The Opinion of the King (1:15)
Behold, you are beautiful, my love;
behold, you are beautiful; your eyes are doves (1:15).
As we noticed previously, we are in a section or poem in which the king and the bride are depicted as sitting at in his banqueting house admiring one another. James Durham describes this interaction as a ‘holy contest of love’. They are not alone because the daughters of Jerusalem are there as companions, not just of the bride but also of the king.
The king here is responding to the bride’s expression of affection in verses 12 to 14. It was suggested in the previous chapter that her description was probably the thoughts of personal meditation or else words of Christian fellowship expressed to the daughters of Jerusalem. As far the words of the king are concerned, they could be a response to either Christian activity. Such Christian practices, whether individual meditation on Christ or corporate discussion about Christ, always lead to a divine response.
Take a couple of examples from the Bible. One is from the backslidden days in which Malachi the prophet lived. The response of the godly was to have fellowship and Malachi 3:16 states that ‘those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name.’ The Lord was pleased with their fellowship. Another example is the words of Jesus in John 14:21: ‘Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.’ This verse details the response of Jesus to a person who loves him.
In this verse in the Song of Solomon, the king gives his estimation of his bride and tells her that she is all fair before focussing on one particular feature of her appearance, her eyes. But the verse also reveals his earnestness in wanting her to know how he regards her because he repeats his estimation of her. Perhaps he sensed her reticence in not speaking directly to him in the previous verses and he wants to encourage her to engage directly with him.
The king’s attitude here illustrates the matter of assurance. As we know, the means of assurance have been likened to a three-legged tool. One leg that provides assurance is the promises in the Bible that, for example, tell sinners that they will be saved as soon as they believe in Jesus. The second leg is the evidence of a changed life: new desires, new activities, new friends. It is not possible to have assurance without these two legs. Yet it is possible for the stool to balance on two legs, although very unsteadily. The third leg provides strength to assurance and enables a believer to hold his balance through all the spiritual storms that come along. This third leg is usually called the witness of the Spirit and it can occur in a variety of ways, one of which is visits by the Saviour to the hearts of his people.
First of all, we should note the title by which the king addresses his bride: ‘my love.’ As we think of Jesus’ love to each of his people, we recall that it is an eternal love, a love that was always in his divine heart. Further, it was an engaging love in the sense that he committed himself to deliver each of his people from their sins when he received them in the covenant of redemption as a love gift from his Father. It was also an expiating love because its activity demanded that he atone for their sins. And it was an entreating love as he came near their souls in their unconverted days, drawing them to himself through the gospel. His entreating love became an enabling love when, by the Holy Spirit, he caused them to embrace him freely and gladly. And this love is an eager love for their fellowship that continues all through their journey on earth, despite their sins and shortcomings. And his love causes him to desire to express it as often as possible, which is what he is doing here.
Second, Jesus stresses to his bride that he sees no ugliness in her. She is fair because she is clothed with the garments of his righteousness, imputed to her permanently when she believed in him for salvation. She is fair because she is clothed with the garments of sanctification and is becoming holy in heart and life, even if she is blind to the fact. And she is fair in her prospects because one day she will be perfect in holiness.
An illustration may help us understand how Jesus can see her as fair even although she is still sinful. We can imagine a man who comes down to visit his girlfriend because he loves her. She is down at their new home, attempting to get it ready for their wedding. When he arrives at the house, she is working in the garden trying to get rid of the weeds by using the tools he has provided her with. But the work has made her dirty and tired. Does her current state make him love her less? No, because he loves her he goes and helps her clean up the garden and his presence gives her more strength. It is the same with Christ and his people: the garden is her heart and life where he is to dwell for ever; the tools are the Bible and the means of grace that he has given to her; his presence becomes real by the power of the Spirit who cleanses her by the Word at the same time as he strengthens her for more work. And through it all, he is expressing his love for her.
What a surprising statement from Jesus, that the one he loves is all fair! But what a wonderful and comforting statement of the omniscient Saviour!
Third, Jesus, because he mentions her eyes, indicates here that he likes to consider the individual graces of his people. We sometimes think that some graces are more prominent than others in believers. For example, John is called the apostle of love and Peter is regarded as a more active believer. While the character traits of an individual may cause some graces to be more obvious, we should not think that other graces are not there. John was also marked by obedience and Peter loved the Lord.
