The Opinion of the Bride (1:16-17)
Behold, you are beautiful, my beloved, truly delightful. Our couch is green; the beams of our house are cedar; our rafters are pine.
As we have noted, the section of the Song from 1:9–2:7 is set in one of the king’s banqueting houses in which the king and his bride, along with the daughters of Jerusalem, are speaking about their mutual affection. In verses 16 and 17, the king and his beloved appear to have moved outside the building and are in the palace gardens where there would be lawns, trees and flowers. The next few verses are connected to different flowers and trees seen in the garden before the couple return to the banqueting house in 2:4. In addition to grass and cedar and fir trees, the couple refer to roses, lilies, and apple trees. What this points to is the wonderful variety of places and ways in which Christ has fellowship with his people.
As we look at this statement of the bride, we should note, firstly, that it is made in response to his words of love. He had described her as doubly fair and the object of his love. His love is first, in the sense that it is eternal, which is why the apostle John says in 1 John 4:19: ‘We love him, because he first loved us.’ But his love should also be first experientially as well, although it should set off a chain of reciprocal statements.
How do we obtain this experiential love of Jesus? I suspect the best way is to read his love letters. We can imagine a couple separated from each other for a time because the husband is in the army or in work overseas. The husband sends letters to his wife in which he expresses his thoughts of her, and as she reads them his words warm and stir up her affections. So it is with the Bible; it contains Jesus’ expressions of love. The illustration falls short in that there is a distance between the husband and the wife; the gap between Jesus and his people is bridged by the Spirit of Jesus who brings fresh experiences of Christ’s love to them. But these experiences come through the teachings of Scripture being read, or meditated on, or preached about.
Secondly, we can see that her response indicates that she does not primarily delight in his description of her. He had commented on her dovelike eyes, which from a Christian point of view is a description of her sanctification. No doubt, his words were a wonderful means of assurance for her, yet she places no confidence in her Christian progress. Essential as sanctification is, and important for us to discern it, when we are in the Saviour’s presence we should speak about him. Let him speak about us, and his voice is sweet and good to hear. But let us speak about him because he is our only hope.
Thirdly, I would suggest that the act of faith that looks away to Jesus has the companion grace of repentance. The bride knows that her sanctification, although a divine work, is imperfect and therefore she looks to her Beloved with gratitude because his perfection makes up for her imperfection.
The description she gives
First, we should observe the title by which she addresses him – ‘my Beloved.’ This is a term of very strong endearment, an expression of her devotion and her love. He has captured her heart, but she also realises that it is appropriate for her to speak to him about her feelings. She sings with the psalmist, ‘I love the Lord’ (Ps. 116:1); she confesses with Peter, ‘Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you’ (John 21:17).
Then she describes her Beloved as fair and pleasant. In what ways is Jesus fair? There are several ways in which this question can be answered. One way is to say that he is perfect in the same graces as she possesses in imperfection. She can look at her king and see in him the fullness of the fruit of the Spirit. In Jesus, to perfection, are seen the graces of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Her admiration of these features will increase as she sees them revealed in him in his Word. We can take the incidents and parables in the Gospels involving the Saviour and admire these aspects of his character.
Another way of stating his fairness is to describe his features as the eternal Son. Jesus was infinite, eternal and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth. When we look at his attitudes in the Trinity we see great beauty in him because of his perfection within the Godhead. And as we listen in to their eternal counsels, we see beauty in his willingness to become the sinbearer, and of the way each member of the Trinity focussed on the plan of salvation.
Then he was fair in his coming to earth when he added a human nature to his divine Person and became God and man, in two distinct natures and one person for ever. It is a marvellous sight to consider, the unity of the two natures in the one Person of Jesus. He was fair in the cradle, he was fair in the carpenter’s shop, he was fair among the crowds during his public ministry, he was fair in his compassion on the multitudes and on individuals, he was fair in his obedience to God’s law throughout his life. Even more so, he was fair on the cross, although he was bloodied and bruised in body and soul, as he paid the penalty for sin. Certainly, he was fair on the resurrection morning as he came out of the tomb, with his beautiful wounds still on his body. Surely, he is fair today exalted to the throne of God. And he will be fair when he returns for his church in the future.
