Love’s Sweet Greeting
He. I have compared thee, O my love, to a company of horses in Pharaoh’s chariots. Thy cheeks are comely with rows of jewels, thy neck with chains of gold.
Daughters of Jerusalem. We will make thee borders of gold with studs of silver (Song 1:9-11).
As noted before, the locations in the Song vary. In the previous verses (1:5-8), the location seems to have been in the open fields near to vineyards, with the bride separated from her bridegroom. In this next section the location changes to one of the bridegroom’s buildings, with various aspects of their relationship being described until the section closes in 2:7. Chapter 2:4 describes the building as the banqueting house, probably the place where Solomon would entertain his important guests. The picture in this section is that of fellowship and reciprocated love.
No doubt there is a link between the advice given at the end of the previous section and the situation described in these verses. At the end of the previous section, the bride was advised to follow in the footsteps of the flock if she wanted to meet the Shepherd. Since she is now with him, it is evident that she sought him in the public means of grace. We can say it is the public means rather than the private because verse 11 indicates that the daughters of Jerusalem are with her (the use of the plural pronoun ‘we’).
Notice the way the Bridegroom addresses her – ‘my love’. It was wonderful to observe the desire of grace in her heart when she addressed him as ‘the one whom my soul loves’. But it is even more wonderful to listen to his response, ‘My love.’ It is the language of personal and permanent commitment and delight. Jesus longs for his people much more than they long for him.
The comparison of the Bridegroom
The first point to note is that the Bridegroom has been thinking of his bride and informs her that she is like a mare in Pharaoh’s chariots. Today, it would not be complimentary to tell a lady that she looked like a horse, but this was not the case in the ancient world. For example, Helen of Troy was likened to a steed. The image that Solomon has in mind seems to be processions of state when beautifully adorned horses would lead chariots on important occasions. The lead horse in the number of horses was the most outstanding for shape, grace and mobility, and it is to this lead horse that Solomon compares his bride. It may be that he also regards her companions, the daughters of Jerusalem, as the other horses helping to pull the chariot.
Solomon had personal experience of Pharaoh’s horses because he traded in them: ‘And Solomon’s import of horses was from Egypt and Kue, and the king’s traders would buy them from Kue for a price. They imported a chariot from Egypt for 600 shekels of silver, and a horse for 150. Likewise through them these were exported to all the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Syria’ (1 Chr. 1:16-17).
What does this description mean when applied to the believer? I would make five suggestions.
First, his description is a reminder that Jesus was prepared to pay a high price for his people. The passage in 1 Chronicles tells us that Solomon paid high prices for Egyptian horses. Of course, there is one major difference. The horses that Solomon bought were the best that money could buy. This could not be said of Christians when Jesus ransomed them from the power of sin. They were not only captives of the devil and enslaved to their lusts – they were also in the prison house of God’s condemnation, waiting for the execution to be carried out.
Further, it is unlikely that Solomon himself would have journeyed to Egypt to personally purchase the horses; he would have sent a suitable agent. But it was different with Jesus. He could not send an agent, because there was no agent, not even in heaven, who could do this apart from Christ.
Again, purchasing the horses would not have brought Solomon into poverty. They were only a small part of his possessions and indeed he sold most of them on to other rulers. With Jesus, it was different. The price for redeeming his people was so costly that the apostle Paul says that Jesus became poor. He became poverty-stricken as he gave up, for a season, his privileges and rights.
As Solomon looked on the horses he had purchased, he was pleased with them. But his pleasure is nothing compared to the delight of the Son of God. It was his eternal desire to come and deliver his people from the state of condemnation. With great joy he became a man and with great determination and resolve he went to the cross of Calvary in spite of the terror that awaited him there. He gladly paid the price of their redemption.
