Category Archives: Meditations on the Song of Solomon

Rise Up, My Love (223): What’s the Distinction Between Liquor and Wine?

fresh-rolls-7-27-07Song of Solomon 7:2 The second question—what is the significance of “liquor” rather than wine, and “heap of wheat” rather than bread?—is harder to answer, but here are some thoughts. The word rendered “liquor” is the Hebrew mezeg and is only used this once in the Old Testament, although most Biblical scholars believe it is related to masak which is used eight times and refers to wine that has been mixed with something else…either diluted by adding water or strengthened by adding honey and spices (Carr, Lloyd. The Song of Solomon: An Introduction and Commentary, pp. 157-8). According to John MacArthur, wine was diluted with water both for the Passover meal and for special events such as weddings (see notes on Mark 14:18, Luke 22:17 and John 2:2, MacArthur, John. The MacArthur Study Bible, pp. 1494, 1559, 1578). The meaning of “heap of wheat” is clear enough…but a pile of grain isn’t quite as appealing as a freshly baked loaf of bread such as the priests laid on the altar or Christians enjoy at the communion table.

The liquor was something more or less than wine; the heap of wheat was something less than bread…something with potential but unfinished. Could it be that the Lord takes whatever we have…whether it’s “more” or “less” and feasts upon it? Could it be that he takes our “liquor,” and if it’s diluted, he distills it; if it’s laced with additives, he purifies it? (That’s a sincere question; I don’t know the answer, but I’d appreciate hearing your thoughts. Consider Mark 15:23; when Jesus was crucified, he refused to take the wine mixed with myrrh. See also Psalm 69:2.)

Or, perhaps the liquor is enhanced with good things, like honey and spice—a special anointing by the Spirit with sweetness and flavor—“sugar and spice, and everything nice.” That is what girls are supposed to be made of, isn’t it? Perhaps to our Lord, the wine of his bride is even sweeter than wine, because each individual’s cup of wine is mixed with the unique qualities and gifts the Lord has given that person.

And the heap of wheat? What a fitting description of the soul with his heart on the altar! Winnowed—the chaff blown away by the winds—, heaped together, and decked with flowers. What a beautiful thought—that we are like a grain offering— our lives laid on the altar, open, available, and waiting for the Lord to make us into whatever he chooses.

Wheat must be ground into powder, combined with other ingredients, doused with liquid, beaten and kneaded, poured out, punched down, allowed to rise again, and fired in a hot oven before it’s ready to be enjoyed. But, the Lord will do all that. He will choose how fine to grind our lives, what trials to add, how long to buffet, how long to abase, how long to abound…how long to bake in the heat of life’s trials. He will direct all that, and he will feast on us…now as a grain offering…and someday as a finished “loaf” when we’re complete in him on heaven’s celestial shores.

Think of wisdom’s invitation to the simple from Proverbs 9:5-6, “Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled. Forsake the foolish, and live; and go in the way of understanding.” Think of the invitation from Isaiah 55 to buy wine without money and to feast freely on the bread of goodness. Isn’t this the invitation Christ offers us? Can we not give him the offering of our body—as imperfect and unfinished as its “mingled wine and wheat” are—to be made into a love feast for him?

Think of our Lord in the garden. There he accepted the cup of agony that we could not bear for ourselves. See him on the cross…the taste of vinegar and gall…the crushing load of not only his own body but the weight of the world’s sin…the death of separation from God while he bore our sin…his body wracked with pain and his soul wracked with sorrow. This was the bitter cup he drank from the hand of God to save us from our sins and win a bride for himself. See him risen from the grave and glowing with his resurrection body.

