Category Archives: Rise Up My Love

Commentary on the Song of Solomon

Rise Up, My Love (260): What Do You Want Most of All?

Song of Solomon 8:3 “His left hand should be under my head, and his right hand should embrace me.” This verse is almost an exact repeat of 2:6, where the wife says, “His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doth embrace me.” The only difference is in the verb. Here in 8:3 it is “should be…should embrace” rather than stating the fact that he “is.” The first three verses of this chapter are all in the subjunctive voice, expressing a desire for something to be true which has not actually happened up to this point, but the present tense, imperative charge in verse 4 makes it evident that the bride’s wish for communion did at last come true.

What a blessed thought that the Lord honors our ardent spiritual desires by eventually making them into spiritual realities. If we desire no barriers…there will at last be none! In our earlier discussion (2:6) the emphasis was on the spiritual nature of this loving embrace, and well it should have been, since the Song of Solomon, as the only biblical picture of the mysterious relationship between God and Israel (as well as the mystery of Christ and his bride), is ever and foremost a guide to spiritual love.

However, with this expression of a desire for the experience to be repeated, let’s consider the physical relationship as well. What exactly was Solomon’s bride wishing for here? It is obvious from this verse that the wife desires to intoxicate her husband not only with those loving preparations meant to relax him and bring him joy, but also with the expressions of her love in the deepest sense…to partake of him and give back to him…to become one with him with the intimacy only allowed in marriage.   Many of life’s most beautiful thoughts are conveyed in the unspoken eloquence of silent action, and I truly believe that for the great majority of men, the most profound way for a wife to express her love to him is through giving and accepting sexual pleasure, which is what we see developing in this verse. If the physical reality is that the wife is wishing for sexual communion with her husband, what does that say for us today, and what are the spiritual implications of that wish?   First, it seems that this is the perfect time for every wife (and husband too, really) to take a personal inventory of her-his secret “wish list.” If you could have anything you wanted, what would it be? What is your heart longing for most of all? Is it something material: a new house, a new car, a cottage on the lake, a special vacation…new clothes, a new appliance or power tool, new jewelry or sports equipment; new music? Do you want something more, or just something different? Maybe new friends, a new church, a new school situation for your family, or a new job situation? Oh, there are so many things we could wish for.

Dig deeper. Is there something even more important that you’re wishing for? Maybe a better relationship with someone you love…or don’t love? Maybe restoration of a broken friendship, or the healing of a strained relationship? Or, do you just long for more of a good thing…more happiness, more joy, more peace, more love…to know God better and love him more dearly…to understand your spouse better and love him with a deeper, sweeter, purer love?

The Song of Solomon records the cry of the wife’s heart, and it is to love and be loved by her husband in a very tangible, literal, physical way. Is this the cry of your heart? If it is, then praise God for such heat! If it is not, and rarely ever or never seems to be, then ask God why, and ask him how to change your heart so that you do truly have a passionate desire for your spouse.

