Sunday, 20 November 2016

Moving On (Song 8:5-16)

This is the final poem in the overall Song. In verse 5, we have a question from observers about a chariot in which two lovers are relaxing. Then in verses 6 and 7, we get to hear what they are saying to one another. It looks to me that the poem is a continuation of the previous one in which the King and the woman went for a tour of the countryside. Now they are returning together. The wilderness describes uncultivated areas round the city to which they are travelling.

The first comment that we can make is that the travelling has strengthened the affection of the woman. We can see this is the case from her posture, which the observers can eas1ly see. She has visited several of the King’s properties with him and the effect is that she now enjoys his love. This is a good picture of what happens to believers when they visit the means of grace with Jesus. The outcome for them is greater assurance of his love for them.

The conversation
The King speaks in verse 5b. He refers to the birth of his beloved and claims to have an involvement in it. In a literal sense, it would have been impossible for Solomon to have been involved in her birth, so the King’s words are not pointing to a physical experience. But when we transfer them to the spiritual realm we can see how the King was involved in the new births of his people.

The location of her birth is said to be the apple tree. The apple tree was a place of protection from the heat and it was also a place of provision of fruit. And we can say that when a person is born again they are in such a place – they are safe spiritually and they are provided for spiritually.

We could deduce from the King’s reference to her birth that he delights to speak to her about how she became his. That is true in any relationship of love, and it is very true in the spiritual world. Every time Jesus says to one of his people that he or she is his, he is referring to how it began and is continuing.

The woman responds in verses 6 and 7. She asks the King to maintain a strong sense of love for her. This is what she means by asking him to have her as a seal on his heart and on his arm. We can see that she refers to something invisible (heart) and something visible (arm). In the setting of the poem, she is being returned home and the King is going away on other duties (v. 14). What she has enjoyed recently is coming to a close and therefore she wants assurance that she will still be in his affections. We can experience something similar when we come to an end of a conference or a communion weekend in which we have enjoyed the special company of Jesus but are now anticipating going back to normality.

The woman is speaking to the King according to her desires. Her words are connected to the past, but are also focussed on realism about the future. She wants the King to always remember her in all that he does. Solomon perhaps realised his own failures when he included these words. But we know that the real King of the Song will never refuse such a petition from the one he loves.

The woman describes her love in verses 5b and 6 and she uses four very graphic descriptions. First, when she uses death and the grave, she says that her love is unstoppable and will refuse a denial of its intent. After all, who can prevent death and the grave overcoming them? Second, it is like intense heat that burns within her. Third, it cannot be drowned by the storms of life. Fourth, it is of more value than anything else. Of course, her love for him is only an imitation of his love for her. This is very true in the Christian life as well. While we never have the same degree of love as Jesus has, our love is like his.

A healthy Christian is conscious of this fourfold love, even if it is not as strong as she would like it to be. She knows that she will always love Jesus, that her heart burns when his name is mentioned (like the two on the way to Emmaus), that the worst of storms don’t diminish it, and she places it at the top of her spiritual priorities.

Reaching the house
The King and his beloved reach the house where he is going to leave her for a while. In the house, there are her friends, the daughters of Jerusalem, and they speak in verses 8 and 9. The topic of their words is one whom they call a little sister who has not yet developed physically. They promise to do two things for her by strengthening her wall and giving her a beautiful door. In their words, we have a statement of commitment, and they illustrate the desires of mature believers to help others to prepare her for a future meeting with the King.

Woman – development and dedication (vv. 10-12)
The woman replies in verse 10 and mentions that she used to me like the little sister, but because of what had been done for her she had matured. Her growth had brought great desire to the King who had found rest and satisfaction in her company. This is a reminder that the King wants his people to have fellowship with one another in their day to day lives about how they can help one another and how they should develop.

Then the woman refers to the practice of letting out vineyards. She mentions that the King had let out his vineyard to keepers who were assured of success in bearing fruit and which would bring income to the King. Then she refers to her own vineyard, which seems to have 1200 vines in it. She gives one thousand to Solomon and two hundred to those who look after the vineyard. In effect, she is dedicating her possessions to the King. And why should she not do so, given that he produces very fruitful vines.

The outcome of her spending time with the King is discussion with others and dedication to his cause. And this is a picture of how believers respond after spending time with their King. They want to talk with one another and they want to give what they have to the furtherance of his kingdom.

The King’s departing encouragement (v. 13)
The King is obviously delighted with the way the woman is interacting with her friends as they walk together in the gardens around the house to which he has brought her. We know the description given of God in Malachi 3:16 as he listens in to a group of believers having fellowship with one another: ‘Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name.’

Yet the King wants to hear her speaking to him as well while he is away, which of course would not make sense in a literal setting. In the spiritual life, communion is always possible. In what ways can a believer speak to Jesus? She can speak appreciatively, thankful for past blessings. She can speak anticipatively, as she looks forward to future grace. She should speak accurately, although there will be times when she may not know what to say. And she can speak ardently, because that is what love does.

Where will she be when she speaks in this way to the King? She will be in the gardens, cultivated places connected to the house. I don’t think it is too difficult to see the gardens as depicting the means of grace, where refreshment and rest are found. In other words, the normal Christian life.

The woman – her parting desire (v. 14)
The song closes with the woman’s expression of longing for another period of love with her beloved. She tells the King to return speedily like a fast-running deer. This means that she is aware that he could come very quickly, and since he will come from the mountains of spices he will be very fragrant when he does. This points to the fact that Jesus can come with alacrity and with heavenly aromas. She can speak in this way from experience, because she has just enjoyed such a period with the King. We should remember that he can come quickly in any of the means of grace that he has provided. When we pick up the Bible, or have a time of prayer, or spend a few moments in meditation, we should do so with the thought that he may come in a special way in answer to our earnest desire. 

