Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves' eyes within thy locks: thy hair is as a flock of goats, that appear from mount Gilead.Solomon's Garden
Song of Solomon 4:12-14
There is one advantage in speaking about a garden—the preacher at once enlists the interest of his hearers. The love of plants and flowers is almost universal. Our greatest English essayists have written upon gardens. The father of inductive philosophy had an intense love for the beauties of nature. He says: 'God Almighty first planted a garden; and indeed it is the purest of pleasures'. Abraham Cowley, when dedicating his poem, 'The Garden,' to John Evelyn, the well-known author of Sylva, writes: 'I never had any other desire so strong and so like to covetousness, as that one which I have had always, that I might be master at last of a small house and a large garden, and then dedicate the remainder of my life only to the culture of them and the study of nature'. Only to give one other instance, Sir William Temple says: 'A garden has been the inclination of kings and the choice of philosophers; the common favourite of public and of private men; the pleasure of the greatest, and the care of the meanest; an employment for which no man is too high or too low. If we believe the Scriptures, we must allow that God Almighty esteemed the life of man in a garden the happiest He could give him; or else He would not have placed Adam in that of Eden.'
We cannot read the Bible without seeing that the Jews were a people who delighted in flowers and green fields, in groves and plantations, in orchards, and gardens. The fact that 250 botanical terms occur in the Bible, in a work not professedly treating on horticulture, proves this. Gardens were the sacred retreats of Hebrew life; in them they prayed, held their family festivals, and at last buried their dead. Prophets, as well as poets, enriched their imagery from the same fertile theme. Isaiah compares the kingdom of Messiah to 'a well-watered garden,' whilst he likens Zion in her national decadence to 'an oak whose leaf fadeth,' and to 'a garden that hath no water'.
Solomon, the wise king of Israel, sought retirement from the exactions of his court and from the business of empire in his wonderful gardens at Etham. He was a botanist, and knew the habits of every plant, from the lowly hyssop to the mighty cedar. In the book of Canticles, as Delitzsch observes, we have the names of no fewer than eighteen different plants.
The book from which I have selected the verses at the head of the chapter is an exquisite allegory. Beneath its types and symbols we see the foreshadowings of Incarnate love, the marriage of Christ and His Church, the glories of the Bridegroom, and the graces and privileges of the Bride. The Song of songs has been called 'the enigma of the Old Testament, as the Apocalypse is of the New'. It is a book which has ever been dear to devout souls. It was as precious to Leighton and Taylor, to Bunyan and Gill, as to Bernard and Catherine of Siena, to Bossuet and Dr. Neale. This book is not the strain of a 'Hebrew Swinburne,' as M. Renan would have it; but it is the breathing of the Holy Spirit, setting forth the mystical union which is betwixt Christ and His Church. The historian Niebuhr once said: 'For my part, I should think there was something wanting in the Bible if we could not find in it any expression for the deepest and strongest sentiment of humanity'. In the words of my text, Christ, the Bridegroom, compares the Church, the Bride, to a garden. This image is quite in harmony with other portions of Scripture, where the children of God are compared to palms and cedars, to olives and fruit-trees, to plants and flowers. The Church is the Lord's Paradise or garden, because a garden speaks of care and culture, of digging and dunging, of planting and pruning, of fragrance and fruitfulness.
I. Observe, first, that the garden is 'enclosed'. The garden of the Church is enclosed (1) by God's electing love; (2) By God's sanctifying grace; (3) By God's providential care. In all ages God's all-watchful eye and all-powerful arm have encompassed the Church.
II. We have here a remarkable prophecy of the kingdom of the Messiah, which was to include the Gentile as well as the Jew, 'that they might be called trees of the Lord's planting'.
The great Husbandman delights in every fresh accession; and a greater than Solomon knows every plant of His garden, from the lowly hyssop to the majestic cedar. He knows their habits, and cares for each. He especially delights in the young—'those who are planted in the house of the Lord,' and who 'flourish in the courts of our God'.
III. We see in this symbolic garden an illustration of the variety of character to be found in the Church of Christ.
IV. We see in this garden the variety of graces to be found in the heart of each believer.
Dr. Littledale, in his Commentary on the Song of Songs, quotes an old Dutch hymn which is quaint and beautiful. The writer, when naming some of the flowers as emblems of the graces of a believing soul, says:—
The Lily white that bloometh there is Purity,
The fragrant Violet is surnamed Humility.
The lovely damask Rose is there called Patience,
The rich and cheerful Marigold Obedience.
One plant is there with crown bedight, the rest above,
With crown imperial, and this plant is Holy Love;
But still of all the flowers the fairest and the best
Is Jesus Christ, the Lord Himself, His Name be blest.
O Jesu, my chief good and sole felicity,
Thy little garden make my ready heart to be!
It was said of a great horticulturist that he could hardly sleep, whenever he heard of some fresh plant introduced into this country, until he had secured a specimen. As we study the character of Christ, and see the perfections of His varied graces and the exquisite harmony of His life, we ought not to rest until His graces become ours. Are we conscious that we lack humility? We ought to pray, and pray continually, to learn of Him who was 'meek and lowly in heart,' and so find rest to our souls. In a day of so much profession, let us earnestly strive to become fruit-bearing Christians, recollecting all the time that the fruit is His. 'Let my Beloved come into His garden and eat His pleasant fruits.' May the prayer of St. Paul be fulfilled in the experience of each one of us: 'That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing: being fruitful in every good work... strengthened with all might, unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness.'
