The Bride in Fullness - Part 2
This week, we are continuing our study of the bride, the church, in the fullness of her beauty and glory, as depicted in Song of Solomon chapter four.
Let me first say that the goal of all ministry to the church is to prepare the bride, like the king’s eunuch in the book of Esther. The Lord wants his ministers to be spiritual eunuchs, who have no desire to draw the bride’s affections to themselves. Until the bride is manifesting the spotless purity which the Lord has given her, this will be our constant task: to get her ready and prepare the way for the Lord.
In our last study, we began with the first of seven attributes of the bride’s appearance, discussing her eyes which are like doves, speaking of single vision, her attention given exclusively to the Bridegroom.
This week, we will discuss her hair. Understand that the Song – despite a very common misperception – has little to do with human-to-human romance, or the marital relationship between a man and wife. In the same way, we are obviously not discussing physical eyes, hair, lips or natural attributes. We are looking at much deeper, spiritual principles. I am not suggesting that the Song has no significance for human marital relations, but its primary purpose is to point us to the Lover of our souls. It is about God and the church. After all, human marriage is only a shadow and a symbol, pointing to this same greater reality.
“‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery, but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:31-32).
:: her hair ::
The symbology of earth can scarcely describe the content and principles of Heaven. The truths of Heaven are absolute, however they are layered in degrees, and our understanding of divine mysteries is progressive. There are surface meanings to divine truths symbolized in the natural realm, but as our understanding grows deeper, the Lord reveals truths which have no context or allegorical comparisons in the natural world. The deepest things of God can only be described in relation to other heavenly articles and things in the unseen realm.
For instance, on one level, we have the stars, the seasons, the mountains and seas, even our own physical bodies made in the image of God. These all point to Him. But on another level, God is more clearly depicted by strange creatures full of eyes, servants of fire, flying scrolls, wheels within wheels and other bizarre heavenly things that exist in the invisible world.
With this said, we will dig much deeper into this week’s main passage, which otherwise will seem almost comical on its surface – especially since we no longer live in an agrarian society. Here it is:
“Your hair is like a flock of goats descending from Mount Gilead” (Song 4:1b).
On the surface, the symbology of the bride’s hair speaks of her glory and her strength. In the first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 11, we see that the bride’s hair is symbolic of her glory and her submission to the Bridegroom. We may also remember Samson. As a Nazarite, his long hair symbolized his strength, but also his separation and submission to God.
The glory and strength of the bride comes through her utter submission to the Lord. In fact, the virtue of meekness is defined as “strength under control.” This was why, in the natural realm, the apostle Paul had women cover their hair. It was symbolic of the church’s strength and glory held under rein and devoted solely to her Lover.
There is much power when strength is held in reserve and self-control through humility. At any time, Jesus could have called on a legion of angels to deliver Himself from His persecutors, but instead, he refrained and accomplished His greatest work on the cross. In fact, He laid aside the fullness of his power and glory in Heaven, in order to meekly step into humanity. In the same way, Roman war horses were referred to as being “meek.” Understand that these mighty creatures would charge boldly and powerfully through lines of spears, taking arrows and wounds to their bodies in combat. Yet they never broke ranks or tried to escape. They would calmly follow the orders of their riders until they simply fell over dead in battle. That is true power. That is the call of the church.
In submitting ourselves to the Lord, laying down our rights and our very lives, our strength is replaced with His. The prophet Ezekiel literally laid his body down before the Lord at His command, lying on a bed for more than a year in a prophetic act. It is no coincidence that his name means “God will strengthen.”
Remember that it was also Mary Magdalene’s hair which was given over solely to the Lord as she humbled herself and wiped His feet with it. In such a way do we give over all glory, honor and strength to Him, and in doing so, our true beauty is manifest.
So why do goats symbolize the bride’s hair?
On this note, we will delve a bit deeper. For one, goats are a sacrificial animal. Also, the Lord shepherds us as His flock, caring over even the strays and leaving the masses behind just to seek out the one who is lost. In the same way, the Lord numbers even the hairs on our head (Mt. 10:30). But these goats are descending Mount Gilead. That is, they have just entered a place of freedom. This speaks of the bride’s abundance and inheritance in the Spirit.
:: Descending Mount Gilead ::
In Genesis 31, Jacob has just fled the house of Laban where he worked for 14 years for his two wives. Laban was the epitome of one who operated in a control spirit, and he deceived and cheated Jacob throughout the years, using him and never letting him go. He pulled a “bait and switch” on Jacob, giving him Leah as a bride instead of Rachel, and Laban represents a form of unjust, worldly system.
Laban’s name means “a place in the desert.” Also the word laban means “to make bricks,” perhaps symbolic of Israel’s slavery in Egypt. Throughout this time, Jacob was constantly striving to no avail to gain inheritance in his own strength. This was a season of toil and slavish service under Laban. Jacob’s life was full of cheating and conniving, as we read earlier in Genesis when he traded his brother Esau a bowl of soup in exchange for his birthright. And during Jacob’s tenure with Laban, things were no different. As Laban cheated Jacob, “changing his wages 10 times,” so did Jacob deceive Laban.
In another bid to keep Jacob under his service, Laban had agreed to give Jacob all of the spotted and speckled flocks as his wages (likely the rejects of the herd). Jacob then schemed a plot to breed Laban’s flocks in such a way that nearly all of them eventually became spotted and speckled. Thus, they became Jacob’s. Jacob’s flocks soon outnumbered Laban’s, making Jacob a very rich man. This may not seem very honest, but it was actually God who took away Laban’s livestock, giving them to Jacob (Gen. 30:9). The Lord caused this breeding scheme to work supernaturally.
