“A bundle of myrrh is my well-beloved unto me;
he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts.” (Chapter 1: verse 13)
For reasons of modern decorum we may not freely use such figuration today, but it was no offence in the days of Solomon when it was possible to speak without embarrassment of the bodily parts, in the language of inspired poetry. It is a sign of guilt in the Western world that we cannot now freely use such descriptions and figures as parables of divine, holy truth. The offence is ours in this twentieth century, and not that of the ancient prophets of Israel, and we are not unmindful of our first ancestors who had no sense of shame in the days of their innocence, concerning the human body, until disobedience toward God brought about their ruin.
At the same time we cannot overlook the fact that in the world of art the line of beauty is the female form. Woman is the most beautiful of all the works of God, taking precedence even over the angelic creation. Strictly speaking angels are neither male nor female, though they are always referred to in Scripture as masculine. There is not a natural description in our human language which could be made to apply to angels, hence we must be content to await the solving of that mystery in a yet deeper one when in heaven we mortals will put on immortality and there will be no differentiation of sexes. The Lord tells us, “In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God”. (Matthew 22:30) There the redeemed will take upon themselves a new likeness, more glorious than the angels, for it is written:
“Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:2)
In the prophetic language of the Bible, the Church is customarily spoken of in the female form, and this is especially observed in the Book of Revelation, where the Church is powerfully presented as the Bride of Christ: Revelation 19:7-8 “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him, for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his bride hath made herself ready, and to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white; for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.” See also Rev. 21:2 and 9: “And I John saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” --- “Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife” --- also chapter 22, verse 17: “And the Spirit and the Bride say, Come....”
In Isaiah’s vision of the mystic Jerusalem, the Church, we have the same rich poetic figure (Isaiah 62:4):
“Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken, neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate, but thou shalt be called Hephzibah (“My delight is in her”), and thy land Beulah (“Married”) for the Lord delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married.”
In short, the Church as a whole is referred to generally in the female form, but her children are almost invariably spoken of in the masculine, as in the first epistle of John, “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God”. (1 John 3:1-2)
The same collective rule of using the feminine to describe the Church as a whole is found also in our hymnology, as in the well-known composition by S. J. Stone -
The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord:
She is His new creation
By water and the word;
From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her,
And for her life He died.
Having thus made out our case for the special distinction of the female form, we are able to understand to a better degree the Solomonic description inherent in our verse. It is essential to be reminded at once that the Bride of the Song is not an individual person, but the symbol of the whole Church from the beginning of time, to its conclusion. We are not here dealing with the excitement of some enraptured female looking forward to marriage, but to the perpetual experience of the Church of the redeemed over the last 6,000 years (surely to be soon consummated in the final union of God and His redeemed Church as she puts on her garments of glory and beauty to go forth to that marriage for which all Creation was made - God and Man united in the beauty and glory of Christ for ever).
The Church is the proper object of the divine love, and the means by which the Wisdom of God attains the great end and purpose of His holy Being. The Lord does not attain that great object by Almighty Fiat, or arbitrary force. Love can only be satisfied by love freely and fully returned and given.
“Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?” was the appeal of Deity for a return of love from one who had denied love, yet who still loved even to the shedding of bitter tears of remorse. Deity will never be satisfied with a love which is not free and full, whatever the fate may be of the dogmas proclaimed by well-meaning theologians. Any theology which holds that love can be love without being free, is greater in its betrayal of love than ten thousand Peters. Deity asks for love and does not create it, but arouses it by pouring out Itself in a supreme act of self-denial and sacrifice.
We are now in a better position to understand the mystery of the Bride’s words, as she holds to her bosom that sweet smelling bouquet of myrrh which to her bespeaks the unseen presence of her Saviour and Lord. All night is that precious bundle held to her breast, and there is no difficulty in reading what this means to her and to all the Church which she represents. The night is symbolic of trial, separation, patience, but she, the Church in all ages is sustained in her loneliness by that precious perfume by which the unseen presence of the Lord becomes a reality, raising in the heart that is dedicated to Him, the assurance of His eternal love. The night seems short when the aroma of His presence calms the troubled breast.