Picture yourself as part of the body of Christ…his bride, the church. Visualize offering your own body as a living sacrifice…and understand that spiritually your navel is as a “goblet that wanteth not liquor,” and your belly is a “heap of wheat set about with lilies.” Imagine Jesus, who drank the cup of God’s wrath and sorrow for you, drinking from the goblet of your love, filled with the “liquor” of his Spirit, and feasting on the rich grains of wheat laid out in a heap before him. Doesn’t that thrill your soul? Oh, that he might be pleased to drink from our cup and feast on the wheat we’ve garnered from the fields that are “white already to harvest.” Oh, that he might be pleased with our sacrifice and find the taste sweet and pure. Oh, that we might refresh the heart of our Lord with our lives lived as a living sacrifice!

Rise Up, My Love (222): How Can We Reciprocate God’s Love for Us?

bread-and-wine-and-candlesSong of Solomon 7:2 “Thy belly is like an heap of wheat set about with lilies.” So many of the sacred lessons I’ve learned from this book came during quiet times of meditation during our chapel’s weekly communion service. These next thoughts came as I pondered our text during one of those communion services. There were two questions on my mind. #1. The Lord gave his body as bread and wine to be broken and poured out for us…not only for our salvation, but for daily spiritual food and drink that we might have a spiritually abundant life of “feasting” on and with him. In return, what exactly (if anything) can we bring to him for the love feast? #2. What is the significance of “liquor” rather than wine, and “heap of wheat” rather than bread? The answer to the first question, is, I think, a resounding and thrilling, “Yes!” challah-bread-and-candle-10-15-16We can offer to our Lord what he has given us—our body, open and available for his delight. As a woman cannot produce offspring by herself, but rather by joyfully receiving her husband’s seed and allowing it to penetrate her being, spark new life, take root in her womb, and grow to fruition…even so can we delight our Lord by receiving with joy his living seed…the Word of God, and allowing it to penetrate our being until it sparks new life, which we allow to incubate within us…receiving our life blood of time, love, and spiritual resources until it comes to birth as a spiritual babe…to be suckled and brought up “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” This is much harder than simply coming to the communion table each week and taking in all the Lord has provided for us, but if it is the longing of our heart to delight him as he delights us…this is the way, for he has told us the secret in this verse! To him, our navel is drink indeed, and our belly wheat. That in us which allows for spiritual reproduction is a spiritual feast for Christ. fresh-rolls-11-25-16Do you remember the account from the fourth chapter of John where the disciples leave a very weary Christ by the well and go into town to buy provisions? When they return and urge him to eat, what is his response? “I have meat to eat that ye know not of” (John 4:32). The disciples…always thinking in physical terms…wondered if someone had brought him lunch. But, notice his reply; it had nothing to do with physical food. “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work. Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? Behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest” (John 4:34-35). What had Jesus feasted on in the disciples’ absence? The joy of one sinner coming to faith in Christ…the refreshment of imparting living water to one fainting heart. What was his aspiration for his disciples? That they see the multitudes of people in need of salvation. Would you like to provide a love feast for your master? Open up your navel to be filled with the wine of the Spirit. Feast on the Bread of Life until your belly is as round and lustrous as a “heap of wheat set about with lilies”…filled with the Word, fragrant, and protected by purity. Allow yourself to become fruitful in producing spiritual offspring for your Lord. In this way, you will become a “love feast” to refresh your bridegroom!