—J. W. Bardsley, Many Mansions, p. 181.
Life Transfigured. Its Necessity—For the Church
Song of Solomon 4:16
The Lord Christ loves, has ever loved a garden. He ofttimes resorted to the Garden of Gethsemane, before His Passion, with His disciples, and He was once Himself mistaken for a gardener. No such serious mistake after all, for He is the Gardener, the Protector, and the constant gracious Supervisor of the Church, which is His garden.
The Church of Christ is fitly compared to a garden:—
I. In its Design.—A garden is intended to give pleasure to its owner. When we are weary, or need a quiet time for meditation, how pleasant, if we have a garden, to retire into it and be refreshed. And Christ desires to find His rest and His pleasure in His people.
II. Its Derivation.—A garden is frequently reclaimed from a desert waste. Wonderful transformations have been effected by human skill, but they all fade into insignificance when compared with the transformation of the garden of the Church.
Fabulous prices have been paid before Today for gardens such as, e.g. the gardens of Magdalene College, Oxford, where Addison used to walk. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon. But no price paid for earthly gardens can be compared with the cost at which this garden has been reclaimed. The precious drops of Emmanuel, God with us, must be shed before this garden could be secured by its Owner. What must that love have been which shrank not from such a cost as that. When the Owner takes full possession the result is always the same, He makes the 'wilderness rejoice and blossom as the rose'.
III. Its Dangers.—A garden is exposed to dangers from without and dangers from within.
A garden needs watching and tending, as well as sowing and planting and pruning, for the soil that grows good seed will grow bad also, and, as it was of old—'While men slept the enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way'—so it is still. Pride, jealousy, resentment, the roots of bitterness—what ill weeds are these, and how rapidly they grow! We might well be in despair were it not that the Heavenly Husbandman Himself undertakes our cause. He can make short work with the weeds if we will let Him.
IV. Its Diversity.—Diversity and unity characterize all the works of the great Creator. And as it is in nature so it is in grace. Do not criticize your brother because he works in a way of his own. Give him room to develop after his own pattern. There is a regularity which is fatal to growth.
V. Its Dependence.—If a garden is to flourish it must be well watered. How dependent is the garden upon the dews of heaven and upon the breezes of heaven that play over it If the Church is to be a fruitful garden it must have the fountain always in the midst. Many a Christian has not yet received in its fullness the wondrous truth that there is to be a fountain open for sin and uncleanness in the midst of the garden, yea, in the midst of the individual soul.
And upon the breezes of heaven, too, the garden must depend. The north wind is wanted as well as the south. Convicting power is needed as well as comforting grace, adversity as well as prosperity, the chilling, biting blast as well as the gentle, melting summer breeze. If the Lord seems to blight your prospects and write death upon your hopes, still believe that He does all things well. In a weather vane on a church in Kent are cut the words, 'God is Love,'—that is, whether the wind blow east or west, north or south, we have to learn that 'God is Love'.
—E. W. Moore, Life Transfigured, p. 45.
Illustration.—I have read somewhere an Eastern fable: Two men were equally desirous for the growth and nurture of the palm. One, so the story runs, obtained permission from God to have for his palm-tree whatsoever wind or weather he desired. So, when he wished for sunshine he prayed and it was granted; when he thought the rain was needed he prayed and the rain descended. Thus he took the direction into his own hands. Days and weeks passed by, but the tree to which he devoted so much attention drooped and drooped, until at last it died. In his distress he went to his friend at a distance, and found his tree blooming and vigorous. 'How is this,' said he, 'my tree is dead?' 'What didst thou do to it?' asked his friend. 'I asked for sunshine, and I had it; for rain, I had it; I managed it myself, but in spite of all my care it perished.' 'Ah, was the reply, you should have let God manage it. I left mine in the hands of God, and the result is that it flourishes Today.'
—E. W. Moore, Life Transfigured, p. 62.
References.—IV. 16.—J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Song of Songs, p. 195. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxiii. No. 1941; vol. xlii. No. 2475. V. 1.—Ibid. vol. xvi. No. 919; vol. xxxiii. No. 1943. J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Song of Songs, p. 205. H. W. Webb-Peploe, Calls to Holiness, p. 197. V. 2.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi. No. 1561; vol. lii. No. 3013. V. 2-8.—Ibid. vol. xiv. No. 793. V. 3.—J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Song of Songs, p. 371. V. 4.—Ibid. p. 217. V. 5, 6.—J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Song of Songs, p. 230. V. 8.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ix. No. 539.
Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn, which came up from the washing; whereof every one bear twins, and none is barren among them.
Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, and thy speech is comely: thy temples are like a piece of a pomegranate within thy locks.
Thy neck is like the tower of David builded for an armoury, whereon there hang a thousand bucklers, all shields of mighty men.
Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins, which feed among the lilies.
Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, I will get me to the mountain of myrrh, and to the hill of frankincense.
Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee.
Come with me from Lebanon, my spouse, with me from Lebanon: look from the top of Amana, from the top of Shenir and Hermon, from the lions' dens, from the mountains of the leopards.
Thou hast ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse; thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes, with one chain of thy neck.
How fair is thy love, my sister, my spouse! how much better is thy love than wine! and the smell of thine ointments than all spices!
Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb: honey and milk are under thy tongue; and the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon.
A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.
Thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits; camphire, with spikenard,
Spikenard and saffron; calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense; myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices:
A fountain of gardens, a well of living waters, and streams from Lebanon.
Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out. Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits.