The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
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.
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.The Invitations of Christ
We cannot understand the Song of Solomon until we completely master this verse. The whole song will be to us a romance, a hazy picture; invested indeed with great fascination of words, but wholly without definiteness of meaning until the spirit of this exclamation is really comprehended. This is the opinion of the most competent literal critics and also of the most gifted spiritual interpreters. The text ought to be set out in distinct black type, in the very middle of the Song, as indicating the centre of the life-music. The text might thus read in highest Oriental terms:—
"With me from Lebanon, O Bride, with me from Lebanon thou shalt come, shalt look around, or wanderer forth, from the height, or head, of Amana, from the height of Shenir and Hermon, from dens of lions, from mountain haunts of leopards."
What is the idea? The text is orientally picturesque, but what is the spiritual notion of it which can be carried through all the ages of human spiritual civilisation? The idea is that the native home of the bride is situated in Northern Palestine, here set forth in image by four peaks, or hills. Lebanon represents the western range which overlooks the Mediterranean, and is here used as representing the whole mountain system, where wild beasts lodge and roam. The whole idea is that the Shulamite Virgin who is sought as a bride lives in high, craggy, cavernous regions—amid inhospitable scenes—and close to the mountain haunts of beasts of prey. Such words as Amana, Shenir, Hermon, and Lebanon are used to typify a region of mountain, rock, fastness, forest, and jungle. There the fair Shulamite has her native home. That is one side of the picture. On the other side is the king, who lives in Jerusalem, the royal city, the city of peace, far away from the haunts of leopards; and he goes forth to invite the bride to leave the crag and the den, the forest and the danger, saying, as music might say it:—
How is all this sustained by collateral Scripture, and made to apply to the Son of God?
Christ calls men away from what may be regarded as the nativities of the present scene. The king in the olden time made this a condition of really and truly loving and trusting his bride—"Forget also thine own people, and thy father's house; so shall the king greatly desire thy beauty." There must be no division, no holding on with both hands; the attitude must not be that of one who has the right foot in the caverns and the left foot in the metropolis: there must be a complete detachment from all that is native and original, and a clear coming away with all trust and love and hope to the new abode. A hard thing to be called away from one's birth-place; but what is life if it is not hard? Where are the men who have been pampered in life? What are they worth in muscle, in brain, in power of endurance? How do they face the wind or breast the wave? If they are still living in their cradles, what has Time done for them? If they can only eat at the table of luxury and drink choice wine, what manliness is there in their character? All life, if we really understand it, is a being called away from the nativity to the new land, the new liberty. We talk amiss and use the words of folly when we speak about the hardness of leaving that which is native and original; it is the very thing which we must do if we would grow aright, and complete the purpose of God: all nature does it within the limits of her capacity; all summer is the larger land in which the seeds live that were so small and cold in the earlier time. Christ is calling us away from our animalism—the first condition of our birth. He will not have it that the body is the man, that the flesh is the immortal part of humanity. We seem to start upon that basis; we begin low down in the scale of being: but the very fact of our being in existence and invested with a moral nature is a call to us to throw off all that is low and inferior and mean and unworthy, and to ascend to the Jerusalem which is above. So Christ calls the Church, which is his Bride, the Lamb's Wife,—he calls her away from stony places, and from low associations, and from connections with lions' dens and mountain haunts of leopards,—calls humanity away from flesh, and earth, and time, and sense, and prison, into all the upper spaces, where the blue sky is unclouded, and where the infinite liberty never degenerates into license. This is the true conception of evolution, development, or progress: "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature"—still a creature, but new in every desire, and ambition, and faculty, and purpose—"old things have passed away"—rolled under the horizon like night before the power of morning—and "all things have become new." Has man left his old home? Yes. Quitted, so to say, the land of his nativity? Yes, he has truly done so if he be in Christ Jesus. No man can follow the Saviour and yet remain at home. "Ye must be born again." We are by nature the children of wrath, even as others; and we live natively under a great black cloud of judgment, and Christ calls us away, saying, If need be, cut off your right hand, pluck out your right eye; take up your cross and follow me,—to me, from the land of mountains, and crags, and caverns, O come! Blessed is he who answers, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. This is very hard, let us say again. So it is; and therefore worth doing. To cut off the very earliest associations of life is very severe, but it is God's condition of real growth, true evolution, high, solid, blessed progress—"Ye cannot serve God and mammon." O poor little seed, thou canst not remain within thy shell and yet be a beautiful flower or a fruitful tree; there must be a breaking up, a leaving, a coming away from home to get into a larger home, where the light never expires, and where every breeze that blows is rich with the odours of heaven. "Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first------" No, I will not suffer thee one moment to do anything that would involve a return to type, a reversion to originality of circumstance and condition and environment,—come now, and come completely. That is a divine call. We probably would seek to modify the terms, to soften the tone often so imperative in which the King's commands are delivered, but it comes to this after all—"Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die." The act of crucifixion must precede the act of resurrection: we must leave all, and follow Christ, or we cannot have the resurrection and all that flows from that triumph over death.
