The Song enters a new dimension as we arrive at verse 9 of the first chapter. For the first time, the heavenly Solomon speaks, and there is a moment of rapture as the Bride, so long tried, finds herself in the presence of her Lord. It is a glorious breaking out of Christ in anticipation of that Incarnation of which this was one of the most notable Foreshadowings. Though still in her Old Testament condition, the Church is granted a new and more glorious vision of Christ. Three thousand years had passed since the creation of Man. Another thousand years and the Babe of Bethlehem would appear: God would become Man, and the secret of redemption disclosed. What the Church longed for, in past ages, would be gloriously and mysteriously unfolded, but mean-while there remained much to be done and to be endured. The Church however would have an increasing enlightenment, as prophetic messengers inspired by the Holy Spirit prepared the Church for the wonder of the Incarnation and the glorious mystery of Calvary.
The way of true Love is always the way of trial and suffering and this the Church in ancient times had to learn. Even now, at the end of the ages, she must continue in hope and in consecration of herself to Christ, until at length all will be complete, and Christ will receive His Bride and take her to share His glory on the eternal Throne.
In those past ages of waiting, the Church steadily grew in 'the knowledge of her Lord, and the Song of Songs was written by the inspired Solomon to give her solace during the years of waiting, and an ever-growing participation in the life of her Lord.
The glorious breaking out of Christ in anticipation of His incarnation - of which the Song of Songs was one of the most notable examples - prepared the Church for that full revelation, and along with it, the full disclosure of her place in the divine economy of Creation.
Solomon’s vision was unique in this process of unfolding the mystery of Christ. Its only counterpart was David’s anticipation of the Song in his 45th Psalm:
“My heart is inditing a good matter. I speak of the things which I have made touching the King....Thou art fairer than the children of men: grace is poured into thy lips....All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes and cassia, out of the ivory palaces whereby they have made thee glad....upon thy right hand did stand the Queen in gold of Ophir....”
The inspiration of the 45th Psalm lay richly upon the soul of Solomon as the Spirit of God unfolded to him in fuller detail that heavenly mystery of marriage betwixt God and His redeemed creation. David’s 45th Psalm marks one of the great turning points in the Divine revelation. The features of Emmanuel, “God with us,” begin to appear with ever-increasing clearness, and the waiting Bride enters more and more into the theology of love - that theology which reached its climax of changeless love at Gethsemane, Gabbatha, and Golgotha.
He, for whom the Bride so long had yearned, speaks here for the first time in Person. The Church has come a long way from the tragedy of Eden. The Seed of the Woman, who must bruise the head of the Serpent, shows Himself through the prophets with ever greater clearness. In the Song He draws nearer still. His identity and His glory become ever more distinct as the mystery of love is unfolded. Suddenly He is there, and the Bride is no longer alone. He speaks. What will He say? Let us read - and understand.
I have compared thee, O my love, to a company of horses in Pharaoh’s chariots. (Song 1:9)
The incongruity of the translation of this verse must immediately strike the careful reader. The translators of the Authorised Version kept strictly to their rule of preserving as far as possible the literal sense of the original, withholding any comment or opinion of their own, but leaving the literal problems to be solved by those who were competent for the task. More than seventy years before the publication of the AV, however, a leading scholar who was not hindered by any such restriction, wrestled with this verse and, we believe, found the right solution. He was the famous Myles Coverdale whose translation of the whole Bible into English was completed in 1535, some 76 years before the Authorised Version was produced on the initiative of King James.
Coverdale was free to be expansive in his translation, unlike the AV scholars whose mandate was strictly to adhere to the ancient text. Hence we have in this instance an embarrassing literalism in the AV text, which leaves unsolved the mystery of comparing a beautiful lady with a regiment of chariot horses! Numerous have been the efforts of good men to turn the literal text to better account, but the Coverdale version remains, so far as we know, the only acceptable interpretation of the words.
The excellent James Durham, of Glasgow, who flourished in the 17th century, teetered on the brink of a notable discovery when preparing his commendable commentary on the Song - commendable as a work of devotion, though it can hardly be honoured as a consistent exposition. His version of the verse before us reads thus:
“I have made thee comparable, or made thee like them (the horses); and there is an article in the original which may confirm this, and the words may be turned (translated): Like my company of horses.”
