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The Pulpit Commentaries The Pulpit Commentaries
Song of Solomon 3
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Song of Solomon 3". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ song-of-solomon-3.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Song of Solomon 3". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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Song of Solomon 3:1
By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not. The bride is probably relating a dream. The time referred to is the close of the day on which she had been visited by her lover. She is retired to rest, and dreams that she searches for the beloved object in the neighbouring city (cf. Job 33:15). It is another way of telling her love. She is always longing for the beloved one. She had been waiting for him, and he came not, and retired to rest with a heart troubled and anxious because her lover did not appear as she expected at the evening hour. The meaning may be "night after night (לֵילוֹת)" (cf. So Song of Solomon 3:8), or the plural maybe used poetically for the singular. Ginsburg observes that "by night on my bed" is opposed to midday couch (cf. 2 Samuel 4:5), merely to express what came into her thoughts at night in her dreams or as the result of a dream. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the bride intends to represent herself as suffering from self-reproach in having grieved her lover and kept him away from her. In that case the typical meaning would be simple and direct. The soul grieves when it is conscious of estrangement from him whom it loves, and the sense of separation becomes intolerable, impelling to new efforts to deepen the spiritual life.
Song of Solomon 3:2
(I said) I will rise now, and go about the city, in the streets and in the broad ways; I will seek him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not. Delitzsch renders, "So I will arise, then." The words of the maiden are quite inconsistent with the hypothesis of a shepherd lover, for in that case she would seek him, not in the streets, but outside the city. Some think the city referred to is Jerusalem, with its markets and streets—the royal city (cf. Proverbs 7:11). If it is a dream, it will be unnecessary to decide to what city the words refer. The idea of the speaker would seem to be either that she was at the time within the walls of the city referred to, or that she was in some dwelling near. But a dream is not always consistent with the real circumstances of the dreamer. Taking it as a reminiscence of first love, it seems better to understand the city as only imaginary, or some neighbouring town in the north.
Song of Solomon 3:3
The watchmen that go about the city found me: (to whom I said) Saw ye him whom my soul loveth? The simplicity of these words is very striking. They confirm the view that the bride is recalling what occurred in her country life. The watchmen make no reply, and do not treat her ill, as in the dream related in So Song of Solomon 5:7, where they are keepers of the walls, and smite her and wound her. In a small country town she might have been recognized, or known to be really in trouble. But such incidents must not be pressed too much in a poem. The allegorical view finds considerable support in the fact that it is difficult on any hypothesis exactly to explain the language as descriptive of real occurrences. In such instances as Psalms 127:1 and Isaiah 52:8 the reference to watchmen in the city shows that such a metaphor would be familiarly understood. Whether adopted from Solomon's Song or not, the figure of a city watched and guarded, and the people of God as watching for the glory of Zion, was common in the prophetic writings. The soul seeking for its object and for the restoration of its peace calls in the aid of the faithful guardians of the holy city, the friends alike of the Saviour and of those who desire to be his.
Song of Solomon 3:4
It was but a little that I passed from them, when I found him whom my soul loveth: I held him, and would not let him go, until I had brought him into my mother's house, and into the chamber of her that conceived me. This verse plainly points to the search referred to in the previous verse being limited to the neighbourhood of Shulamith's home. The lover was not far off, though he had delayed his coming. Possibly it is a real occurrence which is related. In that case we must suppose that the night was not very far advanced. But the hypothesis of a dream is the most natural explanation. The word cherer, which is used of the house, denotes the inner part, penetralia. The modesty of the last clause is very beautiful. The mother would, of course, at that time be in her sleeping chamber. There alone would the maiden receive her lover at such a time. The mother would gladly welcome the young man, and thus the love which Shulamith declares is set upon the ground of perfect chastity and homely purity. The object of this little episode introduced by the bride into her song as she lies in the arms of Solomon is to show that, ecstatic and intense as her devotion is, it is not the lawless affection of a concubine, but the love of a noble wife. The religious emotions are always presented to us in Scripture, not as wild fanaticism or superficial excitement, but as pure offering of the heart which blends with the highest relations and interests of human life, and sanctifies home and country with all their ties and obligations. The mother and the child are one in the new atmosphere of bridal joy. No religion is worthy of the name which does not bring its object into the chamber of her who conceived us. We love all that are bound with us in life not the less, but the more, because we love Christ supremely. We revere all that is just and holy in the common world the more, and not the less, because we worship God and serve the Lord. What a rebuke to asceticism, monasticism, and all unsocial religion!
Song of Solomon 3:5
I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes, and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor awaken love, until it please. This is the refrain which divides the poem. We thus perceive that the whole of the preceding passage has been uttered by the bride in the presence of the ladies. There is no occasion to connect a refrain very closely with the words which go before it. Like the ancient Greek chorus, it may express a general sentiment in harmony with the pervading feeling of the whole composition. In this case it seems to be a general note of praise, celebrating the preciousness of pure, spontaneous affection. There have been several beautiful and celebrated imitations of this first part of Solomon's Song, though they all fall far short of the original. Paul Gerhard has caught its spirit; Laurentius has copied it in his Advent Hymn. Watts, in bk. 1:66-78 of his 'Divine gongs;' 'Lyra Germanica;' Schaff's 'Christian Song;' and Miss Havergal, in some of her compositions, will furnish examples. Delitzsch quotes an ancient Latin imitation—
"Quando tandem venies, meus amor?
Propera de Libano, dulcis amor!
Clamat, amat, sponsula. Veni, Jesu;
Dulcis veni Jesu."
This ends Part II; which sets before us the lovely beginning of this ideal love. We must then suppose that the writer imagines himself in Jerusalem, as though one of the court ladies, at the time that Solomon the king returns from the north, bringing with him his bride elect. We pass, therefore, from the banqueting chamber, and recall the scenes which accompanied the arrival of Shulamith at Jerusalem. The remainder of the poem is simply the celebration of married love, the delight of the bridegroom in the bride and of the bride in her husband. The whole book concerns a bride, and not one who is about to be made a bride. Here the dream which is introduced is not the dream of a lover awaiting the beloved one, but the dream of a young wife whose bridegroom tarries. The third part is the nuptial rejoicings; the fourth part is the reminiscence of love days or of the early married life; and the fifth part, which is a conclusion, is a visit of Solomon and his bride to the country home of the latter, pointing to the depth and reality of the influence which this pure maiden had upon his royal nature.
Part III. NUPTIAL REJOICINGS.
Song of Solomon 3:6
Who is this that cometh up out of the wilderness like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all the powders of the merchant? This may be taken as spoken by a single voice, one of the ladies or inhabitants of Jerusalem, or it may be regarded as the exclamation of the whole population going out to see the splendid sight—a gorgeous procession coming towards the city. "Who is this coming?" (עֹלָה, feminine); that is, "Who is this lady coming?" There could be no difficulty in discerning that it was a bridal procession which is seen. Curiosity always asks, "What bride is this?" "Who is she?" not, "Who is he?" A maiden from Galilee is being conducted to Jerusalem; the procession naturally passes through the valley of the Jordan (Ghor). There is splendour and majesty in the sight. It must be some one coming to the royal palace. The censers of frankincense are being swung to and fro and filling the air with fragrant smoke. Columns of dust and smoke from the burning incense rise up to heaven, and mark the line of progress before and after. "The spices of Arabia" were famous at all times. Hence the names of the perfumes are Arabic, as murr, levona, and the travelling spice merchant, or trader, was Arabic (cf. the Arabic elixir). We can scarcely miss the typical colouring in such a representation—the wilderness, typical of bondage and humiliation, sin and misery, out of which the bride is brought; the onward progress towards a glorious destination (see Isaiah 40:3; Hos 1:1-11 :16; Psalms 68:8). The Church must pass through the wilderness to her royal home, and the soul must be led out of the wilderness of sin and unbelief into everlasting union with her Lord.
Song of Solomon 3:7
Behold, it is the litter of Solomon; three score mighty men are about it, of the mighty men of Israel. The litter, or palanquin, is easily recognized. The word is mittah, which is literally "bed," or "litter," but in the ninth verse we have another word, appiryon, which is a more stately word. "the royal car." It is the bringing home of the bride which is described. In the forty-fifth psalm the idea seems to be that the bridegroom betook himself to the house of the parents and fetched his bride, or that she was brought to him in festal procession, and he went forth to meet her (see 1 Macc. 9:39). That was the prevailing custom, as we see in the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). In this case, however, there is a vast difference in rank between the bride and bridegroom, and she is brought to him. The long journey through the wilderness is implied in the mention of the bodyguard (cf. Isaiah 4:6; Isaiah 25:4). The intention evidently is to show how dear the bride was to Solomon. His mighty men were chosen to defend her. So the Church is surrounded with armies of guardian attendants. Her Lord is the Lord of hosts. The description reminds us of the exquisite lines in Shakespeare's 'Antony and Cleopatra,' in which he describes the lovely Egyptian in her barge "like a burnished throne," lying "in her pavilion (cloth of gold, of tissue)," with the smiling cupids on each side, while
"... from the barge,
A strange invisible perfume hits the sense
Of the adjacent wharfs."
