The King’s Opinion of a Restored Backslider (6:4-10)
The King:4You are beautiful as Tirzah, my love, lovely as Jerusalem, awesome as an army with banners. 5Turn away your eyes from me, for they overwhelm me – Your hair is like a flock of goats leaping down the slopes of Gilead. 6Your teeth are like a flock of ewes that have come up from the washing; all of them bear twins; not one among them has lost its young. 7Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate behind your veil. 8There are sixty queens and eighty concubines, and virgins without number. 9My dove, my perfect one, is the only one, the only one of her mother, pure to her who bore her. The young women saw her and called her blessed; the queens and concubines also, and they praised her.
The Attendants: 10‘Who is this who looks down like the dawn, beautiful as the moon, bright as the sun, awesome as an army with banners?’
We saw in previous meditations how the woman endeavoured to locate the king whose presence she had lost through laziness, by preferring to remain in bed instead of arising and letting him in. Having realised her folly, she endeavoured to find him but had failed, and we noted that this was a picture of a restored believer attempting to re-discover Jesus through both the private and public means of grace. She then enlisted the help of her fellow believers (the daughters of Jerusalem) who realised that she was no longer a backslider and therefore asked her suitable questions designed to help her recognize her restored situation. They also realised that she knew where the king would be even although she had not realised she possessed that knowledge. Upon discovering where he was (in the garden, a picture of the visible church), they went there with her.
I suppose we could ask here what was the difference between her searching for an absent Christ in the city where the watchmen humiliated her (a picture of Christ’s servants highlighting for her the depth of her sinfulness) and her searching for him in the garden. The obvious difference is that she sought by herself in the city but she sought with other believers in the garden. This is a reminder to us that we are more liable to enjoy fellowship with Jesus when we seek him together with other Christians. Of course, Jesus will reveal himself to individuals if they are the only ones in a company who want to meet him, as was the case in the church in Laodicea.
I suspect we can also see in the lady’s experience here a development in the experience of assurance. So far she possesses an aspect of personal assurance that can be described as deductive. There are two aspects of this deductive assurance that can be mentioned. First, she desires to meet with the Saviour whom she had known intimately on previous occasions, and this desire is evidence that she possessed genuine faith. A true desire to have fellowship with an absent Saviour verifies that the seeker is a true disciple, even although the absence was caused by her fault.
Secondly, she also had the form of assurance that comes from knowing the estimation of other spiritual people, depicted in the questions of the daughters of Jerusalem. The nature of their fellowship, in which they showed themselves willing to learn of her although she had failed so foolishly, would have encouraged her by reminding her that they still regarded her as a true believer. Mutual encouragement is very important.
But she needed more – she wanted assurance from Jesus himself. This is why she came to the garden (the public meeting of his church) with his people; this is why she went round the various beds (the means of grace) in the garden planted by the Gardener, her Beloved. And as she did so, he drew near and told her what he thought of her.
The king, in saying that she is beautiful, says three things about her and uses several images to illustrate her comeliness. Her beauty is made up of strength, health, and dignity.
The restored backslider possesses strength
Her strength is depicted by his reference to strong cities (Tirzah was city in Manasseh and Jerusalem was the capital) and to an army. Cities in those days had walls round them to defend them from attack and I would suggest that his reference to them indicates that he regarded this restored backslider as being able to resist enemies that would attack her. His reference to an army could also point to defence, but I suspect it also balances the previous picture of defence and so is an illustration of being able to attack the positions of the enemy. Jesus says that the restored backslider is able to withstand spiritual enemies and destroy spiritual strongholds. We would probably be surprised if this was said of a Christian who had not backslidden because we know how weak every Christian is. So to hear it said of one who had fallen is surprising.
This form of thinking reminds us that often we forget that our stability and strength is totally dependant on divine grace. A Christian is not like a body builder who builds up present strength from past exercise. Of course, we learn wisdom and other ongoing benefits from previous experiences. But a victory yesterday is no guarantee of a victory today.
The examples of backsliders becoming stalwarts in the faith are many. In the previous chapter we thought of David, who fell so drastically, yet who declared in Psalm 51 that he will become an effective soldier if he is restored; he is confident that when he instructs others they will be converted and cease being enemies of the king. Another example is Peter, who was so weak against the devil’s attacks at the time of Christ’s arrest; yet he would become a rock, able to help others resist the devil.
