Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not.
1. By night—literally, "By nights." Continuation of the longing for the dawn of the Messiah (So 2:17; Ps 130:6; Mal 4:2). The spiritual desertion here (So 2:17; 3:5) is not due to indifference, as in So 5:2-8. "As nights and dews are better for flowers than a continual sun, so Christ's absence (at times) giveth sap to humility, and putteth an edge on hunger, and furnisheth a fair field to faith to put forth itself" [Rutherford]. Contrast So 1:13; Ps 30:6, 7.
on … bed—the secret of her failure (Isa 64:7; Jer 29:13; Am 6:1, 4; Ho 7:14).
loveth—no want of sincerity, but of diligence, which she now makes up for by leaving her bed to seek Him (Ps 22:2; 63:8; Isa 26:9; Joh 20:17). Four times (So 3:1-4) she calls Jesus Christ, "Him whom my soul loveth," designating Him as absent; language of desire: "He loved me," would be language of present fruition (Re 1:5). In questioning the watchmen (So 3:3), she does not even name Him, so full is her heart of Him. Having found Him at dawn (for throughout He is the morning), she charges the daughters not to abridge by intrusion the period of His stay. Compare as to the thoughtful seeking for Jesus Christ in the time of John the Baptist, in vain at first, but presently after successful (Lu 3:15-22; Joh 1:19-34).
found him not—Oh, for such honest dealings with ourselves (Pr 25:14; Jude 12)!
I will rise now, and go about the city in the streets, and in the broad ways I will seek him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not.
2. Wholly awake for God (Lu 14:18-20; Eph 5:14). "An honest resolution is often to (the doing of) duty, like a needle that draws the thread after it" [Durham]. Not a mere wish, that counts not the cost—to leave her easy bed, and wander in the dark night seeking Him (Pr 13:4; Mt 21:30; Lu 14:27-33).
the city—Jerusalem, literally (Mt 3:5; Joh 1:19), and spiritually the Church here (Heb 12:22), in glory (Re 21:2).
broad ways—open spaces at the gates of Eastern cities, where the public assembled for business. So, the assemblies of worshippers (So 8:2, 3; Pr 1:20-23; Heb 10:25). She had in her first awakening shrunk from them, seeking Jesus Christ alone; but she was desired to seek the footsteps of the flock (So 1:8), so now in her second trial she goes forth to them of herself. "The more the soul grows in grace, and the less it leans on ordinances, the more it prizes and profits by them" [Moody Stuart] (Ps 73:16, 17).
found him not—Nothing short of Jesus Christ can satisfy her (Job 23:8-10; Ps 63:1, 2).
The watchmen that go about the city found me: to whom I said, Saw ye him whom my soul loveth?
3. watchmen—ministers (Isa 62:6; Jer 6:17; Eze 3:17; Heb 13:17), fit persons to consult (Isa 21:11; Mal 2:7).
found me—the general ministry of the Word "finds" individually souls in quest of Jesus Christ (Ge 24:27, end of verse Ac 16:14); whereas formalists remain unaffected.
It was but a little that I passed from them, but I found him whom my soul loveth: I held him, and would not let him go, until I had brought him into my mother's house, and into the chamber of her that conceived me.
4. Jesus Christ is generally "found" near the watchmen and means of grace; but they are not Himself; the star that points to Beth-lehem is not the Sun that has risen there; she hastens past the guideposts to the goal [Moody Stuart]. Not even angels could satisfy Mary, instead of Jesus Christ (Joh 20:11-16).
found him—(Isa 45:19; Ho 6:1-3; Mt 13:44-46).
