Contentment of the lady (Song 1:12-14)

In the previous poem, the lady had been searching for rest and we can see in verses 12-14 that she has found rest as she sits beside the king on his couch. She speaks about what happened as she did so, and then she describes what the king means to her. Probably she is giving this information to the daughters, her companions, as she shares her joy, perhaps even to encourage their commitment expressed in verse 11.

She mentions the fragrance that comes from the nard that she is wearing. Nard was an expensive perfume and again I would suggest that she would have received this from the king when she arrived (after all, some hotels give such things to their guests). So we could say that it is his fragrance expressed through her. The aroma of Jesus is the work of the Spirit in his human nature and he has given the same Spirit to his people in order that they will become like him. We can see that one application is that the believer affects the atmosphere in the presence of the King.

Then she likens the king to ‘a sachet of myrrh that lies between my breasts’. She carried this about with her all the time, no doubt to ensure that there was a fragrance about her permanently. Myrrh was a very powerful fragrance, capable of removing all other smells, we might say. So no matter what other fragrances the woman chose to wear, the one that she would notice and that others would notice would be the myrrh. She likens the presence of the king to the effects of myrrh. In other words, she is saying that the king is paramount. And is that not the way it should be in the Christian life? Whatever other fragrances we have, the one that should be most obvious and the one that others should notice is what we think of Jesus and what contact we have with him.

The myrrh was placed in a suitable location. It was near her heart, the place of affection, and it was close to her nose where she could smell it easily. The same is true of Jesus in a believer’s life. Where do we place him? He can be left as an example, or as a teacher. But is he the delight of our affections, and do we have him so near that we can sense his fragrances?

Commitment to one another (Song 1:11)

The daughters of Jerusalem respond to the king’s assessment of the woman by volunteering to help make her look even more beautiful. Obviously, there is no jealousy in their words. They have listened to his praise of her, and their response is that they want to make her look even better.

Their words do not suggest that they in themselves can produce something better than what the king has available, but instead what they make will become part of his resources for her to wear. We can see also that they intend to use only the best of metals when contributing to her beautiful jewellery.

In the words of the daughters we have a wonderful illustration of the way believers are to help one another become beautiful. It is a fact that one of the ways in which sanctification develops is through the way believers interact with one another. We are familiar with the phrase that we are to love one another.

So I suppose we could say that the daughters of Jerusalem exhort us in this verse to commit ourselves to help one another become beautiful in the eyes of the Lord. Because if we are not doing this, we will be affecting their possible beauty to some extent.

The compliments of the King (Song 1:9-10)

It would not be regarded as very complimentary today for a woman to be likened to a horse. Yet that has not always been the case, and perhaps the best known example from the ancient world is when Helen of Troy was likened to a horse. Here the king is comparing the lady to a horse dressed for a royal parade in which the chariots of Pharaoh would participate, such as a victory parade or a marital parade. Given the status of Egypt at the time, we can assume that they would have the best royal parades.

The king is saying the woman that she is suitable for participating in such a parade. When we apply this in a spiritual way, we are being informed that Jesus tells his people that they are suitable to take part in his parade, and that they are already taking part in it. After all, Jesus and his people are marching together through this world, and from the point of view of heaven it is a victory parade.

Then the king comments on the ornaments and jewellery that she is wearing. I would suggest that there are two ways of looking at this detail. First, we could say that she has done her best to look her best for the king. Second, the best place for her to obtain suitable jewellery would be from the treasure house of the king. It would be customary for a host to provide guests with suitable attire to wear, and here the king is the host, and normally he would provide everything for his guests. It is not difficult for us to see the spiritual equivalent of this. Obviously, it should be our desire to look our best for the King, and the only place where we can obtain such attractive provisions is from the King himself.

There is another detail that we can observe from his focus on her jewellery and that is the fact that he is concentrating on what is visible, not just to him, but also to others who can see her. We know that in the spiritual life there are features of each Christian that cannot be truly observed by others. For example, none of us knows how often another believer spends time in secret with the Lord. At the same time, there are features that are visible, and that should be visible to everyone. We could borrow an illustration from the apostle Paul when he exhorts believers to put on certain graces as spiritual clothing. He tells us to put on love and elsewhere Peter tells us to be clothed with humility. These are the features in a Christian’s character that make him or her attractive to Jesus.

We should also observe the way that the king addresses her – he calls her ‘my love’. How did he find her? With regard to Solomon we do not know, although some think a clue is given in the reference to Pharaoh’s chariot, which is that he found her in Egypt. It is the case that Egypt was the enemy of Israel, and in that sense the lady would be a good example of where Jesus found those he loved – he found them in the world, enemies of God. Yet Jesus loved them, and his love showed itself by his willingness to go to the cross and purchase her for himself and then give to her the many graces that he purchased for her at the same time.