Divine Appreciation and Devout Affection (Songs 7:1–8:4)

We are still looking at the poem which began in 5:2 and runs until 8:4. As we have seen, the woman had been dilatory in allowing the King into her house, but she recovered her place of nearness to the King in his garden when she went there with her friends, the daughters of Jerusalem. We observed that in the poem two descriptions are given of her return: one is by herself and she mentions the various steps that she took – personal searching, correction from the watchmen and interaction with the daughters of Jerusalem (5:5–6:10); the other is by the King and his earnest desire, spoken with power, that she should return (6:11-13). The obvious question now is, what will she do now that she has returned? That question is answered in the section from 7:1 to 8:4. It is that she dances for the King and then she and the King go away together.

Appreciation (7:1-9)
The King describes her dancing in 7:1-9. It is common in the Bible for women to dance during occasions of joy. Basically dancing was performed at occasions of public rejoicing and did not involve both sexes dancing together. Solomon is using a common situation to depict the manner of the return of a backslider. The verses contain his expressions of delight as he observes, with others, her beautiful appearance and fine movements. We are not told what the others in the garden thought of her dance, but they would have observed the King’s delight with her. Here we have an illustration of how happy a restored believer can be and how delighted Jesus is with such. It is a question to ask ourselves if our souls are dancing, because if they are, we will please the Saviour and encourage others.

Her royal name (7:1)
We should observe how the King addresses the woman – she is here called ‘noble daughter’, which is a similar title to how the bride is described in Psalm 45:13 where she called ‘the daughter of the king’. This is obviously a term of affection indicating the love he has for her. We can see that it is also a term of affirmation, because he is reminding her of her position in the structure of that society. And since that is the case, it is also a term of assurance, because he is the one who has taken her there from being a keeper of vineyards to sharing his extensive gardens. It is not hard to see a spiritual application for believers. They are the beloved of the Saviour.

The situation here reminds us of the amazing grace of God. It is amazing when shown to unconverted sinners, and it is amazing when shown to restored believers. Although she had been lethargic, the King did not remove her from the place given to her by his decision of love. In a far higher sense, when we are restored we are restored.

The royal approval (7:1-7)
In his description of her dance, the king comments on two features: one is the harmony of movement between her limbs and her head and her eyes; the other is the beauty of every part. Obviously, that needs to be true of a physical dance in order for it to be praised. A similar combination of balance and beauty is required when the heart of a believer is dancing. As the psalmist says to himself in Psalm 103, when he calls on everything within him to praise the Lord.

The royal aspiration (7:8-9)
In these verses, the King uses various pictures to describe his intentions of enjoying her company. At the time of speaking, he and the woman are with others, which we could say is a picture of corporate fellowship as she revealed her joy as she danced. Now he indicates that he would like to be alone with her, which we can say is a picture of personal fellowship, of him enjoying what she can provide. Of course, we might think it should be the other way round, with her enjoying what he has to give. The reality is that both are necessary, but here the focus is on the pleasure that the King receives from each of his people.

Devout affection (7:9-13)

Initial response
The woman responds to the words of the King in two ways. First, she speaks to herself in verses 9b and 10 and then she speaks to the King. That process may be one that we should follow after listening to anything that Jesus says to us – we consider what he says and then we speak to him about it.

The first thing that she says to herself links back to something specific that he said – his reference to her mouth being like wine, and the second thing that she says to herself is a deduction based on everything he has said in his appreciation. Again we can see in her response a picture of how we should respond to Jesus. We can focus on one comment he has made and we can take the big picture of all that he says. Her response to his statement about her mouth is one of affection because she wants to give him what she has whereas her comment about his overall appreciation is one of great assurance as she expresses her delight in him and affections.

Then the woman suggests that she and the King should go out into the countryside. Of course, since he is the King she is asking that he take her to his possessions because the countryside belongs to him. Given the autocratic nature of kingship at that time, we might imagine that she is being very presumptuous in making this suggestion. But love has a power of its own.

She requests that the King take her to four places: the countryside (fields), the villages, the vineyards and to a house. All of them are owned by the King and they reveal the variety of places of interest within his domain. Each of them contributes to his kingdom. I would say that the point is that she does not want to go to any of them without him, because his possessions without his presence are not enough. It is not too difficult for us to find applications of those four locations; for example, the fields could picture where we work for Jesus, but what good will that be if he is not helping us do so?

She describes the first three places as the locations where she will give him her love. And is that not the main point of why we go anywhere in the kingdom of Jesus? Whichever means of grace we visit, that is why we go to it. Of course, we go to them to get blessings from Jesus, but we also go there to give him our love.

I think it is worth noting what she says about the fourth location. It is a poem, so she is able to say that she has been there before in order to prepare for the time when he would come there with her. The various items she gathered to make it pleasant for the King all came from his fields or gardens. Some of them she says are old and others are new, but she has stored them up in order for him to be refreshed by them. I would suggest that what is being illustrated here is that when we have communion with Jesus we can speak to him about things he did for us in the past as well as things he is doing for us in the present.

It is intriguing that she calls the house ‘our’ house rather than his house, but it must indicate that somehow she has deduced that his possessions now also belonged to her in a sense. Is this not a reminder to us that we are joint heirs with Jesus?

In 8:1, the woman continues to express her love. At that time in society in the Middle East, the only ones who embraced in public would be brothers and sisters. The woman takes this custom and says that she wishes the King was her brother so that she could kiss him in public. In other words, she wants to express her love for the King who restored her, and to express that love in public. The application to us is obvious – our love for Jesus must want to be public.

In 8:2, she says that she wants to take the King to her mother’s house. One would assume that her mother’s house would not be very grand and certainly not be anything like the houses of Solomon. Yet she has realised that the King wants to go to places connected to her, and to places where she would feel comfortable in providing him with refreshment. Sometimes we foolishly imagine that we are too low for the high King of heaven to bother with. But he is not like that.

In 8:3, she turns away from her spiritual aspirations and describes her current comfort as she enjoys the affections of her beloved. She can sense his strength and his tenderness, and also realises that his focus is on her. And that is what the normal Christian life is like, discovering the pleasure and satisfaction that Jesus has in his people.

