Christ’s Admiration of His People (4:1-7)
1Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold, you are beautiful! Your eyes are doves behind your veil. Your hair is like a flock of goats leaping down the slopes of Gilead. 2Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes that have come up from the washing, all of which bear twins, and not one among them has lost its young. 3Your lips are like a scarlet thread, and your mouth is lovely. Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate behind your veil. 4Your neck is like the tower of David, built in rows of stone; on it hang a thousand shields, all of them shields of warriors. 5Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, that graze among the lilies. 6Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, I will go away to the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense. 7You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.
Another poem from the Song begins in 4:1. Within the poem there are three sections, with the first section running to the end of verse 7; the second section is made up of verses 8 to 11, with the third section being 4:12–5:1. The first two sections are spoken by the king and the third section contains a dialogue between the king and the woman. As we can see from verses 1 and 7, this section of the poem begins and ends with the his loving assessment of her. Verse 6, with his words of longing for the marriage day, tells us that the description of the woman in verses 1-5 concerns his assessment of her before the marriage takes place. From a spiritual point of view, this means that Jesus is depicted as portraying the beauty of his disciple before they meet together in the eternal world of glory.
The announcement of the Beloved
The king says to the woman, ‘Behold, you are fair, my love; behold, you are fair’ (4:1). This is not the first time he has made such a statement (e.g. 2:10), which reminds us of the importance of repetition by the Lord Jesus concerning the spiritual experience of each of his disciples. He repeats his assessment to us by various ways. One such way occurs when we read these statements in the Bible; turning to them often will bring comfort to our hearts. A second way by which he repeats his words of love is through sermons when Christian preachers mention them in their addresses. And a third way by which he does it is through the Holy Spirit bringing these declarations of love to our minds and hearts. We should be on the alert for these assertions by Jesus.
We should be comforted by this affirmation of the relationship that exists between Christ and his people. Corporately they are his love and individually they are so as well. Note the double use of ‘behold’. The plural usage points to Christ’s intense desire to inform his disciple of his estimation. Yet there is more than a desire to pass on information, important as that is. We could say that Jesus wishes to inflame our emotions as well as inform our minds. When another believer affirms their love to us, we don’t respond merely by saying, ‘Thank you for letting me know that you love me.’ Instead we sense a bond of love between us and that believer. This should be the case between the believer and Jesus, except at a far higher level.
Jesus’ assessment of each Christian includes the description that every one of them is ‘fair’. What does he mean? Obviously he is making a contrast between a Christian and a non-Christian. The latter is marked by no soundness from the sole of his foot to the top of his head (Isa. 1:6). In contrast, each believer is depicted as being exceeding fair.
His admiration of the Beloved
The king gives a sevenfold description of the beauty of the lady. He refers to her eyes, her hair, her teeth, her lips, her temples, her neck and her bosom. Each of her features is described by an appropriate illustration. Her eyes are peaceful, her hair is thick and long, her teeth are even and white, and so on. Obviously, the description details a lady of great beauty and ideal balance.
James Durham mentions that Solomon is using the beauty of the outward person to depict the beauty of the Christian. (In passing, we can note that this is not an unusual feature from the ancient world; for example, statues of human beings were used to depict various ideals such as wisdom and love.) Durham goes on to argue that each of the details have an exact spiritual equivalent. While I think his suggestion concerning the inner man is correct, I don’t think it is necessary to look for particular equivalents in a disciple’s spiritual form, except to say that Jesus has a similar outlook towards the spiritual beauty of his disciple as the king had towards the lady. He has chosen several striking images to illustrate her beauty.
Seven details are mentioned and this would indicate that here we have a perfect picture of a character (seven is the ideal number). In applying the imagery to a disciple, we can think of various graces that make a believer beautiful in the sight of Christ. There are several groups of graces found in the Bible, such as the Beatitudes or the fruit of the Spirit. These are the features that Jesus finds attractive.
The list of beautiful features indicates that Jesus loves to consider in detail the various graces that mark each of his people. We know that there are two ways to consider a beautiful object. One way is to look at its entirety; the other way is to look at its various details. The second practice is mentioned here. We should picture Jesus drawing near to each of his people and enjoying assessing each aspect of their Christian lives.