What does Christ call us from? Precisely what the Shulamite was called from—from stony places and desert lands and mountain fastnesses—from "desolation desolate." When does Christ ever call men from knowledge to ignorance? from abundance of spiritual realisation to poverty and leanness of soul? When does Jesus Christ ever offer men an inhospitable welcome? The great offers of the Gospel are in such terms as these: Eat and drink abundantly, O beloved! Ho, every one that thirsteth, come! There is a tone of hearty welcome in all these invitations, and they are addressed to people who are living in a land where there is no fountain of living water, and where there is no table spread for the soul's mortal hunger. At this point the gospel separates itself from all other religions. Taking its words only as words, how noble they are in hospitality! How generous in their lavish offers of help and liberty and rest! Surely they are the words which the poor life needs, and when we hear them we answer through our tears of gratitude, Lord, how great is thy love!
We are called not only from desolateness, but from danger. The land of our nativity is sown thick with perils; the land of the flesh lies adjacent to hell. We have not left the body life: we are still within the devil's whisper, still within the spectral touch of a hand that can be very soft, but that can grip like hooks of steel. If we have not entered into the spirit-life, the faith-life, that higher life which sees the invisible and realises the eternal, then we are simply walking through perils without number, and as for seductiveness or subtlety or power of involving us in mischief and in suffering, no language can express the reality of the situation.
We are called not only from desolateness and from danger, but from incongruity. What a background was the mountain region to the fair and lovely Shulamite! Surely that fair dove was made for Jerusalem, and not for some region of caverns or mountain haunts of leopards. Save her! This sense of incongruity afflicts men who profess to be under the spell of refined and elevating taste. What shocks do men receive who profess to be refined and large in their culture! A musician feels as if he were staggering under a blow of insult when he hears a false note; an artist chancing to alight upon a fault in colour or in drawing covers his eyes that they may not be offended, so sensitive and dignified is my lord the artist. Is there no law of incongruity in morals, in spiritual relation? "What doest thou here, Elijah?"—why wanderest thou in these desert places, O thou child of the king, meant to adorn a palace? Why estranged and ragged and humiliated and debased, thou child of fortune? Explain the ghastly incongruity! Our contention as Christian teachers should be that as the law of incongruity is acknowledged in music, in art, in dress, in the very garnishing of a house, so we are supporting by the strongest common-sense and the broadest experience every appeal we make to men on the ground of moral incongruity. Why should the children of the King go mourning all their days? Why should the sons of God be uttering laments, and give themselves into the hands of Giant Despair, when they might be singing songs all day, and keeping company with the angel of hope? Find a man of large mind in the midst of persons who have hardly any intellectual life, and you instantly say, What is the man doing there? he seems to be quite out of place. Find a person who has had opportunities of refinement and culture mingling sympathetically with men who know nothing of either, and you instantly infer, though you may not put the inference into words, that there is a sad explanation of the circumstances in which the person is found: you instantly feel that some fault has been committed, some law has been broken, some status has been morally forfeited; otherwise this association never could have been established. You are right. That is the feeling of the Lord Jesus Christ when he sees us wandering far, disobeying God, living the animal life, satisfied with the limits of the body: he mourns, and says in his lamentation, The soul has been killed; God's angel has been ill-treated, mayhap strangled, and is lying white, cold, dead, within that tenement of flesh: the man is a living tomb! Men of refinement, men of culture, men of pedantry, do not suppose that you can be shocked by incongruities and lapses and false relations, and yet that Jesus Christ can look upon a ruined world, and be satisfied to have a leprous earth swinging round the sun in company with stars that have never lost their first estate.