Dr. Hengstenberg’s comment on this verse is of special interest: “The Bride describes the heavenly Solomon as a bundle of myrrh resting at night in her bosom. The myrrh, the sweet-scented resin of a shrub, takes first place among all unguent used as holy ointment. In our verse, the Beloved Himself is the myrrh - His entire, wonderful personality. The old interpreters with undoubted right, compare this verse with Ephesians 3:17 “Christ shall dwell in your hearts by faith.” Paul Gerhard says (in his hymn), “And His cross and sufferings shall, until body and soul are parted, continually be in my heart.”
(As translated from the German)
We may therefore conclude, that if the spikenard of Mary Magdalene is foreshadowed in verse 12 of this chapter of the Song, as showing the unutterable gratitude of the redeemed Church finding love, joy and peace in the Saviour, then the bundle of myrrh of verse 13 pictures that sanctifying grace and presence of Christ with His Church, remaining “all night” with His Church as an emblem and assurance of His perfect love till the night of our earthly state passes away, and the dawn breaks of that new day which has no ending - even that day of the Lord, the day of perpetual light and love, of peace and joy, in the presence of the King. In such a deep and mystical allegory as the Song of Songs, “all night” can only spell the duration of the Church on earth, comforted and assured of the presence of Christ who is ever with her in the dark night of sin and trial and sorrow, oppression and pain. She endures in patience and faith “until the day dawn and the shadows flee away”. That is the Day of the Lord which never began but always was and is and ever shall be, to which goal the bridal steps of the Church are ever drawing nearer. Solomon describes it in Proverbs 4:18 – “The path of the just is as the shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day.”
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF MYRRH
We cannot take our leave of this verse without indicating the significance of the usage of myrrh in this and in other places. Myrrh is mentioned 12 times in the Old Testament, and eight of these places are in the Song of Solomon. In the New Testament, myrrh is mentioned three times, and each occurrence has to do with the Saviour - at His birth, at the crucifixion, and at the tomb.
The Concordance tells us that the number of occurrences of “myrrh” is two more than we have stated, but the discrepancy is accounted for by the fact that the two occurrences in Genesis 37:25, and 41:11, are descriptive of an entirely different plant which does not belong to the genus myrrh.
The first reference to this significant unguent, is in Exodus 30:23 where “pure myrrh” is named first of the ‘principal spices’ which combine to sanctify the “Tabernacle of the Congregation,” the forerunner of the Temple later to be built by King Solomon.
There is in the Book of Esther, chapter 2, and verse 12, a reference to the use of myrrh by the women of the court of Ahasuerus. To this there does not seem to be attached any special significance. There is asolitary reference in Proverbs chapter 7 and verse 17 where the impudent harlot boasts of having perfumed her bed with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon. We have in this harlot a representation perhaps, of false religion, greased and anointed with pious perfume.
Myrrh is the royal and priestly spice used (Exodus 30:23) in the holy anointing oil, and later as one of the ingredients at the entombing of the Lord Jesus.
Myrrh and aloes and cassia sent their billowing fragrance from the garments of the heavenly King of Psalm 45, verse 8 to show His unique and surpassing glory and grace. Myrrh was presented to Christ at His birth, and was contributed by Nicodemus in lavish quantity and expense, for His burial.
In prophecy, the prospect of Christ’s coming gave a savour of heavenly beauty and fragrance to the waiting Church. Who is this who comes from the ages yet to be, and gives advance token of what He is in the excellence (and the lowliness) of His person? Prophets searched, angels inquired, Satan feared and dreaded. Abraham rejoiced in the prospect of it.
At His wondrous and mysterious birth, the same savour of holiness broke upon the earth in the prophetic gifts of the Eastern Sages, those students of the prophecies of Daniel, still extant and jealously preserved during the five centuries since Daniel mystically gave them the means of ascertaining the time when Messiah, heaven’s eternal King, would appear on earth on His mission of eternal redemption. They had seen in the East the star of redemption and were come to worship the Lord from heaven - nor were they troubled with any doubts concerning the lowliness of the Holy Infant. Something had come into our humanity to restore it to the high destiny which was lost in Adam.
