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THE SINGING FROM GOD
in the Song of Solomon
for the Life of the Soul
The Open Door of Life
for the Redeemed
I. First: What is it, this Song ?
1) ITS DOMAIN
The Song of Solomon may at first sight seem an erotic love song, in which self-gratification vies with self-love, romance with relish, wealth with wonder, absorption of one personality in another with vulnerability through the slackness of flesh, tenderness with patience. Indeed, it might seem an amazing chronicle of a vital series of vicissitudes of love.
However, while this is doubtless in some measure true, it has some features which at once mark it out for a treatment rather like that of 'mystery Babylon', except in the tender side of things. It is deeper than appears.
Thus the term 'God' is NEVER used in it, though it is securely placed in the Biblical canon. Did the Jews suddenly decide to mix the langour of the libido with Moses, or the intimacies of the bed with their presentation from the Lord ? Or is their book of religious instruction so open to all comers that a little erotic work is included for the fun of it, as if there were no other books available for such a production ? Or was it this: that Solomon was so great a king that even his love affairs could be given a secure place in a Scripture so honoured, so venerated that the very name of God had to be put in another form, lest it be 'vainly' pronounced ?
To ask is to answer.
In fact, we are expressly told by Paul that ALL scripture is profitable for doctrine, reproof, for instruction in righteousness, and is given by the outbreathing or inspiration of God. A fine instruction in righteousness would it be for all the exciting, dramatic and life-embroiling events of the Song of Solomon, dangers, separations, heart searchings and seekings to be wrought with
Accordingly, we find in Paul, in Ephesians 5, the considerable development of the concept of CHRIST AND THE CHURCH as expressible as MARRIAGE involvements, devoted domestic felicities (5:22-32). THIS, says Paul, is a GREAT MYSTERY, but I speak concerning Christ and the Church. Now of what, as to actual form and format has he been speaking ? Of man and woman, of marriage and concern for one another, of the delights of domestic delicacies.
What WORDS does he use on one occasion in this chapter which touches both sexuality and faithfulness, dedication and delicacy ? These: "Walk in love as Christ has also loved us, and has given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour" - 5:2. HOW does he later develop such a concept as the savour occasions ? In this way: "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by he word; that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies" - 5:22-28.
Is there verbal as well as conceptual parallel to this in the Song ? Of course. Has not Paul virtually SPELT out the relationship of romance and marriage to Christ and the Church ? Has he not further called it a great mystery, and does not the Bible repeatedly speak in terms of adultery as a symbolic signification of unfaithfulness as the religious level per se: so why be astonished if it should speak of FAITHFULNESS and DEVOTION, in a positive and refreshing style, in terms of NON-IMPURE and in fact delightfully intimate features. The REFORMING ZEAL of Hosea is actually transmitted to the case of a harlot EXPRESSLY married for the purpose of parable, since the emotions so closely relate, the zeal of God and the delight of a husband in his wife.
In that case, the wife was to be brought back to a time of felicity and acceptance, after many vicissitudes, like Israel. The end of Hosea, ch.14, shows the purity and wonder of a godly relationship in terms of an outpouring of tenderness in the midst of purity.
Here then in the Song of Solomon, we find these words: "You are all fair, my love. There is no spot on you" - 4:7.
Indeed, the parallels are constant and consistent. Thus we read, "A fountain of gardens, a well of living waters, and streams from Lebanon. Awake, O north wind, and come, though south; blow upon my garden, that is spices may flow out....Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat His pleasant fruits" - 4:15-16. Isaiah 12 deals with the well of salvation, as does John 4, with the Samaritan woman at the well. Similarly, Isaiah 32:15-17 has this parallel in the Biblical imagery: " Until the Spirit be poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness be a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be counted as a forest. Then justice shall dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness remain in the fruitful field. And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever... Blessed are you who sow beside all waters..."
Again in Isaiah 44:3-8, we have t his: "For I will pour water upon him who is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your seed, and my blessing upon your offspring; and they shall spring up as among the grass, like willows by the water courses.
"One shall say, I am the Lord's; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall write on his hand, Unto the Lord; and surname himself by the name of Israel.
"Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: I am the first, and I am the last, and beside me there is no God. And who as I shall call, and shall declare it, and set it in order for me, since I appointed the ancient people. And the things that are coming, and shall come, let them show to themselves. Fear not ,neither be afraid: have not I told you from that time, and declared it? You are my witnesses. Is there a God beside Me ? Yes, there is no God; I know not any."
