The King’s Invitation (2:8-13)
8The voice of my beloved! Behold, he comes, leaping over the mountains, bounding over the hills. 9My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Behold, there he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, looking through the lattice. 10My beloved speaks and says to me: ‘Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away, 11for behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. 12The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. 13The fig tree ripens its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away.’
Verse 8 begins a new poem that runs down to the end of chapter 2. The poem begins with a reference to mountains that the king has to cross and closes with a reference to the mountains of Bether (meaning separation), so there is a kind of inclusio. As with the previous poem, there are three speakers: the king, his beloved and her assistants. The lady describes the approach of the king in verses 8 and 9, she records his appeal in verses 10-13, he speaks to her in verse 14, the lady and her attendants speak in verse 15, the lady speaks in verses 16 and 17.
In this poem, the lady is described as being in two places. First, she is located inside a walled house where she has been for the winter, but now the summer has arrived and the king comes and calls to her. Second, she is likened to a dove taking refuge in rocks, and again the king comes and speaks to her. In the structure of the poem, the lady becomes like the dove in the rocks because of the effects of the king drawing near to her in the walled house.
The Approach of the King
The king is likened to a deer skipping over mountains. These mountains and hills are the barriers he has to cross before he can draw near. In the poem, the woman can hear his voice as he crosses these barriers. She speaks from the perspective of one who already has had a relationship of love to him because she calls him, ‘my beloved.’ She has learned to recognise his voice because he has been with her before.
This points to the common Christian experience of our sins having raised a barrier between us and Christ. We caused the barrier even although we had experienced his mercy and known his love. At our conversion, we began to know that love which had no beginning. We discovered that he had loved us with an everlasting love, a love which he had expressed for us in the eternal counsels. We also discovered that he loved us with a sacrificial love, that he had freely and gladly taken our place and bore God’s wrath against our sins. His love was also a searching love as he sought us as the Good Shepherd and placed us on his shoulders rejoicing when he found us. When we tasted this love for the first time, we thought our delight in it would never be hindered or lowered. It is true that some Christians manage to attain to an ongoing enjoyment of this love; I suppose the apostle John was one such person. But most Christians sadly lose their first love.
When this happens, they experience winter in their souls. What are some of the signs of winter? There is coldness and fruitlessness. This was the case with the bride here. She had shown coldness to the king and he had withdrawn himself. She was still living in one of his houses, but his presence was not known by her. Is this not a picture of times when believers come to church and sense Christ is not there because of they are enduring winter in their souls?
It seems to me that the lady is looking out for the king to come and get her. Therefore, she hears his voice from a distance before she hears him speak closely outside the door of the house. Because she has heard him in the distance, she anticipates meeting with him when he comes to the house in which she is living. Is there an equivalent to this in the Christian life? I would suggest that counterpart to the king’s voice being heard at a distance is the promises in the Bible. The promises come for a wide variety of circumstances, including restoration from a barren period in a believer’s life. These promises encourage the believer as he senses the winter in his soul.
Eventually the king reaches the house in which she is living, which I think is a picture of the church. I suppose we could say that the church in Laodicea was experiencing winter when Jesus came knocking at the door.
Before we consider the way Jesus displays himself in the church, we should note that the image of an agile deer leaping across the mountains suggests the speed with which Jesus can fulfil the expectation created by his promises.
The Appearance of the King
In the song, the lady describes three activities of the king: he looks over the wall, he looks in the windows, he reveals himself through the lattice. The point is that he places himself at the locations where she can see him. What are the locations within the church where Jesus can be seen? The answer to this question is the means of grace: these include the singing of the psalms, the reading of the Scriptures, the preaching of the Word, and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. In each of them, Jesus tells us something about himself.
It is important that we see these various means in this light. The singing of the psalms is a means by which Jesus meets with us. A basic fact is that Jesus sang the psalms although he would apply them to himself in different ways from what we do at times. But it is a useful exercise to ask ourselves, when looking at a psalm, how does it apply to Jesus? Sometimes it is a prophecy (22, 110), sometimes it is a praise of God (imagine Jesus singing psalm 100), sometimes it is a picture of Jesus (1, 15), sometimes it is a pointer to him (51 which not only describes David’s repentance but indicates the necessity of a better sacrifice than was found in the rituals of Israel).
When we hear the Bible being read, Jesus is speaking to us. The eternal Word addresses us each time a verse from the Scriptures is read. This is one reason why it is authoritative. Peter says that the messages of the Old Testament prophets were given to them by the Spirit of Christ who was within them (1 Pet. 1:11), and Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to guide his apostles into all the truth (John 16:13), including the truth that was to be written down in the New Testament. When we hear the Bible, we are hearing prophecy (forth telling and foretelling), and true prophecy, which the Bible is, is alive. Jesus was involved in the production of the Word, he is involved in the recitation of it, and he is involved in the proclamation of it.