Whether Solomon found her in Egypt, it is the case that since he is the king his love can only be described as gracious love because whoever the woman was she did not merit in herself such a blessing. So we take either aspect – Egypt or unworthy – and see in his statement of affection a beautiful insight into the heart of Jesus, and into the reality that he loves to communicate his love to his people.

Encouraging one another

There is disagreement about who is speaking in Song 1:8, with some assuming that it is the king. I think this is unlikely because he is no longer in her presence. So I would suggest that it is the daughters of Jerusalem who are speaking, and in the analogy they are her companions, her fellow believers. Further evidence is that the lady is called the ‘most beautiful among women’ twice more in the Song, and the ones who call her by this description are the daughters of Jerusalem (5:9; 6:1). So what we have here is fellow believers giving advice to a believer who has lost contact with the king.

Here we are told that the lady is a shepherdess. There was nothing unbecoming about a person of rank looking after animals. Indeed, at that time, having them would be a sign that the owner was wealthy. When Job’s riches are listed, among them are his flocks and herds. So when we are told that she has kids, we are being informed that she is a woman of substance.

We should first note the opinion of the daughters of Jerusalem of her. They regard her as very beautiful. This statement is in line with what she had assumed about herself when she said that she was dark but beautiful. She had been afraid that her time in the vineyards of other people had affected her beauty, but the daughters of Jerusalem assure her that in a way her beauty has been enhanced. And in this we have an example of how we are to regard one another as we walk together in the Christian life. When we look at one another, do we see the beauty of grace in one another, because if we do not, there is something wrong with our vision?

The daughters proceed to give advice in response to the prayer that was made by the lady to get to the presence of the king. We might assume that it would be presumption to try and do such a thing. Yet it is often the case that the Lord uses his people to answer the prayers of a believer, and the way that they usually do so is to speak out of their own experience.

The daughters describe how she can find where to go. She is to walk in the tracks of the flock. Tracks in the desert are usually easy to follow, and the implication in their advice is that spiritual tracks will be visible for her. The tracks will lead to the tents of the shepherds, to those who are looking after the flock. I suppose we can deduce that the tracks are steps taken to the means of grace, which is what I would say is meant by the tents of the shepherds.

Shepherds would usually place their tents near supplies of fresh water because there would be plenty pasture and refreshment there. Here we have a picture of church life, where the sheep of Jesus are led to spiritual refreshment by his shepherds. Of course, the illustration is not referring to mere physical gathering in a building – it is possible for sheep to gather in a church building and not be anywhere near the water of life. It is obvious from the illustration that there is ample refreshment, so if believers come away thirsty they have not been to the right place.

One assumes that the lady did this because the poem ends with this verse. The next poem in the book takes place in a house, so the composer has moved on to describe another kind of spiritual experience. So the challenge for us is to ask if we are encouraging one another to go to the shepherds’ tents.

Speaking to an absent king

One has said that our aspirations give better evidence of our spiritual temperature than do our attainments. It is obvious from the poem (Song 1:5-8) that the daughters of Jerusalem at that moment don’t have any problems, but we should ask if they had the aspirations of the lady. I think they did, because they commend her in verse 8. But we can consider some of the details of her prayer in verse 7.

First, she wants to hear the voice of the king – this can be deduced from her strong cry, ‘Tell me.’ She wants the king to come where she is and speak to her heart. This is always a good sign in a believer, to hear the voice of the King.

Second, she tells the king that she loves him – ‘you who my soul loves.’ Her experience with her brothers has not dampened the strong affection she has in her heart for the king. When she refers to her soul, she is not saying that she has a secret love for him. Instead, she is saying that she has a strong love for him, a love that involves everything within her. It is like saying, ‘Jesus, I love you with all my heart.’

Third, she wants to be where he and his flock are together, to be where he pastures them. There is a common idea that personal devotions are more important that corporate gatherings. Each has their strengths. It is better to be with Jesus when he meets with his people than to have a personal meeting where they are absent. The Bible nowhere encourages persistent isolationism as a Christian virtue. Usually, a reluctance to meet with other members of the flock is a sign of backsliding.

Fourth, she wants to experience rest from the king. She wants to know where he causes his flock to rest at noon. We should note the contrast here between the king and her brothers. The brothers had forced her to work in the heat of the sun. The king provides rest in the shade. Of course, we know that the rest that Jesus provides is himself, and various pictures of him in that capacity appear throughout the song (for example, he is the apple tree).

