The Desire of the Bride is Fulfilled (1:1-4)
She. Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine; your anointing oils are fragrant; your name is oil poured out; therefore virgins love you. Draw me after you; let us run. The king has brought me into his chambers.
Others. We will exult and rejoice in you; we will extol your love more than wine; rightly do they love you (Song 1:1-4)
The first poem in the collection opens abruptly, without a reference to where the speakers are located. This means that we have to deduce from their words where they are. One clue is that the woman can smell the fragrance of the king’s anointing oils, so obviously he is close by, although out of sight. At first glance, her words could either mean that he had arrived at the place where she is or that she has come to the place where he resides. Verse 4, however, with its reference to her being in the king’s chambers, would indicate that she has come to his palace and is walking in the vicinity of his rooms. As she senses his presence, her heart breaks forth into words.
1. The bride prays for reality as opposed to substitutes
‘Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth.’ I mentioned in the introduction how some of the church fathers regarded this prayer as the cry of the Old Testament Church who wanted to get beyond the types and shadows of their era, a desire to move beyond even the predictions of the glorious coming of the Messiah. Pictures and promises were enough to give them salvation, but what they had been given was only a foretaste or sample of what they knew would yet come. These Old Testament believers, as they walked throughout the courts of the Old Testament and its means of grace, could smell the perfumes of Christ as he dwelt in his private rooms in heaven.
In a similar manner, we too can be in the king’s palace, which I think points to the blessings connected to the church. We no longer have types and shadows and are privileged to have a fuller revelation of the Saviour’s purpose and have received additional promises from him. This knowledge gives us assurance of our acceptance and his help. Yet there should be in our hearts a longing for more, a desire for intimate reality with our Saviour. She is anticipating the experience promised by Jesus in John 14:21-22: ‘Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.’ She wants reality in her spiritual experience; she does not want a substitute experience, even one that can be described as Christian, because it falls short of meeting with Jesus.
2. The bride prays for repeated displays of affection
She does not merely ask for one kiss, she wants the Lover of her soul to embrace her with a multitude of kisses. She is greedy for divine expressions of love. What kind of kisses can we suggest? I will mention two.
First, there is the kiss of reconciliation. It was customary for reconciled enemies to embrace once they were brought together. So the bride, as she senses her need of affection from Jesus, asks him to give her again the sense of being at peace with him. Of course, this experiential embrace of peace is based on the fact that she has already been reconciled to God through faith in Jesus (Rom. 5:1). Yet we know that a country can be at peace with a former enemy without enjoying the fruits of that peace. In a far higher sense, it is possible for believers to have the state of reconciliation without knowing a sense of peace in their hearts. Peace with God in justification should lead on to the peace of God being known in our souls.
A second type of kiss that was found in those days was the kiss of friendship or companionship. It was the sign that the other person was delighted to see you and be with you. The bride wants her Lover to confirm to her that he wants her company. There are scriptures that encourage believers to look for this experience with Jesus. For example, his choice of the apostles had many purposes, but one of them was that they would be with him; while this requirement had the meaning of learning from him by observation, it also reveals his delight in their company. Another verse with the same emphasis are his words to his disciples in the Upper Room when he said to them: ‘With desire have I desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.’ The Saviour was anticipating the abandonment of his Father on the cross, yet he also expressed strongly his deep wish that he spend this special occasion with those he loved sufficiently to die in their place on the cross. A third example is his promise to any person belonging to the backsliding church of Laodicea: ‘if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will eat with him and he with me’ (Rev. 3:20). One of the activities of a believer with spiritual health is to look by faith to Jesus for expressions of his delight, even if that believer is in an isolated state, a state that can be caused by a variety of reasons.
3. The bride prays from recollection of previous meetings
‘For your love is better than wine.’ Wine was regarded in the Middle East as a means of bringing joy to a sad heart, of giving strength to a tired heart. The bride knows that a fresh taste of the love of Jesus will give these blessings to her. Wine symbolises pleasures that bring joy. Getting a tender embrace from Jesus gives more joy to her than all the legitimate pleasures of life. And there is nothing like a fresh embrace from Jesus to revitalise a weary soul, troubled by all the problems caused by the world, the flesh and the devil. When she says this to her Lover, she is not speaking second-hand. Rather she has known these contacts with Jesus in the past, and these memories stimulate her to pray for another encounter of love with her Beloved.
