Jesus Reveals Himself to His Bride (2:1-2)
I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys. As a lily among brambles, so is my love among the young women.
We noted in the previous chapter that the king and his beloved are now walking in the palace gardens. They compare themselves and one another to various plants, trees and vegetation found there.
1. The Speaker
The speaker in 2:1 has been disputed, with some commentators saying that the man is speaking and others arguing that it is the woman. The grammar of the verse does not specify if it is male or female, therefore the identity of the speaker has to be decided from the context.
In favour of applying verse 1 to the woman is the argument that verse 2 is the man’s response. On this argument, the lady says that she is only like weak and delicate flowers, but the king replies by saying that she is like a flower among thorns.This is the view of most Jewish commentators, most modern Christian Old Testament scholars, and several devotional authors such as Hudson Taylor.
In favour of applying verse 1 to the king is the claim to be the chief flower of the rich plain of Sharon. It is very unlikely that the bride would make such a claim for herself, especially in the presence of the king. So it seems to me that it is appropriate to interpret the speaker in the verse as Christ and not as the humble Christian. This was the view of most of the early Church Fathers and Puritans.
2. The Saviour when the song was written
In 2:1, the king draws the attention of the bride to himself and then in 2:2 he makes an assessment of her. He first likens himself to two flowers and then compares her to one of them. In passing, we may note the similarity between the way Jesus describes himself here and the manner by which he often described himself when he became incarnate. Here, he is the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley; in the New Testament he is the Good Shepherd, the Bread of Life, the Door. He takes everyday things and uses them to display his uniqueness.
The first flower to which Jesus likens himself is the Rose of Sharon. Sharon was a very fruitful plain on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and was regarded as a place of great beauty and peace (Isa. 35:1-2). I don’t think it is too difficult for us to see that it can be a picture of heaven.
In Sharon there were many types of beautiful flowers, each attractive to the eye. But there was only one type that could be classified as the rose, and it was regarded as the most attractive flower of them all. In describing himself in this way, Jesus was saying that he was the Beauty of heaven, the most attractive person who lived there.
There were beautiful objects in heaven at the time this song was written. We could think of the holy angels, of Michael, Gabriel and the others. They are fair and glorious, but not as beautiful as the Son of God. We could think of the departed saints such as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses and Aaron, the great number of the souls of just men made perfect. They are fair, being now perfect in holiness, but not as fair as the Son of God. In what ways was he fair? He was fair in his divine attributes (his character), his accomplishments (for example, his creation of the universe) and in his divine purposes (his control of providence).
We can also note several features of the other flower that is mentioned, the lily of the valleys. The lily was a white flower, and speaks of purity, and when applied to the Son of God it could refer to his holiness. This is what Isaiah saw in the vision recorded in Isaiah 6, an unveiling of the holiness of the Son of God in heaven before he became incarnate.
An unusual feature of the lily is that it bows its head, which points to humility. As we reflect on the Son of God at the time this song was written, it may be that here is being described a surprising wonder. The holiness of the Son of God in heaven is a wonder, but it is not one that surprises us; it is what we would expect. But his humility in heaven is a wonderful surprise, yet it is true. Paul says of Jesus in Philippians 2:6-7: ‘Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.’ The incarnation was an expression, perhaps the expression, of his eternal attitude of humility.
What is humility? I think it can be expressed in the desire to serve others. Humility in a believer is not a self-demeaning attitude that refuses to recognise one’s gifts and abilities. It is not humility for a person whom God has gifted to refuse to use his gift; the word for that is disobedience. Humility is seen in using the gift in total dependence on God and for the benefit of others.
In heaven, the Son of God, the glory of Paradise, was already functioning as the servant of God. He had taken this role in the eternal covenant and was looking forward to coming to deliver his bride.
3. The Saviour as we sing the song
Secondly, we can consider the description in the light of the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and exaltation of the Son of God. The obvious difference in his person between the time the Song was written and today as we read the Song is that Jesus has assumed a human nature into permanent union with his divine Person. But the addition of his human nature has not diminished his beauty or defiled his humility.