Fifth, she wants him to bring about a situation in which she would no longer have to wear a veil when she is with his flocks. She depicts a Christian who wants to hide the consequences of her problem from her fellow believers. The veil hides the fact that the sun has made her black. Even although the situation had not been caused by her, she did not want it to become a distraction for others. She longed to be in a place where her difficult experiences would be over and she could enjoy the rest provided by the king for all his people.

Conversations about Jesus

In verse 4, the lady had been brought into the king’s chambers in fulfilment of her desire to be with him and experience his love. A change has now occurred because we can see from verse 8 that he has gone to be with his flocks of sheep, and she is encouraged to go where they are in order to meet up again with him. She is sad that he is gone and she explains her feelings in verse 5 and 6 to her friends, here called the daughters of Jerusalem. Then in verse 7, she speaks to the absent king about their separation. So we have conversation (vv. 5-6), aspiration (v. 7) and direction (v. 8). It is not difficult to see how those three features apply to the relationship between Jesus and his people.

The conversation includes a description of herself and an explanation for her appearance. In the description, she says that she is very dark, but beautiful, at the same time. Indeed, she is as dark as the curtains she has seen in the palace of Solomon, or as dark as the skins used for tents in Kedar. What does she mean?

Various suggestions have been given. One is that she is referring to her place of birth, which was different from that of the daughters of Jerusalem. If this is the meaning, she is saying that her dark skin indicates that she came from another country. Of course, if we think of Christians meeting together, and each telling one another his or her story, it would be right to say that our origins are in a different country from the heavenly one. So those who hold to this idea say that the lady is describing Christian conversion.

A second suggestion is to regard the two descriptions as kind of contradictory, that from a Christian point of view she is describing a conflict within a believer, such as when the flesh opposes the spirit. So when she says she is black, she is referring to her sin, and when she says that she is beautiful, she is saying that grace has also made her beautiful. And those who make this suggestion would argue that the woman, when she says that she has failed to keep her own vineyard, is confessing something for which she was to blame. Yet she does not blame herself for this in the song. So I would say we need to look for another suggestion as to what she means.

The third suggestion is that her dark skin was caused by forced labour, and labour that took place when the sun was at its hottest. It would be unusual for a person to work at such a time – it would be customary to have a siesta when it was very hot. Instead, she says that she was forced to work, which points to cruelty, and that she was forced to work by her brothers, which points to lack of love.

The lady’s words indicate that she has been forced to be somewhere she did not want to be. Why would she not want to be in the vineyards of her brothers? Because of what normally took place in them. In addition to being places of hard work, they were also locations where people would gather together and talk about the matters that were of interest to them. But she wanted to be somewhere where she could think about the king.

Her words are a complaint, but not a confession. The complaint is that other duties have compelled her not to be in her own place, in her own vineyard, where she could have thoughts of the king. Instead she has been forced to conform to the priorities of others who don’t share her desires even if they are related to her, and working in the sun has affected her. Yet she is not backsliding because she has retained her beauty.

What is there in such situations that would make a believer comely? We should know because it is an aspect of life that we cannot avoid. After all, we know that often we cannot get to Christian events because of other legitimate duties. Here are some suggestions?

First, although she is compelled by others to engage in such activities, she remains determined to find the king. Second, she remains dedicated to him even although his presence is not as real as at other times. Third, she is marked by submission to his providence. Fourth, she wants sympathy and not condemnation from the daughters of Jerusalem.

That last point is very important. She says to them, ‘Do not gaze upon me. I was not able to avoid what happened to me.’ Sometimes, Christians can be very quick to jump to conclusions without knowing why something has happened to another Christian. Here she says, ‘Do you want to know what my heart’s desire is?’ It is to meet the king, which she proceeds to describe in verse 7.

Getting what we want

When we read verses 2-4 of the first chapter of the Song of Solomon, we have to conclude that the woman received what she wanted from the king. She wanted to have more of him, and she received more from him. He brought her into intimacy with himself, and we will see in the remaining verses of this poem, when we get to them, what that contact involved.

Living Christianity is connected to desires of the heart. When our desires are right the Lord gives them to us. The correct desire is to want more and more of Jesus. This is what Paul wanted when he said in Philippians 3:10 that his desire was to know Christ even although he had known him for over three decades. He tells us what he wanted to know about Jesus: ‘that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.’

Something else happens too with the woman and that is that her experience of the king leads others to praise the king along with her. As her companions observe the king being good to her, they realise that they are watching grace in action. And it is a wonderful thing to see taking place on the spiritual level when Jesus draws near in great love to a person and sheds abroad his peace in that heart. Hopefully, he is doing so for us at the moment, because if he is not active in our souls, then others will not see the beauty of his grace in action. Getting what we want in this regard is not selfish. Instead it brings blessing into the lives of others.