Then in 8:4, she addresses the daughters of Jerusalem who have been with her since they decided to go with her to find the Beloved in the garden. She does here what she has done already in the Song and asks them not to do anything that would disturb the rest of love that she is enjoying with the King.

This longish poem within the overall set of poems began with the woman refusing to let the King into her house. It closes with her enjoying the presence of the King. Although long, it describes a very common Christian experience, which is how a lethargic believer is restored by grace.

The King’s Opinion of a Restored Backslider (Song 6:4-13)

Prior to this address of the King, the woman had engaged in a search for him after losing contact with him because of lethargy. The process of re-finding him had involved personal calling, correction by the watchmen and the wise questions of the daughters of Jerusalem about what she thought of the King and where she thought he was. She and they had gone to his garden of rest to find him. It is not too difficult to find parallels in the way a lethargic believer recovers warmth in his relationship with Jesus. But what does Jesus think of the recovered disciple? We get an insight in the words of the king to his beloved in verses 1-9.

Here we can see an example of progress in assurance. The woman had been told she was the fairest among women by the daughters of Jerusalem. They had given this estimation because they observed her as she sought for the King. Similarly, other believers can give encouragement to a returning backslider by commenting on his or her graces. But the restored backslider will want more – he will want the opinion of Jesus. And the words of the King depict this extra strong form of assurance.

The Description
The address of the King highlights the features of strength, health and dignity as he describes her beauty. Strength is illustrated by the reference to walled cities of Tirzah and Jerusalem and to an army on the march (6:4).  We might imagine that it would be unusual to say that a restored believer has strength. Would it not be more appropriate to say that he should know his weakness? Yet in the Christian life, the ones who are strong are the ones who know they are weak. Moreover, we can also assume that a restored believer would know the necessity of wearing the spiritual armour that he should have worn before he had backslid. We only have to think of the examples of David and Peter to realise the truth of this outlook.

The health of the woman is seen in the King’s references to her eyes, hair, teeth and cheeks (6:5-6). He repeats some of the comments that he had made about her in 4:1-3, so here we have a reminder that she has still her health despite the difficult search she had made and the rough treatment she had received from the watchmen. We can observe that he makes special comments about her eyes, about the way that she is looking at him. We are familiar with the saying that the eyes are the mirror of the soul, and he would have seen in her eyes regret for her lethargy and joy that she was him again. Similarly, when a Christian is restored, they too have penitence and gladness together, and we can safely deduce that Jesus loves his people when they have penitent eyes.

The dignity of the woman in the estimation of the King is seen in the contrast he makes between her and the women of the royal court. We know that literally Solomon had many queens and other women around him. But there was something special about this woman, and the King mentions three details – her dove-likeness, the uniqueness of her birth and the commendation of others in the royal court. Is it too much to say that here we have the character of believers (like a dove in gentleness and peacefulness), the uniqueness of their status (they have a birth that brings them into a special family), and they are esteemed by the others who serve Jesus in his royal presence (angels).

The Question
In verse 10, the attendants ask who this amazing woman is? They see her beauty (what is more beautiful than the sunrise or a bright moon on a clear night?), her strength (army) and her dedication (on the banners would be written words that would indicate her devotion to the King). There is an obvious lesson here, which is that the angels see believers in ways that are surprising. Recall how an angel called Gideon a mighty man of valour as he was threshing his crop secretly out of fear of the enemies. Or when Gabriel addressed Daniel as the one who was greatly beloved? And when Mary was spoken to as one who was highly favoured because she alone would be the mother of the Messiah.

The Explanation (6:11-13)
These words are the answer of the King to the question of the attendants. It looks to me as if he is describing what he did when he left the woman’s house on the evening when she was too lethargic to let him in. He says that he went to his garden (the nut orchard) to see how his various plants and flowers were faring (v. 11). Is this not a picture of the places where other believers are enjoying the skills of the One who makes them beautiful to look at? This looks like saying that when one believer shows lethargy, Jesus still looks after the others under his care.

As he was in the garden, the King is overcome by a strong desire that would be fulfilled very quickly. The speed is illustrated by the reference to fast chariots. The desire is that the Shulammite (the woman) would return so that the King and his companions would see her. The intensity of his desire is seen in the way that he repeats the desire four times. In addition to the words indicating intensity of desire for her to return, we must also remember that his words are words of power. His desire is accompanied by his ability to bring about his desire. Here we have a picture of how Jesus ensures that the desire of his heart, which is the return of a backsliding believer, will happen. He was drawing her secretly to the place where they would meet again.

It is worth noting the name by which the King calls the woman. Shulammite is the feminine form of Solomon. In other words, the King has given his own name to the woman. He reminds her of the relationship she has with him. Her lethargy has not removed that privilege from her. There are several examples in the Bible of Jesus giving his name to his people. With regard to the status of justification, believers have the name ‘the Lord our righteousness’; they are said to be joint-heirs with Jesus; and in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, Jesus and his people collectively are called Christ.

In referring to her by this particular name, the King is pointing to its meaning, which is peace. The woman was disturbed by her failure and she was seeking him in a sense because she was looking for peace. Yet although she had lost the enjoyment of peace from Solomon, she had not lost the state of peace with Solomon. And he reminds her of that changeless situation when he calls her by this name. In a far higher sense, believers when they backslide do not lose the standing of peace with God although they will at such a time lose the sense of the peace of God. In repentance, we are not being restored to the state of peace, but to the experience of peace.

Moreover, the King makes clear to the woman that he wants to look at her and he wants those with him to look at her. He does not want to do this because he wants to embarrass her about her failure, but because he wants to enjoy her beauty as a restored lover. And he wants those with him to see the beauty of her restoration as well. Obviously, this happens in the spiritual life as well. Jesus does not say to a penitent disciple that she should go and sit in a corner, out of sight of other believers who may not have done her particular sin. Instead, he wants her to be fully restored to his company and the company of his companions.

