Study 3 – Musings in Solomon’s Song of Songs

Study 3 – Introduction

The beginning lines of any Bible book should not be read casually or the reader might fail to perceive some hints of the author’s divinely inspired purpose in writing it. By way of illustration I will introduce this third study in Solomon’s Best Song with a fictitious, but believable, story I have told at many a dinner table and fireside.

The precious name of our Beloved

A young woman had been attending the Sunday evening service at the Salvation Army Citadel for some weeks when the captain asked her if coming to church was a new experience. ‘Oh no,’ she replied brightly, ‘I still go regularly to my Methodist chapel for Sunday morning worship.’ ‘So, what has attracted you here?’ he wanted to know. ‘Well, I love to sing hymns accompanied by a brass band,’ she said. When asked, ‘So, what’s your favourite hymn?’ with a sunbeam smile, she admitted – heedless of the rules of English grammar, ‘Him what plays the trombone’!

When a girl’s in love there’s only one ‘him’ as we can observe throughout the few short chapters of Solomon’s Song. Her first words at the very start of the book are ‘Let him kiss me’ (Hebrew text). Although she goes on to announce, ‘your name is like [the] spreading fragrance [of] cologne’ (Song Song of Solomon 1:2-3), she never once tells us what that name actually is, though she gives voice to 70 out of the 117 verses of this short book! However, that is no excuse for us to be coy about uttering the precious name of our Beloved.

Let me tell you a bit of my own testimony in this connection. I was brought up in a Christian home and gave my life to Christ just after my sixth birthday. But I felt no different in the days that followed, even though I knew that the Lord had spoken to me clearly through the verse for that day on the block calendar on the mantelpiece. It was very re-assuring to read: ‘As I was with Moses, so I will be with thee; I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee’ (Joshua 1:6 King James Version). However, when in my mid-twenties I was baptized in the Holy Spirit and began to praise the Lord in new tongues, I fell in love with Jesus. One night, a few days later, while driving home I just had to find a hitchhiker to tell him about the one I loved so dearly. The young man to whom I gave a lift was actually only going a few more miles along my route, so after some small talk I asked him straight out, ‘Tell me, what do you think about Jesus?’ He said he knew there must be a God.  Since our time was limited, I interrupted him, ‘No, I am specifically asking what you think about Jesus?’ When he left me minutes later he promised to heed what I’d said, adding, ‘I knew as soon as I got into your car that it had a very different atmosphere.’

There really is a fragrance spread abroad when the name of Jesus is spoken by someone in love with him!

The name of Jesus can be precious in the ears of the very old and on the lips of the very young.

[] ‘Rabbi’ Duncan was not a Jewish leader but a Scotsman who lectured in Old Testament studies at Glasgow University to students training to become ministers in the Church of Scotland. His students called him ‘Rabbi’ because he was fluent in Hebrew. Sadly, in his old age he became a victim of dementia. Not only did he no longer recognize his family and friends, but he even forgot his own name. However, his face would glow with joy when anyone mentioned Jesus. He would comment, ‘Aye, I ken fine who he is!’

[] My late father-in-law was the eldest in a family of eight siblings. His infant sister, being only 20- months-old, had a limited vocabulary. As she lay dying she would whimper if anyone stood in one particular corner of her bedroom. As she focused on that space, her last word was ‘Jesus’!

The girl’s two contrasting dreams

The text for our third study is Song Song of Solomon 5:6 – it is part of her second dream (Song of Solomon 5:2 – 6:3)

‘I opened to my lover, but he was gone. My heart sank. I searched for him but could not find him anywhere. I called to him, but there was no reply.’

In her first dream (Song of Solomon 3:1-5) she is yearning for her absent lover (Song of Solomon 3:1) and goes alone to search for him through city streets and plazas, but without success (Song of Solomon 3:2). However, she eventually does reach him straight after asking counsel of ‘the watchmen’ who guarded the city’s walls and streets (Song of Solomon 3:3-4). Christians are exhorted in Hebrews 13:17, ‘Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit.’ We should not bottle up our problems; sharing a spiritual difficulty with wise overseers can be most beneficial.

