (verse 2).
8.8-10 “We have a little sister, And she has no breasts, What shall we do for our sister, In the day when she shall be spoken for?”
Her BELOVED gives his judgment as a new member of the family.
“If she be a wall, We will build on her a turret of silver, And if she be a door, We will enclose her with boards of cedar. I am a wall, and my breasts like its towers, Then was I in his eyes as one who found peace.”
These verses have to be carefully divided up in order to determine who is speaking. In our view it varies between the young wife and her beloved, as she comes to his wisdom to learn from him in accordance with verse 2. (Others see the ‘we’ as indicating the brothers, although they are nowhere mentioned in the context. However, regardless of whom we see as the speakers the basic message is the same).
Initially the young wife asks her wise beloved for advice on behalf of her family, “We have a little sister, and she has no breasts. What shall we do for our sister, in the day when she shall be spoken for?” Speaking as a new member of the family, and as one with them, her beloved replies on their behalf, “If she be a wall, we will build on her a turret of silver, and if she be a door, we will enclose her with boards of cedar.” His young wife then replies, “I am a wall, and my breasts like its towers.” Then we have her final comment resulting from this which contains a play on words, “Then was I in his eyes (the eyes of Shelomoh) as one who found peace (shalom).”
The questions are asked and the words are spoken in order to emphasize the importance of love, and to bring out how the new wife’s exalted position has altered everything. Here is an example of one who has not yet loved, for her breasts have not yet been formed. She is too young for love. In contrast with her sister (1.6), how can she be protected so as to ensure that her love is kept true for the one who will be her husband once she has been spoken for?
The decision is given. If she is assessed as being like a wall, strong and sturdy, and resistant to the appeal of impurity, then they can build on her a tower of silver (a symbol of strength and purity). She is totally trustworthy. But if she is assessed from her behavior as being like a door that opens itself to all who call, then she must be protected from herself and ‘enclosed in boards of cedar’ (kept under lock and key), ensuring that no one can take advantage of her. (She thus cannot be trusted under the cedars as the elder sister was in 1.17). This would fit in well with the idea that she represents ‘the subject nations’.
As a result the new wife then assures her beloved that in her case her love has been true, for she is a wall with her breasts fully fortified against attack. She then sees that as having finally settled any doubt that might have been in his heart. In the eyes of Shelomoh she had found ‘shalom’ (peace, wellbeing, spiritual prosperity). He is fully satisfied and should know that he can trust her utterly.
The general lesson that comes from this story is that for true love to be preserved the necessary remedial action must be taken. Temptation must be dealt with in whatever way is appropriate in order that purity may be preserved. This applies not only to the young girl, but also to all Israel, and to His church. All have to ensure that their love is protected and maintained. But we also have to consider whether Solomon had in mind the surrounding subject nations in their response to Israel’s God. Sexual impropriety was a mark of the nations, but the exaltation of Israel is to lead on to blessing for the nations (Genesis 12.3).
However, the final stress resulting from this is that the young wife of the beloved can assure him that in her case her purity has been preserved totally for him. It is made clear that her life has been pure from the start, confirming that he can safely set her as a seal on his heart.
In the same way was Israel supposed to maintain its purity for God, although the prophet’s made quite clear that she had failed. She had not used the boards of cedar. Christ’s church are similarly to preserve their purity for Him by also taking suitable precautions against sin. Then they will be to Him as those who have found peace and well being in His eyes.
The Young Wife Will Keep The Fruits Of Her Vineyard Wholly For Her Beloved.
The song of songs now approaches its close with a vivid illustration of the efforts that the young wife will now make to ensure that she is ‘perfect’ for her beloved. In 1.6b she had failed to ‘keep’ her personal vineyard and had allowed her complexion to be spoiled by the sun. Now she assures her beloved that she will make every effort to ensure that her beauty is fully maintained for his benefit.
Solomon’s new WIFE speaks.
8.11-12 “Solomon had a vineyard at Baal-hamon, He let out the vineyard to keepers, Every one for its fruit, Was to bring a thousand pieces of silver. My vineyard, which is mine, is before me, You, O Solomon, shall have the thousand, And those who keep its fruit two hundred.”
