Journeying Together to the City (3:6-11)
The Question:6What is that coming up from the wilderness like columns of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all the fragrant powders of a merchant?
The Answer: 7Behold, it is the litter of Solomon! Around it are sixty mighty men, some of the mighty men of Israel, 8all of them wearing swords and expert in war, each with his sword at his thigh, against terror by night. 9King Solomon made himself a carriage from the wood of Lebanon. 10He made its posts of silver, its back of gold, its seat of purple; its interior was inlaid with love by the daughters of Jerusalem.
The Exhortation: 11Go out, O daughters of Zion, and look upon King Solomon, with the crown with which his mother crowned him on the day of his wedding, on the day of the gladness of his heart.
These verses make up a short poem within the overall Song. The event is described from the perspective of onlookers (probably the daughters of Zion addressed in verse 11), who see a carriage or palanquin (a litter carried on men’s shoulders) approaching, accompanied by an escort of soldiers. The procession would probably be led by two men holding two poles on which there would be bowls of burning fragrances. In verse 6 the onlookers ask who it is and the reply is given in verses 7-10, possibly by the watchmen, who also exhort the daughters to go and meet the procession.
As the observers look at the approaching carriage, they realise that it is Solomon, accompanied by an armed escort. Further they realise that it is a marriage carriage, therefore the reader is meant to assume that his bride is with him in the carriage (it is possible that she is in the city and he has arrived to marry her). They realise it is a marriage party because the king is wearing a crown that was given to him by his mother. The direction from which the carriage is coming is the desert. This points to them having been married in the countryside and they are now journeying together towards the city.
There is an obvious spiritual interpretation here. As we suggested in previous studies, the woman is the individual Christian. In this poem she is married to her Beloved, and is journeying with him through the desert on the way to the heavenly city. He has provided for her a carriage in which he and she will make the journey together. In this poem, their journey is being observed by those to whom they are travelling, that is, the inhabitants of the celestial city.
The location of the marriage
When did the marriage take place? The answer to this question is that it occurred at conversion. Conversion is a union of two lovers. One is the heavenly King, who has sought each of his people in love. Eventually he wins their affections and they embrace him with a warm faith.
Where did this marriage take place? It took place in the wilderness. We can imagine that a literal wedding would have taken place at a shady spot, perhaps at an oasis, where the royal tent could have been located. The conversion of a soul to Jesus takes place in the desert of this world, but the actual location of the conversion is not a barren one because there life is present in fullness. The place of each conversion is a spiritual oasis, marked by rest and refreshment and joy.
So the marriage party sets off on the journey to the city where the royal palace is located. We will join the onlookers in the city as they watch the lovers travel through the desert.
The appearance of the carriage
First, we should note how the carriage appears to those looking at it from the vantage point of the city. In verse 6, the carriage is said to be ‘like columns of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all the fragrant powders of a merchant’. Although the carriage is still some distance from the city, the fragrance of the carriage reaches the city. It has been suggested that the pillars are the smoke of the perfumes that were burned around the king and his bride, resulting in a permanent fragrance. These perfumes were the possession of the king and he gave them as a present to his bride.
It is not difficult to suggest what these perfumes are that are shared by Jesus and each of his people – they are the fragrant graces of the Spirit that he freely gives to each of his people, although he had to pay a great price to procure that Spirit for them. Each believer was a sinner with no fragrance before he or she met Jesus. Yet the strength of his fragrance removes the stench that was theirs, and as the onlookers see the couple drawing nearer to the city they do not sense the effects of her sin. Instead, they see the effects of his salvation, which is conformity to the image of Christ.
Of course, it is not only the onlookers or watchmen who sense the fragrance. As the heavenly couple make their way through this desert, they let those they pass smell the fragrance. The graces of the Spirit, such as love, peace, humility and the others, permeate the atmosphere in each place through which they pass in the desert.
The guardians of the people of God
The next detail that is mentioned is the armed guard (vv. 7-8). In the poem they are described as experts in war, always ready for any attack from a marauding band of Arabs who often attacked wedding parties at night. The obvious lesson is that the carriage in which the king and his bride are travelling always faces the possibility of enemy assault as long as it is in the desert. Jesus and each of his people continually face this reality. Therefore it is great comfort to know that Jesus has ensured that his people will have the best defence available.
Who are the defenders of the carriage? A good suggestion is the angels, and the Bible elsewhere says that one of their functions is ‘to serve who are to inherit salvation’ (Heb. 1:15). The psalmist affirms in Psalm 34:7 that ‘the angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.’ These heavenly guardians protect the people of God from attack from every direction. They were not parading in front of the carriage or behind it; instead they were all around it.