Following this dream she warns the harem not to get carried away by the shallow romantic emotions of so-called ‘puppy love’; true love must be allowed time to develop organically. Of course, those of us that are of a older age group could let this counsel go in through one ear and out through the other, but we should keep this lesson in mind when we see young folk (some maybe are family members) getting into impulsive emotional liaisons, and pray for them accordingly.

We might ask why, at this point in the Song, Solomon’s first marriage is recalled (Song of Solomon 3:6-11)? I believe that the village lass is still speaking, recounting what she had heard from the women of the harem. Solomon, while still a bachelor prince, married Pharaoh’s daughter (1 Kings 3:1), and here he is emerging from the desert of Sinai on his way back to Jerusalem from Egypt with his bride.  No doubt the girl in the song is reminding herself that Solomon, by that time, had already started out on the spiritual downward slope. 1 Kings 11:1-3 tells it plainly: ‘Now King Solomon loved many foreign women. Besides Pharaoh’s daughter, he married women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon, and from among the Hittites. The Lord had clearly instructed the people of Israel, “You must not marry them, because they will turn your hearts to their gods.” Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway. He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines. And in fact, they did turn his heart away from the Lord.’

Recalling that event prompts her to reflect on her own courtship and intended marriage (Song of Solomon 4:1-5) that recently had been thwarted by Solomon’s taking her captive to Jerusalem – but only temporarily! She remembers how her fiancé wooed her, and longs for the consummation of her marriage to him with God’s blessing (Song of Solomon 4:6 -5:1).

How does all this compare to her second dream (Song of Solomon 5:2 – 6:3)? Being sleepy and feeling somewhat lethargic, the captured lass is therefore slow to respond to her boyfriend’s voice as he knocks at her locked door (compare Revelation 3:20). Nevertheless, she does rouse herself to walk over and open it, only to find him gone (Song of Solomon 5:2-6)! This time the city guards beat her up (much as Job’s friends verbally abused him when God seemed to have deserted him). The guards also exposed her modestly veiled face. There is a lesson here for friends and counsellors of fellow-believers who are going through a time of spiritual darkness – we need to restrain our tendency to hand out orthodox theory to believers who are suffering physically or emotionally, or mentally and spiritually; maybe they do not need to repent of some non-existent faulty motives or forgotten sin! This young woman has done nothing wrong in her behaviour or even in her attitude.

She then shares her disappointment with other women in the royal court (Song of Solomon 5:8 – 6:3); and – get this! – their questions (not their answers!) actually help her to locate her “absent” fiancé. The fact is that he had never actually moved away. And has not our Beloved vowed to us: ‘I will never fail you. I will never abandon you’ (Hebrews 13:5).

Whenever we feel deserted by the Lord we too can: (1) shout his praise (as Jonah did in Whale Belly Prison, and Paul and Silas did in the jail in Philippi; and (2) testify to others about him.

God’s presence in ‘the fiery furnace’ of Grenfell Tower

A fatal fire that spread through many levels of a high rise block of flats in the London area was a universal news item just before I made these many recent visits to Solomon’s Song. After the evacuation a thrilling testimony of a belated rescue from the tenth floor was published, having been kept away from all secular media outlets. Alem, an Ethiopian Christian, sent her story to United Christian Broadcasters ‘to give glory to God and to encourage others that he is always with them.’ She had been a member of a Grenfell Bible study group for 20 years and a resident there for the last fourteen years. She tells how she and her Christian fellow-national, named ‘Ethiopia’, who was visiting her, were awakened by a phone call around 1.30 am urging them to leave. But finding the corridor full of smoke they went back indoors and prayed, taking hope from Psalms 91, 27 and 23. Ethiopia phoned a friend to request him to be a father to her young son. Alem asked: ‘God forgive us for all our sins’ and yielded them both to his will, even if it meant death. She thanked him for ‘the good life we had’. At 3.30 am, when they were among the last to be escorted by the firefighters down the stairs to safety (with damp towels over their heads) Alem was shouting ‘Jesus, Jesus, Jesus’. A brief hospital stay dealt with their smoke inhalation, but neighbours who had exited 50 minutes sooner were in a coma for several days because of the smoke. Now she wants to care for other survivors from that closely-knit Grenfell community who had lost family members. She concludes her story, ‘I have got to a point where I can see God is consistently good, whatever the circumstances. But things happen because we live in a fallen world’, and that to introduce people to Jesus is a calling for every Christian – indeed ‘it is a gift’ and privilege.