Despite all of Jacob’s striving under the control and toil of Laban, it was actually God who supernaturally brought Jacob into his inheritance. It was God’s strength, not Jacob’s, which prevailed. And why did God bless a man like Jacob? Primarily, it is because Jacob did not despise the birthright. Jacob was willing to pay the price, and even bend the rules, to inherit the promises. He was a sly trickster, but he was willing to struggle for the best.
Many of us are quick to criticize those in the church who strive (even somewhat religiously) for the Lord. We may sense their false motives and recognize their veiled bid for acceptance with their dead works. Nevertheless, God is more pleased with one who is willing to contend and struggle for Him, than one who is simply apathetic.
God would rather us be hot or cold – passionate one way or the other – than simply indifferent and lukewarm.
There is something about treasuring the promise of abundance, the hope of inheritance in God, which causes His pleasure to turn toward us. Despite Jacob’s motives and tactics, he saw something in the Spirit that was of great value, and he was willing to contend for it.
After God had blessed Jacob with flocks, He instructed Jacob to leave Laban’s house. And Laban was in hot pursuit.
Finally, Jacob’s relationship with Laban climaxes at Gilead. Your hair is like a flock of goats descending from Mount Gilead.
It was at Gilead that God once again intervened for Jacob, warning Laban in a dream neither to harm nor to do good to Jacob. He was instructed simply to leave him alone. There, the two made a covenant, building a heap of stones to serve as “a witness between me and you,” that neither man would harm the other. They set their boundaries and Jacob was able to go on his way.
Gilead is a place of setting boundaries between the place of toil, striving labor and bondage on one hand, and the place of freedom, abundance and inheritance on the other hand. Was Jacob seeking a father’s blessing from Laban? Probably. He knew he had received Isaac’s blessing under false pretenses. But Jacob was finally beginning to realize that only God could adequately bless him.
Gilead is a place of “coming out” from among one’s captors or from a desert season. In fact, Gilead was the first fruits of the Promise Land. Even before the Israelites crossed the Jordan River to take the land of inheritance, the tribes of Gad and Manasseh asked Moses if they could simply have the land of Gilead on the east of the river, because it was so fertile and good for grazing.
Gilead is a down payment on what is to come. Gad was one of the fiercest tribes of warriors, and although they were given Gilead, they vowed to fight alongside their brothers until all of the other tribes had secured their own land of inheritance.
Gilead is not the end of the battle. In fact, it is the beginning of a great war. But it is a place of turning from a posture of defense and strife to a posture of offense and overcoming. Not just for oneself, but sacrificially for others.
Our inheritance does not come on a silver platter, and there is always a contending for it in the Spirit. Jacob was referred to as one to have “struggled with God and with man and have overcome” (Gen. 32:28). Gilead is a place of turning away from slave labor and turning toward a place of diligent, kingly rule.
Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in slave labor (Pr. 12:24)
There is a form of “godly service” which is actually strife. We land there when we are too lazy to step up to a higher level of faith to rule and reign like kings. Kingly rule is more productive and less oppressive than slave labor. And diligence is much different than strife.
Gilead is a place of transition out of a somewhat self-imposed desert, and into a battle zone. Jacob’s journey was not over. Jacob had yet to fully surrender to God at this point. He had yet to wrestle the Angel of the Lord all night and come to grips with his own weaknesses and inabilities. Yet Gilead was a foreshadow of the Promise Land. It was a representation of the cross, and Jacob and Laban even made a sacrifice there as a foreshadow of the cross.
Jacob was on his way to confront Esau – something he should have done much earlier. When we face the battles God intends for us, however large, we are no longer pursued by the temporary captors God must necessarily design for us to get us back on track. God will redeem our time spent in the desert, but why waste time there if it’s not required? Israel could have left her desert much sooner, had she been willing to face the giants of the Promise Land. In the same way, many Christians struggle with personal bondages of sin and worldly task masters, because we are unwilling to face the daunting tasks and high callings that God puts before us. If we do not move offensively against the gates of hell, we succumb to their snares.
Consider Jonah. Had he gone to Ninevah as the doctor ordered, he never would have suffered the belly of the whale. We must pursue our calling obediently.
Gilead speaks of a membrane wall we break through, from the captivity of the defensive Christianity of the desert to the freedom of offensive Christianity in the Promise Land. Our strength is sapped in the desert where we run from God. But when our strength is submitted to His will, we are empowered to bring down giants. No matter how many years we have spent in captivity, nor how daunting those giants must seem with our present state of sapped strength, that same vigor and joy is renewed when we make a step toward coming out.
And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall (Mal. 4:2).
You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you and all the trees of the field will clap their hands (Is. 55:12).
Remember that the Lord sees the church through the blood-tinted glasses of perfection. He sees that she is already descending Mount Gilead. The covenant has already been cut on the mountain. She is already on her way toward the task at hand, and her strength, glory and beauty is already given over to His will. She does not give her strength or beauty to another. She is purified as a virgin.
Furthermore, the flocks of her inheritance are not for her own use, or for her own squandering. All of her glory and strength are given over to the Lord as a testimony to Him. Gilead is a “heap of witness” – a testimony to the Lord. As we glorify God in the sight of witnesses, so will He glorify us. Mary wiped Jesus’ feet in the sight of all the others. In the same way, what she did for Him will always be told “in memory of her” (Mk. 14:9).