So near, and yet so far! There is indeed “an article” in the Hebrew which provides the key, but Durham does not use it except to show that not Pharaoh’s horses are the animals in view, but those of the Heavenly Bridegroom. He failed to see that the horses were there, not to act as a mirror of the Bride, but as a token of the power of the Beloved to protect His Bride against all the forces which should appear against her.
Coverdale’s translation (including verse 8) reads thus:
“Go thy way forth, after the footsteps of the sheep, as though thou wouldest feed thy goats beside the shepherds’ tents. There will I tarry for thee, my Love, with my host and with my chariots, which shall be no fewer than Pharaoh’s.”
Our readers will perceive at once from Coverdale’s penetrative version, that here there is no embarrassing comparison of a beauteous Bride, with an army of chariot horses, but rather a royal assurance that round about her, whether visible to her or not, the host of God is encamped, and she may safely venture forth in obedience to her Lord’s command.
In Psalm 68, God assures His people that they need have no fear of any power which comes against them. Notable is verse 17, which seems to have an important bearing upon Solomon’s verse: “The chariots of the Lord are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: and the Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the holy place.” The whole of this great Psalm should be reverently considered by the reader in relation to the re-assuring words of the Lord in the verse which we are seeking to understand.
The Bride is therefore assured that when she reaches the rendezvous she will not be alone. The invincible army of heaven’s King will be encamped around her, a force of defence which no power in this world, nor yet the invisible cohorts of Satan’s furious host, dare challenge. The hymn writer has it:
The hosts of God encamp around the dwellings of the just Deliverance He affords to all, who on His
There will come readily to the mind of readers, the experience of Elisha whose servant cried, “Alas my master! How shall we do?” when in the early morning he discovered that the city in which he and his master had been resting, was surrounded by an immense host with horses and chariots. “Fear not,” was the prophet’s reassuring words, “for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.” Then Elisha prayed, “Lord, open his eyes that he may see.” And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.
(2 Kings 6: 15-17)
Our readers may feel some perplexity as to how translators, in such an instance as this, can come to such variant conclusions. They need not be disturbed. Hebrew is one of the most ancient, if not the most ancient, of languages, and in consequence has a restricted vocabulary which can only be successful in conveying its message, by heightening the value of words, so that not only is truth conveyed thereby, but a power is exhibited which intensifies the meaning, plays upon the understanding, and carries the soul to its rendezvous as with the mightiness of a tidal bore.
“All shall be well with you” is the substance of the message given to the Bride by heaven's King. “Venture forth, keep the rendezvous. I shall be there with all my heavenly host to bear you safely through every trial and every danger. Trust, and be not afraid. It is I. Do not fear.”
It is ever the same with our Redeemer and Lord. To the disciples on the lake, dashed about by towering billows, He comes walking on the waves. “It is I; be not afraid” is His reassuring call. Thus He keeps tryst with His Church, and His voice echoes above the storm and the rack of history.
The chariot of Christ is vividly described in the Psalms: “He maketh the clouds His chariot; and walketh upon the wings of the wind”. (Psalm 104:3) His chariot denotes His omnipotence, the symbol of His all-conquering and all-glorious reign, and thus the words of our verse in the Song must be understood.
In verge 9 (as above) we have the first direct utterance of Christ in this exquisite Song. “O my love” describes what she is in His sight. We know her as the Church. We may not, as some, place the individual believer in the position of the Church. The Song may not, and must not, be misused in that unseemly way. The individual is not the Bride. The Church as a whole is the Bride, and in that character she is addressed. “O my love” is the note of the tender, unique relationship of the Church to Christ. She is His companion, as though He should say, “My other self, whom I love as myself, and without whose society I languish.” See what a God is ours!
THE TWO COVENANTS IN CONTRAST
We proceed to our next verses which describe the unique adornment of the Bride - not a mere complimentary description of her ornaments, but a deep searching presentation of her historic journey through the Two Testaments, to the end of time.
Verse 10 speaks of the glories of the Old Covenant under the regime of Moses; verse 11 shows the promise of the greater glories of the New Testament, brought in by the atoning work of Christ. The present tense of verse 10 is superseded by the future tense of verse 11.
Thy cheeks are comely with rows (of jewels), thy neck with chains (of gold) - verse 10.
We will make thee borders of gold with studs of silver - verse 11.