Preaching is not merely a man giving his opinions of a passage; rather it is the Prophet of the church, who is Jesus, using the preacher to instruct and feed his people. Our forefathers regarded the sermon as the most important part of the service because in the other parts we speak to Christ (praise, prayer) but in the sermon he speaks to us. The Larger Catechism Question 155 asks: ‘How is the Word made effectual to salvation?’ Its answer states: ‘The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word, an effectual means of enlightening, convincing, and humbling sinners; of driving them out of themselves, and drawing them unto Christ; of conforming them to his image, and subduing them to his will; of strengthening them against temptations and corruptions; of building them up in grace, and establishing their hearts in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.’ This is not to say that a minister’s address cannot be questioned; he can make mistakes. The wonder is that Jesus uses a fallible man to communicate with his people about himself. Of course, these fallible men are guided by the Spirit, usually secretly but sometimes consciously.
The Lord’s Supper is a means by which Jesus meets with his people. As you may know, there are different understandings of the Lord’s Supper found in evangelical churches. Some make it only a remembrance meeting; often they will call the service by the biblical title ‘breaking of bread’. Others make it a thanksgiving and they call the ordinance by the title ‘Eucharist’. Both these meanings are true, but they are not sufficient. Our heritage calls it ‘communion’, not primarily because we have fellowship with one another but because we have communion with the risen Christ through the Holy Spirit. Jesus reveals himself to our souls as we recall with gratitude his holy life, his past sacrifice, his current intercession and reign, and his future return.
What is a church meeting? It is a gathering of those who have heard the voice of Christ in his promises and have come together in the hope that he will draw nearer to their souls.
The Appeal of the King
She has gone through a winter experience. I earlier mentioned the reality of the sins of a believer becoming a barrier between him and Jesus. There are other possible causes of winter in our souls. One such is testing providences when dark nights are on our soul and we long for the coming of the warm days. We cannot understand these providences and our minds are full of questions. In such situations, we also hear the voice of Jesus at a distance. At times, these winter occasions can become darker because Jesus seems to withdraw his presence, we do not sense his warmth in our souls, and cannot even hear his promises. Yet eventually Jesus draws near.
Notice the first words of Jesus to his lover who has had a winter experience, be it one of sins regretted or one of puzzling providences. He says to her, ‘My love, my fair one.’ Recall the various greetings that Jesus gave to his disciples after his resurrection despite their unbelief regarding it; these greetings were marked by encouragement and forgiveness. Their winter experience has not resulted in him ceasing to love them or to desire their company or to appreciate their beauty.
If the winter was caused by the sins of the believers, then part of their fairness in his eyes will be their repentance. Repentance is an amazing grace because it gives opportunity for other graces of the soul to flourish. It deepens affection for Christ, it increases admiration of Christ, and it stimulates allegiance to Christ.
If the winter experience was caused by difficult providences, then part of their beauty in his eyes is their ongoing faith in him. Puzzlement did not result in their abandoning him; indeed, like Job, they affirmed, ‘Though he slay me, I will trust him’ (Job 13:15). In an unusual way, their troubles had strengthened assurance: ‘When he has tried me, I will come forth as gold,’ marked by beauty (Job 23:10).
Then note the promise of Jesus to his lover who has had a winter experience. Instead of winter in the soul, there will be summer with all its beauty, joy and fragrance. Above all, there will be a fresh experience of his company.
God gives great promises to the restored backslider. One such example is his promise in Hosea 14:4-7: ‘I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from him. I will like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily; he shall take root like the trees of Lebanon; his shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive, and his fragrance like Lebanon. They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow; they shall flourish like the grain; they shall blossom like the vine; their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.’ That list of promises is similar to the language of the Song: restoration, refreshment (dew), humility (lily), strength (cedar), and fragrance. Summertime arrives in the soul of the backslider. This is great encouragement for us to return to the Lord.
God gives great comfort to his troubled people. Says the psalmist in Psalm 31:22: ‘I had said in my alarm, “I am cut off from your sight.”’ But he was not. Through his time of trouble he prayed, and eventually he received a marvellous display of divine grace. He mentions his prayer in verse 22: ‘But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cried to you for help,’ and he summarises the consequence in verse 21: ‘Blessed be the Lord, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was in a besieged city.’
So we have seen the approach, the appearance and the appeal of the king. In the next meditation, we will observe the continued appeal of the King and the response of his lover, the Christian.