(Acts 2:0, sc. 2)
The word mittah, "a bed, or litter," comes from a root "to stretch out," and is also used of a bier (see 2 Samuel 3:21). The idea is that of a portable bed, or sitting cushion, hung round with curtains, after the manner of the Indian palanquin, such as is still found in the Turkish caiques or the Venetian gondolas. It was, of course, royal, belonging to Solomon, not to any nobleman or private person; hence its magnificence. The bearers are not named. The bodyguard, consisting of sixty chosen men, forming an escort, were one tenth part of the whole royal guard, as we see from 1 Samuel 27:2; 1 Samuel 30:9. Delitzsch suggests that in the mention of the number there may be a reference to the twelve tribes of Israel—60 being a multiple of 12. The term, "mighty men," is explained in the next verse as warriors, that is, men "held fast by the sword" (אֲחֻזִיִ חֶרֶב), i.e; according to Hebrew idiom, men practised in the use of the sword; so it is explained by some; but others take it as meaning that they "handle the sword;" hence our Revised Version.
Song of Solomon 3:8
They all handle the sword, and are expert in war: every man hath his sword upon his thigh because of fear in the night. The guard of warriors round the litter secured the bride from any sudden alarm as she travelled through the wilderness, and so gave her quiet rest. The journey from Shunem to Jerusalem would be about fifty miles in a direct course, and it was therefore necessary to pass at least one, if not two, nights on the way; the course being through a wild and solitary region. The Church of God may be often called to pass through dangers and enemies, but he that loveth her will provide against her destruction—she shall have rest in the love of. her Lord. He will surround her with his strength. "My peace I give unto thee"—provided by me, coming from myself, the fruit of my self-sacrificing love.
Song of Solomon 3:9, Song of Solomon 3:10
King Solomon made himself a palanquin of the wood of Lebanon. He made the pillars thereof of silver, the bottom thereof of gold, the seats of it of purple, the midst thereof being paved with love, from the daughters of Jerusalem. The palanquin is described, that the attention may be kept fixed awhile on the bridal procession, which, of course, forms the kernel of the whole poem, as representing the perfect union of the bride and bridegroom. The Greek versions translate φορεῖον: the Vulgate, ferculum. We read in Athenaeus (Song of Solomon 5:13) that the philosopher and tyrant Athemon showed himself on "a silver-legged φορεῖον with purple coverlet." There probably is some connection between the Hebrew appiryon and the Greek phoreion, but it is exceedingly doubtful if the Hebrew is merely a lengthened form of the Greek. Delitzsch derives the Hebrew from a root parah, "to cut or carve" anything of wood. The Greek would seem to be connected with the verb φερω, "to bear," "carry." The resemblance may be a mere coincidence. The rabbinical tradition is that the Hebrew word means "couch, or litter." Hitzig connects it with the Sanscrit paryana, meaning "saddle," "riding saddle," with which we may compare the Indian paryang. "bed." Others find a Chaldee root for the word, פָרָא, "to run," as currus in Latin, or from a root גָּאַר, "to shine," i.e." to be adorned." At all events, it would not be safe to argue the late date of the book from such a word as appiryon, on account of its resemblance to a Greek word. The "wood of Lebanon" is, of course, the cedar or cypress (1 Kings 5:10, etc.). There may be a covert allusion intended to the decoration of the temple as the place where the honour of the Lord dwelleth, and where he meets his people. The frame of the palanquin was of wood, the ornaments of silver. The references to the high value set upon silver, while gold is spoken of as though it was abundant, are indications of the age in which the poem was composed, which must have been nearly contemporaneous with the Homeric poems, in which gold is spoken of similarly. Recent discoveries of the tomb of Agamemnon, etc; confirm the literary argument. The palanquins of India are also highly decorated. The daughters of Jerusalem, i.e. the ladies of the court, in their affection for King Solomon, have procured a costly tapestry, or several such, which they have spread over the purple cushion. Thus it is paved, or covered over, with the tokens of love—while all love is but a preparation for this supreme love. (For the purple coverings of the seat, see Judges 5:10; Amos 3:12; Proverbs 7:16.) The preposition מִן in the last clause is rendered differently by some, but there can be no doubt that the meaning is "on the part of," that is, coming from. The typical interpreter certainly finds a firm ground here. Whether we think of the individual believer or of the Church of God, the metaphor is very apt and beautiful—we are borne along towards the perfection of our peace and blessedness in a chariot of love. All that surrounds us speaks to us of the Saviour's love and of his royal magnificence, as he is adored by all the pure and lovely spirits in whose companionship he delights.
Song of Solomon 3:11
Go forth, O ye daughters of Zion, and behold King Solomon, with the crown wherewith his mother hath crowned him in the day of his espousals, and in the day of the gladness of his heart. This seems to be an appeal to a larger company of those who will rejoice in the bride and her happiness. The daughters of Zion are perhaps intended to represent the people generally as distinguished from the ladies of the court, i.e. let all the people rejoice in their king and in his royal bride. The mention of the royal mother seems to point to the beginning of Solomon's reign as the time referred to. The crown, or chaplet, with which the proud mother adorned her son, was the fresh wreath round a young king's head, a wedding coronet, no doubt made of gold and silver. It was not the crown placed on the head of Pharaoh's daughter, which would not be so spoken of. According to the Talmud, the custom remained even to later times. There can be no doubt of Bathsheba's special delight in Solomon (see 1 Kings 1:11; 1 Kings 2:13). We must not, of course, push too far the typical interpretation of such language, which may be taken as the poetical form rather than the spiritual substance. And yet there may be an allusion, in the joy and pride of Bathsheba in her son's gladness, and the consummation of his nuptial bliss, to the Incarnation and the crowning glory of a Divine humanity, which is at once the essential fact of redemption, and the bright expectation which, on the head of the Saviour, lights up eternity to the faith of his people.
Song of Solomon 3:1-5
The dream of the bride.
I. THE ABSENCE OF THE BELOVED.
1. The bride's distress. In the last chapter the bride related to her female friends some of the incidents of her early love; here she seems to be relating a dream of those same well remembered days. The whole narrative, like that of So Song of Solomon 5:2-8, has a dream-like character. The circumstances are not such as would be likely to occur in real life; but the longing, the wandering, the search, represent in a vivid truthful way the images of dreams. She was lying asleep on her bed; her thoughts were full of the absent bridegroom. "I sought him," she says," but I found him not." We notice the dream-like repetition, the dwelling upon phrases. Four times in these five verses we have the fond description of the bridegroom, which occurred for the first time in So Song of Solomon 1:7, "him whom my soul loveth." Twice we have the utterance of unsatisfied longing, "I sought him, but I found him not." She was sleeping, but (as in So Song of Solomon 5:2, "I sleep, but my heart waketh") her thoughts were busy and active. Her whole heart was given to her beloved. Those oft-repeated words, "him whom my soul loveth," imply a very deep affection, a great love. The believer remembers God in the watches of the night. The psalmist says, "In the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life;" and again, "I call to remembrance my song in the night: I commune with mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search" (Psalms 42:8; Psalms 77:6). If our heart is given to the heavenly Bridegroom, we shall think of him as we lie on our beds; our first waking thoughts will be of him. Alas! our love for Christ is not like the bride's love in the Song of Songs. How few of us can in truth speak of the Saviour as "him whom my soul loveth"! The bride dwelt upon those words as the simple truth, the sincere expression of her feelings. We dwell upon them, too; but, alas! with a sense of much coldness and ingratitude, a remembrance of much insincerity and unreality.
"God only knows the love of God;
Oh that it now were shed abroad
In this poor stony heart!
For love I sigh, for love I pine;
This only portion, Lord, be mine,
Be mine this better part."
