As we venture deeper into the Song of Solomon, we should not take for granted the graphic nature of holy sensuality that is expressed in the passages we will encounter. The most subtle shadows and intimate innuendos are given to awaken our spiritual sensitivities. It is my belief that this book holds the potential for activating our prophetic senses like none other in scripture, and so we should walk slowly and methodically through its pages, savoring every encounter.
The mystics like Ruysbroeck, Guyon, Lawrence and John of the Cross pulled no punches with the erotic terminology they used to describe deep and holy interactions with the tangible presence of God. I would almost caution the reader of the danger at hand by going deeper here. As the senses are awakened, we find that our appetite and capacity for intimacy literally increases, and there is always the potential for running to substitutes. Remember Solomon, the very writer of this book, fell into gross polygamy – taking a thousand wives – who eventually led him into idolatry.
There is a level of passion to which the Lord calls us that should ultimately overtake all our good senses, even our best wisdom, and inevitably wreck us completely for his heart. I don’t recommend that you turn back from the Song, but I do suggest that you prepare to be wrecked.
My lover is to me a sachet of myrrh resting between my breasts. My lover is a cluster of henna blossoms from the vineyards of En Gedi (Song 1:13-14).
Myrrh is another fragrance representative of the anointing. It is actually one of the scriptural ingredients in anointing oil. It is noteworthy to mention that it is a spice used for embalming as well, speaking of a sacrificial death that makes it a life-giving aroma. Although it is aromatic, it is bitter to the taste, and refers to the crucified life. Notice that this fragrance speaks of the Lord Himself, “My lover is …,” who is emanating from me. As we begin to fall in love with the Lord, He inhabits us more and more. And it is the presence of God, close to my heart, that enables me to nurture and give life, hence the symbolism of the breasts. Any fruitfulness or life-giving that can ever come from the believer hinges solely on the degree to which the presence of the Lord is manifest as an aroma from his or her life.
It is “not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit” the Lord says, that we are built as temples for His glory (Zech. 4:6). Jesus alone is the fruit bearer, and as we abide on the vine, His saps flow through us. It is His presence – His anointing – that is the source of our ability to give life to the church and the world. We can only give true life to the degree that we have learned to carve out a place of intimate communion with Him.
:: En Gedi ::
Obviously there is great prophetic detail laced even in the way these fragrances are made – the way the herbs are collected, crushed, and their various uses in ancient Hebrew practice. But we are not undertaking a strict exegesis as much as we are simply allowing our hearts to be captured by some prophetic imagery.
I will, however, discuss briefly the fragrant henna blossoms. These come from En Gedi, which is the desert oasis where David hid in the crags as he was being pursued by Saul. Again, we see reference of pulling aside to a secret place, a refuge, a hiding place of intimate abiding where the fragrance of the Lord is cultivated. An oasis in the desert.
It was also here in En Gedi that “the Lord delivered Saul into David’s hands.” The Lord offered Saul to David on a silver platter, but David chose to show Saul mercy. Remember that Saul entered a cave to relieve himself where David was hiding. David crept up behind Saul, but instead of killing him, only cut off a piece of his garment, to later prove to Saul that he meant him no harm. David had every right to kill him, but he always said “far be it from me to raise my hand against the Lord’s anointed.” David always respected the anointing that God had placed on Saul, even when Saul had fallen to his worst low.
David was so humble that he even felt guilty about cutting Saul’s robe. David had already been “anointed” by Samuel to be king over Israel, but he knew better than to take this role by force. David never rebelled against Saul, though Saul treated him unjustly.
If David had killed Saul, I think that David too would have died by the sword. And while the Lord would have blessed David, he would not have been given an eternal legacy. The Lord’s heart is stirred immensely by those who show mercy. Because he went above and beyond the call, the Lord blessed him above and beyond. Even after David became king, he was always looking for ways to bless the descendants of Saul’s household. David always genuinely loved Saul, even when Saul turned against him.
Henna comes from the word “kaphar,” meaning “to cover, forgive, make atonement.” It is symbolic of redemption, and was even used to make red dye, obviously pointing to the blood of Christ.
