Category Archives: Meditations on the Song of Solomon

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!

 

Rise Up, My Love (288): Abiding in The Vine

Song of Solomon 8:11 “Solomon had a vineyard.” God had a vineyard. What happened then? Did God give up husbandry when his crops failed? God is amazingly long suffering. Hundreds of years after God predicted giving up on Israel, He was still patiently working with them. When Jesus came, He preached to the nation: “Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country” (Matthew 21:33).   Jesus was reminding them again of the passage from Isaiah, and He went on to tell the Jewish leaders that as a nation they had refused to listen to God’s prophets for centuries. (This is also discussed in Jeremiah 12:10, where the Lord laments, “Many pastors have destroyed my vineyard.”) So, what did God do? “Then said the lord of the vineyard, What shall I do? I will send my beloved son: it may be they will reverence him when they see him”…but “they cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. What therefore shall the lord of the vineyard do unto them?” (Luke 20: 13,15). “They say unto him, he will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons” (Matt. 21:41).   Let’s review our verse again: “Solomon had a vineyard at Baal-hamon; he let out the vineyard unto keepers; every one for the fruit thereof was to bring a thousand pieces of silver.” Just as any good king would expect and deserve loyalty and fair business exchange, so God expected loyalty from his subjects. However, instead of “a thousand pieces of silver,” God received treachery and rebellion, even to the point of crucifying his Son. But, glory of glory, God had a plan all the time! This same Jesus, who was cast out of the vineyard of wild grapes and killed, was resurrected. Like “a root out of a dry ground” (Isaiah 53:2), Jesus himself became the one true and living vine that produced fruits full of the sweetness of God.   Jesus declared in the beautiful passage in John 15:   “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman…Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine,ye are the branches….If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.”   In this wonderful passage, Jesus invites all men to come to him and by faith be grafted into himself as the true Vine. Through abiding in him, and allowing his Word and his Holy Spirit to abide in us in truth (in other words, by continuing in obedience to true truth and grace rather than in rebellion), we will produce abundant fruit full of the sweetness and fullness of God’s love and joy, and bring great joy and glory to God! This is God’s amazing plan of grace for the world, so that anyone who will can become part of God’s vineyard.   Are you part of his vineyard? Are you abiding in him, allowing his Spirit and his Word to flow into and through you, washing away the impurities and bringing sweet nourishment to your soul so that your life is producing an abundance of the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control? Lord, may we be faithful and loyal subjects who bring you “a thousand pieces of silver” for the wonderful fruits of the Spirit we enjoy by abiding in your vine and being keepers in your vineyard. Lord, may we surrender all we are and have to you, once forever, and again and again moment by moment until we are forever changed by your eternal presence. (All photos taken near Veneto, Italy, during a trip to visit our kids who live there, except for this last one, which is from Tasmania.)

 

The Royal Wedding Reflects on The Song of Solomon

Did  you watch any of England’s royal wedding over the weekend? England’s Prince Harry of Wales married America’s Meghan Markle on May 19, 2018, but not at Westminster Cathedral, as I assumed. Because Harry is sixth in line to the throne, they were able to avoid inviting political figures (such as Barak Obama or Donald Trump) and instead had a smaller, more intimate ceremony at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. I hadn’t really followed this wonderful celebration while it was occurred, but I had several friends urge me to watch, particularly because Prince Harry’s aunt read the scripture lesson from the Song of Solomon, which was also the text for the message given by The Most Reverend Michael Curry.  If you have fourteen minutes to hear the message, it can be found here: http://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/cwn/2018/may/read-the-powerful-sermon-on-love-bishop-michael-curry-preached-at-the-royal-wedding

Although British royalty don’t often speak of their faith, some of them have a clear and deep testimony to their faith in Christ, particularly the reigning Queen, Elizabeth II, who spoke of her beliefs in the forward to a book published by the Bible Society in time to celebrate the queen’s 90th birthday in 2016, entitled The Servant Queen and the King She Serves. One of the co-authors, Catherine Butcher, reported to Premier.org: “So to have a monarch who talks openly about Jesus in a very relaxed and natural way, we find that a huge encouragement and hope that Christians across the country will take a leaf out of The Queen’s book and learn to talk about Jesus in a natural way with friends, relatives and colleagues, so people can discover more about what it means to be a follower of Jesus.” Amen? Amen!!One of the best parts of the wedding (to me) was the singing of “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah,” which reportedly moistened Prince Harry’s eyes, perhaps because it was his mother’s favorite song and also sung at her funeral. May the words of this Christian anthem be true for England’s beautiful royal family, as well as for each of us!

Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah
(— William Williams, 1745)

“Guide me, O thou great Redeemer,
Pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but thou art mighty;
Hold me with thy powerful hand:
Bread of heaven, bread of heaven
Feed me till I want no more.
Feed me till I want no more.

