Category Archives: Commentary on the Song of Solomon

Rise Up, My Love (282): A Meditation on Cedar

Song of Solomon 8:9 “And if she be a door, we will inclose her with boards of cedar.” What else might King Solomon mean by saying that he would “inclose her with boards of cedar?” We have discussed the merits of cedar wood already in this study. To enclose her with boards of cedar would mean not only providing for her, but providing the very best for her, both physically and spiritually.  Cedar trees were considered the strongest: Job spoke of the great leviathan as thrashing his huge tail “like a cedar” (Job 40:17). Cedar trees were regarded as the most beautiful and the best: King David lived in a house made from cedar (2 Samuel 7:2), and his son, Solomon (who is the husband now speaking in our text), built his house, “and covered the house with beams and boards of cedar” (I Kings 6:9). The great temple built by Solomon was also enclosed with boards of cedar (I Kings 7). To enclose the younger sister in boards of cedar was—symbolically—to provide the very best for her, even as Solomon had provided the very best for his bride and his God!   Cedar trees were not only the tree of choice for strength, beauty, and durability, but cedar trees were also used in Scripture to picture royalty. In 2 Chronicles 25:18, King Joash of Israel likened himself to a cedar and derided the king of Judah by comparing him to a thistle. In Jeremiah 22, the Lord sent a scathing rebuke to King Zedekiah telling him that if he would not be a righteous king, God would judge him severely. During this prophecy, the Lord says, “Shalt thou reign, because thou closest thyself in cedar?” The intimation is that to enclose oneself in cedar is a kingly thing to do. To enclose the little sister in cedar was to treat her like royalty!   Indeed, our King will enclose us with the cedar of himself! In Zechariah 11:2, the rejection of the Messiah is likened to the destruction of a cedar tree: “Open thy doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour thy cedars. Howl, fir tree; for the cedar is fallen.” In Leviticus 14, cedar is mentioned five times in connection with the sacrifice offered in the ritual cleansing of homes. Cedar, because of its strength, beauty, durability and fragrance, speaks of our precious Lord’s character. He was offered up as a sacrifice for the redemptive cleansing of our bodies, the “home” of the Holy Spirit. And, just as the Leviticus sacrifice in the ritual cleansing was enveloped with the fragrance of burning cedar, so may we be both a living sacrifice made fragrant by Christ’s character, and a cleansed temple indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Then we, too, will be enclosed by boards of cedar like the little sister… encircled forever by Christ’s ineffable love.(Many thanks to Wikimedia Commons, and in particular Jerzy Strzelecki, for sharing their photos so freely!)

Rise Up, My Love (281): What Can You Do With a Door?

Song of Solomon 8:9 “And if she be a door, we will inclose her with boards of cedar.” What is a door? A door provides access. Some commentators seem to think that being a door would mean being promiscuous, and that enclosing her would mean shutting her in so that she couldn’t get into trouble. To each his own, I guess, but I see no justification for that in the text. I believe being a wall or a door were both good possibilities…just different! Why? Jesus said, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture” (John 10:9).   A door is an opening…a way. Wouldn’t you like to be like Jesus, a door of hope and opportunity, opening the way for others to find salvation and rest in Christ? A door that provides access to the shady green pastures of God’s rest is most blessed! I think of missionaries, evangelists, pastors, and teachers as being like doors of hope! We should all desire to fling ourselves wide open and welcome others in to meet the Savior who resides in our hearts. If our hearts are truly Christ’s home, then they should not have locked doors (although, of course, we’re instructed to keep our hearts “with all diligence” (Proverbs 4:23).  Our hearts should be like visitor centers along the highway of life where lost or weary pilgrims can come in for refreshment and direction. So, a door can be a wonderful thing…if it provides access to something good. “God is good” (Psalm 73:1; see also Mark 10:18). May we be like doors through which others may find the true door, the Lord Jesus. And, through our Lord Jesus Christ may all gain access to the one true God! “One door, and only one, and yet the sides are two. I’m on the inside, on which side are you?” goes the old Sunday school song.   A wall is something that goes around an area to protect it, but it needs a door to allow access into the protected area. A door, on the other hand, is something designed to provide access to a protected area, but it needs a wall around it before the door is of any practical value. What is the only reasonable thing to do with a door? Attach it to a wall or enclosure so that it can be used for its intended purpose. “If she be a door, we will inclose her with boards of cedar.” The husband is saying, “No matter what your little sister is like, we will care for her and provide whatever she lacks to help her fulfill her purpose.”