In verse 13, the King turns and addresses those with him and asks them why they should look at the woman when she returns. The answer to the question is that she will be dancing. I suspect the two armies are two groups that would meet, say at a wedding where there would be two families. In those times, they would watch the young women dancing in celebration. The woman that the King loves will be dancing when she is restored. In the next set of verses, the King describes her dance. Spiritual restoration is a time of joy, especially for the one who has been restored.

So we can see that the recovery process initiated by the King was very effective. Jesus in his grace also succeeds in his recovery plan for backsliders. Of course, we all are backsliders at some stage. The length of the period of backsliding will not always be the same, but the recovery should be an occasion of great happiness as Jesus welcomes us back into his embrace and watches us express our gladness.

Losing Touch with Jesus and how to Find Him Again (Song 5:2–6:3)

In the previous poem, the King and his beloved were together in one of his gardens. Now they are separated and she is in her own house again. The differences in the poems depict for us the various experiences of the Christian life.

In this new poem, the woman is in bed when the king comes calling and asks to see her. The initial response of the woman is reluctance to get up because she will have to get dressed. Yet she has strong affections for him and even when she heard him touch the handle she was thrilled. Therefore, she arose, put fragrances on her hands, and opened the door. To her great surprise and sorrow, he was gone. This caused her to engage in a process of finding him.
It is not too difficult for us to apply this to the Christian life. Jesus can come to visit us at any time. Like the King in the poem, he says many loving things to us and he can mention the effects of the journey he has made in order to get to us. All of his comments are encouraging. Yet we are in a state of spiritual lethargy and his words to us do not move us. We can even come up with a list of reasonable excuses for not reacting properly. Still we love the signs of his presence and eventually we do something about it, such as taking up the Bible or going to a church service, perhaps even making some preparation (pictured by the woman putting fragrance on her fingers). Yet when we get there, we do not sense him.

Why does this happen? It happens because knowing Jesus is not the priority. We can replace that priority with various things such as hobbies, religious activities and even our own spiritual comfort.
When that happens, we can do one of two things. One option is to assume that we had done nothing wrong in not responding immediately and perhaps someone or something else is to blame for the sense of the absence of Jesus. The other option is to start seeking for him. This is what the women did in the poem – she started to look for her beloved. What did she do?

The first thing that she did was to search for him and call for him. No doubt, we can see in this a picture of earnest prayer in which we cry to Jesus to come and have fellowship with him again. This calling the woman did by herself, a reminder of the importance of personal prayer in recovering fellowship.
The second thing that she did was to seek help from the watchmen, those who looked after the city. She had known help from them before when she had lost the sense of her beloved’s presence. On this occasion, she received a different kind of help when they beat her and bruised her and made her shame known. In passing, we can see that this incident is not literal because which watchmen would dare attack the beloved of the king. The watchmen of the city are the pastors of the church and they beat her in the sense that they point out her sins to her.

The third thing that she does is engage the help of her friends, the daughters of Jerusalem (v. 8). This is a picture of a Christian asking fellow-believers to bring her case to Jesus when they pray to him. She asks them to tell him that she loves him deeply. This is an interesting way to pray for one another. Instead of mentioning faults, we mention their graces.
The friends respond to her concerns by asking her two simple questions. The first concerns what she thinks of her beloved (v. 9) and the second concerns whether or not she actually knows where he is (v. 6). What the friends are doing is trying to get the woman to think properly alongside her strong affections.

Her description of the King (5:10-16)
In answer to their first question, the woman gives an all-round description of her King. We miss the point, I think, if we try and find a corresponding detail in Jesus for each detail that she mentions, although there is no harm in doing so. Her description points to his youth, strength and tenderness. Her example should lead us to consider as much truth about Jesus as we can. We should range all over his abilities, activities and aims. After all, we want everyone to know that we have a perfect Saviour. He possesses the abilities of God – all divine attributes are his. He is involved in all the activities of God, as well as the ones that are unique to him as the Son of God. He helps bring about the plans of God for the future.

What could a believer in such a state say about Jesus? Here are some suggestions. (1) Although I have sinned in being lazy, he is the same yesterday, today and forever. I have changed, but he does not. (2) He is very gracious and he will not deal with me in the way my sins deserve. (3) Although I have sinned, I still find myself being drawn after him, which indicates that he is working secretly in my soul and causing me to love him still. (4) He is strong and kind, and is able to rebuke me without being cruel.
Perhaps the most important words in her description is the personal pronoun, ‘my,’ which she uses at the beginning and the end of her summary. That personal pronoun points to possession, to having what she regards as precious. And she uses it even although she knows he has gone. His absence does not lead her to conclude that the loss is permanent.

It is interesting to observe that she has no complaints to make about the manner in which he had left. Perhaps someone might suggest that the way he left was rather abrupt. Yet he had made efforts to rouse her. Even when he put his hand in the door, he could have opened it and come in. But he wanted her to move. After all, the woman depicts someone who has been given life.
The challenge that comes to us from her response to the question of the daughters is to be ready to speak to other believers about what the King means to us. It is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks. If there is little in the heart, there will not be much to say.

The friends were trying to get the woman to stop thinking about her mistake and instead to think about her beloved. We too should divert sorrowful believers to think about our King, and the best way to do so is by saying wonderful things about the Saviour.

The second question and the answer (6:1-3)
Having listened to her beautiful description of the king, the daughters of Jerusalem then ask if she knows where he has gone to, and they promise to go with her and find him. She knows where he has gone, to his garden.
It is worth noting the name that they give to her in verse 1. They regard her as the most beautiful among women. There is no one so beautiful to a Christian than another believer seeking the Saviour out of love for his presence. In addition to valuing her beauty, they also know that she will be a help to them in locating the King, even although they have not lost the sense of his presence in the particular way that she had done.