The Christian dwells on the words, longing for grace to make them his own, the utterance of his inmost heart. Here is the spiritual value of the Song of Songs. We see what a great love is; how it absorbs the heart and fills the soul. Such should be our love to Christ; such should be our "songs in the night" (Job 35:10). The bride sought her beloved in the visions of the night. We seem sometimes in our dreams to be going on long trackless journeys, wandering ever in search of something we know not what. So the bride could not find him whom her soul loved. Such are sometimes the experiences of the Christian soul. So Job once complained, "Oh that I knew where I might find him! that I might come even unto his seat!… Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him" (Job 23:3, Job 23:8). The Lord has said, "Seek, and ye shall find;" "Every one that seeketh findeth." But he has also said, "Strive to enter in at the strait gate; for many, I say unto you, shall seek to enter in, and shall not be able." Those who seek shall surely find at last; but the seeking must be diligent seeking, patient, persevering; there must be striving too, struggling to Overcome obstacles, wrestling against the spiritual enemies who would bar our way. It is not enough to seek by night on our beds; there must be effort, sustained effort, not mere dreamy aspirations; and that not only by night, not only in the hour of darkness: "in the day of my trouble I sought the Lord" (Psalms 77:2). We must seek the Lord always; in the hour of health and strength, in the days of our youth; giving him our best, doing all things to his glory. Such seeking will surely find him.
2. The search. "I will rise now," she says. The Hebrew tense is cohortative. She is addressing herself, arousing herself. Dreaming as she is, she feels that this is not the way to seek; she must leave her bed, she must rise. Perhaps she remembered the bridegroom's words spoken in the freshness of their first love: "Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away." She seems to rise; in her dreams she goes about the city in the streets, seeking him whom her soul loved. We must arise and seek the Lord; we must not lie still in careless slumber; we must seek him wherever his providence has set us, whether in the quiet country or in the bustling, crowded city. We may find him in any place, provided it be one where a Christian may safely tread; in any employment, provided it be lawful and innocent; in the city, in the streets, and in the broadways.
"There are in this loud stunning tide
Of human care and crime,
With whom the melodies abide
Of the everlasting chime;
Who carry music in their heart
Through dusky lane and wrangling mart,
Plying their daily task with busier feet,
Because their secret souls a holy strain repeat."
Still the bride found not the beloved; she repeats her first lament like a plaintive refrain: "I sought him, but I found him not." The soul does not always find the Lord at once when it first feels its need of the Saviour. We try one plan after another; we make effort after effort; but for a time all our efforts are vain. We know that he may be found, that others have found him and have felt the blessedness of his love. But the search seems long fruitless. God would have our search to be sincere, thoughtful, earnest. Therefore he tries our faith. He proves us, as once he proved Abraham; as the Lord Jesus tried the faith of the Syro-Phoenician woman. Again and again she sought his help, but for some time there was no response; silence at first, then what seemed to be a stern refusal. Still she persevered, she urged her prayer; her case was like that of the bride—she sought him, but she found him not. We must follow her example, remembering the Lord's teaching, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint. We must imitate the bride in her dream, and seek on, though for a long season our search may seem unsuccessful—though we find him not.
II. THE ULTIMATE SUCCESS OF THE BRIDE'S SEARCH.
1. She meets the watchmen. The watchmen found her (as again in So Job 5:7). Sheasks them the question which was so near her heart, "Saw ye him whom my soul loveth?" They were going about the city; they might be able to guide her to the object of her search. But they were like the watchman of Psalms 127:1-5, waking but in vain for the bride's purpose, unable to help her. It is not always that Christian friends, or the ministers of God's holy Word and sacraments, who "watch for our souls" (Hebrews 13:17), can help us in our search for Christ. We ask them, we seek their help; it is right to do so; sometimes they can help us. But each soul must find Christ for itself. "Work out your own salvation," St. Paul said to the Philippians; and that, "not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence" (Philippians 2:12).
2. She finds the bridegroom. The watchmen could give her no good tidings; but she did not faint; she did not return home or throw herself down in despair; she continued her search alone. She would search on till she found the beloved of her soul. And her search was rewarded at last. "It was but a little that I passed from them, but I found him whom my soul loveth." God is not far from us even in the hour of deepest gloom, when we seem to strain our eyes through the darkness, and can see no light. If we seek him earnestly we shall surely find him at the last; for he, we know, is seeking us. The Lord Jesus Christ came to seek and to save that which was lost. He seeketh the lost sheep until he find it. He giveth his life for the sheep. Then we may be quite sure that he who loved us with such a love, a love stronger than death, will not suffer any penitent soul that seeketh him in faith, in sorrow for the past, in earnest painful longings for forgiveness, to lose its way, to wander on without finding, to inquire everywhere without result, "Saw ye him whom my soul loveth?" He will surely manifest himself according to his blessed promise, as he did to the two disciples who on the first Easter Day were mourning for their lost Master, and would not be comforted by the words of the women who "had seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive." He will come in his gracious love, and then our heart will burn within us as he manifests himself, and our eyes shall be opened, and we shall know him; and that knowledge is eternal life (John 17:3).
3. She brings him to her home. The long wanderings of the dream were over. She had found him whose love filled her waking thoughts, of whom her dreams were full when she slept. She would not let him go. The anguish of that long, almost despairing search should not be in vain. She held him fast, and brought him to her own home, into its inmost chambers. The soul that once has found Christ clings to him with the strong embrace of faith. He may "make as though he would go further" (Luke 24:28), to try our faith, that we may feel our need of him. But as the two disciples then "constrained him, saying, Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent," so the soul holds him and will not let him go. The soul, weak as Jacob was weak, struggles with the strength that the sense of weakness gives. "I will not let thee go, except thou bless me."
"Yield to me now, for I am weak,
But confident in self-despair:
Speak to my heart, in blessings speak;
Be conquered by my instant prayer:
Speak! or thou never hence shalt move,
And tell me if thy name is Love.
My prayer hath power with God: the grace
Unspeakable I now receive;
Through faith I see thee face to face,
I see thee face to face, and live!
In vain I have not wept and strove:
Thy nature and thy name is Love."
This noble hymn of Charles Wesley's expresses the feelings of a soul that has found Christ. We must not let him go, not for any perplexities, not for any temptations. St. Paul tells us that no difficulties can draw us back from him if we really give him our heart. "I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38, Romans 8:39). Then we must cling very closely to him, not letting go any one desire to serve him better and to love him more. We must stimulate every such desire into activity by actual self-denying effort. We must try with all our heart to realize his presence always, at all times and in all places, in our business, our amusements, our intercourse with friends and relations, as well as in the hour of private prayer or public worship. We must try with conscious effort to please him always; seeking, indeed, to serve him much, like Martha, but still more to please him perfectly, like Mary. And we must bring him into our home, into the very inmost chambers of our heart, opening them all to him, dedicating them all, every purpose of ours, every hope, every aspiration, to him, beseeching him to accept our imperfect offering, to make our hearts his temple, to fulfil in us his blessed promise, "If any man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode [our dwelling, our abiding place] with him" (John 14:23). And now we have again the adjuration of So Philippians 2:7. The bride has related her dream to the daughters of Jerusalem. The subject of that dream was love—pure and innocent love; its sorrows and its joys; separation and blessed reunion. It is a sacred thing. The daughters of Jerusalem were to listen in silent sympathy; they were not to praise or to blame; they were not to endeavour to stimulate or increase the love of bride or bridegroom; they were to leave it to its free spontaneous growth in the heart. Human love is a holy thing. The love that is between Christ and his Church, the love that is between the Lord of our redemption and every elect soul, is holier yet by far. It is not to be much talked of; it is to be treasured in the heart; it is the inmost spring of that life which is hidden with Christ in God. It must not be stirred by irreverent talk or disclosure; it must rest unseen "till it please"—till the fit time shall come for speaking of its blessedness.
