Category Archives: Commentary on the Song of Solomon

Rise Up, My Love (295): Learning to Speak Up!

Song of Solomon 8:13 “Thou that dwellest in the gardens, the companions hearken to thy voice: cause me to hear it.” “Cause me to hear it.” Does that phrase catch your attention? Our Lord is asking us to make something happen. I thought he heard every word we whispered in our beds at night. How is it that he is asking us to make him hear us? If he’d said, “Speak to me!” I’d know what he meant. Did you ever have a child who became staunchly silent, wrinkled up his nose, and pursed his lips with a big “No!” written all over his little face, but you had no idea why he didn’t want to do the simple thing you’d asked him to do…usually for his own good?  Why the resistance? Refusal seemed simply and totally unfathomable. “Speak to me!” I’d say. “Tell me what you’re thinking! Why are you saying, “No!” to a perfectly reasonable request?” I had one toddler who refused to participate in the simple developmental task tests that young children are sometimes asked to complete as part of their pediatric exams. All of my first five children had been very eager achievers and would happily build towers out of blocks or whatever “game” the nurse asked them to play.

However, number six would have nothing to do with such a scheme. When the nurse asked him to build a tower, he didn’t even respond. I knew he was a bright child who could easily accomplish the task, and I knew he wasn’t deaf, so I said, “Would you please build a tower out of blocks for the lady?” and demonstrated again just in case there was some misunderstanding. He ignored me too! I was mortified. He was a very loving, obedient child, and I was shocked that he was refusing to do such a simple thing. However, I swallowed my pride, mystified but unwilling to humiliate him publicly. I told the nurse he could build a tower out of three or more blocks (the parameters set for normal ability at his age), but that for whatever reason, he was unwilling to build one that day, and I didn’t want to push him.  After we left, I asked him what was wrong, but he was too little to know. It took me about two more years to understand the dynamics. This tiny chap was a tremendous perfectionist who was insecure about performance. He was unwilling to do anything that might draw attention to himself. When he learned to talk, I would hear him practicing words in a whisper before he would say them aloud: “orange…orange.” When he was only four, he taught himself to read out of the Bible—before I had any idea that he was learning to read—simply from being read to!  This past Sunday morning (written over a decade ago, although this past Sunday this same son was serving as the accompanist at his church) he was up with a group of young people leading the worship music at our chapel, and I marveled at how far the Lord has brought him in sixteen years: from obstructed by fear, to singing for his Creator!  Are you petrified by fear when it comes to speaking out for your Savior? Pray for grace, and the let him hear your voice!

Lord, Speak to Me, That I May Speak
(Frances R. Havergal, 1872)

  1. Lord, speak to me, that I may speak
    In living echoes of Thy tone;
    As Thou has sought, so let me seek
    Thine erring children lost and lone.
  2. Oh, lead me, Lord, that I may lead
    The wand’ring and the wav’ring feet;
    Oh, feed me, Lord, that I may feed
    Thy hung’ring ones with manna sweet.
  3. Oh, strengthen me, that while I stand
    Firm on the rock, and strong in Thee,
    I may stretch out a loving hand
    To wrestlers with the troubled sea.
  4. Oh, teach me, Lord, that I may teach
    The precious things Thou dost impart;
    And wing my words, that they may reach
    The hidden depths of many a heart.
  5. Oh, give Thine own sweet rest to me,
    That I may speak with soothing pow’r
    A word in season, as from Thee,
    To weary ones in needful hour.
  6. Oh, fill me with Thy fullness, Lord,
    Until my very heart o’erflow
    In kindling thought and glowing word,
    Thy love to tell, Thy praise to show.
  7. Oh, use me, Lord, use even me,
    Just as Thou wilt, and when, and where,
    Until Thy blessed face I see,
    Thy rest, Thy joy, Thy glory share.

 

Rise Up, My Love (294): Who Are Our Companions?

Song of Solomon 8:13 “Thou that dwellest in the gardens, the companions hearken to thy voice; cause me to hear it.” This is the husband’s cadenza. What is his last request for his beloved? That he might hear her voice. Tell me, if you can’t be physically present with the one you love, what’s the next best thing? For me, it’s talking on the phone.