Rise Up, My Love (259): Robes of White

Song of Solomon 8:2 What about our thoughts of Christ? I have been mulling over my impressions of Christ for the past several weeks, and right now I will pause and try to share a little with you. Today is December 27, 2001 (obviously, this post was originally written many years ago!), and I’m looking out at 28” of fresh snow. After a record-breakingly warm December with green grass and violets popping out, the Lord sent us every child’s Christmas wish…over two feet of wonderful, fluffy snow…starting on the eve of December 23 and continuing ever since.  That is what Christ has done for the world around me, but it so perfectly pictures what he has done within me also. The world of my soul, withered and brown from the failure of selfish sin, was strangely warmed and made alive again by the power of his resurrection love and salvation. But, my child-heart’s wish is now coming true…I’m being robed in the dazzling beauty of his snow-white righteousness.  I remember as a young woman feeling like such a miserable failure. I was saved at twelve and loved the Lord intensely, eventually going off to a Bible college with the dream of becoming a pastor’s wife. However, I only found one “preacher boy” who interested me, and I was much too unconventional for him. After college I dreamed of serving Christ by becoming a Christian psychologist, so I married Alan, who’d been a friend since junior high days and seemed to be heading in the same direction. We happily began graduate school together, but then Alan promptly decided that he should go into medicine instead. When my dear husband started medical school and I began rearing our brood of children a couple of years later, I found myself feeling not only like an unclean and unworthy vessel, but like one that had become broken and cast aside. It was about that time that Psalm 68 became precious to me…almost a “life chapter” or something, and verse 13 just jumped out: “Though ye have lien among the pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold.”   It was as if the Lord was promising that, even though I felt like a useless, broken pot, he would transform me into a messenger of peace who could fly on wings of gold and silver. How could that ever happen? How will the Lord ever use me? I thought maybe Alan would become a medical missionary, or a Christian psychiatrist, and that I could help him with his work, but Alan never felt called to the mission field, and he went into internal medicine and began a normal practice here in America.   As the kids grew up and I saw what gems they were, I begin to think that perhaps the Lord intended for all of us to work together in some type of family ministry. Maybe. Our children are just beginning to blossom and choose careers, so it’s too early to know what the future may hold there. Still…little by little…year by year…one day at a time…with no more conscious thought than the earth gives to the changes going on within her…the Lord was working out his blessed will in me…carrying on that good work which he began so long ago.   It is God—not the earth— who ordains the weather. Oh, of course weather is inextricably intertwined with the earth, but if we get twenty-eight inches of lake effect snow, it’s because God made Lake Michigan, and God sovereignly decided that a cold front would pass over beginning two days before Christmas. “Mother Nature” is really created and controlled by Father God, and all that we are or do is because God has so ordained it for us.  And, it is also God who works out his sovereign will in us. Our job is simply to trust and obey the light he gives us, walking in the truth of God’s Word as illuminated by his Holy Spirit. It is God who changes us from a broken pot into a messenger of his love. It is God that makes us bright with the beauty of his snow-white robes of righteousness. Praise God from whom all blessings flow! Thank you, Lord, for your work in me. It was not by paths I would have chosen or through ways I planned, but you are slowly sanctifying and spiritually beautifying me…which is more than all I ever knew to want! As the songwriter expresses our hearts for God: “You’re all I want; You’re all I’ve ever needed… Make me know You are near.”

Rise Up, My Love (258): Spiced Pomegranate Juice

I want to tell you that everywhere we visited in India, I kept thinking of scripture verses that seemed to spring to life right before my eyes! This was even more true than in Israel, I think, because life in some parts of India today has striking similarities to what I imagine life might have been like in ancient Israel 4,000 years ago!  One of the common sights in India was vendors pushing carts loaded with lovely fresh fruits. (This was probably not so true in ancient Israel.) I don’t know how the vendors preserved their precious cargoes in the intense heat, but they were usually neatly stacked in orderly piles and looked very appealing.  Because of G.I. issues (which were constant for many of us) and very different bacteria in India, we were advised to abstain from fresh fruits unless we could personally wash them in bottled water and peel them, but on a steamy, hot day the thought of a glass of fresh-squeezed juice was certainly tempting! It’s with that thought in mind that I offer this Sunday’s commentary on the Song of Solomon:

Song of Solomon 8:2 “I would cause thee to drink of spiced wine of the juice of my pomegranate.” As we’ve discovered from earlier studies, the pomegranate was considered the choicest fruit in Israel. It was also conjectured by some to picture a mind filled with true and beautiful thoughts of Christ, and if this interpretation is correct, it sheds a special radiance on the bride’s ardent declaration.

What is the bride wishing to do? She is wishing to influence her husband to enjoy the “spiced wine of the juice of my pomegranate.” What exactly is that? According to one commentator, a kind of sorbet made from the juice of the pomegranate was a popular drink in the East.* Probably the bride had some such delectable specialty in mind, perhaps even one that was made from an old family recipe, since she refers to it as specifically coming from her own pomegranate and in the context of her natal home.

