Restored Disciple’s Desire for Fellowship (7:9-13)
9It goes down smoothly for my beloved, gliding over lips and teeth.
10I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me. 11Come, my beloved, let us go out into the fields and lodge in the villages; 12let us go out early to the vineyards and see whether the vines have budded, whether the grape blossoms have opened and the pomegranates are in bloom. There I will give you my love. 13The mandrakes give forth fragrance, and beside our doors are all choice fruits, new as well as old, which I have laid up for you, O my beloved.
The woman has listened with delight to the king’s description of her beauty and to his words of longing to know her more intimately. This was the case despite her sad backsliding, but now that she had returned to him in repentance, he affirmed that she was lovely in his sight. 7:b to 8:4 describe her response to his words in 7:1-9a. She begins her response by taking up his allusion to wine in which he connected her mouth to the best wine. His words depicted the beauty of her words, and now she gives an example of them.
Assurance that is experienced by a restored backslider
In verse 10, the woman speaks to herself. She has listened with delight to what the king had said and now she addresses her own heart. Her response is a picture of a believer applying Christ’s words to herself, ensuring that they are engraved into her spiritual outlook. The first clause, ‘I am my Beloved’s,’ is a recognition by the disciple that she belongs to Jesus. There a several ways in which a disciple belongs to Jesus. First, she belongs to him as a result of the eternal counsels in which the Father gave a people to his Son, with the intent that he should redeem them from sin. Second, she belongs to him because he purchased her with his blood when he paid the penalty on the cross for her sins. She had forgotten that he owned her when she had refused to let him in (Song 5:3). Yet having being restored from her backsliding she realises afresh that she belongs to him. It is the case that a recovered backslider has great insight into spiritual realities. Third, she was his also because she had dedicated herself to him when they first met. With joy she had believed the gospel invitation and discovered his warm welcome into his family. Sadly this dedication had waned until she declined his company on that sad occasion mentioned in the previous paragraph. Now she has realised that he is welcoming her into his fellowship and therefore she gladly responds with a fresh statement of dedication.
In what manner would she have said this statement? No doubt there would be a sense of wonder at the grace the king had shown to her in forgiving her sin and restoring her. Along with the sense of wonder there would also be humility because of his willingness to associate with her, so unworthy of his affections. Accompanying the wonder and the humility would be delight that she was experiencing his grace. These three responses are not surprising from a forgiven backslider, but perhaps another response that she gives would not be expected, the response of anticipation of his company.
Boldness displayed by a restored backslider
In verse 11 she suggests that they go together on a journey through parts of his realm. Some commentators suggest that this is a desire for them to be alone, but 8:4 indicates that the daughters of Jerusalem have travelled with them. Therefore while she longs to discover her Beloved’s possessions she also wants her fellow disciples to be with her as he points out the features of his kingdom to her.
What is remarkable in this desire is that she is taking the lead, as it were, by asking him to come with her. She is not being presumptuous in making this suggestion. Rather this is a picture of the spiritual boldness that a restored backslider can exhibit in prayer. And it is clear that the Beloved was delighted to honour her request.
When we pray, we should ask Jesus to take us on a journey through his domains. In this life we can only ask him to take us through the kingdom of grace, but in the next life we will be taken by him on journeys throughout the kingdom of glory. Although the kingdom of glory contains many sites not found in the kingdom of grace, there are in the latter many wonderful places to visit.
Her words point to the varied nature of fellowship with Jesus. She mentions four different places: fields, villages, vineyards, a house (doors in verse 13 point to a building, perhaps a summer house). The field is a place of labour, the village is a place of rest, the vineyards are a place of examination, and the house is a place of sharing.
In the fields
The first location of fellowship with Jesus is the fields. In the fields, the servants of the King would be employed. Within Christ’s kingdom there are many fields in which his people can exercise their gifts by working for him. There is the field where his people gather to pray, there is the field where the gospel is declared, there is the field where acts of kindness are done in his name.
The disciple may want to observe these fields because they give her great joy as she sees her Beloved’s kingdom expanding in different ways. And when he is with her she also senses his joy at its growth. Or she may have gone to see the fields in order to have information about which she could speak to him. She may wonder why there is great activity in one field and little activity in another. The best person to consult regarding these matters is Jesus himself. This would be a picture of a believer interceding for the various situations within Christ’s kingdom. Or she may have gone to the fields in order to work in them herself. When she goes into a field in this state of soul, she will be greatly helped because Jesus is with her. When she enters the field of prayer, she senses the presence of Christ. In the field of good deeds, she is aware of the help of Jesus. And she can work in other fields at the same time as she is in the field of prayer.