Song of Solomon 3:6-11
I. THE APPROACH OF THE BRIDE.
1. The question. "Who is this?" We have here one of those refrains which form a striking characteristic of the song. The question, "Who is this?" (the pronoun is feminine, "Who is she?") is three times repeated (Song of Solomon 3:6; So Song of Solomon 6:10; Song of Solomon 8:5). It indicates always a fresh appearance of the bride. Here the words seem to be chanted by a chorus of young men, the friends of the bridegroom. They are struck with admiration at the beauty of the bride, and the royal state bestowed upon her by the king. She is coming up to Jerusalem from the distant Lebanon country, here described as the wilderness—which word in the Hebrew Scriptures often means, not a desert, but a thinly populated country, fit for feeding flocks, a pasture land. She comes like pillars of smoke perfumed with myrrh and frankincense. Perfumes are burned around her in such profusion that pillars of smoke appear to attend her progress. The marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. She is prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. She comes up from this lower world to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. The incense of adoration and thanksgiving rises as she moves onward. She is the holy Catholic Church, the great congregation of Christian people dispersed throughout the whole world. But the Church is made up of individual Christian souls. And that the Church may come as a whole to Christ the Bridegroom, each soul must come personally, individually. The soul cometh up out of the wilderness, out of the far country, where the world, the flesh, and the devil rule; up to Mount Zion, to the city of God, where is the true temple, where God is worshipped in spirit and in truth, where he manifests himself to them that seek him. And the prayer of the faithful, as they draw ever nearer, is set forth in God's sight as the incense, and the lifting up of their hands as the evening sacrifice. The Lord is pleased, in his infinite condescension, to regard our poor prayers when lifted up in faith as holy incense (Revelation 8:3, Revelation 8:4), because the great High Priest is praying for us. Our poor prayer joins itself through the power of faith with his prevailing prayer, and therefore rises up before the throne as a pillar of sweetest incense smoke, acceptable to God through Christ. The thought that God is pleased so to honour the prayers of the faithful, that he condescends to seek such worship, worship offered up in spirit and in truth, makes prayer a very sacred thing. The approach of the Christian soul to God is very solemn. The soul cometh out of the wilderness, away from its old haunts; it is ascending up to Mount Zion, to the presence chamber of the King of heaven; it must come with reverence and godly fear, remembering that God's presence is very awful as well as very blessed; it must come with the perfume of holy thoughts and heavenly aspirations, with the offering of prayer and praise rising up like the smoke of holy incense before the mercy seat.
2. The bed of Solomon. The chorus calls attention to the litter (for such seems here to be the meaning of the word) in which the bride is borne in her progress to the royal city. "It is his litter," they say. They add the royal name itself, "Behold his litter, which is Solomon's," to give emphasis to the honour bestowed upon the bride. The king has sent his own litter to convey his bride to the palace, the palanquin in which he himself was carried. It was King Solomon's; it is the bride's, for the king has given it to her. God has given us all things, St. Paul says (Romans 8:32). If only we are Christ's, then all things are ours—the world, life, death, things present, things to come (1 Corinthians 3:21, 1 Corinthians 3:22). And the Lord himself says, "The glory which thou gavest me, I have given them" (John 17:22). It is his will that his chosen should be with him where he is. He gives them now all that is necessary to convey them thither. "God rode upon a cherub" (Psalms 18:10). The Lord will "send his angels … and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (Matthew 24:31). The angels carried the soul of Lazarus into Abraham's bosom. But we may learn here another very solemn lesson. The litter of Solomon bore the bride up to Mount Zion; the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ brings the Christian soul to heaven. The Lord was lifted up upon the cross. Several ancient writers tell us that in Psalms 96:10 the earliest reading was, "The Lord hath reigned from the wood." The cross is his throne; it drew, and still draws, all faithful souls to him; it has lifted him up to reign over the hearts of all the best and truest. It behoved him first to suffer, and then to enter into his glory. "He humbled himself even unto the death of the cross; wherefore God also hath highly exalted him" (Philippians 2:9). And he brings his elect to God by the same way which he trod himself. The cross lifts the Christian soul to God.
"Nearer my God, to thee,
Nearer to thee;
E'en though it be a cross
That raiseth me."
The Christian is "crucified with Christ" (Galatians 2:20). He is lifted up by the cross of atonement, the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, and then by the cross of spiritual self-sacrifice, the cross borne with Christ, into the very presence of the King. Nothing else can bear him thither. He must pray, "Thy will be done," before he asks, "Give us this day our daily bread." He must learn from the suffering Lord the inner meaning of his own holy prayer. "Not my will, but thine be done." He must remember that the cross is the cross of Christ; that the Lord, who was himself lifted up upon the cross, sends the cross to his followers to lift them also upwards; that, purified and refined by holy self-denials, and by suffering meekly borne, they may at length be with him where he is, and behold his glory, and sit with him in his throne (Revelation 3:21).
3. The guard. The king had sent his own guard to escort the bride to her new home. King David had a guard of thirty mighty men; Solomon, it seems, had double the number. All were expert in war; all bore the sword because of fear in the night. From Psalms 10:1-18, especially Psalms 10:7-10, we learn that parts of Palestine were in David's time dangerous from bands of brigands. The king had cared for the safety of the bride; the escort was not given her merely for honour. So now the Lord giveth his angels charge over his people to keep (to guard) them in all their ways; so now "the angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them" (Psalms 91:11; Psalms 34:7). They "shall not be afraid for the terror by night" (Psalms 91:5), for "they that be with us are more than they" that be against us (2 Kings 6:16). The description of the armed guard reminds us that we too have to fight the good fight of faith, that we have to wrestle "against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness" (Ephesians 6:12). We have to take to ourselves the panoply of God, the armour of light; like the mighty men of Israel who guarded the bride, we must take "the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God." That sword will save us from the "fear of the night," because it is "through patience and comfort of the Scriptures" that we have hope (Romans 15:4). Thus the Holy Scriptures are not only the sword of the Spirit; they furnish us also with hope, the hope of salvation, which is the helmet of the Christian warrior. To gain that sword and that helmet we must study the Word of God in faith; that living faith which (St. Paul tells us) is the shield whereby we may "quench all the fiery darts of the wicked." If we do our part, quitting ourselves like men, fighting manfully under the banner of the cross, we need fear no evil. Our angel guard, sent forth because of them that shall be heirs of salvation, called in Holy Scripture "their angels," because they have charge over them, as well as God's angels, because he is their God and King, will ever encamp around us and keep us till we appear before God in Zion.
II. THE KING GOES FORTH TO MEET THE BRIDE.
1. The chariot of the king. The bride approaches in a litter sent for her by the king. Solomon himself goes forth to receive her in his car of state. He had had it made according to his own plans, with that artistic skill and magnificence which were characteristic of him. It was made of the fragrant and imperishable cedar wood brought from Lebanon, the country of the bride. Its decorations were of the richest—gold and silver, and the costly Tyrian purple; in the midst was a tesselated pavement, a gift of love from the daughters of Jerusalem. The bride, the Lamb's wile, shall have the glory of God (Revelation 21:9, Revelation 21:11). When she is "prepared as a bride adorned for her husband," then, we are told, "the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God" (Revelation 21:3). When Christ, the true Solomon, the Prince of Peace, shall bring his bride, the Church, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the foundation of peace, he will manifest himself to her in his glory. Now he is interceding for us, that then we may be with him where he is, that we may behold his glory. Then, if we are his indeed, we shall see him as he is, and shall be made like unto him (1 John 3:2). It was a great thing for the poor bride from the Lebanon to be brought into the court of the king whose magnificence filled the Queen of Sheba with wonder and delight. But "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9). None can tell the blessedness of those happy souls who, having washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, "shall see the King in his beauty" (Isaiah 33:17); shall sit with him in his throne amid the glories of the golden city; shall see his face, and his Name shall be in their foreheads. Heart of man cannot conceive the exceeding great joy of that moment of most entrancing bliss, when the heavenly Bridegroom shall bring home the Church, his bride. King Solomon issued out of Jerusalem in royal pomp to meet his betrothed. When the marriage of the Lamb is come, "the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:16, 1 Thessalonians 4:17).
2. The glory and great joy of the king. The chorus calls upon the daughters of Zion to go forth and see the splendour of the royal espousals. King Solomon has brought home his bride; his heart is glad; his mother has crowned him with the royal diadem; he is happy in the love of his bride. The Prophet Isaiah comforts Zion with the blessed promises that "as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee" "Thou shalt no longer be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzi-bah ['my delight is in her'], and thy land Beulah ['married']: for the Lord delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married" (Isaiah 62:4, Isaiah 62:5). So the Lord "Christ loved the Church, and gave himself for her; that he might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the Word,: that he might present her to himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that she should be holy and without blemish" (Ephesians 5:25-27). It was for the joy set before him that Christ endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2). The Lord bringeth home the lost sheep rejoicing. He saith, "Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep that was lost" "Rejoice with me!" And they do rejoice, the Saviour of the world and the holy angels round his throne. The Lord's exceeding great love for our poor dying souls makes the salvation of those souls very precious in his sight. Nothing can show the depth and tenderness of the blessed love with which he yearned for our salvation except the great agony of Gethsemane, the awful anguish of the cross. Therefore the day of the resurrection of the blessed will be a day of joy in heaven. "Let us be glad, and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready" (Revelation 19:7). He is King of kings, and Lord of lords; on his head are many crowns (Revelation 19:12, Revelation 19:16). His virgin mother saw him once wearing the crown of thorns; now he wears the crown of boundless sovereignty. He had come down from heaven to seek his bride; now she is with him in his glory. "He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied" (Isaiah 53:11).