What beauties does each child of God permanently possess? There is the beauty of justification, the standing of forgiveness and acceptance that every believer has before God the judge. The delightful obedience of Jesus is imputed to us, his lovely life lived on behalf of sinners; the beautiful atoning death of Jesus, by which he paid the penalty for our sins, gives to us the attractiveness of forgiveness. ‘But to the receiving soul is given the undivided Christ, made of God wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption; and Jesus recognising his own garment of salvation declares – Thou art all fair, my love, there is no spot in thee’ (Moody Stuart). This is one way by which Jesus sees our beauty.
Another aspect of beauty that Jesus beholds in each of his people is the wonder of adoption into God’s family. Each of them is exalted to this high status of membership of the heavenly family. Jesus, the Elder Brother, addresses each of them as brethren.
A third permanent feature of beauty that marks every believer is his or her possession of the Holy Spirit. Within each of them dwells the third Person of the Trinity, and this indwelling sets them apart to God and sanctifies them. Sanctification has its definitive as well as its progressive aspects. Every Christian is marked by the beauty of possessing permanently the gracious Holy Spirit. And Jesus sees this beautiful feature as he contemplates each of his disciples.
Thinking of this divine visit may cause us to feel apprehensive. But we should not do so, because the Lord Jesus does not draw near to condemn us or to discourage us. Instead he draws near to savour the work of divine grace in our souls. He is delighted by our love to him, our desire for him, our willingness to serve him. Further, he is aware of our sense of sinfulness and he desires to assure us that he still delights in us and desires our company.
The beauty of the lady points to the balanced way in which grace develops in a believer’s life. She does not have a holy will and an unholy imagination. Rather every aspect of her character has its gracious features. She is not yet perfect, but she is not fully imperfect either. She is developing in Christlikeness, which is evidence of great beauty.
Another aspect worth considering is that the fairness or the beauty of Christians also includes their potential. This is hinted at in the poem when the king links beauty of the lady to the marriage day that is yet to dawn. We can imagine a great king, on marrying a poor girl, anticipating the great changes that are going to come into her experience through his riches. She cannot imagine these changes at the time; at present she is enjoying the wonders of his grace in determining to marry her, and these marvels are sufficient to overcome her. Gradually she will experience something of his glory as she proceeds in the marriage. In a similar way, each Christian on earth is focussed on the wonders of the grace of Christ in bringing about this astonishing relationship; in heaven, in the eternal world, every Christian will further appreciate the glories of Christ and be transformed into his likeness. Although these believers cannot see their potential, Jesus does, and he affirms that each of them is fair.
The absence of the Beloved (v. 6)
The Beloved intimates that he is about to leave and go and dwell in a mountainous place which he describes as the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense. Various interpretations have been given of this location.
One interpretation takes these hills to depict the place of intercession, the throne of grace which was depicted by the mercy-seat in the temple. The mercy-seat in the temple was always surrounded by the fragrance of incense. This interpretation suggests that Jesus says to his disciple, ‘The place where you and I will meet until the great day comes will be the place of prayer. There we will have communion together.’ The sweet aroma that permeates this meeting is the fragrance of the Spirit. That fragrance is perfect in Jesus and is developing in his disciple. Burrows, who takes this interpretation, notes the appropriateness of describing the throne of grace as a mountain – it pictures a place of elevation, a place with a purer atmosphere than the world. ‘Whenever we wish to meet with Jesus, we have only to betake ourselves to the place of prayer.’ While it is obvious that such meetings with Jesus are important and essential, it is difficult to see how they are different from the meetings already pictured in the Song of Solomon. Verse 6 points to an activity that Jesus does by himself, without the involvement of another person.
A second interpretation is to see two mountains or hills, with the first, the mountain of myrrh, referring to Calvary and the second, the hill of frankincense, referring to heaven and his intercession. The mountain of myrrh is said to refer to Calvary because myrrh has to be crushed before its fragrance is known. This interpretation views the statement from the perspective of an Old Testament believer, with Jesus mentioning two future events that were necessary before the permanent togetherness of his people would occur.
A third interpretation sees both hills as descriptive of the same place, heaven. With New Testament eyes we can see how heaven can be fragranced by the sweet aroma of myrrh because the air of Paradise is perfumed by the odour of the sacrifice of Jesus. Heaven enjoys the twofold effect of the fragrance of Jesus: the beautiful perfume of his divine person and the unique aroma of his sufferings. He has gone there to prepare a place for each of his people, to await their arrival. And as he goes, he reminds his disciples that the reason for his separation is not a defect in them because he sees no fault in them.