That the pathway of love is the pathway of life, is wonderfully made clear by the apostle Paul in those immortal verses of surpassing beauty and splendour indelibly inscribed in the 13th chapter of 1st Corinthians.
The changes through which the Bride passes in Solomon’s great Song, are essential to her condition, and by them she learns to reject the world and by choice, to be wholly His whom her soul loves. The Church, in her members, must learn the lessons and the supremacy of love, and submit in patience to those trials, delays, disappointments, and adversities which put love to the test.
There are two sources of trial which await the believer. Satan tests in order to destroy, but the Lord’s trials of His people are designed to enrich and sanctify.
We find therefore in the Song of Songs, no easy or untroubled way to the ultimate triumph of love. The Church learns in the course of her long and mysterious history that she is not her own. Her life is to live again in the Beloved One, even as the apostle Paul declared, “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1: 21).
We must learn also that the Deity Itself is the embodiment of this law. The Cross is the supreme example of this principle of life eternal. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son....”
(John 3:16). God will not reign over a universe for which He has not given all that He is and all that He possesses, in love. Calvary is not only the means of man’s redemption; it is the vindication of the holy and divine nature of God, pouring Itself out in that great act of love, in which the Triune Deity unveils Itself fully and finally in an act of self-surrender - of love outpoured - brings in a new creation which can never fall or fail.
The Triune Being of God enabled the Deity as Father to “give” the only begotten Son; the Son to consent thus to suffer, and vindicate the Father’s Name; and the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son, to sanctify the Offering. Hence we read that Christ, through the eternal Spirit, offered Himself without spot to God (Hebrews 9:14). The notion that the Father “turned Himself away from the Son and forsook Him at the Cross”, is a denial of the unity of the Godhead, and is built upon an altogether untenable explanation, of Psalm 22: verse 1 - an explanation which sets the first verse of the Psalm at odds with the rest of its contents.
The Godhead is indivisible, and Calvary is the summit of the holy wisdom of God, governing all creation and realising the grand ultimate purpose of the life of God.
The privilege of living after the event of Calvary is great indeed. From all eternity the event of Calvary was anticipated, and to our first parents was imparted the fundamental revelation that the Seed of the Woman would bruise the Serpent’s head.
We now venture upon the next verses in our study of the Song of Songs:
Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon: for why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions?
If thou know not, O thou fairest among women, go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock, and feed thy kids beside the shepherds’ tents - verses 7 and 8 (chapter 1)
The first of these verses is an address by the Bride to the absent Lord, and the second is a reply, not by the Lord Himself, but by the female chorus which waits upon the Bride. This identity is fixed by the usage of the address, “O thou fairest among women”, which again occurs in the Song in chapter 5, verse 9, and chapter 6, verse 1. Each time it proceeds from the female chorus, and in the first of these instances, in the verse now before us, the instruction is given to the Bride, that her Beloved will be found if she follows the footsteps of the flock. This will bring her to the tents of the shepherds, where the Shepherd King feeds His flock.
So the King is a Shepherd also! - and away goes the folly of supposing (as with so many interpreters) that King Solomon was composing a poem about himself.
David, his father, was certainly a shepherd in the days of his youth, but not David’s royal son Solomon. The Solomon of the Song, is the promised Shiloh of Jacob’s prophecy, the heavenly Solomon, that Shepherd of the souls of men who said of Himself (as none other could so claim) that He was the Good Shepherd, who must lay down His life for the sheep (John 10). Here is a Shepherd indeed - a Shepherd of souls, a Shepherd right royal, even as David, His earthly ancestor, was royal.
In those eastern lands where the midday sun pours out its relentless heat, it is customary for man and beast to lay aside all activity and seek the friendly shade of some oasis where the springs, or wells, or cooling streams from the hills, invite man and beast to shelter and be refreshed.
It is important to recognise the poetic depth and purpose of these verses, proving that they are not intended to be understood as an exercise in conventional prose.
“Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth….” is the cry of the Old Testament Church for the full realisation of her desire for the coming of Christ. This cry ascended to the throne of God in age after age, from its origin in Eden, when the promise was first made of the Seed of the woman which would destroy the usurpation of Satan. Four thousand years passed ere the promise was realised, and the Church constantly cried in longing, for the appearance of Him who was promised for the redemption of Man. Nor was her cry ignored. That mother of the human race, Eve, nourished the promise in her heart and gave prophetic names to her sons Cain and Abel (respectively, “Acquired”, and “Vanity”) in which her faith was wonderfully set forth. Even when Abel, the first sacrificing priest of the human race, was cruelly slain, she despaired not, and when later another son was born she called him Seth, which means “Appointed”. God had appointed for her another seed in place of Abel (Gen. 4:25).
The true church was nourished upon promises such as these, from the beginning, and Solomon well understood that Messiah was to come in due time, from the family of David. Clearer and clearer shone the light as the historic scene slowly unfolded, and the rich prophecies of the Old Testament anticipated the great wonder of Bethlehem.
Solomon perceived the coming day, and his Song was designed to bridge the chasm till Messiah should appear. Hence the Bride of the Song, the Church in her Old Testament state, was taught by Solomon to follow in the footsteps of the flock and feed beside the tents of the shepherds - shepherds who, like Solomon himself, were the prophets of the coming glory.
“Why?” asked the heavenly Bride, “Why, should I be expected to be content with thy companions, the prophets and priests of the Old Covenant order, when it is Thou, Thyself, the Promised One, the true Lover and Husband of the Church, whom I seek?”
Her anguished cry was heard. Let her obey the directions given to her by the Old Testament shepherds. Let her keep close to the flock. Let her follow in the path they are relentlessly pursuing, and in due time the fulness of the Promise must be realised. Nourished by the words of the prophets she would, more and more, anticipate the great day of the appearing of the Bridegroom. Let her but be faithful for a little while, and the long expected day would come, and meantime she would be encouraged by the promises and strengthened by the ever brightening prospect upon which her eye of faith was fixed.
She, the Bride, had complained of her ‘blackness’ which as we have already observed in our previous study represented the trials and persecutions she was compelled to endure at the hands of those who ought to have been her friends. But God hears her cry, and gives her a foretaste of the coming glory of Christ, even in her Old Testament state. She will be decked with the gold and the priceless jewels of an ever-expanding revelation of the Coming One - even as we who now look back over two thousand years of history, long for, and haste unto the coming of that glorious Day when all will be accomplished which remains to be done. It is but a little while, then he who shall come, will come, and will not tarry, and the Bride, at last complete and ready, will, in en eternal moment, ascend the bridal throne in the melodious beauties of the mystic City of God.
There are therefore two phases of the Church’s history in her patient quest for union with her Beloved. The first is represented by the long pilgrimage through 4,000 years from mother Eve to Bethlehem. In the Song of Songs this pilgrimage of the Church is the subject of the first four chapters. The second phase stretches from the Incarnation to the return of the Lord in glory and power, to receive unto Himself the Bride, the Church, for whom He has paid so rich a dowry. The consummation of the entire purpose of God in Creation may even now be trembling on the brink of fulfillment.
We return to our preliminary verses in the Song, as we view the Bride in her Old Testament wanderings and trials and provings, contending against the oppositions and insults of the unfaithful leaders of Israel. “Which of the prophets,” (demands Stephen, the first Christian martyr), “have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them which chewed before of the coming of the Just One, of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers”. (Acts 7:52)
In the early verses of the Song this stricture upon Israel is made clear. The Bride is learning the meaning of those words, “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of Heaven”. (Acts 14:22) It would not be fitting that such an event as the marriage of Jehovah with His redeemed Church, should appear a thing of haste. It was the Bride’s error that she should also be so slow to learn that through much patience and trial she must enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
We sympathise with her Old Testament yearnings. We too, in our New Testament condition, look for and haste unto the coming of “the Day of God”. The patience of the Old Testament Church was surely tried most grievously, but prophets and kings throughout those ages taught her that the way would be long and hard. Her faith in the promise of the coming Redeemer enabled her to pursue her course with patience - a patience encouraged by the growing clearness with which the beauty and glory of the coming One was presented by the inspired prophets of those ancient times.