But oh! The price to be paid at Calvary! The representative of the Law was at hand in the person of Nicodemus, who first came to Jesus by night - not (mark you) because of fear of the Jews did he come by night, for at the beginning of the Lord’s ministry there was nothing to fear. The authorities had not then been roused. He came by night under a divine impulse to mark the impending event of the coming gospel day. That day came three years later - a day of terror and darkness and death when there was war in heavenly regions and the Prince of Darkness, exultant in his victory over his fearsome foe, found that by encompassing the death of Messiah he only succeeded in destroying himself and his kingdom of darkness.
Who is this who in dying made death sweet, and the grave the portal of life?
The chosen Bride, reposing in the everlasting favour of her Well-beloved, wears next to her heart that bundle of myrrh which gives to her a holy sweetness, a savour of Christ, through all the long, dark night of waiting, till her heavenly Bridegroom at last appears. What to the ignorant and blind world was a restless tossing to and fro was to her a time of hallowed expectancy till He came, whose right it is to consummate all by the victory of Calvary.
Small wonder therefore that the heavenly Bride should anticipate the glory of her King and Lord, with her bundle of myrrh pressing against her bosom, content to await the day which would surely dawn when her Beloved would come in Person to claim His Bride. She embraced the promise, and her bundle of myrrh gave to her a holy sweetness, a savour of Christ, through all the dark night of the world’s history, until He came whose right it is to reign.
Here is pardon and peace through the blood of the Cross. Here is our sanctification, and our access to God, clothed in the righteousness of the Son. The presence, the mediation, the holy beauties and fragrance of Christ, makes us what we now are in the sight of God - acceptable to Him in the beloved.
What would this mystic Bride do without her bundle of myrrh? By that alone, the shadow of death and decay and curse, are removed far away, and she bears the savour of life unto life.
David foresees that final scene so exquisitely set forth in Psalm 45. Christ comes forth from the ivory palaces of eternity to claim His Bride and make her His Queen for ever. All His garments smell of myrrh, aloes and cassia. In all eternity it is He, by His presence, who perfumes the very air of heaven, exalting the spiritual senses, and giving pleasures for evermore at His own right hand.
There the red rose of Sharon
Unfolds its heartsome bloom
And fills the air of heaven
With ravishing perfume.
Oh, to behold its blossom
While by its fragrance fanned E'en there,
where glory dwelleth,
In Emmanuel’s Land.
THE VINEYARDS OF EN GEDI
“My Beloved is unto me as a cluster of camphire in the vineyards of En Gedi” (Verse 14)
It is generally agreed that for “camphire” we should read “cypress.” The vineyards of En Gedi represent those places where the Church flourishes upon the earth. They are the sweet society of the saints of the Lord. The praises and the worship of the people of the Lord flow out, as the fragrant scent of the cypress, and create another Eden, for the earth’s only fruitful and fragrant spot is the mystic country - the society - of the redeemed - a fitting token of what is yet to be, in “that sweet and blessed country, the home of God’s elect.”
En Gedi (most beautiful of names) is on the shores of the Dead Sea - an oasis of surpassing fertility in a country where everywhere else, death reigns. To this day it produces the finest wines of the East.
Dr. Robinson in his “Researches” says: “The whole slope of its surrounding hills, is still covered with trees and shrubs of a more southern clime. Nothing is needed but tillage to render this a most prolific spot. The soil is rich, the heat great, the water abundant.”
As its name denotes, En Gedi is a well. When God blasted with fire and brimstone the ‘cities of the plain’ (Sodom and Gomorrah), and all the country round about, turning what was a garden into a burnt out wilderness, a place of perpetual death, He preserved this one place of surpassing beauty and fruitfulness. He opened up a well which has never ceased in 3,000 years to pour forth its smooth and living stream of cool, crystal, lifegiving water. From the plant that first appeared in Eden, He takes a shoot, and plants it where all is death, so that once again, and for ever, in His church, the fragrance of the heavenly cypress might billow out over the walls of His vineyard and arrest the passer-by.