What is our Lord trying to teach us from this tiny gleam of Scriptural revelation? What are we as wives to desire for our husbands? What are we as believers to desire for Christ? If the pomegranate of the “temple” (forehead) is a mind filled with lovely thoughts about our husband, then the spiced wine made from “the juice of my pomegranate” would seem to be an offering of rich, flowing thoughts made by meditating on the one we love…in this physical world, our husband, and in the spiritual world, our Lord.

It is the bride’s desire to invite her husband to become intoxicated with the overflow of her thoughts and emotions as she meditates on his uinque beauties. What offering can you bring to your husband (or wife!) as a result of mulling over all the positive memories you have stored in the files of your mind? What are your thoughts about Christ? Go beyond simply describing who your husband and the Lord are, but also share what have they done for you. If you are reading this with your mate, why not take a few minutes right now and share your thoughts together?

If you can’t right now, would you consider writing out your thoughts now or this week sometime? Will you take time…maybe even just a half an hour for each mini essay…and write one for your Lord and one for your mate? If you’re looking for a “new fruit” to bring on your next mini honeymoon…why not bring along your thoughts to share? They will be even more thrilling to him (or her) than spiced wine (and shouldn’t cause any G.I. distress)!  🙂

* G. Lloyd Carr, The Song of Solomon: An Introduction and Commentary (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 554.

Rise Up, My Love (257): Love’s Apprentice

Song of Solomon 8:2 “I would lead thee, and bring thee into my mother’s house, who would instruct me.” Ah, here is a ready topic for a woman! How are young women to learn how to love their husbands?  In the home, under the ready tutelage of their mothers, who have already spent an entire generation of time practicing the art of love…trying to learn what works and what doesn’t, what is wise and what is foolish, studying which paths lead to success and which to failure. As with any art—be it painting, playing the piano, cooking, sewing, or loving—it takes years of devoted study to do things well.

Think of your ability to love your mate as if you were an artist painting a mile long mural that will take many years to complete. As you work, you will inevitably learn more about perspective…more about how to make the shadows fall in just the right places and how to make the highlights jump out at you…how to make the colors look richer and blend into more pleasing shades. As you work, your talent will gradually develop until at some point you will say, “Oh! How wonderful! I’m finally starting to actually be able to express myself on canvas so that others can see what I can “see” in my heart!

How do people learn an art? Well, they can experiment on their own throughout their lives, but by far the quickest way to learn is by studying under a tutor. A tutor can teach someone else all the tricks of the trade that have taken the master a lifetime of study to learn. For example, Michelangelo, thought by many to be the world’s greatest painter and sculptor, studied under Donatello, who was the world’s greatest sculptor before Michelangelo. Similarly, Donatello spent from age eighteen to twenty-two apprenticing under the world’s foremost bronze-worker, studying his techniques for casting sculptures…and on it goes. Generations of artists and craftsmen have apprenticed people to learn their trade secrets and carry on family businesses.

What is the chief “business” of a wife? You may completely disagree with me, but I think a wife’s #1 “job” is loving her husband…learning how to be his “help meet”—his uniquely designed helper. What are the family “trade secrets?” How does one learn more about perspective in a marriage? How does one learn to soften the shadows of sorrow and highlight the happy times? How should all the elements of life be mixed to make the most pleasing “picture” of love and home so that your relationship with your husband will truly model the mysterious love between Christ and the church? How can you get the onlooking world to eventually exclaim, “Oh! I can see you living out what has been the desire of your heart all along!”

How does one learn all these “trade secrets?” Well, I’m still no expert and feel like learning to love is a lifelong study which will never be completed, but I think the lessons are learned most naturally and easily in the “apprenticeship” of home.

But, what if you’re not from a home where love is taught? Then, just like a young, aspiring artist, apprentice yourself to a master (mistress) craftsman! I learned perseverance in my home, but not Christian love, so I tucked under the wings of two extremely godly sisters who became my spiritual mothers. This is also the New Testament pattern, where the older women in the church are charged with the responsibility of being “teachers of good things; that they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the Word of God be not blasphemed” (Titus 2:3-5).

