Study 2 – Musings in Solomon’s Song of Songs

Study 2 – Let’s join the Lord’s Fox Hunt

‘[Let us] catch all the foxes, those little foxes, before they ruin the vineyards of love, for the grapevines are blossoming’ (Song Song of Solomon 2:15).

This verse challenges us to undertake some spiritual pest control. The young country lad urges his bride-to-be to join him in a ‘spring clean’ of their attitudes and behaviour in readiness for married life.

Notice the immediate context of our selected verse

Her loving man is on his way to her, full of the joys of spring – like a surge of resurrection life (2:10-13). That clue is important when applied to our chosen text, which we must now address with two questions: What do we mean by fruit? and What are those little foxes?

Disciples of Christ have been called to a fulfilled life. Their Master told his original Twelve:                                                               ‘I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit (John 15:16). How exhilarating! We’ve been selected to be productive, to effectively benefit those around us with heaven’s rule:

[] as ‘the salt of the earth’ to prevent the spread of corruption in the ‘flesh’ of society;

[] as the light of the world’ to counteract its darkness;

[] as ‘yeast’ to lighten the heaviness of humanity’s ‘dough’.

We are not, however, called merely to do good works but to ‘bear . . . fruit in every good work’ (Colossians 1:10). That means that not every charitable deed is necessarily fruitful. As the apostle Paul observed: ‘If I gave everything I have to the poor’, it would benefit those who receive it, ‘but if I didn’t love others, I gained nothing’ (1 Corinthians 13:3).

‘Do-gooding’ is unfruitful if:

[] God didn’t want me to carry out that particular task in the first place; or

[] God gave me the job but I performed it proudly in my own strength; or

[] he gave me the assignment and enabled me to do it, but I did it for my own glory.

A good example occurs in Jesus’ back-to-back events in Luke’s Gospel. After applauding the good Samaritan for rescuing the bruised and dying victim of robbers, he immediately afterwards corrected Martha for trying to kill them all with kindness – this hyperactive, workaholic hostess was cooking meals that the Master had never ordered!

So, let’s join the Lord’s fox hunt. We need to try to identify and to remove from our lives attitudes, behaviour patterns and character defects that can prevent our fruitfulness. But it may not be quite so simple as that ABC! These behaviour patterns are often so ingrained that they are as natural as the adorable young foxes that frequent vineyards in Mediterranean lands.

Early in the poem this Galilean country lass becomes very aware of having been so busy cultivating vineyards for her brothers that she had neglected her own (Song of Solomon 1:6). As a result of this neglect she had no wine of love to offer her fiancé. Straightaway she decides to quit her ‘hectivity’ of do-gooding and get herself intoxicated with the love of her absent betrothed (Song of Solomon 1:15 -2:7).

Notice that it is still spring when in her dream her lover comes courting her. He invites her to join him in removing those cute vermin: ‘[Let’s] catch all the foxes, those little foxes, before they ruin the vineyards of love, for the grapevines are blossoming.’ Blossom is only potential fruit. The sharp teeth and claws of the playful fox cubs can remove vine bark and budding grapes so that no fruit will be produced.

Question 1: What is fruit?

According to Galatians 5:22-23 ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ is God’s very own nature reproduced in us:

[] Love – and God is love’ (1 John 4:16)

[] Joy – he is ‘the blessed [happy] God (1 Timothy 1:11; 6:15)

[] Peace – Christ himself is our peace’ (Ephesians 1:14, English Standard Version)

[] PatienceChrist’s perseverance’ (2 Thessalonians 3:5, English Standard Version)

[] KindnessGod’s kindness’ (Romans 2:4)

[] Goodness‘only God is truly good’ (Luke 18:19)

[] FaithfulnessGod is faithful’ (1 Corinthians 10:13)

[] GentlenessI am humble and gentle at heart,’ said our Lord (Matthew 11:29)

[] Self-control – he is a God slow to get angry’ (Jonah 4:2)

Question 2: What are foxes?

For the purpose of our exercise, whatever obstructs the maturing of any of those grapes in the bunch can be identified as a fox. They are ‘worldly desires that wage war against your very souls’ (1 Peter 2:11) and stop your development into the image of Christ.

For example, worry will rob you of God’s peace; rudeness will prevent gentleness developing; disloyalty will ruin the fruit of faithfulness.

Two other passages of Scripture that will help us identify spiritual fruit and diagnose the opposing foxes are 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a and 2 Peter 1:5-7.