He whom the ancient Church longed for was ever with His Church, even in the twilight of the Old Testament revelation. Peter tells us that the prophets of ancient time “enquired and searched diligently…searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify when testifying beforehand of the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow.”It was revealed to them that not unto themselves but unto us (of the New Testament) they did minister the mysteries of the gospel “which things the angels desire to look into”. (1 Peter 1:10-12)
We of the New Covenant are likewise exhorted to hope to the end, for the grace that is to be brought unto us at the appearing of Christ (see continuation of the passage in Peter).
No-one must underestimate the supreme importance of the Old Testament prophets. Christ was ever with His Church even in the twilight ages. Enoch walked with God, Abraham conversed with him, Jacob wrestled with Him.
THE ROYAL SHEPHERD
From this excursus (essential as it is to the understanding of the entire Song) we return to our verses in chapter 1, and listen again to the Bride’s complaint. She cries out for the fulfillment of the promise of redemption. For the first time in this opening chapter, the Beloved One, the King, is identified as being a Shepherd in His own right. “Tell me” cries the distraught Bride, “Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest; where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon: for why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions?”
This remarkable outburst shows how King Solomon is inspired by the Spirit of God, to perceive the Shepherd nature of the coming Messiah. It is true that in our version the words “thy flock” are in italics, indicating that they are not so expressed in the Hebrew, but they are essential to the understanding of the verse. The remainder of the verse carries the meaning as perceived by our translators, and as all authorities are agreed. In the Speaker’s Bible we have the note:
“Where thou feedest - tell me where thou dost pursue thine occupation as a Shepherd”. She speaks figuratively of the Son of David, as David called the Holy One of Israel ‘The Lord is my Shepherd.’
THE INEXPRESSIBLE NAME
The address, “Thou whom my soul loveth” occurs four times in successive verses in chapter 3, verses one to four. “It expresses great intensity of affection,” says the commentator in the Speaker’s Bible, where also we find a remarkable quotation from Gregory of Nyssa who flourished in the early centuries of the Church: “Thou whom my soul loveth, so I call thee; for the whole universe of rational creatures were unable to express thy name.”
There is a special significance in this “complaint” by the heroine of the Song. It lies in her troubled cry, “Why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions?”
The inspired Solomon makes a distinction here between the Old Testament prophets and the great Prophet of the prophets, the Lord Christ Himself. The temporary and inferior nature of the Old Testament dispensation is clearly recognised in these words of complaint. “Thy companions” are the prophets and teachers of the Old Testament who led the way to Christ, but could not fully anticipate the glorious reality of His actual presence.
But if the New Testament revelation is so much more complete than that of the Old Testament, what must the glory of the Eternal World be, when even Paul, that most privileged of the apostles, confesses, “Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part. Then shall I know even as also I am known”. (1 Cor. 13:12)
The great apostle saw more of the Eternal World than any of his contemporaries, for he tells us that he was caught up to the Third Heaven and saw and heard things unspeakable - things which were not lawful for a man to utter (2 Cor. 12:3-4).
The glory of the Old Testament revelation was great indeed, yet was altogether dimmed by the glory of that New Testament revelation unveiled by the Risen Lord when he had conquered death and the grave by enduring the same. The glory of the Eternal World far surpasses the capacity of Man to understand it. Paul saw and heard, but was not permitted to speak of the unspeakable.
