Category Archives: Meditations on the Song of Solomon

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!


Rise Up, My Love (275): Eternal Security

Song of Solomon 8:7 God’s eternal love for us secures us forever. We do not have to secure ourselves by adding our own feeble attempts at “good works” to keep God’s love. We have been bought by the precious blood of Christ, and God has chosen to love us. Who would be so foolish as to think that this sacrifice and love was not sufficient to procure (and retain) our salvation? “O foolish Galatians!” Paul warned when the church at Galatia thought they had to keep their salvation through maintaining their good works. Could a lifetime of good works and righteous living add something to Christ’s already perfect sacrifice? No! A thousand times, “No!” A thousand lives lived well could not buy an ounce of God’s love; that would be an insult! his love is lavished on us as freely as the air we breathe and the sunshine that warms our lives. We are his and he is ours!

Revel in the eternal security of his love and unity with us. Finally, if you are married, enter into this supernatural love and let it transform your relationship with your spouse. Husbands (and wives), you are to love your wives with this same eternally secure love. We are called to love our spouses with a love that cannot be tempted to distraction by Satan or the sirens of this world. We are to love each other with a love that does not falter even when we fail one another. We are to love our mate with a bond so strong that only death itself can part us. Are you loving your mate with such a love? Have you told them? Have you demonstrated your love in ways that your spouse can understand?

There is an old joke about the insecure wife who asked her husband, “Do you still love me?” to which he responded, “I told you I loved you when we got married. If anything changes, I’ll let you know.” Gary Chapman—in his excellent book, The Five Love Languages (which I highly recommend if you’ve never read it)—explains that people understand and experience giving and receiving love in at least five different ways: Words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, gifts, and touch. Different people experience feeling loved more clearly through different modes of expression. All of us would do well to understand the varying needs of those we love and learn to express love to them in ways that they can most readily understand.

Are you loving others with God’s eternal love, which cannot be quenched or drowned or bought or sold…forever? Oh, God, may we understand and experience your amazing love, and may we begin loving others with such wondrous strength!


Rise Up, My Love (274): True Love is Priceless

Song of Solomon 8:7 “If a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned.” Why? Because love is priceless! Love is worth more than any and every material treasure, and the lover will accept no substitute for the object of his love…not even money, although the love of money has probably confused and destroyed more people than any other idol (I Timothy 6:10). If a man would try to buy love with “all the substance of his house”—everything he possessed— He would be despised for reducing love and the person from which it comes to an object. If you set the price of love at a billion dollars, you would reduce it to nothing. By its very nature love must be given. Sex can be bought; love must be given.

As you might guess, I read every book I could get my hands on while studying the Song of Solomon, and today I want to share two quotes if you’ll forgive me. Craig Glickman explains things so well in his book, A Song for Lovers: “The attempt to buy a person’s love is an attempt to reduce that person to an object, to deny him that which makes him a person in the image of God—his voluntary choice of the one whom he will love. So if a man offered a girl all the wealth of his house for love, it would be a great insult. It would be an attempt to depersonalize her. For her to accept would be her greatest degradation, and in reality it would almost be legalized prostitution. Person hood precedes love. In depersonalizing, we destroy it. Love is not an object to be bought because it is priceless” (Glickman, 101).

Harry Ironsides, in his classic Addresses on the Song of Solomon, relates the heartbreaking account from many years ago of a seventy-year-old millionaire who negotiated with an ambitious mother for the hand of her eighteen-year-old daughter. After the wedding, the elderly husband lamented, “I am her sorrow” (Ironsides, 120-121). The old man had been unable to buy her love, and all his money had satisfied neither of them. There is no substitute for love! Love cannot be bought. It must be given.

This should be a sublime comfort to us as the objects of God’s love and favor, because that also means that no bribe of Satan can ever tempt God to give us away now! If we have trusted Christ as our Savior, God has taken us into his kingdom and loves us as he loves Christ. Positionally, we are already one in him and with him, although we won’t experience this relationship fully until he brings us to himself in heaven. No accusation against us is great enough to undo the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice and change God’s love. We have been bought and paid for! God will chasten us when we sin and prune us like plants into greater fruitfulness, but even these actions are proof of his love for us: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten” (Revelation 3:19). We are secure. We are loved with everlasting love. Nothing will ever separate us from his love, “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).


Rise Up, My Love (273): Of Flames and Fountains

Song of Solomon 8:6 “Jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.” Fifteen years ago, when I wrote this commentary, I spent nearly a year on this verse alone, I guess because there was so much road repair that had to be done spiritually in my life in order to move on. I am reminded of the verses in Isaiah 62:10 and 40:3: “Prepare ye the way of the people; cast up, cast up the highway; gather out the stones; lift up a standard for the people,” and, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”   I had been moving along, trying to build a straight road for my Lord, when all of a sudden a found a huge boulder blocking the path! The stumbling stone was misplaced affection. I was expecting others to remain perfectly loyal to me through thick and thin, and I was allowing failure to unravel me. This is wrong.

