Sunday, June 4th, 2023
Pett's Commentary on the Bible Pett's Commentary
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Song of Solomon 1". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ pet/ song-of-solomon-1.html. 2013.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Song of Solomon 1". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
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‘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.
“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 Psalms 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’ (Song of Solomon 3:6; Song of Solomon 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 16:0; Ezekiel 23:0), 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 (Psalms 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 Rom 7:4 ; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25-27; Revelation 19:7-8; Revelation 21:2; Revelation 22:17; compare John 14:18; John 14:23). 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 (Psalms 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; John 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 Psalms 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 Psalms 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’ (Song of Solomon 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; Isaiah 37:22; Jeremiah 18:13; Jeremiah 31:4; Jeremiah 31:21; 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.
Song of Solomon 1:4
“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’ (Psalms 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; Deuteronomy 12:12). 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; John 15:9; Ephesians 1:4; Ephesians 3:17-19; Ephesians 5:2; 1 John 4:10; 1 John 4:16; 1 John 4:19) 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; John 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’.
The First Assignation of The Lovers (Song of Solomon 1:2 to Song of Solomon 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).
“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 Corinthians 5:21). Having been made clean His people are to be beautiful in Him with the beauty of holiness (Psalms 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; Joshua 15:47.
“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 - Psalms 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; Hosea 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; 1 John 1:10), 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 Matthew 5:42-48).
“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; Jeremiah 50:6; Ezekiel 34:5; 1 Kings 22:17), and looked forward to one day seeing her shepherd king (Ezekiel 34:23; Ezekiel 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; 2 Corinthians 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 Song of Solomon 5:9; Song of Solomon 6:1, and indicates who the speakers are. They are the young women of the land.
“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; Ezekiel 34:10), 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 Psalms 23:0; 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; John 10:27). 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 (Song of Solomon 5:9; Song of Solomon 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.
“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 (Psalms 45:13-15; Isaiah 54:1-6; Isaiah 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.
“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; Deuteronomy 12:12; Genesis 31:54; Psalms 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 Psalms 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; Matthew 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,
“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.
“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 Song of Solomon 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; Jeremiah 2:13). 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.