The King’s Invitation is Answered (2:14-17)
The king:14‘O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the crannies of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely. 15Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards, for our vineyards are in blossom.’
The woman:16My beloved is mine, and I am his; he grazes among the lilies. 17Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, turn, my beloved, be like a gazelle or a young stag on cleft mountains.
These verses continue the king’s invitation to his beloved to come away with him and enjoy the blessings of the coming summer. In the poem he has been away for the winter from the house where she lives, which is probably one of his palaces. She has been looking for him to come, and was aware of his voice calling out to her as he drew near the house.
As we suggested in the previous meditation, winter pictures the period of Christ’s absence from the soul of a believer; the absence may have been caused by the believer’s own sin or by the Saviour withdrawing himself in order to test his disciple. Yet throughout this winter period she has been enjoying the provision of his house (which is a picture of the church and the various means of grace that he provides there). She has been longing for his return, reminding herself of his promises. Now he has come, and in verse 14 he is continuing his appeal that he began in verse 10.
In this section of the poem there are three speakers. The king speaks in verse 14, the daughters of Jerusalem in verse 15, and the woman in verses 16 and 17. As in previous parts of the Song the daughters of Jerusalem are present with the bride, which is a picture of other believers maintaining fellowship with a believer going through a winter experience.
The Request of the King (v. 14)
The king addresses her with a name that he has already used of her when he calls her ‘my dove’ (1:15). We noticed, when considering that previous reference, several characteristics of a dove-like person: mourning for sin (a dove gives sad sounds), marked by purity (a dove is white), desire for peace, can see where these blessings are located – in Jesus (a dove is clear-sighted, and she has been looking at him as he leaped over the hills), and a sense of defencelessness. Although she has gone through a winter experience, his estimation of her has not changed because she is always his love. He sees her penitence, he is aware of her desire for purity, he desires to fulfil her longing for peace from him, and he is resolved to protect her at all times. If we respond correctly to a winter experience, whether caused by personal sin or adverse providences, Jesus will see in us these God-given features depicted in a dove.
The king then mentions her location: she is in the clefts of a rock, in the secret places of the stairs (or a series of rocks that looks like a staircase). Doves in that part of the world often made their nests in holes in rocks or cliffs. These rocks and cliffs were barren places and are good pictures of the winter experiences of Christians. ‘Those whom Jesus would allure away to himself, are very frequently found in the rugged scenes of life, in situations of trial, affliction, and desolation, alone, away from the world.’1 Jesus warned his disciples that ‘In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33). Although she has been in his house with all its benefits she has also been going through a winter experience that is similar to a barren location. The two experiences of desiring to meet with Christ and yet sensing his absence during a time of difficulty are not incompatible; we need only remind ourselves of Job’s strong desire when he was in trouble: ‘Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat! I would lay my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments’ (Job 23:3-4). Yet her tough spiritual experience had helped to develop dove-like features that attracted her Beloved.
He therefore appeals to her to come out of these desert places and show her beauty to him. His voice is one of encouragement because he knows that her experiences, whether caused by personal sin or difficult providences, have made her think that she has lost her beauty. Although she was delighted when she heard his voice as he raced rapidly to the house, now that he has come near she feels unworthy to be seen by him. Her experiences have given her the grace of humility, whether it be penitence for her sin or patience in times of trouble. Humility and difficult experiences should go together in a Christian’s outlook; note how Paul summarised his ministry in Acts 20:19: ‘serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews.’
Winter experiences have not only developed her beauty, they have also taught her how to speak to her Beloved and to speak about her Beloved. Therefore, he desires to hear her voice. This is the usual Christian experience. How beautifully Peter was able to speak after his restoration from his winter time of denial: his words strengthened his fellow Christians (Luke 22:32). Job, too, spoke differently after his restoration (Job 42). Many, if not most, of the psalms were beautiful words sung after times of trouble.
This desire of Jesus tells us how greatly he longs to have fellowship with each of his people. Each Christian has a unique encounter with him; unique not only because of who Jesus is, but also unique because of the particular way each Christian has been brought through his or her winter experiences into the summer time of mutual enjoyment with Jesus.
The concern of the daughters (v. 15)
The appeal of the king in this poem is not answered immediately by the woman but by the daughters of Jerusalem (notice the plural pronouns), who cry, ‘Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards, for our vineyards are in blossom.’ The poem refers to the common situation in Palestine of foxes and jackals eating grapes. It was very difficult to keep them out of vineyards because they were able to burrow below the protective hedges around vineyards. Therefore, they are a good representation of anything that destroys fruit in a believer’s life. Here the song describes little foxes, which points to the destructive effects of little sins. But they need not only represent sins; they can also depict anything that hinders fruit bearing, such as periods of trouble. The daughters of Jerusalem, too, have had the winter experience of the king being absent from his house.