held him, &c.—willing to be held; not willing, if not held (Ge 32:26; Mt 28:9; Lu 24:28, 29; Re 3:11). "As a little weeping child will hold its mother fast, not because it is stronger than she, but because her bowels constrain her not to leave it; so Jesus Christ yearning over the believer cannot go, because He will not" [Durham]. In So 1:4 it is He who leads the bride into His chambers; here it is she who leads Him into her mother's. There are times when the grace of Jesus Christ seems to draw us to Him; and others, when we with strong cries draw Him to us and ours. In the East one large apartment often serves for the whole family; so the bride here speaks of her mother's apartment and her own together. The mention of the "mother" excludes impropriety, and imparts the idea of heavenly love, pure as a sister's, while ardent as a bride's; hence the frequent title, "my sister—spouse." Our mother after the Spirit, is the Church, the new Jerusalem (Joh 3:5-8; Ga 4:19, 26); for her we ought to pray continually (Eph 3:14-19), also for the national Jerusalem (Isa 62:6, 7; Ro 10:1), also for the human family, which is our mother and kindred after the flesh; these our mother's children have evilly treated us (So 1:6); but, like our Father, we are to return good for evil (Mt 5:44, 45), and so bring Jesus Christ home to them (1Pe 2:12).
I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes, and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, till he please.
5. So So 2:7; but there it was for the non-interruption of her own fellowship with Jesus Christ that she was anxious; here it is for the not grieving of the Holy Ghost, on the part of the daughters of Jerusalem. Jealously avoid levity, heedlessness, and offenses which would mar the gracious work begun in others (Mt 18:7; Ac 2:42, 43; Eph 4:30).
Canticle III.—(So 3:6-5:1)—The Bridegroom with the Bride.
Historically, the ministry of Jesus Christ on earth.
Who is this that cometh out of the wilderness like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant?
6. New scene (So 3:6-11). The friends of the Bridegroom see a cortege approach. His palanquin and guard.
cometh out—rather, "up from"; the wilderness was lower than Jerusalem [Maurer].
pillars of smoke—from the perfumes burned around Him and His bride. Image from Israel and the tabernacle (answering to "bed," So 3:7) marching through the desert with the pillar of smoke by day and fire by night (Ex 14:20), and the pillars of smoke ascending from the altars of incense and of atonement; so Jesus Christ's righteousness, atonement, and ever-living intercession. Balaam, the last representative of patriarchism, was required to curse the Jewish Church, just as it afterwards would not succumb to Christianity without a struggle (Nu 22:41), but he had to bless in language like that here (Nu 24:5, 6). Angels too joyfully ask the same question, when Jesus Christ with the tabernacle of His body (answering to "His bed," So 3:7; Joh 1:14, "dwelt," Greek "tabernacled," Joh 2:21) ascends into heaven (Ps 24:8-10); also when they see His glorious bride with Him (Ps 68:18; Re 7:13-17). Encouragement to her; amid the darkest trials (So 3:1), she is still on the road to glory (So 3:11) in a palanquin "paved with love" (So 3:10); she is now in soul spiritually "coming," exhaling the sweet graces, faith, love, joy, peace, prayer, and praise; (the fire is lighted within, the "smoke" is seen without, Ac 4:13); it is in the desert of trial (So 3:1-3) she gets them; she is the "merchant" buying from Jesus Christ without money or price (Isa 55:1; Re 3:18); just as myrrh and frankincense are got, not in Egypt, but in the Arabian sands and the mountains of Palestine. Hereafter she shall "come" (So 3:6, 11) in a glorified body, too (Php 3:21). Historically, Jesus Christ returning from the wilderness, full of the Holy Ghost (Lu 4:1, 14). The same, "Who is this," &c. (Isa 63:1, 5).
Behold his bed, which is Solomon's; threescore valiant men are about it, of the valiant of Israel.
7. In So 3:6 the wilderness character of the Church is portrayed; in So 3:7, 8, its militant aspect. In So 3:9, 10, Jesus Christ is seen dwelling in believers, who are His "chariot" and "body." In So 3:11, the consummation in glory.
bed—palanquin. His body, literally, guarded by a definite number of angels, threescore, or sixty (Mt 26:53), from the wilderness (Mt 4:1, 11), and continually (Lu 2:13; 22:43; Ac 1:10, 11); just as six hundred thousand of Israel guarded the Lord's tabernacle (Nu 2:17-32), one for every ten thousand. In contrast to the "bed of sloth" (So 3:1).
valiant—(Jos 5:13, 14). Angels guarding His tomb used like words (Mr 16:6).
of Israel—true subjects, not mercenaries.
They all hold swords, being expert in war: every man hath his sword upon his thigh because of fear in the night.