What does the garden here depict? It was a large location where Solomon and the woman with her friends could meet together (it was really a collection of gardens, as we can see from the use of the plural in 6:2). It was also a pleasant location where they could meet together because of its beauty. Part of its beauty was the various beds in which there was a variety of spices and flowers. In the garden, the king is likened to a deer who grazes and a gardener who gathers lilies. He is also said to graze among the lilies. So it is a place where the king in particular finds rest and satisfaction.
In the Old Testament, God found rest among his people, as David points out in Psalm 132. There is a sense in which the land of Canaan was intended to be a place where God would rest with his people. As far as we are concerned, the place of rest is where the King gives blessings to his people.

Obviously, this includes the activities of the church in its means of grace, but I think it goes beyond that. It is where they can have fellowship together and where they receive from him the blessings of joy and peace.

The outcome of her being in the garden of the King is that she finds great assurance. Yet she expresses her assurance in a distinct way because she realises what she means to him as well as what he means to her. The poem will continue with expressions of love and joy, and we will consider them next time. But we should notice that the woman who failed received great assurance when she went to where the King could be found. This raises the question as to the strength of our assurance. We never get much assurance by looking at ourselves. Which believer is content with his prayers or his devotions? The more he examines them the more flaws he will find. Yet we could also say that we may not get much assurance by considering God in the majesty of his perfection. We should focus on God and be amazed at his greatness. Yet amazement is not the same as assurance.
Assurance comes by considering what the God of infinite grace did for sinners, and it is usually connected to Jesus. We should consider him as he goes to the cross for sinners and as he goes to the crown for sinners. We should look back to where he has been and why, and we should look up to where he is and why he is there, and we should look ahead to what he will yet do and why he will do them. And as we look in all these directions, we should fill our minds with the divine promises connected to them. When we do that, we will be able to look within and say that in spite of ourselves Jesus is for us, and that is assurance.

Description, Invitation and Interaction (Song 4:1–5:1)

Another poem in the Song begins at 4:1 and runs to 5:1. The King speaks in verses 1-11, and there is an interaction between the King and his beloved in verse 12 onwards. The words of the King in verses 1-11 divide into two obvious sections: verses 1-7 is a description of the woman and verses 8-11 are an invitation from him to her to go to another location. Verse 12 onwards are a discussion based on the invitation. So we have description, invitation and discussion.

The Description
The King begins by telling his beloved that she is beautiful. Indeed, he says it twice. Why would he say it twice? One reason would be the pleasure he receives from looking at her; another reason would be his awareness that she might have doubted that she was beautiful in his eyes. After all, as the King, he could have the best, and she may not have regarded herself in that way. We know that Jesus has pleasure from observing his people, and we know that he wants to deal graciously with any personal fears that they may have. So he wants to tell his people that they are fair. He does this repeatedly in his Word, and we should therefore read it often. And he does it through sermons and various kinds of writings based on his Word.

The word ‘behold’ also occurs twice. Usually it is used in a situation where there is something surprising or valuable. What is the unusual detail here? It is that he thinks that she is beautiful. The King gives seven reasons why she is beautiful when he refers to various parts of her body. The number seven conveys the idea of perfection. Obviously he thinks that she possesses great beauty and balance. I don’t think we are meant to try and find seven spiritual equivalents for the seven physical features he highlights. Instead we are to focus on spiritual realities that make a believer beautiful and balanced in the eyes of Jesus.

Is there something that happens to a believer that makes him all fair in the eyes of Jesus? There are three realities that we can remind ourselves of. First, there is the justification of the believer in which he is given the righteousness of Jesus as his standing before the throne of God. Nothing can be added to that perfection. Second, there is the adoption into God’s family that each believer possesses. They are regarded as heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus, and while they will discover more details of their inheritance in the future they will not become more authentic members of the family. We can easy understand how Jesus admires the beauty of justification and adoption.

What about the doctrine of sanctification? Does it make a believer fair in every part? We can remind ourselves that our catechism tells us that we are renewed in the whole man, so our emotions, our minds and our wills are changed. In each of them, the Holy Spirit is at work and no doubt Jesus regards the work of the Spirit as very beautiful. As Paul reminds us, sanctification is the creating of the fruit of the Spirit in the lives of those who at one time were ugly from head to toe.

The picture of the King detailing the features of his beloved enables us to see the delight of Jesus in contemplating his beloved. Maybe there is a help here for us as we think about self-examination. We engage in it and easily see the things that are wrong with us. Maybe we should engage in it by asking what Jesus sees in us. Of course, we sin, but if we repent, and we should because we have the indwelling Spirit, what does Jesus think about the repentance of his people? It pleases him because it is the work of his Spirit.

In verse 6, the King indicates that he is going away to another region, here called the mountains of myrrh and frankincense. Various suggestions have been made as to what they are. Obviously they are very fragrant and refreshing and the King wants to go there. This intention becomes the basis of his invitation in verse 8.

The Invitation (vv. 8-11)
They have been in Lebanon together and now he wants them to go to another location. Maybe, as the King, he wants to show her different places in his realm. At the least, we can say that he does not want him and her to stay in the same place all the time, even if it is very pleasant. This is true in the Christian life as well. Jesus wants his people to move on. We can see this even in the sense that we move on each Lord’s Day. Or in our recent situation, we move on after a communion season. The Christian life is never static.

The place that the King wants them to leave is the mountains in the north of the country around Mount Hermon. Why does he want them to leave it since it has been enjoyable to them both? The mention of lions and leopards point to it being a place of danger to her beauty and balance. There are places and times that are dangerous for Christians, and the one thing that marks them all is that Jesus does not want them to stay there.

The King begins to persuade the woman to travel on by informing her of what she means to him. He says that he is captivated by her, even by little things that she does, such as a glance of her eyes or a jewel on her necklace. It is the case that Jesus appreciates things that can be regarded as little in themselves, but because they are expressions of love he values them.

Moreover, her expressions of love are sources of joy and refreshing. Wine was regarded as a source of joy and smelling fragrant aromas was a refreshing experience. In what kinds of ways can we love Jesus? There is the love of gratitude for saving us, there is the love of contemplation on him and his grace, there is the love of dependence upon him to keep us, there is the love of anticipation (which would have been appropriate here as she thinks of moving on), and there is the love of dedication to his service. Our love is always responsive, but Jesus loves to experience it.