‘Love is patient and kind’ – two of the ‘grapes’ we have already listed. But love is not  characterised by jealousy, boasting, pride, rudeness, self-seeking (‘does not demand its own way’), irritability (‘is not easily angered’), keeping a record of being wronged,  gossip (‘rejoices whenever truth wins out’) – so we can designate them as foxes.

Instead, since love ‘rejoices whenever truth wins out’, integrity is a grape; as is protecting another’s good name, trust, hope, perseverance, and reliability (‘love never fails’).

In making every effort to add to our faith goodness, we will do our utmost to recognise and trap unbelief and sexual impurity. Peter tells us that by developing moral excellence, knowledge (of God), self-control, patient endurance, godliness, brotherly affection and love for everyone we will become ‘neither ineffective nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (2 Peter 1:8, English Standard Version).

Having resisted the king’s flattery in her opening soliloquy (Song of Solomon 1:7-8), and responded to her lover’s request to catch the offending foxes (and learned other lessons that we will consider in the final study), the Song of Song concludes with a delightful rustic scene – a kind of second honeymoon. The girl is now ready for fruitful ministry into others’ lives in fellowship with the man she adores (Song of Solomon 7:10 – 8:14). She says to him: ‘Come, my love, let us go out to the . . . vineyards to see if the grapevines have budded, if the blossoms have opened . . . There I will give you my love’ (Song of Solomon 7:11-12). That sounds more like Mary, ‘the good Samaritan’ instead of Martha the harassed!

Question 3: How can we rid our lives of such cute spiritual vermin?

The one who has called and commissioned us loves us faithfully. Let’s get drunk on his love, then go with him to discover the enemies of our souls, those sinful attitudes, words and actions that offend him, and in his strength root them out ruthlessly. Then he can use us to enable new disciples to cultivate their own lives (‘souls’).

[] Practical application: Prayerfully consider what attitudes or behaviour would kill each grape in the bunch. Don’t be too hasty: for example, the opposite of love is not just hatred, it can also be indifference as displayed by the church in Laodicea in Revelation 3:15-19. They lacked zeal for the Lord, for each other and for the lost and had become lukewarm in all their orthodox ways. So the Lord urged them: ‘Be diligent, and turn from your indifference (Song of Solomon 3:19).

Like the girl in Song Song of Solomon 2:10, we need to come out from behind ‘the wall’ of our routine security and join our heavenly Lover in his resurrection dynamic; then and only then can we together deal with ‘those little foxes’ with clear minds and determination to be rid of such attitudes, speech and actions. In his letters Paul consistently shows us how to live fruitfully. We must tackle the exercise (i) jointly with the Lord, and (ii) do so in the power of his resurrection life within us,

Let’s practise Paul’s counsel in Colossians chapter 3. According to verses Song of Solomon 1-4, (a) we must first appropriate the power of Christ’s resurrection life: ‘Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits on the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God’; (b) then, on that understanding, we can deal with the foxes (Song of Solomon 5-9): ‘. . . put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. . . . sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. . . . Now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behaviour, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to one another, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds’; (c) and can then produce fruit (Song of Solomon 10-15): ‘Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator, and become like him. . . . Clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Above all, clothe yourselves with love.’ Let our prayer be: ‘I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead.’ In that strength ‘I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead’ (Philippians 3:10). And ‘if through the power of the Spirit [of God, who raised Jesus from the dead . . . living in you] you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live (Romans 8:11-14).

P.S. Help to diagnose your foxes

Honesty is the first requirement. An intelligent little girl asked her mother, ‘Why is it that when I shout at you it’s temper, but when you shout at me it’s nerves?’ Diagnosis may require a second opinion! Don’t give those destroyers pet names.

[] Love is attacked not only by hatred but also by indifference.

[] Joy can be ruined by fear. It must be deliberately dismissed; it won’t just go away.

[] Peace is prevented by worry, anxiety, but also irritability (1 Corinthians 13:4).

[] Patience is spoiled by discontent.

[] Kindness may die as blossom under selfish ambition, resentment or rudeness.

[] Goodness could become a victim of revenge, jealousy, envy, pride or lustful impurity.

[] Faithfulness would fall foul of dissension, divisions and discord.

[] Gentleness cannot abide quarreling, verbal abuse, aggression – whether outburst of rage or smouldering anger.

[] Self control eschews wandering thoughts, sensuality, malicious gossip and greed.

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