Rise Up, My Love (183): The Significance of Countenance

Sun behind steaming mud potsSong of Solomon 5:15 “His countenance is as Lebanon, excellent as the cedars.” Our English word “countenance” comes from two Latin roots: com, meaning “together,” plus tenere, which means literally “to hold; how one holds oneself together.” It refers to a person’s demeanor, composure, and attitude, particularly as it is reflected in the visage…the expression of one’s eyes and face.* Although the word “countenance” is rarely used in English today, it is doubtless the gauge we all most commonly use in reading people. Every time we look at another person’s face we are consciously or unconsciously studying that person’s countenance. What kind of a person is he? How does she feel about herself? How does he feel about the people around him? Is she happy or sad…friendly or shy…empathetic or angry…understanding or irritable…cloudy or bright…energetic or tired…transparent or opaque? It’s all there for the looking, and people read each other’s countenances a hundred times a day. Blue Sun Behind Clouds in Israel“His countenance is as Lebanon.” At first that seemed enigmatic. What was Lebanon to Israel? I had always thought of Lebanon as an unfriendly, neighboring nation. Did a countenance like Lebanon refer to a high and haughty look? A fierce, threatening look? How could the bridegroom have such a countenance towards the wife of his bosom? Actually, when The Song of Solomon was written, Lebanon was the northern border of Israel, and a part of the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 11:24; Joshua 1:4). At the time of Solomon’s reign, Lebanon was part of Solomon’s dominion (2 Chronicles 8:6), although King Hiram ruled there and was paid for providing cedar trees as lumber for the construction of Solomon’s great temple (I Kings 5:10-6:10). Lebanon is referred to sixty-four times in the Old Testament, and seven of those times are in The Song of Solomon…a disproportionate number for such a small book. Why? Because in those days, Lebanon symbolized romance and beauty…not war, but peace!! According to The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, “There are literary motifs based upon the greatness of Lebanon and its cedars, motifs utilizing Lebanon as a romantic symbol, and motifs of prosperity and stability. A single trip into one of the high, rugged valleys of the Lebanon should be sufficient to demonstrate that the Lebanon range is a fitting symbol of rugged grandeur and greatness” (Tenny, Vol. 21, 903). “His countenance is as Lebanon”…His countenance is a “fitting symbol of rugged grandeur and greatness.” Now, that makes perfect sense! Isaiah 35:2 speaks of the “glory of Lebanon,” and in Isaiah 60:13 the Lord declares that “the glory of Lebanon shall come unto thee…to beautify the place of my sanctuary.” The prophet Jeremiah spoke of the “snows of Lebanon” as too wondrous a place to leave (Jeremiah 18:14); the prophet Nahum praised the flowers of Lebanon (Nahum 1:4); and Hosea spoke of the fragrant “smell of Lebanon” (Hosea 14:6). A countenance like Lebanon is a countenance that is “high and lifted up…exalted” (Isaiah 2:13). As the cedars of Lebanon were tall and stately, transcending all the other trees, so the countenance of our Lord bears witness to the fact that he is indeed “the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity” (Isaiah 57:15). Blue Full Sun Seagull When Samson’s mother saw the Lord, she said, “His countenance was like the countenance of the angel of God, very awesome” (Judges 13:6 NKJV). In John’s vision of the glorified Christ, he saw that “His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength” (Revelation 1:16-17). The sweet psalmist of old prayed, “Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us” (Psalm 4:6), and the benediction of Israelite fathers throughout the ages has been, “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: the Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee; the Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace” (Numbers 6:24-26). Green Sun on LaneThe countenance of God upon us…in his look is life and blessing and peace! In his look is gladness and joy: “For Thou hast made him most blessed for ever: Thou hast made him exceeding glad with thy countenance” (Psalm 21:6). In his look is help: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance” (Psalm 42:5). Indeed, the psalmist went on to declare that the countenance of God shining upon us brings health to our countenance: “For I shall yet praise him who is the health of my countenance, and my God” (Psalm 42:11). Sun over AlaskaDo you know who penned Psalm 42? Solomon! When the bride declares, “His countenance is as Lebanon, excellent as the cedars,” she was describing the face of her husband, Solomon…but Solomon professed in the Psalms that it was indeed the countenance of God shining down upon him that brought light and grandeur to his own face! “His countenance is as Lebanon, excellent as the cedars…” His countenance was as magnificent as the towering cedars that were used to build God’s majestic temple in Jerusalem. It was as attractive as the fragrant cedars used to construct Solomon’s home in the Forest of Lebanon (I Kings 7:2)—a fabulous fortress where he kept 300 shields made from 900 pounds of gold, and all the drinking vessels were of gold—a castle where he had a fabulous ivory throne overlaid with pure gold, and where twelve lions guarded the steps (I Kings 10:17-21). His countenance was indeed glorious…as glorious as the radiance of one who reflected the glory of his king. Oh, that our faces might so shine—like Moses after he had been with God…like Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration…like Solomon in all his stately grandeur. Oh, that our faces might shine like King Solomon with a radiance that reflects the glory of the King of Kings!

(*This initial information about the definition of “countenance” comes from Webster’s Dictionary.)

2 responses to “Rise Up, My Love (183): The Significance of Countenance

  1. Thank for your teaching.

  2. Charylene Powers

    This is a lot to take in – another reading is in order.

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