The young wife now tells us that Solomon let out his vineyard at Baal Hamon with the expectancy of receiving its benefits from the keepers. Each of them would bring a thousand pieces of silver for its fruit. Meanwhile she is keeping her own vineyard, which in terms of 1.6b is herself, and she assures her beloved that in her case she will preserve all its benefits for him alone, apart from what she has to pay to those who ‘keep its fruit’ (her hairdressers, beauticians, perfumiers, and so on). She is doing all that she can to be pleasing to him.
In the same way was Israel to preserve herself for her God, but sadly she failed to do so, even when it was made clear to her how she could cleanse herself and make herself ready (Isaiah 1.15-18). Instead she went after false lovers (see Ezekiel 16).
And the same call now goes out to Christ’s church from their Master, to maintain their vineyard. ‘Be holy, for I am holy’ (1 Peter 1.16) ‘This is the will of God, even your sanctification’ (1 Thessalonians 4.3-4). The question is therefore as to whether, because of our love for our Beloved, we too are prepared to ensure that we preserve our spiritual beauty so as to be pleasing to Him, by learning from ‘the keepers of the fruit’ (godly teachers), by the study of His word, by close personal communion with Him, and by opening our live and hearts wide to Him so that He might live through us.
The Song Ends As It Began With The Young Woman, Now His Wife, Offering Herself To Him To Be His Completely.
The song now finishes with the young woman, who is now his beloved wife, calling on her beloved, (as she had at the beginning - 1.2-4), and telling him that ‘the companions’ (the young shepherds - 1.7) are listening for his voice, (compare ‘the virgins love you -- we will run after you’ in 1.3b-4a) but that she expects him to call her in such a way that she alone hears him (compare ‘draw me’ - 1.4a). His reward will be that he will be able to behave like a roe-deer or young hart (which are eager for love - 2.8-9; compare Proverbs 5.19) on the mountains of spices (their royal bed with its cushions - compare 4.6, 16).
8.13-14 “You who dwell in the gardens, The companions listen for your voice, Cause me to hear it. Make haste, my beloved, And be you like a roe deer or a young hart, On the mountains of spices.”
As a result of what we have already seen we can here solve the clues that enable us to interpret these words. ‘The gardens’ represent the sphere of the king’s activities (compare 6.2), the ‘companions’ are the young shepherds/courtiers who attend him (1.7). Their ‘listening to his voice’ parallels the situation in 1.3b-4a where the young women were responsive to his charms. These companions are always alert for the king’s call. The young wife’s words ‘cause me to hear it’ parallel her call in 1.4a, ‘draw me’. She is still concerned that he demonstrate that to him she is unique, and that he wants her above all else, because she is his woman. And she tells him to hurry, because she does not want to have to wait. For she wants him to reveal his prowess, like a young roe-deer or hart eager for love (compare Proverbs 5.19), ‘on the mountains of spices’. Compare how in 4.16 the spices represent her sexual attractions, while in 4.6 ‘the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense’ may well indicate his bed. Thus one significance of the mountains of spices here is probably the royal bed with its perfumed cushions.
So while the young Solomon before his marriage (in 1.1-4) was surrounded by, and taken up with young women (the daughters of Jerusalem), now that he is married and satisfied, he is taken up with his male courtiers and shepherds. For now his true ‘love’ is the only love in his life. And she does not want it to be long before they are once again enjoying each other to the full.
However, as we have seen throughout, the song has dual application, and in the second application, the application to Israel, ‘the mountains of spices’ can be seen as indicating the mountains on which Jerusalem was built, and especially as indicating the Temple Mount on which incense was offered, with the idea that God is awaiting all Israel on the Temple Mount in order to reveal His love if only they will respond to Him truly.
Its final application is, however, for us who are His people today. Our cry to Him must be that He will summon us (cause us to hear) so that we may be able to come alone with Him and spend time in His presence with Him in the new Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 12.22-23), and enjoy our glorious position as those who are seated with Christ in heavenly places (Ephesians 2.6), in the heavenly mountains of spices, prior to that final call when we will share for ever with our Beloved in His glory (Colossians 3.4; Revelation 21.23; 22.5).
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