In the villages
The villages are the places where those who served the king lived. This is where their homes were located to which they returned after their day’s work in order to rest and recuperate so to have strength to perform further work for their king. The villages are pictures of the locations where Christ’s disciples obtain rest. Just as she wanted Jesus with her when she went to the fields, she knows that she needs to have Jesus with her in order to obtain rest. I don’t think it is difficult to imagine the villages as a picture of the means of grace, the places where rest is given to weary souls – weary not only because of sin and temptation but also because of the energy they put forth in serving Christ.
Work for Jesus must be done in his strength and be followed by his means of recovery. Just as he said to the disciples when they returned from a mission in which they had been working for him, so Jesus says to us after we have done some work for him, ‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while’ (Mark 6:31). We can see that workers would often come home with minor injuries and bruises that needed nursing; they would be hungry and longing for food; they would need a comfortable place to rest. From a spiritual perspective, it is sweet to take Jesus with us as we finish our toil and enjoy receiving him as the tender physician, the plentiful and satisfying food for our souls, and the comfortable place of rest.
In the vineyards
The third place of fellowship is the vineyards where she wants his help in assessing the progress of the vines and other fruits. This is probably a reference to the practice of self-examination. It is worth noting that this desire for ongoing assessment comes from a spiritually-healthy believer. There are at least two possible reasons for this.
First, believers can have assurance and not fully realise the spiritual state of their souls. ‘Although believers be clear as to their interest (as the Bride was, verse 10), yet may they be indistinct as to the knowledge of their own condition, and therefore ought not to neglect this duty of self-examination: but where the clearness is solid, they will be the more careful in the searching of themselves’ (James Durham). It is often the case that believers fall after they have had a mountain-top experience, when they did not anticipate the relapse. Even when enjoying the Saviour’s presence and provision, they should be praying, ‘Search me, O Lord.’
Second, her recollection of past experiences would lead her to be careful. After all, she had known times of assurance in the past and yet she had succumbed to spiritual laziness. Having been restored, she did not want to repeat her past mistakes, therefore she wanted Jesus to help her examine her progress in the life of grace. Self-examination should enable us to avoid the pitfalls of the past.
It is important to stress that she asks Jesus to help her in her self-examination. Sometimes believers are prone to take Moses (the law) with them when they engage in this duty. The law of God is good and healthy believers desire to live up to its requirements. It is inevitable that a Christian will discover flaws and failings when she examines herself. If she has the law with her, all it will do is condemn her for her faults. It will not commend her progress because her development is not perfect. But Jesus will encourage her imperfect progress and he will forgive her faults when she and he together find them. The gracious Saviour accepts and blesses imperfect acts of dedication from his disciples. He delights in her growth in grace, even although she is not perfect.
Another aspect of self-examination that is seen in her words is the reality that self-examination takes time. She wants to get ‘early’ to the vineyards. It was common for people in the Middle East to rise with the sun. Her words indicate that self-examination is not an activity that can be done in a short space of time; rather it is the equivalent of a full day’s work. One reason for the necessity of ample time is her desire to examine everything in her vineyard. A healthy believer wants to scan her entire soul in order to assess her state and to increase her spiritual vitality.
The proper response to true self-examination is depicted in her resolve to show her love to the king in the vineyard once they have examined the state of the fruits. Similarly, a believer, having gone through the experience of having Jesus help her in the duty of self-examination, finds plenty reasons for expressing her love for him. She discovers afresh that despite her sinfulness she is accepted in him; that despite her failure to grow as she should have done, he is pleased with what she does for him; that despite her period of backsliding she is welcome to know him more intimately, and to experience his grace more fully.
In the building
The fourth place of fellowship with Jesus takes place within a building (v. 13), which may have been a summer house in the vineyard or somewhere else. In this building, she had placed fragrant plants and pleasant fruits for the enjoyment of her Beloved. Some of these fruits are old, others are fresh. She had gathered them from the vineyard, not for her own benefit but for his enjoyment.
When we are enjoying his company, it is appropriate for us to tell him about what he did for us in the past as well as what he is enabling us to experience in the present. For example, we can bring forward our first exercise of faith in him, not because it was our activity, but because it appeared as a result of his work in our souls. Or we can mention answers that we have received to our prayers, not because of the genius of the prayers, but because of the gracious way they were answered.
At the same time it is necessary that we have fresh results of his grace on display in order to delight him. Faith is not only in the past, it is to be active in the present. Love should be marked by gratitude for recent blessings as well as previous ones. This combination of old and new brings great delight to the king. Of course, it is wonderful that he should so value our little contributions. But he does, and this awareness should remove fear from us, even if we are returning backsliders.