Seeking Jesus Together (6:1-3)
Daughters:1Where has your beloved gone, O most beautiful among women? Where has your beloved turned, that we may seek him with you?
She: 2My beloved has gone down to his garden to the beds of spices, to graze in the gardens and to gather lilies. 3I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine; he grazes among the lilies.
We come now to the second question asked by the daughters of Jerusalem in response to the request of the woman, who had failed to respond appropriately to the king’s overture of love, which was that they should tell him that she is longing to experience again his love. That request depicts a recovering believer enlisting the prayer support of other Christians, which is obviously an essential Christian activity.
The daughters responded with more than prayer for her. First, they asked her to express what was significant about her Beloved. This request caused her to stop thinking about her spiritual folly and focus instead on his beauties. Her description revealed a heart full of love, and the description illustrates the heart a Christian has for Jesus, and when such articulate their love, they discover that their assessment of him is an encouragement that they are going in the right direction as well as indicating to fellow believers that repentance is genuine.
The woman’s initial request had been asked because she had expected the daughters to know where the Beloved was. As fellow disciples they deduced from her answer to the first question that she was in spiritually healthy state, in fact able to show them where the Beloved was. Their outlook is a marvellous picture of how grace in spiritually-healthy believers should accept the rapid progress of grace in a restored backslider. Often we want to put such a disciple through a process of prolonged testing before we accept their usefulness again. Yet several biblical examples point to a different response.
Think of David in Psalm 51, which is the written expression of his repentance over his sins connected to his adultery with Bathsheba. He expects that his restoration to fellowship with his God will lead to soon, if not immediate usefulness; he says in verses 12-13: ‘Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.’ It is the case that David was backsliding for over a year, but the process of restoration was quick.
Another example of biblical restoration is found in 2 Corinthians 2 regarding a person who had been disciplined by the congregation on the instructions of Paul. (It is not clear if the disciplined person is the same individual mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5; if it is, then less than a year has passed since his discipline for grievous sins.) The disciplinary process has worked because the offending brother has repented of his sin. Therefore Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 2:6-8: ‘For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him.’ How long should discipline last for? Until the goal has been obtained -- the goal of repentance. There is no benefit in continuing to discipline a penitent disciple.
Another detail of the daughters’ question should be noted. They repeat their description of her that they gave in the first question (5:9): ‘Fairest among women.’ Of course, it is appropriate to say that her beauty is that which is shared by all believers – the beauty of the righteousness of Christ. Yet to suggest this meaning is probably to ignore the more appropriate interpretation which is that healthy believers see great beauty in the gracious repentance of a backsliding Christian. People admire the melting snow on a mountain, watching the rivers of water make their way down the slope. However marvellous that sight is, it is nothing in comparison to the beauty of the tears on the face of a penitent disciple.
People are asked by the advertising world to use various products to help them display their beauty, be it clothes or fragrances or whatever. When we gather in church, we enter a different type of beauty contest. We should reveal the hidden beauty of the heart, and the one that is described here is the beauty of repentance. I remember hearing an elderly Christian being asked what he thought was the big difference between the Christianity he had seen when he was younger and the Christianity he observed in his old age. His answer was, ‘Lack of tears.’
I suppose another reason that can be deduced from the question of the daughters is that they were personally aware that in themselves they were not more qualified to find the Beloved that their friend was. Although they may not have backslidden in the manner that she had done, they were aware of their own faults, and did not want to separate themselves into a separate class of believer from her. They needed her help in locating the Beloved.
The Answer of the Disciple
The woman informs the daughters that the Beloved as gone into his garden. This was the place where she and the Beloved, accompanied by the daughters, had previously enjoyed each other’s company (1:16–2:3). Sometimes in the Song, the garden depicts a location while in other references it describes the individual believer’s heart (4:16). Here, given that the daughters are going to accompany her, it illustrates the location where more than one believer enjoys fellowship with Jesus, which is the public means of grace. The garden depicts the people of God as they meet in public.