The heavenly Solomon is still speaking to His bride. He is concerned about her adornment, both that which she already possesses, and that which shall be added to the glory and the enrichment of her appearance. The true meaning of these verses has seldom been discerned. The reader will have noted that we have put the reference to “jewels” and “gold” in verse 10, in parenthesis. This is because in our Authorised Version, these words are in italics, denoting that they are not part of the authentic text. They were supplied by the translators as being required to fill out the meaning. The intention is good, but the effect in this instance is unfortunate. The translators appear to have been influenced by the second of the two verses, where “Borders of gold” and “Studs of silver” are correctly presented without the governing influence of italics.
What our translators perhaps did not realise, was the high significance of the mystery of these ornaments. There is a time-element in the two verses, making a difference between that which then obtained, and that which was yet to be. This time-element is none other than the distinction between the two covenants - the Old Testament and the New Testament, or, that which went before the Incarnation of the Son of God, and the enrichment which followed His appearing. The key to the mystery lies in the translation of the words “rows” in verse 10, and “borders” in verse 11. The Hebrew of these two key words is astonishing. It is the same word in each case derived from the Hebrew TORAH - which is the word for the LAW. On the one hand we have the dispensation of the Law as given by Moses from Mount Sinai, and on the other the new and everlasting dispensation of Grace wrought by the Saviour from Mount Calvary, where “the law was magnified and made honourable.” Thus the Words of John the apostle: “The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ”. (John 1:17)
He who suffered upon the Cross was the same who gave to Moses that Law under which He suffered - not for His offences, but for ours. Thereby He brought in the new Dispensation of Grace through which the true believer derives the adornment of the purified and free. We now see the significance of our two contrasting verses. Verse 10 speaks of that pure and holy Law without the keeping of which none may enter into the heavenly glories of the Presence of God. Verse 11 foreshadows the glory of the Divine mercy brought in by the obedience of Christ our one mediator and advocate. In verse 10 we have the Old Testament and in verse 11 we have the promise of greater glory in the New Testament.
Magnificently, the Apostle Paul declares this mystery of the Law given by Moses unto condemnation, and the Law fulfilled by Christ, unto life eternal for all who by faith receive Him.
THE PAULINE DESCRIPTION
The most magnificent description of the significance of the two dispensations is given by the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians, chapter 3:
6 (GOD) hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.
7 But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away:
8 How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?
9 For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.
10 For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth.
11 For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.
12 Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech:
13 And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished:
14 But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ.
15 But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart.
16 Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away.
17 Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
18 But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.
The glories of the Law are, in a proper sense, as perfect as the Being of God, for they are a transcript of His holiness and truth. This was fully exemplified at Calvary where God, in the Person of Christ (the second Person of the undivided Godhead) paid the ultimate tribute to the Law by bearing through awful death, the sins of the whole world. The Law became the ministration of death (2 Cor. 3:7) not that it had any inferior status, but because it was a transcript of the holiness of God and could not offer hope of mercy except by a satisfaction sufficient to safeguard that holiness. Satisfaction was made by the only One in all creation qualified to render it - namely, God Himself. Charles Wesley was right when he penned the words; Amazing love, how can it be That thou, my God, should'st die for me?
Let those who take a superficial and dangerous view of the meaning of the first verse of Psalm 22, consider that God is One and indivisible. There are not three deities, but One only, subsisting in the Three Persons, and whatever the difficulties, imaginary or otherwise, which have clustered around that opening verse of Psalm 22, that theory cannot be right which ignores those Scriptures which assure us that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself,” and that the Victim on the Cross “through the Eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God.
[See “The Concert of the Trinity: An exposition of the So-called Cry of Dereliction, Serial Number 030-1 and a defense of same, Serial Number 030-2]
Christ could not be forsaken, for God cannot forsake God.
THE GLORY OF THE TORAH
We have not sufficiently explored the meaning of our verse-study, until we have traced the remarkable words of the prophet Ezekiel, with the light which is shed thereby on verse 10: “Thy cheeks are comely with rows (TORIM), thy neck with chains”. We have already pointed out that the word TORIM is derived from TORAH, meaning the holy Law of God, as given to the people of Israel, through Moses, at Sinai. It will be remembered that when Moses descended from the mount with the tables of the Law in his hands (those tables, or tablets, inscribed by the finger of God Himself), he found the people worshipping the Golden Calf, and he cast down in his anger the tablets of stone. (See Exodus 34) The tablets were broken and had to be renewed. The glory of God's Law was to be the chief adornment of the people whom He had rescued from the bondage of Egypt. Yet the history of the twelve tribes was one of ever-recurring apostasy. They despised the Law of God, and continued in their unbelief and their disobedience, until there was no further remedy.