The abundant fragrance was connected to the various oils and perfumes that she wore in the presence of the King, which probably were supplied by him for her use. The fragrances that we wear come to us from the Holy Spirit, who is often likened to oil, and the best way that those fragrances can be described is by referring to the fruit of the Spirit. When they are evident in the life of a believer, there is a wonderful aroma.

The King also highlights the speech of the woman, and the aspect that he stresses is the sweetness of her words. He mentions nectar, and milk and honey. Milk and honey was the divine description of Canaan, and here we are being reminded that she speaks as a resident of a different type of country. Spiritually, Jesus has given to his people a new language, and when she speaks to him he regards it as very sweet.

The Interaction (4:12–5:1)
In this set of verses we have a brief interaction, although as we all know a lot can be said in a few words. The King speaks in verses 12-15 and compares his bride to an enclosed garden. In the garden, there is a good source of water, which means that there are ample fruits and spices growing there. As in the previous sections, the King continues to stress the close (sister) and loving (bride) relationship he has with her.

Believers are likened to a watered garden elsewhere in the Bible (Isa. 58:11; Jer. 31:12). At one time, the garden of the soul was full of weeds, but that has now changed. The King points out the great change that has taken place, and does so with great delight. He speaks about the details of her beauty because he wants to encourage her in their relationship.

The wall of the garden highlights the security that a believer possesses in Christ. Nothing can take any of them from his grip. The wall also points to the privacy that each believer has with Jesus – not even another believer can come in (it is interesting that the daughters of Jerusalem are not mentioned in this part of the poem). And the water in the spring suggests a living supply, unlike a well, and we can see in it a picture of the life-giving Spirit working in the hearts of his people. Moreover, the range of fruits and spices depict the graces found in a believer’s heart.

The response of the woman is to speak to the north and south winds to blow upon her heart. I think we can see in this a picture of the work of the Spirit, and we know that in the Bible we are encouraged to pray for the Spirit to work in us. Of course, we may assume that the reference to the winds means what those two winds do in our climate. The north for us brings cold weather and the south can bring stormy weather. Instead we should see what they were like in a warm country like Israel

The book of Job tells us what the effects of those winds in that climate. Job 37:22 says that the north wind clears the sky of clouds (‘And now no one looks on the light when it is bright in the skies, when the wind has passed and cleared them. Out of the north comes golden splendour’) and Job 37:17 says that the south wind brings calm (‘when the earth is still because of the south wind’). We can see the spiritual equivalents. The believer’s sky may have lots of clouds that the Spirit can remove and give clear vision. And he may also need the calmness of the Spirit to avoid agitation.

Why does the woman want the winds to blow? So that the King will have a feast of good things. It is a prayer for fellowship with Jesus. And we can see from 5:1 that the King responds and comes to the garden of her soul. He goes round the garden, sampling an item here and there. Some are bitter (myrrh) and some are sweet (honey). This is a picture of Jesus with his people in the struggles and in the pleasures of life. It is good to know that the sense of Jesus’ presence can be brought to us by the Spirit, whatever the circumstance. Paul and Peter remind their readers how Jesus becomes very real in times of trouble, and they also speak about how he is there when things are going comfortably.

The King then turns and speaks to others, probably the daughter of Jerusalem, and urges them to get drunk with love. In the spiritual life there is often an overflow of spiritual blessing. Even in the natural life, joy can be contagious. How much more in the spiritual! A believer enjoying Jesus becomes a cause of encouragement and an example of how love can be known in our lives.

Travelling Together to the City (Song 3:6-11)

The link between this poem and the previous one is the role of the watchmen, the individuals who guarded the city and who also were on the lookout for individuals or groups approaching the city. In the previous poem, they gave guidance to the woman as she searched for the King. In this poem, they describe the arrival of a carriage and also encourage the daughters of Zion to go and meet the carriage. This does not mean that they are watchmen in the same place, merely that there are watchmen in both poems.

The question arises, who is in the carriage? Obviously, Solomon is in the carriage. Is anyone else in it? We should assume that his bride is in it because he has just come from his wedding. So it looks that we have here is a carriage surrounded by suitable guards making its way to the city of Jerusalem. Inside the carriage are Solomon and the one he loves. That is the picture. Of course, it cannot be a description of a literal wedding because that would suggest that the inhabitants of the city could only do this once, if it was a literal event.

The poem has three divisions. In verse 6, there is a question, perhaps asked by onlookers on the city walls. Then an answer is given in verses 7-10, perhaps by watchmen who recognised who was coming. Thirdly, an exhortation is addressed to the daughters of Zion to observe closely the King as he travels.

The direction in which they are travelling (vv. 6-8)
In the poem, the party are travelling from the wilderness to the city. The King must have gone from the city into the wilderness to find his bride. Now he is coming back to the city with her. It is not too difficult to see the application for us. The king of Zion left the city and travelled to the wilderness of this world to find his people. He does this through the gospel, and we have pictures of this in the parable of the lost sheep. When he finds them, he is very happy.

Now they are journeying together towards the city. They are still in the wilderness, and the wilderness is not a pleasant place. It would be very hot and various unwelcome smells would be all around. The way that such would be overcome would be by the presence of various fragrances, such as are described in verse 6. A procession would normally be led by two men holding poles on which there would be bowls of fragrances.

As far as travelling with the King in the Christian life is concerned, the fragrances are provided free by the heavenly merchant, the Holy Spirit.  In fact, the Spirit is present in all the fragrances. This is true of the King, who in his human nature has beautiful fragrances, or the fruit of the Spirit, in perfect balance and degree. And it is true of the bride as well, even although she is still sinful, although forgiven. Yet because she is in the company of the fragrant King, she becomes like him because the Holy Spirit is working towards that end.

The striking thing about the fragrances is that they are visible from a distance away. Those looking out from the city can see them. Elsewhere they see the wilderness, but in strong contrast to the ugly wilderness they see and smell the beauty of the carriage in which the King and his beloved are travelling. 

