Love to an Unseen Christ (5:9-16)
Others:9What is your beloved more than another beloved, O most beautiful among women? What is your beloved more than another beloved, that you thus adjure us?
She: 10My beloved is radiant and ruddy, distinguished among ten thousand. 11His head is the finest gold; his locks are wavy, black as a raven. 12His eyes are like doves beside streams of water, bathed in milk, sitting beside a full pool. 13His cheeks are like beds of spices, mounds of sweet-smelling herbs. His lips are lilies, dripping liquid myrrh. 14His arms are rods of gold, set with jewels. His body is polished ivory, bedecked with sapphires. 15His legs are alabaster columns, set on bases of gold. His appearance is like Lebanon, choice as the cedars. 16His mouth is most sweet, and he is altogether desirable. This is my beloved and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.
We saw in our previous meditation that the disciple of Jesus had behaved foolishly when Jesus had approached her looking for fellowship. Instead of getting up to let him in, she had preferred to remain in her comfortable bed. That comfortable bed pictures anything that a believer may prefer to having fresh fellowship with Jesus, so it can even picture satisfaction with already-attained spirituality. Eventually, on seeing his hand trying to open the door, she arose and prepared herself by putting myrrh on her hands, which depicts the bitterness that accompanies repentance. Yet when she opened the door, he was gone.
This led to her searching for him, which is a reminder that Christian repentance is not merely satisfied with admitting one’s fault; in addition the penitent believer wants restored fellowship. So she looks for Jesus first around her home, which illustrates a believer using the private means of grace such as prayer and meditation on the Bible. She still senses that full fellowship has not been restored, so she searches for him in the city, which pictures the church. There the watchmen found her, which illustrates the alertness of Christian ministers, and wounded her, which describes their pointing out to her the folly of her actions (repentance must be intelligent). Still she senses that full fellowship has not been restored. Therefore she makes her way to a third means of help and contacts the daughters of Jerusalem, that is, other believers.
The particular action that she wanted them to do for her was to pray for her when they next had fellowship with Jesus (5:8). Her request was that they tell him that she is sick of love.
This is an interesting perspective on Christian honesty among believers. Often we don’t admit that we are failing to obtain fresh fellowship with Jesus. We admit that we love him, but we don’t indicate to one another that we want more. It is like a woman away from home with friends who tells them that she loves her husband but when she phones him she cannot get through to hear his voice.
Her request also gives insight into how we should describe one another as we pray for one another. Our appeal to the Master on the behalf of a seeking disciple should at times refer to her longing for love, not merely to have her love strengthened (which is important), but for her to enjoy visitations of love from Jesus. We should pray to Jesus that he would come and bless her.
Of course, these other believers recognise that the restored disciple is in need of spiritual comfort. So while they wait for their prayer for her to be answered, they do two things. First, they ask her to describe her Beloved (5:9-15) and, second, they offer to help find the Beloved (6:1-3). The first action is very important because it enables the disciple to cease focussing on herself and her folly. ‘It is a good diversion under a deserted condition, and a suitable way to an outgate, to be dwelling rather upon the excellency of Christ than on the countless aggravations of our own sad condition; this is more honourable to Christ, more edifying to others, and more pleasant to ourselves’ (James Durham). The second action is encouraging because it is a sign to the restored disciple that she is accepted by the other disciples.
Yet there is another important lesson here, which is believers can learn a great deal from restored backsliders. John Bunyan, in his book on the intercession of Christ, mentions that it is important for other Christians to observe the grace that has been shown to a backslider by Jesus. ‘The returning backslider, therefore, is a rare man, a man of worth and intelligence, a man to whom the men of the world should flock, and of whom they should learn to fear the Lord God. He also is a man of whom the saints should receive both caution, counsel, and strength in their present standing; and they should, by his harms, learn to serve the Lord with fear, and to rejoice with trembling.’
Her description of the Beloved
In response to the question of the daughters, the woman proceeds to give a detailed and extensive description of her Beloved. In some ways, it is similar to the description of Jesus given in Revelation 1. It is evident that she knows him well.
Repentance enables recollection of previous experiences. When she was lying on her bed of ease she did not have the same capacity for describing her Beloved. Being now in a state of repentance, she recalls what she knows about him. Her description focuses on his perfections. A penitent believer wants a perfect Saviour. But she does not merely focus on his perfection in its entirety, as it were; she also examines his perfection in its parts. A lover will want to know all that is possible to know about the object of his love; so it is with a vibrant believer.
Jesus is healthy. The disciple says that her Beloved is ‘white and ruddy’. Several commentators take these two colours as depicting his holiness (white) and his sacrifice (red blood). I suspect it points more to his permanent health. His healthful situation is further described as being one where he is ‘the chief among ten thousand’, words that point to a standard bearer. Such a description points to a place of exaltation. We know that the risen Jesus now possesses fullness of life, in possession of an indestructible life, in the place of supreme elevation.