8. hold—not actually grasping them, but having them girt on the thigh ready for use, like their Lord (Ps 45:3). So believers too are guarded by angels (Ps 91:11; Heb 1:14), and they themselves need "every man" (Ne 4:18) to be armed (Ps 144:1, 2; 2Co 10:4; Eph 6:12, 17; 1Ti 6:12), and "expert" (2Co 2:11).
because of fear in the night—Arab marauders often turn a wedding into mourning by a night attack. So the bridal procession of saints in the night of this wilderness is the chief object of Satan's assault.
King Solomon made himself a chariot of the wood of Lebanon.
9. chariot—more elaborately made than the "bed" or travelling litter (So 3:7), from a Hebrew root, "to elaborate" [Ewald]. So the temple of "cedar of Lebanon," as compared with the temporary tabernacle of shittim wood (2Sa 7:2, 6, 7; 1Ki 5:14; 6:15-18), Jesus Christ's body is the antitype, "made" by the Father for Him (1Co 1:30; Heb 10:5), the wood answering to His human nature, the gold, His divine; the two being but one Christ.
He made the pillars thereof of silver, the bottom thereof of gold, the covering of it of purple, the midst thereof being paved with love, for the daughters of Jerusalem.
10. pillars—supporting the canopy at the four corners; curtains at the side protect the person within from the sun. Pillars with silver sockets supported the veil that enclosed the holy of holies; emblem of Jesus Christ's strength (1Ki 7:21), Margin, "silver," emblem of His purity (Ps 12:6); so the saints hereafter (Re 3:12).
bottom—rather, "the back for resting or reclining on" (Vulgate and Septuagint) [Maurer]. So the floor and mercy seat, the resting-place of God (Ps 132:14) in the temple, was gold (1Ki 6:30).
covering—rather, "seat," as in Le 15:9. Hereafter the saints shall share His seat (Re 3:21).
purple—the veil of the holiest, partly purple, and the purple robe put on Jesus Christ, accord with English Version, "covering." "Purple" (including scarlet and crimson) is the emblem of royalty, and of His blood; typified by the passover lamb's blood, and the wine when the twelve sat or reclined at the Lord's table.
paved—translated, like mosaic pavement, with the various acts and promises of love of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (Zep 3:17; 1Jo 4:8, 16), in contrast with the tables of stone in the "midst" of the ark, covered with writings of stern command (compare Joh 19:13); this is all grace and love to believers, who answer to "the daughters of Jerusalem" (Joh 1:17). The exterior silver and gold, cedar, purple, and guards, may deter, but when the bride enters within, she rests on a pavement of love.
Go forth, O ye daughters of Zion, and behold king Solomon with the crown wherewith his mother crowned him in the day of his espousals, and in the day of the gladness of his heart.
11. Go forth—(Mt 25:6).
daughters of Zion—spirits of saints, and angels (Isa 61:10; Zec 9:9).
crown—nuptial (Eze 16:8-12), (the Hebrews wore costly crowns or chaplets at weddings), and kingly (Ps 2:6; Re 19:12). The crown of thorns was once His nuptial chaplet, His blood the wedding wine cup (Joh 19:5). "His mother," that so crowned Him, is the human race, for He is "the Son of man," not merely the son of Mary. The same mother reconciled to Him (Mt 12:50), as the Church, travails in birth for souls, which she presents to Him as a crown (Php 4:1; Re 4:10). Not being ashamed to call the children brethren (Heb 2:11-14), He calls their mother His mother (Ps 22:9; Ro 8:29; Re 12:1, 2).
day of his espousals—chiefly the final marriage, when the number of the elect is complete (Re 6:11).
gladness—(Ps 45:15; Isa 62:5; Re 19:7). Moody Stuart observes as to this Canticle (So 3:6-5:1), the center of the Book, these characteristics: (1) The bridegroom takes the chief part, whereas elsewhere the bride is the chief speaker. (2) Elsewhere He is either "King" or "Solomon"; here He is twice called "King Solomon." The bride is six times here called the "spouse"; never so before or after; also "sister" four times, and, except in the first verse of the next Canticle [So 5:2], nowhere else. (3) He and she are never separate; no absence, no complaint, which abound elsewhere, are in this Canticle.