There are few passages in God’s Word so agonising as those found in the writings of the prophet Ezekiel in his 16th chapter, written when the young prophet was mourning his lot as one of the captives in the land of the Chaldeans. Why was he there? Because of the apostasy of the nation, which despised its inheritance and used the gifts of God for the purpose of idolatry? God reminds them, through Ezekiel, of the love they had spurned, and the evil of their idolatry as they borrowed the gods of the heathen and honoured the idols of wood and stone.
The Lord remonstrates with the guilty nation which acted like unto an abandoned woman who sold her beauty for naught. He recalls the low and shameful state in which He found her, under the cruel bondage of Egypt, and relates how He spread His mercies over her, and thus He proceeds.
(Ezekiel chapter 16 v. 8 - 14):
Now when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold, thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness: yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord GOD, and thou becamest mine.
Then washed I thee with water; yea, I throughly washed away thy blood from thee, and I anointed thee with oil.
I clothed thee also with broidered work, and shod thee with badgers’ skin, and I girded thee about with fine linen, and I covered thee with silk.
I decked thee also with ornaments, and I put bracelets upon thy hands, and a chain on thy neck.
And I put a jewel on thy forehead, and earrings in thine ears, and a beautiful crown upon thine head.
Thus wast thou decked with gold and silver; and thy raiment was of fine linen, and silk, and broidered work; thou didst eat fine flour, and honey, and oil: and thou wast exceeding beautiful, and thou didst prosper into a kingdom.
And thy renown went forth among the heathen for thy beauty: for it was perfect through my comeliness, which I had put upon thee, saith the Lord GOD.
Ezekiel’s description of the grace of God toward the nation has an obvious affinity with the words we have before us from the Song of Songs, describing how the Bride, under the Old Testament figure, is “decked” with the tokens of the divine favour and mercy. Truly “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever. The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether; more to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. By them is thy servant warned, and in keeping of them is great reward....” (Psalm 19: verses 7 to 11)
It would be wrong therefore to regard the wonderful Law of God as being our enemy. True, without the Gospel of free salvation we are lost indeed, but this is due to the sinfulness of our fallen nature, of which Paul the apostle speaks thus:
“I delight in the Law of God after the inward man, but I see another Law in my members, warring against the Law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the Law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 7:22-25)
We see therefore that the “deckings” of the Bride in the days of the Law, showed forth the righteousness of God, and though, on account of our fallen nature, we come far short of the perfections of the divine holiness, yet the mercies of God are freely bestowed on the penitent, as the Penitential Psalms so clearly show. Under the New Covenant of God’s mercy in Christ, whose blood cleanses from all sin, and whose Spirit poured forth inspires and raises the believing soul to heights of love and adoration of the Redeemer, we have life more abundant. The inspired Paul puts it this way:
“If the ministration of death (i.e., the Law) written and engraven in stones, was glorious so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance: which glory was to be done away: How shall not the ministration of the Spirit be rather glorious? We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 3:7-18)
The superiority of the Gospel dispensation over that of the Law, is a thing of wonder and praise, and should move the dwellers in this dispensation to fresh heights of devotion and love to Christ. This, we dare to say, is clearly marked in the contrast between the verses in the Song of Songs which are the subject of our study. The Bride of the Song is comely with the beautiful Rows and Chains of the Divine Law, but all is surpassed in the dispensation of the Gospel, with its “borders of gold and its studs of silver” - or, as Myles Coverdale so quaintly puts it:
“A neckbande of golde will we make thee, with sylver bottons” - meaning buttons, no doubt! Language changes in the course of time, but not the love and grace of God to which all the languages of the world would despair of doing justice.
We cherish the comment of Bishop Joseph Hall (1574 -1656) on verses 10 and 11 of the Song, chapter 1:
“I and my Father have purposed a further ornament unto thee, in the more fruitful effusion of our Spirit upon thee, which shall be to thy former deckings in the place of gold curiously wrought, with specks of silver.”