Moreover, they see that round the carriage are sixty chosen soldiers, the best in the business. The reason why they were required was because the wilderness is a place of danger. Solomon would have many enemies, and they would have become the bride’s enemies when she became his. These guards are depicted as constant and competent in their roles.

Surely we can see in them a picture of the angelic host who minister to the heirs of salvation. The angels do the bidding of Jesus and his will for them is that they look after his people. They can protect them when it is most dangerous, even as the poem says against the terror of the night. And these guards will be there all the way through the wilderness.

The carriage (vv. 9-10)
The carriage is what conveys the King and his bride to the city. It was built mainly by Solomon, apart from a small contribution by the daughters of Jerusalem. Four materials of the carriage are told to us. First, it was made of special wood – the cedars of Lebanon – known for its resilience; second, it had silver posts over which the curtains of the carriage were hung and silver points to strength; third, between the posts were sheets of gold and this served the purpose of protection since weapons and arrows and spears could not pierce it; fourth, there was a special seat made of purple, the kind of seat on which only royalty would sit.

So the carriage depicts something that is enduring, strong, indestructible and royal. Moreover, it is exceptionally valuable. I suspect that the carriage depicts the church of Jesus, and it is in the church that Jesus and the believer travel safely together through this world. The church will last, it will prove indestructible, its members are all royalty, and its value is beyond price. It is good to belong to the true church of Jesus.

Mention is made of the contribution of the daughters of Jerusalem. They would have sown flowers or other figures, including words, on to the curtains and seat of the carriage. Whatever they provided would have been for the comfort and well-being of the bride. We could imagine how the woman here would feel very unworthy in the company of the King. As she did so, she would spot some of the items drawn or written by the daughters of Jerusalem, reminding her that the King had chosen her because he loved her and was delighted to be in her company, and was determined to be with her forever.

It is not too difficult to make applications to ourselves. We can contribute to one another as we travel through life with the King. In our interactions, we provide the equivalents of what the daughters of Jerusalem provided. The list of such things is endless – words describing the King, words comforting other believers, words spoken to the King about one another. Doing something good for one another, we can say. It is all part of the carriage, of the church of Jesus.

The exhortation
The watchmen on the city walls address the daughters of Zion to look at their happy King. The question arises: who are the daughters of Zion and in which city do they live? We could assume that they are the same group as the daughters of Jerusalem, the friends of the bride. Yet given the imagery I think the city here points to the heavenly city, and what we have here in picture form is some of the residents looking over the city wall and watching others make the journey. So I don’t think they are the same group as the daughters of Jerusalem who made the embroideries on the carriage.

Contrary to earthly weddings, the inhabitants of Zion are urged to look at the Husband rather than the bride. Of course, they are asked to do it together because the sight is of great interest to them. They are asked to look at two things about the King – his crown and his happiness.

We know that in Solomon’s own case his mother Bathsheba had to take steps to ensure he had the crown of his father David. So I suspect the reference to her is a reminder that Solomon had a legitimate right to the crown and all others were frauds. And we know that Jesus is the only One with a legitimate right to the throne of heaven. It is his by eternal possession and it is also his because it is the reward of his amazing work that he performed in order to bring about salvation.

Moreover, we can say that his crown is marked by liberating power. It is true that he possesses all power, but one of the main reasons that he possesses it is to set his people free from the bondage of sin. An example of that is given in the poem itself. And in addition we can say that the crown he possesses is also a lasting one, that it will be his forever. And we are asked to look at his crown because it is legitimate, liberating and lasting.

The other aspect on which the daughters of Zion are to fix their gaze is on the happiness of the King as he travels with each of his people through the wilderness to the heavenly city. Of course, there will be great joy when they reach the city and we can imagine the pleasure of Jesus when that happens. Still, there is a special focus on the love he enjoys displaying now as he and they get closer to the city. I suppose we could say that there is the love of purchase (he redeemed her), there is the love of presence (he loves to be with her), there is the love of progress (he sees his likeness increasing in her as time goes on), and there is the love of prospect (he anticipated glory with them when he prayed for them in John 17).

It is amazing that heaven is interested in what Jesus is doing for his church on earth. Of course, they don’t have the interest of mere curiosity. They know that part of his heavenly glory concerns what he is doing by his Spirit throughout the earth. Often they have seen the King find a sinner, carry a sinner through life, and bring a sinner home. And throughout it all, they have observed the joy of Jesus.

Still the focus here is on the love he felt on his wedding, which in the poem took place in the wilderness. Even although some time has passed since the moment of conversion, which may be the wedding, he has not lost the preciousness of that time. Unlike us, we might say, Jesus never loses his first love.

Looking for Jesus (Song 3:1-5)

What do we do when we lose something valuable? Normally we would search for it very carefully and very quickly. Perhaps the story that Jesus told about the woman who lost one of her ten coins comes to mind. The reality often is that seeking for what has been lost becomes the main priority for us. What happens, however, when we don’t start looking for what we have lost? Usually we become content with the circumstances and perhaps even forget what we once had.

Is this what happened to the church in Ephesus as described in Revelation 2? They had lost their first love, which was a tragic situation, but what is also tragic is that they had become content without it. No one would have noticed because they kept on doing what churches do. But they were now on a road to spiritual disaster unless they changed. What happened to them as a church could only occur because of what had happened to them as individuals.

A new poem begins here and it is a short one of five verses. To begin with, in verses 1-2, the woman is alone, searching for the King in two different places, first in her bed and then in the city. In verse 3, she is helped by the watchmen of the city to find where the King is. Verse 4 describes her finding him and the path she engaged in to enjoy his love, and then in verse 5 she speaks to the daughters of Jerusalem about her happy situation.

One detail that we can note is the contrast of this poem with the previous poem, and that is to observe who is doing the seeking now. In the previous poem, it was the King who came seeking for her at her place of residence whereas in this poem she is seeking for him in his residence. So we can see that we can approach the spiritual life from different perspectives. Of course, sometimes the King has to seek her because she has lost interest, but that is never a possible reason why she has to seek him. His absence has nothing to do with any loss of interest on his part.