(P.S.—I am fascinated by doors! All of these photos were taken of doors in Nepal from my trip there last fall.)

Rise Up, My Love (280): Silver Palaces

Happy Easter! He is Risen! He is risen indeed! But, what about her???Song of Solomon 8:9 “If she be a wall, we will build upon her a palace of silver.” Once the wall of a city was built, then watch towers, the palace, and homes could be added. The grandest building in any city was the palace: the home of the ruling monarch. If the foundation of the wall was sure, it could bear the weight of great structures. Even so, if we are resting on the sure foundation of Christ, we can bear the weight of glory that will be ours as the Holy Spirit—our resident monarch— indwells our “palace of silver.”

And, just how does this “palace of silver” come about? Does it say that if this young girl is firm and strong, if she has learned to keep the Lord around her as a wall of fire to protect her from sin, if she is morally upright, straight, and true, then “we will build upon her a palace of silver”? Well, it would be lovely if the little sister were such a grand wall, but the only true requirement was being a wall…being a work in progress. Silver in Scripture speaks of redemption, which is a great comfort to us, because it reminds us that even the weakest child of God will forever be a monument to his redeeming love and grace.

Although the “we will build” points to the fact that we will always have an integral part in the work of God here on earth, the “palace of silver” speaks of a habitation made holy by the one who indwells it. We do not have to be perfect in order to invite the king to dwell within our hearts; we only have to be willing. The house doesn’t clean itself; it only exists to provide a dwelling place for the one who will maintain it. The Holy Spirit, when allowed full access, is also our holy housekeeper to cleanse and sanctify our hearts.

“That man is perfect in faith who can come to God in utter dearth of his feelings and desires, without a glow or an aspiration, with the weight of low thoughts, failures, neglects, and wandering forgetfulness, and say to Him, ‘Thou art my refuge’.” —George MacDonald (quoted in March 10, 2004 Our Daily Bread).

“If she be a wall, we will build upon her a palace of silver…” We will add to her beauty and usefulness; we will embellish her so that she is more attractive; we will secure her so that she is of greater service to the king. Oh, beloved, don’t you wish to be such a wall? Do you have in your heart the “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” desire to love others as yourself? Are you willing to invest in those who are younger than you in the faith? To work hand in hand with the Lord to build up your younger sisters…and younger sister churches?

Think of how the world would stand in awe of Christian love if instead of arguing with and defaming less mature believers (and less mature churches), we came along side and helped build them up in the faith so that they could become more beautiful, more useful, more secure, and more glorious for our king! What a calling, and yet—it is our calling! Like Nehemiah, will you arm yourself with the Sword and a trowel, pick up a brick, and start building on the wall? Will you pray with me? “Lord, I want to be a builder! I want to be a work ‘to the praise of your glory’ like it says in Ephesians 1:12, and I want to help build up others so that they are also ‘to the praise of your glory.’ Here I am; please use me.”

Rise Up, My Love (279): How to Enter the Gates of Heaven

Here it is, Palm Sunday! As we think about Jesus’ entrance through the gates of Jerusalem nearly 2,000 years ago, it makes me think of another set of gates—the gates of heaven—where all who believe in Jesus may also enter in.This Sunday our meditation is on Song of Solomon 8:9. Have you ever wondered if St. Peter really stands at the entrance to heaven to decide who gets to come in? Well, earlier in Revelation 21 it says that the twelve foundation stones of the city have the twelve names of the apostles written on them, and that the twelve gates have twelve angels at them with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel inscribed on them. Figuratively, I believe this may mean that the twelve foundations of the heavenly Jerusalem are Jesus Christ as taught to us by the apostles in the New Testament, and the twelve gates are made of The Pearl of Great Price himself…guarded by the principles taught to us in the Old Testament. That’s not exactly St. Peter standing guard at the gate, but there are gates, and there are requirements for getting through them!

How will we enter in through the gates of heaven? Through fulfilling the righteousness of the Old Testament Law? That’s one way, except nobody can enter in that way, because no one ever perfectly fulfills the Law. Only Christ fulfilled the Law without sin, and in the New Testament we learn that it is only through faith in the finished work of Christ for us that we may gain access into heaven. “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (John 6:29). “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:16-18).

“Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jesus said, “I am the way the truth, and the life. No man cometh unto the Father but by me” (John 14:6). Jesus Christ is the cornerstone and foundation of heaven, and he is the only way into it. Could you possibly have read this far into The Song of Solomon without understanding his love and sacrifice for you? Have you bowed before him, confessing your sins and asking him to save you and become enthroned in your heart as Lord of your life for ever and ever?

May I urge you to make sure that you have entrusted your life to his care. If you belong to him, will you bow with me in worship and adoration? Lord, thank you for being the one who fills “all in all.” Thank you for filling us. Thank you for crafting us into your masterpieces…into works of grace that can be compared to the new heaven in beauty and perfection. Oh God, we long to become like your Son and be joined as one to him. Thank you for taking us to yourself, and for your promise to bring to completion the work you’ve started in us. We love you, Lord! Help us to become like beautiful walls of jasper, clear as crystal, built upon the foundation of the New Testament expression of Christ, gated with the Pearl of Great Price himself, who is the way into our eternal, heavenly home. Oh, Lord, how we love you! Thank you for being more than we can imagine. How we long to see you face to face! Amen, and amen.

Rise Up, My Love (278): Beautiful Beyond Description

Song of Solomon 8:9 “If she be a wall…” Let’s take a sanctified flight into imagination and try to picture ourselves as a wall that God is building. I only know of one wall God is building that is pictured for us in Scripture, and it’s the wall around the new Jerusalem. I’m going to imagine that you and I are like that beautiful city. As an apologetic for our imagineering, consider the passage in Revelation 21:9-10 where an angel tells Paul, “I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife,” and then carries Paul away in the spirit and shows him “the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God.”

I think it’s fair to imagine ourselves as being a wall and a city that God is building for his glory. Also, he says “we are his workmanship” (Ephesians 2:10), and we “are the temple of the Living God” (2 Corinthians 6:16). In I Peter 2 we are taught that each of us is a “living stone…chosen of God, and precious,” to build up a spiritual house on the cornerstone, which is Christ, as we learn again in Ephesians 2:20-22: “Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.”

So, let’s look at this wall and city. First, what is its foundation? Let’s look at the third chapter of I Corinthians for a minute. “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (3:11). “But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon” (3:10) We should build upon this foundation with spiritual gold, silver, and precious stones, because those things will pass the test of fire (3:12-15).

In Revelation 21 the city is described as unbelievably beautiful. There are twelve foundations of the wall, each made of a precious stone such as sapphire, emerald, and amethyst, and the entire foundation is garnished with a dazzling array of precious stones. The wall itself is made of clear crystal, and it has twelve gates with each door being made from a single immense pearl. The streets are paved with pure, transparent gold, and the entire city is radiant with the light of the glory of God.

Wow! I know Proverbs teaches us that a virtuous wife is worth more than rubies, but how could I ever be as beautiful as the New Jerusalem? Can you imagine a person that magnificent? I was shocked to realize that I think a city made of gold and gems would be more beautiful than a person could ever be. Does that mean at heart I value money above people? Hopefully not, although it definitely means my spiritual vision needs sharpening. I wouldn’t trade Jesus or those I love for any amount of money; they are much too precious to me…but are they more beautiful?

Perhaps it is the yearning for perfection that makes us think of gold and gems as being more perfect in beauty. But, in fact, we will be perfect and without defect when we are united to Christ as His bride! What will we look like in our perfect, glorified bodies? What does Jesus look like? My feeble imagination is too limited to visualize what he truly looks like. My heart echoes the songwriter and pastor, Mark Altrogge:

“You are beautiful beyond description, too marvelous for words,
Too wonderful for comprehension, like nothing ever seen or heard.
Who can grasp Your infinite wisdom? Who can fathom the depths of Your love? You are beautiful beyond description, majesty enthroned above.
And I stand, I stand in awe of You. I stand, I stand in awe of You.
Precious God, to whom all praise is due, I stand in awe of You.”

Although it’s beyond us to comprehend what he truly looks like, like the Apostle John, we can “know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure” (I John 3:2-3). Beloved, may we keep bathing ourselves in the Fountain of Life to find cleansing, healing, and purification so that we will become more perfect in beauty to our beautiful Savior!

Rise Up, My Love (277): What’s in a Wall?

Song of Solomon 8:9. “If she be a wall, we will build upon her a palace of silver: and if she be a door, we will inclose her with boards of cedar.” Let’s start with just the first thought: “If she be a wall…” What does it mean to be a wall? In the next verse, the bride declares that she herself is a “wall” with “towers,” which won her a place of favor in her husband’s eyes, so we can assume the couple felt that being a wall was a good thing. So, what is a wall, literally and metaphorically?