These companions of the bride have watched the king drawing near and have heard his loving entreaties to her. The positioning of their request before her response suggests the concerns that other believers should have about their lack of fruit hindering fellowship between Jesus and another disciple. The king is drawing near to the house they and she share. Before the king comes in to express his love in a deeper way, they ask him to deal with their failure to develop as they should have done.
This desire is evidence of brotherly love, of mutual concern among the people of God not to be an hindrance to one another in spiritual experiences. Applying it to ourselves, when we sense the king is drawing near we should make sure that our attitudes, words and actions do not disturb his approach. Each believer should have the same beauty of countenance and voice when the king draws near after a time of winter.
The delight of the bride (vv. 16-17)
The bride rejoices in the assurance that has become hers from listening to the king’s assessment of her. She realises that she possesses infinite riches, Christ himself. ‘He is mine by the free gift of himself to me; he is mine to look on, to lean upon, to dwell with; mine to bear all my burdens, mine to discharge all my debts, mine to answer all my accusers, mine to conquer all my foes; mine to deliver me from hell, mine to prepare a place for me in heaven; mine in absence, mine in presence, mine in life, mine in death, mine in the grave, mine in the judgment, and mine at the marriage supper of the Lamb.’
She also discovers that she has the wonderful status of belonging to him. Each Christian belongs to Jesus in several ways. One way is by gift when the Father gave each of them to Jesus in the eternal counsels before the creation of the universe. They are also his by price because he paid the penalty of their sins when he redeemed them by his death on the cross. A third way by which they belong to him is by conquest because he overcame, by his gospel of grace, their opposition to being rescued by him from the state of sin and condemnation. A fourth way by which they are his is that of relationship, of actual union; this is depicted in the Bible by several illustrations. This union is a developing one (he is the foundation and they are the building), is a living one (he is the head, they are the body), and is an intimate one (he is the bridegroom, they are the bride).
It may be the case that verse 16 is also spoken by the bride as she observes what has happened to the concerned daughters of Jerusalem once the king has come into the house and its garden. She says, ‘My beloved is mine, and I am his; he grazes among the lilies.’ The picture is of the hind, which had been leaping across the hills, coming into the garden and eating lilies there. The hind is the king and the lilies would be the daughters of Jerusalem. They were concerned that they were fruitless, but they are now enjoying his fellowship; in reality they are lilies, marked by the beauty of humility (the drooping head of the lily) and purity (the whiteness of the lily). As she observes the king and her companions having fellowship together she discovers that her sense of her own personal relationship to the King is strengthened.
The confidence with which the bride here speaks raises for us the issue of assurance. The doctrine of assurance has often been likened to a three-legged stool, with each leg representing a means of obtaining assurance. The first leg is the assurance a believer obtains from biblical statements (if you trust in Christ, you will be saved); the second leg is the assurance a believer deducts from changes in his own life (hatred of sin, desires after holiness); the third leg is the assurance that is known through experiencing Christ in the inner life (witness of the Spirit, Jesus and the Father making their home in an obedient believer’s heart). The first two means of assurance need to be in place before the third will function properly. The first means is external whereas the other two means are internal. It is also possible to balance the stool on the first two types (biblical statements and self-examination), but that balance is not as comfortable as what is known when the three types of assurance are working together.
It is the third type of assurance that is described here. The first leg is depicted in the voice of Jesus calling to the bride in the promises of his Word (as we noticed in the previous study), the second leg is the humility and sense of unworthiness possessed by the bride, and the third leg is the actual encounter with Jesus.
Yet the bride is aware that her current experience is not permanent. Therefore, in words that have become linked to the desire of believers for heaven, she prays in verse 17, ‘Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved, and be thou like a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of Bether’ (KJV). It may be that this verse indicates that the king had once again left the house and she is watching him riding off towards the hills. Yet while she knows that his visit was not permanent, she also knows that he can come again; therefore she prays that he would often return to the house in the way that he has just done.
His visit has not only created desire for more visits, it has also created the longing for the experience of which these visits are foretastes. Heaven becomes more real when the King of heaven comes to us in his house (the public means of grace) and blesses us through the various means of grace experienced there. Our Christian lives should have milestones; these milestones should mark the times we have the pleasure of Christ’s company, and each subsequent milestone should give us clearer sights of heaven and stronger longings for it.