Seeking and Finding Christ (Song 3:1-5)
1On my bed by night I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but found him not. 2I will rise now and go about the city, in the streets and in the squares; I will seek him whom my soul loves. I sought him, but found him not. 3The watchmen found me as they went about in the city. ‘Have you seen him whom my soul loves?’ 4Scarcely had I passed them when I found him whom my soul loves. I held him, and would not let him go until I had brought him into my mother’s house, and into the chamber of her who conceived me. 5I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or the does of the field, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.
A new poem begins here within the song and it is a short poem of five verses. Unlike previous songs there is only one speaker (the woman), although present with her are the king and the daughters of Jerusalem (v. 5). There is a similarity to the previous verses in that initially the king and the woman are separate. Yet there is also a prominent difference regarding the response to the separation: in the previous verses the king took the journey to where she was whereas in this poem it is the woman who goes looking for the king. (In passing we may note how bizarre it is to read this literally as if the bride of an earthly king would be wandering around a city at night looking for him.) This difference between the poems illustrates the variety of Christian experience between Jesus and his people.
The pain of separation from Christ (3:1)
In verse 1, the woman is depicted as seeking her Beloved on her bed. It is absurd to take this literally because she would know there would be no point seeking in the bedroom for someone who was absent from the bedroom. Rather this is a picture of a common Christian experience. What does it depict? The illustration of a bed does not point to spiritual laziness. The woman is actively searching for her Beloved during these hours of darkness; she is not sleeping. Therefore we are not considering a form of backsliding. It is the case that 5:2-8, in its use of sleeping, describes the cause of the Beloved’s absence to be spiritual neglect by the believer. Here, there is no hint that this is the cause.
The illustration points to personal intimacy and describes a believer looking for Jesus in the private means of grace. She has come eagerly to these means where she and Jesus have often found mutual rest, but she cannot find him there. Is this not often the case with ourselves? We turn to the Bible or to prayer, with the aim of having fellowship with Christ, but we discover that he is absent. This is a common spiritual experience in the Bible; Job and many of the psalmists often complain of having no sense of the presence of God. Yet this experience is not one to be demeaned as having no value. While this condition is not the exhilaration that can accompany precious moments of fellowship with Christ, it is a very strong evidence of the possession of spiritual life. The next best experience to having fellowship with Christ is to hunger and thirst after it.
This means that love to Christ is not dependant on a conscious meeting with him every time we engage in personal devotions. It is possible to have strong love for Christ without a sense of his sweetness in the heart. Nor does it mean that this sense of absence indicates the believer does not know what to do about her state.
The process of seeking Christ (3:2-3)
What did the woman do? She did not conclude that providence was indicating she should be content with an absent Christ. Instead she resolved to find him. And she knew where to look.
The first thing that she did in the poem was to go to the city. A city is made up of people and I think here it is a picture of the church. The believer who cannot sense the presence of Christ in the personal means of grace should resolve to have fellowship with the people of God because Jesus has promised to be with them. We could take the various streets and broad ways in the city to be different means of grace that are found in the church on which believers have fellowship. There are the weekly prayer meetings, the Sunday services, the Lord’s Supper.
Obviously this is a sensible spiritual decision to make. Yet sometimes when we gather with God’s people we cannot sense the presence of Christ. This does not mean that they are not meeting with Christ and we have to be careful, when we don’t encounter him, that we do not discourage others who are. As with our spiritual temperature in private devotions, love to Christ is not removed when we do not encounter him as we engage in public fellowship with his people. The believer, who loved an absent Christ in her personal devotions, still loves the Christ who is not encountered in the public means.
In the poem, the woman persevered in her search and during it she was spotted by the watchmen of the city. Who are the watchmen? In the ancient world, watchmen were those appointed to guard the city from attack, to inform the inhabitants when someone was approaching the city, and to ensure that the citizens could move safely throughout it. It is reasonable to say that the watchmen depict the rulers of the church, the elders, that is both teaching and ruling elders.
In the poem, the lady is noticed by the watchmen. Likely there are other people on the streets, but the watchmen detect that she has a particular burden that they can help. Elders are to be on the lookout for such people, and they need to have their vision in good order. They should sense when a person is seeking their Master. Not only do they see her need, which points to their spiritual sensitivity, they are also working in harmony because she was not found by one watchman but by a group of them. Going together throughout the city enabled them fulfil their function.