Rise Up, My Love (227): A Neck Like a Tower of Ivory

auguste-rodin-madame-roll-musee-rodin-parisSong of Solomon 7:4 “Thy neck is as a tower of ivory.” In the Song of Solomon, there is a wonderful progression in the character and praise of the wife’s neck. In chapter 1:3 the groom mentions how lovely the bride looks adorned with chains of gold around her neck, and in 4:4 he comments that her neck is like a tower built for an armory to display beautiful golden shields. However, in 7:4 what the husband notices is no longer the adornments he has given his bride, but her beautiful neck itself! What made the difference? marble-statue-of-a-woman-paris-musee-dorsayHow did the wife go from being praised for the husband’s beautiful gifts to being praised for what she was? How did her neck change such that it became so beautiful in its own right that it was more captivating than adornments…and more pleasing uncovered? The changes mentioned are in color and consistency: from a “black tent” to a tower…and then, to a tower of ivory.  auguste-rodin-eve-musee-rodin-parisThink back to the beginning the Song. The bride shrinks from view: “Look not upon be, because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me”(Song 1:6). And, in the preceding verse, the bride likens herself to being as black “as the tents of Kedar.” A woman who is blackened by the sun is a perfect picture of the natural man…the Ecclesiastical sinner who toils “under the sun” and finds that all is “vanity and vexation of spirit”(Ecclesiastes 2:26). A woman “under the sun” is like the daughter of Zion described in Isaiah 1:5-6: “The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment.” Repulsive as this is, it is a true picture of what each of us looked like spiritually at the time the Lord called us to be His own.  musee-dorsay-paris-looks-like-a-woman-reading-her-bibleHere is another thought. The bride likens herself to the “tents of Kedar.” What were the tents of Kedar? They were the dwelling places of those nomads who were roving the arid wilderness areas of the Middle East. The tents were made out of the tanned hides of goats…leathery and weatherbeaten…blackened by the smoke of a thousand sooty fires where nightly meals were being prepared. The tents were tough and rugged, but still they could be blown over by a heavy wind and certainly could not provide protection from enemy invasion! A blackened tent is almost an antonym for an “ivory tower.” This bride was the original “red neck…” rough and tough, sunburned and uncared for…her neck as dark and leathery as a sun-baked tent, not upright and elegant, but all too oft bent down from the heavy labors of tending her brothers’ vineyards. Spiritually, this is the picture of one whose neck has been bowed under the yoke of Satan, the blackened soul enslaved by sin, the morally frail one who could be blown about by “every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness” (Ephesians 4:14). Think back to the Song of Solomon 1:4. “Draw me, we will run after thee: the king hath brought me into his chambers.” The king draws us, we run after him, and he weds us to himself.  musee-dorsay-claude-monetAbsolutely incredible! We cannot resist running to him, and yet we are utterly amazed that he will take us in. We are as dark as the tents of Kedar. We are ashamed to be seen! Our hearts are black with sin and we cry out in brokenhearted anguish, “Don’t look at me!” Yet, our Lord loves us and takes us to himself. He washes our wounds, dresses us in robes of white, and places around our neck the golden chains of his ownership—his forgiveness, mercy, and grace. How they sparkle in the sunlight of his love! He cherishes us, praises our feeble attempts to please him, decks our cheeks with jewels and lavishes us with the gifts of his Spirit. He anoints us with perfumes and seats us at his banqueting table. “How lovely you look with those dazzling chains about your neck!” He praises. “How well you wear my graces and gifts!” We are not spiritually beautiful yet, but our heavenly lover encourages us by saying we appear lovely dressed in his robes of righteousness and adorned with his graciousness.  musee-dorsay-claude-monet-1866-femmes-au-jardinBy chapter 4, the bride has grown tremendously. No longer the young bride who is ashamed by her utter failure, now the bride has learned to walk uprightly. She has taken her place publicly as the queen and holds her head erect, walking with the demeanor fitting one who has become one of the nation of kings and priests.jardin-des-tuileries-paris She is walking in his steps and following in his ways. She has become a tower to display his graces and glories (4:4). Now, at last, by chapter 7, her neck is like a tower of ivory…erect, smooth, and lily white. Ivory speaks of purity, beauty, strength, costliness, stateliness…lustrous solidness. No longer suffering from overexposure to the deadly rays of this word’s sun and stooped from the weary round of her forced labor, the bride’s skin has taken on the prized sheen of ivory.  rebrandt-bugatti-chevaux-de-trait-musee-dorsayHer stance is statuesque; her neck is regal. Never again will her neck bow under the yoke of Satan or honor the idols or axioms of this world; it will bow only to honor her Lord and King! Her neck, which once drooped under the burden of shame, now supports her head like an ivory tower. auguste-rodin-diane-musee-rodin-parisShe has taken on not only the air but the essence of her royal husband, of whom it was said, “All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces, whereby they have made thee glad. kings’ daughters were among thy honourable women; upon thy right hand did stand the queen in gold of Ophir” (Psalm 45:8-9). This queen in gold is us—his beloved bride—no longer the backdrop for His treasures, but the treasure itself. At last the neck is like an ivory tower…needing no adornment…beautifully captivating in its own right.  henri-fantin-latour-charlotte-dubourg-musee-dorsay-parisTell me, dear wife, does your husband find more pleasure in you dressed or undressed? A beautiful neck needs no adornments to allure. And spiritually? The neck made straight… fashioned from the living sacrifice of Christ’s pure ivory…turning neither to the right or left, nor turning back…is a precious treasure to our Lord, and one He will delight in more than all the gold of Ophir!auguste-rodin-the-kiss-musee-rodin-paris