As we noted in a previous meditation, the garden of the King was large, more like an estate, and in it there were several smaller gardens (this explains the use of the singular ‘garden’ in the first clause and the plural ‘gardens’ in the second clause). Out of the variety of vegetation and flowers in this garden, she mentions the beds of spices and the lilies.
I would suggest that the beds in which the spices are found depict the various means of grace, with the spices describing the variety of benefits that come to the Lord’s people through using these beds. Just as in the image of the city, where the streets and houses illustrate means of grace, so in the image of the garden the beds depict these several means. There is the bed of preaching, there is the bed of prayer, there is the bed of the Lord’s Supper, and there is the bed of fellowship. I suspect that each bed contains the same spices, indicating that the effect of participating in each will give to Christians the same benefits as they find in the other beds.
A list of these spices is given in 4:13-14: ‘...henna with nard, nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense, myrrh and aloes, with all choice spices.’ They picture the variety of graces that come our way through participating in the means of grace. Our love is deepened, our faith is warmed, our hope is strengthened, our peace is increased, our joy is intensified, our gentleness is developed, our patience is fortified, and our repentance is sweetened. In these beds of spices, we receive the Saviour’s instructions, read about his promises, discover his desires for us, and enjoy fellowship with him.
The Beloved also feeds in the gardens. What food does he find there? No doubt, in the church he enjoys the company of his friends; he feeds on them as he anticipates the time when the beds of spices will be done away; he notices with delight the fruit of the Spirit in their lives, and while he desires that they will increase in grace, he is also content with their company. On this particular occasion, he is feeding on the repentance of the restored backslider, on her desires for him; he is also enjoying the company of her fellow believers who are helping her in her quest.
In this garden, the Beloved gathers lilies. As we noticed regarding previous references in the Song, the lilies probably depict the purity (whiteness) and humility (drooping head) of the believers. I suppose we can say that the Beloved, in addition to appreciating their beauty in the garden (sanctification), is also gathering lilies into his garden and collecting lilies from his garden. He gathers lilies into the garden through the preaching of the gospel. That is one of the means of grace in which unbelievers are blessed. This is one of the delights of the heavenly Gardener to transform weeds of the world into lilies and transplant them into his garden. There is not a weed that is too noxious for Jesus to change into a lily. It is wonderful to observe our Beloved carrying into the garden a former weed now become a flower. How gently and gladly he does so. The Gardener takes each of these lilies into his church in a way that is special to each.
He gathers lilies from his garden when he removes them to another garden, to the heavenly Paradise. In his love, he gently removes them and carries them to heaven and plants them where they can permanently and fully enjoy the sunshine of his love and the copious ministrations of the Holy Spirit, who gave them foretastes of heaven as they visited the beds of spices in the earthly garden.
There is one other benefit from this visit to the garden, which is that the disciple obtains great assurance of her relationship to her Beloved (v. 3). She affirms that she is his and he is hers. Obviously these words point to a mutual relationship in which they experience one another and respond to one another.
Individual assurance that had begun in her use of private means of grace is strengthened by using the public means. In the preceding chapter, which describes the process of her restoration, she was aware that he was her Beloved because she calls him ‘my Beloved’ several times. Penitent believers often become aware that Jesus is theirs while still being concerned whether or not they are as delightful to him as they were before their period of backsliding. Through going to the garden and utilising the beds of spices and observing the Gardener gathering lilies, she had restored to her soul the wonderful realisation that Jesus still thought highly of her.
In her visit to the garden, the disciple was able to give herself once again to Jesus, which dedication should be a feature of all our visits there. But she discovered that Jesus was also determined to give himself and all that he has to her. Even although she had refused his nearness previously, she was assured that he would come and share his blessings with her. Perhaps this is why she puts first what she means to him. On a previous occasion she had reversed the order (2:16), but on that occasion she was not a recovering backslider.
Why are there times when we do not possess assurance? Perhaps we have not used the varied means of grace that the disciple used to get out of her frame of spiritual lethargy. Perhaps we don’t spend long enough at each of the beds of spices and don’t observe the Gardener gathering his lilies.