Literally, a wall is a structure that gives definition; it sets boundaries and limits; it protects. I’ve read that in ancient times, building a wall was the first step toward building a city, since walls were necessary for protection against wild beasts and foreign invaders. It was only after the walls came crashing down that the Israelites were able to successfully conquer Jericho (Joshua 6:5). When King Sennacherib led the Assyrians in a campaign against Israel, King Hezekiah immediately began his defense by building up the walls of Jerusalem: “He strengthened himself, and built up all the wall that was broken, and raised it up to the towers, and another wall without”(2 Chronicles 32:5). When Nehemiah was called to rebuild the ruins of Jerusalem, the first thing he did was rebuild the wall around the city (Nehemiah 12:27-32).

Metaphorically, a wall was used as a symbol of strength and security. David and his men were described as a protective “wall unto us both by night and day” while Nabal’s shepherds were out in the wild caring for their flocks (I Samuel 25:16). In Zachariah 2:5, the Lord promises that He will be “a wall of fire round about” Jerusalem to protect her from harm. In Proverbs 18:11 we are warned that a rich man will often fail to trust in the Lord for his help and mistakenly consider wealth as “his strong city, and as an high wall in his own conceit.”

Truly, are we any different today? How many of us are tempted to feel secure if we have stable jobs and a good income? I know that’s a natural tendency in me, and I have to keep reflecting on the truth that “the horse is prepared against the day of battle: but safety is of the Lord” (Proverbs 21:31). Virtually no one lives within a walled city any more, but I’ve seen lots of fence walls. In the vast tracts of tiny, hovel dwellings built on the garbage dumps of Agua Prieta, Mexico, I’ve seen fences around twenty-by-twenty foot compounds made out of bedsprings, trash, and cactus; in China I’ve seen walls with razor rolls on top and chunks of glass embedded in the concrete…all to keep people out.

And here in America, don’t we feel safer within the walls of our own home? I do! One of my dearest friends had a husband who always felt a huge sense of relief every night as he pulled into their driveway, so I gave him a plaque to hang on the wall of their garage right where he parked his car that read: Home Free! Isn’t that the way we feel? (At least, if our home is happy.)

Walls do protect and keep us safe…as long as we’re on the inside. However, if we’re on the outside of a wall trying to get in…well that’s another story! A wall that keeps strangers out makes us feel safe, but a wall that keeps us out can be terribly frustrating. Metaphorically, a wall is something that stops us from going any further. We speak of “hitting the wall” when we can’t go any further because we’re exhausted, being driven “up the wall” when we’re totally frustrated because we can’t reach our goal, and being “off the wall” when we’ve ceased being rational in the pursuit of our goal.

God made Jeremiah like “a fenced brasen wall” to the rebellious Israelites, “and they shall fight against thee, but they shall not prevail against thee: for I am with thee to save thee and to deliver thee, saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 15:20). God told Ezekiel to take an iron pan “and set it for a wall of iron between thee and the city,” as a sign to Israel that God would not deliver them in the day of judgment because they refused to repent (Ezekiel 4:3). A wall sets limits. It can either work for us or against us, depending on who we are and what we want.

“If she be a wall…” Although this is the groom speaking of a younger sister, the bride later affirms that she is a wall, so as a spiritual exercise let’s consider these questions for ourselves: What kind of a wall am I? What walls have I erected in my life? Who or what am I keeping in and out of my life? Please ponder these questions right now, and if you happen to be reading with someone else, stop and talk about your thoughts together. Are you strong, straight, true, and able to protect? Are your wall boundaries what you want them to be? Are they effective? (If you know you have boundary problems [definitely a weak area for me], consider reading the New York Times bestseller, Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life, by Henry Cloud and John Townsend).

When I was in China, I walked along the top of the Great Wall one rainy day. People bobbed along under rainbow-colored umbrellas, and I could see out across a vast countryside of green and brown. The Great Wall is still one of the man-made wonders of the earth, but it is no longer used as a defensive boundary. Its main use today is as a romantically grand, pleasure walkway where millions of people come for refreshment every year.