(All photos taken at Musée d’Orsay, Musée Rodin, and Jardin des Tuileries in Paris last spring.)

Rise Up, My Love (221): A Heap of Wheat and Sweet Communion

monet-haystacks-dorsay-museumSong of Solomon 7:2 “Thy belly is like an heap of wheat set about with lilies.” We can’t leave this beautiful text yet, because there’s still a lot left to glean! During the fall harvest festival, piles of wheat decorated with flowers were often placed in parallel rows on the eastern threshing floors. At this time of harvest, the wheat was fully ripe and glowed with a golden sheen, and to these middle-easterners, a body the color of wheat was believed to be the most beautiful.* (Lloyd Carr. The Song of Solomon: An Introduction and Commentary, p. 554).sheaf-of-wheat-holland-miIt is easy to imagine Solomon thinking back to the beauty of an abundant harvest festival…noticing in his wife’s belly the same golden sheen and soft roundness that reminded him of “a heap of wheat set about by lilies.” Lilies—trumpets fragranced with an almost intoxicating scent— but the snow-white symbol of purity. “Set about with lilies” can mean “to be decorated with,” but it can also mean “to be guarded by.” white-lily-chateau-de-chenonceau-05-15-16Her belly, the overlay of her womb, was enhanced by an almost irresistible aroma but also guarded by her purity. The secret passageway to her womb was “set about with lilies”— wondrous, but kept only for him. And here, we are brought once again to the tabernacle door where we sense the glow of the Shekinah glory within. bread-and-wine-juiceHer navel like wine…her belly like wheat…wine and bread…the two staples of a feast…the two elements of communion. How often in marriage I have sensed the holiness of the marital sex and recognized it as the physical counterpart to spiritual communion. Truly the marriage bed is holy (Hebrews 13:4), and marriage is intended as the physical testimony in this world to the spiritual realities that exist in the marriage between Christ and his bride, the Church (Ephesians 5:21-32).  Is anything blocking your fellowship, or are you celebrating communion with joy these days?

Rise Up, My Love (220): Being Well Rounded

la-venus-de-milo-at-the-louvre-parisSong of Solomon 7:2 “Thy navel is like a round goblet, which wanteth not liquor: thy belly is like a heap of wheat set about with lilies.” The imagery of the navel being like a full wine goblet didn’t make a lot of sense to me when I tried to imagine it in physical terms. Navels normally neither look like— nor are thy filled with—any type of liquid! The word for navel is sarr and is used only two other times in the Old Testament. In Ezekiel 16:4 it is without a doubt used to mean the place where the umbilical cord is cut…what we call the “belly button” today. But, sarr is also rendered “navel” in Proverbs 3:8, with a much more figurative meaning. field-of-yellow-rapeseed-in-franceThe entire context from verses seven to ten adds light to its use in the Song: “Be not wise in thine own eyes; fear the Lord, and depart from evil. It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones. Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with the first fruits of all thine increase; so shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine.” Verses 7 and 8 admonish us to humble ourselves, fear the Lord, and depart from evil with the promise of (if I understand correctly) a fruitful womb (“health to thy navel”), good health and strength (“marrow to thy bones”).