Yet to say something is fair is slightly different from saying it is pleasant. We could say that ‘fair’ is an objective observation and ‘pleasant’ is a subjective observation. James Durham distinguishes them by suggesting that pleasant points to ‘their actual feeding upon the beautiful sight they have gotten of him’. All these aspects of his beauty that we have mentioned need to be tasted personally in order for them to become pleasant. An illustration may be this: imagine the difference between a painting of a beautiful meal and the eating of the same meal. All who look at the painting can say it looks beautiful, but only those who eat it can say it is pleasant. Pleasant is connected to pleasure and delight, and when Jesus by the Spirit becomes intimately involved with us, individually or corporately, we will say that he is pleasant.
Every believer can say about Jesus, who is full of the fruit of the Spirit, that he is the Fountain out of which he gives graces to each of them. Every believer can say about Jesus, the eternal Son, that he thought of each of them in that eternal covenant, indeed he was thinking about each of them throughout that unbeginning eternal day. Each believer can go through every action of Jesus recorded in the Gospels, including his death, and say it was done for him or her. Each believer can stand with the disciples outside the empty tomb and say that ‘He rose for me, that he is ascended for me, and that he is coming for me.’
This is what makes his fairness pleasant.
Jesus, my Saviour, to Bethlehem came,
Born in a manger to sorrow and shame;
Oh, it was wonderful, blest be his Name,
Seeking for me, for me.
Jesus, my Saviour, on Calvary’s tree,
Paid my great debt and my soul he set free,
Oh, it was wonderful, how could it be,
Dying for me, for me.
Jesus, my Saviour, the same as of old,
While I did wander afar from the fold,
Gently and long did he plead with my soul,
Calling for me, for me.
Jesus, my Saviour, will come from on high,
Sweet is the promise as weary years fly;
Oh, I shall see Him descending the sky,
Coming for me, for me.
Shares his possessions
As mentioned earlier, I think the imagery is taken from the trees and flowers and lawns that were in the king’s gardens. They were places of refreshment and rest where the king and his friends would retire to for moments of peace and recovery, similar to an oasis in the desert or the still waters in a mountainous area. In particular, they were suitable havens in a country of great heat. They are his possessions, which he gladly shares with his bride. Perhaps they are sitting on the grass, looking up to the strong cedars and firs.
Of what is this garden a picture? Where does Jesus get rest and give rest. I would suggest that the garden is a picture of the church. In Psalm 132:13-16, speaking of the church, God says, ‘For the Lord has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his dwelling place: “This is my resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it. I will abundantly bless her provisions; I will satisfy her poor with bread. Her priests I will clothe with salvation, and her saints will shout for joy.”’ Spurgeon said of this rest of God: ‘A Sabbath for the Eternal and a place of abiding for the Infinite. He calls Zion my rest. Here his love abides and displays itself with delight…. He will not seek another place of repose, nor grow weary of his saints.’The church, with all its means of grace, is the garden where Jesus and his bride share his possessions. There he feeds them from the trees that grow in the garden; there he reveals himself (in picture form he is about to liken himself to various flowers in the garden).
We saw that before the lady was taken into Solomon’s palace she was outside, being forced to work in the midday sun by her natural brothers. She was in need of rest and recovery, and here her Beloved is personally giving it to her. And this is what should happen in church: we come in from our hard, dry, unsympathetic world and discover afresh the solace and restoration found in the Lord’s garden, his church.
The two trees and the green grass of the garden of Solomon picture incorruptibility. The cedar was famous for the long-lasting nature of its wood; the fir tree is an evergreen tree; the grass was kept green by the permanent supply of water. This points to the indestructibility of Christ’s church. The devil got into the Garden of Eden and succeeded in turning it into a wilderness. But he cannot to that to the church despite the many temptations and problems he causes. Here there is security while we recover from the spiritual stresses on our souls.