Someone asked me what convenience I’ve enjoyed most since the beginning of the new millennium. Without a doubt, it’s having a cell phone small enough to slip into my purse and carry with me everywhere. My cell phone is programed and voice activated, so all I have to do is say my loved one’s name, and that person’s number is automatically dialed. With kids scattered from California to New York and even Italy now, one of my chief delights in life is being able to hear their cheery voices any old time I want! What a blessing! It takes a lot of the sting out of being separated. (And today, thanks to smart phones and internet, we can even see their faces!)  “The companions hearken to thy voice; cause me to hear it.” Our companions hear our voice…but how much more does the Lord long to hear us speaking to him! Actually, the verse doesn’t say our companions, or even your companions, but rather the companions. Who are “the companions?” According to the dictionary, a companion is “a person who accompanies or associates with another; a comrade; a person employed to assist, live with, or travel with another” (American Heritage, 384).  The root words refer to those who eat bread together. I was struck by the fact that being a companion is not exactly synonymous with being a friend, although certainly companions may also be friends. “The companions” is more closely related to “the business associates,” such as those individuals with whom we work every day. There is a sense in which this verse should encourage us to pay more careful attention to what we say to our coworkers, because “the companions hearken to thy voice.” Those we work with day by day are listening to us, whether or not we can tell, and they are being affected by what we say!  Above all, what is the message that God wants us to be telling “the companions?” In Exodus 3:16-18, God told Moses to gather the children of Israel together and tell them that God would deliver them from slavery and lead them “unto a land flowing with milk and honey.” God concluded by saying, “And they shall hearken to thy voice.” Listen to that! “And they will hearken to thy voice.” “The companions hearken to thy voice.”  Those around you do hear you. What are you telling them? What is the message you are preaching by your deeds and speaking with your heart and tongue? Beloved, is there any more needed message in this world today than the message that God will deliver us from our bondage and lead us “unto a land flowing with milk and honey?” Have you thought about what it means to “flow with milk?”  When I used to nurse my babies, I produced an incredible amount of milk. Sometimes while I was nursing, my husband would come over to watch, and the baby would pop off the nipple to look around and see his daddy, which would usually earn him a big squirt of milk all over his little face and ear. I mean, I was flowing!! The baby would fuss, but Alan would just smile and say, “Contented cows make good milk.”  A land flowing with milk and honey is a land where there’s peace, contentment, and an abundance of nourishing sweetness. On the spiritual level, “the companions” must be those with whom we associate because of our position as the king’s bride rather than simply the friends we have selected by personal choice. “The” companions are those who are also dwelling in the king’s gardens. We have all been engaged by the king to live together, to work together, to assist one another, to break bread together, and to travel together through the king’s gardens and into his celestial city.  “The companions” are fellow pilgrims we interact with through our church and other ministries. They also “hearken to our voice.” I graduated from a public high school but was able to attend a Christian university. My anticipation was that college would be sort of a Christian “Mecca” where I could relax and just “fit in” because everyone would love God and be zealously preparing to serve his Kingdom causes. My older and wiser spiritual brother, who was a senior at the same school, prepared me by saying, “Just remember, no matter where you go, you’re going to be either a missionary or a mission field.”  In this world, no matter how good our Christian organization or spiritual fellowship, all of us are works in process…growing, changing, backsliding, moving forward, needing encouragement, needing correction…needing each other to be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord and calling one another on to love and good works. Until we get to heaven, there is no such thing as settling in to “status quo” mentality. The companions will be listening to our voice. May our speech be holy, gracious, and full of love and truth!

(Thank you, Bob Hardee, for sharing you gift of photos with scripture verses!)