Following this latest dream the girl reminds herself that her present situation started with:

The King’s Flattery (Song of Solomon 6:4 7:9)

She recalls her capture (Song of Solomon 6:11-12) and the king’s admiration of her dancing (Song of Solomon 6:13b – 7:9). Chronologically, this was Solomon’s first sight of the heroine of his Song. His begins by praising her nimble footwork. As he comments on her other features he notices that her ‘eyes’ are ‘like . . . sparkling pools’ (7:4b). They shine with vitality, but she is not gazing into his eyes or at his rich robes, but has probably spotted her fiancé in the audience – or, at least, in her fondest memory.

It is very significant that though her young man only speaks three times in the opening chapter of the Song, each time for one verse only, his second utterance (Song of Solomon 1:15) refers only to the gentle gaze of his shepherdess fiancée’s ‘eyes’. Later the young Romeo again describes her gentle gaze in Song of Solomon 4:1, ‘Your eyes are like doves behind your veil’ and this time he continues to detail her many character qualities symbolised by her other physical features.

But when the king tries to copy the endearing language of her boyfriend in Song of Solomon 6:5-7 (compare Song of Solomon 4:1-2), he has to ask her to ‘turn your eyes away’ because ‘they overpower me’ (Song of Solomon 6:5). He can only steal a few sentences of the lad’s description of the maiden before resuming his own typical royal mode, referring to ‘queens and concubines’ (Song of Solomon 6:8-10).

However, she has resisted this ploy of the king right from the start by expressing aloud her assurance of her fiancé’s love (Song of Solomon 7:10). No wonder the king later asks her to ‘turn your eyes away, for they overpower me’ (Song of Solomon 6:5). It seems that he is having a sudden twinge of conscience, as he realises that he has no right to this village girl’s affections, but he still tries to persuade her to surrender to his advances.

All this becomes relevant to our own lives when we understand what the New Testament means by ‘worldliness’. The first letter of John tells us (1 John 2:2:15-16), ‘Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and a pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.’ We can sum this up as Pleasure, Prestige and Possessions. Its appeal has been ever present right from the earliest days of the human race. Mother Eve fell for the serpent’s suggestion that she should ignore the Creator’s command and sample the forbidden fruit with its promise of Pleasure and Prestige by the Possession of the experiential knowledge of good and evil!

The reunion of the young couple

For the third time in the Song the bride-to-be declares, ‘I am my lover’s’ (Song of Solomon 6:10). Notice that her three similar statements show how her love has grown through her experiences in those dreams of hers:

[] Song of Solomon 2:16, ‘My lover is mine’ seems to imply that she has a good grip on her man; but she hastens to add, ‘and I am his’ – for sure, he has a grip on her heart too;

[] Song of Solomon 6:3, ‘I am my beloved,’ she sighs in the certainty that his love for her is secure, but yet straightaway adds, ‘and my lover is mine’; but finally, after her love has been tested and deepened,

[] Song of Solomon 7:10, she admits that his unwavering devotion to her is the key to her resistance to Solomon’s advances and testings: ‘I am my lover’s, and he claims me as his own’.

Now she is ready to care for the vineyards of others (Song of Solomon 7:11 – 8:4), ‘Come, my love. . . Let us get up early and go to the vineyards to see is the grapevines have opened, . . .There I will give you my love.’  This time she will do the work like a ‘Mary’ rather than a harassed ‘Martha’ forced to tend other’s needs by her domineering brothers (Song of Solomon 1:6).

The women of her village now see her return and exclaim: ‘Who is this sweeping in from the desert, leaning on her lover?’ (Song of Solomon 8:5). It is reminiscent of Solomon’s original return to his home with his first bride (Song of Solomon 3:6).

In the penultimate verse of the Song (Song of Solomon 8:13) her young man seems to say: ‘Take a break from talking to others about me and talk to me’. ‘O my darling, lingering in the gardens, your companions are fortunate to hear your voice. Let me hear it, too!’ She does just that in the final verse, reminding Christian readers of the final prayer in the New Testament, ‘Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!’ (Revelation 22:20). The young woman in the Song says, ‘Come away, my love! Be like a gazelle or a young stag on the mountain of spices’ (Song of Solomon 8:14).

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