Verses 9 and 10 admonish us to honor the Lord with the first fruits of our labor, and in return we are promised an abundance of good food (wheat in the barn) and drink (wine). There is also another verse in Proverbs that sheds light on the imagery of “a round goblet that wanteth not liquor”: “The righteous eateth to the satisfying of his soul, but the belly of the wicked shall want” (Proverbs 13:25). In this verse, we are taught that those who a righteous before God will have fully satisfied souls, but that the wicked shall go hungry. Seen in the light of these verses, a beautiful spiritual image appears. field-of-rapeseed-near-mont-saint-michel-france-05-14-16The navel—source of life and birth— like a full wine goblet represents a spiritually fruitful womb overflowing with grace…”bursting out with new wine”…a spirit that is filled with the wine of joy and abundance of spiritual fruit…the promise fulfilled from Psalm 126:5-6, “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” The bride had walked through the veil of tears to find her Lord and gather fruit for him. Here she is—again in his presence—her sheaves with her and exuberant in the delight of his praise. The belly—center of her being, receptor of his love, womb for their children— like a “heap of wheat”… is like a barn “filled with plenty.” The bride, having learned to live out the admonitions in the Proverbs, has become fully fruitful. Hers is not the belly of the wicked that “shall want,” but her belly is “a round goblet that wanteth not liquor!”

(PS—As a comfort to all of us, the “wife” is the Church universal—men and women—and the “fruitful womb” is also spiritual, referring not to the birth of many physical children, but to the birth and nurturing of spiritual children. If you have never had nor will ever have physical children, remember that what our Lord really values is our spiritual fruitfulness. Do you love the Lord? Proclaim the joyous news of redemption through Christ. Feed His lambs. Love like He loves. Care for the widows and orphans. Help the poor and needy. Reach out to the lonely foreigners looking for refuge. You will be one whose “navel is like a round goblet, which wanteth not liquor: thy belly is like a heap of wheat set about with lilies.”

Rise Up, My Love (219): The Beauty of a Full Wine Goblet

vase-of-lilies-chateau-de-chenonceau-loire-valley-franceSong of Solomon 7:2 “Thy navel is like a round goblet, which wanteth not liquor: thy belly is like a heap of wheat set about with lilies.” Verses 1 and 2 of chapter 7 begin a beautiful love song which offers very intimate, explicit details about the bride’s body…and it has been said that “God does not stutter” when He describes the sensual delights of marriage (Craig Glickman, A Song for Lovers, p. 83). louvre-mademoiselle-caroline-riviere-by-jena-auguste-dominiqueIn chapter 4, the bridegroom detailed seven features that He especially loved about his bride: her eyes, hair, teeth, lips, temples, neck, and breasts. If Solomon had been a sculptor, this would have been called a “bust” carving…just the head and chest. marble-statue-at-louvreNow, three chapters and many experiences later, he repeats (with some expansions) his original praises, but adds several more descriptions that were not mentioned in the previous sonnet, carving out an exquisite “marble statue” of her complete form, toe to head: her feet, thighs, navel, belly, breasts, neck, eyes, nose, head, and hair. Some commentators suggest that this fuller description would seem to indicate a greater knowledge…and a deeper love.

And yet, no one contests that the praises recorded in chapter 4 follow the wedding. Certainly the groom would have been able to behold his “Eve” in her entirety at that point. Why did he praise only the “top half” of her body at first, and now praise everything? It almost seems as if King Solomon delighted in “what worked”…in those aspects of her body that were actually functioning… fulfilling their purpose.

