Jesus, Lover of My Soul (2:4-7)
‘He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love. Sustain me with raisins; refresh me with apples, for I am sick with love. His left hand is under my head, and his right hand embraces me! I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or the does of the field, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.’
We have noticed that the king and his beloved have been walking in his garden and using the flowers and the trees there as illustrations of themselves. The situation moves into a room; it is translated here as ‘banqueting house’, although literally it means ‘house of wine’. The king has taken her into this new location.
Progression in love
This action of the king follows on from what she had done in the previous verse. There she had positioned herself under the apple tree, which we suggested was a picture of Jesus providing shelter, food and fragrance for his disciple. His response is to take her to another of his properties in order to give her more of his resources. The response of the king here is a picture of the response of Jesus to any of his people who show delight in him.
As we know, Jesus taught his disciples in the Upper Room that there would be a response by him to the love of his disciples. His teaching is found in John 14:21-23: ‘“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.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”’
Another example of this divine response is found in Revelation 3:20: ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.’ We are used to these words being used in an evangelistic sense when preaching the gospel to the unconverted, but they are also an invitation or promise from Jesus to a believer who responds to him personally, even if he or she belongs to a backsliding congregation, as Laodicea was.
The situation described in the Song includes a reference to a banner that was displayed. It was the practice in the ancient world for kings and noblemen to put banners on their walls of their banqueting halls, announcing things that were important to them. These banners could indicate personal details or record great victories. As the woman sits in the banqueting hall, she looks at the king’s banners and discovers that there is only one announcement: he loves her. Applying this to Jesus, we know that many things of great importance could be written on the banners in his banqueting hall. But all he wants recorded is that he loves his people. The great king, Jesus the Son of God, is not ashamed to erect a banner that says he is in love with sinners and intends to express his love for them.
Important banners also guaranteed protection. When a king erected his standard in a location, it was the equivalent of announcing that all his resources were at hand to defend that area. Similarly, this banner is an indication that Jesus will protect his people from enemy attack. The devil sees Christ’s estimation of his people and determines to prevent them enjoying this assurance of Christ’s love and will instigate various attempts to harass or overpower them.
As we read this section of the poem, we discover that the woman encounters a difficulty, but not from an outside source. She had been weak from the heat of the sun previously (opposition) and found refreshment in the shade of the apple tree (Jesus). But now she has another kind of weakness, she is sick of love.
Problem with love
Her words do not mean that she despises what she is receiving, but that she is overcome by it. Her lover’s expressions of love have caused her to faint. She looks round the banqueting hall and sees all the expressions of his love. The table is piled high with enticing dishes (God and his ways), the guards (the angels) are on duty, she senses the joy and happiness of the place, and the king himself is there. If she is going to enjoy more of all this provision, she needs to be strengthened.
I suppose the experience and marvel of the Queen of Sheba when she observed the riches of Solomon gives us an insight into what the lady in the poem would feel. ‘And when the queen of Sheba had seen the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food of his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, and their clothing, his cupbearers, and their clothing, and his burnt offerings that he offered at the house of the Lord, there was no more breath in her’ (2 Chr. 9:3-4). It is similar with regard to a believer’s relationship to Jesus.
John Bunyan, in his Pilgrim’s Progress, alludes to this passage from the Song. He describes Christian and Hopeful walking through the land of Beulah: ‘Now, as they walked in this land, they had more rejoicing than in parts more remote from the kingdom to which they were bound; and drawing near to the city, they had yet a more perfect view thereof: It was builded of pearls and precious stones, also the streets thereof were paved with gold; so that, by reason of the natural glory of the city, and the reflection of the sunbeams upon it, Christian with desire fell sick; Hopeful also had a fit or two of the same disease: wherefore here they lay by it a while, crying out because of their pangs, “If you see my Beloved, tell him that I am sick of love.”’
In the last sickness of John Welch, the Scottish Reformer and son-in-law of John Knox, he was overheard to say, ‘Lord, hold thine hand, it is enough; thy servant is a clay vessel, and can hold no more.’ Expressions of divine love can be very over-powering for our weak frames.