A third detail about the watchmen is that they were active in the sense that they were going up and down the city streets looking for people to help. Since they were able to point her to where the king was, I suspect Solomon expected readers/listeners to realise or imagine that the king had given the watchmen special orders to be on the lookout for her. The king has given special orders to rose that rule his church to be on the lookout for those of his people who are having soul troubles and who are in need of direction towards himself.
In what ways were the watchmen able to guide the woman as she sought for her Beloved? They would have done so by repeating the directions, promises and other information given to them by the king. They would have to be ready to pass on an appropriate word of direction and encouragement. Clearly, the main way in which this is done for believers is through the regular preaching of God’s Word, but it is not limited to it. The private conversation of the watchmen should also be helpful.
Preaching is not an end in itself; rather it is a bridge along which sinners go in order to meet Christ. This is obviously the case with regard to sinners being converted. Yet it is also the goal of preaching as far as believers are concerned. There are other secondary purposes such as communicating biblical details, resolving issues of conscience, detailing principles of guidance. But preaching is more than them – it is mainly a means for bringing sinners and saints into the presence of Jesus.
There are two conclusions from this picture: first, those who seeking Jesus should seek the help of the watchmen; second, the watchmen should always be ready to point to Christ.
The pleasure of embracing Christ (3:4-5)
The woman says that she had to move a little beyond the watchmen before she found her Beloved. In the spiritual life, seeking believers face the danger of being satisfied with listening to good preaching or with one of the other means of grace. No doubt, preachers give words of comfort and help. They, in their role as watchmen, are near the king; it is possible to cease searching when we are within an inch as it is possible to cease when we are a mile away from finding him.
So she pressed on in her search and found her Beloved. No doubt he drew near and revealed himself, which gave the impression that she had found him. He cannot be found until he makes himself known. This does mean that our searching is hopeless; if we go to the public means of grace, and listen to the words of the watchmen, we will soon find him. When we seek with a loving heart, his loving heart will respond.
Holding Christ as a lover is a good picture of faith. There are many pictures of faith: leaning on Christ, trusting in Christ, following Christ etc. Embracing Christ with the arms of faith reminds us that faith is the warm clasp of love. Faith in Jesus is not a clinical arrangement. It is the meeting of two lovers, each eager to meet the other.
The woman’s actions are also a picture of determination in the life of love. First, she holds him, then she will not let him go, and then she takes him to her mother’s house. In public worship, she has embraced him, but she does not want the experience to end when the service is over. So she determines to take Jesus home with her (she is living in her mother’s house).
Some say that the mother’s house depicts the church, meaning that a believer takes Jesus with her into every activity of the church. But I think the structure of the poem, with its reference to bed, points us back to the previous reference, which we have interpreted as depicting her personal devotions. She wants to have the Jesus she embraced afresh in the public means to be with her in her personal devotions.
There is a special wonder about this taking of Christ home, into our personal devotions. This wonder is that Jesus finds rest, peace, delight, in these occasions. He rejoices to be with her during these prayer times, these meditations on the Bible, these occasions of personal praise. In her experience, the rest of heaven is known.
Yet she is aware of a danger to her new-found experience of love and, perhaps surprisingly, she does not say it is herself. Instead the danger comes from the daughters of Jerusalem, her fellow Christians. She senses that inappropriate behaviour by them could spoil her enjoyment of Christ’s presence in her heart. For example, she fears that their inappropriate words could cause him, who is as sensitive as a deer that flees at the slightest noise, to flee from her. She says to them, ‘Don’t spoil my enjoyment of the love of Jesus. Instead help me to retain his sweetness in my soul.’
She is aware that her Beloved may rise from his rest and no doubt hopes to enjoy fellowship with him when he does. The believer who sensed the absence of Christ now senses that Jesus is enjoying being with her. She knows the experience of divine delight and contentment described in Zephaniah 3:17: ‘The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.’
Yet that is not the climax of the experience because she anticipates a time of blessing with him when he rises from his rest. But that experience remains a secret between him and her. Perhaps its absence from the poem tells us that words, not even poetic ones, can describe it.