What kind of a wall am I? What kind of wall are you? Oh, Lord, may we tear down any walls that we’ve attempted to make out of the trash and broken glass in our lives to keep you or others “at bay.” Help us to be straight, strong, and true to keep sin out of our lives, but not you or those you’ve created. Help us to be like a spiritual Great Wall: a display of your glory, but no longer a barrier to keep others out. May our hearts instead become a place where others may come to be strengthened, renewed, and refreshed. And, Lord, may we always take you as our wall of defense. Please be a wall of fire around us to keep us safely within your heart and will.

A friend of ours, Bob Hardee, sent this light-hearted photo after Alan and I had visited several castles in the U.K. with our two youngest. Truly, our homes are our “castles,” aren’t they? But, the real question is: How do we use the walls we’ve built?!

Rise Up, My Love (276): A Love that Cares for Others

Song of Solomon 8:8.  For many commentators, this next verse seems to “pop out of the blue” and is considered obscure. No one doubts that it is the bride and groom who have been speaking in chapter 8 up until verse 8, but suddenly it doesn’t appear to occur to anyone that the bride and groom are still speaking. There is no consensus on who is speaking…brothers, suitors, or whoever…and not even consensus on who or how many women are being discussed in verses 8-10.

Taken at face value, the verse is relatively straight forward and easy to understand. The bride begins chapter 8 by expressing a desire for familial intimacy with her mate in addition to the privileges of marriage. The husband responds by pointing out that he has assumed the role her family took in caring for her, and that he wants her to depend on him to provide for her in every area of her life! Verse 8, to me, is a beautiful outflow of love based on the depth of the wife’s security.

The wife, reassured by her husband’s declaration of unwavering faithfulness, now looks beyond herself and opens her heart to the needs of the one closest to her: their little sister. The bride is concerned about the lack of development in their sister and seeks counsel from her husband on how to provide for her. Isn’t that wonderful? Think of the range of reactions that an older sister might have towards a younger sister. This young bride could have been smug about her own beauty and unconcerned for the younger girl. Or, she might have been ashamed or critical of her younger sister’s immaturity and ignored or spurned her. But, the bride chose the very best: She acted in love toward her little sister and wanted to help her succeed in life. Do these possible reactions ring any bells?

How often in this life are we tempted to make the wrong choice in response to someone else’s insufficiencies? How often we tend to ignore those around us who have not attained our position…either physically or spiritually? How easy it is to be critical or ashamed of weakness in others! How rare it is to choose the way of love and reach out in compassion to help! But, this is what God desires for us, even as he has reached out and rescued us.

Not only on a very personal level should we reach out and help those around us, but also as the corporate bride of Christ—the church— we need to reach out to other “little sister” churches as well. Three of the churches in Revelation model three common positions of the church today. How easy it is to be smug, like the blind church at Laodicea who saw only the physical reality of her material wealth and didn’t understand her deep spiritual poverty (Revelation 3:14-22). The Laodiceans were beautiful on the outside, but not on the inside. They had no regard for the needs of others.

I wonder, how are we doing at caring for the millions of persecuted believers who are suffering and starving in other areas of the world? Are we helping to build on the “wall” (v. 9) of their faith? Or, we might be like the church at Ephesus. We might be full of good works ourselves and meticulously careful to maintain our purity, but so sidetracked by harshly judging others that we fail to be transformed by love into the image of Him who is merciful and full of compassion. Are you personally—or as part of a local church—shriveling up into a constricted, inbred congregation that has no outreach to those around you? If so, repent and return to filling your vision with the great God of love! Spread his good news and his good will to all those around you, or you will whither away to nothing (Revelation 2:1-7).

Finally, we might be like the church in Philadelphia, the church of “brotherly love.” It had its problems and struggles, just “a little strength,” and those who caused trouble, but they were hanging on to the God’s Word and upholding his name, patiently continuing to try to do his will. To that church God just said, “Keep on keeping on, and I’m going to bless you!” (Revelation 3:7-13). Is that you? Is that your church? Not perfect; not a tower of strength; but patiently continuing the struggle to walk in the way of love and truth.

The church we attend should not be an ivory tower where we await heaven far from the madding crowd. Yes, church should be a place of worship and praise, but God is our tower of refuge; not our church. Our church should be like a hospital. It should be a place of security, a safe environment where the strong and spiritually healthy are faithfully serving so that new believers are being birthed, the sick healed, the wounded tended, the elderly lovingly cared for, and the young trained.

Let’s stop for a few minutes and think about our personal, family, and church lives. O Lord, show us where we fall short and strengthen us to live lives of love and compassion toward those who lack what we possess!