The Walled Garden (4:12--5:1)
The king:12A garden locked is my sister, my bride, a spring locked, a fountain sealed. 13Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates with all choicest fruits, henna with nard, 14nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense, myrrh and aloes, with all choice spices -- 15a garden fountain, a well of living water, and flowing streams from Lebanon.
She: 16Awake, O north wind, and come, O south wind! Blow upon my garden, let its spices flow. 1Let my beloved come to his garden, and eat its choicest fruits.
These verses are the third section of a poem that began in 4:1. It brings in the new idea of a garden but retains ideas mentioned in the previous two sections such as the bride being addressed as a bride and a sister as well as the references to Lebanon.
The Believer Likened to a Garden
In these verses, the king, after re-affirming his relationship to his love, likens her to a walled garden in which there is good source of water, resulting in the ample growth of a variety of trees and spices. The imagery of a garden is a picture of a Christian disciple and this is not the only occasion in the Bible when a believer or believers are likened to a watered garden. In Isaiah 58:11, this promise is given: ‘And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.’ And in Jeremiah 31:12, this prediction is made: ‘They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall be like a watered garden, and they shall languish no more.’
Before we consider the several spiritual realities to which this illustration points, we may notice that it reveals the great change that has occurred in a believer’s soul. Prior to conversion, that soul was not a garden full of pleasant plants but a wilderness full of deadly weeds. This great change was brought about when the garden of the soul was bought by a new owner who, having bought it, proceeded to change it. Each believer can say, ‘Jesus bought my soul by the price of his blood.’
First, the walled garden illustrates the security of the disciple. A wall would be erected to keep out animals who would destroy the plants, and some dangerous animals have already been mentioned in this poem. Each Christian has an enemy that is attempting to destroy him, and that enemy is the devil and his allies, the world and the flesh. Yet despite the strength of these enemies, each believer is secure. Many Bible verses indicate this. For example, in John 10:27-29, Jesus mention the double security of each believer: ‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.’ Another passage that provides a double sense of security is Colossians 3:3: ‘For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.’ This does not mean that the believer is not apprehensive at times. Yet even at the times when the enemies seem to be winning, they are not.
The walled garden also illustrates the secrecy of the disciple’s experiences with Christ. A person builds walls in order to have privacy, and behind these walls, his family can meet with friends or have private events. Similarly, within the security of the believer’s inner life there will be secret meetings with Jesus. The reality is that each believer has been set apart by the Lord for his enjoyment (Ps. 4:3).
A third feature of the garden was its constant supply of water. At first glance, this could refer to the Holy Spirit, because often water in the Bible pictures the work of the Spirit. Yet since I think the believer prays for the Spirit in verse 16, it may be that the supply of water represents something else. In Psalm 1, the water that nourishes the believer’s life depicts the Word of God. Similarly, Paul writes in Ephesians 5:26: ‘that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.’ I would suggest that the water in the garden of the soul here is the Bible, with its commandments, teachings, promises and warnings. There is abundant provision in the Word of God, sufficient to deal with every situation that a believer can face.
A fourth feature of the garden is the variety of plants found within it, ranging from trees to shrubs. The soul of a believer is made up of a range of attributes, some mental, others emotional. They need to be continually watered by the Word of God just as the garden’s vegetation needed ongoing supplies of water.
Having looked at some of the details of the garden, it is worth reminding ourselves that this is a description given by Jesus and is not a self-description by the disciple. The description is accompanied by Jesus re-affirming his relationship to his disciple (brother and lover). I think we should view this as encouraging assurance from Jesus before he comes on another visit. He draws near the soul with warm words of appreciation of her sanctification.
So here we have a picture of a believer who is secure, who has enjoyed secret meetings with Jesus, who has the Bible as a means of grace, and who has various spiritual attributes. Yet she realises that there is more to the Christian life than these blessings. She wants further visits from Jesus, and has been encouraged by Jesus to prepare for one, but before that can happen she needs the wind of heaven to blow upon her garden – she needs the Holy Spirit to refresh her and enliven her.