Learn from watching godly examples, both at home and in the church. Learn from reading good resource material. Learn from observing and asking, and then prayerfully practice. Ask God every day for wisdom and grace. Practice communicating with your mate. Practice with creative and prayerful experimentation. Ask questions. Study. Meditate on the examples and instructions given in Scripture. Ask God to make you into a shining example of His love. And above all, study the master of love…the Prince of Peace. Be joined as one with him, not only positionally, but in your soul and spirit, because it’s only as we become a little more like Jesus that we’ll begin to know how to truly love our mates (and all those around us) and minister to their needs.

 

Rise Up, My Love (256): Afraid of Being Despised

Song of Solomon 8:1 What keeps the bride from immediately acting on her inspiration in this verse? Fear of being despised by others. How true the proverb: “The fear of man bringeth a snare.” Her lament is the core thought as the bride begins to paint this last poetic picture, and it should cause us to pause for serious introspection.

What keeps us from public displays of affection for our Lord? What keeps us from coming away with him during the day for a time of communion? Is it the fear of public ridicule? Are we afraid of being despised? Immediately verses begin to swirl through my brain, such as those prophetically spoken of Jesus: Isaiah 53:3, “He is despised and rejected of men… he was despised, and we esteemed him not,” and Psalm 22:6, “But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.”

Jesus was clearly despised by those who rejected him. But…what about the New Testament admonitions such as 1 Timothy 4:12: “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity,” and Titus 2:15: “These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.”

Those two lines of thought seem incongruous. What exactly does it mean to be despised? Is it something to be avoided, or is it something that we will inevitably suffer for the Lord’s sake? If Jesus, perfect as he was, was despised, how shall we escape such degradation? According to the dictionary, to despise something is to regard it as “unworthy of interest or concern” or worse yet, to regard it with “utter contempt (1)”. Our Lord was regarded as something unworthy of interest by those who rejected him. How often we find that true among unbelievers today!

How often I’ve tried to share Christ with those I love, and their response is often something like this, “I’m too busy. I don’t feel a need. There are too many other things going on in my life right now! Who cares?” Wow! I believe it is against this calloused indifference that our Lord admonished us to be examples of true faith and to “speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority” (Titus 2:15). Don’t let people ignore their need! Speak. Tell them. If they refuse to listen, then exhort them: “urge by strong, often stirring argument, admonition, advice, or appeal (2).”  If they still refuse to acknowledge their need of the Savior, then rebuke them: “criticize or reprove sharply; reprimand (3).” Point out to them their sins “with all authority”…based on the authority of the Word of God!

So, in the final analysis, it looks like the bride is afraid of being despised but should not be. King Solomon wrote in his proverbs that “the fear of man bringeth a snare,” but “whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe” (Proverbs 29:25). Perhaps he taught these very lessons to his wife long before they were recorded for posterity, because—happily—as the next three verses unfold, we see that the bride overcomes her fears in order to bring her husband into communion. And, for us as believers today, we should take heart, not fearing the ridicule of man, but rather pursuing our Lord…morning, noon, and night!

(1) The American Heritage Dictionary. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1992, 507.
(2) Ibid, 642.
(3) Ibid, 1507.

Rise Up, My Love (255): Holy Fire

Song of Solomon 8:1 “O that thou wert as my brother…” Although Solomon has used the term of intimate endearment, “my sister my spouse” four times in the Song, this is the first and only time that his wife uses the word “brother,” and then…she doesn’t really call him brother, she simply expresses the desire to be as affectionate with him in public as one can be with a true biological brother.

The  complete phrase (which I’m going to ask you to look up lest it sound inappropriate for anyone who reads on Face Book) implies a full, rather than only a half brother, since multiple wives but not multiple husbands sometimes occurred during that period. This is a significant differentiation since we know from the lives of Abraham and Sarah, Amnon and Tamar, etc. that half brothers and sisters could and sometimes did marry in ancient times, and therefore—apparently—public affection was socially uncensured only between true biological offspring of the same couple.