Jesus, the God-man, is still the Rose of Sharon, the object of admiration and wonder. The range of his beauty has been extended by his accomplishments as the Mediator, and the hosts of heaven admire the evidences of his triumphs. Is this not the picture that is given in Revelation 5 and 6 regarding the fact that Jesus retains his wounds in his glorified state? A slain lamb is a grotesque sight, but the Lamb that was slain is a beautiful sight. Among all the heroes who inhabit the world of glory, who have attained their reward, none stands out as Jesus does in beauty.
He is also white as the lily as far as his character is concerned. Although he is now human, he still retains the awesomeness that Isaiah beheld in his vision. We can see the effect that observing the exalted Christ had on John in Revelation 1, when he fell at Jesus’ feet as dead. The holiness, the distinctiveness, of Jesus is beyond our comprehension.
He is also like the lily as far as his humility is concerned. Although exalted, he is still the Father’s servant. He is the prophet who teaches his church, the priest who leads the praise, and the king who rules over all things. His desire to serve is still strong, and in the future when he presents the kingdom to the Father he will still submit himself in order that God may be all in all (1 Cor. 15:28).
Fairest of all the earth beside,
Chiefest of all unto Thy bride,
Fullness divine in Thee I see,
Beautiful Man of Calvary!
Jesus reveals the truth about himself in order to encourage his people. The more we know of him, the more we will love him. Although we cannot see him physically, the Holy Spirit, promised by Jesus in John 16:14, takes what is his and declares it to us. The fragrance of Jesus, depicted in these flowers, is spread abroad and our souls catch something of it and pass it on to others. We see Jesus in his dignity and beauty.
4. The Saviour sings about his bride
Having described himself, Jesus now describes his bride in verse 2: ‘As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.’ He knows what she is like (a lily) and where she is (among thorns). This is Jesus’ assessment of her and his expression of sympathy with her.
His assessment is that she is like himself because he compares her to a lily. In other words, he perceives her as holy and humble. Of course, her holiness is hers because his has been given to her because of her union with him. What kinds of holiness do believers possess? I would mention two: positional holiness and practical holiness.
Positional holiness occurs at conversion when each believer is set apart to God, consecrated to him. This is when they become saints. They have been purified by the blood of Jesus and cleansed from their defilement. This aspect of holiness is unchangeable. A believer cannot cease to be a saint. This permanent status possessed by his people gives great satisfaction to Christ.
The other type or aspect of holiness is practical holiness which is a progressive state of developing conformity to the likeness of Christ. Jesus prayed for this in John 17 when he said, ‘Sanctify them through your truth.’ The more like him we become, the greater is his delight concerning us.
Giving the gifts obtained for men,
Pouring out love beyond our ken,
Giving us spotless purity,
Bountiful Man of Calvary!
As with himself, the illustration of the lily highlights one aspect of our characters: humility. I suppose it is improper to wonder what is the most desirable grace, but if we could, no doubt love should be given that title. But what are the manifestations of Christian love? Often we mention things like sacrificial giving, dedicated obedience, and so on. But can a lover of Jesus be identified by a feature that definitely indicates he or she is a true Christian? I suspect it can be done, and that feature is humility.
Humility is the way to receive grace: ‘Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” ’ (1 Pet. 5:5). It is the evidence that we have the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:3f.). ‘Our piety may ever be judged by our humility’ (George Burrows).
This illustration also reveals Christ’s sympathy for his suffering people because he knows that they live among thorns. Thorns are a graphic picture of worldly people; they can cause pain in a variety of ways to believers: distress because of their sinful living, concern for their eternal destiny, sadness and hurt because of opposition, even physical pain. Jesus knows what such sorrow is life because he experienced it himself.
Notice two things about the thorns. First, the presence of thorns is not evidence that Christ’s love for us has decreased. He addresses her as ‘my love’ as she goes through her pain. Second, Jesus is pleased when the thorns do not defile our holiness. These things could make us sin in one way or another (impatience, rash words) or cause us to question what Jesus is allowing in our lives. They are allowed to improve our holiness.
There is a challenge here to live in a holy manner, but there is also great consolation in taking to heart Christ’s assessment of us. We should not only admire him, but appropriate him and his blessings for ourselves.
Comfort of all my earthly way,
Jesus I’ll meet Thee some sweet day;
Centre of glory Thee I’ll see,
Wonderful Man of Calvary!