How dim was the light of the Old Testament therefore, when even the glory of the New Testament descriptions will be surpassed by the realities of heaven? Solomon, enlightened by the grace of the Holy Spirit, peers beyond the boundaries of the Old Testament order, and perceives afar off the greater light of the Gospel Day, and hence is moved by the Spirit of inspiration to put into the mouth of the Church (that ‘fairest among women’), the cry for the deeper reality. Her words are eloquent indeed of her realisation of the inferior and purely temporary nature of the Old Testament order, as there rises up before her, the vision of the great Gospel Day, arousing in her the longing for direct dealing with the Lord, as compared with the symbolism of the Old Testament.
It will be noted how the Bride thus addresses her Beloved as though He were already present beside her, for it remains true, that even in remote times of the Old Testament, it was Christ who spake by the prophets, for He is the everlasting Word. He was the heavenly Melchizedek to whom Abraham gave tithes of all the wealth he had won from the heathen kings; He was the first of the three heavenly visitors entertained by Abraham and Sarai on the eve of the destruction of Sodom, and it was He who announced the coming birth of Isaac. Sarai (soon to be known as Sarah), reappears well-nigh 2,000 years later in the parable of the woman with three measures of meal, indicating the spread of the Gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth (Matthew 13:33, compare Genesis 18:6). Alas, for our present day expositors who have so few good words to speak about Abraham or Sarah, in whom God was preparing the way for the incarnation of Christ through a descendant of Sarah, a young woman named Mary, at Bethlehem in Judea.
Abraham was a shepherd, so was Isaac, and so was Jacob - and so was David, the father of Solomon who in his Song of Songs, confirms the Gospel, prepares the way for it, unveils the glorious mystery of the identity of the Seed of the Woman and clothes the entire mystery in a garment of surpassing beauty and heavenly mystery. It was not meant that holy things should be cast unto dogs, and the Lord therefore clothes His deepest mysteries in covered language which they only understand who are ready to “sell all” that they may possess the true riches of Christ. The shameful treatment of the patriarchs by so many of our present day expositors (in spite of their evangelical standing) is truly deplorable and goes some distance toward explaining the decline of the pulpit in our day.
[Note: See the series “Heroes and Hawks”, Serial Numbers 038-1, 038-2, 038-3]
We return to our verse 7 of the Song (chapter 1) to observe that the Bridal love of the Church for Christ is here clearly expressed for the first time. True religion lies here. The whole creative purpose of God is to win the love of the creature for Himself - a goal which is realised in the yearning of His redeemed people for fellowship with Himself - even that fellowship which can only be expressed fully in terms of spiritual marriage. That marriage is consummated in the utter dedication of the deity to the creature, and her dedication to Him as the heavenly Lover of her soul. That mutual love is the basis of all worship.
Thus, the long pilgrimage of time, from the Creation to the Consummation is envisaged by the inspired Solomon as he describes the mutual yearning of the Mystical Bride and her heavenly Beloved for the full and final fulfillment of their love. This can only be as love is put to the test of complete dedication of the one to the other. The full manifestation of the divine and holy love of God awaited the crisis of Calvary for its final, and absolute demonstration.
There the full mystery of the Godhead - the Three Persons who are One began to be perceived as foreshadowed from the beginning of creation and expressed in those tremendous phrases:
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth; and the earth was without form and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters, and God said Let there be light: and there was light.” (Genesis 1: 1-3)
There the Triune Godhead was first exhibited - the Father who spake; the Living Word by whom His will was expressed and performed; and the Holy Spirit who brooded over the waters to the bringing forth of life. Hence the threefold nature of the Godhead also, as Life, Light and Love. This is God in all the dazzling completeness of His glorious Being. But that LOVE which He is, can only be fully realised as it is put to the test of complete dedication of the one to the other. The fulness of the divine love awaited the crisis of Calvary for its final, absolute, and unreserved demonstration. The love of the Bride remained fully to be won only as the drama of Creation reached its climax at the Cross, and she could then say, in the fulness of one whose heart had been won completely and for ever -
“The Son of God loved ME, and gave Himself for ME….” (Paul to the Galatians chapter 2: verse 20)
“We love Him because he first loved us.” (John in his first epistle, chapter 4: verse 19)
The long pilgrimage of the Church from the Garden of Eden (signifying DELIGHT) to that of Gethsemane (signifying the Oil Press), was essential to the holy purpose of divine love, because the Church had to learn in the course of the ages, to anticipate and long for the full unveiling of Deity. The Holy Trinity is more - far more - than a religious dogma: it is an adorable wonder. The Holy Trinity in perpetual unison of Three in One and One in Three without confusion of Persons or division of Substance, always acting in the perfect harmony of Love, was expressed in the opening verses of Genesis but was fully and finally demonstrated at Calvary. There the Godhead in perfect unity and absolute Oneness, unveiled Itself in the climax of the inseparable Life of the Three Persons.