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
Song of Solomon 3:1-5
It is a dream that is told of in these verses. It was natural for her who tells it to have dreamt such a dream. Lifting up the story to the higher level of things spiritual, what these verses say suggests—
I. CONCERNING DREAMS GENERALLY. They are often revelations of life and character. Sometimes they are mere folly, the misty vapours exhaled by a gross and over-fed body. But at other times, as here, they have a deeper meaning. They show the manner of a man's life, the bent of his inclinations, the character of his soul. Our dreams never play us false. The motives that govern their acts are the motives that govern ours. A man dreams about the sins he loves too well; about the sorrows that haunt his life; about the joys on which his heart is set. Dreams have played a large part in God's governance of men. They often show us what we should avoid and what we should seek after. Though some are foolish, we cannot afford to despise them as if all were so.
II. CONCERNING THIS DREAM. In both its stages it reveals the fervent love of the dreamer.
1. It began sorrowfully. She thought she had lost her beloved (Song of Solomon 3:1, Song of Solomon 3:2). This the deepest of distresses to the renewed soul (cf. Psalms 77:1-4). If heaven would cease to be heaven, as it would were Christ's presence withdrawn, how much more must this life be all dark and drear if we have him not! And she tells how she sought him.
(1) In the city, amid the business and turmoil of men. But it is but little that he is there. They would most probably crucify him if they found him, so deadly is the hate the world hath for him. It is not true that virtue needs only to be seen to be loved. As our Lord was dealt with, so would it be.
(2) And in the assemblies, in society. And we cannot be surprised that he was not there. Society! does that word summon up the idea of a community who would cherish Christ's presence?
(3) But even the watchmen could not tell her of him. How wrong this! Zion's watchmen, and not know where Christ is to be found! They had found her, and very likely found fault with her, but they could not help her to find him. Such pastors there are, and to them "the hungry sheep look up, and are not fed." We can picture the soul's distress when these failed her. To have gone to the house of God hungering for direction Christwards, and to come back with none at all—that is a sorrow not unknown nor slight. But her dream did not end so.
2. It ended joyfully.
(1) Her beloved revealed himself to her. She "found him." But what is our finding other than his showing? (cf. the four findings of Christ told of in John 1:1-51.). How often when we have "passed from" Sundays and services and sermons, and have not found Christ, he is found of us in some other season, place, and circumstances! If he be found of them that seek him not—as he says he is—how much more will he fulfil his word, "They that seek me shall find me"!
(2) And she clave to him. "I held him," etc. The soul thus holds her Lord by her prayers, her trust, her communion, her service, her self-surrender. These grasp the Beloved, and will not let him go.
(3) And she will be content with nothing less than the full assurance of his love (Song of Solomon 3:4). We should resolve to have a religion that makes the soul happy. The religion that does not do this does but little at all. Cf. the elder son in the parable of the prodigal, he had a religion, but it was all gloom. Let us not be satisfied so. And if we seek, and find, and cleave, and so continue as set forth here, the joy of the Lord shall be ours.
III. CONCERNING THE AWAKING. Song of Solomon 3:5 shows that she is awake, and conscious of the love of her beloved, and would not be torn therefrom until he pleased (cf. on So Song of Solomon 2:7). But, awake, the soul finds that what was sad in her dream was but a dread, but what was joyful is an abiding reality. We cannot lose Christ really, though we may think we do; and the soul that seeks him shall find him.—S.C.
Song of Solomon 3:3
In this verse very much that it concerns Christ's ministers to give heed to is suggested.
I. THE WATCH THEY HAVE TO KEEP. Christ's ministers are meant (Isaiah 52:8; Isaiah 62:6; Ezekiel 33:7). Their watch is to be over themselves, over their teaching, over the Church of God.
II. THE REASON OF THEIR APPOINTMENT. It is night, when men sleep, when the foe takes advantage; hence the need of watchmen (Isaiah 21:11, Isaiah 21:12).
III. THE DUTY THEY HAVE TO DISCHARGE. "To go about the city." The ways and windings of the human heart. The highways of the Word of God. The streets of the city of God, the Church. They need to be acquainted with all these.
IV. WHAT THEY WILL MEET WITH. Such as they found here. They "found me;" that is, a wearied and sorrowful soul. They find such through their preaching or their pastoral work (1 Corinthians 14:24, 1 Corinthians 14:25). So souls are found. True watchmen are sure to find such.
V. THE QUESTION THEY WILL BE ASKED. (Cf. John 12:21, "Sir, we would see Jesus.") This the suggestion of what we read here. "Saw ye him whom my soul loveth?" And this is what such souls need; and the more they are directed to him, the more will the watchmen be valued and their word heeded. This is what our congregations want from us, and the question which in reality they put to us.
VI. THE IMPORTANCE OF THEIR ANSWER. Had they told her where he was whom she sought, she would have passed from them with gratitude and joy; as it was, because they could not tell her, she went away in deep distress. Such issues depend upon their word. It is good when they have seen Jesus for themselves. It is better when they can direct seeking souls to him. But it is sad indeed if they have neither seen him nor know how to direct inquirers to him. So was it with these watchmen; so let it not be with us.—S.C.
Song of Solomon 3:6-11
Solomon in all his glory.
(For explanation of details in these verses, see Exposition.) We have set before us here such glory as pomp and splendour, strength and power, great riches and sensual pleasure, could give. All that in which Solomon delighted, and for which his name became famous. Now, these things suggest—
I. A GREAT TEMPTATION. They were so:
1. To Solomon, for he yielded to it. All that these things could do for him he enjoyed to the full. The tradition of "Solomon and all his glory" came down through the centuries that followed. And the like things are a great temptation to men now. What will they not do for them? They were the last of the temptations with which Satan tempted our Lord. And to the good, the temptation of them lies in the suggestion that was doubtless made to the mind of our Lord—so much good may be done by them; they will so help in establishing the kingdom of God. His mind was, we may well believe, absorbed with the question how the great work he bad come to do, the establishment of this kingdom, could be accomplished. And here was the point and force of this temptation. To yield to it would have been as if he had fallen down and worshipped the evil one. Hence he spurned both it and him. And still "in the multitude," not of "words" only, but even more of riches, "there wanteth not sin." Therefore these things are not to become the object of desire in a good man's soul.
2. They were designed to tempt her of whom this song tells. Solomon would dazzle her with his splendour and wealth, and so would make her "forget" her "kindred" and her "father's house;" for the king desired her beauty. And in like manner the same temptation is held out still. For the sake of these things what sacrifices are made of loyalty and truth and goodness! She resisted by the might of her affection for her "beloved;" the power of her true love enabled her to overcome. And only the presence in our hearts of a higher love, and, best of all, the highest, even the love of God, will drive out and overcome all lower and evil love.
II. A GREAT LACK. There is nothing in all this glory of pomp and wealth which marks the presence of those Godward riches which alone are real; nothing to satisfy the soul of man or to help it in its life. The soul might starve, as Solomon's did, in spite of all this glory; and, on the other hand, the soul can prosper well though it can call none of this glory its own. We cannot help desiring earthly riches—they are designed in due measure to attract and stimulate us; and they will do us no harm if we are careful, all the while we seek them, to be rich towards God; to possess, as we may, "the unsearchable riches of Christ." But poor and miserable is that soul, though he have all Solomon's glory, if he have not these.
III. A VIVID TYPE. This is what expositors in all ages have mostly seen in the pomp these verses describe. Some have seen a setting forth of the glory of Christ on his return to heaven. He comes up out of the wilderness of this dreary world. The incense of praise, fragrant and precious, is given to him. He is borne in stately triumph (cf. Psalms 24:7-10). He is attended by his angel guards. He has prepared a place for them that love him, and will receive them unto himself. All who love him are to go forth and behold his glory. Thus the triumph of Jesus, the King of Zion, is shown forth. Others have read in these verses the unseen glory of the redeemed soul. He comes up out of the wilderness, as Lazarus was carried by angels into Abraham's bosom. The entrance into glory is with joy and praise. Angel guards surround. The King hath prepared a place, a throne—his own throne—on which the redeemed with their Lord shall sit. Love—Christ's love—has paved all the way. The vision of Christ in his glory which the redeemed shall enjoy. In such ways as this have devout souls found this Scripture full of profit; in this or in other ways may we find it likewise.—S.C.
HOMILIES BY J.D. DAVIES
Song of Solomon 3:1-4
The search for the true King.