It is a marvellous thought to ponder that Jesus delights to consider the individual graces in his people. We can take the biblical lists of these graces, such as the Beatitudes or the fruit of the Spirit, and run through them, saying to ourselves, ‘Jesus looks for life here.’ Here the particular aspect he considers is the dove-like sight of his people. What can be said of doves?
First, a dove mourns. Hezekiah, in his response to the prophetic message that he would die, said that he mourned like a dove (Isa. 38:14). The people of Israel in their distress likened themselves to doves in Isaiah 59:11: ‘We all growl like bears; we moan and moan like doves; we hope for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us.’ There are many things that make a believer mourn: personal failings, sins of society, backsliding in the church. It is appropriate for a believer to be like a dove and have a tear in his eye. The dovelike spirit of a Christian is a penitent one that leads him to confess his sins.
Second, a dove was a symbol of purity. One reason was its white colour. Also, when the flood was over, Noah sent out two birds, a dove and a raven. The raven did not return because it could feed on carrion floating on the water. The dove was different because she does not eat dead things. Similarly a dovelike Christian has a diet that is marked by purity.
Third, a dove is a symbol of peace. Jesus mentions this feature when he tells his disciples to be ‘wise as serpents, and harmless as doves’ (Matt. 10:16). Linked to this is the concept of gentleness. Christians know the peace of God in their hearts, they have a message of peace, and they are to do the things that make for peace.
Fourth, a dove’s song was a sign of spring, of the return of the period of life after the death of winter: ‘The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land’ (Song 2:12). The Christians’ song is a sign of life in this world of death, that there is yet to be a springtime. This will take place at the resurrection, and that spring will lead into an eternal summer. This is a good way for Christiansto regard one another, as God-given signs of the future world that is marked by the fullness of eternal life.
Marked by a sense of penitence, a desire for purity, and a longing for peace, the Christian opens his or her eyes to where these blessings can be obtained. A dove’s eyes are noted for its clearsightedness; they can see a crumb on the ground in a public square full of people. And the eyes of the souls of dovelike Christians know where to look when they want increased penitence, purity and peace. They are found in Jesus. Penitence for their sins flows not so much from gazing at their sins but from looking at the Saviour who suffered for these sins. Purity comes by considering the beautiful person of Jesus Christ. Peace comes from fellowship with Christ.
As the Christian opens his eyes to look at Jesus, Jesus observes the direction of the look. And he is delighted when by faith they look straight at him. Their sight goes beyond the visible and sees Christ in all the range of his activities. Their vision extends to where Christ is, and they see him in creation, providence, in the means of grace, in the Bible.
The consequence for a believer of looking at Jesus is increasing Christlikeness. Of the king in this song it is also said: ‘His eyes are like doves beside streams of water, bathed in milk, sitting beside a full pool’ (5:12). The four details that were mentioned about the dove are also true of Jesus: sorrow for sin, purity, peace, and sign of the coming spring. Of course, Jesus did not repent of personal sins because he did not have any. But he was still saddened by sin in the lives of others and in its effects. Jesus loves holiness, and this should be a primary motive in leading us not to engage in sinful practices. Jesus furthers peace, by bringing sinners to himself through the gospel and by dealing with them gently as his people. And Jesus is the Sign of the coming Springtime when once again the world will be beautiful and fair.
As the Christian opens his eyes like a dove, he gives proof that the Heavenly Dove has been at work in his heart. The Holy Spirit descended as a dove on the Saviour when he was baptised. Like the Son, the Spirit too has the four features just mentioned. He convicts us of our sins because he is grieved by them; he loves holiness, indeed it is one of his titles; he furthers peace by bringing to us the peace of God; and he is the first fruits and guarantee of the future glory.
There is another feature that the Bible mentions about doves: they are defenceless (Psalm 74:19: ‘Do not deliver the soul of your dove to the wild beasts; do not forget the life of your poor forever’). But Jesus knows that his people are defenceless. Nevertheless, it is a powerful plea to make in prayer, that the Saviour’s doves are surrounded by fierce enemies. To the features of penitence, purity, peacefulness and prospect, we must add the necessity of dependant prayer to the character of a dove-like Christian.