THE TWO MARYS ARE ONE
Before proceeding with the exposition of the next verse in the Song of Songs (verse 12) a brief explanation is to be desired. Many readers will no doubt be surprised to learn that the identity of Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene as being one and the same person, has very formidable support from the earliest days of Scriptural exposition. We have long been persuaded that this identification is essential to the understanding of the remarkable event which took place in the home of Martha (and her husband, Simon the pharisee) at the commencement of the Crucifixion week. Nowhere in the divine narrative do these two women ever appear to meet, even in circumstances when it would be inevitable that they should have been together. The enigma disappears at once when it is realised that these two ladies are one and the same person.
We ask therefore that our readers, who are not acquainted with the identification of this important lady, will patiently and with open mind read carefully our comments on “The Magdalen Mystery” before coming to a conclusion. They will no doubt be interested to know that among those expositors who conclude that these two women were one and the same, is Dr. Hengstenberg of Berlin (who flourished in the middle of last century) one of the great champions of true Biblical exposition. Dr. Hengstenberg writes: “The whole conduct of Mary is as Chrysostom remarked, that of a broken-hearted soul. That she anoints the feet of Jesus, that she unlooses her hair, to do which was held among the Jews a great disgrace, that she wipes with it the feet of Jesus - all exhibit her as the sinner and the penitent.”
THE MAGDALEN MYSTERY
“While the King sitteth at his table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof” (Verse 12)
That this remarkable verse foreshadowed the mystery of the anointing of Christ at Bethany by a woman named Mary on the eve of the crucifixion, there has been practical unanimity among the commentators from the earliest days of the Christian era. But who was she? It could be objected that there is nothing in Solomon’s Song about the woman's tears; the wiping of the Saviour’s feet with the tresses of her hair; the propriety of the act or the moral history of the woman who performed it. There is, however, a simple yet altogether conclusive answer to such objections. If there had been an exhaustive description in the Song, concerning something which a woman was to perform a thousand years further on from Solomon’s day, it would have rendered the deed by Mary, at Bethany, utterly without meaning or propriety. It would have appeared that Mary deliberately forced her way into the picture, and acted in detail the part so mysteriously described in the great and ancient Song. The woman’s tears would have been a part of the act, and the objection by Judas the traitor on the score of such a waste of money, which might have been put to a better use, would have been reasonably valid.
But the Song of Songs does not allow such an objectionable licence. The woman’s tears were the token of a heart moved by some earlier act of mercy and forgiveness (which we must shortly explore). They were tears of gratitude and submission on the part of one who loved much because she had been forgiven much the spontaneous worship of a burdened and penitent heart.
The prophets seldom knew the meaning of their own prophetic utterances, even though they searched diligently to discover “what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when testifying beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed that not unto themselves but unto us they did minister the things which are now reported unto us by those who first preached the gospel unto us, with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven - which things angels desire to look into” (1 Peter 1:10-12)
Prophecy is not designed to enable the curious to speculate on future events. Its purpose is to keep hope alive until in the procession of the ages that for which the awakened soul yearns, will be finally realised.
With this in mind we now venture upon the mystery of the anointing of the King; the pouring forth of the spikenard, and the mysterious place which Mary of Magdala - Mary Magdalene -occupies in the unfolding drama of Redemption.
There is a deep mystery in the account left in the four gospels concerning the woman who so anointed the Lord’s feet with her precious ointment, washed them with her tears, and dried them with the tresses of her hair. It is only through John that we know she was Mary, the sister of Martha and of Lazarus (John 12:1-8). To the rest, she is simply described as “a woman”. That she was one of the world’s greatest women is beyond question.
Her significance in the Gospel history requires close and exhaustive study so as to draw together the fragments of information concerning her. That she was a woman with a shameful past has never been doubted. She may even have been the woman of John 8 who had been taken in adultery and who was brought by the scribes and Pharisees before the Lord as a candidate for stoning in accordance with the Mosaic Law. From this fate she was rescued by the Grace of the Saviour in His great utterance, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” This woman may or may not have been Mary Magdalene, out of whom were cast seven devils (Mark 16: 9 and Luke 8: 2). It is our considered opinion, that Mary was in truth the wretched woman of John 8. The remarkable fact that only John of the four evangelists identifies her as a woman with a shameful past is highly significant. When Matthew, Mark and Luke wrote their accounts, the lady in question was alive, and was no doubt an important person among the first disciples. Only John identifies her as the one who washed the Saviour’s feet with her tears and anointed Him with her almost priceless treasure of spikenard. It is easy to account for this remarkable and studied policy of the first three evangelists, to shroud from public shame and abuse one of the great women of the new dispensation. John wrote his Gospel, probably about the same time as, in his extreme old age (he is said to have lived well into the nineties) he wrote the Book of Revelation on the isle of Patmos - the convict isle of the Caesars. By that time all contemporaries had long since been taken from this world, including Magdalene herself. There was none to point the finger at her, and her full character and remarkable deliverance could be declared without exposing her to the insults of self-righteous Pharisees.