We can think of Paul’s words in his prayer recorded in Ephesians 3, which is a prayer of intercession that his readers would know the love of Christ experimentally. He describes the experience in this way: ‘so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God’ (3:17-19). This is a wonderful experience. Note, however, that Paul knows that these believers cannot experience it until they have been ‘strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being’ (3:16).
Aware of her weakness, she asks for help. But she does not ask for help from her Beloved. The objects of her request to ‘Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples’ are plural, so it is a request to her companions, the daughters of Jerusalem, her fellow believers. The plural request indicates that the king and his lover are not in a private location, but in a place where her attendants are also present. Applying this to Christ and his people suggests that this incident does not picture a Christian having rich fellowship with Christ by himself or herself, rather it points to an occasion of corporate fellowship such as church services or meetings for fellowship and mutual discussion.
What is pictured in the items she asks for? Flagons were used for two purposes: holding wine or holding flowers. Apples were also used for producing a special fragrance. The picture is of the woman asking her attendants to take near to her the flagons and apples that were on the king’s table. In a sense, it does not matter if the flagons contain wine or flowers because the point in question is do with reviving her from her weak state, as did the fragrance of the apples (there is the possibility that ‘flagons’ should be translated as ‘raisins’, and they also were used to give strength to those who were faint, 1 Sam. 13:12). The daughters of Jerusalem are to take what they can from the king’s table and use it to revive the fainting lady.
Applying this to the people of God, we can picture it this way. Here is a believer meeting with God’s people in a public way. During the meeting her soul feels overcome by the love of Jesus. What does she need to receive in order to be strengthened? The poem suggests that she needs to sense the fragrances from the king’s table through the lives of her friends. Contrary to other situations in which a person is weakened when others take away from the available supply, the Christian is strengthened when he experiences others sharing with him what they have received from Christ’s bounty.
We can apply this to the Lord’s Supper. At it is a Christian enjoying in her soul fresh experiences of the love of Jesus. Her heart overflows, and it is too much to bear. As she looks round at her fellow-communicants, she senses that they have brought their personal experiences of Christ with them. One is going through difficult providences but is receiving special help from Christ, another is a new believer who is full of the joy of salvation received from Christ, another has just enjoyed answers to prayer from Jesus. The fragrances of the king’s table are blowing and they refresh her fainting soul.
We could wonder why the king did not carry the flagons and apples to the lady. I suspect the answer is that it was the attendants’ duty to do it, that was one of their roles to perform as they were given privileged access to the presence of the king. Similarly, believers are meant to help one another. We can think of many examples. The psalmist in Psalm 66:16 says: ‘Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul.’ Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.’ In 2 Corinthians 13:11, he writes: ‘Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.’ There are many other similar exhortations. The best way we can stimulate one another is by having the fragrance of the king’s table.
Peace from the King
The fainting woman is next portrayed lying down, receiving comfort from the Beloved. He is pictured as simultaneously holding her head up and caressing her face gently. In the poem, his actions follow on from the contribution of the daughters of Jerusalem. Spiritually, this passage is telling us that our Beloved can provide more assurance than can our brothers and sisters, but that often his is given in addition to theirs.
She is resting in Christ, aware of the security of his strength and the gentleness of his touch. This is the rest of enjoyment, like that of a mountaineer who scans the view from the top of the mountain after an arduous climb. This the rest of attainment, of sensing in a unique and wonderful way that Christ loves me, cares for me, and delights in me.
This is followed by the king addressing the daughters of Jerusalem and warning them not to disturb her rest. He refers to sensitive animals who will run away at the slightest noise as pictures of how easily the rest of his lover can be destroyed. Her companions are not to make any adverse sounds. This tells us that we have to be very careful about disturbing the rest that another believer is receiving from Jesus. Even a small wrong action by another believer can remove that sense of rest. These actions could involve worldly matters, harsh words, inappropriate comments. They grieve the Spirit of Christ who is indwelling the listener. Paul says in Ephesians 4:29-30: ‘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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you are sealed for the day of redemption.’ We should always wonder if another believer is enjoying rest in Christ and ask ourselves if what we are about to do or say will affect it. Jesus does not want their rest disturbed.