When once the Spirit of truth has begun his work in the heart, there is a strong yearning after Jesus. In fulfilling his mission as the Revealer of Christ, the Spirit excites within us intense longings to have the friendship of Jesus. We take this as clear proof that a work of grace has begun in us if we feel that none but Christ can satisfy. Now we can part with all we have to obtain this goodly pearl. As the man who had inadvertently slain a fellow flees with lightning speed toward the city of refuge, feeling that the blood avenger is at his heels, so the convicted sinner has an eye for only one object—Christ. This persistent search for the Saviour is a token for good. The tree that does not easily languish in summer drought, but grows, blossoms, unfolds its fruit, has most certainly deep roots in the soil; so, if under manifold discouragements we steadily seek after Christ, we may be sure that we are planted in the soil of grace by the Lord's right hand. Three main thoughts are in this text.
I. JESUS SOUGHT. "I sought him whom my soul loveth."
1. True love to Christ glows brightly ever, in his absence. Genuine love is of all things the most unselfish. We love him not so much for the benefit to be obtained; we love him because he is lovable. Having once known him, we cannot restrain our love. To give the shrine of the heart to another would be self-degradation, idolatry. On this account it may be that Jesus keeps away. He sees some growing rivalry within. He sees some need for our self-purging. He wants the soul to realize a deeper need. He wants to make his love more prized. Many worthy reasons has Jesus for hiding himself. 'Tis a temporary winter in order to bring about a more prolific harvest. So, whether we have any assurance of his love or not, we will love him; we will seek after him.
2. The absence of Jesus makes midnight for the soul. "By night … I sought him." If Jesus has been our Sun of Righteousness, then his departure makes our night. All the things relating to the spiritual world are dark to us if Jesus be absent. We cannot see the face of our Father. We cannot read our titles clear to the heavenly inheritance. There is no growth of holy virtues in us. We cannot run the heavenly race. It is a time of wintry darkness and wintry barrenness if Jesus keeps away. No artificial light can take the place of Immanuel.
3. There is sound resolution. The soul has reached a noble resolution. "I will rise now." Some resolutions which we make are worthless. They are made under excited feeling, or from a passing fear, or they are the outcome of a shallow nature, which lightly esteems a pledge. But a resolution made in the strength of God is a firm step taken in advance. It is the first step in a series; for the strength of God is behind it. Genuine resolution never waits. It moves onward at once. No sooner had the prodigal boy resolved to return, than "he arose and came to his father." So here the bride says in the same breath, "I will seek him I sought him." The future is instantly translated into the present. Good resolution is not a pillow to sleep on; it is a horse which we should instantly mount.
4. There is active and persistent search. No journey is too great if we can only find our Beloved. Thousands travel every year over hot sands to Mecca in the hope of getting nearer to Mohammed, and so gaining his empty favour. Sharp privations are gladly endured in order to purchase this worthless merit. Gold seekers will voyage to the antipodes, and will run a thousand risks to obtain the virgin ore. Then does not highest wisdom impel us to seek the "unsearchable riches of Christ"? Shall the common adventurers of earth put us to shame? We must seek everywhere, in all likely places. If in one search we have been disappointed, we must try another. Columbus was not easily daunted when he was on the search for a new continent. Many noble lives have been sacrificed in the effort to find a searoute over the North Pole. Joseph and Mary did not easily abandon the search for the child Jesus. Pressed down with sorrow, they sought him in one company after another, nor gave up their effort until they found the lad.
"The subtle chemist can dissect
And strip the creature naked till he find
The callow principles within their nest.
What hath not man sought out and found
But his dear God?"
5. First disappointments will not deter us. "I sought him, but I found him not." The earnest seeker after Christ is not easily daunted. The first hindrance will not depress him, nor the second, nor the twentieth. Delays in finding Jesus only whet his appetite, and spur him on to fresh search. Failure in finding Christ is in no sense a detest. It is a gain in knowledge. It is helpful in experience. It is part of the process in the attainment of success. Difficulties make the man. If one road does not lead to righteousness and rest, another road will; for there is a road. And Christ is watching us carefully to see if we are faint hearted. The first experiment to utilize electricity for illuminating a city did not succeed, nor the second; yet mechanicians persevered until they reached the goal. And every awakened sinner is resolved to find Christ, or to die in the attempt. Our own blunders, as a rule, are the cause of delay.
6. There will be inquiry for Christ from qualified persons. "The watchmen that go about the city found me: to whom I said, Saw ye him whom my soul loveth?" These watchmen fifty represent the pastors of the Church. They know the haunts and habits of the Prince. They know the proneness of man's heart to err. They know the subtleties of the adversary and the deceitfulness of sin. Therefore a faithful pastor is a good guide for seeking souls. These under-shepherds are ever on the look out for Christ-seekers. We read, "They found me." Then they were searching for such. This is their business. As a man who has navigated a ship a hundred times through an intricate rocky channel makes the best pilot, so they who have themselves found Christ and walk daily with him are best qualified to lead wanderers into his fold. Shrink not from asking counsel. Avail yourself of every help.
II. JESUS FOUND. "I found him whom my soul loveth."
1. Jesus uses consecrated men to bring his chosen ones into his presence. Those who know him best are honoured to be chamberlains in his palace, and to introduce guests to his banquet table. His employment of us in this sacred and noble work is an unspeakable honour. A consecrated man is sure to become a guide to others, whether he fill an office in the Church or not. The pious women who talked with each other of Christ in the cottage porch at Elstow led John Bunyan into the friendship of Christ. As men who have travelled through a terra incognita erect guide posts for those who may follow, so every friend of Christ will find a heavenly pleasure in guiding wayward feet into the right way. Never was Paul the apostle a nobler man than when he put into words the burning desire of his heart, "I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh."
2. Diligent search is always rewarded. If, in self-diffidence, we follow the light of Scripture, sooner or later we are sure to succeed. "Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord." Men have searched long for the philosopher's stone and for the secret of perpetual motion—have searched long, and searched in vain. But no sincere lover of Christ yet sought him and failed to find him. Not more surely may you expect a harvest where you have sown good seed than success from seeking Christ. It prevails with the uniform regularity of law. "Then shall we find him when we seek him with all the heart." When there is a seeking sinner and a seeking Saviour, they are sure to meet ere long. Calvary is an old trysting place.
3. Genuine love appropriates Christ. "I held him." We naturally value anything a great deal more if we have taken many pains to acquire it. A jewel is valued for its rarity as well as for its intrinsic beauty. There is but one Christ; hence when we find him we hold him fast. But in what way can we hold him? We hold him by frequent communing with him. We hold him fast when we hourly try to please him. We hold him if our love is strong and fragrant. We hold him if in our heart garden there are ripe fruits of holiness. We hold him if there is harmony of purpose, will, and life. He loves companionship.
4. Every attempt of Jesus to depart is energetically resisted. "I would not let him go." In this way Jesus often tests our love. We have displeased him, and he rises to depart. Then will we confess the evil thing? Will we make some fresh self-sacrifice in order to detain him? He is not easily offended. He hateth putting away. But he loves to see in us a delicate sensitiveness of feeling. He delights to find a tender and childlike affection. It is for our highest good that he should be appreciated. As he did at Emmaus he sometimes deals with us: "he made as though he would have gone further; but they constrained him." And now he gladly yields to our constraints. It brings him delicious joy to feel the embraces of our love. If he can only strengthen and elevate our love, he has conferred on us the very highest good. If love grows, every grace will grow. If love grows, we grow like Christ. And this is love's firm resolve, "I would not let him go."
III. JESUS MADE KNOWN. "Until I had brought him into my mother's house."
1. We wish our best friend to accompany us everywhere. The genuine disciple desires to take Jesus with him into every circle and into every occupation. He is not content to have Jesus only on sabbath days and on special occasions. He wants Jesus always at his side—yea, better, always in his heart, he has no friend whom he cannot introduce to Jesus. He has no occupation, no recreation, he wants to keep from the eye of Jesus. Into every chamber of the house Jesus is welcome. He is a fitting Guest for every room, a fit Companion on every journey, a fitting Partner in every enterprise. We do all things in the name of Jesus.
2. This language suggests benevolent effort for our households. Love is generous. Having found such spiritual treasure in Jesus, we want every member in our household, viz. children, parents, servants, to share in the "unsearchable riches." "I brought him into my mother's house." Happy the man who can testify that! If we are under tremendous obligations to earthly parents, how can we better discharge the debt than by making them partakers of Christ?
3. This language suggests our usefulness to the Church. As we give to the imagery of this book a spiritual interpretation, so may we properly regard our mother's house as the Church on earth. This is our true Alma Mater. We bring the Bridegroom with us into the Church. We cannot enjoy our piety alone. We inspire the whole Church with a nobler life. Our sacred love to Jesus is a contagion. Others feel the heavenly charm, and they desire to have Jesus too. And from the Church the benefit extends to the whole world. Would that all men knew our Lord!—D.