It may be said by some, that it was irrelevant to the Gospel story so to guard one of its early female characters, but this is an argument entirely masculine in its nature. We do not often quote from the poetic effusions of that wayward poet Robert Burns of Scotland. His effusions are not always fit for general consumption, but there were moments when he rose to noble heights, as when he pleaded for sinners such as himself with words almost immortal:
“So gently scan your brother man, Still gentler, sister woman.”
When John gave her name to the world, Magdalene was indeed beyond the reach of the world’s contempt. Let her be honoured and exalted. Wheresoever the gospel is preached, said the Saviour, this which she had done in adoration of her Lord and in the expression of a great repentance, must be told of her.
THE MYSTERY OF LUKE’S ACCOUNT
It is not generally accepted that Luke’s account of the adoration of the Saviour (Luke 7:36-50) relates to the same woman. They say that the story in Luke is of an independent event which took place early in the Lord’s ministry, whereas in the other three accounts, the anointing took place almost on the eve of the crucifixion. But there is a reason here which few have perceived. Luke, like the beloved physician that he was, determined to give a full account of the anointing - and it is a fact that Luke gives a more exhaustive account than the others, and purposely describes Mary as “a woman which was a sinner”. (Luke 7:36-50) Moreover Simon the pharisee adds to the description by saying within himself, “This man, if he were a prophet, would have known what manner of woman this is which toucheth him, for she is a sinner.” But what was she doing in the pharisee’s house, if it were not just this, that she was his sister-in-law and in her reformed state he could not well deny her a place in his home? But a sinner will always remain a sinner in the eye of the type of pharisee which Simon represented only too well.
There is an even more potent proof that the woman of Luke’s account was the same as the woman of the other three accounts. The Lord declared (in Mark’s version, chapter 14:3-9) that “wheresoever the gospel should be preached, throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.”
Luke was not the kind of historian who would disobey such an instruction. Determining to give the fullest possible account of the incident in the home of Simon the pharisee (the husband of Martha) he deliberately put the account in an earlier part of the history, and did not identify the woman, nor yet Simon himself, for the name was a common one in Judea. John was free to identify her because (as we have already indicated) he wrote his gospel long after all that generation had been gathered to their fathers. There remained no-one to point the finger at the woman who had been so gross a sinner. Nor was she any longer in this world.
THE FIRST TO SEE THE RISEN LORD
The Eternal Father of all, moreover, had reserved another remarkable characterisation arising from the spiritual symbolism of Mary Magdalene. She was the first person to see and converse with the Saviour after He had risen from the dead. The other women returned from the tomb after the angel had appeared, but Mary Magdalene remained behind. We take John’s account in chapter 20. Mary Magdalene is left alone to keep her heartbreaking vigil outside the empty tomb. She speaks to the two angels who appear in the tomb itself - the sealing stone removed. “They have taken away my Lord and I know not where they have laid him,” is her cry. She turns away and the Saviour is there, standing in front of her. She knows Him not at first, until He pronounces her name – “Mary!” “Rabboni!” (Master) she exclaims in recognition. (John 20:11-18)
The Lord’s first words to her are that she may not touch Him for “He had not yet ascended to the Father.” Strange words indeed. Everyone else that day could touch Him but not Mary Magdalene, and the reason – “I am not yet ascended.” He was referring to His ascension 40 days later. During that time He appeared again and again to His disciples and all touched Him except her. Thomas (the doubter) was even invited by the risen Lord to stretch forth his hand and insert his finger into the nail prints and thrust his hand into His side where the spear had entered. But Mary Magdalene must not touch Him. Many and strained are the efforts made to account for this, but the secret lies in the significance of Mary in a sense entirely prophetic. It would be after His ascension that the secret would be disclosed, according to the Lord’s words to the agonised woman – “But go and tell my brethren that I ascend to my Father and your Father; and to my God and your God”. (John 20:17)
Marvelous words! So marvelous that they have escaped the comprehension not only of those who were contemporary with Mary, but to this day the commentators generally are as non-plussed as was poor Mary.