:: love that covers ::
What does this have to do with intimate communion with the presence of God? Simple. If we cannot honor the anointing on the lives of our leaders, how then can the Lord ever entrust us with the anointing? How can he draw near if we are still unwilling to (as we mentioned last week) “graze … by the tents of the shepherds?” (Song 1:8)
A signature mark of love is that it covers. It is truly a shame to the church the way we consistently uncover one another – uncover our leaders, uncover members of our own body. We are quick to criticize and devour. I firmly believe that gossip and backbiting is as serious a sin as murder. At least where the heart is concerned. It is divisive and truly a work of the flesh. The problem is, we do not take sin seriously. The tongue is a fire of hell that can kindle all manner of evil. Of course there is place to confront sin and expose works of darkness, but only through the proper processes laid out by the Lord – and then with much fear and trembling, knowing that we too have our own share of impurities. Any time we confront sin, the goal and primary aim should always be to bring about restoration.
One of my favorite stories of the Desert Fathers is about a third century monk named Abbot Moses. A brother had once committed a fault, and the elders gathered to deal with the situation. They kept calling for Moses to be part of their council, but he did not want to come. Finally, he came, dragging behind him an old basket full of holes which he had filled with sand. As the elders came out to meet him, they asked him the meaning of the basket.
“My sins are running out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I come to judge the sins of another!” said Moses. After hearing this, the elders said nothing more to the brother but forgave his fault.
Coming back to our text, let us simply remember that our Lover is the fragrance of mercy. For the second time in the Song, He now speaks:
How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful! Your eyes are like doves (verse 15).
We see again that the Lover’s eyes do no perceive the darkness of the Beloved, but only her beauty. He sees only Himself in her eyes. When our eyes are fixed on Him, His light fills our entire being. Jesus essentially said that the eye is the lamp of the body, and wherever we fix our gaze, that is the thing we will become. Whatever we focus on, that thing will we emulate. The thing you repeatedly stare at – become fixed upon – is the thing you worship. And you are what you worship. If our eye is full of darkness, our whole body will be full of darkness. It is when we see Him as He is, that we will become like Him.
:: eye of the dove ::
By now, I believe that the Beloved has already begun to take a step closer toward true and holy love. Already the talk of her darkness has subsided, because her eye has fixed its gaze on the Lord. Doves represent the Holy Spirit. But curiously, the name “Jonah” also means dove. We think of him as the fleeting, running prophet. But the story of Jonah is really about the abounding grace and mercy the Lord offered him, even as he was running the opposite way of obedience. The Lord also used Jonah as a vessel to deliver His mercy to the Ninevites, although it took a strong word to affect their repentance. Nothing arrests the heart like God’s mercy.
One of my favorite quotes from Thomas Merton is simply this, “Jonas my child have you not had sight of me? Mercy within mercy within mercy.” I am Jonas.
A dove’s eyes are very singular. They are capable only of focusing on one thing. And really, the same is true of us. If we are focused on our own shortcomings, we will be locked there. If we are focusing on someone else’s sin or the enemy’s schemes, we will likewise be trapped in that dark abyss. But as we turn our eyes to the Lord himself, our single gaze is captivated by the one who is over and above it all. We must hone in. Get focused. When light is focused, it holds tremendous power. Think of a magnifying glass, or a laser beam. As we are renewed in heart and mind, with single vision, we find that it is actually the Lord whose heart is fluttering at our gaze.
Peter, in a moment of intense revelation, had to ask the Lord to turn away the intensity of his gaze. But do you ever think a worshipper could so grab the attention of the Lord – so overwhelm God Himself with passion – as to make Him say “Stop! I can’t take it any more!” I do. Those are the ones, like Enoch or Elijah, whom the Lord just has to take home early. He can’t bear the separation any longer. Enoch walked with God and he was no more. God was just so consumed with desire for Enoch that he had to take him home early.
In the same way, we must realize that the Lord is intensely, passionately focused on us, and through our redemption, he is captivated by our beauty. But what should be our response to this adoration we receive from the God of the universe? How does one respond to the Lord when He remarks on your beauty? False humility would tell us to almost reject his advances, “Oh whatever God, I’m just a miserable sinner.” But here, we see that the Beloved responds appropriately. She is just too enamored with the King to even think about herself at all.
How handsome are you, my lover! Oh, how charming! And our bed is verdant (verse 16).
Her response is praise. And in this place of mutual adoration, there is true fruitfulness. Verdant means fruitful. Our bed is verdant. In fact, the entire Song is a journey toward fruitfulness, because intimate conception is always a prerequisite to bearing fruit. Whether our fruitfulness in life seems limited in our ministry, in our relationships, in our jobs or in our character – there is a spiritual conception by the Holy Spirit that is needed in each of these arenas, wherein the seed of God’s word is planted into us as we come into contact with His presence. We see the obvious connotation of the bed as a place of union, but it also carries the nuance as a place of rest, wherein God’s spirit overtakes the yoke of my labors. And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.