The long delay in the unfolding of this mystery of the Godhead during the 4,000 years of man’s history from the Creation to the Cross, was an essential part of the entire exercise of the holy wisdom of God, concerning our redemption. Man must learn little by little, or as Isaiah tells us, “Precept must be upon precept, line upon line, here a little and there a little….” (Isaiah 28:10)
In the days of our youth, we were privileged, only once, to hear Mr. Tydeman Chilvers, one of Mr. Spurgeon's most notable successors, under whom the great Tabernacle once more, as in the time of its Founder, achieved maximum attendances. We remember one sentence of Mr. Chilvers’ sermon - a sentence which set our youthful heart abounding, and which determined the course of our theology until the present day. The sentence was this: “The world itself was made for Calvary.” It was nearing the end of Mr. Chilvers’ ministry and never again did we have opportunity of hearing him, but the grain of wheat he then planted in the mind and heart of a young believer, grew and multiplied till it covered the entire theological field, and gave the final answer to the mystery of Christ and of God, of Creation and Redemption.
The vital place which the Song of Songs holds in preparation for the full unveiling of God in Christ, must be clearly recognised. Solomon wrote for the comfort of believers of his own day, as well as for the enlightenment of those who (as we) come after the Cross. His prayer at the dedication of the Temple looked far beyond the boundaries of his own kingdom, as clearly appears in 1 Kings 8:41-60: “Moreover, concerning a stranger that is not of thy people Israel, but cometh out of a far country for thy name’s sake (for they shall hear of thy great name, and of thy strong hand and of thy stretched out arm); when he shall come and pray toward this house, hear thou in heaven thy dwellingplace and do according to all that the stranger calleth to thee for: that all people of the earth may know thy name, to fear thee, as do thy people Israel; and that they may know that this house which I have builded, is called by thy name...And that all the people of the earth may know that the Lord is God, and that there is none else.”
THE CRY OF THE CHURCH FOR CHRIST
God permits the seasons of adversity to try and test His people, and to lead them to prefer Christ above all; to look beyond the temporal to the eternal. By this means the soul grows, her holiness is promoted, and the sinful heart is disciplined. So it was with the faithful of Israel when in exile, so movingly set to verse in Psalm 137:
“By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, when we remembered Sion. As for our harps we hanged them up, upon the trees that are therein. They that led us away captive required of us a song and melody in our heaviness; Sing us one of the songs of Sion! How shall we sing the Lord’s Song in a strange land. If I forget thee O Jerusalem, let my right hand be forgotten. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth: yea, if I prefer not Jerusalem in my mirth….
Psalm 137 (Myles Coverdale’s translation, 1535)
Of the same vintage of sorrow and trial is the cry of the Bride in the Song of Songs – “Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon: for why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions?” But her moving and pathetic cry is heard. Chastening is but for a season. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning (Psalm 30:5). Now is the Church fully roused to seek after Christ, to love Him ardently, to cry fervently after Him for the comfort of His presence and the communion of His Spirit, and to be led into the heavenly pastures of His holy Word.
It is the Church who speaks. It is hardly seemly that the individual soul should so address the Son of God, yet the spirit of the cry is in every awakened heart. Love for Christ is not a felt emotion, but a loving trust in Him, a devotion, a worshipping of Him, a delight in Him and in His life giving Word above all other values. It is a partaking of His life, such as is expressed under the figure of the Bread and Wine in the last feast of the Saviour with His apostles.