There is the combination, the correlation, the co-ordination of the spiritual, the horticultural and the beautiful in pleasant places. In these passages, fruitfulness in a botanical sense and in a spiritual sense are wedded, salvation, justification and devotion, dedication are all wedded; water and divine acceptance and presence are shown in sympathy. Again, the 'no spot' is the very phrase used of Paul, and there is almost certainly a direct use of the Song in this marital parallel to religious dedication to God. The cleansing with water, the "holy and without blemish" the "nor wrinkle" of Ephesians 5 are a precise participation in the notions and procedures of the Song. The "all fair" is just such an expression in that Song.
3. PAUL'S MINI- ALLEGORY
In short, Paul is himself involved in an extended metaphor, a mini-allegory, and small wonder in view of such other (and negative) examples as Ezekiel 16 and 23 have to offer! The POSITIVE side of things is here given the expression it had in the Song of Solomon,and the parallel is traced with such fidelity that it constitutes an expression in sympathy with the Song, using it unabashedly in its connotations and phrases.
In view of the simple fact that it is quite IMPOSSIBLE that the Song is teaching us to ignore the divine One when very happy, to be so engaged in romance, when it comes, in felicity of inter-relationship, even when potential tragedy or alienation threaten, that the very thought of our Maker becomes an intrusion, a profane insertion, or a superfluous alien. Nor is it possible that the Song would teach devotion in holiness before God in marriage with such total and amazing omissions.
Hence, in view of II Timothy 3:16, it is the case that the Song does not just happen to have these vast concourses of imagery with those of salvation, sanctification, justification and dedication in the Bible, but has them as a confirmatory key, so that the disciple of the Lord may KNOW that his/her Bible is not so negative as to make these woman-references, these marital features extraordinary in terms of unfaithfulness and fornication and adultery its whole absorption in this field of imagery-use. The opposite, the gentle, the loving, the tender, the intimate concourses of personality in which one is trying to bring forth perfection in the other, to adorn the beauty and to develop the strength and grace in the other: this indeed has cardinal reference in the Bible also - IN THESE VERY SAME IMAGERIES.
The beautiful, the tender, the WELL-related show also their beautiful tresses, their purity and their joyfulness in the Bible. Marriage - as Paul says, a great mystery, but I speak of CHRIST - has its positive contribution to make to our understanding of the relationship of tender, true, faithful absorption in the Lord.
Once the obvious is acknowledged, and we realise that this was not a Jewish eccentricity that brought this book to its place, and its imagery to our attention, stirred the more by Paul's sensitivity to it: then, then we find a host of additional features in this Song, so that it becomes a veritable spring of features to inspire and its allegory sings in the heart, rejoices the mind. It concurs and resounds with other spiritual scriptures, like echoes in the large cave. It is one cave; it is one book; it is ONE LORD. Perhaps it is in part a foul legacy from the age of liberalism in theology, that some seem to find it hard to realise that the Creator of the universe can be subtle, and that it is for the Lord to hide things, but for kings to search them out, as the wisdom of the Lord declares.
SECOND: WHERE ARE
ITS BEAUTIES HIDDEN ?
Some examples - delightful in themselves, and most profitable for instruction in righteousness, may now be added to those already noted.
Song Ch.1:2 is in total parallel with the action of Mary noted in John 12:3. The testimony to the fragrance of Jesus is no mere sentiment. It abounded in the Virgin Birth fulfilment at Bethlehem, with the wise men from the East. It was prominent and much focussed in the burial. As in saving dealings with the Almighty, the inter-personal is touched with the actualities of spiritual conflict because the One whom we love has the love with which to have made Himself vulnerable to man, in the interests of redemption for man, though relatively few access it. THIS is for My burial! Jesus indicated, as recorded in John 12, of the gift of precious ointment poured onto Him. The precious ointment was significant of loveliness, and God testifies His love toward us, as Paul says in Romans 5, in this, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us!