The secret is found in the fact that the Lord was quoting a great prophecy taken from Psalm 22 - the Crucifixion Psalm, verse 22 – “I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.” The “brethren of Christ” can only mean the redeemed, the great majority of whom would be gathered, not from Israel but from the vast gentile world. The conversion and devotion of Mary was to be the token and the symbol of gentile conversion.
THE CALLING OF THE GENTILES
In short, Mary stood for the outcast (once her own condition because of her sin) - but this time she stands for those outcasts who were to be Christ’s brethren, gathered from the great gentile world. Mary was no gentile, but she was, or had been, as outcast as were those innumerable tribes of the heathen whose day of grace was about to dawn. Israel was to judge herself unworthy of everlasting life, and as a nation rejected the Messiah, the Son of God. Then the Lord raised up a great champion of the gentile multitudes (and he a Jew), namely the apostle Paul, who would above all men in his generation carry the gospel across the mighty Roman Empire to bring in the lost from the uttermost parts, a work which has continued till this day and must surely now be nearing its consummation. (See Acts 14:44-49)
In his epistle to the Hebrews, Paul makes significant use of our Lord’s very words, spoken to Mary, and taken from the Crucifixion psalm -
“Both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one (i.e., whether Jew or Gentile), for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise to thee.” (Hebrews 2:11-12, compare Psalm 22, verse 22)
This is the word first revealed in Psalm 22:22, that great Psalm which describes the Saviour’s passion at Calvary and the glorious outcome thereof, including the passing of the Word of life to the gentile world.
When the Lord commanded Mary Magdalene in prophetic language, “Go and tell my brethren I ascend to my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God” He was referring primarily to the calling of the gentiles, and these Mary represented, though she was a Jewess, for she had been rejected by the nation of Israel. To the pharisee of Luke 7:39 she was untouchable! They murmured against her (Mark 14:4-5). Though a Jewess, she represented the unwanted and the outcast. Recovered from her grievous sinning by the compassion of the Lord, yet still rejected by the Jewish people, she becomes the symbol of all the outcast nations of the world, and hence is prophetically addressed by the Lord as though she were one of them. – “Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my Father, but go to my brethren (i.e., the outcast gentile world) and tell them far and wide, that they are no longer passed by, for my Father shall be their Father and my God their God.”
Thus was Mary ordained as a symbol of hope and mercy for the whole gentile world. Those who had never seen or heard of Christ, should no longer be outcast strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone, in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord (Ephesians 2:19-22).
Thus is fulfilled Mary Magdalene’s illustrative part according to the consummate wisdom of God in the redemption of fallen man, and we are now in a position to understand something of the mystery bound up in the words of the Song of Songs:
“While the King sitteth at his table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof.”
Spikenard means pure Nard, that marvelous and most powerful of ointments, brought from the plains of India, and at great cost poured upon the King, till the whole house was filled with the savour of it.
It is indeed the symbol of the worth and the beauty of Him who is King of kings and Lord of lords. Thus do His people adore Him, and the redeemed Church is symbolised in the Magdalene who once, polluted and cast out, was spurned and despised by the world, but now redeemed, washed, purified, atoned, can find neither rest nor peace except in the shade of His glorious grace and mercy. She spends all her treasure in that devotion which sets Him who once was the Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief, upon the throne of that Love which transforms the life and makes the presence of Christ the one great end which the redeemed soul has in view.
David the king saw it all likewise, and in that incomparable Psalm 45 (the ground plan surely of the Song of Songs) he expresses that love which the Church offers to her Lord.
Charles Wesley, supremely, has captured the glory of it in his priceless hymn -
O love Divine, how sweet Thou art!
When shall I find my willing heart
All taken up by Thee?
I thirst, I faint, I die to prove
The greatness of redeeming love,
The love of Christ to me!
Stronger His love than death or hell;
Its riches are unsearchable:
The first-born sons of light
Desire in vain its depths to see;
They cannot reach the mystery,
The length, and breadth, and height.
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.
