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?!