Again, the constant theme of myrrh and savour in the Song is not only reminiscent of the sweet savour offerings, so conspicuous in the Levitical ceremonies, but of what Paul says in II Corinthians 2:15:
Song 1:7-8 is almost like an allegorical parallel to John 1:38-39, when the disciples asked Him, Where do you live ? and He said: "Come and see!" The classical desire of the soul for the Lord, like that of the hart for the living brooks, is seen here, and the relationship of Biblical symbol to Song feature is consistent as well as constant. At times, it almost seems like a paper trail; but such is the beauty of the word and the excellence of the allegory, that it yet has a hidden feature, for all its manifestness. Perhaps it is protect... against swine, a certain approach of the Almighty, as Christ indicated in His advice to His disciples!
Song 2:14 is most evocative. It is as if a Christian has become rather wooden, rather formal, and is not spending enough time in personal devotions, receiving with full savour the grace of the Lord. We read:
"O my dove, who is in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see your countenance, let me hear your voice, for sweet is your voice, and your countenance is comely."
We are reminded of the spiritual category in this:
"One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in His temple" - Psalm 27:4.
There you have it! What ? This: The beauty, the inter-personal relationship, the closeness of communication, the intertwining of associations that makes for a close and intimate love, a friendship that surpasses, in the midst of a wonder that excels, a purity that knows no parallel and a profundity which is of God alone! You have the same depth in John 14:21-23, where Christ indicates of the OBEDIENT AND ABIDING saint, that He will manifest Himself to that one, and that He and His Father will come and dwell in him. Revelation 3:20-21 is the restoration to this position, where the saint has erred into tepidity, and the Lord is rousing that one up to an abiding life!
To revert to the Song here: it is a desire of the Lord for the person to look out and up, to seek the Lord and to communicate more closely in all the affairs and ways of life; to have deep fellowship. Let me hear your voice! Such tender kindness, the LOVINGKINDNESS of the Lord is here! Such are the attitudes the saints should seek to have more and more to one another (cf. I Peter 3:8-14), in spirit: a thoughtfulness that is tempered with grace and exists in the beauty of holiness, while one is abiding in the presence of the Lord.
Then there are the blessings of inter-personal intimacies and friendship which give lustre to the life of faith, depth to its expression and savour to its strength.
"Let us take the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines; for our vines have tender grapes" - 2:15. Here is the reference to the sin which so easily besets us (Hebrews 12:1-2). "Let us cast aside every weight, and the sin which does so easily bet us, and let us run with patience the race that tis set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy hat was set before Him, endured the cross, despising shame".
Song 2:17. "Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved, and be like a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of separation." Again, in 8:4 - "I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that you stir not up, nor awake my love, until it please" - and so in 3:5. Here is the fact that God will choose His own set time (Psalm 102:13, Acts 1) both for His coming as suffering servant and as Prince in glory to follow (cf. Luke 24:23-25). Daniel (Ch.12) likewise was told to wait till the time came when he would stand in his lot! Though he dealt with empires and history for thousands of years to come, including the detailing of the date for the death of Christ, then some 600 years in the future, yet there was a certain seemliness, as in Acts when Christ indicated it was not for them to know the times or the seasons the Father had set in His own hand - a seemliness in awaiting the divine climax when history exposes its goats and the sheep have their ultimate rest.
Stir not up - so II Peter 3:9 indicates that God is NOT SLACK, but that there is a GROUND for His not yet appearing, and in His waiting, that none might perish, as the Gospel goes and knows the world through and through. After all, it is the only one; and on the mountains of separation (yet "I will not leave you orphans", "I will not leave you comfortless", and this - "It is expedient for you that I go away" - John 16:3-11, 14:14-30).
Yet again in 4:6-7, we have it: "Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, I will go up to the mountain of myrrh, and to the hill of frankincense. You are all fair, my love; there is no spot in you." So in the fulness of the emblems of virgin birth and bodily resurrection, He goes as is expedient, yet sending His Spirit in the time of separation. While this transpires, His love is not lessened, and as Paul puts it in Ephesians 5 as we saw, it is His desire that there be neither spot nor wrinkle in His "beloved".
Does this mean ONLY the Church, or can it refer to the individual also ? In that marriage is VERY individual, and references like that of "let me hear your voice" are likewise, and in that the Lord is both Lord of one and of all who are His, and in that the head (I Corinthians 12) looks to EACH member of the body as to ALL, and since the individual saints like David have had just such a relationship: yes it is to BOTH. There can be revival both individually and corporately. BOTH are to be desired when love grows faint.