Paul stressed the possibility of experiencing the love of Christ in increased ways in his prayer in Ephesians 3:17-19. He prays ‘that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith —that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.’ He prayed that this would be the experience of all his readers. By the Holy Spirit, the love of Jesus can be shed abroad within our hearts.
4. The bride prays because she has recognised the fragrance of Christ
‘Your anointing oils are fragrant; your name is oil poured out; therefore virgins love you.’ As we suggested, the picture is of the bride and her companions walking along a corridor in the palace, and as they do the fragrance of the king, there in his private rooms, fills the corridor. The corridors of the king’s palace are times of fellowship that believers have in church or in other places. It is a good way to think of church services as corridors in the king’s palace, and in each of these services we should smell the fragrance of Christ.
When we think of Jesus, we remind ourselves that his fragrances are the fruit of the Spirit that he displayed to perfection. Isaiah mentions some of these aromas in Isaiah 61:1-3: ‘The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion — to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.’
The fragrance of Jesus includes the effects of his beautiful life (a perfect righteousness), of his atoning death (a sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savour), of his possession of the Spirit (not only for himself but also for his people), of his intercession in heaven, and of his coming again.
She mentions the fragrance of his name. It may be that ‘name’ is being used here in the sense of character, and that would be a good interpretation because the Saviour’s character is his holiness, his love etc. But I wonder if the bride is thinking of the name Solomon itself because the primary fragrance that fills the surroundings is peace. And this is a reminder to us that the corridors of the king’s palace, our church services and other times of fellowship, should be marked by peace. How sad when the corridors are filled with the noxious smell of disagreements and arguments!
Apparently, it was on the occasion of preaching on this verse that John Newton wrote his well-known hymn, ‘How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds.’ Certainly, the believer will find in Christ all that is needed for a fragrant and refreshing life.
She also notes the type of person who responds with love to the fragrance of Christ – the virgins (the pure). Bernard of Clairveaux suggested this was a reference to angels. No doubt they love Christ as they live in heaven perfumed by the fragrance of Jesus. But it is a description of the daughters of Jerusalem and later I will explain why I think they depict all who love Jesus.
5. The bride prays because she senses the reception of Christ
‘Draw me after you; let us run.’ The bride, having smelled her Lover’s fragrances, senses that he is near. Similarly, as we walk in the corridors of the king’s palace, in the services of his church and other places of fellowship, we sense that he is close at hand. When, in a service, we hear about the various fragrances of Jesus these words do not announce a distant Saviour. Rather they are his announcement that he has drawn near.
Each time that happens, we should have the response the bride. We should pray to Jesus, ‘Draw me after you. Don’t leave without my having nearer fellowship with you.’ Sadly we often fail in this. We are satisfied with his beautiful fragrances and don’t persevere to get closer to himself.
At the same time, she does not forget her companions, but urges them to join her in a closer pursuit of Christ. She knows that she does not have much time, therefore she calls on them to run. Why does she do this? I suppose, firstly, because she knows from previous experience that an occasion lost is gone for ever. Many times in the past she has been satisfied with the fragrances and not persevered. She does not want that to recur. Secondly, her response suggests that the heavenly Lover is more likely to answer her request when she takes others with her.
6. The bride’s prayer is realised in the presence of Christ
‘The king has brought me into his chambers.’ This surely is a cry of delight. But it is also an anticipation of discovery because in his chambers she will come to know something of the fullness of grace that is in him. Sometimes, in this life, the Saviour takes us into his private chambers, beyond the corridors, and gives us a foretaste of heaven. He embraces us with his love, gives us great peace, and our souls are filled with joy.
7. The answered prayer of the bride brings rejoicing to her companions
‘We will exult and rejoice in you; we will extol your love more than wine; rightly do they love you.’ They have watched her being embraced by her Lover and they praise him for showing grace to her. His goodness to her causes them to resolve to focus on his love, to prize it above all else. Church services are opportunities to display our love for Jesus, and one effect is that other believers will praise him for his response. They will affirm with delight the appropriateness of their fellow-Christian loving Jesus. Every church service is an occasion for this experience. May we use them as corridors to walk along to the king’s private rooms.