In the second and fourth sections of this book we found the communion of the bride broken; in the former by backsliding into worldliness, and in the latter through slothful ease and self-satisfaction. The present section, like the third, is one of unbroken communion. It is opened by the words of the bride: --
I went down into the garden of nuts,
To see the green plants of the valley
To see whether the vine budded.
And the pomegranates were in flower.
Or ever I was aware, my soul set me
Among the chariots of my willing people.
As in the commencement of Section III., the bride, in unbroken communion with her LORD, was present though unmentioned until she made her presence evident by her address to the daughters of Zion; so in this section the presence of the KING is unnoted until He Himself addresses His bride. But she is one with her LORD as she engages in His service! His promise, |Lo, I am with you alway,| is ever fulfilled to her; and He has no more to woo her to arise and come away; to tell her that His |head is filled with dew,| His |locks with the drops of the night|; or to urge her if she love Him to feed His sheep and care for His lambs. Herself His garden, she does not forget to tend it, nor keep the vineyards of others while her own is neglected. With Him as well as for Him, she goes to the garden of nuts. So thorough is the union between them that many commentators have felt difficulty in deciding whether the bride or the Bridegroom was the speaker, and really it is a point of little moment; for, as we have said, both were there, and of one mind; yet we believe we are right in attributing these words to the bride, as she is the one addressed by the daughters of Jerusalem, and the one who speaks to them in reply.
The bride and Bridegroom appear to have been discovered by their willing people while thus engaged in the happy fellowship of fruitful service, and the bride, or ever she was aware, found herself seated among the chariots of her people -- her people as well as His.
The daughters of Jerusalem would fain call her back: --
Return, return, O Shulammite;
Return, return, that we may look upon thee.
There is no question now as to who she is, nor why her Beloved is more than another beloved; He is recognized as King Solomon, and to her is given the same name, only in its feminine form (Shulammite).
Some have seen in these words, |Return, return,| an indication of the rapture of the Church; and explain some parts of the subsequent context, which appear inconsistent with this view, as presumptive rather than progressive. Interesting as is this thought, and well as it would explain the absence of reference to the KING in the preceding verses, we are not inclined to accept it; but look on the whole song as progressive, and its last words as being equivalent to the closing words of the Book of Revelation, |Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, LORD JESUS.| We do not therefore look upon the departure of the bride from her garden as being other than temporary.
The bride replies to the daughters of Jerusalem: --
Why will ye look upon the Shulammite?
or, as in the Authorized Version,
What will ye see in the Shulammite?
In the presence of the KING, she cannot conceive why any attention should be paid to her. As Moses, coming down from the mount, was unconscious that his face shone with a divine glory, so was it here with the bride. But we may learn this very important lesson, that many who do not see the beauty of the LORD, will not fail to admire His reflected beauty in His bride. The eager look of the daughters of Jerusalem surprised the bride, and she says, You might be looking |upon the dance of Mahanaim| -- the dance of two companies of Israel's fairest daughters -- instead of upon one who has no claim for attention, save that she is the chosen, though unworthy, bride of the glorious KING.
The daughters of Jerusalem have no difficulty in replying to her question, and recognizing her as of royal birth -- |O Prince's daughter| -- as well as of queenly dignity, they describe in true and Oriental language the tenfold beauties of her person; from her feet to her head they see only beauty and perfection. What a contrast to her state by nature! Once |from the sole of the foot even unto the head| was |but wounds, and bruises, and festering sores|; now her feet are |shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace,| and the very hair of the head proclaims her a Nazarite indeed; |the KING| Himself |is held captive in the tresses thereof.|
But One, more to her than the daughters of Jerusalem, responded to her unaffected question, |What will ye see in the Shulamite?| The Bridegroom Himself replies to it: --
How fair and how pleasant art thou,
O love, for delights!
He sees in her the beauties and the fruitfulness of the tall and upright palm, of the graceful and clinging vine, of the fragrant and evergreen citron. Grace has made her like the palm-tree, the emblem alike of uprightness and of fruitfulness. The fruit of the date-palm is more valued than bread by the Oriental traveller, so great is its sustaining power; and the fruit-bearing powers of the tree do not pass away; as age increases the fruit becomes more perfect as well as more abundant.
The righteous shall flourish like the palm-tree:
He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They that are planted in the house of the Lord
Shall flourish in the courts of our God.
They shall still bring forth fruit in old age;
They shall be full of sap and green.
But why are the righteous made so upright and flourishing?
To show that the Lord is upright;
He is my Rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.
One with our LORD, it is ours to show forth His graces and virtues, to reflect His beauty, to be His faithful witnesses.
The palm is also the emblem of victory; it raises its beautiful crown towards the heavens, fearless of the heat of the sultry sun, or of the burning hot wind from the desert. From its beauty it was one of the ornaments of Solomon's, as it is to be of Ezekiel's temple. When our SAVIOUR was received at Jerusalem as the KING of Israel the people took branches of palm-trees and went forth to meet Him; and in the glorious day of His espousals, |a great multitude, which no man| can |number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues,| shall stand |before the throne and before the LAMB, clothed with white robes|; and with palms of victory in their hands shall ascribe their |salvation to our GOD which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the LAMB.|
But if she resembles the palm she also resembles the vine. Much she needs the culture of the Husbandman, and well does she repay it. Abiding in CHRIST, the true source of fruitfulness, she brings forth clusters of grapes, luscious and refreshing, as well as sustaining, like the fruit of the palm -- luscious and refreshing to Himself, the owner of the vineyard, as well as to the weary, thirsty world in which He has placed it.