We must keep our eyes on Christ at all times and our relationship with him paramount. It is true that friends and spouses are to remain faithful, but it is inevitable that all people will be faced with the temptation to be unfaithful, and people respond very differently to this type of challenge. Our job as a spouse is to address evil with compassionate firmness without sinning ourselves.   The amazing thing is the power of sin to breed sin. Proverbs 6:24 reminds us that “jealousy is the rage of a man: therefore he will not spare in the day of vengeance.” If our eyes get off the Lord and on to our spouse, the partner’s failure is a tremendous catalyst for us to yield to some sin…be it unfaithfulness, or unholy anger, pride, hatred, revenge, or a host of other evils. “Be ye angry and sin not” (Ephesians 4:26). For years I was troubled by a spirit of jealousy (Numbers 5:14).   Sometimes my jealousy was justified, and sometimes it was not, but it caused me constant pain, and my husband—for whatever reasons—was unwilling or unable to reassure me when I would doubt him. Truly, jealousy is cruel as the grave. The heat of it sparked in me a fire of wrath and hatred that I’ve never experienced in any other situation. It may seem a trite saying to repeat, “If you play with fire, you’re sure to get burned,” but jealousy is a wild fire which burns like Sheol…like the fires of hell…like the continuous burning, smoldering fires of gehenna, the garbage dump outside Jerusalem. “The coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.” Surrender your jealousy to God and make Him the center of your affections. If your love for everyone else is like “hatred” by comparison, then you’ll always be able to love God and others freely. But, if you allow any other person to become the focus of your greatest concern and attention, you will end up with a misplaced affection that robs you of peace and joy, and you will end up feeling volcanic anger toward the person you thought you “loved” when they fail you. God alone is the source of true love and the fountainhead of unsullied joy.(P.S.—I’m happy to be able to share with you that today Alan and I are doing very well in our marriage. He is a loyal and reassuring husband, and I’m very glad to be married to him!)

Rise Up, My Love (272): How to Help Someone Who Strays

Song of Solomon 8:6 “Jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire…” For any of you reading this, I expose my own sins and errors—not so that you will condemn me (God chastened me severely!)—but so that you might avoid my mistakes. The right response to having my conscience violated would have been to totally sever my connections with this young man, because he was not living in submission to God.

Although your heart (like mine) may desire to see all men come to repentance and be restored to fellowship in the spirit of Galatians 6:1, if you find that a friend is starting to violate your boundaries, drop the friendship immediately! Let God be God in their life. You cannot “rescue” such a person, and you will fail if you try. Dropping a friendship is the strongest statement you can make, and it is also the most helpful thing you can do—believe it or not! It is especially helpful if you are able to do it in love, clearly articulating your grief and reasoning, because that conveys to the friend, “I care about you, but if you want our relationship to be restored, you must restore your relationship with God first, and you must learn to respect my boundaries and needs.”

This does not include married “friends.” Once you’re married, you have become half of a unit and giving up on your relationship will damage rather than help your spouse (and yourself, as painful as remaining in an unhappy marriage is). “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mark 10:9).

However, do not let someone drown you. Jesus is the lifeguard, and he is on duty! If someone you love dearly is entangled in a web of sin, cry out to God for help in unceasing, intercessory prayer, but do not compromise yourself in an effort to untangle that person. As Bob Jones (president of my alma mater) used to say to us in chapel, “It’s never right to do wrong in order to get a chance to do right.” But, what can you do? Look again at Galatians 6:1. “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.”

Notice that this is a group—not an individual—effort. What is the appropriate way to deal with a friend who is falling away from Christ and has offended you? Read Matthew 18:15-17. #1. Confront him personally, as friend to friend. If that doesn’t work, #2. Go with several friends and confront him. If that doesn’t work, #3. Treat him like an unbeliever. Ephesians 5:11 warns, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” Even Paul gave up on professing Christians who were living in disobedience (see I Timothy 1:20).

Don’t be afraid to “let go and let God” take over. He is able. Have you entrusted yourself to him? You can entrust others to him also, even if they are rejecting him! It’s funny how we learn things for ourselves and then struggle in understanding how to apply the same principles in our relationship with those we love! I have seen a number of parents live godly, separated lives themselves but struggle when it threatens to separate them from their children. Is God less able to care for their children than he is able to care for them? Many do not have the faith to actually break fellowship with a rebellious adult son or daughter, choosing a compromising friendship over standing with God against open sin.

This is not love and actually aids Satan in his destructive plans. We need to understand that there are few things in this world as the powerful as the separation from, and the disapproval of, those we love. Frankly, I have never known of such an unhappy, compromising alliance to have a happy ending, although God is very merciful, so it has doubtless happened. God’s call is for us to take an unswerving stand with him against those who rebel against him.

It takes tremendous faith and courage, but God will honor those who honor him, and I can tell you one true story where the parents stood with God and it turned out right. I have dear friends who had three wonderful sons. The middle son, during his late teens, fell in love with a somewhat older woman and decided to marry her even though she was an unbeliever and divorced. For the sake of the story, I will call him Will. The parents and two brothers reasoned with Will through the Scriptures and prayed with many tears, but all their pleading fell on deaf ears, and he was more determined than ever to go through with his plans.

When the family saw that Will simply could not be persuaded, they sat down as a family and told him that although they would always love him, they could not fellowship with him as long as he was intent on pursuing a marriage with this unbelieving divorcee because they felt he was resisting God’s will according to the standard of “be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14), and “whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery” (Matthew 5:32), leaving them no option but to “come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord” (2 Corinthians 6:17).

The next months seemed like years to that dear family, especially the mom. They loved Will deeply and anguished…perhaps more than he did…over the separation. I don’t know what happened, or why, but I do know that eventually Will gave up his girlfriend, and now—twenty-five years later—he’s married to a sweet Christian woman who is a joy to the whole family. I’m certain that Will is happy today because God worked in response to the faithful love and fervent prayers of his family, but I also think that somewhere along the way Will realized that his God and his family meant more to him than his girlfriend, and he decided that separation from them was more painful than losing his girlfriend’s affection. Our closest companions will always have the greatest influence. Be sure to always be there for your family…but always stand with God for good!