“Open thou the crystal fountain
Whence the healing stream shall flow;
Let the fiery, cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey through:
Strong deliverer, strong deliverer
Be thou still my strength and shield.
Be thou still my strength and shield.

“When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of death, and hell’s destruction,
Land me safe on Canaan’s side:
Songs of praises, songs of praises
I will ever give to thee.
I will ever give to thee.”

For thou art my rock and my fortress;
therefore for thy name’s sake lead me, and guide me
” (Psalm 31:3).

Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory” (Psalm 73:24).

 

*First photo is one of the official wedding photos; the rest I found on CBN (Christian Broadcasting Network).

Rise Up, My Love (287): What Kind of Grape Are You?

Song of Solomon 8:11 “Solomon had a vineyard at Baal-hamon; he let out the vineyard unto keepers; every one for the fruit thereof was to bring a thousand pieces of silver.” Baal-hamon means literally “Lord of a multitude” or “possessor of abundance” (according to Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, 1099). Scholars have not been able to tie this name to a particular geographic location, so there is debate over whether or not the bride intended this comment literally or figuratively.   However, rather than enter into insolvable supposition (and in keeping with our approach to understanding the entire book), let’s simply take this verse at face value and consider it on both levels. Let me try a generously amplified and expanded attempt at paraphrasing the bride’s statement: “Solomon, who is the Lord of a multitude and possesses great abundance, has a huge vineyard that he rents out to husbandmen. Each of these men pays Solomon a thousand pieces of silver year by year for the privilege of tending (and profiting from) his excellent grape vines.”   That’s a pretty straight forward declaration, and Isaiah 7:22-23 describes a similar picture of Israel experiencing a time of “butter and honey” with many locations “where there were a thousand vines at a thousand silverlings.” It seems probable that during Solomon’s reign, each vine of a vineyard would rent out for one piece of silver, but the harvest would be so bountiful that the husbandman would make a handsome profit even beyond the silver required for rent. This verse in itself is just background information given by the bride to explain her actions in verse twelve, so both verses need to be examined to understand the bride’s activities.  However, verse eleven is rich with spiritual implications for our greater-than-Solomon husband, the Lord Jesus Christ. First, let’s consider the fact that the king had a vineyard. Where was his vineyard, and what was its name? “Baal-hamon”…“Lord of a Multitude.” God promised Israel that his descendants would be “as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude” (Genesis 32:12).   In the Old Testament, we find that God was the Lord of a multitude, and that multitudinous vineyard was Israel. Isaiah 5:1-7 begins, “Now will I sing to my well beloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard.” The wording sounds like Solomon speaking to his bride, but it is God speaking to Israel as if she were His vineyard: “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel” (Isaiah 5:7).   God explained that he had chosen an ideal location and planted the choicest vine (which sounds like the definition of Baal-hamon to me), building a tower for protection and a press for productivity. In fact, he asked, “What could have been done more to my vineyard?” He did everything possible to prepare it for fruitfulness, but what happened? In Jeremiah 2:21 the Lord laments, “I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?” Instead of being a fruitful vine, Israel turned away from him and produced only wild grapes!  What do you do with wild grapes? I can tell you. Have you eaten wild grapes? We call our home Tanglewood Cottage because it is in a woods practically over run by wild grape vines. The grapes are small but turn a beautiful purple in late summer and look wonderfully attractive. For the first few years, the kids and I would always try to harvest some, but they were consistently so sour that we finally gave up and bought some commercial grape vines advertised as producing large, sweet grapes, and planted them along the fence around our pool. We patiently tended those domestic vines for three seasons, hoping for many years of delicious fruit for our labors!  Our oldest son was married in a beautiful vineyard not far from here where his bride’s relatives produce grapes they sell to Welch’s to make grape juice, and the fruit is wonderful. Our California cousins live in a state where there are awesome grapes. We’ve seen hillsides full of luscious grapes from Italy to Tasmania, but can you guess what happened to us? Our new grapes turned out to be small and sour…not much different from the wild grapes. What happened?   I don’t know. I blamed our failure on bad soil, but God chose “a very fruitful hill” and still Israel failed. The whole process taught me a little bit about the frustration the Lord was expressing over Israel. He’d done everything for the Israelites, but instead of loving him and living godly lives…being a “fruitful vine,” as a nation they turned away from faith in him and disregarded his commands.   In Isaiah 5:5-6 God goes on to say that since Israel produced only “wild grapes,” God let his vineyard be wasted. Oh, Lord, as we consider this today, may we not be sour grapes that are good for nothing! Help us to produce sweet fruit by abiding in your Spirit!

(The photos are of vineyards near Veneto Italy and Castello Scaligero, taken during a trip to visit some of our kids, who live there, except for the photo of the wild grape vine, which was taken at our home, and the beautiful grapes, which was taken in Tasmania. [The grapes in Italy weren’t ripe yet.])