Song 3:1-4 is the expression of a soul seeking without finding for a time, the nearness of the Lord. "If her father had but spit in her face" it was said of Miriam when she presumed, would she not be put out of the camp for a time! (Number 12:10-15). So there are times when the disciple may say, "I sought Him, but I found Him not", because - as in Hosea 7:14ff.: "And they have not cried to Me with their heart, whey they wailed upon their beds.... Though I have bound and strengthened their arms, yet do they imagine mischief against Me. They return, but not to the Most High..."
At such a time, one may be sure that the heart is growing cold, and although the experience of the Lord may be more distant, more formal than is normal, yet He is there; and when in mingled repentance and desire, one seeks truly, then "It was but a little while that I passed form them, but I found Him who my soul loves. I held Him and would not let Him go, until ..." (3:4). This of course is so much like the case of Mary Magdalene, to whom Christ said, "Cease clinging to Me, for I am not yet ascended" - John 20:17, as to be almost too easy! Yet the history of this document shows that NOTHING is too easy! It is too easily missed! So too one may note Matthew 28:9.
Song 5 is a remarkable spiritual odyssey. It has it all. There is the self-satisfaction beginning to creep in (Song 5:3). ALTHOUGH she hears the voice at the door of her beloved, his locks night-moistened as He has been about His Father's business, yet she is too comfortable, too well spiced, too much the imaged clean-one to bother EVEN WITH HER BELOVED! Revelation 3:;17 - "Because you say, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing and do not know that you are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind and naked, I counsel you to buy of Me gold tried in the fire that you may be rich, and white raiment, that you may be clothed".
Quickly indeed is the adulteress found; and quickly is the soul of the disciple slow, touched with this world, with inordinate affection or whatever. It may be nothing express, but simply spiritual. Yet the spiritual - is this not the acme ? Do not harlots go into the kingdom of heaven before many Pharisees, so pure that their feet indeed cannot get out of the bed of dogmatic slumber in their traditions and self-assured modes, even at the CALL OF CHRIST! How we all need to be sensitive to His call, alert to His guidance (Psalm 32, Isaiah 58), ready for His service in whatever place or field He may choose!
To resume with this allegory WITHIN an allegory (how rich is His word!): We find that BECAUSE she did not at once come when He called - it could be, in interpretation, to a mission field, or to a vocation, or to do some form of disagreeable service or something that frightens - BECAUSE of this, she is in trouble. She looks for her Beloved; she is even exposed in public as in trouble (like the unthinkable case of a Christian seeking a secular psychiatrist in terms of a trouble of the heart!), as not finding Him! Anguish, difficulty and dismay ensue, till at last, now thoroughly humbled, and forced to realise that NOTHING, but nothing compares for one moment at any point with the Lord, and that she must GLORY IN THIS ONLY, that she knows and understands the Lord (Jeremiah 17), whose love is centred in the Cross (Galatians 6:14): she finds Him. No more such digressions!
Be wise, says the Psalmist, and be instructed. "Kiss the Son lest He be angry, and you perish form the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him" - 2:10,12. The Christian will not perish, but many who hope themselves Christians are in need of purging; and many who are find need of assurance, being too far off; and must seek Him with all the heart, relying on His word with all simplicity with the faith of a little child (cf. I John 5, John 10:9, 27-28, Romans chs.5,8).
Again, Isaiah 55 with its "Seek the Lord while He may be found" is an advice which, though chiefly thrust to the unconverted, is yet relevant to many in the church, who in fact do not yet know the Lord. Psalm 51, again, is a pageant of spiritual seeking after an acute fall on the part of a man of God. Proverbs, however, brings this home to us in the realm of earnest, early seeking of the Lord and the life in Him which is indeed a seeking first of His kingdom, both at daybreak or dayspring and in priority: "Blessed is the man who hears Me, watching daily at My gates, waiting at the posts of My doors. For whoever finds Me finds life, and shall obtain favour of the Lord. But he who sins against Me wrongs his won soul; all that who hate me, love death" - 8:34-36.
Such is the wisdom of God, and Christ ? He is made to us "wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption; that , according as it is written, He who glories, let him glory in the Lord" - 1:30-31.