I was surprised to find that there is precious little commentary from anyone on this verse. Is it because we—as products of modern western culture—find it hard to understand what she’s feeling? From the remainder of the section (verses 1-4), it seems clear that her desire is not simply to be able to give him a sisterly greeting in public places, it is the desire to be able to draw him away from the public concourses into the privacy of home and initiate intimate communion without incurring public ridicule.

A biological sister could greet her brother affectionately in the market place and take him home to their mother’s house without arousing any suspicion or derision because it would be assumed that she had come on a legitimate business errand. But, this bride was on a romantic errand instead!

Why did she experience such a passion for intimacy during the day, and was the fear of being despised good or bad? As a wife, I can think of times when I’ve daydreamed about “kidnapping” my husband to carry him off for a romantic interlude. There are two common motivations, one selfish and one unselfish.

On the selfish side, such fantasies are often the result of feeling overwhelmed by present responsibilities or burdened by present griefs and trials. There is something almost irresistibly appealing about the thought of escaping to “somewhere” away from the fray with “someone” who loves you and will make you forget your worries. Haven’t you felt that sometimes too?

Although there are proper places and times for coming apart for refreshment (as modeled by our Lord Jesus, who would go apart with his Father and pray), I suspect the Lord doesn’t intend them nearly as often as we imagine! On the unselfish side, the ardent desire to be in communion with the one who is the object of our affection is ever a good thing, and although the pressures and responsibilities of the day often keep us apart for long periods of time, the eagerness of our hearts for reunion is simply an indication of the depths of our love.

Since the text gives no indication that outside pressures are distressing the bride, it seems reasonable to assume that her passion for union is driven simply by the intensity of her love. I wonder, do we share a similar unselfish passion for communion with our Savior…just to be with him not because we need something but because we want him? What about in our marriages? Do we long to be with our mates—not to get something from him or her such as help, reassurance, or sexual release, but “just because”…just because we love being together?

Dear God, please give us a passion for communion with our mate and with our Savior! Please grant us a passion for Christ like the passion we feel for physical union! Please develop in us a hunger and thirst for Christ that’s even greater than our drive for food and water! May we burn brightly with your holy fire.   PS—It didn’t occur to me 15+ years ago when I first studied this verse, but I think a very high percentage of adulterous relationships develop when people feel overwhelmed by life and work stresses but fail to go to God and their mate for help. As mates, we really need to be available to listen and soothe one another. If we’re always busy complaining and adding to our mate’s stress level, then pretty soon our mate will be tempted to go somewhere where they can feel less pressured, not more. However, that’s absolutely WRONG! If spending time with your mate makes you feel more stressed, tell your mate! Work together to find times when you can declare a “no stress zone,” and have times when you concentrate on bonding and having fun together instead of always grinding through issues and problems. The problems ye have with you always!

Rise Up, My Love (254): What Are Some New and Old Fruits We Can Give?

Song of Solomon 7:13 “…and at our gates are all manner of pleasant fruits, new and old, which I have laid up for thee, O my beloved.” The term translated “pleasant fruits” in the KJV is the Hebrew word meged which means “costly” or “precious,” and the idea of fruit is interpolated, since it is not in the original text. (So, do you suppose it was really sushi? Just kidding!) Sapan is the Hebrew term translated “laid up” and means “to hide or to conceal.”*

Since the phrase “pleasant fruits” used in 4:16 is most often thought to be alluding metaphorically to marital bliss, most commentators interpret these costly delicacies—so carefully hidden away by the bride for her husband—to be the offerings of her own personal affections. As a wife, I can easily imagine that a husband would prize the offerings of love more highly than gifts of fresh and dried fruits, but—whether taken figuratively or literally—the invitation is a triple delight!  🙂