Rise Up, My Love (293): Paradise Lost and Found

Song of Solomon 8:13 “Thou that dwellest in the gardens…” How do we live in a spiritual paradise in a world of paradise lost? The secret is in learning to dwell in the sanctuary God has created within our hearts! He makes us his “garden enclosed” (Song 4:12). As we surrender to his care and yield to his chastening, he plows and plants, waters and weeds, prunes…and prizes his garden. The kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom, and so it is that deep within the individual believer the gardens of the king are developed.   He creates his paradise where it cannot be scorched by the sun or devastated by disaster. On the day I first wrote this, Hurricane Frances, a tropical storm as large as the state of Texas, was pounding parts Florida with one inch of rain per hour, and Hurricane “Ivan the Terrible” was coming on its heels as a second incredible category four monster. Many of Florida’s paradisal gardens could have been destroyed in a day…but not God’s gardens. His paradisal gardens, blooming in our spirits, are warmed by son-shine and watered by the wellspring of eternal life.  The Holy Spirit, the king’s master gardener, readies our hearts for communion with him, so that the king may say, “I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse,” and we may say, “My beloved is gone down into his garden, to the beds of spices, to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies.” “Thou that dwellest in the gardens…” Oh, beloved, what an amazing privilege to be known to our Lord as the one who dwells in the gardens. What a challenge!  If you feel like you are in the desert, know that this is not God’s intention. He desires that we be dwelling in the gardens that he has created for us. “Draw nigh to God and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded” (James 4:8). “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call ye upon him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6). God is near to us right now. Are you his? Are you dwelling in his gardens? If you are, then why not stop and thank him for his amazing grace and love!  On the other hand, if you have never given him your heart, please surrender to him this very minute and let him create a paradise found within you! If you became a Christian earlier but have since quenched the Spirit so the living water cannot flow and your garden seems withered away to nothing, or if you’ve barred the door of your heart so the master gardener cannot work, and your garden has turned into a jungle of tangled weeds, then come back! Stop running. Surrender to God and let him begin his work anew. “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6, NIV).

Rise Up, My Love (292): Trying to Find Paradise

Song of Solomon 8:13 “Thou that dwellest in the gardens, the companions hearken to thy voice; cause me to hear it.” In my Bible, verses 10-13 are all listed under the heading, “The bride speaks.” For forty years, as I’ve read my Bible through almost every year, I’ve assumed that verse 13 was the bride describing her husband—the mighty King Solomon—as one who dwelt in gardens. Isn’t that a beautiful thought? Her king, not high and mighty on his throne, but tender and touchable in the intimate seclusion of their gardens:

  “I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses,
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear, the Son of God discloses.
And I walk with him and I talk with Him, and He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there none other has ever known.”
—C. Austin Miles

Hold that thought, because such tender communion is indeed real, but in this passage I do not believe it’s the bride seeking the husband…it is the husband desiring communion with his wife! “Thou that dwellest” is actually just one word in Hebrew, a verb written in the feminine form which could be translated as “She who inhabits” (Jonathan Armstrong: I can now—fifteen years into this study—quote my son, who has become an ancient languages scholar!).   “Thou that dwellest in the gardens…” This is our Lord’s last description of us. This is where he wants his bride to be waiting for him. Are these literal gardens? “Should I be carried to the skies on flow’ry beds of ease, while others fought to win the prize and sailed through bloody seas?” (Isaac Watts).   For King Solomon and his bride, the gardens were doubtless literal…the wondrous gardens Solomon developed as described in Ecclesiastes 2. However, even as Jesus declared that his kingdom was not of this physical world yet (John 18:36), even so are we to be dwelling—not necessarily in paradisal gardens here on earth—but in spiritual gardens. As John Milton points out to us so poignantly in Paradise Lost, the paradisal Garden of Eden that our greater than Solomon made for us has been lost to us on this earth, and even our Lord was driven from his sanctuary, the Garden of Gethsemane, when he dwelt here below with us.   We may be physically surrounded by beauty or bareness during our tenure on earth, but spiritually we should be dwelling “in the gardens.” How do we do that? When we are surrounded on every side by tribulations, testings, trials, heartaches, pain, and insecurities…not only our own, but those encountered by our loved ones who are near to us, and those suffered by the body of Christ worldwide…how do we do that?(To be continued next Sunday, but the answer is to center our minds on Christ and experience “Thy kingdom come Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” [Matthew 6:10] as the present spiritual reality of our lives.)

Rise Up, My Love (291): Everything We Have Is His!