The Believer Prays for the Spirit’s Work and the Saviour’s Coming
The disciple compares the work of the Spirit to the winds. Here she is not asking for conversion but for consecration. We are encouraged to pray for the Spirit’s work in various passages. In Luke 11:13, Jesus teaches, ‘If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’ In Ephesians 3:17, Paul prays for his readers that Christ may dwell in their hearts by faith (which sounds like a visit from Jesus to his garden), but in order for this to happen they need to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man (Eph. 3:17). If that latter passage points to the necessity of the Spirit’s work in the life of a Christian, the previous passage reminds us of the availability of the Spirit for this task.
We are not to think of these winds in the manner that we experience them day by day. For us, the north wind can be a very cold wind and the south wind can be stormy. In Palestine, however, the north wind is a cooling wind and the south wind, while bringing heat, is not stormy (Job 37:17 says it is a wind that brings calm).
The believer is asking the Holy Spirit to come in ways similar to these natural winds. I would suggest that the north wind points to an essential feature of the work of the Spirit. Because it is a cool wind, it has brought to mind, for many commentators, the Spirit’s ministry in conviction of sin. This may be the case here, although there is no hint of backsliding – the garden is quite healthy. It is not necessary to think that the believer here is being portrayed as backsliding. The imagery suggests otherwise, for the garden is bearing fruit. We know what it is like on a very calm day without any wind. If we walk past a garden we may not smell the aroma of the flowers. In order for that to happen, there has to be a gentle breeze blowing. I would suggest that the north wind depicts clarity. The north wind cleared the sky: ‘Fair weather cometh out of the north’ (Job 37:22). We can imagine a garden under a sky covered by clouds preventing the heat of the sun getting through. In a similar way, a believer can be aware of spiritual clouds that prevent him fully sensing the presence of Jesus. These clouds may be sins, but they may not be. They can be anything that prevents clarity of spiritual vision. But they are beyond the abilities of even our renewed minds to deal with. We need the fresh input of the Spirit.
The south wind brought warmth and calm. This suggests that the disciple was agitated and needed solace. But the support she wanted was more than a calm devoid of heat. There is the danger of the spiritual equivalent of a stiff upper lip to control our spiritual concerns. While that may work for a while, it is not a pleasant or prolonged relief. The believer wants the calm that comes from the warm presence of the Comforter.
It is important to note why the believer wants the Spirit to come; the reason is that Jesus will be satisfied with him. Grace imparts to every believing soul the wonderful desire that Christ would be pleased with him. This desire is enhanced by recollections of previous visits by Jesus to our souls when he expressed his delight in us.
Having been prepared by the Spirit, the disciple now prays that Jesus would have fellowship with him.
The Prompt Answer of Jesus
In 5:1, Jesus describes a new meeting with his disciple. When the appropriate preparation has been done, he will always draw near.
Jesus is depicted as greatly enjoying this visit to the heart of his disciple. The illustration is of him going round the garden gathering a sample from each plant. He does not miss out any of the items in the garden. Having gathered what he intends to feed on, he eats it along with wine (which is the symbol of joy).
Some of these plants are bitter (myrrh) and some are sweet (honey). The bitter ones may be the sad experiences that a believer is going through. If we are going through a difficult time in our garden, and we ask the Holy Spirit to blow upon it gently, Jesus will come to us and say, ‘Your affliction is my affliction.’ After all, he is our brother as well as our lover. He understands the distresses we go through. As it says in Isaiah 63:9: ‘In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old.’
On the other hand, we also have sweet experiences that are the equivalent of the honeycomb. These spiritual delights are usually found in the promises and other teachings of the Bible. Take, for example, a promise of heaven. It gives us great comfort and joy. But if we ask the Spirit to blow gently on our experience, Jesus will draw near and say, ‘Your joy is my joy, because I too am looking forward to heaven.’
The response of Jesus also indicates that other believers get benefit from the company of a believer who is enjoying a visit from Jesus. At the end of the verse, he exhorts the friends, whom I take to be the daughters of Jerusalem, the companions of the Bride, to share in the feast he is enjoying. These daughters depict other Christians and they get spiritual benefit from a spiritually-healthy believer.
Why does he want these other believers to share in these blessings that he finds in the garden of a disciple’s soul? The reason is that he wants them to provide him with these blessings in their own gardens. It is all very well to visit another garden and admire its beauty and receive a blessing. In addition, we should resolve to make all our gardens into places where Jesus can enjoy a feast and recommend its products to other believers.