“En Gedi” means, “The Well - or The Fount - of Happiness.” Spiritually it represents the Church. The cypress suggests that grace of Christ in the soul, which makes all things new, and gives rise to the sweet gales of praise and worship which waft to all the world, from the renewed hearts of the redeemed. In the Kingdom of Christ, everything breathes divine grace, love, joy and peace. All else is desert.
BEAUTY AND CHRIST
In verses 15 -17 which conclude the first chapter of the Song, we have an exchange of loving admiration between the parties, each declaring the adorable beauty of the other, and closing with a highly poetic figure of the Covenant ground on which the two parties meet. Thus:
15: Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair;
Thou hast dove’s eyes.
16: Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant:
also our bed is green.
17: The beams of our house are cedar,
and our rafters of fir.
“Behold” says the Bridegroom as the two meet. This exclamation is one of rapturous acclaim, akin to that with which the first man, Adam, cried out when he awoke from his deep prophetic sleep and beheld the first woman who ever graced creation with her beauty - coming over the sward to meet him, her graceful step scarcely disturbing the morning dews. Such a creature had never been seen in creation before. For grace, beauty, delicacy, and gentleness, she excelled every creature. Even angels did not compare with her. “THIS” - Adam cried out –“THIS is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” His exclamation expresses emphatically, (in the Hebrew), his delight, admiration, and wonder at the appearance of Woman.
And when Christ meets His Bride, He greets her with a rapturous acclaim of her glorious appearance – “Behold, thou art fair, my love! Behold, thou art fair; thou hast dove’s eyes.” He presents her before the glorious hosts of heaven, as one who surpasses in beauty all other creations. Such another object there is not. Here is spiritual beauty and perfection, grace, purity, honour, royalty.
Such is the redeemed Church the Bride of Christ. She is the ultimate goal of Creation. She reflects the glory and the perfection of the heavenly Bridegroom, who is the Eternal God, manifest for ever in the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.
The world has no eyes for such a sight. The ugliness of sin - the disfigurement of pride - this is what attracts the world, whose standards sink lower and lower, now that in our own day, the restraints are lifted, and there is a worldwide loosing of Satanic power.
But let no-one suppose that God will not assert His standards in due time. He is ceaselessly preparing, and one glorious day all will be completed and He will bring forth His masterpiece, the top-stone of all creation - the wonder of all time - the crown of all the ages - the unique and glorious result of all His suffering patience and agony; He will bring forth as a Bride to the Eternal Son, this glorious Woman - fashioned by grace -perfected by the refinement of trial - the product of patient toil and sacrificial agony.
He will say, “Behold….” and all creation will acclaim this work of beauty, love and grace - the Redeemed Church - the Bride, the Lamb’s Wife, the heavenly Jerusalem, her light as a stone most precious, clear as crystal, her gates never to be shut, for there is no night there, and they shall bring the glory and the honour of the nations into it (Revelation 21).
As Eve came forth from Adam’s side during his “death-sleep”, so the Church, taken mystically from that wounded side on the dark night when the King’s Son died, comes back to Him. - bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh. “This is a great mystery” writes the apostle Paul “But I speak concerning Christ and the Church.” (Ephesians 5:32)
“Behold thou art fair my love; behold thou art fair.”
The duplication of these words indicates the Bridegroom’s utter satisfaction with the Bride whom the Father has given Him. He sees in her no spot or blemish, for this is the completed Church, the whole company of the ransomed as they appear in Zion. We who are believers are privileged to be of such a company, and though we see no beauty in ourselves, being only too painfully aware of our sin and unworthiness, yet He sees beyond this present scene and contemplates the glorious end that is to be, in the day of the great completion of His task.
“THOU HAST DOVE’S EYES”
The Bridegroom singles out the one outstanding feature of the beauty of the Bride - she has the eyes of a dove. This wonderful and unique bird appears to have been specially created to represent the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Holy Trinity. John the Baptist records, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him”. (John 1:32. Read also 33 and 34) The dove is the bird of love, of wooing and courtship. The very word ‘to woo’ appears to have been taken from the peculiarly soft and appealing sound which the bird emits as it attracts the attention of its mate. It is the bird of gentleness and peace. It is the sign of judgment past, as is clearly shown when Noah set it free from the ark to test whether the waters of judgment had yet abated from the earth. It is the bird which gives us the sign of approaching spring, as in the second chapter of the Song, verses 11 and 12:
“The winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the voice of the turtle (dove) is heard in our land.”