What is it that the Bride would have? It is Christ Himself whom she seeks. Where and when is He to be found? Surely at high noon, when the flock is gathered about Him, under the leafy shade, where the pasture is green, and the water of the well is flowing, pure and living, and rest and repose in Him are realised and enjoyed.
“Spring up, O Well” Israel sang in the wilderness. “Sing ye unto it….” (Numbers 21:17) So in the wilderness of this world, the Church constantly echoes this cry: “Spring up, O well of living water, quench thou our thirst- for Thou art our high noon, our shelter from the heat of the day, our place of rest and refreshment, He whom our souls love.”
“Why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions?”
Why indeed! There is no substitute for Christ. “Thy companions” are they who in the days of the former covenant, prophets, priests, kings, and righteous men, showed the coming glory of Christ, though in part only, little by little, veiled in imagery and shadow. But now Christ is come forth in the full New Testament unveiling of His truth and splendour. Let us feed with Him among the lilies.
“If thou know not, O thou fairest among women, go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock, and feed thy kids beside the shepherds' tents”.
The speakers are those ‘daughters of Jerusalem’ already addressed by the Bride in verse 5. They are the ‘cities of Judah’ in their relation to the capital city of Jerusalem, elsewhere known as Zion, the hill on which the great city was built. They are referred to as the daughters of Zion specifically in chapter 3, verse 11. This throws an important confirmatory light upon the true understanding of the Song and the nature of its principal characters, and proves at once that the Song deals with the Church as she existed in the Old Testament in the geography of Palestine, and afterward in the New Testament where she is clearly revealed as the mystic or heavenly Jerusalem, the Church. This is plainly shown in the Book of Revelation, chapter 21 and verse 2, where the completed Church, “the holy city, the new Jerusalem” is seen descending from heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
It is of considerable significance also that the historic picture of the New Testament Church in its successive phases from the age of John the apostle to the time of the Last Judgment, is given in feminine terms in the Book of Revelation.
THE WOMAN OF REVELATION 12
In chapter 12 of Revelation, the Church appears as “a woman clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars”. The ‘manchild’ to whom she gives birth is the Lord Himself, who survives the devilish attempt to destroy Him at birth - a vivid picture of the vain attempt by Herod the Great, in the massacre of the innocents of Bethlehem, to destroy “the manchild” who was to be proven as the Lord from heaven, ruling all nations with a rod of iron, who as God occupies the throne of God, conquering and to conquer.
It cannot be too often or plainly stated, that it is in such terms that the mystery of Solomon’s great Song is to be understood. The Bride is never to be regarded as the soul of individual believers, but as the mother of them all. She is the mystic Woman whom we encounter again and again in the Old Testament as well as in the New, proving that the Church is one and indivisible, the special object of the divine Love; Bride, Mother, Daughter, Queen, in the glorious mystery of Redemption.
THE INCOMPARABLE BRIDE
The recognition, by the daughters of Jerusalem, of the exceeding great beauty of the Bride, is implied in their address to her as “the fairest among women.” For it is true, that as Christ is the fairest object of all creation, so His Bride has none to compare with her in heaven or earth for beauty and grace. Hence she is described by the Chorus, as “The fairest among women.” She derives her beauty from Him whom she loves, but Christ has a beauty and grace which derives from none. It belongs to Him as the Eternal Son. The object of creation, which is to show forth the beauty of God, is achieved in the uncreated Son, who enters by the will of the Father into Creation that through Him the divine life may be fully expressed and a new creation be born - a Kingdom and an Empire which can never fail. As Bride to Husband, a union is created in which the one life is enjoyed by both, and God and man become indivisibly one. Creation as such could not achieve this, but “God becoming Man” is the foundation of a new creation - a creation of the Spirit - in which God and man are united in a union which can never be broken; a destiny sure and unalterable.