The absence of Jesus (3:1)
The woman is described as being in bed, but unable to sleep because her beloved is not with her. It is the hours of darkness, of course, and she wonders what has happened. Perhaps she has woken up and discovered that he has gone suddenly. The point is that she misses him.

What does this depict in the spiritual life? I would suggest that it describes times of spiritual darkness that occur, and not because of sinful behaviour. Obviously, we will lose the sense of the Lord’s presence if we engage in sinful thoughts and actions. But the woman here is not in that state. Instead events have come about that have caused a separation between her and the King. Those occasions may come suddenly or they may last for a while. She is in the place of rest, but she has no rest. Her searching for him on the bed, when it is obvious that he is not there, points to perplexity at his absence.

We know that such experiences were common in the Bible. Many psalms focus on it, and the Book of Job describes one man’s very painful experience of it. One prophet described God as hiding himself. Yet we should notice what this kind of experience does not do. It does not diminish her love for her beloved. The psalmists turned to God in their troubles, as did Job. Our longings are often the best spiritual thermometer we can have, especially when things are not to our liking..

Searching for her beloved (3:2-3)
She realised that if she remained where she was, she would only have love for an absent King. And she did not want only that; in addition she wanted his presence with her in a clear way. She knew that he must be somewhere in the city, so she went to look for him. The city was a safe place for her to search, because in it were watchmen placed there by the King. They could tell her where he was.

What does the city represent? In Israel, it would have been Jerusalem, the capital city. Often in the Bible, the city depicts the church. We can think of Psalm 87, for example. And the streets and squares depict the various activities connected to the church. So we can say that here we have a picture of a believer seeking for Jesus in the various services of the church. There are a wide variety of such activities: meetings for fellowship, prayer, the Lord’s Supper etc. When we look for the King, it is right to go there because he himself goes to them as well. Often, believers have met with him in those places.

Yet as the lady went up and down the streets and the squares, she did not find the absent King. Something more was needed, and this was the instruction of the watchmen. We are not told how long she had to search before they became involved. Who were the watchmen? At the time, they would be the individuals who Solomon had chosen to pass on information, protect the city and warn of dangers. It is not too difficult to see in the watchmen a picture of pastors and leaders.

We should note that she uses the plural term when speaking of the watchmen, indicating that they worked in harmony looking after the King’s city. They are described as being alert and watchful, and they spot her in her difficulties. When they ask her about her concerns, she asks if they know where her beloved is. Obviously, they were able to tell her because she found him shortly after speaking to them.

How do spiritual watchmen indicate where the King is to be found? I suspect that there are two answers to this question. One is that they know by personal experience, because they are meant to be in fellowship with him. The other is that they know his Word – after all, Solomon’s watchmen would have known his instructions. So spiritual watchmen should know what the Bible says about spiritual experiences, even if they are not the experiences they are going through at the moment or may never have gone through yet. And so they are able to guide the one who is seeking for Jesus.

Finding Jesus (2:4)
It is obvious that the woman had to move beyond the watchmen in order to get to the King. We could imagine a situation in which the seeker could decide to stay with the watchmen because they seemed to know all about the King, and were able to give her a lot of information. Yet if she had done that, she would not have recovered her experience of the King. There is the danger of putting the guide in place of the goal. The goal is not to meet someone who knows Jesus and where he is. Instead our goal is to meet Jesus for ourselves.

In the illustration, we can see that the presence of the King is very close to the words of his watchmen. She had not gone far from them before she found him. Spiritually, how far may we be from the presence of the Saviour while listening to his watchmen. Perhaps only a prayer away.

The woman found the King and held him. We know that there are many pictures of faith in the Bible. Sometimes we can lean on Jesus, sometimes we can depend on Jesus. Those descriptions of faith we can say are more passive. In addition to them, there are active descriptions of faith, and one of them is holding the King. Humanly speaking, Solomon would have been far stronger than the woman, yet she was able to have power over him by her love. In a far higher sense, when we love Jesus much, he is compelled to bless us.

In addition, the woman had great determination. We might wonder why she did not want to go with him to his palace rather than taking him home to the house where she lived. We could say that the palace is where the King is, of course. Obviously, she wanted some form of privacy away from the bustle of the regular palace. And clearly the King was glad to go. The King, who is used to palaces, is delighted to be in his people’s humbler homes.

Why did she take him to her home? The answer is that she wanted him to have rest – we can see this is the case from verse 5. No doubt, it was the rest of love. We are aware that we as believers should find rest in Jesus. Yet it is also the case that he finds rest in his people. Rest indicates satisfaction, comfort and pleasure. Is it not amazing that Jesus receives such from those who express their love to him?

Keeping Jesus (v. 5)
The woman is aware of a danger to the recovered experience that she is now enjoying. We may think that the danger she mentions is very surprising because it is connected to the women who normally would want to help her the most, the daughters of Jerusalem. In previous episodes in the Song they had helped her in some of her experiences. Yet the rest of love can be disturbed by what might seem to be innocent words by the daughters. And we know that can be the case when we speak about worldly things to other believers, or even when we say truthful things that we don’t experience in our hearts.

Her previous loss makes her value her renewed experience and obviously she does not want to lose it again. So she asks the other lovers of the King to help her in maintaining her enjoyment of his love. Probably she recalls how easy it was for her to have lost his presence on the previous occasion.

Moreover, she is willing to let the King decide when he wants to move on from this experience (when he wakens), but until that moment comes she wants to enjoy his presence. She recognizes that circumstances will change, but until then she wants to enjoy the current contact. Changes happens in the spiritual life as well and we know that even the times of highest contact with Jesus will not last. The disciples, after all, could not stay on the Mount of Transfiguration longer than was beneficial at that time. Nevertheless, here in these verses are described the rest of love, and it can be known in this world.