Song of Solomon 8:12 “My vineyard, which is mine, is before me: thou, O Solomon, must have a thousand, and those that keep the fruit thereof two hundred.” Several last scattered thoughts on this verse, and then let’s move on.

There is a sense in which it is fair to consider ourselves and our productivity as “my vineyard, which is mine” and “is before me…” (although as we just noted, everything we call our own was given to us as a gift), but the Scripture more prominently pictures us individually as branches attached to the true Vine in the Lord’s vineyard, and we are assured that our job is simply to abide in him and he will keep us (John 17). We are reminded that, “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it” (Psalm 127:1). Our hearts can rejoice in the soothing lullaby of Isaiah 27:2-3: “In that day sing ye unto her, A vineyard of red wine. I the Lord do keep it: I will water it every moment; lest any hurt it. I will keep it night and day.”   In Ezekiel 36:8-9 the Lord gives the comforting promise that in the future he will again till and sow Israel, and she will shoot forth her branches and yield fruit. This blessed hope was given to the Jewish people, and some day we will all experience the full blessing of the wife of Jehovah (Israel) and the bride of Christ (the Church) living in perfect harmony…and as “one vineyard” if you will—the great vineyard called the kingdom of heaven.   For the present, if we want to take up the challenge, we can also be faithful sons by working in our Father’s vineyard, because in Matthew 20:1 we are told, “For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard…” In the next chapter, Jesus uses the idea of the kingdom being a vineyard again: “A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard” (Matthew 21:28). Of the two sons, the one who was commended was the one who obeyed his father and worked in the father’s vineyard.

I wonder…are we tending our Father’s vineyard? Are we being faithful sons? Are we dealing with “the little foxes that spoil the vines”? Are we praying for the peace of Jerusalem and for the day when God will again cause Israel to bloom? There is nothing that makes us love a man so much as to pray for him. Are we praying for the Jewish people? Are we praying for those who still need to be grafted into the Vine? Are we loving, giving, sharing, telling, preaching, going, and coming? Oh, beloved, let’s take up the challenge not only to abide faithfully in the Vine, but also to work faithfully in our Father’s vineyard! Then, our vineyards, which are before us, will produce fruit above all that we can ask or think…to the praise of his glory!

Rise Up, My Love (290): Whom Can We Trust with our Fruitful Fields?

Song of Solomon 8:12 “My vineyard, which is mine, is before me: thou, O Solomon, must have a thousand, and those that keep the fruit thereof two hundred.” So, Christ gives us everything, but what about Mrs. Solomon? How did the bride obtain her vineyard? Was it the vineyard she referred to in 1:6? “My mother’s children were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept.” Did she come into her marriage with a prenuptial agreement that she could keep her own vineyard?   I doubt it! It was most likely not this vineyard at all, since no Israelite girl ever truly inherited her own land when she had brothers (as this verse and 8:1 would seem to indicate she had). In Bible times, women were treated almost like property, and whatever a wife had belonged to her husband. No. The Shulamite may have had a vineyard for which she was responsible as a girl, but the present vineyard, which is owned entirely by the bride, would not have been the same vineyard that she was required to tend as a child.   So, how would a bride obtain her own vineyard? It would have to have been a gift from King Solomon, probably as a reward for her delighting him. Perhaps it was for her willingness to follow him throughout the country (Song 2:10; 4:8). Perhaps it was because she invited him to walk through the fields and villages: “Let us see if the vine flourish, whether the tender grape appear…” (7:12). Perhaps it was because she favored him with fruits from the field and the passions of her heart (7:12-13).   Whatever the reasons, it reminds me of Proverbs 31:16, where it reports that the virtuous woman “considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.” This beautiful, virtuous wife had somehow obtained a vineyard, and it was flourishing. And, what was she doing with the profits? Spending them on herself? Investing them in more business enterprises? “Solomon must have a thousand, and those that keep the fruit thereof two hundred.” Not only was Solomon to receive as much profit as he would have had he retained ownership of the vineyard, the bride was going to see to it that those who tended the vineyard got their complete share too.   Would the bride receive any benefit from the vineyard for herself? The text doesn’t say, but her determination to act with noble charity reminds me of the well-known prescription for joy: “J-O-Y” comes from putting Jesus first, then Others, then You. The Bible is full of encouragements that those who sow good will reap not only joy (and that would be enough), but also abundance.   Consider these verses:

Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. He that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting” (Galations 6:7-8).

Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

He which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6).

“To him that soweth righteousness shall be a sure reward” (Proverbs 11:18).

These and many other verses from the Bible lead me to believe that the bride would have been amply repaid for her generous love and faith, despite the fact that she seemed to have no thoughts of remuneration for herself. She was thinking of others, and God always blesses for that.

 

Rise Up, My Love (289): Sharing Finances…Takes Trust as Well as Love

Song of Solomon 8:12 “My vineyard, which is mine, is before me: thou, O Solomon, must have a thousand, and those that keep the fruit thereof two hundred.” After explaining how the profit structure worked in the vineyards, the bride reveals her marvelous heart of devotion and love for her husband. First, she makes a point of the fact that she owns her own vineyard: “My vineyard, which is mine, is before me.” (In other words, she owns her own vineyard and can do whatever she wants with it.) But then—instead of keeping the profits—she insists on giving Solomon the entire profit that she would normally receive for herself, as well as generously paying those farmers who tended her vineyard.   Wow! Talk about amazing love and active faith! Pause to reflect for a few minutes on what this might mean for a husband and wife, and what this might model for us as the bride of Christ. As wives, do we show such devotion to our husbands that we freely entrust to them the benefits from our material possessions? (Before you get too excited husbands…two questions for you to consider: Are you so financially responsible that your wife does not feel compelled to try to provide for her own future? Do you exercise such unselfish love and wisdom in your financial decisions that your wife would want to entrust the management of her money to you?) If you can’t trust your prospective spouse with your money, then please don’t marry that person, because there are many areas that will mean even more to you than money! The ability to trust each other is absolutely critical to the stability of marriage.

To give what is ours to another always requires a great commitment of faith, love, and devotion. God calls us to give ourselves up to him completely. We respond to him out of love, but by faith we are also assured that he loves us even better than we love ourselves and will care for us even better than we can care for ourselves. It’s a win-win situation, and so it is also for the wife whose husband is truly loving her as Christ loves his bride (us).   As wives are to model the bride in her relationship to Christ, so we should ideally cast all our cares upon our husband (even our financial cares). Does that sound scary? I have a dear friend who married when she was almost forty, only finding “Mr. Right” some years after her father had died and left her a very large inheritance. When she married, she wondered whether or not to make a prenuptial agreement with her husband that would keep her inheritance strictly in her control (which had been her father’s desire, in order to protect his daughter from the possibility of marrying an unscrupulous man).

However, as an act of faith in her fiancé, and in the spirit of two becoming one, she chose to share everything with him. Do you think she made a noble choice? I do. We inherit “all spiritual blessings” in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). He gave everything and shares everything. In fact, the goal of Christ’s earthly life was to redeem a people who would become one with him and share his glory (John 17).

Christ gave all and desires all. In the spirit of displaying our love for Christ, we should give all and share all with our spouse as well. Two are to become one, as a picture on earth of what heaven will be like. Somehow…although we still struggle…it seems like it should be easy to have a perfect relationship with Christ, because he is the perfect “husband,” and everything we have came from him anyway. To whatever extent we and our mates are selfish instead of Christlike, to that extent it becomes more difficult to lay down our lives for one another, but this is exactly what God calls us to do.

On this earth, the husband and wife come together bringing completely independent and often very different gifts. However, the calling to love, give, and serve remains unchanged, so be very sure the person you marry is Mr. or Miss Right (not that they are perfect, but that they are truly the right person God wants for you). If you’re not sure, pray about it until you feel peace from the Lord one way or the other: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5).

Next to getting saved, marrying in the will and peace of God is the most important, life defining decision you’ll ever make! Of course, even the best marriages have some tough times. (Have you heard the joke that Mr.-Miss Right’s first name is “Always”?) Despite the difficulties, however, marriage provides an opportunity for the longest, most intimate, most satisfying relationship available on earth, so I hope if you’ve never been married, you may yet find your spouse of a lifetime!