Song of Solomon 3:6-11
The King coming to his capital.
In Asiatic lands wheeled carriages were rare, and are rare still. This is accounted for by the absence of roads. To construct and maintain roads through a hilly country like Palestine required more engineering skill than the people possessed; and further, there was a general belief that to make good roads would pave the way to military invasion. Hence all over Palestine the pathways from town to town were simply tracks marked out by the feet of men and beasts. Over the level plain of Esdraelon Ahab might ride in a chariot; but if Solomon brought up wheeled chariots from Egypt he had a prior undertaking, viz. to make a road from Beersheba to the capital. Therefore travelling princes rode in a covered palanquin, which served to screen from the hot sun by day, and became a bed at night. Owing to the scorching heat, much of the journey would be taken during the cool hours of night, and hence the need for a strong bodyguard. Before the rapt imagination of the sacred poet such a scene passed. The stately procession arrested his attention, and he asks, "Who is this?" What great king is this? Such is the poetic imagery. Now, what is the religious instruction? It is the march of Christ through the ages—a march beginning with the wilderness and terminating, with his coronation in the new Jerusalem. Though he has been long hidden, the day is coming when the King of Zion shall be revealed to the eyes of men, and he shall "be admired by all who love his appearing."
I. OBSERVE THE MARCH OF CHRIST TO HIS GLORIOUS THRONE.
1. His lowly beginning is indicated. "He cometh out of the wilderness." This is how he appeared to the onlooker. His prior state was hidden from mortal eye. So far as men saw, Jesus began his strange career in the cattle manger of a stable. The world to him was a wilderness, void of all attractiveness. In this respect he followed the fortunes of ancient Israel, for they too had first the wilderness, then the "land flowing with milk and honey." When Jesus began his mission, human life was a veritable wilderness. The beauty and joy of Eden had departed. On every side raged jealousies, hatreds, strifes. The civilized world was under the iron despotism of Rome. The prophets of God had ceased to speak. Hope of a golden age had almost died out, except in a few believing hearts. The glory of Greece and Tyre had waned. The human race was on the verge of reckless despair. Our earth was reduced to a desert.
2. Christ's coming was fragrant with heavenly hope. Even in the loneliest desert there are some living plants, and these ofttimes possess aromatic essences. The shrubs are storehouses of fragrant spice. The sweetest perfumes come from the Arabian desert. Such things abate the mischief of noxious miasma. Rare perfumes refresh the senses, and betoken noble rank. The mightiest King did not despise the sweet odours of myrrh and frankincense. So neither did Jesus Christ treat with contempt the simple virtues and courtesies of the people. Ha stooped to learn from the lips of Jewish rabbis. He gave his benediction to the wedding feast. He was pleased with the gratitude of a poor leper. He commended the brotherliness of the despised Samaritan. He accepted the hospitality of peasant women. He praised the generosity of a poor widow. A sweet and refreshing savour pervaded all his words, all his deeds. From his cradle to his grave he was perfumed with frankincense and myrrh.
3. His coming was a conspicuous thing. The procession was seen afar off. Possibly the flame of torches during the night march sent up in front and in rear huge pillars of smoke. Or possibly clouds of dust from that dry soil rose from the feet of the host, and in that clear, transparent air was seen thirty or forty miles away—even from the hills of Zion. Anyhow, the procession is seen from a distance. Curiosity is aroused. Many eyes are turned to the novel spectacle, and the question leaps from lip to lip, "Who is this?" So, too, the progress of Jesus through our world has excited the wonder of successive generations. When he read the Scripture in the rustic synagogue of Nazareth, men asked, "Who is this?" When he fed the five thousand on the mountain side, or ruled nature with a nod, they asked, "Who is this?" When, on the Day of Pentecost, the whole city was thrilled with astonishment, men asked, "Who is this?" At Corinth, at Ephesus, at Antioch, when multitudes left their idols for the new faith, men asked, "Who is this, whose onward march is so kingly, so triumphant?" And still they ask in the bazaars of India and in the temples of China, "Who is this?" His march is the march of a Conqueror: the King of kings, because he is the Prince of Peace.
II. OBSERVE HIS BODYGUARD.
1. This is a token of peril. But the peril is not that of open war. If a bannered host should oppose his march, he would meet it with his invincible forces. Michael and all the powers of heaven would fight his battle. It is not open war. The foes in the desert are Ishmaelites; They seek for plunder. They make sudden and covert attack in the night. So has it been in the progress of our Immanuel. From the band of his own disciples the traitor came, and came by night. The priests of Jehovah were his worst foes. Professed friends, like Ananias and Sapphira, have stabbed his cause in secret. The persecutors of his gospel have usually laid their plots in the dark. Atheists and hypocrites have been his bitterest foes. The enemies to the cause of heavenly truth still lie in ambush.
2. Variety of service can be rendered to our gracious King. There were some who bore on their shoulders his palanquin; some who carried torches; some who perfumed his Person; some who wielded swords in his defence. And various service is needed still. If one cannot be a general on the battlefield, he may be an armour bearer. He who cannot fight in the ranks can be a sentinel at the gate or a watchman on the tower. The child wanting yet in martial strength may be fleet of foot as a messenger. If too old for field service, we can be mighty at the throne.
3. The life guards are well equipped. "They all hold swords." And in the service of Immanuel the sword is keen and has a double edge. In the olden time a Damascus blade had great renown; but the sword of truth is forged and furbished in heaven, and has a penetration which is irresistible. If once we get this sword of truth into a man's conscience, it does exploits there. The tongues with which we speak winsomely and graciously of our King is a two-edged weapon. The pen is mightier than the sword, and the tongue of fire is mightier than the pen. The Word of the Lord is invincible.
4. All service is useful in this King's progress. It made the march a more imposing spectacle. It silenced the murmurers and the scorners. Does Jesus Christ require human service? He has chosen such plans of warfare as require various agencies of man. He prefers to work through feeble and imperfect men, for thereby he confers blessing on friends and on foes at once. Through exercise our spiritual energies become more robust. Through service our faith and love are tested. The more fervid zeal we bring to our Master's cause, the more honour crowns his head. We serve the King, we serve the human race, we serve ourselves, at one stroke. Loving service is the richest spiritual perfume.
III. NOTE HIS PALANQUIN. It is made of cedar wood from Lebanon; the bed is gold, the pillars are silver, the curtains are resplendent with imperial purple.
1. This carriage, or palanquin, may fitly represent for us the covenant of grace. In this our Immanuel rides triumphantly. In order to set this forth so as to impress the dull senses of humanity, the most precious things of earth are used as metaphors. As cedar is the richest and hardest among timber, as gold and silver are the costliest of metals, as the purple colour was selected for royalty, these material splendours feebly adumbrate the eternal covenant of redemption. Nothing on earth can adequately express it. It is notable for its antiquity; notable for its rarity; notable for its splendour; notable for its usefulness. As the palanquin must be made worthy of a king, the covenant of grace is well worthy of our God. To save is his eternal purpose.
2. The curtains were the handiwork of virgins. "Worked by the daughters of Jerusalem." All through the East, women are despised, down-trodden, treated as an inferior race. If in Western lands women are ennobled and honoured, it is wholly due to the grace of our King. So from the very beginning Jesus intimated that the service of women would be acceptable. He was dependent on an earthly mother's care. Once and again, women ministered to him "of their substance." The deed which he predicted should be known throughout the world was the deed of a woman. Women gathered round his cross in sweetest sympathy, while others laughed and jeered. Women performed the last acts of care for his dead body. Women were the first to greet him on the resurrection morn. "In Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female."
3. These curtains and carpets are adorned with emblems of low. Our version says, "paved with love." It should rather be, "inwrought with symbols of love." Just as in our day men use the form of a heart, or the figure of a fire, to denote warm and genuine love, so some device of love was interlaced in the manufacture of these curtains by the deft fingers of devoted women. It is not more true that we rest in Christ's love than the converse, he rests in our love. "If any man love me, he will keep my commandments: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and will make our abode with him." To the same effect we read, "that Christ may dwell in your hearts." Love has a thousand devices for expressing itself.
IV. MARK THE ADORATION WHICH BEFITS THE KING. "Go forth, ye daughters of Zion, and behold King Solomon." In some respects David was the type of Christ. "He was despised and rejected of men," and yet a mighty king. But, in respect to the magnificence of his kingdom and the peacefulness of his reign, Solomon better prefigures Jesus.