The vine has its own suggestive lessons: it needs and seeks support; the sharp knife of the pruner often cuts away unsparingly its tender garlands, and mars its appearance, while increasing its fruitfulness. It has been beautifully written: --
The living Vine, Christ chose it for Himself: --
God gave to man for use and sustenance
Corn, wine, and oil, and each of these is good:
And Christ is Bread of life and Light of life.
But yet, He did not choose the summer corn,
That shoots up straight and free in one quick growth,
And has its day, is done, and springs no more;
Nor yet the olive, all whose boughs are spread
In the soft air, and never lose a leaf,
Flowering and fruitful in perpetual peace;
But only this, for Him and His is one, --
That everlasting, ever-quickening Vine,
That gives the heat and passion of the world,
Through its own life-blood, still renewed and shed.
* * * * * * *
The Vine from every living limb bleeds wine;
Is it the poorer for that spirit shed?
The drunkard and the wanton drink thereof;
Are they the richer for that gift's excess?
Measure thy life by loss instead of gain;
Not by the wine drunk, but the wine poured forth;
For love's strength standeth in love's sacrifice;
And whoso suffers most, hath most to give.
Yet one figure more is used by the Bridegroom: |The smell of thy breath (is) like apples,| or rather citrons. In the first section the bride exclaims: --
As the citron-tree among the trees of the wood,
So is my Beloved among the sons.
I delighted and sat down under His shadow,
And His fruit was sweet to my taste.
Here we find the outcome of that communion. The citrons on which she had fed perfumed her breath, and imparted to her their delicious odour. The Bridegroom concludes his description: --
Thy mouth (is) like the best wine,
That goeth down smoothly --
For my Beloved --
interjects the bride,
Causing the lips of those that are asleep to move.
How wondrous the grace that has made the bride of CHRIST to be all this to her Beloved! Upright as the palm, victorious, and evermore fruitful as she grows heavenward; gentle and tender as the Vine, self-forgetful and self-sacrificing, not merely bearing fruit in spite of adversity, but bearing her richest fruits through it; -- feasting on her Beloved, as she rests beneath His shade, and thereby partaking of His fragrance; -- what has grace not done for her! And what must be her joy in finding, ever more fully, the satisfaction of the glorious Bridegroom in the lowly wild flower He has made His bride, and beautiful with His own graces and virtues!
I am my Beloved's,
And His desire is toward me,
she gladly exclaims. Now it is none of self or for self, but all of Thee and for Thee. And if such be the sweet fruits of going down to the garden of nuts, and caring for His garden with Him, she will need no constraining to continue in this blessed service.
Come, my Beloved, let us go forth into the field;
Let us lodge in the villages.
She is not ashamed of her lowly origin, for she fears no shame: perfect love has cast out fear. The royal state of the King, with its pomp and grandeur, may be enjoyed by and by: now, more sweet with Him at her side to make the garden fruitful; to give to Him all manner of precious fruits, new and old, which she has laid up in store for Him; and best of all to satisfy Him with her own love. Not only is she contented with this fellowship of service, but she could fain wish that there were no honours and duties to claim His attention, and for the moment to lessen the joy of His presence.
Oh that Thou wert as my brother,
That sucked the breasts of my mother!
When I should find Thee without, I would kiss Thee;
Yea, and none would despise me.
Would that she could care for Him, and claim His whole attention, as a sister might care for a brother. She is deeply conscious that He has richly endowed her, and that she is as nothing compared with Him; but instead of proudly dwelling upon what she has done through Him, she would fain that it were possible for her to be the giver and Him the receiver. Far removed is this from the grudging thought, that must so grate upon the heart of our LORD, |I do not think that GOD requires this of me|; or, |Must I give up that, if I am to be a Christian?| True devotion will rather ask to be allowed to give, and will count as loss all which may not be given up for the LORD'S sake -- |I count all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of CHRIST JESUS my LORD.|
This longing desire to be more to Him does not, however, blind her to the consciousness that she needs His guidance, and that He is her true, her only Instructor.
I would lead Thee, and bring Thee into my mother's house,
That Thou mightest instruct me;
I would cause Thee to drink of spiced wine,
Of the juice of my pomegranate.
I would give Thee my best, and yet would myself seek all my rest and satisfaction in Thee.
His left hand should be under my head,
And His right hand should embrace me.
And thus the section closes. There is nothing sweeter to the Bridegroom or to the bride than this hallowed and unhindered communion; and again He adjures the daughters of Jerusalem, in slightly different form: --
Why should ye stir up, or why awake My love,
Until she please?
Hallowed communion indeed! May we ever enjoy it; and abiding in CHRIST, we shall sing, in the familiar words of the well-known hymn --
Both Thine arms are clasped around me,
And my head is on Thy breast;
And my weary soul hath found Thee
Such a perfect, perfect rest!
Now I know that I am blest. <pb/>