Second, the horses that Solomon used in his chariots would have undergone prolonged periods of training until they were fit to pull his chariots. It is the same with the people of Christ. They are the disciples of the Master. Again there is a difference between Solomon and Jesus because I think it is unlikely that Solomon would have been involved in personally training the horses. But Jesus is involved in training each of his people to serve him. He refers to this role in Matthew 11:28-30: ‘Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’
Sometimes the training of Solomon’s horses would be more severe because their rebellious wills would have to be tamed. And a similar kind of instruction is occasionally given to Christ’s disciples because of their lack of devotion or because of their worldliness. And it is Jesus who personally applies the correction, as he indicated to the church in Laodicea: ‘Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent’ (Rev. 3:19). Such occasions are not pleasant (for Jesus or for his people), but they are profitable for Christians. As the writer to the Hebrews says: ‘For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it’ (Heb. 12:11). We saw an example of this training in the previous section in the Song when the bride was harassed and persecuted by her natural brothers. Despite their actions, she had retained her beauty, indeed she had developed it. Christ trains his people so that they will look their best for him.
Thirdly, following on from the need of training is the fact that the horses of Solomon would have needed to develop strength and energy. The way this would happen is by good food and plenty exercise. Similarly, Christians need good spiritual food and ample spiritual exercise. The food they need is the Word of God and the best way of digesting it is by meditation. They eat it by personal reading of the Scriptures and by listening to expositions of it. The exercise in which they engage is obedience to God’s commandments. These are the signs of a healthy Christian.
But the image of a horse reminds us of another aspect of the Christian life. Believers are compared to many creatures in the Bible. In Isaiah 40, they are likened to soaring eagles; they are also compared to doves and pelicans in the desert by the psalmists. Probably the most common allusion is that of sheep, and it describes features such as docility, weakness and need of constant care. But the image of horses and chariots reminds us that believers are also called to be soldiers in a war against the powers of darkness. And they receive strength for this conflict from the Word of God and by obedience to his Word. This reception of strength is seen in the Saviour’s own temptations by the devil; Jesus stated that man must live by every word that proceeds from God and defeated the devil by obeying God. Similarly, believers become strong when the word of God abides in them and then they overcome the wicked one (1 John 2:14).
Fourthly, the other use of horses and chariots was on grand state occasions when the king would appear publicly in splendour. It is also the case that Jesus desires that his people appear in public in a beautiful manner. Obviously, in this regard we can think of the great triumphant procession at the Saviour’s return that will march down the streets of the celestial city when all the redeemed parade in victory. It will be a wonderful sight, as they are admired by the heavenly host and they observe the beauty that Jesus has given them.
Yet there is also another application, which is that believers pull the chariot of Jesus day by day. At present, the chariot is invisible to the world but the horses are not. The world should see beautiful believers and then sense the presence of the invisible Charioteer with them. We can say that where there are Christians being beautified, Jesus is not far behind them. But if a Christian is not being beautified, it may be that they have slipped the reins and are in need of more training.
Fifthly, also connected to the above is the obvious need for the horses pulling the chariot to do so in harmony. This is a reminder that each believer has to work in concord with others who are serving the Master, that the lady in the Song needs to get along with the daughters of Jerusalem. This emphasis on corporateness was also seen in the previous section in the Song where the lady was told that she would find her Beloved when she followed along with the flock. It does not take much imagination to know that a team of horses who acted independently and tried to go in different directions simultaneously would not get very far. In fact they would not get anywhere because they are tied together, but they would manage to inflict some bruises and kicks on one another. The same thing happens in local congregations of Jesus when each believer does not obey the Master.
All these details are evidence of his love for her, so as he went though each of these experiences on her behalf he was addressing her as ‘My love’. When he redeemed her, he said, ‘My love’; when he trains her, he says, ‘My love’; when he strengthens her, he says, ‘My love’; when he parades her in public, he says, ‘My love’; when they are in harmony, he says, ‘My love.’ In each of them, they would experience ‘Love’s Sweet Greeting’ from Jesus.
Because of these experiences, the Beloved can see the beauty that has come to his bride: ‘Thy cheeks are comely with rows of jewels, thy neck with chains of gold.’ She is indeed a suitable wife for the king; her beauty is beyond price.
But I will close this chapter by noting the response of the daughters of Jerusalem in verse 11: ‘We will make thee borders of gold with studs of silver.’ What does this mean? The companions of Christ’s bride dedicate themselves to make her even more beautiful. Is that not a lovely picture of a church or a group of believers? Of course, we can only do it by living in the Spirit. Paul refers to one way of doing this in Ephesians 4:29: ‘Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.’ There are many other such verses concerning building one another up. But this declaration of the daughters of Jerusalem was also, in the ears of the bride, ‘Love’s Sweet Greeting.’