The significance of the carriage
Then the poem refers to the carriage and says it was mainly built by Solomon, although ‘its interior was inlaid with love by the daughters of Jerusalem’. I would suggest that the carriage depicts the church, and its various features point to aspects of the church’s life.
The carriage was made of cedars of Lebanon, the wood of which was noted for its durability. Similarly the church of Christ will last throughout the whole of human history.
Added to the carriage were pillars of silver, over which would be hung a covering to protect from the heat of the sun. This may depict the strength of the church, able to endure all opposition.
Between the pillars there were sheets of gold, which again points to strength and security, and that in two directions. First, those inside the chariot could lean against it and, second, arrows or other weapons launched against it would not penetrate.
The seat on which the king and his bride sat was coloured in purple, which is the colour of royalty. This could point to the wonderful fact that each believer is a son of God, a person with royal position.
It has been suggested that once the literal carriage had been completed, the young ladies of Jerusalem would have sown flowers or other emblems, including words, on to the various fabrics of the carriage. We have already suggested in previous chapters that the daughters of Jerusalem are other believers. What contribution can they make that fits in with the items sown on the fabrics? Since the carriage depicts the church, the activity of the daughters concerns the contribution of other believers in public worship. One suggestion, following on from the custom of writing words, would be the appropriate statements that believers would say in church; there could be words of praise about Jesus or words of comfort to their fellow believer or words of intercession on behalf of their fellow believer.
The exhortation to the citizens of Zion
Eventually, the procession reaches the city and the watchmen or the onlookers who have seen the procession arriving call on the city’s inhabitants to ‘Go out, O daughters of Zion, and look upon King Solomon, with the crown with which his mother crowned him on the day of his wedding, on the day of the gladness of his heart.’
The daughters of Zion are found in two places. Some of them are the believers still in this world and others of them are the believers who are now in the heavenly city. In the imagery of the poem, the ones in heaven are urged to welcome the king as he arrives at the city with one of his people. Note that they are urged to look at the king and not at her, unlike royal weddings in this world. They are to notice two things about him. The first is the crown that he is wearing and the second is the happiness he displays.
The crown was given to him by his mother. Literally in Solomon’s case, Bathsheba had to prevent usurpers taking the crown away from him and in 1 Kings 1 we see how she intervened to ensure that Solomon would have the throne of his father David, a throne that gave him complete authority over the nation. The crown that Solomon literally wore was one that indicated he had total power. Jesus, too, has a crown that indicates he has complete authority not over a nation only but over all things.
One suggestion about what is illustrated here is this. The citizens of heaven, in welcoming a believer to the heavenly city, are urged to consider once again the way King Jesus exercised his power to ensure the safe arrival there of the believer who had been with him in the carriage. This is true of every believer as each arrives in heaven. Their arrival becomes an opportunity for the heavenly inhabitants to consider again the great power of Jesus, how he is able to overcome all the enemies who try and destroy his people on the journey to the heavenly world.
The inhabitants of Zion are also asked to focus on the joy of the King as he welcomes another disciple into the heavenly city. We often anticipate the joy of the believer as he or she enters heaven. However great that joy may be, it is eclipsed by the joy of Jesus in having with him there an individual believer who has not been in heaven before. There are many joys awaiting us in the heavenly experience, and there are many kinds of joy awaiting Jesus, one of them being the individual pleasure and delight he will experience when each believer reaches home.
The joy of Jesus is a marvellous prospect for his people. In his parable of the talents, Jesus summarised the rewards for the faithful servant as entering into ‘the joy of their Lord’. This may signify his individual delight in bestowing upon each of them the blessings of heaven, but it points to more than the commencement of the reward. The statement suggests that the heavenly experience will include observing and sharing the joy of Christ. His welcome of each believer into the city of God and the subsequent sharing eternally of its resources with his people is part ‘of the joy that was set before him’ for which he was prepared to endure the cross and despise its shame (Heb. 12:2). We can imagine something of the joy with which Jesus turns to the heavenly Father and says, ‘Look, I and the children that you gave me’ (Heb. 2:13). Jesus promises his people in John 16:22: ‘So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.’
We may ask why the arrival at the city is still described as part of the marriage. Comparing the details of the poem with our marriages, we can say that (1) conversion is like the marriage ceremony, (2) the whole of a believer’s life is like the journey to the reception, and (3) the meal at the reception is like the marriage supper of the Lamb, and (4) the subsequent life together lasts for ever.