In a marriage, I believe this happens. A man is often attracted first to a face and figure, but what he grows to appreciate more deeply as the marriage progresses is all his wife does: her busy feet, the wonder of mothering their children…and then all the things he loved at first. Notice the model wife in Proverbs 31; it isn’t her great beauty that is praised, but her diligence and good works.

This seems consistent with the spiritual model as well. In the early season of our “marriage” (first years of salvation), the king delights to find us watching, submitting, learning, speaking, thinking, standing, and nurturing…and he praises us for these beautiful qualities. Later—after the anguish of learning how to treasure Him more than we do ourselves…to love him more than our own life…and learning to be fruitful for him— we find that he delights in our busy feet which carry the gospel of peace… our “jeweled thighs” that move to do his will with the precision of a master clock maker’s own, prized “seventeen-jewel” watch…and our navel and belly, from whence come spiritual offspring.

No, I do not think King Solomon was praising her more completely because he now had some greater knowledge of her physical body and its visual delights. I believe he praised her more fully because she had learned to delight him with her whole body, and he took pleasure in that.

Rise Up, My Love (218): Feeling Blue? How About Being a Brilliant Blue?

kathi-in-field-of-rapeseed-05-15-16-france-countrysideSong of Solomon 7:1. Do you ever wish you looked different? Shorter nose, lighter frame, smaller waistline, broader shoulders…whatever? Do you know that God made you exactly the way he wanted you? I still marvel at that and find myself asking, “Are you sure? I don’t look the way I would have made me…” Do you doubt God’s wisdom? Would you change his sovereign choice? Would you like to be a piece of pottery who says to the master, “Why did you make me thus?” “Nay, but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay?” (Romans 9:20-21). beautiful-ceramic-pottery-in-napoleons-apartments-louvreNo, we need to respond as the prophet did in Isaiah 64:8, “O Lord, thou art our Father, we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.” May we learn to rejoice with the sweet psalmist who sang out, “For thou, Lord, hast made me glad through thy work: I will triumph in the works of thy hands” (Psalm 92:4). Oh, the love and tender care our heavenly bridegroom has bestowed on us! Oh, for hearts to understand our heavenly husband’s delight in his wife’s beauty (that’s us)! And yet, we must also always remember that our beauty is really the result of his love, not the cause of it! africa-starling-in-ehlanzeni-saMay we never come to the point of becoming proud or lifted up, thinking that we are more beautiful or somehow spiritually superior to anyone else. Who makes us beautiful? “For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee [emphasis mine]…behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colors, and lay thy foundations with sapphires” (Isaiah 54:10-11). south-african-national-gallery-of-artThe next time you feel blue, remember that you are blue…deep down…for God has laid your foundation with sapphires! As a friend once said to me, “If you’re going to be blue, at least be a brilliant blue.” tanzanite-from-shimansky-diamonds-in-cape-town-saIn fact, our foundation is the brilliant sapphire, and the structure of our body (which is the spiritual temple to be filled with the glory of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us) is laid in multicolored gems…rubies, diamonds, and emeralds, etc.! If that doesn’t cheer your heart—then meditate on that last passage (Isaiah 54:10-11), and let it sink in! Finally, as we read in Colossians 1:16, “All things were created by him, and for him.” Not only did his great love culminate in our creation and redemption, he did it for his pleasure! blue-skies-with-grey-and-white-cloudsLook at Revelation 4:11, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” Would you like to add to his pleasure? “Build the house [referring to the temple]; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the Lord” (Haggai 1:8). How can we please our Lord and add to his pleasure? By “building” upon the house-temple of our body’s foundation with the gold, silver, and precious stones of faith, reverence, love, obedience… and the good works that follow in their train. Oh, Lord, may we rejoice in your work in us—the work of a cunning craftsman—and may we also do our part to build upon the foundation a temple of great beauty so that you will be glorified and take pleasure in us!