This description of strong cities and an army reminds believers of an ever-present danger – their enemies are always on the prowl. Therefore they need to have on the spiritual armour that God has provided (Eph. 6:10ff.), they have to be strong as the young men to whom John wrote, who were strong because the word of God abided in them, with the result that they overcame the wicked one (1 John 2:14). The description also reminds believers of their duty, which is to pray constantly, ‘Hold up my goings, Lord’ (Ps. 17:5).
The restored backslider is healthy
Secondly, Jesus informs the restored backslider that she is healthy. He refers to her eyes, her hair and her teeth. He likens her hair to the hair of a goat and her white teeth to vigorous sheep. Even on an everyday level, we can tell that someone is healthy by looking at their eyes, hair and teeth. This is an important reminder to us that a restored backslider is not unhealthy.
The king here repeats the description he had given of the woman in 4:1-3, before she had experienced her sad fall. It is wonderful that his estimation of her is still the same, now that she has repented of her sin and rejoined her companions. ‘Renewing of repentance and faith by believers after failings, puts them in that same condition and capacity with Christ, for laying claim to his love, and their wonted privileges and comforts, wherein they were before, even as if such failings and miscarriages had never been’ (James Durham).
He does add one difference, which is the effect her eyes have on him. He says that her look overcomes him. What is so significant about her eyes now? Given that she is repenting, he is referring to the sorrow, to the tears that are seen in her eyes. Our eyes are very important. Peter tells us that we should have long vision, to see afar off, to be able to look ahead to the coming glory (2 Pet. 1:9). We are to set our vision on to heavenly things. But there is something better than having good spiritual eyesight – it is having good vision in a tearful eye. Before we fall, we may forget that heaven is ours only by grace; after we are restored from a spiritual fall, we again look at heaven and with tears say, ‘Jesus is still going to give it to me.’
The King esteems penitent disciples
Thirdly, the king says of this restored backslider that she means more to him than all the princely attendants round his throne. At a literal level, Solomon was surrounded by queens, concubines and other female servants, and this retinue would have accompanied him as he walked round his garden. But his affections are towards this penitent woman. At a far higher level, Jesus is surrounded by heavenly servants who are marked by dignity and purity – the angelic host. But Jesus loves his repentant disciple more than that he does the heavenly host, and the sound of her sobbing voice is more pleasant than all the eloquence of these heavenly beings.
What does he say about her? First, she is still a dove; second, she is unique (she is the only child of her mother); third, she is praised by the attendants. This penitent backslider still has the features of a dove that she possessed before (gentleness, peacefulness, good eyesight, peace). Her uniqueness is highlighted; even a backslider is different from all other people because he or she is still a child of God, and that uniqueness is never lost.
The garden is a picture of the church, of God’s people gathered together to benefit from the various means of grace. When they meet in public worship, they meet with Jesus, their King. In the gathering are some of the heavenly host (1 Cor. 11:10). They learn about their God as they watch his people (Eph. 3:10). When they see backsliders joining with other believers to worship God, the heavenly retinue once more see the amazing grace of God.
The opinion of the heavenly host is depicted here in the words of the attendants – they praise the repentant disciple in the sense that they admire the blessings that grace has brought into her life. As they see her with the king, they compare her to what is clear and bright – the sun and the moon (v. 10). They know the defects that she had experienced; nevertheless they can see that forgiveness and restoration result in a beautiful Christian, ready to advance the Lord’s cause as a soldier in his army. It was common in the ancient world for appropriate words to be written on banners: on the banners of this believer are written ‘forgiven by Jesus’, ‘restored by Jesus’, ‘still loved by Jesus’.
The folly of the bride in not letting her Beloved in was very wrong. But even this type of sin can be overruled and is part of the all things that work together to them that love God (Rom. 8:28).
What are some of the lessons of this passage? (1) When we lose the sense of the Lord’s presence, enlist the help of fellow Christians. (2) Don’t stop at their assessments but persevere to hear from Christ himself. (3) Don’t look down on restored believers – Jesus thinks they are beautiful. So do the heavenly host!