Of course, this interpretation is based on fuller New Testament light. In itself, this is not a problem because this is how the Old Testament should be interpreted. The authority we have for this approach is the method used by the Master himself in Luke 24:44: ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ While believers in Old Testament times would have had their interpretation as they anticipated the coming Messiah and perhaps grasped for an understanding, we can see in this description a beautiful picture of the risen Saviour.
Connected to his healthy experience is his youthful one: his head is tanned (like gold) and his hair is black. Again this can apply to the type of life possessed now by the risen Christ. Psalm 110, speaking of the king-priest after the order of Melchisedek, says that ‘he has the dew of his youth’. The role of Jesus as king and priest is fulfilled in his exalted state. There he possesses fullness of life. This is not only a life that does not deteriorate, but it is a life that is suitable for its environment. Because of sin, we are not suitable for existing in our environment; it is against us.
The next feature that is mentioned is the dove-like eyes of the Beloved. Obviously a dove points to peacefulness and gentleness, which are most attractive aspects of the Saviour’s character. As the risen man Jesus possesses the fruit of the Spirit. The eyes are further described as being white (this could be the significance of the reference to milk, indicating health) and wet (rivers of water). While tears are often a symptom of sadness, they can also indicate tender sympathy. Jesus gazes on his people with serenity, delight or concern, depending on their situation on their Christian journey.
The reference to the cheeks looking like a bed of spices or flowers seems to be another picture of the health of the Beloved. It has been observed that the cheeks are near the ear, and that this is a reference to the pleasure she gets by knowing that he listens to her words of love as she drew near him on previous occasions. His ears open to her words as flowers open to the light. This suggestion balances with the reference to his lips, which would be a description of his speaking to her on previous occasions. His words are fragrant like myrrh, and if this allusion to myrrh includes crushing, then here Jesus speaks to his disciple about the blessings that he can communicate through his sufferings on the cross.
This is followed by descriptions of his hands, belly and legs that point to his strength; he looks like a mighty cedar of Lebanon. The risen Jesus possesses all power. There is nothing that he cannot do. Just as the strength of a strong man is at the disposal of his wife, so the strength of the risen Jesus is there to be utilised by his people against their enemies.
The woman then says that his mouth is most sweet. This refers to the kisses that she would have received in the past. A kiss is an expression of intimacy, a special communication or display of love. In the past, this backsliding disciple had known sweet moments of assurance when her Beloved had drawn near and embraced her soul.
Having detailed these various features of her Beloved, she turns to her fellow-believers and declares that he is altogether lovely. She has no criticism to make of the way he has acted in response to her refusal to have fellowship with him. But her assurance has been increased by speaking about him because she describes him as her personal Beloved and Friend. The strategy of the daughters of Jerusalem has worked. The backsliding disciple continues on the road to meeting Jesus. And her words must have been sweet to Jesus’ ear. She was closer to his cheeks than she imagined.
Why we often cannot say this?
The answer may be that we are still in our beds. We are marked by spiritual inactivity, we don’t make time for fellowship with him. Perhaps we did not profit from previous visits. Think of any activity you did this week. I don’t mean your daily work, but an optional activity or interest. Did you spend more time doing it than you spent thinking about Jesus and speaking to him? I know many Christians who can absorb two hours of news a day or two hours of sport or two hours of television – but they don’t spend two hours with Jesus. Would we have won our spouses if we had spent such little time with them?
Or we may be marked by religious activity that falls short of engaging with Christ. For example, it is possible to spend a lot of time reading about a particular doctrine that is under attack. One recent notion has been the openness of God, which denies that God has planned the future. I’m surprised that Christians bother to read books about it because the Bible clearly says that he has planned the future. Reading such books does not bring us to the feet of Jesus.
Or we may focus on a right doctrine but not link it sufficiently with Jesus. Every doctrine connected to our salvation is linked to Christ. Take the doctrine of adoption, which describes a state in which we have a right to all the privileges of the sons of God. But why do we have the right or why are we able to enjoy the privileges? Because they are connected to Jesus. We are adopted into the same family as him and are joint-heirs with him. With every doctrine, we should relate it to Jesus. (Of course, a similar attitude should be taken concerning our relationship with the Father and our relationship with the Spirit.)
Or it is because we have not repented as depicted in this poem. It is possible for us to realise that we are not what we should be, but then to remain where we are. Repentance is appropriate for believers as the messages to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 indicate. Jesus there gave great promises to the churches, but the enjoyment of these promises depended on their repentance for failing to have been what they should have been.