1. To appreciate Jesus as King we must know him. "Go forth, then, and behold him." Look into his excellences. Examine his claims to Kingship. Note carefully the unstained purity of his character. Behold his hands, bearing the marks of the nails—marks of love! Behold his feet, firm "as fine brass; as if they glowed in a furnace," and set upon the serpent's head. Behold his heart, still pulsating with everlasting love for the fallen sons of men. Learn well all his kingly qualities; for no true loyalty, no complete consecration, can spring up in us until we know him.
2. Note especially that he is crowned. He is appointed to this supreme throne as the world's King by the Eternal Father. "By the right hand of God he is exalted." Yet the symbols of his reign we place upon his head. On his head are already "many crowns." Every ransomed sinner is another ornament in the diadem of our King. Never did king wear such a crown as this. He is crowned already with world wide renown. Every thorn in that crown, which impious mockers thrust upon his brow, is now transmuted into a ray of peerless glory. Today kings and princes bow before him, and already his "enemies lick the dust." From a hundred empires the shout ascends, "Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord!" We do not hail and welcome him simply as the Victim of the cross; we bow to him as our soul's true King.
3. This coronation of Jesus is attended with gladness of heart. It is not always so. Sometimes the heir to a nation's crown is very unfitted to wear it. He is too young to sustain its cares. He would prefer a life of pleasurable ease. Or the crown itself may be disgraced. The throne is planted with sharpest thorns. The empire is reeking with discontent. That coronation may be no better than a crucifixion. Not so with King Jesus. To be crowned means success for his great redemptive mission. "For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross." As his grief was unexampled, so shall be his joy. The globe shall be his empire. Because his capacity for joy is infinite, his joy shall rise until the Capacious heart is fall. The joy will be eternal, because the triumph can never be reversed.—D.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
Song of Solomon 3:1
The soul's love.
This whole book is a glorification of love; it teaches that human love, if true, is sacred, ennobling, and inspiring; it shows the excellence of human love, that it is worthy of being the emblem of that love which is spiritual and Divine. As St. John has taught us, "He that loveth not knoweth not God: for God is love." The Object of the Christian's love is Christ, in whom the love of God has been revealed and communicated to us.
I. THE GROUNDS OF THE SOUL'S LOVE TO CHRIST. The soul that loves the Redeemer is not prompted by blind, unreasonable impulse; such love as that expressed in the language of the text is rational and justifiable.
1. The soul loves Christ for his own Divine, unapproachable excellence, for what he is in himself. He is worthy above all to be thus loved. With an "intellectual love," as the English Platonist phrased it, does the illumined and living soul love him who is the Effulgence of the Father's glory and the Revelation of the Father's heart.
2. The soul loves Christ in gratitude for Divine compassion, ministry, and sacrifice. The cycle of Christian doctrine concerning the Person and mediation of the Redeemer is an exhibition as much of God's love as of his holiness and his wisdom. What our Saviour has done for us is an appeal to the soul which awakens the response of grateful affection.
3. The soul loves Christ because of the revelations of Divine friendship made to the individual nature. The language of the Canticles is rich in portraying the personal element in the relation between the Lord and humanity as redeemed by him. And every Christian is prompted to affection by those intimate displays of Divine affection which experience records in the recesses of the spiritual nature.
II. THE PROOFS OF THE SOUL'S LOVE TO CHRIST. An emotion such as this cannot take possession of the mind, and dwell in the mind, without becoming a principle, controlling and inspiring the nature, and prompting to manifestations of marked, decisive import.
1. The soul keeps him whom it loveth in perpetual memory.
2. The soul takes an ever-growing delight in his society; places the highest happiness in spiritual fellowship with Christ.
3. The soul proves the sincerity of its love to Christ by treasuring up his precepts, by seeking to live under the inspiring influence of his presence and character, by yielding to him a cheerful, constant, and unquestioning obedience. Whom the soul loveth the hand serveth, the tongue witnesseth unto, the whole life honoureth by obeying and glorifying.—T.
Song of Solomon 3:2-4
The soul's guest rewarded.
The romantic incident here poetically related has usually been regarded as a picture of the experiences through which many a soul is permitted to pass during this state of probation and Divine discipline.
I. THE SOUL'S SEARCH.
1. The appreciation of Christ involved in this quest. Men seek for gold because they value it; they dive for pearls and dig for precious stones. Multitudes are indifferent to the Saviour because they know him not; because their spiritual susceptibilities are not awakened. But those to whom he is chief among ten thousand cannot be satisfied until they possess him and enjoy his fellowship.
2. The quest may be both earnest and prolonged. The desire for highest good is amongst the noblest and purest of all human characteristics. And seeking is good, even though finding be better. A search which is sincere and patient is in a sense its own reward. And there are those whose spiritual experience can only thus be justly described. It is a low view of human nature which looks upon such high quest with contempt; which takes for its motto, Nil admirari—"Not to desire or admire." The young and ardent will do well to make the search after God's truth, after God himself, the occupation of their life.
II. THE SOUL'S DISTRESS.
1. Seeking does not always issue in speedy finding. The soul may seek with a mistaken purpose, or in the wrong way, or with a misguided aim, or at the wrong time, i.e. too late.
2. The absence of the sought Saviour is the cause of distress and complaint.
"This is the way I long had sought,
And mourned because I found it not."
There is no repose for the heart until Christ be found. "Cor nostrum inquietum est, donec requiescat in te," says St. Augustine—"Our heart is restless till it rests in thee." There is something of mystery in the providential arrangement that the lot of man should so often be one of seemingly fruitless search and disappointed endeavour. Yet this is discipline for which many have had reason to give thanks; it has called forth courage, it has braced to patience, it has stimulated aspiration, it has sweetened success.
III. THE SOUL'S DISCOVERY.
1. A delayed discovery. The soul has followed hard after him. The moment of revelation has been again and again deferred. The call has been loud, but has met with no answer but the echo.
2. A promised discovery. The word has gone forth from heaven, "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found." The promise has been proclaimed by Christ himself, "Seek, and ye shall find." He does not say, "Seek ye my face in vain."
3. A gracious discovery. "I found him whom my soul loveth." How condescending the revelation! How joyful the sight, the apprehension, the hope's fulfilment!
4. A discovery which the soul uses for its own lasting satisfaction. As the bride in the poem "held" her spouse, grasped him by the arm in the fulness of her joy, and "brought him into the house," there to enjoy his society, so when the soul finds Christ it finds in him One who satisfies every deep craving of its nature. And to find him is to retain him, not as a wayfaring man who tarrieth for a night, but as an inmate never to be displaced from the heart, a friend to go no more out forever.—T.
Song of Solomon 3:6-11
The bridal entry.
The pomp of Oriental poetry is nowhere more dazzling and imposing than in this passage, where is depicted the procession of the royal bride, who is escorted with magnificent accompaniments, and welcomed into the metropolis with universal and cordial joy. Expositors have seen in this gorgeous picture a description of the dignity and beauty of the Church, the bride of Christ. The incense rising in perfumed clouds heralds the approach of the bridal procession. The palanquin which contains the bride is of the cedar of Lebanon; silver pillars support its canopy of gold, and the hangings and drapery are of costly purple. The palanquin itself is the provision of the king's munificence, and the ornaments are the gift of the wealthy ladies of Jerusalem. Accompanying the festive procession is an escort of armed and valiant warriors, not only for security, but for state and dignity. The royal bridegroom meets and joins the cortege, having upon his head the crown of festivity and happiness, for it is the day of his gladness of heart. The daughters of Jerusalem go forth from the city to join in the welcome, and to swell the number and add to the dignity and attractiveness of the bridal train. "Which things are an allegory."
I. THE CHURCH IS SUMMONED TO QUIT THE WILDERNESS OF THE WORLD, AND BECOME THE BRIDE OF CHRIST.
II. THE CHURCH IS INVESTED BY DIVINE LIBERALITY WITH ALL THAT CAN CONTRIBUTE TO HER SPIRITUAL GLORY.
III. THE CHURCH IN HER PASSAGE THROUGH EARTH IS ACCOMPANIED WITH THE INCENSE OF DEVOTION AND OF SERVICE.
IV. THE CHURCH IS ENVIRONED WITH DIVINE PROTECTION.
V. THE CHURCH IS THE OBJECT OF CHRIST'S AFFECTION AND THE OCCASION OF HIS JOY.
VI. THE CHURCH IS REGARDED BY ANGELIC INTELLIGENCES WITH THE DEEPEST INTEREST AND SATISFACTION.
VII. THE CHURCH IS ASSURED OF AN ETERNAL HOUSE IN THE FAVOUR AND COMMUNION OF THE DIVINE KING.—T.