Oh, that I could for ever sit
With Mary at the Master’s feet;
Be this my happy choice:
My only care, delight, and bliss,
My joy, my heaven on earth, be this,
To hear the Bridegroom's voice.
Thus we reach the climax of our study of those immortal words: “While the King sitteth at his table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell (the savour) thereof.”
Mary acts for all of us, as she symbolises that Church of the New Testament wherein the Son of God is fully revealed and His Name is as ointment poured forth.
We summarise: The King of kings and Lord of lords sits at His table. They made Him a supper, and Martha served, but Lazarus (raised from the dead but a few days before) was one of those who sat at meat with Him.
Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair, and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.
He, who is so honoured, is the King of the mystic Israel, the Church. He moves relentlessly onward to His cross and passion, by which He as the Son of God, will overthrow death and conquer the grave. Thus He moves relentlessly on to the establishment of His Kingdom of Redemption - the Kingdom of God.
Mary of Magdala (though only now does she enter into the full identity of her name, Magdalene) rejected by self-righteous Israel, now represents the Church of the New Testament in its personal devotion to the Son of God in the full recognition of His sacrificing and redeeming love. This is the source of her love, as it is of the true Church of Jew and Gentile. “We love Him because He first loved us, and gave Himself for us as the propitiation for our sins.” Once the defiled and wretched sinner, the contemptible outcast of Luke 7:36-50, now purged from her sins, she is admitted to the presence of the King, bestowing upon Him in worship all that she has – “very costly” (John 12:3).
There is in her heart a premonition of His dying - dying for her. “Nothing else (says Dr. Hengstenberg) can justify the apparent extravagance of her act.” The bringing in of the box of spikenard, the breaking of it over His feet, the flood of her tears in which she bathed His feet, the letting down of her hair, her rich tresses, a woman’s glory, in the presence of men; the wiping of His feet with her hair in an act of surpassing devotion, worship, adoration and gratitude, without parallel in history - thus we conclude that Mary Magdalene was none other than Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus.
Warned by the prophetic Spirit that the hour of His suffering and death was imminent, she does that which in no other circumstances could be approved or appropriate. No-one else understood. The apostles standing around with Judas saw in the act nothing of which they could approve. But the odour of her spikenard filled the house, and fills the Church of God still - and will do, till the dawn of eternity - and beyond.
All the elements of a gospel interpretation are here. Martha serves. She represents the Church of the Old Testament, which had not yet attained to the knowledge of her Redeemer nor the bridal relationship to Him prefigured in the Song of Songs. Among the servants of the household Martha stands, but Mary has found the Better Part, which is the adoration of the redeemed for One who is their God and Saviour.
To sit at His feet, and hear the Bridegroom’s voice, is surely heaven anticipated. Lazarus was there, to denote the nature of that work which Christ should accomplish in His people, as they are called forth from death and the grave (as Lazarus was) - the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus making them free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2). Behold the army of the slain in Ezekiel 37. The dead in sins of Ephesians 2:1, hear the Gospel voice, for it is written that the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they who hear shall live (John 5:25). In Lazarus raised from the dead, we see the complete host of the redeemed who hear the voice of the Son of God.
The enemies of the Gospel are also here in view. They plot to put Lazarus to death again, because by reason of him, many believed.
It is thus that the Song of Songs anticipates the Gospel by a thousand years. The prophetic Spirit in Solomon raises within him that ecstasy of spiritual love which lies at the heart of redemption.
This is the great difference between the Old and the New Testaments. Such an outburst of devotion and love was not possible in Old Testament times. The worship of God’s people was not so expressed in those earlier days. How was it possible for the soul to break out in such love and adoration of Christ, such utter prostration of devotion, such pouring out of all its wealth in tears and in rapture at the revelation of the Redeemer, when all they had to look upon was the smoking altar, the busy priests, the butchery of animals for the sacrifices, the heavy discipline of observances and ritual?
Let this alabaster box stand for the soul. Let the breaking of it be the release of all its treasury of love and worship. Let the odour which fills the house be the devotion which is worthy of the King who sits at His royal table and receives us, not as servants, nor even as guests, but as the Bride whom He loves, and by whom He is loved - whom He came so far to seek, and at so high a price bought her for Himself under a covenant of love which was drawn up before creation, and which will outlast all creation’s story.
So do we understand these golden words:
“While the King sitteth at His table,
my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof.”