First, Solomon’s wife offers all types of that which is pleasantly appealing. Second, she offers both old and new delights. And third, she offers fruits which she has lovingly stored away just for him. “All manner of pleasant fruits…” All—every—not just some or a few favorite, but some of each of those that delight. Nothing held back; nothing excused; nothing missing. Oh, that our hearts might produce and store up for our beloved all the fruits that will delight him!  “New and old…” Here is a woman who knows what her husband loves but who continues to be freshly creative in finding new ways of pleasing him. Based on her experience of what he has loved in the past, she prepares for him a wealth of his “old favorites,” but that isn’t enough to satisfy her! She has experimented with new fruits that she believes will delight him also. Isn’t that the true nature of love? It is ever constant, yet constantly expanding…ever soothing by its familiarity, yet ever fresh and refreshing.

And spiritually, what could the new and old fruits be? Well, it has been said that “love is the golden thread that binds all together,” so surely it is a new fruit as well as an old fruit. Love is the first fruit, and the last fruit. It is the first work, and without it, any other work becomes “tinkling brass” without meaning or “a sounding gong” without melody. The bride has certainly demonstrated love in her plans and preparations.

What else? New fruits…old fruits. If I were thinking literally about my household, I would say that new fruits are mangoes and kiwis and old fruits are dates and raisins. Do you think that’s what the Bible is talking about? Let’s think beyond the literal story to its possible allegorical, spiritual meaning. New fruits…new efforts, new converts brought to Christ, new zeal and deepening commitment, fresh understanding about who he is and what his Word means, new enthusiasm to serve him, new appreciation for all his blessings and protections, new awareness of how much his presence means to us, a new sense of reverence for the majesty of his person, which rises in us like a great tidal wave sweeping over our souls.

Ah, how he longs for us to go on in our faith, learning new things about him and recognizing the new mercies that he lavishes on us morning by morning! How he wants us to conquer new territory, praying with Jabez: “Oh that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, and that your hand would be with me, and that you would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain” (1 Chronicles 6:10, NIV). New surrender, new courage, new hope, new strength, new confidence, new endurance. How our Lord longs for us to prepare such gifts for him!

And, what about old fruits? What might they be? Old honors and successes…not clinging to them in pride, but instead recognizing that it is not we ourselves but rather Jesus who does all things well and works through us to perform his good pleasure… looking ever forward to Christ alone as the goal and prize for which we strive. Old forgiveness…taking the sins that he’s forgiven and casting them behind our backs forever, refusing to ever speak or even think of them again…not only the sins that we’ve committed but the sins that others have committed against us.   Old saints, ripening for heaven, and old parents (whether saved or unsaved) who brought us up…do we truly give them the place of reverential honor that they deserve? Or, do we tend to blame them for our failures and despise their ever-increasing frailty and need for help? Wow. I believe God wants us to honor our earthly fathers and mothers as a reflection of the honor we feel for our heavenly Father. That’s a big one, but that is certainly an “old fruit” that we could store up to please our Lord!  Not only is it the cup of cold water given to a child in his name that pleases our Lord, it is the cup of kindness poured out to the elderly…that extra sacrificial time we take to bring them into our homes, to read to them, to talk to them, to pray with them, to bring them into our confidence. I had two very aged and needy parents when I wrote this (years ago now), and there was nothing that meant more to my father than just having me sit at his bedside, hold his hand, and spend some time with him. If we try to minister to our parents with the same tender love with which we’d attend Christ…that is a gift for him!

Indeed, in all of life, may the good that is produced in and through us be “laid up” all for Jesus, and for him alone.

“Thou God and I, none other:
Oh far from men to be!
Nay, midst the crowd and tumult,
Still Lord alone with Thee.
Still folded close upon Thy breast,
In field and mart and street.
Untroubled in that perfect rest,
That isolation sweet.”
(—L.M. McPhee, in The Romance of the Ages)

* Paige Patterson, Song of Solomon (Chicago:  Moody, 1986), 111.