So the Lord describes the eyes of His Church as the eyes of the dove. Love looks into the eyes of the lover, for the eye is the window of the soul and the central feature of all beauty. Christ looks into the eyes of the Bride and sees Himself reflected in that glittering focus. Her eyes beam with love, with holy passion toward Him. He is her Saviour and Redeemer, her Lord and her all. He has become her life, and the sole reason for her existence. Her eye gives back to Him the same holy passion which reigns eternally in Himself, until the ecstasy becomes too great to endure and He exclaims, “Turn away thine eyes from me, for they have overcome me....” (Song 6, verse 5)
Language so intimate, the Lord could only address to the Church at large. How out of place such love-sickness would appear if the Lord were addressing only the individual soul? Yet this is the error perpetuated by so many who have thought to interpret the Song of Songs.
THE BRIDE’S RESPONSE
“Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea pleasant:
also our bed is green.
The beams of our house are cedar,
and our rafters of fir.”
The Church gives back to Christ the expression of admiration He has given to her – “Behold, thou art fair” - and adds (as befits the domestic instinct of the Bride) a description of the house in which they both shall dwell for ever.
The correspondence of the eulogies the one has for the other, is self-evident:
He: Thou art fair my Love.
She: Thou art fair my Beloved.
She adds the word “pleasant.” He is lovely in her sight. The heart of the believer is surely filled with delight when beholding Christ. And do we not behold Him at times, with the inward eye, when some circumstance seems to unveil His presence? Perhaps the verse of some familiar - or unfamiliar - hymn seizes upon the soul and for a moment we are ‘held in the galleries’ of the King Himself; and precious words sometime forgotten, come again to mind:-
And since I've seen His beauty
All else I count but loss.
The world, its fame and pleasure
Is now to me but dross:
His light dispelled my darkness
His smile was oh! so sweet.
I've seen the face of Jesus
I can but kiss His feet.
So it must have been with Mary Magdalene, and many another of whom only heaven keeps the record. Through floods of grateful tears we see the Beloved.
David surely knew something of this, when he wrote in Psalm 16 (verse 11):
“Thou wilt show me the path of life. In thy presence is fulness of joy; At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”
THE GREATEST HOUSE THAT EVER WAS
“The beams of our house are cedar, and our rafters (galleries) of fir (i.e. Cypress)”.
With these words of the Bride the first chapter of the Song of Songs is concluded. But what do they mean? Some have hazarded the opinion that this is a description of the royal apartments to which the Bride is introduced on her marriage to the King. Others have ventured to suggest that it is a description of Solomon’s Temple - and they certainly come nearer the mark than others. But we must seek further, remembering that the Song has to do with eternal things. There never was such a house as this, never so glorious a bed (or resting place), and never so pleasant galleries in which to walk and stray. For this House is the new creation. Here are the heavenly places where the redeemed walk with Christ and find rest in Him. It is quite evident from the language used by Solomon that we are not viewing a house with walls, roof and furnishings, but a landscape - a bed which is green with luscious grass, where sheep may safely graze, and lie down in green pasture and beside the still waters (Psalm 23). Here is a house and galleries consisting of the forest of Lebanon, with its mighty cedars and stately cypress. So wide and ample and sufficient is the grace of God to the soul of man - wide enough for all the world to walk therein - a new world of divine grace, a landscape of salvation with its leafy walks and shady pikes - the deep recesses of divine love and mercy - forest galleries planned and designed for the shelter and repose of the Church.
A place too, for worship and communion, undisturbed by the vanities of the world; beyond the compass of the powers of darkness to destroy. For we have here the mystic structure of the Temple not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, of which Solomon’s Temple was but the figure. What the inspired Solomon is giving us is a preview of the Church of God beyond all the symbols and signs which pointed to the coming of Christ. Here we have the glorious expansion of the Church of God to all the World.