Christ ever calls men to home, to security, to honour. Herein he is like the man who seeks the Shulamite for his bride: he calls her to the palace, to Jerusalem, to all beauty and comfort and security. Jesus Christ says, "I go to prepare a place for you." When Jesus Christ prepares a place, who can describe its largeness, its beauty, its completeness? "Where I am, there ye shall be also;" and where he is heaven is. Can we be in that chamber of rejoicing without the wedding garment? Can we violate the congruity of the relations which he has in infinite wisdom determined? "In my Father's house are many mansions." That is a great name; the very name itself implies that we must be prepared for the habitation of houses large as mansions and rich as palaces. Who would enter there who is defiled, unclean, false, a kinsman of dogs, and a bedfellow of that which is evil and rejected? There shall be no night there; there shall be no more death; the inhabitants of the city shall never say, I am sick; the walls are jasper, the pavement is gold: who could enter there who felt that he was but a living tomb, a guilty hypocrisy, a man without sympathy with the pure, the ineffable, the divine? But, there is on the road a cross? Yes; and, no cross, no crown. We cannot enter into the city unless we understand the cross, and die upon it. The cross is not an intellectual puzzle; it is a cross on which every man must be himself crucified with the Son of God. After the cross the crown—the pure river of the water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. After the cross, the city in the midst of whose street, and on either side of the river, is the Tree of Life. "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne." "I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son." What of the others? "But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death." That is right Under that judgment are the rocks of reason. But the holy sweet gospel for us to hear is this, that when Christ comes and calls us from Lebanon, and Amana, and Shenir, and Hermon, he calls us to his own Jerusalem, saying that he will show us the glory of God, and give us a habitation in the city whose light is like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. It is Christ who always offers, gives, approaches, with large proposals of liberty, purity, and immortality. He seeks us; we do not seek him; we love him because he first loved us. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock; if any man open the door, I will come in; the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost: this is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. We have nothing to offer him but our impurity, and when we offer it with contrition he takes it, casts it away, and replaces it with a white robe of purity. He calls us to companionship, "Come to me," said the voice to the Shulamite. The text may be literally rendered without the "with"; for that word may be substituted the word "to," and then the text reads, "Come to me." Did Jesus Christ ever use such words? Did he not say, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest"? His invitation is in the tone of the very agony of love. "Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night." "Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light." Hear his voice. He calls us as if he needed us, as if he could not be at rest without us: in the image of God created he man. We are by nature the children of wrath, even as others; but we are called to redemption, to forgiveness, to rest, to summer, to joy infinite as God's eternity. Blessed are they who hear the voice, and answer it with their hearts: say ye to such, It shall be well with him. And if in the last audit, the final summing up, it should appear after all that this pain, agony, capacity of suffering ends in nothing, then so be it; nothing has been lost: we gave high meanings to these sufferings, and in attributing these high significations to them we created for ourselves ineffable consolation; and now that all ends in cloud and darkness and night and silence, so be it; it is sad to think of. But if it should all end otherwise; if there is an outlet from the little to the great, from the finite to the infinite, from earth to heaven; if there is a great white throne; if there is a day of judgment and reckoning and destiny, then say ye to the righteous, It shall be well with him. To the wicked say, if you can, but say it with tears, It shall be ill with him.
Almighty God, thine eyes are continually upon our conduct; thou dost watch us, whether our vigilance towards thee be wakeful or not. We have reason to say day by day, Thou God seest us. The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself mighty on behalf of those who put their trust in him. All things are naked and open unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do; there is not a word on our tongue, there is not a thought in our heart, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether. May we live under this impression, and may it be to us an impression full of graciousness and hopefulness, because of the purity of our desire and the constancy of our fidelity; may we be enabled to make our appeal unto God, saying, The Lord knoweth, and into his hand I commit my spirit. We bless thee that thine eyes are upon us, for thus thou dost make us of account; though our days are few, and our strength is but varied weakness, yet thou dost care for us with the solicitude of love, and watch us as if we were needful to thine happiness. May we always remember that thou hast shown thy greatest love to us in the gift of thy dear Son. Thou didst not spare him, but didst freely deliver him up for us all; and in that great gift all other gifts are included. If thou didst not spare thy Son, thou wilt not hold back anything that is needful for us. We live in this confidence. Much we desire that we do not possess; yet we have learned to know that our not possessing it is an advantage, and that poverty is better than wealth. Enable us to take this view of life; then shall we be quieted, calmed, yea, enriched with the peace of God which passeth understanding, and no man shall be able to take away from us the treasure of this tranquillity. This is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes. Once we were full of impatience and restlessness and discontent, but we have learned in whatsoever state we are therewith to be content. In whose school have we learned this lesson but in the school of Jesus Christ thy Son, our blessed and infinite Saviour? Our sins are very many, but where sin abounds grace doth much more abound: help us to turn the eyes of our despair from our own sin, and to look upon the grace that is in Christ Jesus; then shall despair become hope, and hope shall grow into assurance and triumph. Dry our tears when we are hard pressed by difficulty and storm, and heavy-laden with grief, and give us sleep at the end of the day, that in its dreamlessness we may forget our woe and take back our strength, and begin the next day's battle with all the hopefulness of renewed energy. Direct all our way; suffer none of our steps to slide; watch thou our lips and keep the door of our mouth; and at the end, when all the years have come and gone and the last knell is heard, may we have a sweet confidence, which no temptation can trouble, that when the Lord cometh it will be to call us to his home, his rest, his benediction. Amen.