Before we leave this example, let us note one vital aspect. In 5:9-6:4 we find that not only is the disciple exposed to the world in this degree of separation from her beloved, but she is challenged: WHAT is your beloved more than any other ? THIS is precisely what the world thinks, if it has any regard or respect to love or the Lord at all! The answer, allegorically expressed, for this is allegory, is in fulsome terms, for challenged, she is made aware that she is dabbling in different waters. At once she attests what she knows, and the testimony s stunning! So in the midst of pangs, trials of patience, is the Christian, not like some moody member of society but with the spirit truth, to attest what Christ really is in Himself and to him/herself. Then soon the devoted love returns and all is restored, as in 6:4.
Turning to the end of the Song, we find this matter of life and death more vigorously explicit.
In 8:6, these words appear:
"Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, jealousy is cruel as hell; its coals are coals of fire, which has a most vehement flame." (Emphasis added.)
Here is love in its tenderness and strength, truth and commitment: it is not evasive or episodic, possible or permissive, but burns with a flame as specific as any given off in flame tests on metals. Love is not merely affection or preference; convenience is insult to its standards and stature. Its zeal is phenomenal, its triumph in fidelity.
We come in this to the acme of life, where death and hell are invoked, vehemence and seals appear at opposite ends of the vital spectrum. Better, said Christ, to enter life maimed, or halt, than go whole to hell. Jealousy is often used to refer to God's prerogative of intense desire for the purity of His worshippers, whose hearts not being built for duplicity and double-minded fawning and fornication with the ways of this world and of time as distinct from eternity, which is written in their hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11), are not content in such practices. God is pure, and those to be with Him must be pure.
"Set me as a seal on your heart" reminds us of Ephesians 1:13-14:
"In whom you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, after you believed, you were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, who is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory."
Love is indeed as strong as death, and hence, as Paul notes in Romans 8, nothing will separate us from this love of God to His redeemed, correlative to 'marriage' - no, not things present or future, not principalities and not powers. Such is the assurance of love, which yields no lapse.
Death? The love of Christ is such that: "In this was manifested the love of God toward us, that God sent His only begotten Son into the world that we might live through Him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" - I John 4:9-10.
Indeed, says John,
"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life - (For the life was manifested and we have seen it, and he bear witness, and show to you that eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us)." - I John 1::1-2. Again in John 13, we read:
"Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that His hour was come that He should depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own which were in the world , He loved them to the end" - 13:1. It is this love which touches the valleys of fire and rescues, which burns the dross and conserves the gold. It is this love which moves in the categories of eternity with a pure freedom.
There is much more; but we shall content ourselves with one last case, found at the first in the Song.
THE BELOVED acknowledges this: "I am black but comely." She has been in the vineyard, and her complexion has suffered. Origen is acknowledged for this interpretation here: Black in sin but comely in conversion. Yet there is more. "My mother's children were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard have I not kept."
The reply ? "Tell me, O you whom my soul loves, where you feed, where you make your flock to rest at noon, for why should I be like one who turns aside by the flocks of my companions." The bridegroom then tells here, very much as seen earlier, in the parallel the disciples asking Christ were He lived.
Now there is the fact that the UNSAVED are sought out by the Lord, who still has this love towards them. There is the consideration that the bride has neglected her own vineyard, her own life, in the multitudinous nature of her pursuits. Despite this preoccupation, she is loved; and being loved, she responds, and seeking the dwelling place of her beloved, she finds him.
Here is a lesson in discipleship: do NOT be so busy that you are lax in spirituality, slow in godliness; and realise that your life is far more apparent than our appearance might suggest. Your spirit in trouble, your manner in delays, your solicitude when personally troubled, your reliability when oppressed - all these things can be neglected. When however you find the Lord, then the shadows flee away. Let us recall in conclusion the relevant exhortation of Jeremiah (29:13): "Then will you call upon Me, and you will go and pray to Me, and I will hearken to you, and you will seek Me, and find Me, when you shall search for Me with all your heart." THIS ? It is the greatest research in the world, and its end, the greatest treasure (cf. Matthew 13:45-46, Ephesians 3:8 - "preach ... the unsearchable riches of Christ").
We are reminded of the Song (5:16) when she says, "He is altogether lovely!", and in particular, "His mouth is most sweet!" (cf. Matthew 4:4). We find this concept of sweetness of the word of God in Revelation 10:11. Its results can be bitter to unbelief, but its taste and its nature is sweetness, and we rejoice in the integrity of the flavour, for although few enter into life, yet "He would have all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth" - I Timothy 2:4. It is the hope of this writer that all who read these things will ensure that they have found where He dwells; like the disciples thither make their way, and that there they will be found.